Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "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."
Sermon for 7th Sunday after Trinity 7/23/23
You Shall Surely Die
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Have you ever been around a curious child? A little child asks "Why?" They are new to the world and most things are curious to them – they want to know why. Why is the sky blue? Why does Grandpa have hair growing out of his ears? Why is Mommy crying so much, Grandma has just gone to live with Jesus? Why is sauerkraut so sour?
And when you answer a child's question, you usually get another "Why?" in response – wanting to know why what you have just said in response to their first question is so. Adam doesn't ask the question in our text, but it seems like a fair question to me. God places Adam in the Garden of Eden, and then He tells Adam that if he eats of a certain specific tree, he will die. To his credit, Adam did not ask the question. We want to look at it this morning, however. Our theme is "You Shall Surely Die."
Our Old Testament lesson this morning is the account of the creation of Adam. This is before Eve comes on the scene. There is the story of Adam's creation, the planting of the Garden of Eden, and the command concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The part about the planting of the Garden is historical information, but it does us no good. We cannot find the Garden. We cannot find it, because it isn't there any longer. The geographical data is from before the flood of Noah, when there was just one continent.
How do I know? The description of the placement of the Garden tells me. The river that flows out of the garden splits into four rivers which flow to or around various lands – and the lands named are not all on the same continent today. I don't know for sure where Havilah is, but the river once known as Pishon which our text says flows around it, is today called the Ganges – the river in India. The Gihon flows around Cush, which is modern day Ethiopia, which means that the Gihon would be the Nile, and the Nile does not flow around Ethiopia. The Tigris and the Euphrates are also known rivers today, except that the Tigris in Eden flows to the east of Assyria, and the Tigris we know today flows on the west side of Assyria. In short, these rivers, which all have their origin in Eden, identify rivers and places on three continents today, and they do not all share a common source today, as they did in the times of Eden, when the Bible tells us there was only one continent, and only one sea. It would appear that the flood of Noah changed the earth's geography significantly, and scrubbed the Garden of Eden off the face of the globe.
So the part of this account that tells us something we can use today is the part which describes Adam's unique creation, and sets before Adam the command of God, coupled with the warning that on the day that he would eat of the forbidden tree, he would surely die.
God created Adam in a unique way. All other creations were simply "spoken" into existence. God planned them with almost unimaginable wisdom, intelligence, and complexity, and yet when they were created, the creation is spoken of as merely "saying" "let there be . . .", and they sprang into existence according to the wisdom and plan of God. Man alone is spoken of as being "formed" by God. How He did it, and precisely what the differences are, we cannot say with certainty. The human body shares a great many design features with other creatures. That makes sense. If you build it to live in the same environment, and eat the same sorts of foods, you can use similar design features. Why "re-invent the wheel" each time, so to speak?
Man's creation, however, was different, by design. God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the "breath of life", and man became "a living soul." The word for "breath" is also the word for "spirit." God gave man unique physical attributes, and unique mental abilities, and then He gave man a spirit, and man became more than just an animal. He became a living soul. It is not said in this Scripture, but it is spoken in other places; the spirit in man is eternal. The "living soul"part of this is the eternal part of man – the part that either lives forever, or dies forever. It is in connection with the soul that the flesh of man was to live forever, because God had created man to be both flesh and spirit.
The warning about eating from the forbidden tree spoke about the life and the death of the spirit. The death of the body was incidental. It is absolutely sure, but it is connected to the spirit. God did not say, "if you eat of it, your flesh will die." The living soul – which was comprised of that marvelous body and the spirit of the man – would die. And since the spirit is eternal, the death would be eternal also – not just dead and gone like the road-kill we pass every day, but eternal death. Scriptures have taught us that this eternal death is what we call hell - torment and suffering of body and spirit, and complete and final and lasting separation from God, who is the Source and Fountain of Life.
The will of God towards man was good and was about life and communion - some sort of sharing and conversation together. Look at the Garden! It was filled with beauty and food, readily and freely available. "And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food." Sin is mankind's rejection of God. God told Adam what would happen. I don't think the tree had an intrinsic quality that gave the knowledge. It was the Word and command of God. When Adam avoided the tree, he knew by personal experience what "Good" was and what it was to be good. When he ate from the tree, he learned what evil was, and what it was to be evil, and so the tree gave him the knowledge of both – filling in the blank of the one he had not known.
