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Worship Theme: Should We Fear the Devil?

Sermon Theme: It All Started Here

“Dear Lord God, I have a couple questions: How did you decide the number of planets in this solar system? Why did you make mosquitos? Why does sulfur stink so much?” Maybe you’ve had questions you’d like to ask God. Whether you have or not, there is one question we all need to ask, and it’s the biggest one of all time, “Lord, what is your plan for me?” Today’s first reading, a portion of the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, unfolds the answer: “It All Started Here.”

 The problem started here

If you were unaware of the facts presented in these verses of Genesis chapter three, you would not know the answer to the “why” questions behind God’s plan for us. Why are there problems in this world? Why do cyber-terrorists hack into oil pipeline systems? Why do thieves send crank email messages that say your PayPal account has new charges and your calls to resolve the problem lead to their wanting remote access to your computer and your banking information? Why do people get drunk or do illegal drugs? Why do young people experiment with sex outside of marriage? Why do filthy men harass women and others absent themselves into couch-potato-dom? Why do we hold grudges, get jealous, and talk behind other people’s backs? Why do we seek happiness our own way as if God doesn’t know what’s good for us? You can do all the analysis you want. You can blame it on a person’s upbringing or a dysfunctional family or traumatic childhood, but behind it all is the big problem, and it all started here in the Garden of Eden.

The world into which God placed Adam and Eve was literally paradise, a perfect balance of sunshine, temperature, and humidity, oranges and peaches always in season, flowers always in bloom, people caring for animals, bunnies and bears, lambs and lions playing together, perfect harmony between husband and wife, and best of all, a joyful bond of love and trust with God himself. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Everything was good, very, very good.

Then, faster than a surprise June downpour, everything was bad, very, very bad. That snake, Satan, got Eve to think that God didn’t know what he was talking about. Though God had commanded these first humans, “You must not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden … for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17), Satan convinced Eve that God was holding out on her, that he had something up his sleeve, that if they took the initiative, if they did something, if they ate of that one special tree, they would be taking an elevator ride to God’s sky-lit suite and be on his level.

No stakes of any game of chance have ever been as high as the stakes which Adam and Eve gambled away. They gambled with their lives and the lives of all people ever to be born on this earth and lost! Life on earth would never be the same. From that moment on, the Garden of Eden was no longer paradise. The old evil foe had injected the virus of sin, and sin infected everything. Bunnies ran in fear, and bears killed. Thorns and thistles choked flowers, and crabgrass crept through lawns. Sin brought heartache and hurt feelings. It infiltrated the first home and every home thereafter. Spousal spats, naughty kids, anger, and abuse all stared here.

Worst of all, the rebellion of Adam and Eve corroded and collapsed their relationship with God. They now had pitched their tent in Satan’s camp and bonded themselves to him by the chains of sin. They were caught in his death trap, sliding down the greased water slide of eternal separation from God and his love. The fall into sin was no little boo-boo that warranted a slap on the wrist. Adam and Eve had locked the human race into enmity, hostility, and hatred against God, deserving only his anger in return. And there was absolutely nothing they could do to bleach out the stain of sin. They tried cover-up and made coverings for themselves. They tried hiding. They hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Like you can hide from God! They tried blaming someone or something else. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree.” “The serpent [you made] deceived me.” They were blaming God for their problem! If he hadn’t had it up to here by now! Yikes! God had every right to pronounce a death sentence on Adam and Eve and send them to hell with Satan, their new friend, to rot there forever. This is where their story intersects with ours. You may not feel it every moment of every day, but the problem of desperately needing a connection with God is in us since birth, and it all started here.

With that comes the answer to all the questions about why this problem or that in our lives. The bottom line is still sin. It’s not only all around us. It’s in us. And there is absolutely nothing we can do to bleach out the stain of sin. Only when we recognize how powerful sin is, how it tears us away from God, how it locks us into Satan’s grubby hands, only then will we appreciate God’s plan, his rescue plan to save us!

