READ : Genesis 3:7-19
The first time the gospel – the good news of salvation – appears in the Bible, isn’t in the New Testament. It’s way back in the third chapter of Genesis.
Don’t you sometimes wonder why things always seem to go wrong? You may have heard of Murphy’s Law. Murphy’s Law says that if anything can go wrong it will. I don’t know who Murphy was, but he seems to have understood pretty well how things work in our world. His “law” applies to every aspect of human life, from crucial undertakings like international peace talks to little everyday matters like balancing your check book or keeping the weeds out of your garden. But why do things always seem to have a tendency to go wrong? Why should that be a normal situation? Why don’t things work the way they ought to? Why is so much frustration and failure built right into the fabric of life?
THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN
The best answer to this riddle of existence comes way back in the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis chapter 3. We learn there that the world lost its harmony and order when Adam and Eve, our first parents, disobeyed God. Human sin destroyed the peace of our environment when it destroyed our peace with God. All the disorders and tragedies of life are in some way the creation’s reflections of the human creature’s rebellion against the Creator. That one act of revolt brought with it the Fall, the spoiling of the world which God had made good. It introduced a dissonance into creation that destroyed the world’s original harmony and that continues to echo today.
After Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, God spelled out for them some of the consequences their sin would have. From now on human life would involve suffering and struggle. “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children’” (v. 16a). The process of reproducing children, which God had intended to be sheer blessing when he told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, now is filled with pain and danger. “Yet,” God added, “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (v. 16b). The male-female relationship, which God had intended to be a harmonious unity when he made Eve as bone of Adam’s bone and flesh of his flesh, now is turned into a battle of the sexes. Even the weeds in our fields and gardens are a consequence of the Fall.
“And to Adam he said . . . ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”
Humanity’s stewardship of creation, which God had intended to be effortless and satisfying when he placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to till and keep it, now entails toil and sweat. The contrariness and futility that mark so much of our lives last until the judgment of death overtakes us and we return to the dust from which we were made. Thus, human sin has sown a crop of weeds that has sprung up in every field of every life.
GOD’S INITIATIVE TO SEEK AND TO SAVE THE LOST
But that’s not the end of the Bible’s story, it’s only the beginning. Genesis 3 tells how people caused the problems of sin and evil in the world. The rest of the Bible, beginning right here in this same chapter, tells how God is solving these problems by saving people from sin and conquering evil in the creation. Besides explaining the creation of the world, the origin of the human race, and the story of how sin and evil began, the first chapters of the first book of the Bible also show how salvation originated in the acts and promises of God.
The story of salvation begins with God’s search for sinful Adam and Eve. Salvation does not originate in humanity at all; it starts entirely with God. Many opponents of Christianity describe the Christian gospel as mere wish-fulfillment. They dismiss the idea of God as nothing but a projection of human hopes and fears. People want desperately to believe – so this reasoning goes – that there is a kind and loving power somewhere out there and that after the sufferings of this life they will live forever in a place of peace and delight. So primitive, superstitious, pre-scientific people invented the idea of a God and heaven and wrote a book about them. According to this argument, the Bible is nothing more the myths and dreams of one particular human tribe in its search for meaning and hope in a frightening universe. All religion, including the Christian faith, is only humankind’s quest for an illusory God. But now we know better. Modern people have come of age. We treat sickness through medicine and technology, we deal with fear through therapy and drugs, and we fill the emptiness in our souls with non-stop entertainment. We no longer need to invent a God or seek him beyond the starry heavens.
Now the significant thing is that the story the Bible tells about human origins is exactly the opposite of this. People didn’t invent God; God created people. Instead of describing humanity’s quest for God, the Bible reveals God’s quest for humanity. It’s not people who are searching for God in Genesis 3, but the other way around. We read that Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (vv. 8-9).
As for the God of the Bible being a human “wish-fulfillment” or a projection of the desire for an all-powerful, all-protective father, Genesis says that God is just about the last thing Adam was wishing for or wanting to find. When Adam and Eve heard God “walking in the garden . . . ,” they ran away and hid themselves among the trees and the bushes. As so often in these first chapters of Genesis, this is not literal language. God was not in the habit of taking a stroll in the garden of Eden each evening when the sun was no longer too hot for him. This is a pictorial form of speech, a way of saying that the previous perfect intimacy and love between God and his human children have now been spoiled by sin. Adam and Eve no longer love God naturally, they no longer seek out and enjoy his presence. A host of new and confusing emotions has flooded into their souls after their act of sin. Now they have become self-conscious (“the eyes of both were opened”), and they feel shame (“they knew that they were naked,” v. 7). Their conscience has been awakened and they feel the troubling sting of guilt. And then, as they sense that God is seeking them and drawing near to them, another new sensation surges through Adam and Eve’s minds and bodies – fear. In panic they crash blindly through the underbrush, trying pathetically to hide themselves among the branches and the leaves, as though God didn’t know what they had done or couldn’t see where they had run.
