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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Grace in the Garden
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-07-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 104:1,7                                                                                                

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Genesis 3; Revelation 22:1-5; Belgic Confession, Article 17

Ps 8:1,2,3,4,5                         

Sermon – Lord’s Day 3

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 16:1,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, when we hear about the Garden of Eden, it makes us think. We have all kinds of questions. What was it like for Adam and Eve to live in that perfect paradise? What was it like, to walk with the LORD? Where was that Garden? Another thing we wonder is how long it took before things fell apart. How long before Satan arrived on the scene? Was it only a few days? Weeks, months, or more?

We find no clues of this in Genesis 2-3. Only we see an ugly “Before and After” picture. One moment all is well, Adam and Eve working together in the sunny Garden, having fellowship with God. And the next moment, the serpent has attacked, man and woman are at odds with each other and with God, and the sky has clouded over.

Lord’s Day 3 returns us to this time of the beginning: what this world once was, and what it has become. We get a glimpse of that perfection of paradise, and then it’s gone, replaced by the sorrow and misery of sin. “God created man good and in his image…” it says (Q&A 6), but then it comes: “In Paradise… our nature become so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin” (Q&A 7).

It’s painful reading. Yet the Paradise Disaster isn’t the whole story, not in Genesis 3, and not in Lord’s Day 3. The perfection of God’s creation did last only a while. But in that beautiful time, there was so much grace. Even at the moment our first parents rebelled, there was overwhelming compassion from God. And though his people are fallen, God promises there is even more kindness to come. That’s our theme today,

Despite misery, there is grace in the Garden:

  1. grace in creation
  2. grace after rebellion
  3. grace for salvation

 

1. grace in creation: Sometimes people will claim that Adam and Eve could walk with God in the Garden because they were so good. Their hearts were pure, their minds flawless, and their bodies weren’t feeble. So they were able to choose good, and they were able to do good. If anyone could be saved by their good works, some will say, it was Adam and Eve.

It’s true that Adam and Eve were sinless. They could live in a way that was really and truly upright. But don’t forget why man and woman were so good: God had made them that way! As the Catechism says, “God created man good and in his image” (Q&A 6). They were like how an artist makes a self-portrait by dabbing paint on the canvas to look like him, but these ones were painted in perfection. All creation spoke of the LORD’s power, but man and woman alone reflected the glory of God himself.

As the Catechism says, our first parents were crafted by God “in true righteousness and holiness” (Q&A 6). They could have a proper relationship with God. They didn’t need to cringe and cower in his presence, but could stand before their Maker with confidence. There was no inner desire to disobey, no moral pollution in the heart, and nothing impure kept us separate from God. He was holy, and we were holy.

And let’s remember that it was God who made us righteous! God guaranteed that man and woman would be able to know him as Lord. We alone, of all the creatures God made, have bodies, but also souls. Only because God granted it could we know and love our Creator. Only by his grace could there be a real connection of his spirit to ours. The LORD didn’t walk in the garden with the animals. God didn’t bend down and talk to the plants. God communed with man! God wanted to reveal the glory of his face to Adam and Eve alone.

So in Genesis 3, we read how the man and woman knew the “sound of God” as He walked through Paradise. How did they know the sound? It’s like knowing the sound of the train on those tracks outside town—you know that sound because you’ve heard it so often. In the garden, God’s presence was familiar to Adam and Eve. By God’s grace, our first parents were allowed to know God, and they knew God “rightly” (Q&A 6).       

God also gave to man and woman the ability to respond to his grace. How exactly did man and woman show love to their Maker? Maybe with offerings and gifts. With prayer and praise. Certainly love for the Lord flowed from them in heart, soul and mind.

At the same time, Paradise wasn’t supposed to be like a museum, with nice artifacts on display. God didn’t want things in Paradise to collect dust, but He wanted his creation to develop and grow. So for mankind too, God had a great plan. He wanted mankind to increase, so that we could rule what the LORD had made. In Genesis 1 God had said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (v 28). This was our beautiful task. Created in the image of God, we were commissioned to do God’s will on earth.

You could say that Adam and Eve had a very promising future. Lots to look forward to… They had an eternal project of living with God, and working for God. God had lifted them (and us) to glory, and He’d given an amazing mission that would’ve kept us busy for a long time. As the Catechism says, we could “live with him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify him” (Q&A 6), to honour our Creator and God.

Our first parents were privileged, beyond what we can imagine. They received abundant life, every spiritual ability, and a glorious task. Above all that, they were allowed to enjoy a living relationship of love with their God. For the LORD in his grace had personally guaranteed that they could live with him.

Besides their work of increasing and subduing and ruling, God gave man and woman another commandment as well. They were not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that tree found in the middle of the garden.

It was a test of their obedience. Their response to what God said would be a true measure of their love. And compared to the big responsibilities they had, like developing and governing creation, the command to stay away from the one obvious tree was pretty simple. It should’ve been simple. But given that freedom to choose good or choose evil, one terrible day our first parents made the wrong choice. They rebelled, and we their children rebelled with them.

