If you remove the first three chapters of Genesis, anything goes. So much foundational theology is packed into those seminal verses. One of the things that would go out the door is our initial understanding of sin and its consequences—and God's immediate plan to redeem a world gone bad. Here's a great little sermon on Genesis 3 and its critical themes from John Beukema, pastor of King Street Church in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and former associate editor of PreachingToday.com.
I once read an article in Time magazine, entitled "Adam Has Fallen Again." A few years ago, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a priceless, fifteenth-century marble statue of Adam toppled over and shattered while no one was in the room. Although vandalism was initially suspected, curators determined that the life-size Venetian sculpture buckled of its own accord. The museum's director said, "It will take a great deal of time and skill, but the piece can be restored."
We are all sinners. We're all guilty. We've all fallen, and we can't get up. It began with the first Adam, and it didn't stop there. Have you ever wondered why other people sin? Have you ever wondered why that rich executive who seems to have everything pulls a crooked deal just to get a little bit more? Have you ever wondered why the guy with a beautiful wife and a beautiful family throws it all away for an affair? Have you ever wondered why the bright student cheats on an exam or the good girl snorts coke or a trusted friend betrays you? Have you ever wondered why a community leader, who seems to be such a nice guy, molests a child? Have you? It's easy to imagine why bad people do bad things, but what about all those people who look just like us?
Why is it that you lose your temper? Why is it that you just can't seem to control your mouth? Why is it that you feel compelled to gamble? That you're filled with jealousy about someone? That you're drawn to pornography even though you don't want to be? Why is it that you can't stop gossiping? You know it's wrong, so why is it that you're addicted to pills and nobody else knows? Why is it that you just can't keep from hating someone? How do you deal with that problem we all face? Even if you don't want to admit it, it's there.
Someone stopped me earlier this week and asked, "What are you preaching about on Sunday, John?" I said, "To sum it up quickly—sin. And I think I'm going to be against it." Her reaction stopped me in my tracks: "What are you going to talk about that for? Why don't you pick something exciting? Why don't you pick something that meets people's needs instead of a depressing topic like sin?" God only knows I wish I didn't have to preach about it. God only knows I wish I didn't have to live in it. But we do. Every day. And we've got to take it seriously. We can't go around with a casual attitude that says, It happens to the best of us. Oh well! Why? Because the Word tells us that this flaw is fatal.
At the end of Genesis 2, we have this wonderful little scene: we've got a man, a woman, and Paradise. It's pure bliss. When we come to the end of chapter 2, everything is good, good, good. The man and the woman are naked, and they're not ashamed. But then, chapter 3: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made."
A few summers ago, my family had the opportunity to do something we had never done before: we took a mini-sabbatical. One evening, as I was laying on the bed reading book number 7,012, I heard a thud—one of those thuds that cannot possibly be good. I listened for anything else, but there was no other noise. In fact, it was very silent. I went back to reading my book, but then my wife came in. "John," she said, "you've got to come out here."
When I went outside, I saw a young woman, all by herself, lying on the road in front of our cabin, dying. She had wrecked her moped. We called 911 and stayed with her until it came. It was one of the worst feelings of helplessness I've ever had. (I'm a doctor, but I'm one of those doctors that doesn't do anybody any good.) I didn't know what to do except pray. Finally the ambulance arrived with a doctor that could do somebody good.
That changed our Saturday. There was a heaviness in our house—a pall over the day. It wasn't gone the next day as we went to church. I went to the hospital to try and find out if she was dead or alive. They wouldn't tell me. We finished our vacation knowing nothing about her welfare. That thud changed things.
After sin enters, nothing is the same.
Things are going great, and then comes a thud—and nothing is ever the same again. Genesis 3 is the thud. The serpent shows up. I don't know what he looked like, and I'm not going to speculate as to what he looked like before God cursed him. I do know that this serpent is Satan's emissary or Satan himself in disguise. The text tells us he's characterized by craftiness—he's subtle, shrewd, sly.
The man and the woman are going along in life, not a care in the world. Everything is wonderful. And then comes the serpent—the thud. He says to the woman, "Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the Garden?" This is actually a hard phrase to translate. Martin Luther writes that it indicates a turning up of the nose, a scoffing—"Come on! Did God really say that?" In asking the question, Satan manufactures mistrust in the maker. This gives us a clue as to when sin creeps into our lives. It creeps in when we doubt God's Word.
We doubt God's Word in a lot of ways. Did God mean it when he said we have to be holy like he's holy? Come on! After all, we're human. What's this deal about reaping what I sow? Am I really going to reap what I sow? And just like that, I doubt the Word, and that's when sin gets in.
