God’s Present- Jesus’ Presence: Not Plan B
11/28/2016 1:46:57 AM
“God’s Present- Jesus’ Presence: Not Plan B”
November 27, 2016
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Genesis 3:8-24
Christmas is coming and Megan knows it! As soon as the scary stuff from Halloween was put away, Christmas stuff came out Megan started to get excited. She’s been talking about putting things on her Christmas list since September and now she’s singing Christmas songs. She’s very excited and she doesn’t really know what to expect. I don’t think she has many memories from last Christmas when she was 2. But she knows that whatever is coming with Christmas, it’s going to be great! The other day she looked at me and said, “Christmas is taking a long time to come.” It was still more than a month away. I felt bad for her knowing that it was still going to be a long wait!
But could you imagine if we were waiting for Christmas and Christmas hadn’t ever come yet? We just wait a year and Christmas comes around again. Could you imagine waiting for Christmas when it wasn’t an annual holiday, but it was some event in the distant future? For many of God’s people throughout history, all the people who lived in the times of the Old Testament, this was just the case. The saviour had not come. Anticipating his arrival was a vague, non-specific, distant hope. There was no count down. They had no idea how long it would be until he arrived. It was a much vaguer hope.
Today we celebrate Advent each year in anticipation of Christmas. Advent means “arrival” and we spend the Advent season preparing ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Jesus, that happened on the first Christmas day roughly 2000 years ago. But we have the luxury of knowing it has already happened; Jesus has already arrived. We know what we are preparing for. We know when Christmas is going to happen.
Sometimes we take this for granted. Sometimes we forget that Jesus’ first arrival was a very long time coming. We forget that people lived and died without knowing a single Christmas. They looked forward to an unspecified time when God would send his saviour. They knew that the saviour would eventually come, because God had said so, but they didn’t know when. This is going to be the theme of our Advent series this year. Over the coming weeks we are going to examine a number of Old Testament passages that point forward to the arrival of Christ, all of them from a great distance away.
This was the gift that God promised long ago. This was the present God was going to send- Jesus himself. Jesus’ presence would be God’s present to the world. This is the root of the gift giving of Christmas- that God gave his one and only Son so that whosever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. This was the greatest gift ever given and it was foretold thousands of years beforehand! But that meant that people had to wait thousands of years for its arrival.
What was the first hint at this gift? When did God first promise to send a saviour? It goes back all the way to Genesis 3! God’s first promise of this gift was made in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had listened to the serpent and eaten of the fruit God told them not to eat. They had done so in the hopes of “becoming like God” but instead they wound up banished from paradise and alienated from God. Let’s read together from Genesis 3:8-24.
What It Says
So what is happening here? Many of us are familiar with the story here, but we don’t often look at it in detail. We rarely study this passage because we think we already know what it’s all about. So let’s take a closer look at this passage and, having taken a closer look, let’s zero in on the promise of a present.
Notice in verse 8 that it is when the man and woman hear the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden that they hide in fear. It’s not the sound of God’s voice, but the presence of God they fear. [Derek Kidner, Genesis, p. 69] It is significant for us to notice that after Adam and Eve sinned, God did not abandon the garden or the people he put there! Knowing that they had failed, God did not leave them to their own devices but instead comes to meet with them one last time. [Bruce Waltke, Genesis, p. 92] We are told it was “in the cool of
the day” that they heard God walking. The Hebrew literally uses the word “wind” or “spirit” of the day. [Waltke, p. 92] It is the holy presence of God they felt and in the presence of the holy, they who had rebelled against God were afraid. They literally hid from the “face” of God among the trees of the garden. [Kidner, p. 69] The significance of hiding from God’s face we will see a little later on.
God doesn’t arrive breathing fire and judgment. Rather, God’s first words are words of grace, “Where are you?” God beckons to the sinners, inviting them to re-join him, countering their fear. [Kidner, p. 70] Before passing judgment, God carefully investigates what has happened. He asks questions, “Where are you? Who told you that you are naked? What have you done?” God knew what had happened. God is all-knowing. But God is also a just judge and so he demonstrated his justice, calling for testimony, offering opportunity for honesty.
