It will probably come as no great surprise to hear that the library in my office here at church has a very specific order. As I sit at my desk and look at the large book shelf on the opposite side of the room, there all the books related to the liturgy of the Church. As you move down and then begin moving to the right there are books that deal with religions and culture of Judaism, the Near Eastern and Greco-Roman worlds – the setting in which the Old and New Testaments were written. Next is the Old Testament, New Testament, early Church, medieval Church, Reformation Church and the church in America. Within each of these section books follow an ordering depending on the kind of material it includes. Naturally this order makes it easy to find books. I know exactly where in the room different kinds of books are located and where to go get them when I need them.
As we listen to our text for tonight, one of the features that really stands out is how God’s act of creation was one of ordering things. God orders his creation as a harmonious whole. Things have their place and their way of working. It is this very aspect of creation that gives us greater insight into what sin is, into why we must repent, and into what Jesus Christ has done for us.
The first verses of Genesis chapter one say, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” They describe God’s initial act of creation in which creates from nothing “the stuff” of the cosmos. And we learn that this created stuff had no order. It was “without form and void.” The sound of the Hebrew words even captures the feel of this disorder – it was “tohu webohu.” There was just this stuff in the darkness, with the Spirit of God hovering over a watery mess.
And then God went to work on what he had made. His creative word began to make things happen. He spoke, and it was. He starts to separate things out as he creates order. He creates light and separates the light from the dark. He separates the heavens above from the waters below. He creates dry land and gathers the water together where it should be. He creates vegetation that is distinct from one another – each one according to its kind. He creates the sun and the moon to separate the day and the night. He creates the creatures of the sea and sky that are distinct from one other – each one according to its kind. He creates the creatures of the land that are distinct from one another – each one according to its kind.
And God created humanity in his own image. He created us as an ordered pair – male and female. And he established an ordering in his creation. Only humanity had been created in his image and therefore in the ordering of his creation humanity was in charge. They were his representatives in the world.
God separated and ordered what he had made until at the end of six days he was finished. And he looked upon what he had made and the order he had given to it and we hear at the end of chapter one, “ And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Scripture teaches us that all of creation belongs to God because he made it. And as the creator he has given it a divinely established ordering. God the creator has determined how things work. He has “wired things,” if you will, to work in certain ways – to work according to a certain divine ordering.
When we act in accordance with this ordering, things are good. That is what it meant for humanity to be created in the image of God. We knew God as God wants to be known and it was our joy to do all things in ways that were perfectly tuned to the ordering God had established.
On Sunday, our Old Testament lesson was the account of the Fall in Genesis chapter 3. Knowledge about the ordering of God’s creation helps us to better understand what happened. God is the Creator. Humanity is the creature, though it is the crown of creation because it was created in God’s image. Adam and Eve sinned when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet note why they did this. They did it in order to be like God. They did it in order to step beyond the ordering God had given to them.
By their action they committed the first sin. They violated the God given ordering and by doing so they brought disorder and chaos into all of creation – including their own lives. Instead of a harmonious relation with one another, now there is strife between man and woman. Instead of naturally producing the food they needed, now the ground would bring forth weeds that harmed the crops. Now, as we have seen over the last several years, sometimes there is too much rain and sometime there is not enough. Instead of living in peaceful harmony, now the animals kill and eat each other.
Yet the most dramatic, the most permanent form of disorder that came about because of the first sin was death. In Genesis chapter two, we hear, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” God created human beings as the unity of a body and a soul. Yet now sin causes the dissolution of that ordering. As God told Adam. “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.”
We sin when we live in ways that are contrary to the way God has ordered his creation. That’s what the Ten Commandments describe. They tell us how God has set things up to work. Christians often call this “natural law” by which they mean you don’t actually need God’s revelation to know it. Instead people in all times and places have innately sensed that things work best if you do it this way – that there is something wrong if you don’t. The apostle Paul put it this way, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.” We come out of the womb “hardwired” to understand this is how things work.
But that doesn’t mean that we always want to do things that way. Instead human beings often decide that their way of ordering and doing things is easier, or more enjoyable, or more profitable. However the fact we choose do to things our own way doesn’t change the fact that it is not God’s way. It doesn’t change the fact that it violates God’s ordering. And you know what you get when you do that? Yet get chaos. Yet get sin that begets more sin. You get societies that destroy themselves from the inside.
Our text this evening gives us a great perspective from which we can understand what sin really is. And in doing so it also equips us for one of the focuses of Lent – repentance. We see the ways in which we break the Ten Commandments and the ways that this then brings chaos and harm into our lives and the lives of others. And when we see this, we confess. We admit our sin to God and ask for forgiveness.
And God does just that because of Jesus Christ, the One who never diverged from the ordering God provided. Because of the disobedience in the Garden of Eden, God sent his Son into the world in the incarnation. Jesus Christ walked the way the Father had given to him – a way that led to the cross. Not even when he faced agony in another garden, the Garden of Gesthemane, did he abandon the Father’s way. Instead he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Through his death on the cross he received the punishment for all the disorder that we have worked. And because of him we now stand before God forgiven. For those who are in Christ, it is as if they had never done anything wrong.
During Lent we are following our Lord towards Holy Week and Good Friday. Yet we know that on the other side of Good Friday is Easter. Jesus Christ will die, but just as he said he will rise on the third day. He will rise from the dead and in his resurrection he will be the beginning of a renewed ordering – a renewed creation. He will be the first fruits that guarantees not only our resurrection, but also the renewal of all things. When he returns on the Last Day the disorder that sin has caused will be removed forever. No longer will death reign in God’s creation. Instead we will enjoy the immortality of resurrected bodies like that of our Lord. Instead, peace will reign in God’s creation as the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat. And God will look upon his creation and see that everything is very good once again.