Christmas in Genesis — Part One
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Christmas in Genesis — Part One

Genesis 3:15  (ID: 3398)

Can the hope of Christmas be found in the garden of Eden? Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect relationship with God until they doubted His goodness and pushed beyond the boundaries of His plan. Yet God did not abandon them to their sin’s consequences. As Alistair Begg explains, within the context of Adam and Eve’s rebellion we receive the promise of a cure: the one who would crush the serpent’s head. We rejoice in Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of God’s promise.

Series Containing This Sermon

Christmas in the Beginning

Series ID: 28101

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Bible, to the book of Genesis and to chapter 3. Genesis chapter 3, and I will read from verse 1:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

“He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘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.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew … they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

“And 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. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’

“The Lord God said to the serpent,

“‘Because you have done this,
 cursed are you above all livestock
 and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
 and dust you shall eat
 all the days of your life.
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.’

“To the woman he said,

“‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
 in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
 but he shall rule over you.’

“And to Adam he said,

“‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
 and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
 “You shall not eat of it,”
cursed is the ground because of you;
 in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
 and you shall eat the plants of the field.
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.’

“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

“Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—’ therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”


Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

All of us, I’m sure, have heard of celebrating Christmas in July, but we may never have given any thought to discovering Christmas in Genesis. And what I want to do today and hopefully over the next few Sundays, as we anticipate Christmas, is do just that: look into the book of Genesis in order that we might see Christmas—strictly speaking, in order that we might see Jesus, and since Jesus is the center of Christmas, then that is our desire.

And my text this morning, which is the fifteenth verse of this chapter, is a text which provides us with the first glimmer of the gospel. In the movie and in the soundtrack of The Sound of Music, they sing at one point, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”[2] And when we think in terms of the gospel, the story of all that God has done in and through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, we find ourselves beginning right here: a hint of a coming Redeemer, the one who is the seed of the woman.

Now, in doing this—and by necessity, our study this morning will have to be selective rather than exhaustive, and some of you will be disappointed by parts that are left aside. I do that for you so that you can do work on your own. But as we come to it, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of what we’ve said, and that is that it is good to think of the Bible actually as a two-act play. If you only come in for the second half of the play, then you’ve no idea who the characters are, because you were not present for the beginning. If you leave at halftime, then you’ve no idea how it ends. And that’s why we say to one another, “It takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian.” Or, alternatively, to think of the Bible as a kind of mystery novel, a detective novel, a whodunit, where in the early pages you only have hints and ideas and little suggestions, and then, as you progress through, you discover exactly what was involved in those earlier pages. Or, to think of it in terms of, essentially, a book with the answers at the back, so that things that intrigue us and leave us wondering may be answered by going further into the book.

And so, it’s very, very important that when we do a study like this—and especially when we come to it, as it were, out of the blue—when we look at chapters at the beginning of the book, as we now do, we should keep in mind what we’re told towards the back of the book. And that is why earlier in the service Mac read for us from 1 John 3, and in that section the words “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”[3] Now, you may not have put that as a verse on your Christmas card, but you might legitimately do so, because this is a straightforward and vital emphasis of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is this aspect of it that is addressed here in this fifteenth verse of Genesis chapter 3.

So, let us consider three things. First of all, the context in which we discover the record of the entry of sin into the world. Because that is what we discover: the record of the entry of sin into the world. The context. Secondly, the consequences of the entry of sin into the world. And then, finally, the cure for the entry of sin into the world. So, three c’s.

The Context

First of all, then, the context. What are we dealing with when we read these opening chapters of Genesis? We’re dealing with a historical event—a historical event that determined the eternal destiny of mankind.

Before there was time, before there was anything, there was God. God made the world, he made it for his glory, and he made it to help us to know him, to love him, and to trust him.

Now, that’s quite a statement, isn’t it? You say, “Why, I never really considered it in that way.” In fact, you may even have said, “When I was at school, they told me that it was just a big mythology, and that these opening chapters were just a concept, but that they had no basis in time and in history.” Well, no, in actual fact, this is a historical event.

God has created the world. Before there was time, before there was anything, there was God. God made the world, he made it for his glory, and he made it to help us to know him, to love him, and to trust him. So if you find yourself saying, “Why do we even have a world? Why do we have a universe? What is all that we have before us?”—well, the answer that the Bible gives is that God made it to manifest his own glory in order that we then might know him, might learn to love him and to trust him.

