Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Birth of Death

 Genesis 3:1-21

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.  And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"  And the woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.'"  And the serpent said to the woman, "You surely shall not die!  For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"  And he said, "I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself."  And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" And the man said, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate."  Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"  And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

And the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel."

To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, ‘till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Now the man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.  And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

Sermon for Invocavit – the First Sunday in Lent               2/26/23

The Birth of Death

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Everything in human experience has a beginning and an end.  Nothing is forever, except God – and now, in Jesus Christ, the new and everlasting life which He pours out on us and which we receive by grace through faith.

Even death had a beginning.  It seems strange to think of it that way.  We tend to think of death as an end, not a "creature" that might have a beginning.  But it is!  Death was not part of the original design.  It is a "thing" in the eyes of God, and it has both a beginning and an end.  The beginning of death – and of things dying, and of corruption, and decay – is in our text this morning.  The end of death is in Jesus Christ, in His victory over sin and death and hell.  He is the Death of death.  Our text this morning describes for us the Birth of Death.

"The wages of sin is death."  Adam had been commanded not to eat of a specific tree.  God had freely invited him to eat from every bush and tree in the garden – just leave the one in the center alone.  Do not eat from it, for it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and on the day that you eat of it you will surely die!  You have to admit that it was pretty simple, straight forward, and clear.  Break this one rule and you will die, just like St. Paul says, millennia later, in Romans 6:23.

Of course, we don't know if they had any concept of "good" or "evil."  The tree was supposed to be the tree of that knowledge.  But I suspect that they understood the concepts – at least as much as a definition.  What they lacked was the personal experience of evil.  They knew about it like you know about space-walking.  But you just don't know space-walking until you have done your own "extra-vehicular activity" in orbit around the earth.

Similarly, we cannot be sure how they understood death at that point in time.  There was none yet.  Nothing died.  Nothing.  If they had not sinned, we would be able to find them and meet them, and see the ‘famous' trees, and walk in the still fresh garden, probably on the same grass as they first walked on!  It seems reasonable, however, to imagine that God gave them a conceptual understanding of death – or dying, otherwise, the threat of the commandment would have been empty and meaningless.

It might as well have been, considering their response to it.  Of course, who are we to judge?  We know the truth of death, and we have lifetimes full of experience with evil and the consequences of sin and evil, but that doesn't make us more careful, or more moral.  We continue to do things that place us under the same curse as Adam and Eve – and we haven't had to face the full wiles of the devil in person, not yet.

The Old Snake was tricky that day.  Did you ever think about the fact that when we refer to someone as "a snake," we are doing so because of this encounter with the devil?  Deliberate deceit for wicked purpose is what we call "being a snake".  The serpent in the garden was very clever.  He began, as the devil always begins, with the question: "Did God really say . . .?"  He questioned the Word of God, and when Eve answered with the Word, he questioned her exegesis.

He started by suggesting that God and His Word were a little radical and unfair – God didn't really say that, did He?"  To Eve's credit, she confessed what God had said.  To her sorrow, she added to the Word.  She said that God had forbidden even touching the fruit.  In her answer, she revealed that she had accepted the devil's emotional premise that God was extreme and unfair, even while she supported the commandment as being from God.  After that, she was like fruit, ripe for the picking.

The devil then questioned her understanding of the Word of God, and suggested that it didn't really mean what she thought, that it didn't apply to her the way it sounded like it applied, and that here was some advantage in disregarding God's clear Word and doing her own thing.  I know, you probably think I am being silly about this – that it was disobeying the rules that was the problem, but it was not.  The Law is never the real problem, it just makes the truth of our spiritual condition evident.  Look at what God cursed Adam for: listening to the voice of his wife.

The consequent behavior of eating the forbidden fruit is also named, but the first problem was that Adam ignored God's Word in favor of someone else's.  The problem was not that he listened to his wife.  God intended them to talk to one another.  It wasn't that it was a woman, or a wife – she was the only other person in existence.  If he was going to listen to anyone, we might imagine it would have to be her.  The problem was that her word was more authoritative for Adam than God's Word.

How was he supposed to know that she was wrong?  The same way you are to tell the true from the false – by turning to the Word of God.  She said, "Don't listen to God, you won't die, this is a good thing to do."  God said, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die."  Of course, Eve could say, "Look!  I ate some of the fruit, and I am not dead, am I?"  She was – and she knew it, but now she was working for Satan.  Adam listened to her words, and judged by what he saw and felt instead of judging by what the Word of God said, and took the bite that doomed us all, and gave birth to death.  Then God spoke those famous words, "By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return."  These were the words of God which said, "You asked for it, and now you've got it.  You are going to die."  And Adam died spiritually right then – he also had earned physical death and torment in hell eternally.

