Sunday, January 17, 2016

Enmity and Grace

In recent sermons we’ve looked at what God had to say to Adam and to Eve after their sin at the tree. Today, we get to hear God speak to the serpent. As other parts of Scripture make clear, the serpent was a stand-in for the devil. So, in this section of Scripture God speaks to our ancient foe, Satan. What will be interesting to note is that though Satan is the one being addressed, what God has to say dramatically affects humanity. And that’s what I will focus on.

Listen to what 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. Genesis 3.14-15
There are several things going on here. We’ll look at just one today. God puts enmity between the serpent and the woman. He creates hostility. He makes Satan and Eve hate each other. Why would God do this? Imagine a father catching two of his children doing what he told them they must not do. So, what does he tell them? ‘Now, I’m going to make sure that you two never get along, that you’ll always be fighting each other.’ How does that make sense? But that’s what God did. So, what’s going on?

This is another of those situations where you need to remember the wider context. What happened at that tree? What exactly was Satan up to? Why did he even bother with the man and his wife? Satan was recruiting. He was looking for others to join him in his rebellion against his Creator. He had been somewhat successful in persuading some of the angels to join him. They show up later as evil spirits and demons. But Satan wasn’t satisfied with just an angelic revolt. He wanted humanity there with him. You’ll remember how he tried this with Jesus. The point of those three temptations wasn’t just to get Jesus to slip up. He wanted Jesus to rebel and to join him. That’s abundantly clear in the one temptation where Satan calls for Jesus to worship him. Satan was recruiting. He failed with Jesus, but he was quite successful with Adam and Eve. What these two humans were doing at the tree was, in effect, signing up. They joined Satan’s rebellion against God.

At this point God is confronted by a group of rebellious creatures, some of the angels and all of the humans. They have declared their independence from Him and are ready to fight to be free of what they think of as God’s tyranny. So, what does God do? Enmity. He sovereignly acts to make this one group into two groups. He takes Eve - and this includes those who will be with her - and tells her something astounding, something completely uncalled for. ‘I am canceling your rebellion. There will still be consequences for your poor choice, and I’ll deal with those. But I am changing things. I am declaring void that recruitment that you signed up for. I am re-making you and those with you into loyal subjects, loyal to Me. I am making you Mine. I will be your God and you will be my people.’

Consider what God could have done. ‘I tried this creation thing, but it didn’t work. What a mess! Rebels all. So, I’m done with all of that. No more Satan and his demons. No more humans. I’ll damn them all to hell. That will show them who’s boss.’ But He didn’t do that. In the end He will condemn Satan and those angels with him, and there will be some humans there too. And they will be in hell experiencing God’s justice. But there will also be a multitude of people who will be spared all of that, a loyal multitude who will be welcomed into a renewed creation, a new Garden of Eden, a place they will never need to leave. And that all begins with enmity.

So, what should we call what God did? What do we call this surprising act? What if we call it ‘grace’? God did to some what none of them deserved. Grace. Actually, and maybe more to the point, He didn’t do to some what they very clearly deserved. In the midst of all the darkness that we have seen in Genesis 3 here is this shining gem of piercing light: the grace of God.

We’ll come back next week to look more at what’s going on with this hostility. But at this point I want to take what I’ve shown you and explore it a bit. I want to take a closer look at this grace.

Here’s the first thing to notice from all of this. No one asked for God’s grace. No one said to God, ‘Oh please, please, be gracious to me. I admit that I have sinned, seriously sinned. I deserve the worst. But please be gracious to me and forgive my sin.’ You don’t hear that from any of them. In fact, what you hear from Adam and Eve is quite the opposite. ‘It’s not my fault. It’s Eve’s fault. You know, that woman You gave me.’ To which Eve says, ‘Don’t blame me. I was deceived by the serpent. It’s really his fault.’ No one accepts the blame. No one admits their sin. No one asks God to be gracious. And yet, unasked, God is gracious.

And that’s how it always is. When God is gracious it’s not because He is responding to someone’s request. Grace always takes the first step. People who become Christians as adults will sometimes have a story of how it all happened. They will tell you about how they got curious about the Gospel and, little by little, were drawn to Jesus. They came to the point of seeing their sin, and as a result, asked God to be gracious to them. They believed the Gospel. That’s their story, and it’s true and accurate - as far as it goes. But, consider how the Scriptures describe what was also going on. It was the grace of God that was behind it all. Where do you think that first bit of curiosity came from? And it was grace that led them to the point of believing the Gospel, to the point of asking for grace. It’s always the grace of God that starts it all. So, wherever you find a Christian you will find someone to whom God has been gracious, without being asked. Grace always takes the first step.

Then, consider the enormity of what Adam and Eve did. They rebelled! They sided with Satan against their Creator. No one forced them. They signed on as willing recruits. Now, there is a difference between Adam and Eve when it comes to how they got to the point of signing up with the rebels. Eve was, in fact, deceived. Satan’s crafty speech fooled her. So, when Eve says she was deceived, she is speaking the truth. In one of his letters Paul acknowledges this.
… the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Now, that doesn’t excuse her sin. She was still a transgressor. She had the ability to see through Satan’s subtle words and avoid his trap. But she didn’t do that. No, she willingly signed up. And God held her accountable.

But that says something important about Adam. In that same letter Paul tells us,
… Adam was not deceived …
Now, understand what this means. Eve was fooled, and that’s bad. But Adam wasn’t fooled and that’s worse. Adam understood quite clearly what was going on. He heard Satan’s pitch and understood what he would be getting into. Rebellion. And Adam agreed. He wanted to be like God. So, he signed up very much aware of what he was doing. So, if Eve was guilty of sin, how much greater was Adam’s guilt? Eve ate because she was fooled. But Adam’s eating was a defiant act consciously committed against his Creator. Do you see the enormity of Adam’s sin?

And yet, what happened? God was gracious even to Adam in his very willful sinning. The grace of God is not only unasked for, it covers even the foulest sin.

And so that you really get to feel what it means for God to be gracious, let’s talk about His grace as a model for you. Here’s something else from Paul.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We are told to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. And when you do those things for sinful people, they are acts of grace. The example we are to imitate in this is God. He is kind, tenderhearted and forgiving toward us because of Jesus. But here just think about some of the struggles that you have had in being kind and tenderhearted and forgiving. Some people have committed some serious sins against you. You know what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to forgive. But it’s so hard. To be gracious in these situations is so difficult. It really is. But if that’s true when it comes to the relatively smaller sins that have been committed against you, how much harder is it when it’s about the greater sins you have committed against your God? And yet, He is gracious to you - every time. This is the grace of God and it is an example for you.

As I’ve mentioned recently, one of my goals is for you to get to know your God better. That is always an important goal, but in light of our current cultural situation I think that it has become especially important. Today, I’ve talked to you about another aspect of who your God is. He is a God of grace. And that is something that was so clearly revealed back in the Garden.

It seems to me that one response to this is profound gratitude. After all, in effect, it was you at that tree thumbing your nose at God, signing up as a new recruit for the rebellion. And the grace of God came to you, unasked, confronting the enormity of your sin, and said, ‘I am canceling your rebellion. There will still be consequences for your poor choice, and I’ll deal with those. But I am changing things. I am declaring void that recruitment that you signed up for. I am re-making you into a loyal subject, loyal to Me. I am making you Mine. I will be your God and you will be one of my people.’ Gratitude makes total sense.

But it’s more than gratitude that I’m hoping for. I’m also hoping for awe, a sense of wonder. Who is this God who does such things? He is the God of grace. And He is your God.

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