This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Genesis series “In Beginning”
God gave Adam and Eve a covering for their bodies. I looked up the word covering in the New Testament and was surprised at how many coverings God has given to men and women. There are many references to God making a covering for our sins in addition to several other coverings. As did Adam and Eve, we try to make coverings but they are always inadequate. Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves but that didn’t work. God had to make an effective covering out of animal skins. It would appear that is the first time in creation that something died. The animals had to be killed to make a covering. Later, God gave another type of covering when animals gave their lives to cover the sin of the Jews. Last week, I spoke of how we try to cover our sins with an image of who we are. Once we knew the law, we tried to build our own righteousness by constructing an image from the law. Images might fool other people, but to God they are only images and bad ones at that. The Bible says that our righteousness is as filthy rags to God. When we try to make our own righteousness as a covering, it is like wearing filthy rags before God. We have to depend on God to make the covering for our sins.
Just as the animal skins were a much more effective covering than the fig leaves Adam and Eve used, so God’s covering for sin actually works. Throughout the Old Testament, God used the blood of animals to build a covering for sin. On the Day of Atonement, the Jews acted out God’s covering for sin. On that day, the high priest laid his hands on the animal to be sacrificed, identifying with the animal, then the animal was slain and in God’s eyes, the priest also died. The wages of sin is death, so the blood of the animal paid for the sins of the priest. The priest then took the blood of the animal into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies at the center of the Temple. There he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. When he did that, the sins of the priest were covered by the blood of the animal. The priest then went back out and laid his hands on another animal that was to be sacrificed. When he laid his hands on that animal, it was identified with all the people of Israel. Then, through the same process, the penalty was paid for all the sins of the Jews. Every year, all the Jews watched that ceremony where the shedding of blood provided the salvation of the people.
That was a foreshadowing of the final sacrifice for sin, which was the lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who finally and eternally took away the sins of the world. We then identify with Him and His sacrifice for our sins. Today, we may not easily see how that works. It didn’t make much sense to me when I first heard it at the age of eighteen, but a sacrifice for sins was a picture deeply drummed into the soul of every Jew. I grew up mainly trying to make myself look good by building an image suitable to please the people around me. Even using the law to build an image we think is suitable to God isn’t good enough. It is only through Christ’s sacrifice for our sins that there is any forgiveness of sin. It is only by what God does that we find any real covering for our sin.
We are not only covered with the blood of the lamb for forgiveness, we are also clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We can wear His righteousness just as we can wear other clothing. That is another covering that was made for us by God. Jesus lived a righteous life and we can now be clothed in that life when we appear before God. When we appear before God, we don’t appear in our own righteousness; we appear in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Our own goodness is not sufficient. That would be like wearing fig leaves or rags. Most of the references to coverings in the New Testament don’t have to do with clothes; they speak of our being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. That is the new garment that God has made so His people can be properly covered.
Next, God sent Adam out to work in the world. Now he and his children would no longer receive what they needed directly from God; work is now needed to have anything worthwhile and has become an important part of who we are. These days, we think we are entitled to some things just because we exist. It is as though we have forgotten that God said we will only gain the fruit of the earth when we work for it. Working for what we have is part of what makes it worthwhile and makes us able to use what we have wisely.
North Carolina now has a lottery and maybe one day one of us will hit the lottery. I have wondered how I would feel if I suddenly received a large sum of money without working for it. Actually, I think I would be a little disappointed. It is not that I wouldn’t want to have the money, but I think the money would have more value for me if I worked to earn it. While working for it, I would have better understood its value and would have acquired the knowledge as to how to use it well. I wouldn’t know these things as well if I gained the money just by luck. That is why I would have voted against the lottery if I had had a vote. I think putting the gaining of money on the basis of luck changes our dreaming in a way that is not good. If we dream about starting a business and working to make it successful so we will become wealthy, that is better for society as a whole than is just getting money from hitting the lottery. When we work to build a business, we provide employment for others along the way and help them earn more money; then more people spend that money in more ways and it provides a larger base for sharing in the abundance of our economy. It also provides a structure that enables people to study and work to get a better job and earn more. Just hitting the lottery doesn’t provide as much employment or benefit for others as developing a successful business would. It also doesn’t provide new products or services for our society as developing a business might. Our dreams become solely oriented toward having the money and that is a much smaller dream than working to earn the money. Our dreams are smaller dreams when they only include luck.
