The seriousness of sin - Genesis 3

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the evening service on 5th August 2007.

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Now some of you might know that I’m into Bond films.  Not as much as Melvin it has to be said.    And if you’re at all into Bond films then you’ll know the basic script:  there’s always a badie who invents some ridiculously complicated way of killing 007;  but Bond always escapes at the last minute and saves the day.  And one of the most characteristic features of a Bond film is the opening sequence.  There’s nearly always a short clip right at the beginning of the film before the credits.  If you miss that clip, then you’ve lost the plot. 

Well Genesis 3 is the vital clip at the beginning of the Bible.  It’s no embarrassing fairy story we can afford to miss out.  If we miss the point of Genesis 3, then we’ve lost the plot for the rest of the Bible.  In Genesis 3, Mankind sins and gets chucked out of the Garden of Eden.  The rest of the Bible is how we get back to Eden.  Back to paradise.  Back to the new heavens and the new earth:  our true home. 

When you heard the passage being read earlier, I suspect that at least some of you were thinking, “what’s the big deal, it’s only an apple” and “hasn’t God rather over-reacted in chucking them out of the garden”.  These are the thoughts that I had to struggle with when I first studied this passage;  so unless you’re all more holy than me, I guess that at least some of you will be thinking the same now.

But in grappling with these issues, we’re going to discover that Gen 3 is all about the seriousness of sin.  The seriousness of sin. And we’re going to look at this seriousness under three sub-headings:

<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.                  <!--[endif]-->The origin of sin (v1-6)

<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.                  <!--[endif]-->The consequences of sin (v7-24)

<!--[if !supportLists]-->3.                  <!--[endif]-->The solution for sin  (v14)            

The Seriousness of Sin then.

Recap of Gen 1 & 2

Before we get stuck into the detail of today’s passage, we need to quickly recap the background.  Because, as always, a text without a context is a pretext for false teaching.  So turn with me please to Genesis 1. 

So in Gen 1:1, we read that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”.  And in the rest of the chapter , God creates a world of structure and a world of order.  And the pinnacle of creation was mankind.  V27:  “So God created man in his own image.  In the image of God He created him;  male and female, he created them.”  So people are at the top of God’s creation.  Our value as human beings comes from us being created in God’s image.

The most important thing to note about the whole creation is in v31.  “God saw all that He had made and it was very good”.  God created the world, with people at the top and it was very good;  perfect in fact.

Then in chapter 2 beginning at v4, we see an extended account of how the heavens and the earth were created”.  Look with me at v7:  “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being”.  Notice God’s name – the LORD God.  Whenever we see the LORD in capital letters in our OTs, we need to remember that is was God’s special revealed name – Yahweh, meaning ‘covenant faithful God’.  The Lord God.  

The Lord God put the man into the Garden of Eden, a place of peace and security that had plenty of food.  “And the Lord God [in v9] made all kinds of trees grow up out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.  In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  Notice that there were two trees in the middle of the garden and we don’t know what fruit grew on them.  Nowhere in Genesis does it say they were Apple trees!  Look onto v16:

V16:  “And the Lord God commanded the man, “you are free to eat from any tree in the Garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die””.  The Lord God had graciously provided the perfect home for man, and he was free do anything he wanted, including eating from the tree of life.  The only one thing he couldn’t do was to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  

Then in v21-24, God created woman from the man and instituted marriage.  This is before the Fall, so marriage is a creation ordinance and the only right place for God’s good gift of sex. 

  The Origin of Sin (v1-6) So at the end of chapter 2 in v25, “the man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame”. Naked means not just physically naked, but a sense of child-like innocence in marked contrast to the craftiness of the serpent in 3:1.  So who is the serpent?   Well listen to these words from Rev 12:9:    “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray”.  Yes the snake did speak.  But it wasn’t just any old snake; it was an incarnation of the devil deliberately trying to lead Eve astray. So what did he say?  Well let’s go back to v1 of chapter 3 as we discover the origin of sin:   V1 “Did God really say, you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” First, notice the name Satan gives to God.  Not Yahweh the LORD, but simply God, any old god.  Right from the start, Satan’s undermining our confidence in the uniqueness and character of the Lord by referring to Him simply as god and not Yahweh.    Look again at V1 “Did God really say, you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Satan twists and then questions God’s Word.  God had permitted them to eat from all the trees in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Satan questions God’s good provision and suggests that He’s a killjoy.  Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the Garden? Did God really say that all sex is dirty? Did God really say that Sundays must be as boring as possible? 

Did God really say that all disagreements are sinful and that we must have peace at any price?

