The Fall of Humanity (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7)

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 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 from it you will certainly die….”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

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.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when 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 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, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (New International Version)

Lent is a 40-day season of preparation and repentance for Christians anticipating Good Friday’s cross of Christ and the victory over sin in Easter’s celebration of Christ’s resurrection. To understand why there is a need for repentance, let’s turn to where disobedience, shame, and guilt first entered the world.

Ever since humanity’s fall into sin, our human nature tends to look at the one thing we can’t do, instead of seeing all the range of possibilities that we can do.  The serpent (the devil) was successful in getting Adam and Eve to focus on that one tree they needed to avoid. In our fallen condition, just tell us what we can’t do and we’ll probably be sure to do it – rather than enjoy all the vast prospects we presently have and can actually do with God. 

What’s more, the devil subtly planted a terrible and untruthful idea in the heads of Adam and Eve – that God was somehow holding out on them and was not providing everything they really needed and wanted in life.

Sin may look attractive, and even initially taste good. Yet, disobedience has an awful aftertaste and damages our insides. Indeed, sin always over-promises and under-delivers.

Perhaps the greatest and deepest effect of sin is the shame of disobedience which causes us to hide from God, one another, and even ourselves. All this hiding causes spiritual blindness. We end up sleepwalking through hell, unaware of our awful spiritual plight. 

Because of this reality, we need deliverance; we need a Savior to intervene and save us from our ignorance and guilt. As mere dust, we need God’s Spirit to breathe new life into us so that we may again enjoy the Lord in Paradise.

Our fallen spiritual condition does not want to acknowledge our need for the sheer grace of God. Sewing some fig leaves together is symbolic of Adam and Eve’s new independence from God; from now on, they’re going to operate on their own.  The introduction of sin into the world causes people to look for ways to cope and deal with life apart from God.

We want to return to Paradise. We don’t want to hurt and struggle and be overburdened anymore. So, we devise all kinds of ideas and ways of doing that. And the Paradise we seek always seems to be “out there” somewhere, just out of our reach. 

In our fallen condition, we are plagued with the “if only” syndrome:

If only I had _____ (fill-in the blank) then I would be happy and be in Paradise.

If only I could meet the right person, then that special someone could meet my needs and complete me.

If only the people in my life were better, then everything would be okay and I could enjoy Paradise.

If only I had more money, a bigger house, another car, more power and influence.

If only other people would stop being jerks, care more, serve more, love more. If only my family would listen to me.

If only I could have my way, then there would surely be a restoration to Paradise.

The point to all the “if only” is that it twists us all up into believing that I’m either unlovable or that everyone else is the problem. If they would just change, then the world would be a better place. Or if only I was better, then I wouldn’t have so many problems.

The truth, however, is that we already have what we are so desperately looking for. And since we are unaware that God is with us, and wants to provide for us, we sew fig leaves together and look love in all the wrong places.

No man or woman is going to complete you because no person can fix what is broken in your heart. If you had your ideal relationship, perfect family, and dream job, you would still be empty. Why? Because you and I need a Savior to deliver us from our sin.

We all need deliverance from our disordered loves and misguided attempts to find Paradise in this life apart from God. The temptation after The Fall is to try and manufacture happiness outside of God through perfect relationships and ideal circumstances. 

What to do? Repent. Turn from the shame and guilt of disobedience and deal with the brokenness in our own lives. And that is what the season of Lent is all about.

Without God there are hidden feelings of mistrust, alienation, conditional love, selfishness, greed, and injustice. But with God there is forgiveness, grace, and unconditional love – the very kind of love that we need.

In this season of Lent, we must repent of our hiding and wishing for everything and everyone else to be different without any cost to myself. 

What do you need to repent of in this season? 

Who are the people that you look to do for you what only God can do? 

Have you forsaken your first love of Jesus Christ? 

How is the state of your relationship with God? Has it been stale, dull, and lacking passion, desire, and energy?  Has distance replaced intimacy between you and God? 

Do you avoid the spiritual disciplines of bible reading and prayer because you believe something else will satisfy the real needs of your heart? 

Are you keeping up appearances and hiding, while on the inside you have doubt, depression, and despair that things will never change? 

The prayers of this season are to be prayers of repentance:

Merciful God, we confess that we have hungered after things which do not satisfy.  We have doubted your ability to provide for us. Forgive our lack of faith. Restore in us such trust and love that we may again walk with you in Paradise. 

