This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Genesis 2:18 - 3:7
In the beginning, when God created the world, he made one special place where humanity would live in sabbath joy and delight with their Lord and Creator. However, from our reading today we see that life in the Garden turns out to be only a brief moment in time. In the Bible only a single chapter within the entire biblical narrative is devoted to life in this place before the fall into sin. The Garden of Eden hardly had time to develop after its’ planting before humanity was banished from it and the special place of grace and peace was sealed off to prevent our return. So what was life all about in the Garden? What was the structure and direction of this place that was entrusted to those who were made in the image of God and carried on them the signature of God?
The first thing we need to know is that life in the Garden of Eden would be life in the Kingdom of God. It was to be lived in the presence of God and it was to know his blessing upon humanity and the entire Creation. The Garden of Eden was a place of grace and perfect “shalom” (that is, the peace of God). More than that, it was also a place that was guided by the Word of God. Just prior to our reading for today the man, who was created from the dust of the earth and made alive by the Holy Spirit of God, was given God’s “Special Revelation” through the Word. Let’s take another look at how this was given.
Prior to our reading, in Genesis 2:15-17 it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” That is our “Vocation”: the job given to us in the beginning: take care of the Garden. “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” This was the “Permission” given to us in the beginning: the world was free and open for humanity to live and grow and develop in this Creation. “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you will surely die.” And in this we are also told that freedom is not limitless. There is a “Prohibition” against eating the fruit of one certain tree. So, in the beginning humanity is free - totally free - but we are free to obey. The essence of true freedom is not being able to do what you want, when you want, and how you want. True freedom is living in obedience to the Word of the Lord. Apart from this there is no freedom. There is only enslavement to sin and shame as we will see from Genesis 3. Life in the Garden of Eden is Kingdom living under the guidance and direction that comes from the Word of God.
In some ways, life has not really changed all that much since that time. Even though we no longer live in the perfect shalom (peace) of the Garden of Eden, life in this world is still meant to be governed by and lived in obedience to the Word of the Lord. However, this proves to be very difficult and in actuality, impossible. We need something more if we are to be counted as obedient. Without for a moment suggesting that God did not make a perfect world in the beginning, we cannot help but notice that in Genesis 2:18 there is a suggestion that something is incomplete about the world and the Garden of Eden even before the fall into sin. Verse 18 says, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Do you see those words? “It is not good.” [God said it, not me!] “It is not good.” No matter what version of the Bible you are reading, there is something about life in the Garden of Eden that needed tending and it was not anything that the human creature himself could have fixed. In fact, Genesis 2:19-20 goes on to make this very clear. The first task that is set before the human is the naming of all the animals which the Lord had formed from the ground. Is this when elephants were named “Elephant”, badgers “Badger”, dogs “Dog”, fish, “Fish”, birds, “Bird”? Perhaps. The naming and classifying of all the species of life on the earth has been going on for as long as humanity has existed. In this work we see the man exercising accountable dominion over the creation. However, in the end, what is said not to be good in verse 18 is not solved by the naming of all the creatures.
So just what is it that is not good about life in the Garden of Eden even before the fall into sin? Well, it turns out that the Garden is a lonely place. “It is not good - for the man to be alone.” Even with God and animals, the first human is alone. Therefore God says at the end of verse 18, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now this seems to take a bit of time, as it is not until verses 21-22 that God creates the woman. [We should keep in mind that Genesis 2:4-25 is a separate account of the beginning of the world. It’s not just a carry-over from the Creation account of Genesis 1. Both accounts are given to us by the Spirit of God and both are true. However, it should be clear that the creation of humanity is very different in each recorded account.] In Genesis 2 God makes the man and woman separately. God creates a “helper” for the man.
Now as noted in the English Standard Version Study Bible, the word helper is an important word. It says, “The word ‘helper’ entails the man’s inadequacy and not the woman's inferiority, for elsewhere it is often used of God.” Psalm 121:2 says, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” What is lacking in verse 18 is given in Genesis 2:22 when it says, “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” The gift of God is then affirmed by the man in his first spoken words, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man.” Please realize that this text is “theology” and not “biology”. The text is teaching us about God, humanity, and our relationship with one another. In our text we are learning that the Garden will not be a lonely place. The Man and the Woman will live in harmony and freedom in the place that is governed by the Word of the Lord. They were made for relationship and community.
And maybe for a time this is what happens. The marriage ceremony in Genesis 2:24-25 unites the man and woman as husband and wife. We have no way of knowing the actual time frame between the creation of the woman, the marriage ceremony, and the fall into sin and that is not an issue or even a curiosity to be solved in this text. Theologically speaking, the second account of creation becomes a prelude to the fall of humanity. This “fix” in verse 22 is not enough. Though we have a chapter division between Genesis 2 and 3, the original text would have run together as one story. In this text we are hearing the story of all of us. This is our reality as much as it is the reality for Adam and Eve. In them we lived, in them we have fallen. But it is not in them that we will be redeemed. For that we must look to Jesus Christ, the new man who lived the obedient life we could not live, and died the death we deserved. Therefore we are not hearing the whole story of our text until we hear it in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once again we see that there is something more that needs to be attended to in the life of humanity and it will only be found in reading the story in light of the coming of Jesus Christ.
