Seed of Hope.

Christianity, Religion

“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15

The Genesis 3 account of humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden is a story with which many of us are familiar. It is a Bible “story” that we’ve heard time and time again: in Sunday School, in children’s ministry, in Bible school, and in any other place where children learn the Bible. Given how many times many of us have heard this story, it is possible that a degree of “blindness” has come along with familiarity. We’ve become so used to hearing that Genesis 3 is about how humanity ruined things and brought sin into creation, and was then punished by being expelled from Eden. This approach makes sense and helps us to comprehend the nature of the world, but we miss the most crucial part of the narrative if we only focus on how the man and woman failed.

This passage is not about how Adam and Eve failed and received punishment; this account is about so much more than humanity’s failures. This passage is about how God showed mercy, how He didn’t punish them as wholly as He should have. This passage is about how God–right from the very moment of humanity’s first wandering from Him–already had a plan to bring humankind back to Him. 

This passage is about undeserved mercy and the promise of hope of redemption.

Adam and Eve, despite their disobedience, receive an incredible outpouring of God’s mercy. They had both been told by God what the penalty was for eating from the forbidden tree–death. Yet, when God confronted their sin, He did not kill Adam and Eve. He did not destroy creation and begin anew. God punished them justly. Death did come to the scene–something did die for Adam and Eve’s nakedness to be covered–but God did not demand their lives there at that moment as He could have.

God shows even more mercy to Adam and Eve by sending them away from the Garden. Eden was the place where God’s realm and creation overlap; it was the place where God would come and walk among His creation. Adam and Eve, who were now sinful and fallen, could not be in God’s presence; His mere presence would destroy them. God is so perfect and so holy that anything infected with sin cannot survive being near Him. To protect Adam and Eve from being killed, God sent them away from Him. The man and woman were also exiled from Eden to protect them from themselves. Now that they had fallen and become sinful, God did not want Adam or Eve to eat from the Tree of Life, and then live forever in their fallen state. To protect humanity from itself, God exiled Adam and Eve from the Garden. We often think of the exile from Eden as punishment; we fail to see that God sent humanity away from Eden to protect them. In exiling Adam and Eve, God had their best interests in mind; He did what was best for them.

We also see in Genesis 3 something which further shows the compassion that God displayed: the promise of hope. While He was levying the curses upon the Serpent, Eve, Adam, and the land, God made this promise to the Serpent, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel,” (Genesis 3:15). The Serpent, who had orchestrated mankind’s rebellion through his deceit and deception, was told that there would come one who would avenge the woman. This Avenger would be from the woman’s seed–he would be human–and he would deliver a death blow to the Serpent. The Serpent would hurt the Avenger, but He would not succumb to the Serpent. For the rest of his days, the Serpent would crawl on his stomach, eating dust, knowing that the Avenger was coming to destroy him; the Serpent knew his destruction was sure.

When the Avenger came and finally destroyed the Serpent, the curses would be broken. The Avenger, through His injury from the Serpent, would atone for humanity’s rebellion, but He would break the curses through destroying the Serpent. By breaking the curses and atoning for humanity, the Avenger would end humanity’s separation from God and end their exile.

The Avenger would not defeat the Serpent with might or through force, nor would He do it through confrontation; He would defeat the Serpent through the most curious and most unusual means: He would defeat the Serpent by allowing the Serpent to kill Him. 

We see this play out many generations later, when the one from the seed of the woman, when the Avenger– Jesus of Nazareth–came to earth. He was born of woman and lived a life of complete obedience to God. He went willingly and of His own volition to the cross. Though He was perfect and never sinned nor disobeyed God at any point in His life, He allowed the ravenous, bloodthirsty animal of sin and its minion death to consume Him and to kill Him. Death, however,  could not hold Him; the Serpent could only bruise Him. Through this selfless act, through His sacrificial death, Christ stomped on the head of the Serpent with His bruised heel when He rose again walked out of the grave three days later.

Already here, at the very beginning of Scripture, here where humanity has just fallen, where sin and death have just been introduced to the story, Calvary is already on the horizon. The promise of the Avenger–of the Snake Crusher–is the first glimmer of messianic hope to the fallen world. This promise shows us that, from the very beginning, God knew how He would defeat sin and death; from the beginning, God knew how He would redeem humanity and bring them back to Him.