How many people have swallowed these types of lies?   V2 “The woman said to the serpent “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say “you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden and you must not touch it, or you will die”.    Notice straight away that Eve’s beginning to buy Satan’s lie.  God is no longer Yahweh, but simply God.  While outwardly appearing to resist temptation, she too begins to distort God’s word and even adds to it.  God hadn’t said that they couldn’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, but only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God hadn’t said that they couldn’t touch the tree, only that they shouldn’t eat from it.  She’s beginning to buy the lie that God’s keeping something good from her.  V4 “You will not surely die, the serpent said to the woman.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.     You will be like God.  This is the essence of sin – wanting to be like God.  God had created a perfect world and provided every good thing for Adam and Eve.  God was God and Adam and Eve were His creation.  For their own good, God had not revealed everything to them.  They had a child-like innocence.  Deut 29:29 tells us “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us”.  There are some things that, for our own good God hasn't reveled to us.  But He has revealed everything we need to know for our good.  The essence of sin is us wanting to be like God.  To discover the secret things.  To replace God with our own concept of right and wrong.    I will have sex with whoever and whenever I want.  I will commit adultery if it feels right to me. I will spend my time and money exactly how I please.   I don’t need to come to church to be a Christian and even if I do, it doesn’t have to be every week.  I will lead my life precisely how I want regardless of God’s revealed Word.  Outside the church, our society has abandoned God’s Word.  Inside the church, like Eve, we don’t outwardly abandon God’s Word – we simply distort it to fit with what we want to do.  In the CofE, if we don’t like what the Bible has to say, we set up a committee to think and pray about it.  The committee then writes a report which contradicts the Bible.  And here’s one such report: ‘The Mystery of Salvation’ by the Doctrine commission of the CofE, which states that “For many Christians today, the notion of God offering  himself as a substitute to be punished for our sins is deeply repellent” [p122].  But having redefined what it means to be a Christian, the reports goes on to redefine the Bible’s teaching about the very nature of God and His love; & it does that by asserting that “it’s incompatible with the essential affirmation that God is love to say that God brings millions into the word to dame them”[p180] Or in other words: a god of love wouldn’t send people to hell. As Jesus would say, we in the CofE have a fine way of setting aside the commands and revealed Word of God in order to observe our own traditions.  So what about us here at St John’s? Is our talk about the Bible matched by our radical obedience to it?    Do people looking in at us conclude that we really are His disciples by the quality and depth of our relationships with each other;  by the way we treat, respect and honour each other in gratitude and humility.  Or do we here at SJs have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God so we can observe our own unique traditions?   Back to Bible:  V6 “ when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it”.  She wanted that forbidden wisdom.  She wanted to be like God.  And in any case, it’s such a nice piece of fruit.  It looks good and I bet it tastes good.  God wouldn’t really want to deny me this nice piece of fruit.  Like us, she’d decided in her heart to sin, but was trying to justify it.  She’d bought the lie that God was being a killjoy.  I want this piece of fruit and if God says no, well He must be wrong then.    Look again at V6 “ when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband and he ate it”.  I’m not missing out on becoming like God.  And if she’s done it, then it must be OK for me too.  Rather than be obedient to the God who made him, Adam “listened to his wife” instead.    What’s the origin of sin?  It’s our desire to be like God.  To take God’s place in our lives.  We want to decide what’s right and wrong for ourselves and live by our own rules and God can get lost.  Sin is serious.   And it’s a disease that goes to the very core of our being.   Consequences of Sin  (v7-24)   In fact sin is so serious that it leads to death; and that’s the ultimate consequence of sin.  Flip back with me to chapter 2:17.  “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die”.  The most amazing thing about 3:7 is that this is not the end of the Bible.  God had created them to be eternal.  He would have been totally justified in carrying out the death sentence on them there and then.    Justice demands that v 7 reads “And so Adam and Eve died because they had sinned against the Lord God who had created them.”  Indeed, God’s Word must be fulfilled so in v19 “by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food, until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  Turn over to 5:5  “ Altogether, Adam, live 930 years, and then he died”.   The amazing thing isn’t that Adam died, but that God delayed the death sentence by 930 years.  So what’s going on here?   Back in v8 of chapter 3 we see the beginning of God’s gracious plan of salvation.  “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day”;  then in v9: “The Lord God called to the man: “where are you?”  Having postponed the death sentence, God begins to call out to sinful man.  But where is Adam?  [v10]: “He answered, I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid”.  He was afraid.  This was true, but was he naked?  Let’s look at v7 “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and the realised that they were naked, so they sewed some fig leaves together and made some coverings for themselves.”  They weren’t naked, but they were afraid.  Why?  Because they knew they’d broken God’s command and they knew that they would surely die as a result.  They were hiding from God because they wanted to escape the consequences of their sin.  It’s as natural as lying – we all hide from God because deep down we know that the wages of sin are death and we know that we’re accountable to the God who made us.   Before we look at what else this passage has to say about the start of God’s plan of salvation, what else does it have to tell us about the consequences of sin?   We’ve already seen that the ultimate consequence is death.  We’ve also seen that it distorts the perfect relationship between God and man that existed in chapter 2.  As a result of man’s sin, he hides from God and then lies to God.  But what else:   Come with me to v12: “The man said, The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.        No longer is she “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” as she was back in chapter 2.  It’s that woman’s fault and God’s fault in the first place for putting her here.  So we see the next consequence of sin – we avoid responsibility and blame others and in the process we begin to wreck the closet of human relationships, that between man and wife.   “Then God said to the woman [in v13], what is this you have done?”  The woman said, “the serpent deceived me and I ate”.  Not my fault guv, I wasn’t trying to become like God; it’s all that naughty serpent’s fault for tempting me.  Nothing changes.  We all try to cover up our sin and blame others.  Again, aren’t we amazed that despite the lies, the cover-ups, the blaming others, God doesn’t execute the death sentence straight away.  But no, in His mercy he relents.    First in v14-15 he curses the serpent.   Next God addresses the woman.  Rather than instant death, God graciously allows the human race to continue.  but in the midst of His grace, in v16, he reminds the woman of the consequences of her sin by increasing the pain of childbirth.  And he continues:  “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you”.  In creation, God had ordained the husband to have loving headship over his wife, just as Christ is the head of the Church.  But now sin has entered the world and distorted the husband-wife relationship, wives will have a tendency to control their husbands, but all too often husbands will be domineering tyrants.  What a mess; but what an accurate picture of the state of marriage in Britain today, not just in the world outside, but sadly in the church as well.       Onto V17:  To Adam he said, “because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat of it:  Cursed is the ground because of you.  Through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground; since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.”    Ring any bells.  Ever wondered why work seems such a hassle?  Well, now you know and it will always be so to some extent this side of heaven.      So Adam had lost some of God’s blessings.  His marriage was no longer perfect.  He could no longer chill out in the garden and just pick a piece of fruit off the tree whenever he wanted.  He now had to work hard to earn his bread.  Next he gets chucked out of the garden v23:  “So the Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After He drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword, flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”  