 

2. grace after rebellion: It was Satan who led us astray. Lord’s Day 4 will speak about how sin came at the “instigation of the devil.” Yet it will also say it was our own “deliberate disobedience.” That first sin was an act of proud rebellion against the LORD.

Now, when Adam and Eve first sinned, God could’ve done a few different things. When He saw that rebellion in the Garden, God could’ve junked the whole project. Wouldn’t we do that? Imagine that the project we’re working on is suddenly wrecked—a crack appears right down the middle of the wood, or we put the wrong colour on the canvas, or ruin the fabric with a bad cut—so we scrap it, toss it out, and start over. God could’ve done that.

Or instead of wiping out his creation, God could’ve destroyed the man and woman. We had no right to disobey his commandment, or to want more than we had. God could’ve zapped Adam and Eve on the spot. Or God could’ve given them some horrible punishment that would last for eternity. Surely they deserved it, and God had even said it, “The day you eat of the tree, you will surely die.”

But God does something else. As He had shown grace in the act of creating man and woman, but now even more profoundly, God shows his character, his true colours. Certainly God was angry. Certainly God’s holiness had been offended. Certainly his justice was crying out to be satisfied. These things were still part of the picture, yet first God shows grace.

For the first thing that God does is look for the ones who dared to break his holy commandment. Having eaten of the tree, and already feeling the after-effects, the man and woman become paralyzed with fear, as they hear “the sounds of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3:8). The sound that had been so beautiful to them just the day before, the sound that spoke of their communion with God—this sound had now became an ominous noise, like the scariest movie music you’ve ever heard. God was coming near. God was going to see them. God would see what they had done. So Adam and Eve hide themselves among the trees.

But God looks for them in the Garden: “The LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” (v 9). “Where are you?” Beloved, think about these amazing words. Why are they so amazing? God didn’t thunder at our parents, “How dare you break my command?” God didn’t threaten them, “Now you’re going to get it!” But God searches us out, “Where are you?” These are words full of grace: “Where are you?” Because of course God knew where they were. And of course God knew exactly what had happened. But God reaches out to sinners.

This is something that a patient parent would do, in one of those moments when you’re tempted to lose your cool. Maybe you come into the living room, and you see the disaster that the kids have left behind. You don’t lose it, but you calmly give them a chance to return to the scene of the crime. You ask them to explain themselves. So in God’s very first reaction to sin, we see love. In his reaction that first day, we see his patience with sinners.

Also when Article 17 of the Belgic Confession describes the riches of God’s mercy, it goes all the way back to the scene of the Garden. And our confession says this: “God saw that man had… plunged himself into physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, [yet] our gracious God in his marvelous wisdom and goodness set out to seek man when he trembling fled from him.” He seeks him! Even in the wake of rebellion, God’s marvelous wisdom and goodness are on display.

“Where are you?” The Lord wants to teach his children something that they (and we) have to learn, again and again. God wants his children to realize that whenever we sin, we’re going the wrong way. Whenever we sin, we’re stepping away from him, the holy God. Whenever we sin, we’re headed for a dangerous place—outside the line, apart from him.

Where were they? Adam and Eve weren’t with their God. Suddenly they were on their own, doing what they wanted, and already feeling the pain. But they’d always remember that first, gracious question. It says that God always wants his children to be with him. It’s where we belong. It’s what God made us for.

And that’s still what our God is like. For we don’t always walk beside him, do we? We wander away from him, and we step outside the safety lines. We get mired in the ruts of our sinfulness, we embrace our sin, and give up fighting it. And then we try to hide from the God who sees all. Like our first parents, we make fig-leaf coverings for ourselves in order to conceal our shame. There’s sin in our life, but we think we can hide it behind some fig leaves. We hide behind a polite smile, behind our church membership. We hide behind our good answers at home visits. Or we mask our guilt by drinking too much, or by getting lost in our work. We insist to everyone—even insist to ourselves—that everything’s fine. Somehow we think that we can fool God with our thin wrappers and coverings.

But God doesn’t let us be self-deceived forever. No, God seeks us out. God teaches us that it’s not worth it to leave the blessing of being close to him. When we’re stuck in sin, God calls out, “Where are you?” When we go our own way, God calls out, “Where are you?” God seeks us, so He can tell us where the better life is—that it’s with him. God reaches out to us, and pricks our hearts until we admit we’ve gone the wrong way. Maybe He finds a way to shake us up, a way to humble us through suffering. And then God makes sure that we know He’s near, and that He’s ready to forgive.

When God finds them, He allows Adam and Eve to speak. The man tells God, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself” (v 10). They hid in the shame of what they’d done. And then they try to blame someone else: “It was the woman, it was the devil—it was you, Lord, who put this tree here!”