And so, when you read the opening sections, you realize that he lit up the darkness, that he filled up the emptiness, and that he put within the context of the origins of things all that was beautiful and delightful and attractive and enjoyable. And he made Adam and Eve as his, if you like, special editions. The way in which they were fashioned was different from that all that would follow in terms of creation. You can read of that in chapter 2: first of all, in making Adam out of the dust of the earth,[4] and then of forming Eve using a rib from Adam himself.[5] They were created by him, they communed with him, and they were perfect for each other—absolutely perfect for one another, in the way in which you’re tempted to tell your spouse that he is just perfect for you. And then you confess your sins for telling lies, and acknowledging that things are not just as perfect as you had hoped.

Now, God gave them everything to enjoy—everything richly to enjoy[6]—and into the midst of all of that, he gave them one simple test. One little test. It was a test of their trust in him and of their obedience to him. And the question was essentially this: Would they believe God’s word? Would they trust God’s plan? Now, in saying that, let me give to you a phrase that I culled from my reading this week: that this is “a story which catches us up into itself.”[7] When I read that, I said, “That is a wonderful phrase.” And the reason that the writer gives it to us is because this is essentially what happens. Even just in rehearsing, for example, the test that is given to Adam and to Eve, we realize that that is the test that is given to us, that there is a foundational question that confronts each one of us this morning along the very same lines: “Will I believe God’s word? Am I prepared to trust God’s plan? Or will I believe whatever I want to believe and do whatever I choose?”

The choice, as rational beings, is granted to them in this setting. And we immediately find that this, then, gives them an opportunity to show God that they would obey him for one reason and for one reason only: not because it seemed like a really good idea but because he is God. He is God. We are accountable to God. He has designs and plans, and we must do as he says.

Now, it is in that context that the serpent—in all of that goodness, the serpent appears. The serpent is real but not ordinary. Again, at the front of the book, remember that much that is sketchy to us here is clarified as you go further back in the book. So by the time you get to the end of the book—so we go from Genesis all the way to Revelation—and we meet this same character again, now a great dragon, that “ancient serpent”—this is Revelation 12— “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”[8] Okay? So that’s what we’re dealing with here.

When we’re confronted with evil in the world, we’re not dealing with an abstract principle. The Bible does not allow us that option—the idea that somehow or another there are bad things, we don’t really know why there are bad things, whatever it might be. But the Bible says no, we’re actually dealing with a malignant, personal intelligence that is, if you like, represented in this creature, is essentially in this creature, that is behind this creature. And the strategy of the creature, the deliberate objective of the Evil One, is to hinder and, if possible, to destroy the work of God’s kingdom by every means possible. So that God has fashioned his world in all of its beauty. He has made it, and it is absolutely perfect. It is good. He pronounces it all good.[9] And then slithering into this garden comes this serpent.

Now, the origin of evil is not our concern this morning, mercifully. Because the actual origin of evil is lost—is buried, if you like—in the mystery of God himself. What we know, we can know. What we don’t know, we can leave alone.

But we learn now from the dialogue that follows—and again, I have to be selective. Notice that the serpent comes to the woman and begins a dialogue: “I have a question for you: Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any of the trees in the garden’?” Well, of course, no, he didn’t say that. But he did say, “You will certainly die.”[10] And the woman then responds in verse 2, “Well, we may eat of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it.’” Well, actually, he didn’t say that. So now she’s actually made the prohibition stronger than the actual prohibition. God said, “You mustn’t eat of it,” and she now, for whatever reason, takes it up a notch. The serpent then replies to her, said, “Well, I can tell you categorically that you will not surely die.” “You will surely die.”

Now, let’s just pause here for a moment and say, “What are we actually dealing with in this dialogue? What is the serpent seeking to do?” He’s seeking to tempt the woman to distrust God—to say, “Well, God doesn’t really know what he’s doing”—to doubt the word that God has spoken, and to question the goodness of God.

Now, just think about that in contemporary terms. If you hear a voice in your head, as it were—I don’t mean in an alarming way—but as I or my colleagues may speak concerning these things, depending on where you are on the great continuum of the journey from unbelief to belief, you may find that immediately bells are going in your head, saying, “Well, that can’t possibly be right.” And the temptation that comes is for you to distrust God who made you, who gave you the mind to reason with, to doubt his word, and at the same time to question his goodness.

