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"Not Ashamed"

January 10, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: Genesis 2:4–2:25

Before we jump into the text today, I need to spend a couple of moments on the events of this week. What we saw at the Capitol on Wednesday was bad. It was very bad. I am not really sure that I can say much to add to what has already been offered into the public discourse regarding the deadly riot.

I do want to respond, however, to something I heard a couple of times:

  • “This sacred space was desecrated,” declared Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois.[1]
  • The man sitting in Vice President Pence’s seat in the Senate Chamber, Josiah Colt from Boise, Idaho – one of the rioters who entered the Capitol – issued an apology in which he said, "While in the Chamber I told the other protesters that this is a sacred place and not to not do any damage," Colt told CBS 2. "Some of them wanted to trash the place and steal stuff but I told them not to and to leave everything in it's [sic] place. We're still on sacred ground."[2]
  • Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, issued the following statement this evening on the protests at the U.S. Capitol:

“Our United States Capitol is sacred ground and a place where people over the past centuries have rightly demonstrated, representing a wide variety of opinions.  We Americans should honor the place where our nation’s laws and policies are debated and decided.  We should feel violated when the legacy of freedom enshrined in that building is disrespected and desecrated.[3]

Friends, the Capitol Building is not sacred. Believing it is sacred is the root of the problem. Please understand me: the Capitol is important. It should be respected. It should not be treated as it was. However, it is not sacred. We have all heard numerous times this week that words matter – and they do. Sacred has to do with the divine. Governments are divinely instituted; they are not divine. We make government an idol when we call the Capitol Building sacred ground. The difference is in the understanding of where power and sovereignty really exist. Pilate asked Jesus, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:10-11)

We pray to God for our elected officials; not to them. We pray to God for our nation. As long as we treat the government as divine – that is, as the source of power and authority – rather than divinely instituted – that is, put in place by God for our protection and benefit – we will continue to be frustrated by the futility of our idolatry. Said another way, as long as we worship human power rather than God, we will suffer the fragmenting foundation of our nation. Even though it seems like a subtle thing to object to calling the Capitol Building sacred ground, we are going to talk next week about how “subtle things” have extraordinarily significant consequences.

That said, we should care about what happened and what happens in Washington, but we need not despair. As I noted last week in the sermon regarding Genesis 1 and creation,

Knowing that there is one and only one God – holding that understanding, living that understanding, trusting that understanding – it takes faith in today’s world. …We are not the center of everything. Instead, all of creation exists in relation to that one God. God is God and we are not. God is one – with or without creation.

To sum up: what happened this week was bad. It was a case-in-point illustration of how things are not as they should be. Until and unless we repent and seek God’s mercy and grace, things will not be as they should be. So now we are going to turn our attention to God to see how things were and as they ultimately will be. Today, we are going to look at the Garden of Eden.

A quick reminder as we turn to our text: we are not going to try to answer all the questions you may have had or heard regarding these verses. Why is there this second creation account and how does it compliment or contradict the first? Is it a second account or is it something else? Why are different terms used for God? These are great questions for a Bible study. For our purposes here, we are going to look within the text to see what the is being revealed to us about the nature, character, and purpose of God? Who is this God who has revealed himself to us? What has God revealed? What does God’s revelation mean for how we understand who we are and how we are to live?

A second reminder: Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch; that is, the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We need to keep in mind that Genesis does not exist separate and distinct from those other books. They are a set. Taken as a whole, the most important theme in this five-book set is the movement of God to rescue his people from bondage and slavery in Egypt, to the covenant at Sinai, and then delivering them to the Promised land. What we read in Chapters 1-11 are a preface to that story. They set the stage. From there, the rest of the Bible is the revelation of God’s redemption, reconciliation, and restoration through the promise, fulfillment, and hope of Jesus Christ.

Today, we read about creation as it was intended to be. In Jesus Christ, we see how God is restoring creation to what it is intended to be.

God is a God of order

As we begin our verses today, there are a couple of things to note. In verse 4, the section begins with a prefatory sentence: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” The same phrasing is used throughout Genesis to mark a new section. For example, in chapter 6:9, the section begins, “These are the descendants of Noah. Now was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.” In Chapter 10:1, the opening line is, “These are the descendants of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; children were born to them after the flood.”  Thus, we are in a new section.

Seeing that helps us understand the limitations of the description we find in verses 4-6 where the stage was set for God’s creation of the man. The thrust of verses 4-6 – which described the conditions that existed at the point God created man – is to set the scene. We can study those things to learn how the ancients understood their world, but to get caught there is to be distracted from where the author is moving us to go. Verses 4-6 describe a world that is undeveloped, and in verse 7 the man is created and became a living being. In verses 8-9, the LORD God placed the man in the created garden. In short, in an environment without order, God created order.

God is a God of order.

We saw it last week and we see it again this week. Last week God established order and saw that it was good. Light was good. Establishing land from the waters was good. Establishing day and night was good. Creating all the sea creatures and the birds was good. Creating land animals was good. Creating and blessing humankind was very good. This week God planted a garden so that there would be food, and put “ha’ adam” -- the man, or Adam – in it. With broad brushes, the narrator was emphasizing the orderliness of God.

It takes eyes of faith to see God’s order. Norman MacLean captured this so well in the early part of his novella, A River Runs Through It,

As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. Somehow, I early developed the notion that he had done this by falling from a tree. As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty.

I think that is true. There is a rhythm and reason to God’s handiwork. If you wonder about how to understand it, I think most of us have had the experience where all of a sudden everything clicks, things make sense, and we see things in a new way. We have that “aha!” moment of clarity where everything is in order. We praise God for those times because it is a fingerprint of God’s immanence; of God’s presence with us. God is a God of order, and God’s order is good.