Artwork: “Mary consoles Eve,” Sister Grace Remington, 2003.

For Good.

Christianity, Religion

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:19-21.

The saga of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis is a familiar one, full of family turmoil and division, bad blood, divisiveness, heartache,sorrow, and redemption. Joseph was his father’s favorite son, and also the son of his father’s favorite wife. Due to this, he enjoyed a connection with his father that none of his other brothers experienced. This favoritism, coupled with Joseph’s youthful boisterousness, caused his brothers to resent him, and lead Joseph’s brothers to seek to find a way to be rid of him. Their eldest brother, Reuben, would not let the younger brothers kill Joseph, so several of the brothers agreed to sell him as a slave to some passing traders. After this, the brothers told their aged father, Israel,  that his beloved son was dead, killed by wild beasts. To fully sell the deception to their father, they tore up the special cloak that Israel had given to Joseph and spattered it with animal blood.

After being sold to the traders, Joseph was taken to Egypt, where his story did not get much better. After rising to some prominence as a servant in the house of Potiphar, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned for several years. Even in prison, God was with Joseph and allowed those who were overseeing him see that he could be trusted and given responsibilities. While in prison, Joseph used his God-given ability to interpret dreams in an encounter with two disgraced members of Pharaoh’s court– Pharaoh’s butler and baker. This encounter with the butler would be significant, but only after the passage of much more time. 

After a curious turn of events, Joseph found himself before Pharaoh, interpreting for him a dream that none of Pharaoh’s court magicians and interpreters could understand. The meaning of the dream was that a famine was coming soon and that Egypt must begin stockpiling food for survival. Joseph’s ability so impressed Pharaoh that he pardoned Joseph of his crime–that he had never committed–and elevated Joseph to be his top deputy. There was no one in Egypt more powerful than Joseph, other than Pharaoh himself.

Fast-forward to the middle of the famine years. Hunger was widespread, and there was no food anywhere. Egypt, however, was flourishing because of the plans that had been put in place by Joseph. People came to Egypt from all of the surrounding lands to buy food. Even Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, for there was none in their land. After a tense series of back-and-forths between the two parties, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers. He was the same Joseph who they had sold into slavery all those years before, and in so doing, unkowingly began a series of events that led him to be before them again that day. There was a beautiful reunion, and all of Joseph’s family–the brothers, Israel, everyone– was brought to Egypt to be together.

Everything was fine until Israel died. With their father dead, the brothers feared that Joseph would now take his revenge.

But Joseph had no such intention. He had long ago made his peace with the situation; He had placed his trust in God and His will. Joseph now understood that he had endured everything that he went through so that he could save his people. He had to endure the rejection of his brothers, the separation from his family, the false imprisonment so that he could one day be elevated by Pharaoh and save his people during the time of famine. There was much more on the line than just Joseph and his comfort; had he not been in Egypt before the famine, there’d be no food stored up for his people to buy, and they would have died. If Israel and Abraham’s line died out, what would become of the promise that God made to Abraham? How would all the nations be blessed? Joseph’s suffering was for a greater good. He was able to save his family, and he had no ill will against his brothers. He wanted now only to enjoy the time they had remaining together.

Too often, we are hurt by those close to us and never recover from that wrong. We squander our most valuable resource–time–being focused on the hurt and those who hurt us and never healing from it, instead of trying to see how God might be at work in and through that pain. Joseph chose to trust God and make his peace with the situation, and he was able to move on with his life. If we find ourselves unable to move on from similar pain in our life, perhaps it is because we are not doing as Joseph did. Maybe it is because we are choosing to hold on to the pain instead of letting go and trusting that God is preparing us for something at that moment. 

Even more powerful than the example of Joseph is the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly left all the glory of Heaven to come to a sinful and rebellious creation who sought not after God. His own people rejected Him and turned Him over to the Romans on false charges for execution. He was beaten and mocked and ridiculed by all–both then and today–and yet He still willingly went to his death. Christ endured all that He did because, if He did not, there would be no salvation for humanity. Without the shedding of blood, there would be no reconciliation with God. Without someone to take the punishment of sin, God’s wrath and judgment would still be upon us. But Christ did it all willingly because His suffering was for the greater good. Our sins put Him to death, yet He still made peace for us.

