Monday, March 06, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 3:1-21, for the 1st Sunday in Lent (1 Year Lectionary), "The Conscience under sin"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Genesis 3 is one of the foundational events in the Bible. We often call it “The Fall” or the “Fall into Sin”. It was a turning point in very early human history. God had just completed creation, and Adam and Eve were in perfect harmony with Him. They tended the Garden of Eden; had access to the Tree of Life. But they had one command: to avoid the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they ate of it they would surely die.
But how quickly paradise came unraveled, as the devil whispered doubt into Eve’s ear: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? And doubts of God’s Word and commands have plagued humanity ever since. If we could only trust that the wise and all powerful God actually knows and tells us, His creatures, what is best for us, we would be infinitely better off. But ever since Eve first gave room for that doubt, and began to agree with Satan’s deceitful twisting of God’s Word, mankind has continued on that track. Again and again we question, “Did God really say…you shall not…?”. “Did God really say…In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth?” “Did God really say, He made them male and female, and the two shall become one flesh?” “Did Jesus really say, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me?” Piece by piece humans try to dismantle God’s Word. And by dismantling the truth, we fall over and over for the devil’s lies. We lift our reason above God’s Word, and substitute our “better ideas” for His Word.
This is coupled with the seduction of the devil. He made Eve think that God was holding out on them, and that there was something delightful to be gained by eating the fruit. “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” At the same time that the devil made it sound wonderful and appealing, she was forgetting her identity—she was already like God, because God had made them in His image! The dreadful lie hid the fact that opening their eyes to the knowledge of evil would open them to a world of selfishness, sin, death, suffering, and pain. The world would never look the same again. They would never look the same again. Eating together, they suddenly became aware of their nakedness, and felt the shame and guilt of their sin. Not so delightful after all…to have eyes opened to evil. Now afraid that God would find out, they foolishly attempted to hide.
Temptation is often seductive, appealing to our senses—something beautiful, something clever, something all too persuasive, something we just have to have, something irresistible. But like bait on a fishing lure, we’re blind to the hook that will reel us in. God’s Word, however, trains us to be discerning, to have wisdom to judge what is right and wrong. The Holy Spirit teaches us self-control, to resist temptation when it comes, to see through lies; to eye the real danger and avoid the hook.
The sad thing is that Adam was not off doing something else while Eve was being tempted, but standing right alongside her, the silent abettor to the devil’s deception. He watched as she ate, and said nothing. 1 Timothy tells us that while Eve was deceived by Satan’s temptation, Adam was not. He knew what was happening, and he let her sin, and then followed her, when he took the fruit and ate. No small wonder that God held Adam chiefly accountable for the sin, and that the Bible says sin entered through this one man, Adam.
While some people accuse God of unfairness, that we are saddled with Adam’s sins—Scripture reminds that we’ve all sinned like him; adding to the rebellion and offense against God. Our patterns of sin follow Adam and Eve’s, ever so closely. How often have we silently stood by while our spouse or a friend or loved one was about to swallow sin—hook, line and sinker? How often have we been lured by a clever lie, and followed headlong, with no regard to God’s warnings or the consequences?
But we also imitate our primal father and mother in how they responded after they sinned. Though the verses don’t mention their conscience, clearly they are playing out the first familiar motions of a guilty conscience. Before their sin, they had no guilt or shame. Their relationship with God was open and loving, with no element of fear. Once they sinned, the guilty knowledge of their conscience changed everything. Now they cowered in fear at the sound of God approaching. Now they felt guilt and shame, and hid their nakedness with fig leaves. Now they jumped to blaming and rationalizations to excuse or defend their behavior.
We have the same conscience, and it responds the same way under sin. It’s the God-given voice that warns us we’re about to do something bad. It tells us right from wrong, and convicts us of guilt when we do wrong, or affirms us when we do right. The healthy conscience helps steer us on the right path. But the guilty and afflicted conscience, when we’ve violated God’s Law, sounds the alarm bells. Then comes the danger that the conscience will, as Luther says, try to adopt “illicit defenses and remedies.” Unlawful defenses and bad medicine! That’s what we try to take when we’re caught in sin!
And the trouble only gets worse. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. No one takes responsibility. When we play the “blame game” we are really just pushing our responsibility off to someone else. God desires that we own up to our sin; take responsibility by admitting what we have done wrong, and not trying to hide it. This is what it means to confess our sins, or to repent or turn away from them. We see our error for what it is, and reject our sin as something wrong, harmful, and deadly to us. But all too often, instead of doing that, as God would have us, we cling to our sin, or persist in it. We try to hide it under the radar with our fig leaves, thinking that God won’t see.
