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Title: Free to Fall
Text: and 3:1-9
The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
Thesis: God has given us the freedom to fall and grace to catch us when we do.
Lenten Series: Reflecting, Repenting and Returning to God
The Lenten Season is a time for reflection, repenting of our sin and returning to God. During Lent we confront the presence of evil in the world, the reality of temptation and human sinfulness. However, it is in acknowledging human sinfulness and the need for repentance that we find our way to return to God who is merciful and gracious.
What have you ever wondered about God?
We wondered if God is like a Supreme Court justice judging-God? We wondered if God is laid-back and all peace loving and mellow-God? We wondered if God might be a Type A, take-charge kind of God? We wondered if God is really not all that interested in us and if God may be bored with humankind and has become a distant and disinterested-God? We wondered if God was an enthusiastic, self-improvement God who loves winners and hates losers? We wondered if God is a bleeding-heart, big soft-spot for down and outers-God? We wondered if God is a good-natured old grandpa-God? We wondered if God is a puppeteer, string-pulling manipulator-God?
We are all familiar with marionette puppets. Marionettes are puppets dangling from strings or wires and controlled from above. A marionette puppeteer is called a manipulator. A good manipulator can make a puppet appear absolutely life-like.
Is God a puppeteer manipulator? Are we puppets on strings? Does the world spin and the seasons come and go at the behest of the master-manipulator? Are we merely marionettes in the hands of God who orchestrates our every move? In some ways it would be easier to take if we knew it was all just an ongoing play set for the amusement of God. It would make life a lot easier if we knew that the choices we make are not our choices at all… but the will of God being carried out through the manipulating of strings and wires dangled from the heavens.
What does the bible have to say about who we are and why we do what we do and what role does God play in it all?
Our text begins with God. There is no doubt that…
I. God is the creator and sustainer of creation and that God is in charge.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, ‘Let there be…” Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over all the earth and over all the creatures…”
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night.” Evening came and then morning: the first day. 6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” Evening came and then morning: the second day. 9 Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land “earth,” and He called the gathering of the water “seas.” And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” And it was so. 12 The earth produced vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 Evening came and then morning: the third day. 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for festivals and for days and years. 15 They will be lights in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night—as well as the stars. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth, 18 to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 Evening came and then morning: the fourth day. 20 Then God said, “Let the water swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 21 So God created the large sea-creatures and every living creature that moves and swarms in the water, according to their kinds. He also created every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 So God blessed them, “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” 23 Evening came and then morning: the fifth day. 24 Then God said, “Let the earth produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that crawl, and the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 So God made the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and creatures that crawl on the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.
In addition to the Genesis narrative other scripture speaks to the creative activity of God. In the bible says that Jesus was with God and was God. John states that through Christ all things were made. In the Apostle Paul, using similar language, wrote that by Christ and for Christ, all things were created in heaven and on earth and adds, “in him all things hold together,” or are sustained.
The Prophet Isaiah envisions God sitting enthroned above the earth looking down and from his vantage point, people look like grasshoppers. Isaiah wrote, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”
A. God is the creator of all creation
B. God is the sustainer of all creation
C. God is in charge of all creation
Our text today specifically notes that people were part of God’s creative activity and people, human beings, were given opportunity and responsibility within God’s creation.
II. God entrusted man with opportunity and responsibility in creation.
15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
A. Opportunity to work, care for and enjoy the fruit of creation.
Man was given the opportunity to work… to be engaged in meaningful activity. Tending the garden was a full-time gig. It was a career rich with satisfying work and benefits that only members of the most powerful of union members enjoy. It was like being a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park. What a great place to live and work. Great benefits. A hands-off boss. What more could a person want.
Man was given the opportunity to freely enjoy the fruit of the garden. God told man that he was free to eat from any tree in the garden.
