When you schedule a wedding for the beginning of July in central Illinois, there is an element of risk involved. There is always the possibility that you could get some atrociously hot and humid summer weather – the kind that makes a bride and her bride’s maids drip away in sweat as carefully coiffed hair comes undone. You can get the kind heat that really makes it day to remember.
Amy and I ran that risk in 1997 when we scheduled our wedding for July 5 in Danville, IL. Thankfully, we woke up that Saturday morning to an absolutely beautiful day. There wasn’t a hint of rain and the temperature was in the mid-70’s. It was a gorgeous day and provided the perfect setting for the photographer to take Amy outside and get some great shots of her in the wedding dress.
After the wedding the wedding party and those attending made their way to the Club House of the Harrison Park Golf Course which was now owned by the city and provided a very nice and reasonably priced setting for the reception. The meal and all the usual post-wedding festivities began.
While the day had been very comfortable, once everybody was in the Club House it did begin to feel a little warm inside. I was enjoying myself too much to really notice. But it turned out that there was one guest who did not feel that way. A family friend who is a Lutheran pastor was attending the wedding. He and his wife had brought their four year old son Patrick. He was dressed up for the wedding. But at some point, Patrick decided that things were just too hot. And so he carried out the natural response. He started taking off clothes to cool off. He started to take off his clothes … and he never stopped. He didn’t stop until he was standing there completely naked at the wedding reception.
Patrick didn’t have any problem with this. After all, he was feeling much cooler – all over. However, as you would expect people at the wedding reception did notice this naked little boy walking around. Eventually Patrick’s parents collected him and had him put some clothes on.
Patrick decided that naked was more comfortable. Clearly, he didn’t think it was any problem. He wasn’t ashamed. After all, he was just hanging out at the wedding reception in the buff. What could be more natural?
As adults, we know that naked is not the way the world works. And in our Old Testament lesson for the First Sunday in Lent we learn why. We learn that our need to cover up has been prompted by the entrance of sin into the world. We find that our need for clothing – our need to cover ourselves – is a symptom of the way that sin has harmed our relationship with God and with one another.
Our text this morning is the saddest chapter in the Bible – the account of the Fall. Of course to understand how bad this event is, we need to understand how good things had been. God had made a creation that he considered to be not just “good,” but in fact, “very good.” He had created humanity in his own image and given it dominion over creation as God’s representative.
In his loving care, God had created woman, Eve, as the helper corresponding to Adam. God created Eve from Adam because without her, things were not good. He created Adam and Eve as the perfect complement for one another, a fact that was grounded in the one flesh union of husband and wife. God gave man the vocation of tending the garden and he provided the means by which Adam and Eve showed that they the creatures worshipped God as God. He gave them one command to obey – one thing by which they showed they worshipped and acknowledged him as God. He told them that they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they disobeyed and did so, they would die.
Adam and Eve lived in the one flesh union as husband and wife. God had personally created their bodies and so as they lived with one another according to God’s will, we learn in the verse just before our text, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” There was no shame in being naked and there was no fear in conversing with the God who had created them.
However, in the very next verse our text begins by saying, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” What you can’t see in English is that the Hebrew words for “crafty” and “naked” look and sound very similar. The devil had entered creation in the form of serpent. He, the crafty one, had come to bring sin into the world. He had come to bring the sin that would prompt shame at their nakedness.
The devil used the question that has been at the heart of every temptation he has ever employed. He asked Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Did God actually say? This invites us to question what God has revealed to us. It invites us to question whether God’s word is true, or reasonable. It tempts us to put ourselves in charge of evaluating whether God’s word is to be accepted and obeyed.
We face this temptation all the time. Did God really say, “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy”? Surely you can’t be expected to hold God’s word sacred and gladly hear and learn it when there so many other things you need to do with your time; things you want to do with your time? Did God really say, “You shall not commit adultery”? Surely you can’t be expected to live a sexually pure life when sex outside of marriage is what everyone is doing and when there is so much pornography on the internet to rev your motor? Did God really say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Surely you can’t be expected to put the needs of others ahead of your own when there is so much you need to get down for yourself? After all, you only live once.