In a sense, Adam's sin was unbelief. God warned him about the tree, but Adam ate anyhow, not trusting God or believing His Word. As unbelief always does, it caused sin. The lack of trust in God and in God's Word caused Adam to perform a sinful act. Our sins are also the products of unbelief -- fruits, if you will. We don't trust God in our lives, so we steal, or we lie, or we gossip. Perhaps we don't trust God to take care of us. Perhaps we don't trust God to work good and blessing in every situation. Some situations are hurtful and frightening and we don't trust God to deal with it in a satisfactory way. We don't trust God to be good to us or have a good will toward us, as He says that He does. So, we take control. We do what we should not do, or say things that we know we ought not to say. The result of our unbelief is, as it was with Adam, sin.
When we sin, we are rejecting God in favor our ourselves or someone else. When we reject God in sin, we step away from that Fountain and Source of life. That is why You Shall Surely Die. Sin breaks the connection between the sinner and Life itself. It doesn't break the chain of existence, however. That is why we face an eternity of death, of "fire and brimstone", according to Jesus, "of weeping and gnashing of teeth", "where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED."
Sin does that. My sin does that. Your sin does that. If you end your time in this world and this life in sin, you shall surely die. Your death in that case is not the one we observe here, with weeping and funerals and such. It is the one God has warned us about, when all flesh shall rise from the grave, and bodies and souls re-united shall go to their final and eternal reward. And we have no power to stop it, or to turn ourselves away from it. It is like trying to resist tasting that delight when you are on a diet – only far worse, far less possible. We cannot even cry out for help effectively by our own powers.
That is why the Gospel is so precious! Without the Gospel, you shall surely die. God understood that all along. He warned Adam about it. Now that we have all sinned, and each one of us personally deserves to die and face that eternal death, about which God warned us when He warned Adam. The wages of sin is death. Praise God, our Epistle lesson did not end with those words, nor does God's Word to us end there!
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. The will of God is still good towards us, and His will is for us to live , just as it was with Adam. Since we have sold ourselves into death by sin, God redeemed us, literally bought us back again, by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He who is Life bore our sins to the cross and endured our death for us. Now, to all those who know the truth and trust God and believe the promises of forgiveness and resurrection and life everlasting, God pours out all of those blessings. Once again, it is life for those who believe God and take Him at His Word. Forgiveness and life and salvation have been won for all people everywhere, but it is received and possessed only by those who believe. It is by grace through faith.
And just as God gave Adam all sorts of good things in the Garden, He gives us good things here and now. He has given us His Word, to teach us and through which He works within us. He has given us one another to love, and to support and encourage one another. He has given us this holy Meal. Here He feeds us with the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He hides those very real treasures under the form of the bread and wine, but it is by the power of His Word and command that they are really there! It is just as it was in the garden. The fruit of the forbidden tree did not look deadly. Adam could not see the danger and death that lurked beneath the form of the fruit. And we cannot see the life and health and forgiveness and blessing that lie hidden by the forms of the bread and wine, but it is the Word and promise of God that those blessings are there, forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting!
Without those two blessings, you shall surely die. But we are never without those blessings with the Gospel! God gives them to us in our Baptism. He pours out His grace upon us in the absolution -- and in the sermon. He feeds us with the bread of life, as Jesus fed the four thousand in our Gospel lesson this morning. Over and over again, God pours out grace and forgiveness and life and salvation upon those who believe.
Adam faced a unique choice. He was holy and alive for eternity – unless he chose to turn away from God and walk in that place where God had warned him, and eat the fruit which God had promised on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. You, too, are holy, by the gift of God in Christ Jesus. You, too, shall live forever – unless you also make the choice of Adam, to walk where God has forbidden, and to eat of those "fruits" about which God's Word tells us that if we partake, you shall surely die.
Come, let us walk together in love, and let us eat together this holy meal!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, July 23, 2023
You Shall Surely Die