Adam’s response to God’s first question, “Where are you?” is that he hid because he was naked and afraid. Adam is avoiding the truth. He didn’t hide because he was naked. He hid because he had been disobedient, the result of which was his shame over being naked. Fear and “shrinking from God remains part of our fallen condition” to this day. [Kidner, p. 70] When confronted with more questions, Adam deflects blame to the woman and to God! “The woman you gave me….” Eve follows suit, blaming the serpent. This blame shifting demonstrates “their allegiance to Satan by distorting the truth and accusing one another and ultimately God.” [Waltke, p. 93]
Having given the guilty parties opportunity for repentance and honesty and finding none, God pronounces judgment on the serpent, then the woman and finally the man. The curse on the snake begins with the serpent being condemned to crawl on its belly eating dust for all the days of its life. Dust is a sign of humiliation and defeat. [Waltke, p. 93] That the serpent must crawl from now on is not an explanation of why snakes crawl, as if they didn’t crawl beforehand, that somehow the serpent had legs when it spoke to Even but lost them. Rather, “the crawling is henceforth symbolic – just as in 9:13 a new significance, not new existence, will be decreed for the rainbow.” [Kidner, p. 70]
Furthermore, God pronounces an enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. They will be enemies. But let’s delve a little bit more into the meaning of “seed.” Seed means offspring and it can refer to either an immediate child, a distant descendant, or to a large group of descendants. [Waltke, p. 93] Who are the seed of the serpent? Recognizing that the serpent is a heavenly spirit in disguise, that the serpent is Satan masquerading, who are the seed of Satan? [Waltke, p. 93] Satan is not the father of demons, so the seed of Satan, the descendants of the serpent, are not the demons. The seed of the serpent are those who members of “humanity that he has lead in rebellion against God.” [Waltke, p. 93]
This pronouncement of judgment on the serpent is not about men killing snakes or hating snakes. God is predicting the divide amongst humanity between those who rebel against God and God’s elect who seek after a right relationship with him! “Each of the characters of Genesis will be either of the seed of the woman that reproduces her spiritual propensity, or of the seed of the serpent that reproduces his unbelief.” [Waltke, p. 93] For instance, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Esau.
Within this curse upon the serpent, we find the first promise of Christmas. Within the curse on the serpent we are told that one of the seed of the woman will strike the serpent’s head and the serpent will strike his heel. The verb is the same in Hebrew, and the fact that the serpent can only strike the heel of the woman’s seed is based on proximity. Meant as a sort of pun, being cursed to crawl on the ground, the serpent can only reach that high! [Kidner, p. 70]
Here we see the first “seed” of the gospel, if you’ll pardon the pun. Here is the first promise that Satan will be defeated by the offspring of the woman. “God announces a battle of champions, and there will be a seed that conquers Satan.” [Waltke, p. 94] Take note, too, that this is not a promise to the woman or the man. This is part of the judgement on the serpent! God’s promise of redemption “is about God’s rule as much as about man’s need.” [Kidner, p. 70] As you may recall, when we looked at the Lord’s Prayer and talked about God’s name being made holy, we read from Ezekiel 36:22. God promises Israel salvation not for their sake, but for the sake of his holy name. It is within God’s character and adds to his glory that he redeems his people. We happen to be the beneficiaries, but it is because of God’s sovereignty and justice the he brings salvation and with it the defeat of sin. Thus this first promise of a saviour for humanity is actually a promise of defeat for sin pronounced against
God, having pronounced judgment on the serpent, then shifts his attention to the woman. He says that her pain in childbirth will be greatly increased. This word for pain is the same word used for Adam’s trouble when he works the ground to produce food. Her immortality has been replaced by living through her offspring. The command to multiply and fill the earth is now a command that will be painful to fulfil.
The next part of v 16 is somewhat ambiguous. [Waltke, p. 94] In the past, I never gave this verse a second thought, but reading through the commentaries they pointed something out. The verse reads “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” What’s ambiguous is that her desire would be for her husband now that she has fallen. Wouldn’t her desire have been for her husband before the fall? How is it that her desire is paired with Adam’s “rule” over her? These two verbs “desire” and “rule over” are paired in the two lines of poetry, intended to contrast one another.
Two OT scholars both pointed out that these same two verbs are paired together a few paragraphs later in Genesis 4:7. [Waltke, p. 94; Kidner, p. 71] There, the context is that Cain is angry that Abel’s sacrifice is acceptable to God while his own is not. God asks Abel why he is angry, that his own sacrifice would be acceptable to God if his heart was right. God then warns Abel that sin is at his door, “it desires to have you but you must master it.” This is the same pair of words used for Eve and Adam’s relationship – desire and mastery. In 4:7 there is no ambiguity about their meaning and that sheds light on their use in Chapter 3. Eve’s desire for Adam is not a healthy, intimate desire. It is a desire to dominate Adam. [Waltke, p. 94] This suddenly makes sense why the two are paired in God’s words to Eve. The woman’s desire will be to dominate her husband, but he will wind up ruling over her.