Loving God, we admit that we’ve given ground to Satan by believing his deception that we can find ultimate happiness in things other than you. So, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we resist all of the devil’s strategies to hold us in spiritual blindness and darkness. 

Blessed Holy Spirit, we invite you to bring the fullness of your power to convict us and lead us into faith in Jesus. We humbly ask that you bring all the power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection directly against all forces of darkness seeking to destroy us. Set us free from all that blinds us and keeps us in bondage. 

Grant us, O God, the grace to be faithful and persistent in our walk with you.  Amen.

Hope for the Grieving (Jeremiah 31:15-22)

Orthodox icon of Rachel weeping for the children

This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

This is what the Lord says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping
    and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,”
declares the Lord.
    “They will return from the land of the enemy.
So there is hope for your descendants,”
declares the Lord.
    “Your children will return to their own land.

“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
    ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf,
    and I have been disciplined.
Restore me, and I will return,
    because you are the Lord my God.
After I strayed,
    I repented;
after I came to understand,
    I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated
    because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord.

“Set up road signs;
    put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
    the road that you take.
Return, Virgin Israel,
    return to your towns.
How long will you wander,
    unfaithful Daughter Israel?
The Lord will create a new thing on earth—
    the woman will return to the man.” (New International Version)

The bereavement of losing someone you care about is awful. A parent experiencing the death of a child is next level grief. There is no bereavement like it.

As a hospital chaplain, I occasionally attend to a grieving mother who just lost her baby. I have shown up for premature and stillborn deaths, full term births, then death, sudden infant death, and more. The grief is indescribable.

On some level, there is no comfort – and never will be. I know that, for me, providing grief support to mothers who are enduring the death of a baby or young child has profoundly changed me and forever impacted my soul. So, I can only imagine what it’s like for a mother.

Many Christians will recognize the verse of Rachel weeping for her children as part of the early story surrounding Jesus:

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”(Matthew 2:13-18, NIV)

It’s really hard to have hope when you’re in the throes of lamenting the death of children. We need hope. It’s necessary to life. We cannot survive, let alone thrive, without it.

It is possible to simultaneously experience hopelessness and hope. At the same time, we hold both despair and desire, anguish and anticipation, in our hearts. While we may never forget who we have lost, we make it through our days believing that another child can change the world for the better. We place our faith in the Christ child, in Jesus.

Wily old King Herod massacred innocent toddlers in order to ensure the destruction of Jesus. Behind his atrocity was the devil himself who knew that Jesus was the coming King who would one day bring salvation. But the old King’s sinister plan didn’t work. 

Reflecting on a vision of Christ’s birth, the Apostle John stated:

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12:4-5, NIV)

Satan wars against God’s Son and God’s people, whose roots go all the way back to the first prophecy of Christ:

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 heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)

There has been bad blood, ever since the Fall of humanity, between the serpent and the seed of the woman. The Old Testament Israelites were continually being threatened with extermination; they were constantly tempted to conform to pagan ways for handling their suffering and grief. 

Herod was just another in a long line of demonically animated men trying to perpetuate the kingdom of darkness. The devil knows that his time is short; and he uses twisted persons like Herod for his insidious schemes.

Many people experience hell on earth because Satan is on a rampage; mothers and their children are often the collateral damage.

The holiday season is a hard time of year for many people, filled with depression instead of joy, grieving over lost loved ones for whom you will not spend another Christmas with. And yet, there is a reunion coming, the hope of a bodily resurrection in which we will be with Jesus and God’s people forever.

Satan’s most powerful weapon, death, has lost its sting because of Jesus. Death does not have the last word; resurrection does. And this hope for the future helps us in the present to keep going and not give up.

The prophet Jeremiah was dealing with children lost in war to the invading Babylonians. His words are a lament in the context of the hope that captivity and exile will not be forever. 

Matthew wants us to see that the exile is over for us; Jesus has arrived, and the tears that were shed will shortly dry up. There may be a time of suffering that we must endure, but there is glory ahead.

Jesus is the Great Deliverer who brings us out of the grip of death, grief, and lament and into the promises of God. Christ is our hope. Amen, and amen.

The Time Is Ripe (Galatians 4:1-7)

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (New International Version)

The three greatest persons in biblical history – Abraham, Moses, and Jesus – are connected. God entered into a covenant with Abraham and promised to bless everyone on the earth through his progeny. God gave Moses the Law as a sort of school teacher and guide, alongside Abraham’s covenant. God fulfilled the covenant promise in Jesus. Thus, everyone who is led and tutored toward Christ, inherits all of God’s promises.