“Did God really say?” The devil called God’s word into question. And then he delivered his lie. He offered the false god that none of us can turn down – ourselves. When Eve described how they were not to eat of the true he said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The devil told Eve that God was holding out on them. God was preventing them from being all they could be. He was preventing them from being like God – from being god, their own god. This was too good for Eve and so she bit – literally. She ate of the fruit of the tree and then she gave some to Adam, who just went along with her rather than clinging to God’s word.
The devil, the crafty one, promised that by eating of the fruit their eyes would be opened. And oh, he was right – just not in the way that Adam and Eve expected. Our text tells us that after they ate, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”
Their eyes were opened because of the sin their disobedience had brought into the world. And because of sin they now felt shame. They felt that they needed to hide. They hid their bodies as they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And then when God came into the garden they hid themselves out of fear.
There was nothing that they could do about it. And there is nothing that you can do about it eitehr. Instead, God did something. He spoke Gospel – the first Gospel promise that we hear in our text. He said to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” He promised that a descendant of Eve would defeat the devil, even as he himself was harmed in doing so.
God sent forth his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. The Father sent him to people who are ashamed of being naked because of sin. We are ashamed because we sense that there are parts that must be hidden. We are ashamed because our bodies reveal the impact of sin – our bodies show the effects of time and age. We are ashamed because nakedness prompts lust and desires that we know should not be there.
In order to save us from this, Jesus Christ entered into this world naked. Like all of us, he exited his mother’s womb with nothing on because though true God, he was also true man. And then he pursued a mission that led to the most shameful circumstances of death.
During Lent we will follow Jesus as he makes his way to the crucifixion of Good Friday. And we find here that most likely, Jesus Christ died naked. Roman crucifixion wasn’t meant just to kill you. It was meant to be the most humiliating and shameful death possible. Typically the Romans crucified their victims naked – what better way to strip away even the last shred of human dignity? Everything about the accounts in the Gospels leads us to believe this was the case for Jesus.
Jesus Christ hung in the shame of the cross. He did it because he was laden with your sins. He took them upon himself so that he could take away the shame of sin through his death. And then in his resurrection on Easter he began a new bodily existence that knows no shame.
We look forward to sharing in that resurrection when Christ returns in glory. Now we have not shared in this yet – not fully. But recognize that in the present you have already been clothed with something that covers all shame. It happened when you were baptized. Paul told the Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In baptism you were clothed with Christ. You “put on” Jesus Christ and his righteousness. When God looks at you, he does not see the naked sinner. Instead he see’s Christ and his saving death and resurrection for you. He sees the victory that the offspring of Eve won over the serpent when he crushed his head on Good Friday and Easter.
No longer as we stand before God do we cower in loin clothes of fig leaves. Instead we stand clothed in Christ – the most magnificent clothing there has ever been. No longer is there need for shame. Instead in Christ we stand as those who are precious and valuable – we stand as those purchased by the suffering and death of the Son of God.
You have been clothed with Christ through baptism. Now we all know how some really nice, new clothes make us feel. They can make you feel like a new person and provide an extra spring in your step. And that is what happens because of your baptism – but with an important difference. In baptism you have been clothed with Christ on the outside, and you have also been born anew through the Spirit on the inside. Through baptism the Spirit joins you to the death and resurrection of Christ, so that in the present you can begin to live in new ways. Because of your baptism into Christ you can live in faith toward God and love toward your neighbor.
In our text today, Adam and Eve bring sin into the world in the Fall. They are tempted by the devil with the promise that their eyes will be opened. And indeed they are, as because of sin they find shame in their nakedness. Yet the good news of the Gospel is that God the Father sent his Son into the world. He entered this world naked so that he could die naked – so that he could die in the shame of the cross for you. Through baptism you have been clothed with Christ the risen Lord. Because of this, you can stand before God without shame as you can live as God’s servant in the world.