Look at verses 2 and 3: "And 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.'" That's actually a distortion of God's command. She exaggerates the command, making the restriction bigger than it originally was. God didn't say anything about not touching it. He said: You can eat from everything else, but don't eat from that one tree. The woman changes things to make God's restriction seem worse and seemingly unfair. Here we learn that sin can creep in when we distort God's Word.
In verse 4, the story continues: "'You will not surely die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'" The serpent offers another lie: God's keeping you from being everything that you could be. You could be gods in the garden. He's withholding that.
Eve buys into that lie and verse 6 tells us that she looks at the fruit with new eyes and decides to take and eat it. She then gives it to Adam, and Adam eats it, too. They believe the lie, taking it more seriously than God's warning.
Sin creeps in when we disregard God's Word. There are some things that aren't spelled out for us, so we falter. But there are a lot of clear commands we ignore, saying, "That's not for me." That's when sin gets us. But all of this is not the focus of this chapter in Genesis. This chapter is not about the how of sin or the why of sin as much as it's about the what of sin. The majority of the chapter focuses on what sin costs us. It focuses on how expensive it is, how painful and deadly it is. It points out four major penalties for our actions.
Sin ruins our innocence.
For the first nine years of my life, I lived in a little town in New York called Afton. There were about 300 people in that town, and I had a lot of fun there. I could go everywhere. I played not only in our backyard, which was like four or five acres, but over the fence on into the pasture. I could walk to school on my own, which was several blocks away. I could go uptown to the bakery. I could go to the creek. I could walk a long way over to the cemetery. I could go to the river. I could fish. I could go to the ball field without a care in the world. But then we moved to the city. It was awful. I was mugged more times than I can begin to tell you. I couldn't walk my dog, it was so unsafe. I couldn't go to the bathroom at school, because somebody would beat up on me. I had more fistfights from grade four to grade five than I've ever had in all the rest of my life combined. I was just trying to stay alive. And in all of this, I began to look at the world differently. When I lived in Afton, I saw the world as a safe place. Then I moved, and I realized it was not a safe place to be at all. It was a scary place with scary people.
You could say I was robbed of my innocence. But this doesn't even begin to compare with the enormous loss of innocence for Adam and Eve. Verse 7 says, "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." Adam and Eve gained enough understanding to see they were sinful, and they began to look at themselves differently. What had changed? There's nobody else but the animals and God, and now all of a sudden they're ashamed and they cover themselves. Nothing had changed from their happy, care-free days of nudity in the Garden—except sin.
Sin steals our ability to look at things the same way. It distorts our perceptions. It colors our judgment. Even good things suddenly become suspect because we're not innocent anymore, and we know how evil can creep in. Shame and guilt and distrust dog our days.
Sin ruins our intimacy with God.
Sin also ruins our intimacy with God. Look at verse 8. "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden at the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.' And he said, 'Who told you that you were naked?'"
Daily life apparently was made up of time with God in the Garden. I can't even get my arms around that concept—a daily walk with the Almighty. Yahweh Elohim entered into their space, in the garden, the place of delight, and enjoyed his creation. But now things are different. The sound of God walking back and forth makes them run away, and they feel only fear where before they had wanted to be with God. Now dread is there, caused by sin. All the while, God is looking for them. He's longing for fellowship with his creation. What a beautiful thing. That should fill us with joy, and yet it fills them with fear.
Sin separates us from God. You know the feeling. If in your entire life you have ever had one moment where you felt close to God, then you know what it's like not to feel it anymore. It's lousy. Sin that we aren't willing to confess, sin that we don't recognize or dealt with, does that to us. Isaiah 59:2 says, "Your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden his face from you." That's what happens. It's not nice. It wrecks our intimacy, and that's when we start lying to the God who knows everything.
Sin ruins our relationships.
Sin also ruins our relationships. In verse 11, the story continues with God asking the man and the woman, "Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" The man says, "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it." God's reply to the woman: "What is this that you have done?"
Notice the unwillingness to take responsibility starts right away. Finger pointing is immediate. This is the man, who the first time he saw the woman, burst into poetry. How many of you who are married women had a husband who burst into poetry the first time he saw you—or any time since? Adam did. He was wowed, ecstatic. But now he looks to lay all the blame on "this woman." And the woman does her part to shift the blame, too. In verse 13, God asks her, "What is this you have done?" She says, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Sin does that. We sin and say, "I didn't cheat on you—I was seduced;" "If you hadn't done that, then I wouldn't have done this;" "You made me do that, because I was backed into a corner."
Sin devalues and destroys our relationships with each other, because when sin is operating, we can't shut up to say the right thing. We just can't back off. We can't give grace where grace is due.
