First Sunday in Lent (February 10, 2008)
“Rebellious Creatures and a Redeeming Creator” (Genesis 3:1-21)
For my Fine Arts degree, one of the classes I had to take was ceramics. We learned how to build all kinds of clay vessels, both by hand and on the potter’s wheel. I enjoyed the hand building, but I never quite got the hang of throwing things on the wheel. Inevitably, the clay would just tear apart as it spun there on the wheel and what was left looked like a gigantic mess rather than a pot or a vase.
It would have been nice to be able to blame the clay for what happened. Many times I did. “Stupid clay,” I would declare, and start over again with a new lump. But it was not the clay’s fault. It was the fault of the one who was working with the material. Me. I was the one who stuck my finger in too far or pushed a little too hard on the side of the clay as it turned on the wheel.
How different it was back in the beginning. God called the universe into existence out of nothing. He took some clay from the earth and made Adam. He took a rib from Adam and made Eve. They were perfect. Two glorious works of art.
But one day, things turned sour. The perfect life they had with God and with each other was torn apart and what was left was a gigantic mess. And like yours truly working on the potter’s wheel, when you could not blame the clay ... this time – in the Garden of Eden –it WAS the fault of the clay, not the Creator. The blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of Adam and Eve.
After all this, the Creator could have done what any other potter would do. Mash the clay all back together and start again with a new lump. But instead, God had a plan to save his rebellious creatures from the mess they had made.
Of course, Adam and Eve were much more than clay. They were not simply blobs of damp earth. They were thinking, feeling personal beings with rational minds and souls. They were creatures who had been made by the Creator and were in a trusting relationship with the Creator. And that trust was to be demonstrated as they obeyed God’s command to never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But that trust was betrayed. The creatures rebelled against their Creator. They listened to the voice of another rebellious creature – the devil – who appeared in the form of a serpent. He tempted Adam and Eve to doubt God’s Word. He tempted them to think that God’s perfect world was not enough for them. He tempted them to want more, the same way in which he wanted more and wanted to be like God. Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 give us some insights into how that happened. You can read about that later. Right now we want to deal with us human beings and the sinful nature that has been passed down to us ever since our first parents decided that they knew better than God.
When you doubt God’s Word, then you begin to delve into sin. Doubting God’s Word is a sin in and of itself, for sure. It’s really another form of unbelief. And doubting God’s Word leads to full-blown outward defiance. Eve ate from the tree. And she gave some to her husband, who was right there with her, doing nothing to stop this train wreck.
And then, once you recognize what you’ve done, you attempt to cover it up. Adam and Eve felt shame over their nakedness. They hid from God ... as if that was possible. They covered themselves with fig leaves. You and I have our own “fig leaves” that we use to cover our sin. We make all kinds of excuses, such as, “I only did it just that one time” ... “I’m not really hurting anyone” ... “Nobody’s going to notice” ... “Everyone else does it” ... “But you just don’t understand, I felt it was the right thing to do in that situation.” Fig leaves. And rather poor attempts at covering up what we know is disobedience to God.
Then comes the blame game. Who did Adam blame? He blamed Eve: “The WOMAN whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” And really, Adam was even being audacious enough to blame God: “The woman whom YOU gave to be with me.” Who did Eve blame? She blamed the devil: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” That’s the old, “The devil made me do it” excuse. Now it’s true, there are many temptations out there which the devil loves to use to get us to sin. In Revelation 12:9 he is called “that ancient serpent ... the deceiver of the whole world.” But Satan isn’t the only one we like to blame for our sin. We like to blame Adam and Eve, too. “If they just hadn’t eaten that fruit,” is a familiar refrain. But ultimately, each person is accountable for their own sin. St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he as done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
The Fall into sin brought disastrous results. It brought broken relationships. Adam and Eve hid from each other and from God. It brought pain and suffering. Giving birth was now going to be a painful ordeal. Wives will now resent the headship of their husbands. Work will now become a burden. And above all, death entered the world. You were reminded of that this past Wednesday, as ashes were placed upon your forehead, and the words of Genesis 3 echoed in your ears, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
You and I are rebellious creatures. But we have a redeeming Creator who took the initiative to save us from our sinful condition. He is the One who seeks out his creatures. Adam and Eve made no attempt to find God and confess their sin to him. Rather, it was the Lord who went walking in the Garden to find them. And later, in the fullness of time, it was the Lord Jesus who became flesh for us and went walking in the wilderness to do battle with the deceiver. Jesus was not deceived by Satan. The First Adam doubted God’s Word, but Jesus as True Man – the Second Adam – never doubted God’s Word. The First Adam wanted to be like God, but the Second Adam – who was also True God – humbled himself to live as a man, giving up his rights as God and lived faithfully under the Law and kept that Law perfectly for us. Jesus, our redeeming Creator, lived a faithful life in place of us rebellious creatures.
God sought out his creatures and promised salvation to them. He said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Now this has nothing to do with a fear of snakes. Notice that this is not talking about “offspring” in general. This is talking about a specific “offspring.” The pronouns used are singular. “HE shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise HIS heel.” Satan thought he had the upper hand when Jesus died on the cross. But it was only a bruise on Christ’s heel. The grave could not contain him. Satan’s wound, on the other hand, was a fatal blow to the head. He is a defeated enemy. His power over us is stripped away. His works are ruined. His destiny is hell.
God sought out his creatures, promised salvation to them, and he himself provides their proper covering. Fig leaves are poor attempts at covering sin. The same goes for our own fig leaves, our pitiful excuses. But at the end of our text, it says, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” God did this for his creatures. He took the skin of an animal or animals and covered over the shame of Adam and Eve. What was the cost? It cost life. Blood had to be shed.
You might say that was the first sacrifice on behalf of mankind. It was a foreshadowing of the once-for-all perfect sacrifice of the Son of God. God did this for his creatures. He covers over our sin and shame. The cost? The lifeblood of God’s one and only Son. Now by faith we receive Christ’s perfect, holy righteousness as our clothing, and we are forgiven and given eternal life.
Adam brought sin and death into the world and to all who would follow him. But Christ brought life into the world through his death and and resurrection. All who are united to him by baptism and by faith share in his life. It’s just as Paul wrote in today’s Epistle: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
In closing, let’s revisit the ceramics studio. Our instructor tried to get us to work with the “mistakes” we made and turn them into something beautiful. Take the piece off the wheel. Add some clay here or there. Engrave or print some designs into it. Have fun with it. Fire it in the kiln. Dip it in various glazes. Fire it again. See what happens. You might be surprised at the results.
God didn’t make any “mistakes” when he made the world. His creatures willfully rebelled against him. At that point, he could have just mashed the clay all back together again and started fresh and new. But that was not his divine plan. In his foreknowledge, there were no surprises. He knew what was going to happen. But in love, he allowed it. In love, he knew he would send his Son to be the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. In love, he forgives and covers over our sin. In love, he renews our hearts through his Spirit so we can trust in Christ, be faithful creatures of the Creator, and give him thanks for the way in which he seeks us out and makes us to be his own.