We probably do the same, and play the “blame game.” We convince ourselves that this sin isn’t our own fault, that these consequences can’t be blamed on us. “It’s how I was raised. It’s just my character.” The husband says that it’s his wife’s coldness, the wife says it’s the husband’s neglect. Or it’s the bad influence of my friends, or it’s the demands of the boss, or it’s all the ills of this world—whoever’s fault it is, it’s certainly not mine! This is one of the ways we sinners deal with our sin: blame, and denial.

It’s pretty sad. But God doesn’t walk away from us. No, God gives sinners his aid. In verse 21 we read, “For Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” These were more permanent and comfortable coverings, something they could live and work in. No, these garments should not have been necessary—but now that they are, God will provide.

And that pattern of grace holds true: God doesn’t abandon his children when we have to deal with the effects of sin. For sin does have consequences. When it’s brought out into the open, sin brings shame. Sin can ruin our relationships, and it can wreck the good gifts of God. By sin we can bring on so much pain, pain for ourselves and for others.

But when we’re burdened, God doesn’t walk away. Even when we have to deal with the misery of the sin we committed, God doesn’t say, “Serves you right. You’re just getting what you deserve.” Rather, God shows us amazing grace. How does He? God forgives us, and gives our hearts a beginning of peace and assurance. When we ask, God gives us the strength to deal with the fall-out from our mistakes. The LORD doesn’t leave us in the mess that we got ourselves into, but He comes near. He takes away our garments of shame, and He clothes us with the righteousness of Christ!

And so as Adam and Eve are banished, God makes sure they can’t get at that other special tree in Paradise, which was the tree of life. So the LORD sends a cherubim with “a flaming sword, which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (v 24). We can wonder about that: Why did God send this guard? Why didn’t He want Adam and Eve to eat from that second tree?

Because the fallen creation had already started to groan. Adam and Eve were already feeling the weight of sin and guilt. If Adam and Eve ate from that second tree, they would live forever, but they’d live in their hopeless and shameful condition! It’d be unending misery!

By sending that angel to guard the way to the tree of life, God protects Adam and Eve from themselves. Instead of being able to take from the tree, now one day they will die. Better to physically die than to live forever in sin! Our first parents—and we their children—can receive life eternal, but we receive it in another way.

Beloved, aren’t you impressed by all the grace? God doesn’t instantaneously destroy us like we deserve, but He seeks us out. God doesn’t abandon his children in our shame, but God clothes us, and He makes possible a continued life. God doesn’t let his people kill themselves forever by eating from the other tree, but protects us. In the Garden we see unending compassion! And his mercy has only continued from that day.

 

3. grace for salvation: Before the man and woman are sent from the Garden, the Lord speaks a promise. We know it well. God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). Right after starting a rebellion, Satan learns that he’ll be destroyed. Though he’d scored a partial victory, his final defeat is guaranteed.

And this promise isn’t just about God getting revenge. This promise is about opening the way back into his presence for sinners. Where Satan brings death and misery, Christ brings life and salvation. The seed of the woman will sprout and grow strong. Christ will suffer and die, in the place of us who deserve punishment and curse. Think of it: at this moment of the fall, even with the explosion of that first sin still echoing throughout the Garden, God starts making peace. He starts paving the road that will lead to the cross. He starts making his creation as He wants it to be.

And when we look at the picture of the new Jerusalem, it’s a beautiful restoration of what we had in Paradise. First, we see in the New Jerusalem the “tree of life” (Rev 22:2), a tree like there was in the Garden. This tree in the city will bear “twelve fruits… yielding its fruit every month.” Now notice what it’s for: “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2). All those peoples and nations who live in the brokenness of sin can be healed through that tree. This is a better tree of life! Because sinners can eat of it, and live forever—not in the misery of sin, but healed of our fatal flaw, purified of our sin, glorified for God.

As for that curse that God pronounced on his creation long ago, even that will be taken away, says Revelation: “And there shall be no more curse” (22:3). No more will this fallen world strive in futility. No longer will the creation groan and cry and sweat. No more curse, but only blessing. As it was in the Garden, so it’ll be in the New Jerusalem: “We shall see his face, and his name will be on our foreheads” (22:4). Because of Christ who washes away our sin and shame, we’ll be with God, and walk with God, forever.

And what will we do there in the presence of God? Like our first parents in the Garden, we’ll have work to do: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will serve him” (Rev 22:3). For eternity we get to serve him. God will give the holy mission He gave us in the beginning. For on the new heavens and earth we shall glorify God with all that we are, and with all that we have!

It all sounds wonderful, but we have to know this: those who are still corrupt won’t enter there. Those who haven’t repented will not walk the streets of Jerusalem. Those who haven’t had their sin dealt with by faith in Jesus Christ will not go in. Paradise is closed to us, it’s guarded by the flaming sword of God’s angel, “Unless…” says the Catechism, “unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God” (Q&A 8).

So walk with Christ today, so that you can walk with him forever. Do the work of God today, that you may serve God forever. Be filled with the Spirit today, that you may be perfected by him forever. Today live in God’s grace, so that you can enjoy his grace without end!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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