Imagine God had created Haagen-Dazs and put Adam and Eve in charge. Haagen-Dazs was actually the brain-child of Polish immigrants, Reuben and Rose Mattus who opened the first Haagen-Dazs store in the Bronx, NY in 1961. The name Haagen-Dazs was chosen because Reuben thought his ice cream should have a Scandinavian sounding name that would appeal to Americans. It means nothing but is supposed to conger up images of imported Danish dairy products. Haagen-Dazs is owned by General Mills who has licensed it to Nestle who now produces it in one of their subsidiaries… Dreyers.
But think of the Garden of Eden as a full-service Haagen-Dazs ice cream outlet. All of the classic flavors are there… and there are a lot more flavors than the original vanilla, chocolate and coffee. There are also the Haagen-Dazs 5 ice creams made with only 5 ingredients and sorbets made with ripened peaches, the zestiest of lemons and the sweetest of mangos, there are frozen yogurts made with live active cultures, sundae cones and ice cream bars featuring vanilla and almonds and both milk and dark chocolates. Every Haagen-Dazs product is there and free for the eating. That is, except for the Vanilla Swiss Almond.
In it says that “God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were good for food. [And] in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Adam and Eve could eat of any tree in the garden, including from the tree of life. The single caveat was that they could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve could not eat the Vanilla Swiss Almond.
That is the caveat that speaks to not only the opportunity of serving God and enjoying God’s goodness but also the responsibility of obeying the will of God.
B. Responsibility to obey the will of God.
It doesn’t seem like that should be an unreasonable expectation or all that difficult to do. It isn’t like there were no options. In fact there was absolutely no need to eat from that one single tree. God essentially said, “Have at it! But don’t eat from that one tree because if you do, you will die.”
In 1997 Billy Bob Thornton was interviewed before the Academy Awards. He had written, directed and starred in the independent film, Sling Blade, for which he did win an Academy Award.
The interviewer asked him what he would do if he won an award and Billy Bob Thornton said he would thank his parents. “Would you thank God?” the reporter asked. “No,” Thornton replied, “God has better things to worry about than my Oscar. God is not here to help us win Oscars. God is here to be obeyed.”
We may think that the universe revolves around us and that God exists to dote on us and is fully engaged in pulling strings to make us dance so well that we win Oscars. However, Billy Bob was onto something when he said, “God is here to be obeyed… not get me an Oscar.”
Adam and Eve seemed okay with enjoying the blessings of God and respecting God’s will.
But then someone slithered into their lives that was intent on destroying God’s credibility and wreaking havoc on humankind forever.
III. God wants only what is best for us and to think otherwise is to doubt God’s integrity.
1 Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3 But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ”
A. God wants only what is best for us.
James reminds us to remember that God only gives good to us. “Don’t be deceived… Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
The Prophet Jeremiah spoke of God’s goodness toward his people when he spoke for God saying, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
There was not a shred of deceit in God’s instructions to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God was explicitly clear about the opportunities and blessings of life in the garden and God was explicitly clear about the single restriction and the consequences of disobedience. Though God is extraordinarily generous toward us, God is also serious about our honoring his will. “No, means no!”
Adam and Eve seemed good with that until… enter the serpent. The serpent is the devil. The serpent is Satan.
If you are wondering who Satan is, two boys were walking home from Sunday school and church after hearing a sermon about the devil. One of the little boys asked the other, “What do you think about this Satan stuff?” The other boy replied, “Well, I think it is probably like the Santa Claus thing… Satan is probably just your dad.”
Satan is not just your dad… Satan is a real being who, in our text, is intent on casting doubt in God’s integrity.
B. Satan wants to cast doubt on God’s integrity.
Discussing God’s integrity with the devil is probably not a good idea. Actually we do it all the time. In theological circles we call it discussing the theodicy of God. Theodicy is the defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil in the world.
How could a good God stand by while an 8.9 earthquake set off a giant tsunami thatset off a nuclear meltdown, destroyed lives and property in northeastern Japan. How could a good God stand by while a really good guy policeman on the Limon, Colorado police force is killed trying to arrest a sex-offender on a ten year old warrant from the state of Tennessee? How can a good God stand idly by while Muamaar Gaddafi and his loyalists begin to squelch those who are resisting the last forty years of oppression in Lybia? You get the idea…
The serpent is described as the craftiest of creatures. The serpent is beguiling. The serpent is a hoodwinker. The serpent is a deceiver and loves to create doubt in our minds. That is precisely what the serpent did with Eve.