We see in the judgment pronounced by God the prediction that marriage among fallen men and women will no longer be “to love and to cherish” but “to dominate and to rule.” [Kidner, p. 71; Waltke, p. 94] Man and woman’s rebellion against God has led to alienation from God and also from one another.
The curse pronounced on Adam is next. Adam’s sin was to eat of the forbidden fruit, and so his judgment mentions “eating” 5 times! [Waltke, p. 94] The discord of nature, the chaos or unruly nature of the created world, was there before the Fall. Mankind was created in order to subdue the world, to reign in the unruly aspects of nature. Humanity was empowered by God to be his stewards, his caretakers of the earth. Now, although they still have this power to a degree, the work will be so much harder. The created world will rebel against them as they rebelled against God.
Just as the woman will have pain bringing life into the world through childbearing, Adam will have pain bringing life into the world through farming. As mentioned, it is the same word used for both Adam and Eve’s discomfort or difficulty. “Sorrow, sweat and dust” answer the fantasy “you will be like God.” [Kidner, p. 71] Thorns and thistles will now grow where Adam works. This is not that they are a new creation, but that they are now a perennial threat. Adam and Eve were charged with “subduing” nature in Genesis 1. Now, however, nature is in disorder and, like Adam and Eve rebelling against their master, nature rebels against Adam, her master. Adam, who was to govern and rule over the ground finds instead that the ground resists him and “eventually swallows him.” [Kidner, p. 72; Waltke, p. 95] It is interesting that when Jesus comes he is able to calm even the wind and the waves!
Up until this point, verse 20, the woman has been without a name. Here, in v. 20, Adam names her “Eve” because she will be the mother of all the living. This is the first glimmer of hope since the fall. Adam believes God’s words to the serpent that one of the woman’s seed will crush his head. “A ray of hope remains in the promise that the seed of the woman who feels enmity for the serpent will defeat the incarnation of evil.” [Waltke, p. 95]
Then the LORD God made garments of animal skin for the naked couple. “Having pronounced judgment, God now does what Adam and Eve could not do for themselves- he covers their shame.” [Waltke, p. 95] Their nakedness was what caused them to hide from God. Now they are no longer naked. God restores their relationship with him and with one another, at least to a degree.
The Garden of Eden, though, will no longer be their dwelling place. They must not be allowed to eat of the tree of life and thereby live forever. Why? Because in their fallen state, eternal life is not actually a blessing but a burden! To exist forever in alienation from God is a curse. So God expels them from the garden in what is
both a judgment and a release. He sets a guard by the entrance, so that the way back to God is not only hard, but is resisted. [Kidner, p. 72] Cherubim, one of which is set at the entrance to the garden, were charged with bearing God’s throne and defending his holiness. Images of cherubim were on the ark of the covenant as well as embroidered on the curtain that guarded the entrance to the holy of holies first in the tabernacle and then in the temple. It is not insignificant that the curtain, bearing images of cherubim, was torn from top to bottom at the death of Christ on the cross!
What it Means
So what does all of this mean? Rarely do we take such a close look at the results of our rebellion against God as described in Genesis 3. But here we see that the results of sin intrude upon our relationship with God, our relationship with one another and even affects our physical experience. Men and women are alienated in marriage, the relationship God designed to be most like his relationship with us! Now we flee from God and seek to dominate one another. The ground which was ours to tend is now in rebellion against us. Bringing forth life, whether it be from the ground or from the womb, is filled with pain and difficulty. The struggle to live is a result of our sin. This anarchy is both a punishment decreed by God and the natural consequence of the anarchy we have introduced into the world. “The choir of creation can only grind on in discord” without its leader. [Kidner, p. 73]
This picture is pretty bleak. But there are a few rays of hope within this text! As mentioned along the way, the first thing God does is beckon and invite sinners out of hiding to join him. At the end, he covers the shame of Adam and Eve, allowing their respective relationships to begin to be rebuild. In the middle, there is the promise to the serpent that the seed of the woman will crush his head. This is the hope we want to zero in on today. In retrospect, we know who this is! We know this is Jesus. We know that thousands of years later this promise would be fulfilled.
What does this tell us? It means that God knew from very early on that he would send his Son, Jesus, to defeat sin. God knew from as early as the Fall of humanity into sin that he would be giving his one and only Son to die for that sin. As God spoke to Adam, Eve and the serpent, he had in mind the kind of victory Jesus would win- a victory over death through death.
