Driven From Eden (Genesis 3:20-24)

Series: Foundations

In our last two lessons we have been looking at the reasons behind what is wrong in the world. We have come away with two concepts that give us both sides of the singular problem. In the first lesson we showed that the problem was listening to serpent and the sin that results. In the second lesson, we showed that the problem is the loss of fellowship with God.

As a result, mankind is driven east and out of the garden of Eden to work the ground that he was taken from. Life would be stuck in difficulty and futility, then ultimately culminate in death.

However, mankind cannot forget his purpose in life. There is always a God shaped hole in his nature and a desire to return back to Eden. This section then speaks to that desire in each of our hearts to return to the garden, to regain eternal life, and what must be done to restore it.

This is something every person experiences and struggles with in their lives. Even an atheist with a secular viewpoint longs to have what is described in Genesis 1 and 2. For example, years ago I remember sitting in a bible class on worldviews. The teacher was speaking about the secular worldviews around us  and some of the basic assumptions they had. One of the worldviews had these four basic elements: 1. Human nature is basically good. 2. It was corrupted by something (everyone is a victim). 3. The State is the savior. 4. The result is a perfect, utopian society.

Now, look a little closer, doesn’t that sound like Genesis and the Bible story? When people are trying to appeal to the state, what they’re reaching for is something greater and more powerful than themselves in order to try and fix their problems. And further, what is their goal? They want the perfect, utopian society. You know what that place is called? It’s the garden of Eden. You want to know who has the authority and power to be your savior? God. You know what the problem is that corrupted that good humanity? Sin. Even in a secular worldview, the desire to return to Eden and the presence of God is etched across our hearts in ways we may not realize.

The reach (Genesis 3:22-23)

Notice how this text speaks right to the desires within our heart. God is concerned about humanity reaching out, taking, and eating of the tree of life and living forever. On the surface, this may seem like God is holding out on them, but in reality this is an act of grace. Humanity is not meant to live forever in a state like this. There must be a change within humanity before they are granted access to the tree and have eternal life.

The problem is they have sin that must be dealt with. There are two ways that you can have a knowledge of good and evil from this text. Consider a serious sickness like the Dengue Fever. You can have a knowledge with the goal of resisting it, of treating it, or making it better. Or you can have knowledge through the actual experience - you can catch it. In the case of humanity, they have caught the infection and something must be done in order to rescue and heal them.

However, let’s examine this concept of the reach. What does it mean? What is the significance of this concept? First, why is there a desire for eternal life? We might think it is talking about length of life, and that’s definitely true. But, there is more to this. We want eternal life in order to secure things in our lives. We aren’t interested in eternal existence, we want to have longevity to enjoy life, to secure status, wealth, to have power or preserve beauty.

For example, remember Ponce De Leon’s interest in the fountain of youth? Why is that such a draw for us? We want to have a place where we can continue to enjoy life, to achieve our desires, to cling to what is slipping out of our hands. Or another example, in a recent rendition of the Rapunzel, Tangled. Mother Gothel is holding on to the power of Rapunzel’s hair - why? It is to preserve her. To secure her life. To allow her to live and pursue what she wants. The problem is not the desire to have eternal life. The problem is that our character is not worthy of eternal life and we will continue to perpetrate evil in the world.

This is what we all do. We spend our lives in pursuit of different things and they are with the purpose of putting off the effects of aging and death. We crave the status of the CEO. We crave the recognition of our peers. We desire inexhaustible wealth. We desire unrivaled power, and wisdom. We want the everlasting memorial so that we are not forgotten. We want a love that will never wear our and satisfy us completely. We want a beauty or strength that will never fade. We desire to have the whole world for ourselves. That’s why we constantly idolize youth, beauty, vitality, strength and so much more. It’s because we are losing something in the curse and we are reaching for what we lost.

However, God has barred it from us. Why? Because none of those will ultimately satisfy us. We are made in the image of God. God is the only one that can satisfy our deepest longings. All of the material things that we reach for in life will not satisfy us. Until we learn a true knowledge of good and evil, to hate it, to be changed, we are not given access to the tree of life. Yet, it’s not because God does not want this for us. The tree of life makes an appearance again in (Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 14, 19) and is a promise to the people of God who love God more this world, even their own lives (Revelation 12:11).

The covering (Genesis 3:21)

What must be done before we have access to the tree? There must be a covering. Notice that God made for Adam and Eve garments of skins and clothed them. This is a fascinating line. The fig leaves that they had sown for themselves were only covering their loins and they were temporary. This tunic was durable and covered their bodies more completely - this garment came down to the knees. This gives us a biblical concept of what it means to cover ones’ nakedness. Further, this shows the distinction between human beings and animals. Have you notice that the animals don’t wear clothes? This is why. Clothing came as a result of the fall.

Now, where did this garments come from? They came from an animal. This is the first death recorded in the Bible. Death is a result of sin. If we claim to believe millions of years of death before Adam we are adding to scripture. And further, if we believe that, that means death, suffering, cancer, etc are all part of God’s very good creation (Genesis 1). It undercuts the help God offers for suffering and puts God as the source of all the suffering in the world.

