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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Genesis 3:20-24
“East of Eden”
April 6, 2014 - Fifth Sunday in Lent

         He knew he was in trouble when he heard the door slam shut. Mick was in his front yard on the farm, standing in snow up to his knees, bent over trying to see where his keys had fallen. There had been a little break in the snow. So he went out to unlock the shed, get his snow shovel, and clear the front walk. But on the way his keychain fell out of his gloved hand somewhere. He didn’t notice till he got to the shed. He was backtracking, trying to find his keys, when a gust blew his front door closed. More snow was coming down now, thick and heavy, and he wasn’t sure he could even see the front porch anymore. He was lost and stuck, out in the cold, with no way to get back inside where it was safe and warm.

         Our text for today tells us that’s the condition of the human race. Adam and Eve were not just punished for sin with pain and hard work. God sent them out of the security and comfort of the Garden of Eden and shut and locked door behind them.

         God knew they were headed out in the cold, so in verse 21 we read that He made clothing from animal skins for the man his wife. Fig leaves just weren’t going to keep them warm where they were headed. But first we hear in verse 20 that Adam completed the job God gave him back in chapter 2 verse 19. God brought all the birds and animals to Adam and had him name them. That was how Adam discovered he needed a partner that was more like himself.

         At the end of chapter 2, God then created a woman to be Adam’s equal partner, as we talked about last week. We are so used to talking about “Adam and Eve,” and the fact that it was “Eve” who first took the fruit, and so on, that maybe you didn’t notice that from the end of chapter 2 almost all the way through chapter 3 until now, she is simply “the woman” or in verse 17, Adam’s “wife.” She has no name. Now it’s time for her to receive one.

         Remember what we read last week. The naming of the woman comes after what we typically call “the Curse,” although it’s only the serpent who was cursed directly. God cursed the process of childbearing, and He cursed the ground for Adam, but He didn’t actually curse the man and the woman themselves, only the serpent. But regardless of that, God dished out harsh punishment, and the last little bit before we get to this week’s verses is His word to Adam, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

         In other words, the last thing we heard here in Genesis 3 is death. Adam got reminded that he’s going to die and wind up right back in the ground out of which God pulled him. Which makes what Adam does next, there in verse 20, pretty remarkable. They’ve sinned, they’ve been punished, and the warning God gave them, that if they ate of that tree they would surely die, hasn’t been carried out yet, but God has just emphatically declared that it will be. They are going to die and turn to dust again. Adam heard all that, but he turns around names his wife “Eve.”

         In Hebrew the word for Eve is similar to the word for “living” or “life.” Adam has just had death shoved in his face, and he chooses to name the woman, who is also going to die, “Life.” It’s an incredible act of bravery and optimism, and, I believe, trust in God. Yes, they are going to die, but from them will come a whole race of people like themselves who will live and complete what God intended for them, to fill up the earth. And our Christian faith is that it was a daughter of Eve who later became the mother of the One who would die but live again, who Himself would have the name “Life” as we read this morning in John 11:25.

         So our Savior who is life and brings us life is here in these verses, always there just beneath the surface, just waiting to be seen by anyone willing to see. And He’s there in the next verse too, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, in that animal skin clothing.

         I can’t help but picture Fred and Wilma Flintstone or some other stupid depiction of cave people when I try to think of folks dressed in animal skins, but I’m sure God’s tailoring was better than that. A moment ago I implied that God made them clothing from animals because it would be cold there outside the Garden of Eden. That may be true, but Christians have seen something deeper and thicker than fur coats in this verse.

         If an animal’s skin becomes clothing, the animal has to die. My vegan friend in graduate school would remind me, as he wore his Keds and cotton web belt, that some poor cow paid the ultimate price for the shoes I’ve got on and the leather strap holding my pants up. There at the beginning of the human race, the first animal sacrifices took place so that Adam and Eve would have suitable clothing for their new environment.

         God was in the process of rescuing, redeeming and forgiving Adam and Eve for their sins, and Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Animals died and shed their blood so that the first humans would not go out into the cold naked and shivering, so that the sins which drove them out into the cold would be forgiven and covered like their bodies.

         When God applied that same principle of blood as the price of sin to the Hebrew people, animal sacrifice became part of their worship. Leviticus 7:9 ordered that the skins of the sacrificed animals are the special possession of the priest who offers the sacrifice. So Adam and Eve were both clothed by God like priests, showing that one day we would all be, as I Peter 2:9 says, a holy priesthood because of a greater sacrifice.

         The book of Hebrews also explains that what God did here for Adam and Eve, sacrificing animals for their salvation and welfare, was made complete in Jesus Christ. It is not the sacrificial life and blood of animals which saves us, but the life and blood of Jesus which forgives our sins and clothes us in a new life. So Romans 13:14 tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” as our own clothing to cover sin and save us.