Note the deliberate misquote. “Did God say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” He did not ask, “So, is it correct that God said you could eat all you want from all the trees in the garden but just not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” Eve quickly responds, “Oh my no. We can eat of all the trees but just not that one tree because if we do, we will die.”
What began as deceitful, apparently innocent question now becomes the raising of doubt in Eve’s mind. The serpent said, “You will not surely die, God knows that when you eat the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In other words, “God is hiding something from you Eve. God wants to keep you in your place as his personal gardeners. God doesn’t have your best interests at heart. God doesn’t want you to become a God.”
Temptation is a sweet-talker. Temptation thinks you’ve just fallen off the turnip truck. Temptation thinks you are innocent and naïve. Temptation thinks you are without guile and fresh for being beguiled.
Whenever we get into a discussion with the devil or ourselves or someone else in an attempt to rationalize ourselves out of living in obedience to God’s will… we are headed for the skids and as “famous” Arnold, who is rumored to be intent on reviving his film career says, “You’re going down!”
Our text ends with verse 9. Adam and Eve had not weathered the wiles of the devil or their own inner cravings. They had caved to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life and eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were immediately smitten with guilt and shame as they were exposed for who and what they were.
14 I have written to you, children, because you have come to know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you have come to know the One who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have had victory over the evil one. 15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.
1 John 2:14-17
They attempted to cover it up and they tried to hide from God. But God came calling. God reached down and opened that cellar door and God knew they had played with fire.
In one of the most powerfully stern warnings in scripture Moses spoke to the Gadites and the Reubenites, who were feeling a bit reluctant about obeying the will of God. He said, “If you do this you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sins will find you out.”
God will be true to God’s nature. God will honor and bless obedience and God will not honor and bless disobedience. With God there are good consequences and negative consequences and it is really up to us whether we exercise our will to obey God or to disobey God.
It seems that God is not a marionette manipulator at all. God blesses us with the best of options and warns us against those things that are harmful. And then God leaves it up to us. We are free to succeed. We are free to fail and fall.
In his fictional book Sophia House, author Michael O’Brien tells the story of a famous painter during the Middle-Ages who was hired to create a giant mural over the altar of a great church in Paris. The subject was to be the life of Christ. The mural became known as the marvel of its time but despite laboring for many years, the mural was incomplete. For the life of him, he could not complete two faces.
He prayed for inspiration and then one day while walking the streets of Paris he saw a boy who had the face of an angel. He went to the boy and then to the boy’s parents and asked if he might sit as a model for the Christ Child. It was a masterpiece when completed.
The years passed and still no face for Judas Iscariot. The news went out far and wide and everyone who thought of themselves as twisted or deformed or wicked or corrupt or depraved came to sit… but no face seemed to the painter to be sin incarnate.
One day while sitting in the church a beggar staggered down the aisle and knelt at the steps of the altar. He reeked. He was a ragged and ruined man. But the painter took him home and cleaned him up and treated him kindly and eventually convinced him to sit for his painting.
One day as the face took shape and the beggar watched his image materialize on the mural, a look of horror filled his eyes. He buried his face in his hands and sobbed out his story. He was the angelic faced boy who modeled for the face of the Christ Child. The boy with the face of the Christ Child had fallen so far that he now could be the face of evil incarnate - Judas Iscariot. (Michael O’Brien, Sophia House, Ignatius Press, 2005)
We can fall far!
However, one of the marvelous things about the Season of Lent is that while we do well to recognize our sinfulness, as followers of Christ we also know that our falling is not the whole of the story. We also know that God is a God of mercy and grace and so we are reminded of these two things today.
So though we fall far, the Lenten Season is a time for repenting of our sin and a time for returning to God… knowing that however far we have fallen, God will mercifully and graciously reach down and scoop us up.