It gets worse

Saturday 4 September 2004 11:45 PM

Text: Gen 4:1 - 6:8 Preached at Werribee Church of Christ 5/9/04 Introduction Last week, the technology of the 1960s got the better of me .. which doesn’t offer much hope for the 21st century. An overhead slide I was going to use to illustrate the core of last week’s message was ruined 5 minutes before the service when I wrote what was meant to be a temporary squiggle over it .. and it wouldn’t come off! My best attempts to fix it only made it worse .. which might after all be a sort of parable of the tragedy in the garden that Gen 3 describes. So I’d like to start this week with a few slides (which I haven’t squiggled on) to reinforce what I said last week, and also to lead us into the bigger picture of Gen 1-11. [Sorry, dear reader; I lack the technology to get the slides on the page.] So first to recap: In ch 1 & 2, God creates a perfect world centred on a series of perfect, mutual relationships - .. a world in which at the very core people lived in perfect fellowship with God, as supreme objects of his love and blessing, and submitting gladly to his sovereign rule .. a world in which people lived in perfect trust and harmony with eachother (“I will make a helper suitable”) .. a world in which people managed and cared for the earth selflessly under God and were freely and abundantly blessed with all the earth’s harvest. But then there was tragedy in paradise. The entire order of God’s created universe begins to unravel, when the first humans choose to step out of alignment with the plans and purposes of God, and reject his loving authority, in favour of Satan’s deception. What then happens is this (a fracturing in the once perfect relationship between God and man) .. And flowing out from that, God’s world comes apart. The next casualty in paradise is the once perfect harmony between people and eachother - the blame game .. Then the next tragedy: instead of a source of only blessing, the earth becomes hard and produces its fruit only grudgingly, so no longer is there harmony between man and the earth as God first designed it .. decay .. brokenness .. disintegration .. Tragedy in paradise. But what’s also happened is the beginning of a pattern we see throughout Gen 1-11 especially .. and more broadly throughout the entire sweep of the Bible’s story. SIN - JUDGEMENT - GRACE ... And if by mid-October when we finish this series you remember nothing else, let this be it ... Gen 1 - 11 describes four series of events, all of which follow the same deep structure of sin, then judgement, then grace. The prelude is God’s goodness, resulting in the Creation (Chap 1). Then comes the first stage in the disintegration of God’s world: Adam & Eve’s disobedience (sin) .. the punishment, including death (judgement) .. but also God’s search for man and his provision of covering (grace) (Chaps 2, 3). That’s the pattern, and it’s repeated: The second stage: Cain murders Abel (sin) .. Cain is expelled from the land (judgement) .. God places a mark of protection on him (grace) (Chap 4(-6)) The third stage: the boundaries of heaven and earth are transgressed with the marriage of the “sons of God” to the “daughters of men” (sin) .. God sends the Flood (judgement) .. Noah pleases God and survives (grace) (Chaps 6-9) The fourth stage: the tower of Babel (sin) .. Man scattered across the earth (judgement) .. God raises up Abraham (grace) (Chaps 10-12) So last week, it was where the trouble started - Tragedy in Paradise in chap 3. And this week “It gets worse” - as the impact of sin widens and deepens. The further from God, the further from people When you read Gen 4, and especially when you line it up with the immediate context of Gen 3, one of the core truths it highlights to us is that the further you are from God, the further you drift from people. 1 Jn 5:11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. .. Jesus is the entry point to life, eternal life in loving fellowship with God. So, if you’re in fellowship with Christ through faith in his blood (1 Jn 1), then you’re spiritually alive; if you’re outside of fellowship with Christ, then spiritually you’re dead. And, as John makes clear also in chap 1, if you’re alive through Christ then sin’s power over you is broken - sin is not your master .. but if you’re still in spiritual death, then sin rules - and you are in its power. That’s the glory of the new covenant in the blood of Christ. But in Gen 4 - and then snowballing further in the following chapters - there is yet no Saviour, and no covenant .. and it’s like being on the set of a horror movie .. only it’s all too frighteningly real. The tiger has just been let out of the cage .. sin in all its ugliness has just been let loose on the planet .. and we’re left in no doubt of the chilling consequences of Adam & Eve’s decision to turn from God, and equally in no doubt of sin’s power for destruction. Remember the final verse of chap 3: Man has been driven out from the garden - shut out from the fellowship of God .. and so sin is unleashed upon him like a hurricane .. and there’s no escape. And in the next scene we’ve zoomed in on two brothers, Cain and Abel; and we see worked out in their relationship a second sign of what sin