The narrator gives us one more broad brushstroke to help us appreciate the beauty of God’s order: the details about the garden. It seems to provide a location; though that is a bit difficult for us to understand. We know where the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers flowed, but we have no idea regarding Pishon or Gihon. Because that is the case, we need to assume that something else was going on here. It was: the narrator was describing a place that existed in the immediate presence of God. The beauty and wonder of the place were remarkable, “the gold of that land is good,” and other gems were present. It is worth noting that “trees, water, gold and gems and cherubim also adorned the later tabernacle (Ex. 25:27) and temple (1 Ki. 7; Ezk. 41-47), and these symbols suggest what was most important about the garden: the presence of God.”[4] 

If we look at these verses in the larger context of the Pentateuch, we see that what we are getting is creation in its ideal structure. We are getting a quick description of what once was and – even at the time this account was written down – what was no longer. The writer did not spend a lot of time lingering here; rather, this was a quick broad brush depiction. What I want you to see is that God willed order upon the creation.

Put in the larger context of God’s revealed character in Scripture, we see that what once was shall be again in the fulfilled kingdom of God. In Revelation 21, we read,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

            “See, the home of God is among mortals.

            He will dwell with them as their God;

            they will be his peoples,

            and God himself will be with them;

            he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

            Death will be no more;

            mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

            for the first things have passed away.”

In God’s revealed kingdom, perfect order will be restored.

Before we move on, I need to take a moment to consider the two trees specifically mentioned. Why the tree of life? This one seems to fit within the larger picture of God’s hand providing and sustaining the man in the midst of his presence.

Why the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why would God put it there and then command the man to not eat of it; the consequence of disobedience being death? Why, indeed?

I don’t know.

You are welcome. I am sure some of you came hoping to hear the answer to that and, with 100% confidence, I can affirm that I do not know. On the one hand, it does seem that the man had some understanding of good versus evil in order to be able to understand the idea of obedience. On the other hand, God’s specific prohibition of eating from this particular tree must mean something.

You can imagine the range of “expert” opinions there are in this matter. The problem is that we are trying to get in the mind of God to understand why. As we consider this in context, I do not think the narrator ever intended for us to understand why God made this choice; rather, the narrator simply wanted us to understand that God did make this choice. It may be that perfect communion requires us to trust God’s judgment, and the fruit of the tree represented access to independent human judgment. We will cover this more next week. For now, it is a part of the explanation for why things are the way they are, rather than a full exploration of how things hypothetically might have been developed differently. In other words, the narrator was pointing out how blessed and orderly was living in full communion with God versus what we experience here and now. 

God designed the man for a purpose. There was work to do. The man was designed to be active, engaged, and involved.

Friends, this remains true: we are designed for a purpose. There is work to do. Among the realizations from this pandemic is the cost – financially, communally, spiritually, and emotionally – the cost of unemployment. When people have nothing to do there are extraordinarily detrimental effects. We really are not designed to be idle or retired.

The summer after my first year of seminary I had nothing to do. I was in my early thirties. I was between semesters. I had no work and was lost without direction. I had gone directly from working to classwork, so that had been a natural and easy transition. Now, however, there was nothing. Jen could tell you: I was depressed, frustrated, lost, and despairing. I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. Finally, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and volunteered to help with some things on campus. To make a long story short, that volunteer work led to other opportunities that changed and re-directed the course of my life.

Jesus called the disciples to, “Come, follow me.” The risen Jesus commissioned the disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations; baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” And what did he also promise? “I will be with you, even to the end of the age.”

Right now, we have been designed to do things. We have been designed to be active, engaged, and involved – now. If you are lost, stuck, or wondering if there is something for you to do, let me assure you: yes, there is plenty for you to do. If you are confused or not sure what to do, let me suggest that “tilling the garden” has a lot of different possibilities. It may not be one thing, it may be many things. Pick a place to begin and start tilling.

God’s design and purpose include fulfillment for humankind

Then, we get to the last section of this narrative. Here, in contrast to all the things that God saw were good, here “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

What follows is an illustration of how well God knows our frame. The LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Some have gotten the impression that God was beta testing each of these animals to determine what would be adequate for man’s purpose. I disagree. There is a building up of anticipation for the man through each one of these steps. It was through the process of negation – recognizing what was not a helper – that the man would be able to finally recognize and appreciate when God presented him with the woman.

When God presented the man with the woman, the man was euphoric and broke into praise, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

Now, there is so much loaded on top of these verses that I want to remind you that we are looking at the broad brush of what the text is revealing to us about God: here, the point is that God’s design and purpose was to bless and fulfill mankind in God’s ordered creation. The author was establishing how things were in the Garden to show how the perfect environment is one in which humankind can love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love other as themselves.

The perfect environment is the point of the concluding statement of this chapter: the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. There was nothing to hide, there was no need to hide anything. There was nothing mediating the presence of humankind from God. There was nothing mediating the presence between man from woman. There was nothing between God and the man and woman.

That is how things were. It is how things will be again. The hope of the gospel is this: In Jesus Christ, God is restoring creation to what it is intended to be. “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”

Have faith. We can live, not ashamed. Amen.

Prayer

 

[1] https://chicago.cbslocal.com/2021/01/06/sen-durbin-on-senate-floor-this-sacred-place-was-desecrated-during-capitol-storming/

[2] https://www.yahoo.com/news/rioter-pictured-hanging-off-senate-172536607.html

[3] https://adw.org/news/statement-of-cardinal-wilton-gregory-on-the-protests-at-the-u-s-capitol/

[4] G.J. Wenham, New Bible Commentary, Genesis, p. 61.