We are now in the season of Lent. And as we say every year, Lent, which started on Ash Wednesday this past week and ends on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, is a time to reflect upon who we are and how we live our lives. Are we living as God wants us to live? Are there things that we do that we should not do? Are there things that we aren’t doing that we need to start doing? And even more to the point, what is your relationship with God? Are you actively seeking to build that relationship – because he’d really like you to – or are you content just to keep on with the status quo? Who is Jesus for you? Are you really open to the working of the Holy Spirit in your life? Those are all good Lenten questions.
This year, to address some of those question, we are going to focus on some Old Testament Scriptures and discover how they relate to the New Testament and to us. That’s important because the foundation for God’s saving work in the Jesus Christ that we read about in the New Testament is established in the Old Testament. That’s where we learn why God did things as he did them. God’s actions in Jesus Christ did not appear out of thin air. They were the culmination of God’s very clear direction about how that reconciliation was going to happen.
Over the next few weeks of Lent we will be looking at what God did in the Old Testament. I suppose that God could have acted to save humanity in any number of ways. But God made choices right from the very beginning about how he would interact with humanity. Over the next six weeks, we will look at those choices. Here they are:
God Chooses a People
God Chooses a Covenant
God Chooses a Family
God Chooses Life
God Chooses to Act
And to start it all off today, we are going to be focusing on God’s choice of obedience.
In our first Scripture reading, we heard about how God created Adam from the dust of the earth and set him in Eden to work it and take care of it. That was a good thing. In the garden of Eden, Adam had everything he needed for survival. Later, of course, God decided that Adam needed a helper – a companion – and so God created Eve.
Nonetheless, God set Adam in the Garden of Eden and gave him a few simple instruction. He was supposed to look after the garden and he could eat from any of the trees of the garden except one. He could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He could eat from the apple tree, from the pear tree, from the orange and grapefruit trees. He could eat from the olive tree and the pomegranate tree. Adam could eat from any tree in the whole garden. Except one, only one. It was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All Adam had to do was obey those simple instructions. But God was not done because, if Adam choose to disobey, there would be a consequence. If he ate from that tree, he would surely die. That’s a pretty substantial consequence.
That sets up for the next part of the story which is going to start in Genesis 3. Genesis 3:1 (NIV) says this:
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’?”
So here we have the serpent introduced and we learn that the serpent is more crafty that any of the other creatures. Why is that? Because this isn’t just the serpent. There’s something working through the serpent and that being, of course, is the devil. Note what the serpent says. He says, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Did God say that? No? In fact, God said the exact opposite. Adam and Eve could eat from any tree in the garden except one. So we see here that the serpent is trying to twist God’s words.
Eve recognizes the mistake that the serpent made and makes the correction in Genesis 3:2-3 (NIV) which says:
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 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.’”
Credit Eve. She gets it right. In fact, she goes maybe a little beyond what God said when she says that God told them not even to touch it. But the point is made that if they disobey God, then they will die.
But the serpent is not done because the devil’s work is to confound the will of God and so he continues in Genesis 3:4-5 (NIV) when he says:
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So what is the serpent doing? He is telling Eve that God has ulterior motives. God may have told Adam that eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would result in death but, in reality, it would result in something quite different. Eating from that tree in the middle of the garden will result in their eyes being open so that they will be like God knowing good and evil. That’s a very different outcome to the same activity, isn’t it? A very different kind of temptation.
Normal people are not tempted to eat something they believed will kill them. If they are, then there’s a real problem. But how many of us would be tempted to do something if we knew it will improve our lot in life and maybe even make us like gods? That’s an easier sell.
Let’s find out how Eve responds to the temptation in Genesis 3:6-7 (NIV):
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. 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.
The temptation is too much for Eve. She eats some of the fruit and so does Adam. They get their wish. Suddenly, they know the difference between good and evil and the very first thing they realize is that they are naked. And so they make something to wear out of fig leaves.
Maybe this was their first clue that being like God was not all it was cracked up to be. Adam and Eve got what they wanted, the knowledge of good and evil. But was it worth it. The consequences were that they were kicked out of the garden and they will die. Adam ended up with a good long life – we learn in Genesis 5 that he lived for 930 years and, while that’s a long time, it’s a whole lot shorter than forever.