can do in human relationships, when man’s primary relationship with God has fractured. And, it’s worse, more horrifying than the first .. and yet it’s simply a natural development from it. With shame in 3:8 and the blame game in 3:12, enmity, distrust and resentment have already crept into the relationship of the first man and his wife - who I believe also represent the foundation of human relationships generally .. And from the destructive spirit of enmity, distrust and resentment, it’s not so very far to jealousy .. and from there to something even more destructive ... Sin, we are being graphically told, is serious, ugly, destructive .. it scars every human relationship .. and it lurks darkly in every human heart .. This is simply chap 3 all over again, except with more horror. Please notice the parallels: 1. Cain is out of step with God - that’s the starting point .. he has made a choice not to honour God with the best of his produce. If you read the text carefully, you notice a qualitative difference in Cain's offering to God, as distinct from Abel's. Abel offers God the best, the firstborm of his flock; Cain simply offers some part of his produce. He has chosen something less than the best to honour the God of heaven. In v7, God diagnoses his spiritual condition “if you do not do [right], sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”. .. Different backdrop, new actors .. but the same drama .. Think back: 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, .. [and] 4 “You will not die”. Here it comes again: sin is lurking at the door, and you are in its sights. 2. But sin has already taken up residence in the human heart .. and so it plays out again: Cain turns from the voice of his God, and plots and carries out his brother’s death .. and humanity has slipped a quantum leap further from God and from eachother .. the cancer of sin ravages God’s creation further, and the once perfect relationships crumble yet more .. 3. And just as in the garden, so now in the field, God comes searching and asking: “What have you done?” (Eve 3:13 .. Cain 4:10) 4. Again, as before, there’s a curse on the ground on account of Cain’s sin .. again the fracturing of the relationship between people and the earth .. Same rebellion, same consequences .. and finally the same chilling conclusion: 5. 3:24 the man is driven out from the garden/ 4:16 Cain went away from the Lord’s presence .. Sin separates people from God; and the further people drift from God, the further they drift from eachother, and from life, and all that life was meant to be in the loving plan of God. From bad to worse And from there it goes from bad to worse, like a truck careering downhill with no brakes: • In the 2nd half of chap 4, we get a potted summary of Cain’s descendants. One of them is called Lamech, who in 4:23 boasts to his wives of his exploits: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”. The same spirit as his ancestor Cain .. but with more venom, and a more violent encounter. • Chap 5 is a genealogy of several generations down to Noah. It’s not exciting reading. It's the chapter where most people who just try to read the Bible like a novel generally give up; they conclude that all that those people did in those days was "begat". It's a list of names, who fathered whom, and how long they all lived .. but it’s a litany of death, in ghastly contrast to chapters 1 & 2 which sing of life: God said .. God saw .. God created .. God made .. God formed the man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life - then man breaks fellowship with God, sin reigns - and then instead of life it’s all death: Adam lived x years, and he died; Seth lived x years, and he died; Enosh lived x years, and he died; .. and so it goes down the generations: and he died .. and he died .. and he died ..... • And so we come to chap 6, which starts with one of the more perplexing references in Scripture, about what seem to be some heavenly beings called “the sons of God” becoming sexually intimate with the daughters of human parents, and having children by them. I won’t spend time on that, except to say that it seems to be telling us about some kind of fracturing of the proper relationship between heaven and earth. So somehow the ravages of sin have caused the transgressing of a proper boundary between heaven and earth - yet another dimension of the fracturing of relationships in God's once perfect cosmos. • But what is plain in chap 6, is verses 5 - 7, which are among the closest we get in all of Scripture to a really frank, direct indication of just how God views sin. You can read some other parts of Scripture, and imagine that sin isn't really all that bad .. just an oversight, or miscalculation. But you can't read Gen 6 that way! The core perhaps is: 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.. Soak up those words .. Even though man was the very pinnacle of God's creative work, the bearers of God's own image, so grand that God looked and saw that it was VERY good .. Despite that, in just a few chapters, the point has been reached where God is stricken to the core of his being by the very existence of mankind. .. that’s how serious my and your innate rebellion is to the One who created us