You may find yourself saying, “Well, why would it be necessary to obey such an arbitrary and unreasonable prohibition?” You see, the inference on the part of the serpent is this: “God is actually depriving you of what would make life really fabulous. If you are going to be really happy and fulfilled, that happiness and that fulfillment is not going to be found within the boundaries that are now established by God, who has made you for himself. Outside of those boundaries, beyond those realms…” I remember years ago, Tweedie, a journalist in the British Isles, an article on marriage, and she says, “I sincerely hope that outwith the bounds of Christian marriage we will discover what true love is for the very first time.”[11] In other words, “If you’re gonna live within that restricted cage that God has produced for you, then good luck. But if you want to get out beyond the boundaries, you may really discover what love is all about.” Well, that’s exactly what is happening here.

And the appeal, you will notice, is to the woman’s sight; it is, if you like, an appeal to her tummy; it is an appeal to her intellect. “God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened.” Verse 6: and so “the woman saw that the tree was good for food.” In other words, her eyes were bigger than her ears. God had spoken. She heard that. But now her eyes see that. It made an appeal to her senses, if you like; it was aesthetically good. And it was “desired to make [you] wise.” So, it appealed to her intellect. It appealed to her emotions. It appealed to her design and desire for things to be the way she would like them to be. In short order, the lie of the serpent was far more appealing than the word of God. And so she ate. She ate.

And Adam ate too. She gave some to her husband. You will notice who was with her in verse 6. He was right there. He wasn’t away rearranging the daffodils or whatever she’d asked him to do, but no, he was right there beside her. So she eats as a result of the temptation, and Adam eats because he lets his wife lead him. She was tempted to do it, and he just chose to disobey God’s clear command, and he was helped in doing so by the lie that there would be no consequences. No consequences.

The lie of the devil is always the same: “I can make it possible for you to push beyond the boundaries of God’s beautiful plan, and I’ll make sure that you’re not gonna have to deal with anything.” And so Eve listens to the serpent, Adam listens to Eve, and nobody listens to God.

The Consequences

Now, we have to leave that there and go secondly, then, to the consequences of the entry of sin into the world. The serpent’s promise about their eyes being opened was only half right. Because their eyes were opened, but not to the delights of being like God, which he had said to them would be the case in verse 5—not to the delights of being like God, but their eyes are now open to an awareness of their guilt and of their shame.

You see what has happened? All of a sudden, they see themselves in an entirely different light: their eyes were opened, “and they knew that they were naked.” Well, what does that mean? Of course they knew they were naked! They didn’t just become naked. They were naked before. What is the significance of it? It is that sin changes everything—changes absolutely everything. They were now exposed. Their nakedness was simply a symbol, if you like, of their predicament before God. It was an awareness of their consciousness of guilt. They had sinned in rejecting and disobeying the will of God by doing what he had told them explicitly not to do.

The tragedy of man is not simply that we break the law of God but that we are now spoiled from all that God created us in the first instance to be.

And so, what did they do? They do what you and I do. You do what a child does: he runs and hides! “I stole it. I shouldn’t have done it. There’s gotta be somewhere in the basement I can hide—at least until I finish eating it! And once I get rid of the evidence, then I can reappear, and all will be well.” But it’s never well, because when you lie on your bed, you know, “I shouldn’t have done that. That was wrong. I lie in my bed tonight before a God before whom my tiny heart is open and from whom no secrets are ever hidden.”

That’s the issue of it, you see. Because now, with the entry of sin into the equation, all of that perfection, all of that goodness, is now impinged upon by the categorical rejection of God’s clear instruction, by their decision, their own choice, to do it their own way. Into hiding they go, sewing fig leaves together, making loincloths for themselves. It’s no surprise that this has been a focus of fun throughout all the years—fig leaves and so on. Because it is such a picture of patheticness, isn’t it? It is so unbelievable. You think you can cover it up with a fig leaf, for goodness’ sake, as if that is the issue. That’s not the issue! Your nakedness is a symbol of your guilt. It’s not that you don’t have your clothes on. The fact of the matter is, it’s a cover-up, they’re hiding behind trees, and they’ve decided that with the communion broken and with them alienated, they really have got no place to go.

What has happened here? Again, go to the back of the Bible. Romans chapter 1: “They exchanged the truth [of] God for a lie.”[12] That’s what they’ve done. That’s exactly what they’ve done: God’s truth exchanged for a lie of the devil. And they have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God.”[13] In other words, all of the transcendent beauty and holiness and loveliness that is represented in God’s creative handiwork in the garden and in their lives has now been besmirched. It has now been soiled. It has now been depleted. The tragedy of man is not simply that we break the law of God but that we are now spoiled from all that God created us in the first instance to be.

