What is the saddest day in all of history? Pearl Harbor, maybe? What about the day the bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki? How about 9/11?
Well, actually, the saddest and most violent day in all of human history was the fall of man, and that’s what you heard about this morning in our first reading. That was the saddest day in history, and everything else far pales in comparison.
God had given everything to man. He was made in God’s image and after His likeness. To be fruitful and multiply and exercise dominion over the whole creation. Man was made to do the things that God does, to reflect His love in the world, and especially within marriage, family, and work. Adam was a king. Royalty. He was invited to eat from any tree of the garden, but with one exception: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and he was warned that the day he ate of it he would surely die.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t there to trick him. It was planted there, and prohibited, that man would render obedience to God, and worship the Divine Majesty by not eating of it. And thereby confess his complete and total trust in the God of love.
But into that garden there entered an interloper that sad and awful day. His name was Satan. He was an angel created by God, and yet fallen down to earth, who took the form of a serpent. And he came to Eve, cunning and filled with deceit. With lies and murder upon his breath. He said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
You can hear what that first temptation is all about. Satan is calling the authority of God’s Word into question. Did God really say? And beneath it also is an accusation – a terrible lie that God was somehow withholding something good from them in some way.
“If God is good, He would not withhold anything from you. If He is who He says He is, why should you deprive yourself of anything? Just reach out and take it, and you will be like God,” snarls the serpent. Sometimes we take the devil too much at his word here – after all, were they not already like God – made in His image – made in His likeness?
But how sad it was, because when Eve saw that the food was good for food and pleasant to the eyes, she took it and ate. And in that same verse we hear that she also gave some to her husband who was with her.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up and hearing this story, I always just figured Adam was in his man-cave, or maybe out playing golf, while his wife Eve has this conversation with the devil. But it’s just not the case. Moses in God’s Word here makes a real point in making it clear that Adam was right there with her. Standing right there beside her when his wife was being assaulted by the devil with lies and temptations.
But it looks like he was silent. He should have been defending the honor of God and His Word – and defending his wife. But he failed. How sad.
For Luther, this was all really an ecclesiastical crisis. Adam was the pastor, after all, the bishop, the man, who had been given God’s Word to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. And in turn to teach that Word of God to his wife and children. So how sad when he stood idly by, tongue-tied, and abandoned his vocation to which God had called him, in favor of the self-centered word of the devil, which in turn brought sin and death upon the whole human race.
Because of the shame of that act, our first parents tried to cover themselves with loincloths. And the voice of God, which once delighted their hearts, now drove them deeper into hiding for fear of judgment and condemnation.
You heard today also of the fall. The curse and what that means for us. to be clear, the curse of the fall is all God’s action of subjecting the creation to decay as a consequence for man’s sin. Therefore, women experience pain in childbirth and the raising of children, and man’s work will be hard and difficult. The curse of the fall results in human suffering, in disease, earthquakes, and natural disasters. But it all serves a purpose to remind us that we are fallen creatures in need of salvation.
When man fell that sad and bitter day, God did not leave us without hope and consolation. In fact, imbedded right in the middle of that curse is the preaching of the Gospel. Speaking to the serpent, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring [that is, your seed, and her seed]. And he, the one born of the woman, will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” That’s Genesis 3:15. Theologians call it the protoevangelium, or, the first Gospel.
Don’t get lost there in the poetry of the one Hebrew verse, because everything that follows in the whole Bible is just the continuation and fulfilment of that first promise – that one glorious little verse.
The Seed of the woman is Christ, the virgin-born, the Son of Mary and the Son of God. That strife between the Seed and Satan would find its glorious end at the cross, where the serpent’s head was crushed, as the cross was planted on the hill known as “the place of the skull.”
It is there that all the serpent’s power unraveled. The bruised heel – that’s the crucifixion – shorthand for the nails driven through His limbs. But those wounded feet would walk forth from the tomb, conquering, triumphing over Satan, hell, and death itself.
Everyone likes John 3:16: “For God so loved that world that he gave his only Son,” but it was all there in Genesis 3:15, that the Seed of the woman, God’s own Son, would crush the serpent’s head – to bring forgiveness and eternal life.
It was a sad day when Adam stood idly by, tongue-tied and silent in the face of evil. He failed to speak God’s Word. But today our hearts should be happy as we look at the temptation of Jesus, our second Adam. Because when Satan comes to tempt Him, He doesn’t give an inch, and unlike the first Adam, this last Adam is by no means silent. He’s speaking God’s Word loudly and clearly for all the world, fighting and doing battle where Adam, and all of Israel, and each and every one of us have so dreadfully failed.
You see, Jesus is going out to the wilderness not to fight for Himself but for you. He enters the fray on our behalf, to say No to evil for every time you said Yes. He speaks God’s Word for every time you were silent.
This morning, we see Jesus fight for us and do battle in our place. He will not be deterred from going to the cross. He’ll render perfect obedience to the Father on our behalf, He’ll suffer for the sins of the world and triumph over them all in His resurrection.
That saddest of all days, the fall, is all reversed on this day to make our hearts eternally happy.
Remember that after the curse of the fall, God did something wonderful for Adam and Eve. He exchanged those loincloths for costly duds of His own making – beautiful garments at the cost of an animal’s life, perhaps a lamb.
You see, trees and clothing would not hide the guilt of Adam and Eve. Only the tree of the cross could do that, and the righteous robes of Christ given to you in your Baptism. And there we can hide in God’s mercy, and walk again in His presence with delight and happy hearts.
On that sad day man fell by eating, and yet today, we are now lifted up by a meal. Saved, restored, and refreshed by a lavish feast of God’s own body and blood, given and shed for us sinners. Every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, we feast on the healing fruit of the tree of life and we are promised that we will enter paradise.
The fall of man was a sad day. But today, on this Lord’s Day, we have something to be eternally happy about. Forgiveness of sins, friendship with God, and exalted status as royal sons and daughters in God’s kingdom. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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