Another “illicit defense” is excuses or self-justifications for our sin. “The woman you gave  to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate.” “It wasn’t my idea.” “She told me to do it.” “You put us together.” Going further than Adam and Eve, we sometimes even try to argue for the “rightness” of our wrong actions. We try to convince ourselves, God, or others that a certain sin or act of disobedience was really OK. We twist ourselves up to make excuses. You may be lucky enough to have an honest spouse, friend, or co-worker who calls you on it when you are making excuses, so that again, you take the real responsibility for the wrong.
You see, our conscience cries out for some quiet, for some comfort, and it readily jumps to bad solutions, unhealthy remedies. But these can never truly quiet the conscience. We don’t want our conscience to “go rogue” or malfunction. Guilty knowledge plagues us and can propel us further into sin, or despair, or more excuses. But what we truly need, and what Adam and Eve also truly needed, was God’s own remedy for our conscience. For a lawful defense of our conscience. For a  way out of the sin-ridden, guilt plagued mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into. It was too late for Adam and Eve to return to the garden. They couldn’t repair that damage. But God was preparing a remedy.
The first glimmer of that hopeful promise is in Genesis 3:15—the protoevangelion, or “first Gospel”. God said to the serpent, “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.” In mysterious words, God said that the offspring of Eve would bruise (or crush, in some translations) the serpent’s head, but that the serpent would bruise his heel. In other words, one of her own descendants would defeat the power of the tempter, who had led them into this horror of sin. Centuries and millennia would pass, with the faithful among Adam and Eve’s descendants, holding to and clinging to that promise of God sending a Deliverer. Down through the ages, God unveiled more and more details of His plan, pointing ahead to the Messiah, His anointed One, who would defeat the devil.
All through that history He never abandoned His people, and bore with them through all their wanderings and failures, but continued to hold before them His Commands and His Promises, His Law and His Gospel. He was faithful to them, even when they were unfaithful. And always pointing back to the promised Savior. And one day in the waters of the Jordan River, the long awaited One emerged from His baptism, was anointed by the Holy Spirit, and went into the desert to be tempted and tried by the devil, just as Adam and Eve once were. Just as the Israelites in the wilderness were. Just like you and I are. Only He faced the temptations and was victorious. He was not deceived or seduced by the devil’s clever words, even in His great hunger and weakness. And Jesus would go on to teach all the words of eternal life, that we may believe, and be rescued from the devil’s destructive plan. Jesus would teach the truth that exposed the devil’s lies. He would shatter our illicit defenses, self-justifications, and bogus remedies for a troubled conscience, and in their place He speaks true and lasting comfort to the conscience.
First He makes us own up to our sins in repentance. Then by creating faith in Him, He gives us forgiveness—a full and free absolution or pardon of all our sins. Finally, He ensures that all this is a just and legal defense of our conscience, by taking all the guilt and punishment we rightfully deserved on Himself. At the cross. With the head of the serpent lying crushed beneath. Jesus came as the Messiah, the true cure and defense of the conscience, the true deliverer from the power and might of sin, death, and the devil. And in Him, God restores to you a clean conscience. A conscience that is clothed and covered in the garments, not of animals, but of Christ’s own righteousness, A conscience that does not tremble in fear at God’s presence, but that stands humbly and gratefully in the presence of God who has acquitted us of our sins, and counted His Son’s good record to our favor, by faith. The good conscience knows these things rightly—God’s Law, our sin, and our Savior. And in our Savior Jesus, our conscience finds it’s true and legitimate peace. In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Genesis 3:1-21, often called the “Fall into Sin.” What is it that Adam and Eve “fell from”? What was their relationship with God, before, and after they sinned?
  2. In verse 1, what was the key way that the devil undermined God’s Word to Adam and Eve? Why did she fall for it? What does 1 Timothy 2:13-14 tell us about the difference between Adam and Eve’s realization of what they were doing?
  3. Read Genesis 3:6. Where was Adam while Eve was being tempted? What did he say to stop the devil from tempting her? In Scripture, who is held accountable for first bringing sin into the world? Romans 5:12-14.
  4. Viewing the story from the standpoint of conscience—what was the condition of Adam and Eve’s conscience before and after they sinned? What different techniques did they begin to use to deal with this new guilty knowledge in their consciences? Why didn’t it work?
  5. In Genesis 3:15 God declares a future remedy for this deception of the servant. Who would come, and what would happen to defeat the old lies of the serpent, and defeat His power? 1 John 3:8; Romans 16:20; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:1-3, 10.
  6. What consequences of sin and curses upon the earth, fell on Satan, Eve, and Adam? How do we share in those consequences? Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12; 8:20-23.
  7. In what ways does our sin corrupted conscience mimic the behaviors of Adam and Eve? What is proper way to deal with a guilty conscience, according to Scripture? Luke 24:47 . How did God take care of Adam and Eve as they were forced to leave Eden? Genesis 3:21. What does this foreshadow, and how are we clothed? Galatians 3:27

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