Now, why is God doing this? I believe this is God establishing the sacrificial system that would ultimately point them to Jesus. After this, in chapter 4 and on, sacrifices will be part of the worship to God. We’ll explore this more in our next point.

But, for now we need to understand what the covering is pointing to and why we need it. Notice, that there has been a progression. In Genesis 2:25 they were naked and not ashamed. In Genesis 3 they sewed fig leaves and hid in part because they were naked. Now, God providing a temporary fix for them. But, it is not sufficient, they cannot return to Eden.

Now, this is pointing to a much deeper reality that all of us struggle with. We are born into a world where we are constantly trying to hide ourselves. The way that we do that is by “making fig leaves” for ourselves. See, one of the most terrifying things that each of us struggle with is being completely open, vulnerable, and naked. For example, imagine someone broadcasted your thoughts for the last 24 hours for everyone to see. We would be mortified! If that’s not enough, there are people that intentionally look for that information for power over others. We see this from time to time where people will set up spy cams in order to get “dirt” on various people and black mail them. They are using this concept as a means of taking advantage of them, securing wealth or having privilege through controlling them.

Here’s the reality: All of us at a deep emotional level have a fear of being naked. What we do in response is to “sew fig leaves” for ourselves in order to look acceptable in society. One way is in the clothing that we wear. We wear valuable, showy clothing in order to appear wealthy and gain others respect. We also do the same thing in our jobs, we use that as a means of covering up our insufficiencies and shame. We do the same with our families, we want to appear all put together and polished. We do it with education, we want to appear intellectual and powerful so that we have respect. We do this in all kinds of different ways in order to cover our shame and try to gain acceptance of others.

The problem is that they’re only fig leaves. It doesn’t take long before your body begins to fail, you lose your attractiveness, you lose your wealth, you lose your strength, you lose your intellect, and more. The fig leaves fade and we become more exposed and open to shame.

However, this is why the gospel is critical. We are longing to have a desire to be completely known, but more than that, to be completely loved as well. In the gospel, God is one that completely knows us and completely loves us. He knows all of our flaws and yet still loves us. Further, just as in the story of Adam and Eve, he clothes us so that we can have healing of our fears and shame. If we are in Christ, we have been clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). In Christ, we are completely loved and accepted because he is our covering for sin. How powerful that Jesus when he looks on us, is not ashamed to call us brethren (Hebrews 2:11)?

The sword (Genesis 3:24)

Now we come to the last picture and it sums up the elements we have already addressed. In protection of the tree God does two things, he places the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way. These cherubim are the living creatures that surround the throne of God. Then there is the sword that turns every way. This is referring to the justice of God. God is just and anyone that will have access to the tree of life must pass under the sword.

We have insight into this later in the tabernacle and temple periods. The temple language is tying into this return to Eden imagery. In the temple you entered at the east gate and proceeded west, symbolically returning to the presence of God. There were three divisions - the courts, the holy place, and the holy of holies. They are similar to the creation - the greater world, the region of eden, and the garden with access to God’s presence and the tree of life.

Additionally, in the sacrifice, the sins of a person were symbolically put on the animal and the animal died in their place. On the day of atonement once a year, the high priest, on behalf of the people, made his return into the presence of God with the blood of the sacrifice. At the very end of the process as he moves through the holy place to the holy of holies, passing through the cherubim and he comes to the ark of the covenant. There he makes atonement, that is “to cover” for the sins. The sword of God’s justice requires a covering for sins.

Hebrews 9 and 10 make the connection clear. There is no forgiveness without shedding of blood - Hebrews 9:22 and the life of the animal is given for their lives (Leviticus 17:11). However, these are only shadows of the heavenly things - Hebrews 9:23. The law is only a shadow of the good things to come, the animals sacrifices were never enough Hebrews 10:1-4.

Notice Hebrews 10:5-10 - Christ came into the world. An animal could not pay for the penalty of man since mankind is made in God’s image. But a pure and innocent man, God in the form of man could pay that price. A body was prepared and offered for us. Through this sacrifice a new covenant has been established and we have been forgiven completely. Because there is a complete forgiveness of sin, there is no longer a need for sacrifices (Hebrews 10:15-18).

Now, notice this fantastic text: Hebrews 10:19-25. We now have confidence to enter the holy places. Stop right there. Notice, it’s not the high priest once a year. It is all of us at any moment and we can enter with confidence! We have been cleansed, our sins have been covered, our consciences can be at ease, our shame has been dealt with. We can approach the throne confidently and ask for grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

How do we respond to such amazing grace? We hold fast to our hope without wavering - there is more to come! We can ultimately dwell in his presence forever without fear. See, as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice the tree of life has been regained. We will have access to the tree of life if we remain faithful (Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 14, 19). That’s the great invitation!

How do we live now? We stir up one another to love and good works through our regular gathering together. We encourage each other as we wait for the Lord’s return. There is work to do. There are people to save, people to help grow, people to strengthen. Our lives are spent in service and help of others, like Jesus’ life was given for us. There is a journey that all of us are on and we need to encourage and help others as we journey back to God’s presence.

(Credit to Tim Keller for sermon point names)