As C. S. Lewis says, “And in our attempts to fix that,” he says, “you know, we’re like children making mud pies in a puddle at the side of the street when the Creator has prepared for us a beautiful vacation at the ocean.”[14] And we try and fix our perilous condition by our own endeavors. They chose to bow to things that God had made than to bow to God himself. Beauty and intimacy are replaced with brokenness and isolation. And they are about to be banished. Before they’re banished, God comes to seek them out.

Quite wonderful, isn’t it, in verse 8? “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden [at] the cool of the day, and the man and his wife,” they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Why’d you go ahead and do that? You had communion with God. What has changed? Why can’t you just walk out and talk to God? “Well, we don’t want to talk to God. I mean, he might talk to us. And if he talks to us, he might talk to us about… stuff! Like…” This is one of the reasons why people don’t come to church—at least not to a church where the gospel is preached. Because God’ll speak to you about stuff—stuff you don’t want talked about! But he doesn’t do it out of an act of judgment. He does it out of grace and mercy. He exposes it in order that he might cover it. He reveals it in order that he might forgive it.

Do you know how many people are running around hiding in the trees of their own rebellion, trying to cover up their own shame, trying to actually cover it up in some measure with religion itself? “Maybe if I could go there, maybe if I could do this, maybe if I could attempt that, I could cover it all up.” And you lie on your bed, and you go, “This doesn’t work.” Course it doesn’t work! That’s our verse. You say, “You mean the verse you said you were gonna preach on, you haven’t even reached?” That’s the very one, yes.

God calls out to them. Isn’t it great that God calls? They are fearful in their evasiveness. They can run, but they can’t hide. The reason God calls out in this way is not because he needs information that he doesn’t have—clearly not—but in order that he might express both his justice and his love and his appeal in this day of reckoning. So it is that there is disruption and there is brokenness, and that’s where they are on account of their disobedience.

Well, why did God come as he did there? Because he’s God. You see, he still loved them, even though they disobeyed him. If that wasn’t true, what hope would any of us have? There’d be no hope! If God did not love the rebel, if God did not call out to us… He calls out these questions to Adam out of an expression of his mercy. That’s how God works.

You imagine it for the little cheating man, you know, in Luke’s Gospel, who’s hiding up the tree? Now, he goes up the tree because he’s small, but probably up the tree was the only safe place for him, given that none of his friends liked him. They couldn’t stand him. ’Cause he was a cheat, and he robbed them, and he was ashamed. And he’s up a tree. And Jesus says, “Zacchaeus?”[15] It’s fantastic, isn’t it? You see, I don’t know most of your names. God knows every one of your names. God knows every one of us, even though we are by nature rebels, even though we are by nature on the east side of Eden. And he is the God who reaches out to the disobedient.

What a strange thing that Eve should be so preoccupied with this tree. Milton, in Paradise Lost, describes her giving obeisance to the tree, bowing before the tree.[16] She who would not bow before the God who made the tree bows before the tree. That preaches. I’ll leave you to apply it for yourself: the preoccupation with the now, with the material, with ecology, with all this stuff. Yes, understood. But would you bow your knee to the God who made all this stuff? “Oh, no. Number one, I don’t believe he made it. Number two, I don’t believe he made me. Number three, I don’t believe it even matters.” You see why this is a story that catches us up into itself?

So God judges the serpent with a curse. It’s there in verse 15: “I will put enmity,” there’s gonna be conflict, “between you and the woman,” then “between your offspring and her offspring.” And then you will notice that it goes to the singular: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Who is the “he”? That’s the question. Who is the “he”? That’s why I say, the hints are here. Here’s the first hint of the one who will deal with the marauder and this malignant influence, the devil himself.

God knows every one of us, even though we are by nature rebels, even though we are by nature on the east side of Eden. And he is the God who reaches out to the disobedient.

Now, the implications—we’ll come to that as I close in just a moment—but the implications of this curse on the earth extend in the immediacy to the woman and to Adam: “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing.’” Well, are we to understand this simply as an expression of the physical pain that is involved, that we as men have no knowledge of at all? Well, probably that. But beyond that, there is greater pain in childbearing than that: bringing a child into a sinful world, watching a child grow and not knowing where he will go, how he will go, what he will mean; some of us, in the pain and sadness of the loss of children and so on. And people say, “Well, why is it that the world is this way?” It is this: the world that we know this morning is not the world the way God made it in its perfection but is the world that man has spoiled in his rebellion.