Whatever you’ve been through, or are going through, God is in it, and He will use it for good. Trust in Him.  Make peace with those who have wronged you, for the wrong might be for the greater good.

Artwork: “Joseph Recognized By His Brothers,” Marc Chagall.

Nowhere Else To Go.

Christianity, Religion

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’  “John 6:66-69

There are few chapters in the Bible that are more moving than John 6. In this lengthy and action-packed chapter, Jesus’ deity and humanity are on full display; it is here that we are given accounts of two of His most famous miracles, as well as where we witness a critical moment in which Christ reacts to how people respond to His teachings.

John 6 unfolds in a rather dramatic fashion. At the outset of the chapter, there are huge crowds following Christ around the countryside of Judea waiting and watching to see what great miracle He will perform next. It is because of these large crowds that Christ can perform one of His most famous miracles: the feeding of the 5,000, in which He feeds a multitude with only five loaves of bread and two fish. This miracle helps reveal Christ’s deity and highlights Christ’s identity as God through its parallels to God’s provision for the Israelites in the wilderness during the Exodus. During those forty years, God provided for His people bread and meat each and every day–except for the Sabbath–as they wandered through the wilderness. We see Jesus do the same thing in John 6; the people have followed Him into the middle of nowhere to listen to Him preach, and they are growing hungry. To meet the needs of the people, Jesus did just as God had done during the Exodus– He provided bread and meat. The echoes of the wilderness provision were not lost on the crowd that day; they see the connection to the Exodus and to Moses and identify Jesus as the Prophet that Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18.

After the feeding of the 5,000, Christ performs another miracle which identifies Him as God: walking on water. His disciples had left Jesus up on the mountain and sailed across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. Christ was not with them when they left; instead, He walked upon the water to them in the middle of the sea. This miracle also has Old Testament parallels; Christ walking on water mirrors the Genesis 1 account of God’s spirit hovering over the waters before the creation of the world. Furthermore, Christ identifies Himself to His terrified disciples in a manner which has deep Old Testament connections; He says in the Greek text, “ἐγώ εἰμι,” (ego eimi), which is translated as “I am.” To calm the disciples down, Christ revealed Himself to them with the same name that God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush.

It was at this point that the nature of John 6 began to turn. Jesus began to teach the multitudes that were following Him “hard things,” that they didn’t want to hear: that He is the “bread of life,” (John 6:35), and that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to receive eternal life (John 6:54). Christ was referring here to His sacrificial death, not to the literal eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood as the crowds perceived.

 This teaching caused many to stop following Christ. They were eager to see Him perform miracles and incredible feats, but when He began to teach that salvation is only achieved by submitting to Him and being washed in His blood,  people turned away. They chose to put their faith in the blood of the covenant that Moses had sprinkled upon their ancestors, not in the blood that would be shed for them at Calvary. So, they walked away from Christ.

While He watched the crowds leave, Christ turned to the Twelve and asked if they too were going. Here Christ the man was feeling the rejection of His people that the prophets had foretold, and God was once again feeling the rejection that His chosen people had repeated again and again throughout the Old Testament. Just as Israel had turned away from God after they ienetered into and settled the Promised Land after He sustained them for forty years in the wilderness, they again turned away from Him as He provided for them and taught them how they could gain entrance into the Kingdom of God.

Peter, as always, spoke up. He told Christ that there was nowhere else to go that only Christ had the words of eternal life. Peter reaffirmed what he and the other disciples believed—and what all followers of Christ believe—that He is the holy one, the Messiah, of God. Christ is the only pathway to eternal life; there is no alternative.

We must live each and every day with the same commitment and level of conviction of belief that Peter embodied. We cannot be like the crowds who turned away when the excitement wore off, and the teachings got tough. We must remember that only Christ brings eternal life. Without Him, we have nothing; without Him, we are lost. There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. There is no one else to turn to, there is nowhere else to go. 

No Shame.

Christianity, Religion

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” ‭‭Genesis ‭3:8‬

“‘Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush…’ Says the LORD.”‭ ‭Jeremiah ‭8:12‬ ‭

Sin is not a trivial matter; it  is of the utmost seriousness– this is one of the major themes of the Bible. There is no way to honestly and accurately read the Scriptures without understanding the magnitude and gravity of sin. It is what separates us from God; it is what enslaves our souls. Sin is what causes death. To ignore or make little of the seriousness of sin is to overlook one of the fundamental truths of Scripture.