Because of this, God curses the snake, and then he turns to the woman. The changes to the woman are not so much a curse, but an alteration of her experience. Now she will experience pain in childbirth. There's also an alteration in how she and Adam will relate. In verse 16, God says, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." There's nothing good in that last sentence. Those are all negative words. Instead of loving and cherishing each other, they will now be inclined to desire and dominate each other. What this verse tells us is that the woman's sinful inclination will be to grasp and crave what God has given to the husband. She's going to long for the position, the privilege God gave the husband. And what will the man do in his sinfulness? He's going to dominate and trample over his wife. When we let our sinfulness get in the way, that's our reaction. That's what sin does to our relationships, and it's not pretty.
Sin ruins our enjoyment of all God's gifts.
Sin also ruins our enjoyment of all God's gifts. The man gets the longest curse. Why? It was his responsibility to make sure all of this didn't happen. He failed to step up to the plate. As the woman suffers in her role as child bearer, man will now suffer in his role as provider. Weariness and sweat will characterize his responsibilities. Life will have an end now, but it's going to be a struggle all the way. Verse 23 says, "So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken." God drives them out, and the place of delight is not open to them. It's off limits. Sin did that.
In some ways, this is all a bit of a blessing. In their present state, to live forever would be a type of hell. It would be an eternal death. It would be like the vampire, living forever, but in a horrible way. In a sense, it's a blessing that God keeps them from the tree of life. Notice how he does it in verse 24: "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." To assure they stay out, God puts cherubim at the entry—a frightening, awesome, scary being (quite unlike what we see on greeting cards and the like). A celestial creature you could not deal with lightly is placed at the entrance. That otherworldly creature keeps the couple from returning to the place of beauty. Their enjoyment of all of God's gifts has been ruined.
Sin is costly, but Jesus has come.
As you can see, sin is costly. What a depressing thought! But God does put a glimmer of hope here. God does shine a little truth into the dismal, wretched scene of Genesis 3. He does so in a couple of places, actually.
First of all, in his word to the serpent in verse 15, God says, "I'll put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel." The earliest church scholars called this the proto evangelium—the first gospel. Verse 15 is the first mention of the Good News in our Bible. It's a word from God that says: Yeah, Satan, sin is in. You have brought it into this world as part of your plan. But there's another plan at work, and it's mine—and it's going to prevail. There's a Messiah coming. You're going to strike him in the heel. But I've got news for you, Satan. He's going to crush your head, and the ballgame will be over.
Verse 21 offers another ray of hope: "The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." The LORD himself fashions clothes, and he replaces the leaves they put on with skins. Apparently, animals had to die to cover the price of sin. Perhaps that prefigures the death of Christ, who died to take away the sin of the world.
The message of these two verses is that sin is costly, but Christ is coming. Sin has a price; but Jesus paid it all. Adam has fallen, but Christ is on the horizon.
The Washington Post once posted this question: "Do you believe in the concept of sin?" Here are three responses people sent in to that question.
Patrick Lawrence from Alexandria wrote:
Yes, I do believe in the concept of sin. I'm a Muslim by faith. I understand what my sins and sinful decisions are. I ask God for forgiveness and try to make better decisions going forward. And I hope that when it's all added up, I've done more good than bad in my life and am given eternal rewards when my life is called.
That's a dismal scene, isn't it? I'm glad and thankful I don't have to hope that the scales balance out in my favor—that I've done more good than bad. Because that game is not going to work.
Statian Gordon from Washington wrote: "To me, sin is something the church created to get people to behave the way they wanted them to."
I don't have to go far to know that's not true. I just have to look in my own heart, and I know sin isn't some outside fabrication. It's here in my heart. I've seen it.
Peter Teliar from Gaithersburg wrote: "I definitely believe in the concept of sin. Before I became a Christian, I used to deal with my sin by ignoring it. Now when I sin I find immeasurable comfort in reminding myself that Jesus took the punishment intended for me as a result of my sin."
Sin is real and we must deal with it. Only God can cleanse us of it. But let us not take it lightly. Thousands of years after Adam, we're still wallowing in sin. We're still seeing the wreckage and feeling the pain of sin. But Jesus has come, and he died, taking our sin upon himself, paying a bloody price for our forgiveness. We're sinful, but Jesus has come.
Sin still has a price. It's a deadly, costly business, and we can't dabble in it without being swept away. We can't gargle with toxins without ingesting poison. That affair you're contemplating will be catastrophic. Those debts you're secretly accumulating are going to crush you. The highs of alcohol or drugs you crave are a nosedive into the runway. The lies you are creating will put a chokehold on you. The grudges you are grasping and nursing will squeeze the juice of joy out of your life and leave you a dried-out shell. There's forgiveness through Jesus for any and every single thing. But we cannot use his mercy as an excuse to experiment, for it's too deadly. Because just when things seem so fine and good, just when things are all idyllic and delightful, there will be a thud and nothing will be the same again.
To see an outline of Beukema's sermon, click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________