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The Garden of Temptation / First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 3:1-24

2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

A woman joined a weight-loss organization. At one meeting the instructor held up an apple and a candy bar. She asked the question: What are the attributes of this apple and how do they relate to our diet? Among the answers that came from the group: Low in calories and lots of fiber. She then detailed what was wrong with eating candy, and concluded, Apples are not only more healthful but also less expensive. The group stared as she held up the forbidden treat. Do you know I paid seventy-five cents for this candy bar? From the back of the room a small voice spoke up, I’ll give you a dollar for it. That’s human nature, isn’t it? To prefer the candy bar to the apple? Of course, some say it was the apple that got us in trouble in the first place.

Everything in the garden was beautiful and good. Adam and Eve were forbidden only one thing. In the center of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was off limits. Scripture don’t say that it was an apple tree, but it doesn’t hurt to visualize the forbidden fruit as a big, juicy Golden Delicious. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden except that one. Of course, we know what people are like. Mark Twain once said that God’s mistake was not making the snake forbidden, because then Adam would’ve eaten it.

But one day Eve is walking in the garden. And she sees the forbidden fruit, and, at the urging of the serpent, she takes one little bite. And then, to make things worse, she gave a bite to Adam. And so, Eve’s been blamed ever since, for leading Adam into sin.

But listen to how the story actually reads: When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Gen. 3:6, emphasis added).

Adam was with Eve when she ate the forbidden fruit. Eve wasn’t there when God told Adam not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When the serpent tempts Eve, Adam doesn’t try to stop her. But wait, there’ more. He watches Eve as she takes the forbidden fruit and eats it. Remember that God told them they would die if they ate the forbidden fruit. So, Adam sees that Eve is still alive then he takes some and eats it too. What a man. Instead of loving his wife, Adam uses her as a guinea pig to test God’s command.

So, Adam was at least an accessory to the crime. When God confronts Adam about his misdeed, Adam, being a typical husband, tries to blame someone else, but God knows better. They both violated God’s command, and now they must pay.

Think of it this way, when we see something in the store that we like, one of the first things we do is look at the price tag. Wouldn’t it be nice if we understood the cost of sin right up front? If the forbidden fruit had been rotten and crawling with worms, do you think Eve would have taken any? But Genesis tells us, when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She acted on her desires without looking at the price tag.

That’s the most common mistake people make. Would any young person experiment with drugs or alcohol if they could see where the journey may end? Would any spouse be unfaithful to his or her mate if the heartache and pain were evident up front?

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The first casualty of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was the loss of innocence. The Bible tells us the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Which made me think that they probably argued over who would wear the plants in the family. The innocent Adam and Eve discover what it means to be naked. Exposed. Ashamed.

And with the loss of innocence came a loss of intimacy. Nothing would ever be the same for this couple, and subsequently for all people. We simply can’t overemphasize the brokenness that comes into human relations from this day forward, particularly with regard to family life.

Consider, for example, relationships between siblings in the book of Genesis alone: Cain versus Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. Every one of these stories is a disaster! In a fallen world, people are estranged from one another, husbands are estranged from their wives, parents are estranged from their children, neighbors are estranged from one another. That’s the way things are in a fallen world. It simply can’t be exaggerated how much the loss of innocence and intimacy cost humankind.

Ignoring God’s command changes everything in Adam and Eve’s life. Even the serpent is caught up in the aftermath of their misdeed. It will now crawl on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life.

The serpent pays for its crime. And Adam and Eve pay for their crimes. To Eve, God says, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Here’s an interesting question for you to ponder: Are these truly curses which God placed upon the woman or are these merely a description of how life will be in a fallen world? For example, suppose modern science were to eliminate all pain in childbirth? Would that mean that we have eliminated God’s curse?

And how about women’s subjection to men? Is that a curse or is it simply a description of the way things are in a fallen world?

This question is strictly hypothetical because Christ has removed the curse from Eve, as well as from all humanity. Paul, writes in Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Adam paid, too. To Adam, God says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Notice that it’s not the man who is cursed, but the ground. Man, already had been given dominion over the garden. He was already responsible for its upkeep. But now it will no longer be a joy to maintain. The loss of intimacy not only extended to Eve, but even to the earth from which Adam had come. Now life would be “toil.”

The Hebrew word for toil is the same word as that used for the pain that the woman will experience in childbearing. Here again, is this a curse or a description? Many men love their work, as do many women.

There’s a fourth punishment, the deadliest of them all, which is given to both Adam and Eve. They are banished from the Garden of Eden: the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden, cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen. 3:24)

And that’s where many people live today, East of Eden, in a state of brokenness, estrangement and shame. None of this was God’s original intent. Don’t blame God for broken homes, broken bodies, broken neighborhoods and a broken world. This is the result of humanity expressing its free will.

Why did Adam and Eve disobey God? Well, why do you and I disobey God? There’s something inside us that wants us to rebel. Why did the first man and woman sin? Why do you and I sin?

Well, somebody says, “The devil made me do it.” Wrong answer, unless you are Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine.” Remember that routine.

Geraldine’s husband asks, why did you buy the new dress? Well, honey, the devil made me do it. But didn’t you say, Get thee behind me Satan? Yeah, but he said it looked good in back, too. Please note the bad theology.

All throughout scripture we see that the devil does one thing. He tempts. You and I make the choice whether to give in or not. So, don’t blame the devil. You and I are responsible for our own actions.

A better question is, did God know that Adam and Eve would sin? And the answer would have to be yes, God knew. God gives us freedom, but God knows our hearts. If God didn’t give us freedom and allow us to experience the consequences of that freedom, we’d remain spiritual infants forever. Freedom and failure seem to be essential to emotional and spiritual growth.

Also, it’s significant that God put angels with a flaming sword at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. This is the Bible’s way of saying that never again on this earth will people live in a perfect paradise. Never again on this earth will people live in perfect innocence and intimacy. We had our chance, and we blew it.

But wait, there’s hope. That’s what the Gospel is all about. There are three gardens in scripture. One, of course, is Eden, where humanity first cried out, not Your will, but mine be done.

The second is Gethsemane, where a lonely figure cries out, not My will but Thine be done. Later, on a hill nearby, this same Jesus hangs on a cross. And like the original Adam, He’s naked but not ashamed. He’s suffering on our behalf so that the curse of death may be removed. Paul put it like this in today’s epistle: for if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

In other words, through one man, Adam, sin entered the world and through Jesus of Nazareth, came victory over sin and death. Jesus faced the Tempter in the wilderness and didn’t sin. On the cross, He gave Himself as a sin offering for us all.

There’s a final garden of importance to us. It’s at end of the Bible, in the very last chapter of Revelation: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him.

In Christ, the curse of death has been removed. Christ has made it possible for innocence and intimacy to be restored. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil will one day be overshadowed by the tree of life.

And that’s our hope. This broken world isn’t God’s final word, because one man kneeled in a garden and prayed, not My will, but Thine be done, then He allowed Himself to be sacrificed upon a cruel cross. That’s all it took, and sin and death no longer had dominion over us. Thanks be to God for God’s great gift in Jesus Christ.