Sin must be taken seriously and confronted, because when it is not—when it is allowed to fester—it grows on us. It consumes us. We become addicted to it, and like with any other addiction, it takes more and more of it to give us the same “fix” we once achieved. Quite soon, we spiral to a point to where we don’t even feel bad about the sins we commit. We feel no shame.

We see this same pattern played out in the Bible. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it says “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked,” (Genesis 3:7). They felt shame at being naked and exposed in front of one another; innocence had been lost with the introduction of sin to creation. What Adam and Eve did next was more telling of the shame they felt; when they heard God walking through the garden, they hid from Him. This first “hit” of sin had caused Adam and Eve great shame, so much so that they hid themselves from the very God with whom they had previously enjoyed perfect communion. Before sin, there was no shame, there was no reason to hide. Sin changed everything, and Adam and Eve knew that they had done something wrong. Their sin caused them to feel things—namely shame—which they’d never before felt.

Sin impacts humanity as a whole just as it does us individually; before long we feel no shame from the sins we commit. Several millennia after Adam and Eve, we meet the prophet Jeremiah, who was sent to prophesy in Israel and Judah against their numerous sins. Israel and Judah had wandered far from God, spiraling deep into sin and depravity. These kingdoms worshipped false gods and idols, offered their children as human sacrifices, and sought after every fleshly desire.  God compared both of these kingdoms to harlots because of their behavior, saying “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the LORD.” (‭‭Jeremiah ‭3:8-10‬)

Jeremiah warned the people of Israel and Judah that God would bring judgment against them because of their sins. He pleaded with the people to repent of their depraved behavior and to turn back to God, but they would not. One of the most tragic and haunting lines in all of the Bible is found in Jeremiah 8:12, when God says of the people “that they do not know how to blush” at their sins. Israel and Judah had become so addicted to their sin that their behavior no longer caused them any shame or heartache; their behavior didn’t even warrant blushing at anymore.  Once there was a time when sin caused Adam and Eve to hide themselves from God, and now Israel and Judah were sinning with their heads held high. Shame and innocence were long gone.

The world we live in today is no different from Israel and Judah of Jeremiah’s day. Sin goes unchecked in nearly every area of society and culture. No longer do we blush at the sins we commit against the Lord. No more do we feel the need to hide ourselves in shame from the Holy God.

Despite this, God—in His infinite mercy—has given us another chance. He sent His son, Jesus, to die to make atonement for our sin, so that we might be forgiven of them. Jesus rose again from the grave to defeat sin’s biggest ally—death. God gives to those who believe and follow Jesus a powerful tool for living, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enters the believer and allows them to understand the gravity and danger of sin. The Spirit accomplishes this, not through the use of shame, but through conviction. It is the Spirit that moves in us and allows us to feel remorse when we do sin; it is the Spirit which reminds us that we know better when we find ourselves ensnared by sin’s barbs. The Spirit empowers us to live differently and to flee from sin.

Sin is a matter of life and death and should be treated accordingly. Let the Spirit empower you to flee from sin. In the moments when you do sin, remember to blush and be moved by the Spirit’s conviction; repent and ask forgiveness, and seek to sin no more.

Crushed.

Christianity, Religion

“‘He shall crush your head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.’” Genesis 3:15

After creating the world and everything in it in six days, God placed Adam and Eve in the midst of paradise—Eden—and gave them dominion to rule over all of creation.  Man and woman enjoyed direct communion with God in Eden and free reign over everything in paradise. Adam and Eve had but one rule to live by; not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for eating from that tree would lead to their deaths. Eating from the tree wouldn’t kill them, but being disobedient to God would. The serpent, as Genesis recounts, was the most cunning of all the creatures, and deceived Eve into eating from the prohibited tree, and Adam followed after her lead and ate of the tree of his own accord. 

They had disobeyed God and brought sin into the created world, and with sin came heartache, hard labor, grief, greed, anger, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, and ultimately, death. Creation had been tainted because of mankind’s sin against God. They could no longer live in Paradise in communion with God; Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden and sent away from God’s presence. This was for their own good; God is the epitome of holiness, and sinful creatures cannot be in His presence and live.

