Saturday, September 10, 2011

All Was Lost; All Shall Be Well

Preached Saturday, September 10, 2011 for an evangelistic service
Scripture readings: Genesis 3:1-15; John 1:9-14

The Bible tells us about the kind of world and the sort of life we were designed for and created for. It also shows us a picture of what has gone wrong.

The part of the story we read from Genesis tells us how things went wrong. If we kept on reading we would see how things got much worse; but then the TV, and the radio, and the internet all tell us that it has gotten much worse. We wonder when the next terrorist attack will come, and when the next jet will plow into the next skyscraper. The big world around us shows us that things have gone wrong.

But we see it on the small scale of our own lives. Even in our own homes (or even if we live alone) there can be angers, and stresses, and betrayals, and griefs that eat at our minds, and our wills, and break our hearts, or embitter us, or isolate us.

The Bible tells us that we were designed and created to live in a garden, a paradise, a place of harmony, a place of good relationships. And we lost it. The world and human life became broken and dysfunctional things. This happened long before we were born, but it is a fact of life.

Long ago the first humans tried to put themselves in a state of independence from God thinking they could get away with this, even though God is the source of life for all things. And God responded by letting them have what they wanted, a life lived outside the source of life.

They had wanted an independence that was beyond the ability of any creature living in a world made by God. It was as if beings with lungs wanted to live independent of the air, or a fish wanted to live out of water. What hope could there be for a life like that?

Before the portion of the story that we have read, you can read how God brought all the animals to the man, and the man named them, and he did not find among them a helper suited to him. And since none of the other creatures were capable of giving him the help and the depth of relationship that he needed, God gave him a wife. And the man immediately knew who this person was and how good for him she was.

If we were in harmony with God, we would be like those first humans in the beginning. We would be able to size up anything (and anyone) that came our way, and know what to do. We would know what was good for us, and what was not. We would know what we needed and what we did not need. Any person who came into our life, we would understand, and we would be able to see how that person was a gift from God, and we would know how to deal with that person. We would know what to say to that person, and how to live together.

Our human nature is out of harmony with God. If God brought the best person, the greatest source of human love to us, we would fail to praise that person properly and give God the proper thanks.

In the temptation, where Adam should have accepted responsibility for his own actions, he blamed his wife instead. And Adam blamed God for giving her to him. And so, in the story, half the human race was divided from the other half, as it has been ever since.

The fall of the human race and the breaking up of human nature shows us who we are. When we do not live in harmony with God, we don’t know how to live in this world. We don’t know what anything is. We don’t know how to relate to our opportunities. We blame others instead of facing ourselves. We allow our pride to divide us from others. It becomes our nature to fight, and hurt, and get hurt.

Before the first humans divided the human race from God, the garden life was a place where you could work and know what you were working for.

With the help of God work can be a blessing but, living in a world that does not work God’s way, you can do all the right things and have nothing to show for it. Farmers know this. You can invest the work of your life in a job, in a marriage, in a way of seeing the world, and end up with nothing.

You can even work so hard, so intensely, that it makes the work go bad. The sweat in your eyes makes you fail to see how you are toiling for what you think you want in all the wrong ways. This is what it means to work for thorns and thistles.

Even though we often live broken lives in a broken world, it is not completely natural to us. We see that something is wrong. If we were really designed for the world as it is, and for life as it is, we wouldn’t know any better. We would feel perfectly at home.

But we don’t feel at home. The fact is that most of us know there is something wrong, and sometimes we can imagine the way things should be.

We are not like blind people living in a world where everyone was blind. In such a world there would be no one who would know that there was such a thing as light.

We live in a spiritually and morally hungry and thirsty world. Most of us know that we are missing something. Hunger and thirst tell us that we are made to eat and be filled; to drink and be quenched. At least some of us know that we hunger and thirst for goodness, and for fairness, and justice, and forgiveness, and love, and truth.

This shows us that we were made for a better world than we see around us, and that we are made for better lives that we have the power to live on our own. This tells us that, either the world was once such a place for finding fullness, and harmony, and fulfillment, and satisfaction; or else it tells us that we are made for a better world that is ahead, a better world that is coming.

The Bible and the good news of Jesus tell us about such a world and such a life. It tells us about a paradise that has been lost, and a human nature that has been broken, and about relationships that have been divided. It tells us that we were made for peace with God, and that such a peace would make us able to grow in peace, and in healing relationships with others, and we would have something to give to the world that would make a difference.

The Bible tells us that there will be an end to the world as it is; that Satan and all the powers of evil will be crushed as one might crush the head of a rattle snake when you’ve killed it. The Bible tells us that God has a plan to make each one of us a new person fit for a new creation that is coming.