The promise started here

If you never read the Bible before and started from the beginning, you would first of all find the awe-inspiring account of God creating the universe in just six natural twenty-four-hour days. In chapter two of Genesis God zooms our attention in on the perfect relationship which he designed to have with humans. Then, in chapter three you have this account of how Adam and Eve blew it all apart. If you never read the Bible before, what would you expect God to do? You would expect that he would hunt them down and hurl them into an eternal dungeon. But God is big on surprises. The biggest one is this: instead of condemning them, he condemned Satan. He started by addressing the snake, the vehicle of temptation, “Cursed are you above all livestock”, creating in us a natural aversion for creepy, crawling things, a reminder of the reality of this historical event.

But God was not done. He went on to address the tempter himself and, in the process, made an awesome promise, “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman.” “Despite the fact that you, Satan, have made the woman your friend, I will make you enemies again. I will make her realize you are not her buddy, and I will make her hostile to you just as she should have been before. And, Satan, I will put enmity between your offspring [all who follow you and do what you want] and hers [all whom I, the LORD, will lead to believe in me].” Did you catch how big the promise was? God promised that he would not only make Adam and Eve his friends again, but that many of their descendants would also trust in him rather than be friends with Satan.

How was he going to do that? How would he accomplish that tremendous transformation? “Lord, what’s your plan?” Listen to the rest of the promise, “He [one special offspring of the woman] will crush your head [Satan], and you will strike his heel.” It’s interesting to note that God did not at this time announce when or who that special offspring would be. That must have driven the devil crazy. At least until the promises of God unfolded in greater detail in the Old Testament Scriptures, Satan had to beware of each and every child born to each and every woman. As far as Satan knew, any of them could have been that promised offspring who would destroy him. Satan knew that although he would get in a snake-like strike at the promised offspring, he could not win. The victory would go to Eve’s special descendant, not the devil.

Victory is exactly what Jesus won! While on this earth, he had to withstand the snake-like strikes of the devil. Think of how he was tempted by Satan in the desert for forty days at the beginning of his ministry. He came out the winner! Think of what the writer to the Hebrews said of Jesus. Since the children [of the world, of Adam and Eve] have flesh and blood, [Jesus], too, shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who hold the power of death – that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). Think of what John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:18). He lived the life God expected of Adam and Eve and everyone else to live. God made him who had no sin to be sin in our place, so that in him we might be considered righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Then Jesus took all those sins up on the cross, and when he cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), he announced to the world, to you, and to me, “Satan is conquered! I have won the war!” He crushed the serpent’s head.

That was the promise God gave, a promise in place of punishment. That promise brightened each day for Adam and Eve for the rest of their lives. By that promise they knew God loved them and would send a child some time in the future who would undo what they had done. They had brought sin. He would bring salvation. They had ruined their relationship with God. He would restore their relationship with God. By trusting in that coming Redeemer, Adam and Eve were reunited with the Lord.

We are among those descendants of Adam and Eve who are enemies of Satan and friends with God. He made us his friends by leading us to believe in that special offspring of Eve’s, Jesus Christ. God was angry at Jesus instead of us. Like a man walking through a field of tall grass who gets bitten on the heel by a snake and then turns, shakes off the snake, and squishes its head, so Satan struck Jesus’ heel, made him suffer, but in the process, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head. The power of Satan has been overcome. He may try to win a battle or two over us, but the war has already been won. We are the Lord’s. The promise started here.

The long-range plan for the next five to ten years for our congregation has been shared electronically and will be shared in-person today. It’s the stuff of dreams, not pie-in-the-sky, but a look to the future based on the track record of God’s blessings in the past, on God continuing to allow redevelopment, revitalization, and growth downtown, and on your willingness to pitch in and make Grace Church more than a passive place of receiving but an avenue for giving and sharing and extending the love of God to all around us with an Easter-based optimism. We know full well that while we make plans, those plans are in God’s hands. He may have something much different or better in mind for us in future years. Yet that will not stop us from striving to serve him with our best efforts and our best resources because we know the point of all our plans is to proclaim God’s one great plan which stretches like a long golden thread from the Garden of Eden to Golgotha to Grace Church in Milwaukee, his plan to take us to heaven. Amen.

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