God called Adam and Eve to obedience and because of their disobedience – we call it sin – they were banished from the garden and experienced death. And isn’t that what Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, that the wages of sin is death?
God gave Adam and Eve everything they needed when he placed them in the Garden of Eden. All God asked was that they look after the garden and refrain from eating from one tree. That’s all they had to do and, if they were obedient, they would be happy there together for the rest of eternity.
But they couldn’t do it. They chose to disobey God and do the only thing that God told them they couldn’t do. And we might shake our heads and wonder how they could be so stupid. But when we think about it, are we so different? Isn’t it true that we often crave the things that we aren’t supposed to have?
Most of you know that I grew up in Stoney Creek, right smack dab in the middle of some of the best fruit producing land in the Ontario. My mother, back then, was one of the first people to be diagnosed with an environmental allergy. She was allergic to every kind of food preservative out there. For a couple of years, she was very sick, in and out of the hospital.
When they finally figured it out, it meant a huge change for our family. We had to find that had no chemical preservatives in it. What that meant was that we had mostly had to grow our own. Fortunately, we had a half acre of land and pretty soon a huge chunk of it was garden. We grew tomatoes and cucumbers, onions and radishes, peas and beans. And we also grew fruit. We had an enormous raspberry patch. We also had a small orchard with two plum trees, two apple trees, a pear and peach tree along with gooseberries, red and black currents. We didn’t want for anything. If we were hungry, all we had to do was go out and pick something.
But here’s the silly thing. The Kennedy’s lived up the street. And they grew one thing that we didn’t grow. They grew strawberries in their back yard. On the weekends, when our parents let us stay out after dark because there was no school, my buddies and I would sneak up to the Kennedy’s fence after dark. And if there was no one in sight, we would very quietly hop the fence and search for strawberries. And we almost always found some. And they were so good – red and ripe and juicy. They were the best strawberries. In fact, they may even have been – to this very day – the best strawberries I have ever tasted.
Why were they so good? Because we weren’t supposed to have them. They belonged to the Kennedy’s and there was no way that we were supposed to be hopping their fence in the dark and stealing their strawberries but that’s what we did. And we didn’t just do it once. Fortunately, we never got caught because if we had, our parents would have turned us back into dust.
It’s true, isn’t it, that the sweetest fruit, the fruit that we desire the most, is often the very fruit that we’re not supposed to have? I expect that you know exactly what I’m talking about because each of you has a story something like. And if we had time of confession right now when people could come up here and tell their stories, we’d be here for quite a while. The sweetest fruit is often the very stuff that we aren’t supposed to have. And it all started with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
So that means that we can blame them. Right! No, not right. Adam and Eve’s choices may have been responsible for the fall and the beginning of sin. But each and every one of us is responsible for our own choices and our own actions.
The last question for today is this: How does this lay the foundation for God’s gracious actions in the New Testament? It has to do with obedience. That’s the key word for today. It starts with our obedience. God still expects us to be obedient. And do you know something? What God expects of us really hasn’t changed much from the time of Adam and Eve.
God still expects us to look after the place and I think that, on that point, today’s environmental movement has something important to say. God still expects us to look after the creation that he made for us to live in.
But God also has rules for us to live by and they aren’t a whole lot harder than the one he gave to Adam. People think the following God is complicated but it’s not. Jesus was asked one time what people had to do to please God and this was his reply in Luke 10:27 (NIV) which says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Is that difficult? Is that complicated? No, it’s not. Just treat other fairly and justly, just like you’d like them to treat you. And if you’re looking for actual rules, check out the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. Or maybe flip over the Micah 6:8 (NIV) which says: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That’s not difficult. You know what that means. We all understand that we need to live by those principles. What God calls us to do is put them into practice. Live like you mean them. I’m not saying that it’s easy because the devil is still around whispering in our ears and tempting us with forbidden fruit that we really should avoid.
The reality is that, every now and then, we fall to those temptations, just like Adam and Eve did. But thank God that we are left to wallow in our sin. It’s at this point, where we begin to look to Good Friday and Easter because that is another story of obedience. Jesus lived on this earth to show us how to live. He died on the cross to pay the price of our sins and rose again so that all who put their faith in him may have eternal life in God’s glorious kingdom.