Let’s ask ourselves a question. Why did Jesus have to come to this world? Why did God have to become human? The quick answer is that humanity needed a Saviour. Humanity sins and therefore a human being must pay the consequences of that sin. Only God could do this and so God becomes Man in Jesus Christ. In Genesis 3:1-7 we read about the temptation and fall of the first man and woman. The serpent twists the Word of God into a lie and leads humanity to sin. The serpents says, “Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” [No, God did not say that exactly]. “You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
There is a lot that can be explored and studied from this event, but today I want us just to look at the initial result after the sin of humanity as it is described in Genesis 3:7 where it says, “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.” Think about this for a moment. The initial result of sin is shame. The man and woman are embarrassed and feel exposed and they work to make “coverings for themselves”. This work of covering their shame is not part of the original vocation that was given to them. Shame, guilt, fear, dread - none of this was supposed to afflict them and their “sewing” in verse 7 is not a work of joy and delight. It’s not a work or a deed that can give them what they are seeking which is grace and reconciliation.
And so we see from Genesis 3:7 that the solution to the problem that is stated in Genesis 2:18 is not solved for all time by the creation of man and woman. Something is missing. “It is not good for the man or woman or child to be alone.” Humanity needs more. Humanity needs more than the Creation or even human companionship has to offer. Sewing fig leaves together is not enough to re-create human companionship.
What Humanity really needs is the Christ in whom we can be clothed with grace and righteousness. Only in Christ will there be an end to being alone and only in Christ can there be reconciliation and an end to shame. The reality of the fall is told to us in Genesis 3 and verse 7 speaks to our deepest need. It’s a call for the Gospel. It calls out for Christ to clothe us once again in righteousness. And this is what he has done. In Galatians 3:26-28 the apostle Paul writes, “You are all sons (and daughters) of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” This is so much more then the inadequate clothing with fig leaves in our text! Paul goes on to say, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Companionship, community, and identity is restored for those who are clothed in Christ. The fall into sin necessitates more than the feeble solution attempted in Genesis 3:7. We need to be clothed with Christ and we need to find our identity and community from this union with Christ.
And so, let me give you what might be a different perspective on what happens as life takes place in the Garden of Eden. The fall into sin is a reality, but set that aside for just a moment and back up to Genesis 2:18. This is not simply a pretext for the creation of the woman. It’s about the coming of Christ. Even before the fall into sin, the plan of God was for the perfect union of God and humanity through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The “helper” created for the man was not the end, but the means by which God would move the history of the world to the fullness of time when Christ would be born. In Galatians 4:4-5 it says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those where were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (ESV) Fall or no fall, Christ would come in order to end the “aloneness” that is in every human being. As St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” From before the creation of the world God planned to unite us with himself and each other through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. I believe that Genesis 2:18 reveals this truth. It yearns for the coming of the Word made flesh in whom a new humanity - one that will be beyond the labels and confinements imposed on us by the world - would be born.
Therefore, this means that we will be at rest and free only when we are clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ. Think about what this means for us now: married or single, divorced or widowed, young or old, man or woman, girl or boy - you are not alone when you are clothed and identified with the Lord of your life. In Christ the labels and stereotypes fall away and we are not alone or lonely. We are the community of Christ. Our reading from Genesis 2 and 3 is not a lesson in miraculous biology, it’s a lesson in theology that tells us to whom we really belong in body and soul. Before his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus said to his disciples, “Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:19-21)
Imagine if Adam and Eve had been able to hear those words in the Garden. Would they have resisted the devil? The question is really irrelevant. They had another Word and by the grace of God it is the same Word that speaks to us today: the Word is Christ. You are not alone. You will no longer sew leaves together. You will no longer try to cover your fear, your shame, your inadequacies. Christ, the Word made flesh has come and you are the community of Christ. This is our Father’s world and we belong to him. Jesus says, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. Amen.
Prayer of Response
Father in heaven, we thank you for your creation. We thank you that you uphold all things by your word. We thank you, most of all, for your Son who came to redeem us and clothe us by your grace. May we cling to him by faith. May your Kingdom come in all of its’ fullness by your Spirit. In Jesus name we pray. Amen
Order of Service
Opening Hymn: “This is my Father’s World” LUYH # 21
Votum: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. Prayer for God’s Greeting: “May grace and peace be ours from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen”
Hymn of Praise: “Praise the Lord, Sing Hallelujah” LUYH # 6 or PsH # 188
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Call to Confession: Psalm 51:1-12
Hymn of Penitence: “Remember not O God” PH # 254
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 8:1-4, 28-39
Hymn of Assurance: “Before the throne of God Above” LUYH # 682
SERVICE OF THE WORD
Prayer for Illumination: “Shine within our hearts, loving Lord, with the true light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds, that we may comprehend the message of your Word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:18-3:7
Sermon: Creation: “Life in the Garden”
Prayer of Application
WE RESPOND TO SERVE
Hymn of Response: “Father long before Creation” PH # 464
Closing Hymn: “O Worship the King” LUYH # 2 or PH # 428:1,3,4,5
Prayer for God’s Blessing: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”