Before banishing Adam and Eve from Eden, God made Eve—the mother of all humanity—a promise. There would come from her one who would fix all of this; one who would make things right once again and restore humanity to its intended relationship with God. From her seed will come one who could erase the mistake she and Adam had made. This Promised One would also come for the serpent—the deceiver who helped usher in sin and death. The serpent would wound the Promised One, possibly even hurt him badly, but the Promised One would destroy the serpent. God was not caught off guard by man’s actions; He was already prepared with a plan in place to make things right again.

So humanity was exiled from Eden, forced to be separated from God’s presence. But God had given humanity a most powerful gift as He exiled them: the promise of the hope; hope that redemption would come.

Generations came and went, creation seemed to spiral ever further into sin and evil. Man continually sought after the dark and depraved desires of his own heart. God watched as mankind—His creation—forsook Him and scorned Him and made themselves to be their own gods. Everywhere upon the Earth, sin ran wild, and death and the grave consumed humanity.

God’s promise of hope persisted. Though each generation seemed to fall further away from Him, there were still those who sought God and His righteousness, and for their sake, His promise was sustained. Promises were made to specific people to help carry on this initial promise made in Eden, and covenants made to make these promises binding. God abided by His promises, and the faithful in each generation lived with hope: hope that the Promised One would soon come and make all things right again.

Still, generations came and went, and God would continue to unveil His plan a little at a time. This Promised One would be descended from Judah; He would be like a lion and would be a king (Genesis 49). He would be from the Line of David (II Samuel 7). He would be a suffering servant, led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53).  He would be Immanuel, God with Us (Isaiah 7).

The original promise—the promise of hope—echoed with every new prophecy and re-affirmation of the coming of the Promised One. He will crush your head, and you will bruise his heel.

Generations came and went, lived and died, and waited. The righteous waited for the Promised One though all around them turned to idols and sacrificed their children to false gods. The righteous waited through judgment and exile and silence from Heaven. The righteous waited while sin and death and the grave and the Serpent-Deceiver continued to claim usurped authority on the Earth. The righteous waited because they had the promise of hope and the assurance of God’s faithfulness to His promises. The Promised One would come, and He would make all things right.

This was the backstory to the story of Jesus of Nazareth. He was sent to be the Promised One and crush the head of the serpent—to destroy the Deceiver—and restore humanity’s relationship with God. As Jesus taught and performed miracles, people began to wonder if He might be the Promised One, but many had lost sight of the promise that the Promised One was to fulfill.  They had developed ideas of what the Promised One would be and what He would do that satisfied their own views and beliefs. Jesus, however, knew what His mission was, and He knew what He must do to fulfill God’s promise of hope and redemption.

He would have to be wounded.

He would have to be wounded because, to defeat sin and death and the grave and the Deceiver, Jesus would have to die.  Without dying, Christ could not provide a sacrifice that would atone—forgive—our sins. Without dying, Christ could not invade the grave and conquer it. To defeat death, Christ must die.  Most importantly, to destroy the Deceiver—to crush the serpent’s head—Christ must die. He must die so that He could come back to life.

When Christ was taken off the cross on Good Friday, half the battle was won. During His moment of glorification and exaltation, He had offered the sacrifice of atonement and settled humanity’s account before God. Now, Christ the King was on the path of conquest, invading the territory of the enemy: death and the grave.  As He once said, “No one takes my life away from Me. I have the authority to lay it down and I have the authority to take it up again,” (John 10:18).

On the first day of the week, when the mourning followers of Christ came to His grave, they were expecting to anoint the body of a man they had hoped to be the Promised One. They had forgotten that the Promised One would have to be wounded by the serpent and led like a lamb to the slaughter. They surely did not expect the Promised One to die, and especially did not expect the Promised One to be crucified. So they came to mourn; mourn for Christ and their dashed hopes, and to begin the process of waiting and hoping again.

His grave, however, was empty. Christ had risen. He had invaded death and the grave and returned. He had conquered them. He had destroyed them.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

It may have been the slain Lamb who was laid in the grave on Friday—reviled and forsaken by man—but, it was the roaring Lion of Judah who emerged that  Sunday morning and who was victorious over sin, death, and the grave; who crushed the head of the serpent. It was the Lion of Judah whose victory shook the very Earth down to the pit of defeated Hell, and it is the Lion of Judah who lives and reigns today and forevermore at the right hand of God.