The Lord told the serpent, the devil, in the garden, that one of the woman’s children would crush the serpent’s head and the serpent would strike the child’s heel. That is the first picture, or prophecy, in the Bible that shows us the healing and the salvation of the human race and the whole world. Everything else is built on this promise.

The serpent is Satan, the Devil, and all his minions, and all the forces of darkness, and all the sin rooted in human hearts, and all the rebellion in human beings that poison nations, and families, and each one of our individual lives.

We are all children of the man and the woman in the garden. We are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We cannot crush the serpent because the serpent is a part of us. At least we are allies of it. It is our very nature to be allies of the serpent, even though we have been made in the image of God and made for life with God. We are divided against ourselves, and so we cannot defeat, for good, the evil in the world and in ourselves.

So God became human to fight the battle that must be fought. God entered the world as Jesus, the son of Mary.

His coming into the world was his own doing. It was his free, and gracious, and miraculous act of love.

There is something in the love of God that is parental, which we call the Father. There is something in the love of God that submits and serves, which we call the Son. The Bible also calls this submitting and serving Son, the Word of God, and the light that enlightens everyone and everything.

The Son, the Word, the Light, says everything about God and everything about us. When he comes to us we see true glory, and holiness, and love, and worth; and we see ourselves just as we are. And this Son, this Word, this light in the nature of God is what led God to become human, to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.

God became human as Jesus to invade us and establish a beachhead in us. In Jesus God built a perfect human life; the kind of life of faith, and compassion, and wisdom that we were created to live.

In Jesus God suffered the injustices, and the griefs, and the pains, and the death that human sin made a part of our life. He suffered the experiences that sin in our nature deserved. He who was without sin died the death our sins deserved.

He was beaten and whipped bloody by those who arrested him and prepared him for death on the cross, but our sins were in those fists, and in the lashes that tore his flesh. Nails were driven through his hands and feet. His whole body’s weight hung upon those nails, but all the sins and injustices and evils of this world hung upon him. The pain and blood of the cross are the pictures of the extreme and infinite love of God for you. They are his power to reach into you, and claim you, and make you whole.

He bore our punishment on the cross. He went through the gate of death because he was human, and because he was God he broke the power of death, and he broke the power of sin that brought death into the world.

On the cross it was as if all the evil and sin of this world, and of our own hearts, struck the Jesus’ heel and killed him, but Jesus lived again and crushed the serpent’s head.

If we will receive Jesus we receive everything that he is, everything that he has. We receive his grace and his forgiveness.

Everything we have, from then on, and every step forward, is the result of that forgiveness. We never receive the victory of Jesus in order to brag, or to be better than anyone else, or to look down on others. Apart from Jesus we don’t have anything to call our own, but Jesus makes us his own. He makes us children of God.

Even when we first meet God, in Christ, we see the serpent at work because we are bothered by the light. We don’t want to see ourselves just as we are. We don’t want to know too much about our responsibility. We don’t want to completely escape from the crippling and destructive desires within us, because these desires may give us the only pleasure that we have known; even though they are hurting us and those around us.

We may think we want God and what God has to give us, but we don’t want it all. We want to pick and choose what God will deal with in us and what we can keep for ourselves.

And so the light shows us that the old sin of Adam and Eve is at work in us, wanting to be independent from our very source of life. It is as if we want to be sober and drunk at the same time. It is as if we want to be sick and well at the same time. In that sense we want to live a lie, even when we see all the goodness of God waiting for us in Jesus.

But God is full of grace and truth and he shows us this through his Son. There is no grace or truth outside of him.

We have to die with Jesus and rise with Jesus by receiving him. We have to die to our stubborn independence, and rise in a life of grace alone: the beautiful and freely given mercy of God alone.

And we have to die and rise with Christ so that we die to our version of the truth and listen only to him. We have to die to the lies we have told ourselves, about our lives, and about our real priorities, and about our true responsibility. We have to die to ourselves, and rise in God’s truth about us and about the new life he sets before us.

Receiving Jesus, the word and light of God, means the deepest surrender. It feels like the greatest risk in the world. It’s like floating on your back when you are afraid of water. It is like sky diving and jumping out of that plane when you are afraid of heights. We have to lose our selves and give up ourselves to put to an end to a life that needs to stop, and to receive a life that comes from God.

The life God gives is a life that we cannot manufacture for ourselves. The life we receive from God has its beginning before the creation and it will never end, and there is no shadow and no fear in it.

This new life will enable us to go forward in harmony with God and make us into givers of grace and truth to others, and to the whole world. This new life is the end of something old that we know too well, but this life is only the beginning of something else. To receive Jesus, you have to be ready to begin what only God knows.

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