In chapter 1 of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth – the universe – in 6 days. He looked around and said, ‘this is good.’ It was also on the 6th day that he created man and woman and then he said, ‘this is very good.’ The creation of mankind completed his work, and he was pleased. Then in chapter 2, the creation story of man and woman, Adam & Eve, is repeated in more detail, which is God’s way of showing the importance of mankind in his creation.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves – as most of you would know – history took a turn in chapter 3. Adam & Eve brought sin into the world: they were deceived by Satan and disobeyed God’s word. Perhaps the word ‘sin’ confuses you and you don’t know how to define it; well, here is the original definition. In fact, we can simply state it like this: when God created the universe he created it with purpose and with order – okay, sun, you stay in the middle, and we’ll get you, planets, to revolve around, okay, now on earth, I’d like the trees to maintain safe levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen, way to go, trees, and I’d like the ocean to simply tide itself on and off the land – and so on and so forth. Simply put: God created the universe, but he created the universe with a certain purpose, order and structure for how the universe should go about being the universe.
And the universe obeyed his word.
The same thing happened with mankind: God created us with purpose and with order, and with structure for how mankind should go about being mankind. But, unlike the universe, Adam & Eve rejected God’s purpose, God’s order, and God’s structure for them. And that was sin.
It still is.
It is in chapter 3 - after sin is introduced to the world - that we read one of my favourite passages of Scripture. In this text we see God addressing Satan, him being the original tempter of sin. The whole Bible can be read in light of this passage:
“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15
The poetic truth behind that passage is this: as history goes on, there will be two types of seed – one that follows Satan and one that follows Eve – there will be enormous hostility between these seeds, but eventually a Man will be born from the seed of Eve and he will engage in battle with Satan. And what will happen in that battle: the Man will strike the head of Satan with his heel – defeating him once and for all – but, in the process, Satan will strike the Man’s heel, causing him temporary pain. This verse is a very poetic image of what happened when Jesus died on the cross. So this is good news! Even though mankind had sinned against God, He will deal justly with Satan, the one who tempted man in the first place.
But it’s not all good news: God still had to deal with mankind. Although a plan was devised for Satan to be dealt with, the problem of sin still abounds. In fact it abounded with force, we see the immediate effects in Genesis 4 when Cain murdered Abel, and in chapter 5 – which some people call ‘the chapter of death.’ And sin and death have been abounding ever since – read a newspaper.
Thankfully, we do have good news on this front: again, in Genesis 3, we don’t just see how God responds to Satan but we see how God responds to sin, and this sets the rest of history in motion:
“The LORD God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.” – Genesis 3:21
Translation: Adam & Eve were ashamed of their nakedness because of sin, so God showed them the ugliness and consequence of their actions by finding an innocent animal, ripping its body apart – probably in front of them – and using its skin to clothe them.
This was a foreshadowing of what was to come. God chose Israel to be his people whereby the Promised Man would be born. But in order for Israel to be God’s people, God had to make a way for them to deal with their sin. By the way, they did not deal with their sin in a wishy-washy manner like shooting up a prayer, asking God to forgive them, and walking away feeling warm and gooey inside.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
What God began in Eden became the law for Israel: every year an innocent animal – in their case, a lamb – was brought to God as a sacrifice for their sin; the lamb was killed in front of their eyes but – more than that – it was killed in front of their eyes as they held its head. How personal is that? But let me state this in more positive language: real, personal sinners received real, personal forgiveness. That’s the message of this one act: sin is very real and so is forgiveness. You must believe that.
For thousands of years this was the law and practice of Israel – they sacrificed lambs to compensate for their sin and they awaited the Promised Man from the seed of Eve – until one day, in a place called Bethany, about 3kms from Jerusalem, this happened:
In that simple declaration, John the Baptist is stating 5 things:
1) The Promised Man, born from the seed of Eve, is finally here!
2) The Promised Man is also the Lamb of God!
3) The Promised Man is God!
4) The Promised Man is Jesus Christ!
5) Israel, pay attention to this Man!
After two thousand years of mankind offering lambs to God, God now offers the Lamb to mankind. In a spectacular turn of events, he not only offers a final Lamb to end all lamb sacrifices, but he offers himself as the Lamb. And not only must Israel pay attention – the whole world must pay attention – because this Lamb is the redemption of mankind & the universe: back to its first purpose, order and structure, as God intended, with no sin, suffering, sickness and Satan.
So, what’s the problem? That sounds really nice, but all those things are still very much present in the world. So, again, what’s the problem? Just like in Eden, people today don’t trust God’s word.
When Jesus came to earth, it was as if he was checking in on how his creation was doing; and the contrast between universe and mankind could not be more different:
‘On the day, when evening had come, Jesus told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.” So they left the crowd and took him along since he was already in the boat. And other boats were with him. A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still! The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Then he said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?” And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” – Mark 4:35-41
Okay, so that’s universe: 1. Mankind: 0.
It’s kind of ironic that these words came out of the lips of men: even the wind and the sea obey Jesus. Here is the world maintaining its purpose, order, structure and obedience to the word of God. And here is man: with God, too, but absolutely faithless. The wind and the sea recognise who Jesus is – before his own disciples do – and the wind and the sea respond accordingly.
So that begs the question: how do we respond accordingly?
1) We recognise Jesus for who he is: He is God. Not only does he maintain purpose and order in the universe, he wants to – and ultimately will – bring purpose and order back to mankind. He is the Lamb of God, which means this: when he died on the cross, he achieved a perfect once-and-for-all sacrifice so that anyone who would place their hand on him and confess their real, personal sin will receive real, personal forgiveness. Those who do not, Jesus warns, will pay for their sins in hell. The offer of the cross is still standing.
2) Once we recognise Jesus for who he is, we must throw ourselves at his mercy, put our trust in him and obey his word. This is the beginning, middle and end of the Christian life.
I want to finish with that thought: the beginning, middle and end of the Christian life. This is a favourite passage of mine, which highlights such truth:
‘This man came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.” Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “But how can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked Him, “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” Jesus answered, “I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”’ – John 3:2-8
In other words, mankind is utterly helpless. Were you in charge of your natural birth? Neither will you be in charge of your supernatural one. You cannot save yourself. You cannot force yourself into the kingdom of God. You cannot make yourself obey. What choice do you have then? Only one: throw yourself, your whole self, at the mercy of Jesus – receive real forgiveness for real sin from a real God.
That is a word for anyone reading who does not believe.
For the Christian: do not forget where you came from. You are not awesome. You are not smarter than those who don’t believe. The only reason you are you today is because God had mercy. That’s it. That really is it. We must never move from that place of mercy; it is the beginning, middle and end of the Christian life.