         With their new clothes, though, Adam and Eve are ready for the final step in the punishment for their sin. Verse 22 gives us a rare glimpse into God’s own mind, into the high council of the Holy Trinity talking among themselves. It’s not that Satan’s promise that they would be like God was made good, but at least in respect to being aware of both good and evil and all the suffering which will come from evil, the man and the woman are now like the persons of God.

         The problem is that, unlike Father, Son and Holy Spirit, human beings know just enough about evil to do it, but not to refuse it. In last week’s text we already heard God’s forecast of all the misery sin would cause them and their descendants. Life was going to be painful and cruel, full of hurt and hard work. So when God reflects here that the man “might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever,” it’s not some sort of divine jealousy or selfishness. It is concern for Adam and Eve.

         They are going to live lives of misery. God does not want that misery to go on forever. So He keeps them, for now, from eternal life, because that life would just be endless sin and sorrow. As J.R.R. Tolkien had Aragorn say on his deathbed in a beautiful scene buried in the first appendix to The Lord of the Rings, death is “the gift of the One to men.” Death is their curse, but it is also their blessing. It’s a blessing because of where Adam and Eve are now going, out into the world, away from Paradise, away from Eden.

         In verse 23 God sends them out of the garden, out to do what He said Adam would do in verses 17 to 19, “to till the ground from which he was taken.” It would be no easy life. Even now, with machines and science and farming techniques, it’s not easy to bring food up out of the ground. You may or may not believe a recent report from the U.N. that global warming will reduce food production. But I know that most of the farmers I met as a pastor in Nebraska would never tell you it was a good year. Either it rained too much or too little. It was either too hot or too cool. And even if they all had bumper crops, that wasn’t good because the price they got for their crops went down.

         We are not all farmers, and as you read the next chapters of Genesis you see that neither were all the pioneers of the human race. But whatever occupation you have it has its own difficulties, its own hard work, its own pain and trouble to make a living and survive in this world.

         It’s where we are, no longer in Eden. Like Mick out in his yard, we’ve been sent out into the cold, cruel world and the door has slammed shut behind us. Verse 24 says that God “drove out the man…” It’s harsher this time. God forced us out, away from the tree of life, away from an eternity of misery. And then He barred the way back. He set a guard on the east side of the garden, cherubim, angels, and a flaming sword swinging back and forth so that no one could get to the tree and eat and live forever.

         We live east of Eden. That’s where all the action happens now. That’s where the next ugly scenes in human history, in Genesis 4, take place. And now it’s not just that the way back to Eden is shut and guarded. We don’t even know the way anymore. We’ve no clue where to go to find the tree of life, where to escape the curse and blessing of death.

         Except, except that life came to us. As we heard so wonderfully this morning in our Gospel reading from John 11, my very favorite passage of Scripture, the One who called Himself “the Resurrection and the Life” came and found us out here, east of Eden. And He has opened the door, has given us the way back.

         In my story of Mick, if he were all alone he would freeze to death out there in his yard. The door is locked, he’s lost his keys, he’s got no way to stay warm, no shelter, no hope. But what if there is someone inside the house who will open the door and come out to him, who stand on the porch and yell, “Over here, come this way, here’s the door!” If that person came, he could follow that voice. He would be saved.

         That’s what Jesus did for Lazarus that afternoon in Bethany. He stood on the front porch of life and unlocked the door for His friend. He called “Lazurus, come out!” “Come out of the cold of death, come out of the darkness of the tomb, come out of all that and back into life, back into the love and joy of your family.”

         Jesus did it for Lazarus and when He died on the Cross, shedding His blood like those animals shed their blood for Adam and Eve, He did it for us. When Jesus rose again from His own death, He unlocked the door, He sent away the guards around the gates of Paradise. He invited us all back into life, into love, into eternal happiness and peace.

         We live east of Eden, where death and pain seem to have the upper hand. The first human death in the world happens in Genesis 4 when Cain kills Abel. It’s been happening ever since, like it did in Texas this past week. In that Gospel lesson, Jesus let Lazarus go the way we all go. He died. But the promise that’s hinted at here in Genesis is made good in Jesus. We won’t always be east of Eden, death is not forever.

         Jesus told Martha, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, they will live…” In our text from Romans 8 we heard “if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness,” and “he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also…”

         We are out here east of Eden. We are struggling and dying all the time. We are out in the cold, the keys are lost, and we can’t find our way back. Yet Jesus comes and calls to each of us, calls to you, “Come out, come back, come in and find life.” May you and I hear His voice and follow it today.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated April 6, 2014