Under the Law

The Apostle Paul, speaking to a group of new believers who were confused about the relation between the Law and Christ, helped them understand with a metaphor. It’s like a boy who is the heir to a great estate. Someday, it will all be his. But now, he’s too young to possess it. So, during his childhood, he’s subject to trustees who oversee the estate, and teachers who instruct him in how to actually use the wealth once he actually inherits it.

While the boy is in the middle of the guidance, he’s not in control of much, just like the servants on the estate. The child will remain in this state until his time comes, until the date in which his father says he can take possession of the inheritance.

Before Christ, people were under the Law. They were heirs to God’s great kingdom promises. Yet, they needed the Law to guide and instruct them until it was time for them to receive the inheritance. Much like a present day kid in school, they see themselves in a sort of bondage, even though it’s a necessary part of their lives.

It’s bondage in the sense that the Law, the schoolmaster, has no power or ability to give the inheritance nor to save them from their current condition. In other words, the Law is good, yet lacks the potency to actually deliver one from sin, death, and hell.

What’s more, the elemental spirits of the age, namely Satan and his wicked spirits, wormed their way into the process of guidance and twisted the Law for their own advantage, to keep people in bondage. Just as the guardian of the boy may mistreat him in ways his father never intended, so the devil has exploited the Law in order to have it be a tyrannical presence over people.

Whereas God intended the Law to reveal humanity’s sin and drive them to a Savior, evil uses the Law to shame people and drive them to despair. The Law was meant for good, to be a gracious leading of people to the Messiah; yet Satan co-opted the Law to bring condemnation to folks and keep them under his insidious thumb.

In Christ

But when the time was ripe, God sent the Son so that people would be done with their guardians and inherit divine promises. To use yet another metaphor, when the scaffolding on a building has served it’s intended purpose in construction, it’s taken down; it’s no longer needed. It would be weird if the shiny new building were erected, and the owner decided to keep the scaffolding beside the structure.

The Law of Moses had done its work of preparing people for Christ. So, God sent Jesus, the Son, to redeem humanity, to transform slaves into sons and daughters. The Lord adopted us and granted us full rights as children of the King.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—because it is written, Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.

Galatians 3:13, CEB

Jesus is uniquely qualified to be such a Redeemer of humanity. He is God’s Son, born of a human mother. Therefore, as both divine and human – the God Man – Jesus is the person for whom all the covenant promises of God have their fulfillment.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. He is the one through whom God created the universe, the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end. He reflects the brightness of God’s glory and is the exact likeness of God’s own being, sustaining the universe with his powerful word. After achieving forgiveness for the sins of all human beings, he sat down in heaven at the right side of God, the Supreme Power. (Hebrews 1:1-3, GNT)

In Christian trinitarian theology, God is Three in One, the Holy Trinity. God sent the Son into the world, of which believers celebrate the incarnation of Christ each year at Christmas. God sent the Spirit into our hearts; and from that place we cry “Abba! Father!” The Spirit testifies with our own spirit that we are truly adopted children of God. (Romans 8:15-16)

The Spirit is like the seal on a document, proving that our inheritance papers are all in order. And, much more than that, the Spirit also does this sealing work with affection. Christianity is not merely a legal transaction; it’s an experience of grace and love in which we enter into a new life, free from bondage, and alive to all the possibilities that humanity was originally meant for.

Both our status and our sensibilities are changed. It happens because of God’s good grace and purpose, fulfilled in Christ and impressed on us by the Spirit.

Conclusion

The French philosopher and writer, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), once said that there is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each person which needs to be filled:

“There was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace. This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” Blaise Pascal, Pensées

If we want to find happiness, satisfaction, and goodwill, then the empty void within us creatures and within the systems and the cultures we create, needs to be filled with our Creator.

The Christian season of Advent is an appropriate time to reconnect with the infinite and the immutable. The time is ripe to be filled not only with love and goodness, but with the very source of Love itself.

May it be so, to the glory of God.

The Effects of the Fall (Genesis 6:11-22)

The Flood of Noah by Majd Ramadan, 2014

In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth.

God said to Noah, “The end has come for all creatures, since they have filled the earth with violence. I am now about to destroy them along with the earth, so make a wooden ark. Make the ark with nesting places and cover it inside and out with tar. This is how you should make it: four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Make a roof for the ark and complete it one foot from the top. Put a door in its side. In the hold below, make the second and third decks.