Now, with the privilege of hindsight, we see what God had in mind. We even notice that the promise was made that the seed would be of the woman, not of the man! Even way back in Genesis 3 God already had the virgin birth in mind! This is something that people didn’t pick up on before Jesus, but in the NT the pieces fall into place.
So we know that early on God had his plan in place. But how early on? Was Jesus God’s plan B? Did God make the world and then, once Adam and Eve screwed up, did God have to figure out a way to save everything? If we only had Genesis 3, then it would be reasonable to conclude that sin was not part of God’s plan but that God had to scramble for a second to find a way to fix things once Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge.
But, we have the privilege of hindsight. We have the privilege of the NT. There are two passages in the NT, 1 Pe 1:20 and Rev 13:8, that shed light on this question. 1 Peter refers to the lamb who was without blemish who served as a sacrifice for our sin. Speaking of the lamb, Peter writes, “He was chosen before the creation of the world but revealed in these last times for your sake.” Similarly, John writes in Revelation 13 of those who bow down and worship the beast, another image of Satan. These are those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life, who was slain before the creation of the world.
Why is this significant? Because both passages, although addressing other issues, assert that Jesus, as the lamb slain for sin, was chosen not when Adam and Eve fell, but before the creation of the world! God the Son, who came to earth as Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, was chosen to die for sin before sin entered the world.
Let me pause for a second to allow that to sink in. When God said, “Let there be light,” the Son already knew his role was going to be to die for sin in order to redeem creation. God made us knowing full well that the Son would have to die for us. When God formed Adam and breathed his Spirit into him, he did so knowing full well that we would rebel. Our sin did not take God by surprise! God had already planned on it and included in that plan was the death of Jesus on the cross! Jesus was not God’s “plan B.” The incarnation, the atonement,
the resurrection were not plan B. They were plan A all the time!
What does this mean? It means that God loves us so much that he decided to die for us before he even began this project. God knew we would blow it and made us anyway! This means that the events in the garden were not a surprise to God, but were fully anticipated by him. This is why God could say that not only was the serpent’s head going to be struck, but that the one doing it would be seed of the woman only. And down through the years, as God continued to unfold his plan of salvation, revealing bits and pieces of it to people along the way, God was unfolding the plan he had designed before creation even began.
And that plan is still being unfolded even as we speak. God’s plan for redeeming the world is not yet complete. In Revelation, at the end of the book, there are two images I want to highlight for us. John sees the new Jerusalem coming down to earth from heaven. In Rev 22:1-4, in the middle of the city John sees a river flowing from the throne of God and along the banks of that river is the tree of life! That tree from the Garden of Eden which was barred by the cherubim will one day be accessible again for those Christ has redeemed! Once the stain of sin has been removed, eternal life is an option again.
In verse 4, John says that the people of the city will see God’s face. Remember, in Genesis 3 the man and woman his from God’s face! Then, in the future, in the redeemed earth and the new Jerusalem, we will see God’s face. We will no longer hide from it because our sins will be cleansed and our shame removed. We will be able to speak to God face to face, that is, we will have close fellowship with God again just as when things began in the Garden of Eden.
Now, I want to stretch our minds for a minute. I want to ponder the significance of Jesus’ presence with us. In John 17:3, Jesus says in his prayer that eternal life is to know God and Jesus. The word for “know” is the word for knowing a person personally. It is experiential knowledge. This means that eternal life means fellowship with God.
At the end of Revelation, in the picture of the future of creation, we see that the redeemed will have eternal life and see God’s face. That is, the redeemed will have eternal life and fellowship with God. Fellowship with God is no longer barred by the cherubim with the flaming sword. Let me suggest that this was God’s purpose from the very beginning. As the Westminster Catechism puts it, “What is the chief end (or purpose) of mankind? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
If the main purpose of humanity is this relationship with God, to glorify and enjoy God forever, if that was God’s main point from the beginning, and if God knew we were going to sin and he was going to have to redeem us, then God knew from the start that the only way to get to the end, people knowing him and enjoying him forever, was to go through the path laid out- creation, fall, redemption and restoration.
[pic] We are in the middle of this story. We can look back at creation and the fall and be cheered by the knowledge that God wasn’t surprised but, in fact, he loves us enough that he created us knowing he would have to redeem us. But let’s consider things from God’s perspective for a moment. We are looking back and reflecting on our position now. We are looking back at creation thinking about the fact that God knew about the cross.