When God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin, they still tried to hide, not physically now but verbally – behind excuses. “The woman whom you gave to be with me,” said Adam, “she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Notice that “you gave to me.” What Adam is not so subtly suggesting is that his sin is not just Eve’s fault for giving him the fruit, but God’s fault for giving him Eve in the first place. And Eve is right there beside him. “The serpent – and remember, God, you made the serpent – tricked me, and I ate.” Both Adam and Eve are not just trying to evade blame for their sin; they want to pin the blame on God himself. “You did it, God, you made the world, you formed us, it’s your fault.” In the words of the German theologian and preacher Helmut Thielicke, “God sits in the dock, and man, this poor victim of a bungled creation, is a chief witness for the prosecution.”
Did salvation originate with us, as our idea? Hardly; we’re too busy running away from God, criticizing God and blaming God to give salvation a thought.
No, salvation originates entirely with God. It’s all his idea. He follows Adam and Eve, he pursues them into the wasteland of their sin and shame. God refuses to let us go. He will not leave us in our guilt and fear and the confusion of our lostness. “Where are you?” God asks. He doesn’t have to. He could have simply let humanity go, and the Bible would have been a very short book. But in his indescribable grace, God goes after the man and the woman. And still he follows, still pursues – God, “the Hound of Heaven,” in the memorable phrase of the poet Francis Thompson.
THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOR
So our salvation begins with God’s pursuit, God’s initiative to seek us out even when we had turned away from him. And it rests upon God’s promise. The first time the promise of salvation appears in the Bible is right here in the middle of the story of humanity’s fall into sin. The very first message of hope is not in the New Testament but here in the Old. The first gospel isn’t Matthew. It’s Genesis 3:15. There God said, speaking now not just to the serpent but to the Evil One who stood behind the serpent and used it to mask his identity, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” So according to God’s promise there will be ongoing hatred and strife between Satan and the human race. Life for us has become a deadly warfare against a terrible and powerful spiritual enemy, who hates us and strives mightily to destroy us. And the devil wins his most important battles, incidentally, when he causes people to imagine there is no such spiritual conflict at all, and that he himself is only something out of a fairy tale.
But there’s more. God also promises victory to the offspring of the woman. One of Eve’s sons would someday defeat Satan and visit destruction upon him for the injuries he has done. But how could that ever happen? Man, even perfect Adam, was no match for Satan. And now human nature is broken by the Fall, our strength to do good sapped by sin. How can the human race ever defeat the devil or triumph over evil? The answer lies in the promise. God promises victory through one special man who one day would be born of a woman, a daughter of Eve: “he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” The man’s victory would be costly but complete. The power of evil would be destroyed though he himself would be wounded in the battle.
This was all that God said to Adam and Eve, but in time the promise of this coming Savior was made clearer and more specific. The story of the human race told in the opening chapters of Genesis becomes the story of a single man, Abraham, and then of his family. Then later it becomes the story of a single nation, Israel, chosen by God to be the vehicle through which the Savior will be brought into the world for the sake of all nations. Bit by bit, details are added, pieces filled in. Through the centuries, people waited, hoping, believing, often only a few, never many, but always some who clung to the promise.
And then at last he came. And now we know his name. And we know what he did. Satan attacked him again and again, finally stirring up wicked men to crucify him. Satan thought he had defeated the man; he thought he had crushed him under foot. But the devil miscalculated. He could not hold the man with the chains of death, and Jesus Christ burst from the prison of the grave. At the very moment and in the very place where Satan thought he had destroyed the offspring of the woman, he himself was overthrown and humiliated.
And now Jesus Christ, the second Adam, is gathering a new family from among Adam and Eve’s children throughout the world, a family made up of all who believe in him. They will share in his victory over the Evil One: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” promises the Bible (Romans 16:20). It will happen shortly; someday, after a few more years or days have passed, the Lord Jesus will return to make his triumph complete and offer its full blessings to all who love him. So don’t be afraid. Our enemy cannot hurt us. He has been defeated, and in a little while the whole world will see it.