“I am now bringing the floodwaters over the earth to destroy everything under the sky that breathes. Everything on earth is about to take its last breath. But I will set up my covenant with you. You will go into the ark together with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. From all living things—from all creatures—you are to bring a pair, male and female, into the ark with you to keep them alive. From each kind of bird, from each kind of livestock, and from each kind of everything that crawls on the ground—a pair from each will go in with you to stay alive. Take some from every kind of food and stow it as food for you and for the animals.”

Noah did everything exactly as God commanded him. (Common English Bible)

The entire world is profoundly broken. 

Everywhere, people are messed-up. In one breath they can tell you they’re sorry for another’s abuse or violence against you, then turn right around and say some irrational nonsense and terribly insensitive things to you.

It doesn’t matter where you go – whether school, work, home and even church, there is institutional brokenness. Individual persons, and the human structures and systems they put in place, all contain elements of bondage instead of freedom. It doesn’t take a religious person to observe that there’s such a thing as sin.

Holy Scripture’s description of this sad reality goes all the way back to a story about the fall of humanity into sin and rebellion. Satan, the devil, led the original persons, Adam and Eve, into disobedience of God. Satan tempted Eve to doubt whether God really had her best interests at mind; to question the truthfulness of God’s Word; and, to wonder about the wisdom of listening to God (Genesis 3:1-5). Adam just flat out chose to disobey God, and, so, the entire world changed (Genesis 3:16-17). 

Immediately, everything was different in the world and with people. The choice to disobey God brought feelings of fear and shame; a loss of fellowship with God; hiding from God; a bent to pervert the truth; the propensity for the genders to try and dominate each other; expulsion from the garden; and physical death (Genesis 3:7-24). 

And the unholy tools people used against one another were violent and corrupt. People thought nothing of oppressing each other, abusing one another, attacking others – both verbally and physically. Rape, assault, theft, and murder became daily experiences. That’s some downright icky stuff. 

No wonder the world is messed up.

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds—the works. I’m sorry I made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7, MSG)

Noah was the only guy on the face of the earth for whom the Lord saw any good. And it was enough good worth saving. Yet, people are still in the nasty habit of turning on each other, like a bunch of sharks with blood in the water.

Unfortunately, the fall of humanity still affects us all. It has brought not only physical death, but spiritual death. That means we are alienated from God, in rebellion, and enslaved to our own passions and desires (Isaiah 1:2-6; Romans 2:14-15; Ephesians 2:1-3). 

We are also alienated from one another by having continual bents toward discord, suspicion, and jealousy instead of love and trust (Romans 1:29-31; James 3:14-16). 

We are even alienated and totally out of touch with ourselves by either loving ourselves as gods or hating ourselves with an inordinate emotional masochism (Philippians 2:21; 2 Timothy 3:2-4). In short, we are selfish people who experience separation from God, others, and self.

If this is the true reality of humanity, then it is awfully depressing, discouraging, and damaging. And we know it’s true because we’ve all been both victims and victimizers. So, who then, will rescue us from this horrific death? 

Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:57). 

The good news is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the curse has been reversed. Christ has restored us to our original place of fellowship with God. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In Christ, there is hope for humanity (John 14:6). 

To live in freedom, therefore, involves knowledge, honesty, and sincere decisions of faith and love whereby truth is applied to life.

Just as the world needed a thorough purging of evil through a cleansing worldwide flood, so we need a bath of grace, to be completely awash with the love of God in Christ, to have all the crud of evil scrubbed from our soul. And this is precisely what Christian baptism symbolizes.

Jesus offered himself for us so that we might live without violence and no longer be separated from God, others, and self. He has brought us reconciliation. In him we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (2 Corinthians 5:16-19; Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3).

In Christianity, the purpose of ministry is to come alongside people trapped in their awful cycles of brokenness and communicate good news of grace and forgiveness with both words and actions.

Although the world is terribly askew, God has demonstrated his love for us in that, while we were still violent and corrupt sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). 

We needed a Savior. God provided One. 

Are you in touch with the ways you are separated from God, others, and self? 

Are you aware of the ways in which your church or faith community has an unhealthy separation from the world? 

In what ways can you apply the love of God to broken people and systems in your community? What will it take to reach them?

Sin, guilt, shame, rebellion, disobedience, and violence need not define us. We can do better.

Almighty God, we have sinned against you, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us all our offenses; and grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.