for himself in love... when you tell God you can run your life better than he can .. when you ignore his voice .. when you break his law ... his heart is pierced with the deepest grief ... but there’s grace These are dark chapters of scripture, aren’t they. Hard to read .. depress us with what they tell us about the awfulness of sin and the horror of judgement. It would be far more pleasant to curl up with a good novel by the fire than to read this .. But yet out of that gloom, they introduce us to the gracious character of God. They tell us that grace isn’t something God thought up down the track, to sort out the mess .. it was in his heart for us, despite our sin, from the very first We saw it last week in chap 3 in God’s call to Adam from the moment he’d sinned: “Where are you?” .. mark of protection on Cain (4:15) .. and strangely and wonderfully we see it in people! People are the ones who've made the mess; wouldn't you imagine after all that that God would just wipe people out and start again with something else? That's what any bureaucrat would do! Yet, even while sin is ravaging the human race, the last verse of chap 4 tells us that “At that time people began to invoke the name of the LORD.” .. broken hearts were longing for home. Augustine in the fourth century wrote a profound theological statement (which he expressed as a prayer), in which he said "Lord, you have made us for yourself; and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." In the human there is a sort of homing beacon (like on a lifevest), which calls out for God. Even in the depravity of sin, people - or some people at least - were calling out for God - broken hearts longing for home .. that’s grace at work It’s there again in a very brief reference in 5:24 to the life of Enoch, who we’re simply told “walked with God” .. And the best news since the end of chap 2 is in 6:8. Sin has reached just about the worst excess possible, it seems. God has just revealed the truth we’d rather not know - that human wickedness had sunk so far, that man’s very existence grieved him to his heart.. .. But then out of that, there’s someone - a member of the human race - who finds favour with God: a man called Noah (and we’ll pick up Noah’s story next week). And we have in all of those human signs - especially Noah - a hint that despite the deepest grief that sin causes to the heart of God .. not only will he not completely give up on people .. he will use a person to save the world .. and that thread of grace works its way through Scripture: Noah .. Abraham .. Moses .. David .. prophets .. Jesus Conclusion Let's return to Cain & Abel in chap 4, set alongside chap 3. The parallels between the first sin and the next are stark, clear, frightening .. And they serve to underline the truth that no one wants to believe for comfort, but that everyone must accept if there’s to be any change of heart or any lasting hope. The message is this: The world is real .. God is real .. what God says is real .. real relationships are at stake .. there’s real good .. real evil .. a real devil .. real sin .. real choices .. real consequences .. real life .. real death. You can’t imagine it away; you won’t wake up in the morning and find it was all a dream .. you can’t fix your own mess .. sin is here to stay .. there’s no cure .. no earthly hope .... but there’s the grace of God .. cling to it .. or you’ll die. That’s the foundation on which the gospel is built. The world upon which sin caste its ugly stain is the same world into which John spoke when he said: 1 Jn 5:11 … God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.. There’s sin .. judgement .. grace: cling to Christ for life & hope. To the eye of the casual reader, these few chapters could seem to be full of darkness and despair - depressing reading! But if you never gaze into darkness, you never realise or appreciate how bright and glorious light is. If you don't look long and hard at how dark sin is, at what darkness the world is in, you won't recognise how simply splendid and beautiful Jesus is - that he is the light of the world, that he shines so brightly in the darkness that the darkness has never put him out. And that, friends, is why Christians through history have grown to maturity in Jesus by feasting on the whole of Scripture, and sensing how Jesus satisfies the deepest longings of a covenant nation (Israel) falling ever short of God’s glory .. in the midst of a world ravaged by sin, desperate for a saviour, and longing for home in God. That in part is why I make it my discipline to preach through parts of the OT regularly - and why I urge you to treasure it as well. (Don't just start at Matthew; start with Genesis.) Because unless and until you grasp how dark sin is, and how far from God you are or were because of it .. if you don’t grasp the horror of that, you’ll never appreciate the half of how precious and beautiful it is to stand by grace unashamed in the presence of God, clothed in the righteousness of his Son. So may God open his word to you today like never before, convict you of your sin like never before, terrify you of his judgement like never before .. and out of that, overwhelm you with his grace and fill you with the joy of salvation.