And I imagine that they both felt it.  Suddenly they were conscious of being exposed – naked.  What they were feeling, although they did not understand it yet, was guilt and shame.  It felt like, "Surely everyone can see that I have done that evil thing!"  You all know the feeling, if you are honest with yourselves.  It is the fear that somebody will see it, that somebody will uncover your secret shame.  For them it came as the need to hide something, and that something was their bodies.

Then they heard God coming.  God walked with them in the garden.  It was a daily routine.  They had delighted in their communion with the heavenly Father.  I suspect that when He walked with them, that He used a physical form, and it was probably the form the world would one day know as Jesus, but that much is pure speculation.  In any case, the Scripture tells us that they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.  They heard, and, for the first time, they were frightened.  They felt the grip of guilt and sin and death, even if they did not recognize what it was – although I suspect they did.

I suspect that they knew what it was they were feeling.  I suspect that they were saying to themselves how now they knew evil, and once they had known good, and so the devil had tricked them.  He had not made them wiser, he has simply enticed them into exchanging the experience of being  good and holy for the new experience of being evil.  And I suspect that they felt their sinfulness as a sharp pain of some sort, and knew from the very heart of their being that they were dead, even while they lived.  We don't feel it because we were born dead, and our flesh continues in that death until it finishes with it and dies and is buried.  They gave birth to death, on that day.

I am pretty sure that they knew it, because when God asked Adam "Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?", Adam began the blame game.  It was the woman – the one You gave meHe blamed God! – and Eve, of course.  Eve, in turn, blamed the snake.  God held everyone accountable.  He cursed the Serpent.  Leglessness for snakes is not simply a curse, it is a reminder for us of the garden and what happened there.  There is something about snakes that cause unease and even fear in people.  That is left-over from the garden.

The curse on the serpent, on the other hand, was aimed at the devil, and became a Gospel promise – the first Gospel promise – for us.  "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."  It is wonderfully complete!  It promises the coming Savior.  It suggests the Virgin Birth (the seed of woman).  It speaks of the unreasoning hostility of the world, of sinful man, toward Jesus and all that is His.  It tells us that in the battle, the devil will strike, but not the fatal blow, and Jesus will utterly destroy the devil and all that is His.  

And Adam and Eve heard this curse on the serpent as the promise of divine intervention and salvation, just as you should.  How do I know this?  Chapter 4, verse 1.  Eve gives birth to her first child, and she calls him "I have gotten a man, the Lord." - that is what "Cain" meant.  She was wrong in identifying Cain as the savior – talk about mistaken identity, but she showed that she was believing God's promise, and already looking for the One.

Then God delivered a little taste of death to woman, probably to keep her eyes fixed on the goal.  He gave her pain in childbirth, and set in motion that complex of emotions and needs that sin has turned into the battle of the sexes.

Then God turned to Adam.  Because Adam did not obey the Word of God, or honor God by faithfulness, God cursed the entire creation.  He cursed it with corruption and death and the difficulties we call "work".  He made what had been a joy, and natural and good into toil, and sweat and trouble.  He created what we now call "Murphy's Law."  "If anything can go wrong, it will."  God said it this way, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.  Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field."

Gone were the easy and delightful fruits of the trees.  Now it would be work, heavy work like a farmer.  Now it would be the plants of the field, and the sweat of the brow.  And things won't grow easy, like they did – and weeds will happen.  This too was a little piece of death every day to keep us remembering that we died on that day, even if we did not stop breathing right off the bat.  It is all so that we remember about sin and death, so we place our hope in the promise, and rest on God, and work at doing faithfulness.  And learn that we should listen to God when He speaks!

Well, the Savior came.  He died, but rose from the dead, so the wound Satan administered was less than death and destruction.  But by His death and rising to life again, He has put to death the devil and vanquished sin, and killed death once and for all!  Your sins have been forgiven, and you have been given eternal life once again in your Baptism.  We don't get to see it or feel it, just like the Tree did not look as deadly as it was, to Adam and Eve.  God wants us to do what Adam and Eve did not, on that sorry day.  He wants us to trust Him, to take Him at His Word, and believe.

He hasn't even put a tree before us, or any law.  He tells us, instead, that He loves us.  He proved that love by sending His Son to become one of us, to live among us even though the sin of men and women must have been ever-so-offensive to Him in His holiness, and then to die for us.  He told Adam and Eve, "You have life – over there is death, stay away!"  He tells us, "You are dead, over here is life!  Listen to Me and take Me at my Word – and trust Me."

So, listen to the Word of God – and believe.  Take heed, and take a warning from God's account of the birth of death.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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