God was making sure that Adam couldn’t get to the tree of life, as he’d said back in v22.  The death sentence would be executed in due course.  But in the midst of God’s punishment, we see his gracious provision.  V21; “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”  God got rid of the pathetic fig leaves and provided proper clothing so that they could survive in the harsher environment outside the Garden of Eden.  And this is a pattern we see through the rest of the Bible; in the midst of God’s just judgement, we see God’s grace and mercy and often a ray of hope for future restoration from the current mess. 

The solution for Sin  (v14)

And this brings us to the text’s last point this evening:  the ray of hope; the solution for sin.  Gen 3 is all about the seriousness of sin.  we’ve seen the origin of sin and the consequences of sin. Now we turn to the solution for sin. 

In v24, we saw the cherubim and the flaming sword guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden.  There was no way back to Eden;  no way back to the tree of Life?  Or is there?

Listen to these words from the chapter of the Bible in Rev 22 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse.” 

This side of the Cross, we know that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the only solution for our sin.  For those that believe in him, Jesus is the answer to sin.  He died in place of His people taking their punishment so that they might be forgiven and be restored to a right relationship with God.  So how do God’s people get from Gen 3 to Rev 22?  Well that requires a lifetime of learning from the Scriptures which we’ve only had a chance to scratch the surface this evening.  But come back with me to Gen 3:14:

“So the Lord God said to the serpent, because you have done this: cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals.  You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;  he will crush your head and you will strike his heal.”

The word for offspring means seed.  The seed of Eve was Abraham and ultimately the Lord Jesus.  To the onlookers at the first Easter, the Cross seemed a disaster.  They thought that Jesus had been God’s anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.  On the cross Jesus was pierced and crushed.  But if we’re Christians, then we know that it was for our inequities and to bring us peace that He was pierced and crushed.  By His wounds Satan has been crushed and we’ve been healed.

What an amazing God we have.  We all want to ignore God and live our lives our own way.  Adam and Eve did it and we all do it.  God’s just response would be death, but in His great mercy, He has provided a way for us to be forgiven and to be restored to Eden.  We can get back to Eden; back to paradise; back to the news heaven and the new earth and the rest of the Bible tells us how God did it and what we need to do in response.

  Summary

To sum up then.  Sin is serious and we’ve looked at three aspects:

  • What is the origin of sin?  It is us trying to be like God and rule our own lives.
  • What’s the consequences of sin?  Ultimately death and eternal separation from God, and, in this life, the wrecking of relationships between God and us and between each other.
  • What’s the solution for sin?  There’s nothing we can do.  Genesis begins to show us God’s character of grace and mercy and provides the first hint of the coming Lord Jesus Christ who alone can provide forgiveness for our sins by his death on the cross. 

    Let's give thanks to this amazing God of grace and cry out for mercy for the sin in our lives and in the life our church.  Sin is serious;  if we say it isn’t, we call God a liar and say Jesus’ death was a waste of time.


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