Sunday, January 3, 2016

Cursed

There are parts of the Bible that we all enjoy so much. They are full of good things like hope and love and joy. But then, there are other parts of the Bible. These other parts are full of sadness and can be very distressing. This morning we’re going to be looking at one of those other parts of the Bible. It’s good for you to be reminded that they are there. After all, God included them for a reason. They have something to teach us about the Gospel. It is unwise to try to avoid them. So, we’ll take a look at something sad and distressing in the hope of seeing the Gospel more clearly.

Listen to what Moses wrote.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 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.” To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Genesis 3.8-19
At first God just asks some questions. ‘Where are you?’, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ and some others. This isn’t because He doesn’t know what happened. He’s giving Adam and Eve the opportunity to admit their sin. But they don’t. Instead, they pass the buck. They refuse to take responsibility for their actions. And that only makes the situation worse.

God then speaks to Adam and Eve as well as to the serpent. And what He says is quickly and easily summarized. He curses them. And the world hasn’t been the same since. This is what we’re going to look at this morning.

First, a definition. What does it mean for God to curse someone? It is one thing for some mere human to curse another person to some sort of calamity. That can be bad. Here, think of a king condemning some peasant. But when God does it, it’s beyond bad. When God curses someone He is damning that person. And what follows is a life inflicted with evil leading to destruction. God cursed Adam and Eve. All of us, their descendants, are caught up in that curse. It also includes the creation that we inhabit. On that terrible day God cursed it all, and the effects of that curse remain to this day.

So, that’s what happened long ago, along with some sense of what it means. Now, where shall we go with this? How do we benefit from what we’ve seen? Let’s take it and use it to understand God a little better. So, a question. God cursed Adam and Eve. What does that say about Him? What kind of God would do such a thing?

That is the kind of question that is rarely asked these days. And that’s one reason why I raise it. And the failure to ask that question results in a shallow understanding of God. And that results in a shallow relationship with Him.

Too many Christians have what amounts to a sentimental understanding of who God is. He is a nice God. And that’s why He loves. He’s too nice to do anything else. But what about what happened to Adam and Eve? What about this curse? Think about it. In any other relationship, everyone recognizes the need to understand the other person in that relationship. Getting to know someone will mean getting answers to questions like, ‘What does he like and not like?’ ‘What’s important to her?’ So, doesn’t it make sense for us to ask, ‘What is God really like?’ We need to read the many parts of the Bible that are just like the one before us this morning — those ‘other parts’ — and then ask some hard questions about God, questions like ‘What’s this curse?’

So, based on what Moses wrote about what happened, there are several things that we can learn about God. Here’s one. When God created Adam and Eve He had expectations of them, holy expectations. He told Adam that if he ate from that tree he would surely die. But if, instead, he obeyed there was the promise of the blessings of the tree of life. If Adam obeyed he, Eve and all their descendants would never experience sin but enjoy eternal life. God promised blessings if he met those expectations and curses if he didn’t.  He promised. And He keeps His promises. When He promises to bless, He will most certainly bless. And when He promises to curse, He will most certainly curse. And just as His blessings are glorious, His curses are horrific.  And none of this has changed to this day. That’s something worth knowing about God.

Now, what does all of this say about life today? Here’s one very important answer to that question. Life on this earth has been cursed. Nothing has happened since that fateful day to change that. Life is cursed.

That simple fact has much to say about your expectations. Because of God’s curse, evil is the norm. Evil is what is everyday and common. Just a glance at the news will confirm that. Any good that happens is an expression of God’s extraordinary mercy and unwarranted grace to His creation. God still
makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5.45
And that is usually a great kindness. But blistering sun and torrents of rain also do much evil. So, when you see evil do not be surprised. Why should you be surprised?

But don’t become calloused about the evil you see. Something terrible is happening. No, you should mourn over it. Jesus encouraged us to do that when He said,
Blessed are those who mourn.
So, don’t be surprised. But do mourn. Grieve over what is, especially when you consider what could have been. The once-glorious creation has been cursed. Evil is the norm. And as you grieve don’t ask, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ The answer is obvious. He’s right there keeping His promise to curse.

All that I’ve been saying has been so very dark. And I’m guessing that for most of you, it feels wrong. It is, however, the truth. God has cursed His creation, and we see — and feel — the sad results every day. Now, it is the truth, but it isn’t the whole truth. And yet, the rest of the truth does not change anything that I have said. Adam and Eve sinned, and as a result they and we have been cursed.

Now, why have I preached this? Here’s the first reason. It will help you to understand God better. And understanding God lies at the heart of being able to live well. A sentimental understanding of God as being a nice God, is just plain wrong. That’s not what God is like. A sentimental understanding of God will not stand up to the hard parts of life. You need to know God, the real God, and not some cardboard stand-in. And part of what that means is knowing Him as the God with holy expectations who will curse those who do not meet those expectations. I am convinced that one of the critically important questions that churches in America need to grapple with today is simply this: What is God like?

Here’s a second reason why I preached this. You will not really grasp the Gospel without understanding what I have told you this morning. What is it that Jesus has come to do? What is the Gospel for? A shallow answer to that will lead to a shallow life. A solid answer will make such a difference. The glory of Jesus and His Gospel will stand out only when you understand this curse of God. 

And isn’t that a major theme of Advent? Haven’t we recently sung such a solid answer?
No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found. (‘Joy to the World! The Lord is Come’)
We have an awesome Savior. He has come to do an amazing work. But you will not understand Him or His Gospel very well if you don’t see how enormous the problem is. Creation has been cursed. Evil is the norm. But Jesus has come to change all of that. And He is in the middle of that work of changing curse to blessing, crushing hideous evil and establishing glorious good, and even using that evil for your good. And then, one day He will finish that work. And the happiness of that day is beyond our ability to understand.

So, we believe the Bible, the whole Bible. We believe the part about the curse. We really do. But we also believe the part about Jesus. He has come to deal with that curse. And what is all of this but the Gospel.

So, what do I want you to do? I want you to get to know your God better. I want you to get to know His great kindness and love and mercy and grace better. But you will never be able to do that unless you understand how He has cursed this creation. It is in understanding the bad news — the very bad news of God’s curse — that you will come to be overwhelmed by the very Good News of God’s Son. And that is when you will sing with even greater zeal, ‘Joy to the world! The Lord is come!’ And that’s what we’re going to do right now.

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