But not only knew about the cross, he also knew about the new Jerusalem, the tree of life returning and people living with him in fellowship then, too. God had that in mind when he created us, he had that in mind when he sent Jesus, he had that in mind as Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he had that in mind when he raised Jesus from the dead, he had that in mind when he sent his Spirit at Pentecost. He had that in mind when he worked in each of our hearts to bring us to saving faith.
If God had the New Jerusalem in mind from the beginning, then maybe that sheds light on the cross. I propose that when God was looking at the New Jerusalem and he wanted free-willed people there loving him out of their own volition, freely without compulsion, he knew it would be hard to do that. God knew that it would be hard to create creatures with free will that would love him and not sin. Given that God had the end in mind, and that he knew the cross was part of the plan, maybe the only way God could create free-willed creatures who wouldn’t sin was to make free-willed creatures who would sin and then redeem them!
This sheds light on the problem of evil. It answers questions about the nature of free will. It answers questions about the issue of sin and God’s sovereignty. It even gives meaning to suffering! Suppose, just for a moment, that I’m right. The goal of creation was God having fellowship with us. In the Garden of Eden he had that fellowship, but he gave us a rule- don’t eat the fruit of this tree- as a boundary. It made our free will actually
free. It meant we have an actual choice to obey God or not. God knew, before he made us, that we would fail this test. So our sin is not a surprise to God.
But God loves us so much, even from before he made us, that he knew he wanted fellowship with us for eternity. He knew that we would need saving from our sin, from our rebellion, from our choosing things other than God. So he put us in the Garden with the tree knowing that we would fail but planning all along to send Jesus. Why? So that we could get to the end, the remade Garden of Eden in the New Jerusalem populated with redeemed people. The difference between redeemed people in the New Jerusalem and the “innocent” people of the Garden of Eden is that the innocent people can still fall from innocence, whereas redeemed people, having fallen already, know the power of sin to destroy and, with this knowledge, having been redeemed and remade, choose to willingly love God and enjoy fellowship with him freely without the temptation to rebel again.
The New Jerusalem is not God’s attempt to get back “as close as possible” to the Garden of Eden. The New Jerusalem is not “second place” to the Garden of Eden. It’s not like God is saying, “Well, I really wish you hadn’t screwed up Eden, but here’s something almost as good.” No! God’s plan from the get go, from before creation began, was for Jesus to come, die for our sin, redeem us and for all of creation to be remade. New Creation, which is still to come, was God’s plan all along. Redeeming us was his plan all along. Our sin is not a threat to God’s sovereignty, it is part of God’s sovereign plan so that he can redeem us so that we will love him for eternity without falling away again.
This is our hope for the future! It is based on God’s activity in the past, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was predicted as far back as Genesis 3. It has been unfolding for thousands of years. This is God’s gift to us- Christ’s presence on earth in the past but even more so his presence again in the future in the New Jerusalem!
In the meantime, sin is a problem. Morality is difficult. It is a struggle. We are still in the battle with sin and death. There is still enmity, animosity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. We are still in that battle. But we know our battle is not in vain. We know, through the resurrection of Jesus, that our victory is assured. We have hope for the future, based on events in the past. And we have faith that this is all part of God’s plan. We have assurance that God’s love for us is so overwhelming that he chose to redeem us before he even made us all for the purpose of being in fellowship with us for eternity.
In conclusion, as we approach Christmas, as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of Christ, let’s think about the big picture. Satan is hard at work trying to distract us. He is trying his hardest to keep our minds on Christmas presents, dinner plans, family visits and the dread those might entail. He is trying to keep our emotions on finding the “right” present for people, worrying about whether or not they will like it, wondering about how people will respond. Satan is desperately trying to keep us from thinking about what God really did on that first Christmas. He is desperately trying to keep us from thinking about the seed of the woman who crushed his head.
Instead of listening to the serpent again, keep your mind on Jesus as we approach Christmas. Keep your mind on the gift God has given us in Christ. Keep your mind on the hope we have for the future, the New Jerusalem, complete with tree of life and fellowship with God! Think about the presence of Jesus here on earth and what that means for the curse of sin. Think about the parts of the curse spoken to Adam and Eve that are already ending and will be completely removed when Christ returns. “Far as the curse is found!”
In this way we will be preparing ourselves for Christmas. In this way, we will be putting the Christ back in Christmas. In this way we will be preparing ourselves for the redemption that is in store for us. Amen.
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