The promise that was first made so very long ago had been kept. The Promised One had come and He made all things right. He restored our relationship with God by paying our debt with His blood. He was wounded, but He crushed the serpent’s head, and He is coming again to return us from our exile from God’s presence.

artwork: “Lion and Snake,” Samuel William Reynolds, 1799.

Kings and Queens.

Christianity, Religion

“So God created man in his own image,

    in the image of God he created him;

    male and female he created them.

 And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”  Genesis 1: 27-28

In the first chapter of Genesis, we find the beginning—the genesis—of everything. We see God create the world and everything in it ex nihilo, out of nothing, and He did so in only six days. We also see—appropriately enough the very first time we are introduced to Him—one of the most majestic depictions of God; He speaks, and things happen. Just as earthly kings demonstrated their power by speaking commands that their subordinates would carry out to completion, God demonstrated His power by speaking His commands into fulfillment; He is able to speak order and form into the chaos and void. Right from the start, Genesis is presenting us with the power and majesty of our mighty Creator-King God.

There is an important structure to note in Genesis 1. We repeatedly see throughout the creation narrative God speaking, the command being fulfilled, God saying that the created thing is good, the evening and the day, and then the cycle begins again with the next installment of the creation. This cycle builds to a crescendo with the culminating—the crowning—event of the entire narrative: the creation of man on day six. The event is so significant that we see in verse 27 the first instance of poetry written in the Bible, and it is a recounting of God making humankind in His image. This brings us to an important question: what does it mean to be made in God’s image?

The first clue as to what this means is given with the first commands that God gives to humanity: to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. Each of these words may carry with them different meanings in other contexts, so we must be careful to examine them in the context of this text. We already explored how God is portrayed as a mighty regal figure throughout Genesis 1, and we see Him now bestowing that same royalty upon the pinnacle of His creation. When God tells humanity to subdue the earth, He isn’t telling them to pillage it and exploit it to their benefit; rather, He is telling them to use their abilities and resources to assert their will on the earth, so that life there will flourish even more abundantly. Think of it this way: a patch of dirt left unattended will be overgrown with vegetation; but if a gardener comes along and asserts his will upon that patch of dirt, it can yield goods that can be beneficial to the gardener and to others. God is telling humanity to cultivate and take care of the earth so that it can flourish even more abundantly for them; He’s using gardening language. This is fitting since man was placed in the Garden of Eden.

The language of dominion is the most apparent iteration of God’s pre-fall intentions for humanity; mankind was to rule over all creation just as God rules over everything. Humankind was at the very top of the created order and was to rule justly over it. It must be noted that mankind was to rule over the things beneath them in the created order, there is no mention of man ruling over fellow man here. Such a straying from the original egalitarian intent is a product of the fall and a direct result of sin. But God’s own words show us that He created us to be kings and queens over creation, just as He is King of the Universe.

Intertwined with the commission to rule with God over creation, there is also contained in the notion of “image” a sense that something within us represents God’s holiness; not only do we represent God’s rule over the earth, we also act as icons of his holiness. This is evident in the fact that the Hebrew word translated into English as “image” is more often translated in the Old Testament as “idol.” In the same way that idols are innate visible representations of false gods, humanity is a living visible representation of the true God. With this in mind, it brings a new level of understanding to the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,” (Exodus 20:4). Mankind worshipping false gods depicted as creatures of the world is a total betrayal of the created order. It is a complete inversion and perversion of the order of creation for mankind—the pinnacle of creation, the rulers of creation, and the representations of God—to worship a god who did not make them and who is represented as a creature that is inferior to them. God did not desire mankind to form graven images for themselves to represent fictitious gods, for humanity itself is a graven image carved by God to represent Himself.

It is quite hard, nearly impossible at times, to see evidence of these truths from Genesis 1 evidenced in the world around us today. It is much easier to see the evidence of the fall and the rampant nature of sin that abounds all around us. But it is imperative that we, as God’s people, remember these truths—that mankind was made in God’s image to rule over and cultivate creation, and that humanity is a representation of God Himself—for if God’s people do not remember these things, then who will? We must remember that all of human life, whether it is in the womb or on the deathbed, bears the image of God. We must not forget that all humans were made to be kings and queens over creation. Though sin entered the world and deprived many people of their royal birthright, through Christ, we can once again receive this royal birthright. We now must help our fellow Image-bearers, our fellow kings and queens, who are lost to be restored in Christ to what is their God-given inheritance.