Some even carry the idea of luck without work into marriage and other areas of our society. We think that we have a good marriage by just being lucky enough to marry the right person so everything will work out well in our marriage. We forget that marriage also requires hard work to be successful. It is about learning to live together and working to build a good life together. It is being creative in taking your spouse as he or she is and then working to build a good life together. Marriage is not a matter of luck so it doesn’t work when we keep trying until the right person finally comes along. When someone has worked hard at living together then loses his or her spouse, it is a great tragedy. But at least they learned what makes a marriage work and have had the satisfaction of working to build a good marriage with their spouse. That satisfaction helps us when we mourn. If parents have worked hard to take care of their children, maybe there will come a day when the children will also have to work hard to take care of their parents. Then, when the parents die, it is painful, but the satisfaction of having worked to build a good relationship together is part of what will help those who are left behind to recover.
The things in our life that have real value are things that require work. I have known kids who are so gifted mentally that school work is very easy for them. I have also known many for whom school work was not so easy, but they worked hard to do well and that brought them real satisfaction and good work habits that carried over into the rest of their lives. Those for whom school work came very easy needed to find something challenging enough to require them to work hard or else they just ended up drifting through their lives in a very meaningless way. Work is a necessary part of building a successful life in this world east of Eden.
The final thing God gave Adam and Eve is death. He kept them away from the tree of life. Death doesn’t seem like a gift because we keep trying to build our own “tree of life” or fountain of youth, but since we have sinned, death is a necessary part of this life. I have friends who believe in reincarnation. My arguement against it was that it wasn’t because I didn’t have enough time in this life to become perfect, and would have done better with more lives. In some ways, the sin in our lives even grows stronger. An older man, who was a friend of mine in the church I had in Florida, did a great ministry by going into nursing homes to visit and then preach on Sunday. He used to say, “People don’t get old and grouchy. They were always grouchy, they just got old and didn’t have the energy to put on a happy face anymore.” Most of us don’t improve with age. We may not have the energy to carry out all the sins we once could, but inside I don’t think we have gotten very much better.
When building a building, if we are off one degree from vertical when we start out, that isn’t so bad if the building only goes ten or even twenty feet high. If it goes a couple of hundred feet high, being one degree off from vertical is very serious. If you are building your life on your righteousness and you are one degree off, it might not be so bad for the first few years, but if you were to live to be a thousand years old, it could become very serious. You could become a person who is pretty far off from being a righteous person. Adding years to our lives will not make them better, even if we maintain our vitality and energy. If we have vitality and energy, they need to be rightly directed or they just become destructive. God is the only one good enough to keep having total vitality of life. He gives His vitality and direction to us as we walk close to Him. I like the way Chesterton put that in his book called Orthodoxy. In the twentieth century, there were several British writers who were very strong Christians, T. S. Elliot, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien to name three. Amazingly, each of them gives Chesterton a great deal of credit for his faith.
Chesterton described God and vitality in this way:
“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”
To have the vitality of life that God has so thoroughly, and children have to a lesser extent, we must do things well to be righteous. Without God’s direction, mere vitality would only become more and more destructive. As God sent Adam and Eve into our world, to keep them from growing increasingly destructive, He gave them death. It is only when we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness that we can live the life God gives us without being destructive. Life, and its vitality and direction, must now come from God, not just from eating from a tree of life that we made. Without receiving God’s direction and righteousness for life, we would still not live the full life.