“Sin, Judgement, Rescue”
March 05, 2017
By John Partridge*
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Matthew 4:1-11 Romans 5:12-19
Have you ever done something that seemed like a good idea when you started, but turned out to be a really bad idea once you were finished?
There’s an old saying, “When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original plan was to drain the swamp.” This sort of funny saying simply reminds us that when we’re in the middle of the mess we created, it’s hard to remember that we thought the original plan was a good idea. But once we are through to the other side of the swamp, or at least far enough removed from the alligators to gain a little perspective, it is useful, and wise, to think about the thought processes and circumstances that led us into the swamp in the first place.
And so, along those lines, as we begin the season of Lent, a time that we set aside each year to consider our sinfulness and our need for repentance, it is useful to begin by remembering how sin came into our lives at the beginning of humanity’s story. We begin at the beginning, in Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7.
2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 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.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 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.
First, the enemy of God undermines God’s message in much the same way that he does today, by telling Eve that God was wrong, and that wonderful things will come to her if she disobeys God. We hear that same message from our culture and from our enemy today. We’re told that sex isn’t wrong, gambling isn’t wrong, greed isn’t wrong, all these things are really good and you’ve just gotten confused about what God really meant. But Eve considers what the serpent said, and thinks about how good the fruit looks, and how good it must taste, and how food, generally, is good for you, and she decides to disobey God and eat it. Having done so, she offers it to Adam, who has surely noticed by now that Eve didn’t just fall over dead when she ate it, and so he tries it. For what it’s worth, when I read that this week, I noticed that while Eve considers what the serpent said, and that food is good for you, and that she would learn the difference between good and evil, Adam not described that way. The story we have about Adam is that he watches Eve try it, and then blindly follows her example and tries it for himself. Either way, in both cases, with only a little encouragement from the serpent, both Adam and Eve make deliberate, conscious, decisions to disobey a specific and direct instruction from God for their own, personal, benefit.
And “boom,” sin enters the world.
For the first time in history, human beings, created by God, say “What I want is more important than what God wants.” And that, by definition, is sin because in that moment, we set ourselves ahead of God and make gods of our own desires.
At that moment, humanity was infected with an almost irresistible desire to do as we please and to worship our own selfishness. And that was the situation for thousands of years. Until the arrival of Jesus Christ, who was the one human being who did what no other had ever been capable of doing before. (Matthew 4:1-11)
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
First, Satan offers Jesus the easy way out. To satisfy his desire and his hunger for food by transforming stones into bread. Second, he tempts Jesus with ego and fame, because surely people would notice that Jesus had been rescued by God in such a public spectacle. And third, Jesus is tempted by power as Satan offers to let him rule over all the nations of the earth. But in each case, Jesus refuses Satan and replies by clearly stating what it is that God wants for humanity and in doing so emphasizes that this is more important than what Jesus might want for himself. Throughout his entire life, even during the events leading up to his death, Jesus continued to choose what God wanted and continued to put the desires of God ahead of his own.
In doing so, Jesus did what no other human being in all of human history had ever done. And because he did, Jesus was able to rescue all of humanity from the judgement that it had faced since the time of Adam. In Romans 5:12-19, Paul explained it this way:
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
What Paul says is that Adam’s sin corrupted all of humanity and that even those people who lived in a time between Adam and Moses, a time in which the Law and the Commandments had not yet been written, even they suffered from the death brought about by sin. Paul’s argument is that even though they could not be condemned under the law, they would still have been judged by God, who is the righteous judge, for their actions. But the gift of Jesus Christ is different than the sin of Adam, even if it follows a similar pattern. While the sin of Adam and Eve corrupted all of humanity, the sinless life and sacrificial death of Jesus allows the rescue of all who believe. Since the time of Adam, every human being has been called into judgement, not for the sins of Adam, but for the selfishness and sinful acts that they themselves have committed. But through the grace of God and the sinless obedience of Jesus Christ, we all have the opportunity to be made righteous before God.
A great many of the things that we do seemed like a good idea when we started, but in the end we realize just how selfish we’ve become and how far we’ve drifted from God’s plan for our lives. Since the time of Adam and Eve we, and all of humanity, have been drawn to sin like a moth to a flame, and just as surely that temptation leads us to stand in judgement before God. The good news is that Jesus was not like us. He was, and is, the one human being in all of creation that was able to live an entirely sinless life and to do what God wanted instead of what he might have wanted for himself. Because Jesus was able to do what no one else, before or since, was able to do, he is, through God’s grace, able to offer us the one thing we could never find for ourselves… rescue from sin and death.
We are all doomed because of our selfishness and sin.
We will all be judged by God for the things that we have done.
We have all sinned and the punishment for sin is death.
But we have the opportunity to be rescued from death simply by accepting the gift of life that is offered to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And so, as we begin this season of Lent, let us prayerfully consider how we have fallen short of what God wants for us and how we can change for the better.
But let us also make sure that we have accepted the gift of indescribable value that Jesus has offered to us.
If you have not accepted that gift, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Today, before you leave this room, if possible. And if you have already accepted his gift, and have accepted Jesus Christ as your rescuer and savior, give thanks for what he has done and, particularly during this season of Lent, recommit yourselves to living the life that God has called you to live.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.