Dust and Ashes.

Christianity, Religion

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Genesis 3:19

“And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” Jonah 3:5-6

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent that precedes Easter. Lent—when appropriately observed—is a time of spiritual reflection to prepare one’s heart for Holy Week and Easter. There is a somberness associated with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, and rightly so.  It is during this time that we are reminded of our broken relationship with God and of our need for repentance.

The ashes of Ash Wednesday serve to remind us of our mortal and fallen nature. After Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, he and Eve were punished for their disobedience by God. Sin had been brought into creation, labor pains would be intensified, and man would now have to work to till the earth for food. In Genesis 3:19, God reminds Adam that, due to his actions, he will experience something that was outside of God’s original plan for him: that he will die, and return to the dust from which he had been created.

Ashes were also a symbol in the ancient world of extreme contrition and repentance. Throughout the Old Testament, we find examples of people putting on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their mourning and to physically demonstrate the spiritual change they are undergoing. This is best evidenced in the Book of Jonah.  When Jonah finally arrived in Nineveh and preached to the people of that city of their impending destruction at the hands of the God of Israel, the city repented. They fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes—from the poorest of them, up to the king. This symbolized their contrition and repentance before the God of Israel, and as such, He spared the city. Radical repentance can cause radical results.

Ash Wednesday and Lent, in general, reminds us of these two truths. First, it tells us that we are sinful people who are separated from God and as such our bodies will one day return to the dust. We require a Savior to restore our relationship with God. This is where Christ enters the equation. His death is what paid our debts to God and settled our account. He led a sinless life and atoned for us so that we can enjoy eternal life with God, and so that our bodies will be restored from the dust when He resurrects those who believe in Him. His own resurrection broke the cycle of “dust to dust” and proved that there is a resurrection to come for all of us.

This brings us to the second truth that Ash Wednesday reminds us of: that we must repent. We must see the folly of the path that we are on, and turn back to God and place our faith in Christ. We must understand the depth and the gravity of what he endured for us and be moved to follow Him instead of our own pursuits. Just as the Ninevites believed in God in Jonah’s day and repented, so too must we believe in Christ today and repent of our sins. We must submit ourselves wholly to Him and let Christ live through us. We must hate our sin; we must demonstrate extreme contrition and remorse for how we have offended God and we must repent. We must humble ourselves—don our sackcloth and ashes—before our holy God and ask His forgiveness.

Remember these truths on Ash Wednesday: we are sinners estranged from God, Christ came to restore us, and we must repent and follow Him. Examine your heart and let go of the things keeping you from giving yourself entirely to Christ. But most importantly, don’t limit this to only Ash Wednesday or to Lent. Live this way each and every day.

photo courtesy of the Episcopal Church Diocese of East Tennessee (www.dioet.org)

Awaiting Salvation

Christianity, Religion

029aee48b52ad7779ac2ed6d65e1b962-800x533x1 “I wait for your salvation, Lord.” Genesis 49:18.

Jacob, the patriarch of the Jewish people, uttered these words while he lay on his deathbed at the ripe old age of 130. In that span of time, Jacob had witnessed incredible things: he’d wrestled with God, had been reconciled with his estranged brother, Esau, whom he had wronged, and had a large family that was blessed by God. Jacob, or Israel as God had renamed him, had seen everything that life could throw his way; all the highs, all the lows, all the trials, and all the joys. Even after all Jacob had experienced in his many days, at the end of his life Jacob knew the best was yet to come.

Jacob waited patiently for the salvation, or deliverance, that God would bring to him. God is man’s only source of deliverance–from sin, sorrow, heartache, and death. Jacob’s faith in God had endured throughout his life, and soon it would be made complete. God would soon deliver Jacob from this world and all its sorrows, and allow him to be reunited with his fathers and with his God.

The same is true for us today. We seek any and every escape we can find from the headaches and heartaches of this world, but the best these can do is to bring us a temporary and fleeting reprieve from the chaos that is around us. God’s unchanging and enduring love and salvation is the only thing that we can count on; the only thing that will deliver us from this world. His salvation and deliverance is full and complete and unending. We cannot save ourselves; we can only do as Jacob did–remain faithful in God and patiently await His salvation.