It may have been Adam’s disobedience that caused us to be separated from God, it was Jesus’ obedience that created the bridge that brings us back to God again. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (NIV), says it like this:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Adam’s disobedience is overcome by Jesus’ complete and unwavering obedience. Or as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV): “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” Jesus, in obedience to the Father’s will, gave his life for us to counter our disobedience.
Why did he do it? That’s easy. Because he loves us. That’s why good parents provide rules for their children. When a parent tells a child not to play on a busy road or not to play with matches or not to get into a car with a stranger, are they trying to be mean? Are they trying to stunt their child’s creativity or put too many restrictive boundaries on their freedom? No, parents give children rules because they want them to be safe, because they want them to grow up healthy and well and because they want them to live full and rich lives. Or in a word they create rules for their children because they love them.
If you can understand that – and I think you can – then you can understand why God insisted that Adam and Eve be obedient to the rules that he established when they were created in the Garden of Eden. That obedience finds its ultimate expression and fulfillment in Jesus. And that is the first thing that Lent is about. Next week we will look at God’s next choice, his choice to do his saving work through a particular people, they people of Israel.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Life and Awesome mystery, we come to you our Creator on this first Sunday in Lent. The reality of life surrounds us. We see our sin and we experience the pain of the world. Yet, in the midst of suffering, there is your great mercy for all people. Remind us, once more of the forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving yourself to us and for us that we may have the great gift of eternal life. We acknowledge your greatness and your grace.
As we enter March we thank you for the coming spring, for the geese that we see in the sky, for tulips and crocuses that are thinking about popping their heads above the earth. We thank you for sunshine and warmer day, and the prospect of bike rides, hikes and gardening.
The news of the Coronavirus is disturbing for many people. We pray for cool heads and good choices. We pray for governments as they make decisions that impact us all. We also pray for health care providers as they seek to confront this situation and care for the sick.
We also give thanks for Ruby Archer and are grateful for the time we spent together. May her faithful witness be an inspiration to all who knew her. We look forward to the day when we will see her again through faith in Jesus Christ.
We pray for the sick or recovering at home or in hospital, especially Mark, Jacqui and Mary. May your love and your healing grace be upon all of us at it brings healing and peace to our troubles lives.
Heavenly Father, when we begin to
feel overwhelmed help us to remember the struggles of those who have gone
before us. We are part of a great parade of Saints who have lived faithfully
throughout the generations. Because of their faith, courage and persistence, we
have the opportunity to know you today. Give us such strength and wisdom that future
generations may look back and call us faithful. We are grateful for the
assurance that you are with us and that your promises never fail. We lift these
prayers to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
March 1, 2020 / Lent 1
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; Mark 1:9-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22
CALL TO WORSHIP
The mercies of God are abundant and great;
To you, O God, we lift our souls.
The paths of God are true and trustworthy;
To you, O God, we lift our souls.
The ways of God are loving and sure;
To you, O God, we lift our souls.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Every part of Earth is sacred. Every life is precious. Every memory, every feeling, every hope and every tear are holy and belong to you for you are the One True Creator. We honour you with our worship, O God. We praise you for being with us when we would rather be somewhere else. And so we come to renew our relationship and our commitment to you. You are the one who gave us life and you have promised to walk with us no matter what the future may hold. We praise you God, the God of all. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
You, Merciful God, have shown us the pathway to true and everlasting life. You have offered us renewal and hope. Still, we are tempted by the things of this world and we turn away from you. We neglect to look after ourselves when we go through hard time, only making the tough time worse. We forget to reach out to those who love us and we forget that you have promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. We are grateful that even in the midst of our unfaithfulness your promises never fail. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hatred lasts for a moment. Jealousy evaporates like morning dew. Covetousness lingers like a breath of air. But the mercy and compassion of God are eternal. They overcome the deepest recesses of our sin and give us the gift of life from above that is ours in Jesus Christ.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Accept our gifts, O God, as you accept everything else about us. They are probably as flawed as we are but you still receive them with grace. You make them worthy of your service. Use us and our gifts that the world may be changed and lives restored. Amen.
has come to leave this place and journey, once again, into our world and
community. May we go with confidence, assured of the love of God and the Spirit
in our midst. There is One who walks with us along every step of our journeys.
May the presence of God continue to encourage and inspire us.