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Genesis: The Ancient Modern Story I

There is no stretch of Scripture like Genesis 1-11. Specifically, the highs are never higher and the lows are never lower. Here we explore the creation of the heavens and the earth, light and water, animals and humans. We are introduced to people full of promise—names like Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah. We read of the first sunrise, the first day, the first person, the first couple, the first children, and the first act of grace. The highs are so high. But the lows are really, really low. We read about the first lie, the first sin, the first murder, the first death by judgment, and the first rebellion. Likewise, we’re introduced to the first liar, the first sinner, and the first murderer. How do we understand the highs and the lows? At a minimum, it is a story of a people alienated from the Creator. But it might point to a greater conflict.

Genesis 1-11 illustrates the human drive to seize salvation by our own means.

Consider the garden. By the time of Genesis 3 we’ve already encountered the creation of humans and some of the most powerful words we’ll ever hear: “so God created man in His own image; He created Him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” On this the sixth day of Creation, God looks at them and all He has made, and it was very good. There is no hint of what is to come, of the serpent, the temptation, and the fall. But the effects of the fall are immediate, as Genesis 3:8-11 show us:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

Then He asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I had commanded you not to eat from?”

The great Fall of man was simple disobedience, but the consequences of disobedience are never simple—then or now. The toothpaste does not go back into the tube. Adam and Eve’s alienation is born of a desire to be like God. As C.S. Lewis says, “They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner.” In the recesses of this story and these people and this fall, there is a move to seize salvation, and it fails.

There is another story, Cain’s murder of Abel, recorded in Genesis 4. As we know, Abel’s offering to God was accepted and Cain’s was not. What can you do when God gives your brother favor but won’t give it to you? Maybe you find a way to take your brother’s salvation. Note the passage:

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Then He said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” Genesis 4:8-10

A figure like Cain cannot think about life on God’s terms—and these terms are that he is a brother and a brother’s keeper. Cain’s sense of salvation is so self-oriented that there is no way to see the gifts God has given and accept the story. *I discovered this a few days ago…

Finally, we have the story of Babel’s Tower in Genesis 11. Here the move to seize salvation is obvious: build the tower, make a name for ourselves.

They said to each other, “Come, let us make oven-fired bricks.” They had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the earth.” Genesis 11:3-4

This is the last movement in this section of Genesis, and it reveals the most about the human impulse. We don’t begin with God’s name. We begin with our own. We don’t look out on what can give as much as we fear what God might take away. “Let us build for ourselves” is behind some of the best human labor and compassion the world will ever know, but in terms of God’s saving work for the world it explains the adversarial relationship with God. It illustrates the human impulse that believes the best in our lives will only happen by seizing the moment, seizing the day, and even seizing salvation. The best world, we believe, is a world on our terms. And so we tell stories we hate to retell—of Adam, Eve, Cain, and towers in Babel.

There is, however, a story worth repeating in Genesis 1-11. There is a story of a man offered grace, offered hope, offered a way through and a way out on God’s terms. That man would be Noah. Interestingly, his is the story played out in the direst details of God’s judgment. In a world of the deaf, he hears; in a world of unbelief, he believes; in a world of resistance, he cooperates; in the middle of death, he lives. Note these words:

But Noah found favor is the eyes of the Lord. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God…So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cyprus wood…Noah did everything just as God commanded him. Genesis 6:8-9;13-14;22

The clearest example of accepting God’s offer of salvation is in the ark. It is a path of humility and labor, a work of sweat and humiliation, but it God’s means to save Noah and his family. The ark is God’s terms for salvation. It is not to be seized but accepted. It is an act of faith. It is a public act of faith. And it is a long act of faith.

This is the Christ event in the opening season of Genesis. Salvation comes by gift, by faith, by grace, and always by God. As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

The words are so critical: grace, saved, faith, gift. There is no boasting because none of these are seized. They are given and they are received. In a sense, we never embrace Christ until our hands are at our sides; we never find God’s will until we surrender our plans; we never find forgiveness until we stop trying to work off the guilt; we never gain from Christ’s work on the cross until we give up our work as a plan for salvation; and we never live until we finally die to ourselves.

This is the way of salvation. It is the story of an ark, a cross. It is the only story that bears the burden of our lives.




    Bulletin Insert

    Genesis: The Ancient Modern Story I August 5, 2012

    *Water, blood, and brotherhood: highs and lows.

    When we consider Genesis 1-11, the highs are never higher and the lows are never lower. How do we understand the promise, the treachery, the blood, and the water? At a minimum, it is a story of a people alienated from the Creator. Might point to a greater conflict?

    The drive to seize SALVATION by our own means.

    Consider the garden...

    Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

    And he said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

    Then He asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I had commanded you not to eat from?” Genesis 3:8-11

    “They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner.” C.S. Lewis

    Consider Cain and Abel…

    Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

    Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

    “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

    Then He said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” Genesis 4:8-10

    Seeing only loss: A Carrollton story

    Consider Babel’s Tower…

    They said to each other, “Come, let us make oven-fired bricks.” They had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the earth.” Genesis 11:3-4

    “Let us build for ourselves” illustrates the human impulse that believes the best in our lives will only happen by seizing the moment, seizing the day, and even seizing salvation. The best world, we believe, is a world on our terms.

    Finally, consider the man who worked most to seize least…

    That man would be Noah. Interestingly, his is the story played out in the direst details of God’s judgment. In a world of the deaf, he hears; in a world of unbelief, he believes; in a world of resistance, he cooperates; in the middle of death, he lives. Note these words:

    But Noah found favor is the eyes of the Lord. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God…So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cyprus wood…Noah did everything just as God commanded him. Genesis 6:8-9;13-14;22

    This is the Christ event in the opening season of Genesis. Salvation comes by gift, by faith, by grace, and always by God. As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us,

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

    The words are so critical: GRACE, SAVED, FAITH, GIFT

    In a sense, we never embrace Christ until our hands are at our sides; we never find God’s will until we surrender our plans; we never find forgiveness until we stop trying to work off the guilt; we never gain from Christ’s work on the cross until we give up our work as a plan for salvation; and we never live until we finally die to ourselves.





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