The implication is then for marriage too. That’s the significance of what he goes on to say: “You used to think you were absolutely perfect for one another. But you’re going to discover that your relationship becomes a potential battleground. It becomes an arena for self-centeredness on the part of both the husband and the wife. And Adam, you should know as well that although I gave you the job of looking after the garden, you’re about to end up as part of the garden.” That’s what he’s saying. “You’ve been sweeping up and around the garden and picking up the leaves and doing whatever needs done. Well, hey, I’ve got news for you: you will end up in the garden! You came from dust, and to dust you will return.”

This, death, is as a result of sin! The philosophers of the world have no explanation for death. They have no explanation, really, for evil at all. The philosophy that begins with time plus matter plus chance teaches us again and again that man is on his ascendancy; he’s going up from down. The Bible says, “No, he is going down from up. He was created in all of the perfection of God’s plan, and in rebellion against God’s plan, the rest follows.” And to dust we will go. Adam, the tender of the garden, becomes part of the garden.

And in terms of the conflict and the enmity between the one who will bruise the head of the serpent and the one who will bruise his heel, this, my friends, is the great conflict—the great conflict—which is, if you like, almost the underlying plotline of the whole Bible. That’s why we’ve been saying in our studies in 1 Samuel, and I think I said last Sunday, “This is not ultimately about David and Goliath. This is not actually ultimately about the Philistines and the Israelites. This is actually about God and the devil.”

You don’t have to go but turn the page in your Bible to find a fulfillment of this, when Cain kills his brother Abel.[17] The rising animosity of humanity against God’s word and God’s plan is then revealed by the time you get just a few chapters into it with a building of the Tower of Babel: “We will build a way up to God. We’ll get to God ourselves. We’ll run our own operation.”[18] It is the building of the kingdom of darkness in order to confound, if it may, the kingdom of God.

I’m not gonna take you through the whole Bible, but if you want to understand what is going on between Egypt and the bondage of God’s people in Egypt and the intervention of God in that case, in the same way that he intervened and destroyed the Tower of Babel, so he intervenes in the Passover and brings his people out, so that his line may continue. Because, you see, the whole Bible is going somewhere: it’s going to the “he.” It is going to the “he will crush your head.” And we have to get to the “he.” And the devil’s agenda is to make sure we’ll never get to the “he.” Hence Goliath v. David.[19] Hence the Babylonians against Jerusalem. Hence Nebuchadnezzar against Daniel. Hence the design of Herod to destroy all the male children under the age of two.[20] What’s he doing? Wittingly or unwittingly, he’s seeking to destroy that which God has planned so that men and women, who are banished from his garden, may be brought into the beauty and the wonder and the enjoyment of forgiveness instead of shame, of intimacy instead of alienation, in beauty instead of brokenness. That’s what’s happening.

And when Jesus steps forward and is introduced to us, what’s the very first thing that happens? The temptation in the wilderness. And what does he say to him? “I’ll give you the kingdoms of the world. Just do it my way! That’s all I’m saying. You don’t have to do all this stuff that you’ve got in your mind to do. We don’t need a cross. We don’t need a savior. You want to have the kingdoms of the world? Then let me help you with that.”[21]

Now, that’s why I say to you, here is the issue.

The Cure

And the cure. The cure is when the garden of Eden, which has been turned into a desert, eventually is turned back into a garden. You say, “Where’s that?” Bookends. Garden becomes desert. Revelation: desert becomes garden. And in the meantime, what is happening? Romans 8 tells us that all creation groans in travail, waiting for the redemption of the sons of man.[22]

So, when we talk to our friends who are concerned about these things—about global warming, about all of that—say, “You know, it’s no surprise to me that these issues go on, nor is it a surprise to me that we would be concerned, and with a measure of justification. But here’s what the Bible actually says: what is really happening, the subplot in all of this, is that the one who has come, the second Adam… The first Adam flunks it in the garden; the second Adam triumphs in the garden—the first one in the garden of Eden, the second one in the garden of Gethsemane. And in that triumph in the cross, he crushes the head of Satan. He is defeated, but he is not destroyed, for that day is yet to come when in his return he will gather all who are his own and give to each one the privilege of enjoying a world in which there is no sin, no sorrow, no cancer, no bitterness, no political wrangling—just fantastic beauty.

“Oh,” you say, “if I could get in that garden! Can you tell me how you get in the garden?” Yes. Yeah. I’m gonna stop now, but first I have to tell you this, because it’s so good.

Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who … hanged on a tree.’” The wonder of it is this: that the garden is protected so that Adam and Eve cannot get back in. Verse 24, there’s a flaming sword, the cherubim are there to make sure nothing happens, and they are turned away; they’re guarding the way to the tree for life. So, how in the world can you get in here? Well, somebody is gonna have to endure the flaming sword.

And what does Zechariah tell us? He says that God will “smite the shepherd.”[23] Who’s the shepherd? Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I give my life for the sheep.”[24] “It was the will of [God] to bruise him.”[25] “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”[26] “He was bruised for our sins. He was crushed for our iniquities.”[27] We, who have no mechanism whatsoever in ourselves to gain entry into that garden, find that as we trust in Christ, as we choose no longer to live beyond the boundaries that he has set, as we choose no longer to live in the folly of it all that says, “You know, I think if there is a God, he’s just trying to keep everything good from me. I want to be able to cheat when I want. I want to be able to sleep with anyone I want. I want to be able to do anything. I want to be free. I want to just have it all. And I don’t like that Christian stuff and that restrictive stuff.” And so, the choice that he gave them, which gave them the freedom to choose, was the thing that brought them into the predicament.

You say, “Well, okay. It’s time for you to stop.” Okay, I’m gonna stop. But I’ve had a song going through my head. There’s a prize for anybody who knows what this song is. But you have to be honest afterwards. I’m not calling it out right now. But there has been a song in my head for the entire week. In fact, you could actually argue that I should have preached from this song rather than this passage, because it would have been easier to preach from this song than this passage. Someone said, “Amen.” But, okay.

Fifty years ago, a little less, a little more, August 8. August 8, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, the Manson Family murder Sharon Tate and four of her friends. Two days later in Los Feliz, they take out a married couple. Meanwhile, 2,300 miles away, in upstate New York, everything is in motion for a festival of peace and love: Woodstock. The anthem of Woodstock was written by somebody who was not at Woodstock—namely, Joni Mitchell. And Joni Mitchell was on The Dick Cavett Show, and that prevented her from being at Woodstock. That shows you how long ago fifty years is. Her friends Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, they told her all about it. She sat then and wrote the song which begins,

I came upon a child of God,
And he was walking along the road,
And I asked him, “Where are you going?”
And this he told me.

“I’m going on down to Yasgur’s Farm.
I’m gonna join a rock and roll band.
I’m going to camp out on the land.
I’m going to try and get my soul free.
I’m going to try and get my soul free.”

Then can I walk beside you?
I’ve come here to lose the smog,
And I feel to be a cog in something turning,

And maybe it’s just the time of year,
Or maybe it’s the time of man;
I don’t know who I am.

Okay? “I gotta get my soul free. I feel like I’m a cog in something turning. I don’t know who I am.”

But I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky,
And they were turning into butterflies.[28]

Of course! “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”[29] We understand this. And what’s the refrain?

We are stardust,
Billion-year-old carbon.
We are golden,
Caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we’ve gotta get ourselves
Back to the garden.
We’ve gotta get ourselves
Back to the garden.[30]

The tragedy of that is that the longing, you see—the longing of their hearts—to this point, at least, has not been met by the discovery of the one who has opened the way back into the garden.

And if you talk to people who are lovers of the song, you get this kind of response: it is “a song of hope and positivity, a celebration of a generation whose dreams still seemed to reside within the realm of possibility. Even now, after all we—and the world—[has] been through, the sense of optimism and change for the better shines through its words and [its] melod[ies].”[31]

Well, I don’t know. I choose to disagree. All the optimism of half a century ago has been completely overwhelmed by fifty years that has revealed again to us what happens when we choose a lie over the truth, when we choose to break the boundaries of God’s plan, when we choose to reject the only one who has the key, who is the key, who opens the door back into the garden.

I wonder, are you confident today that when God comes to us in all power and glory in the person of Jesus, that you will be included in that company—and only because you came to him and you said, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit it. It’s not my heredity. It’s not my spouse. It’s not my circumstances. It’s just me. I am ashamed. I’m naked. I’ve been hiding too long. And I thank you for coming to find me, and I want to love you and trust you and follow you.”

Well, I leave it with you.

Father, thank you. Thank you for the clarity of the Bible. Any confusion is all our doing. Thank you that Jesus has come, that there is a Redeemer, and that one day, when the day of reckoning is over and when all the matters have been settled, then we will praise your glorious grace. Oh, that “love divine” about which we sang earlier in the service, the love that excels every other love, “joy of heav’n to earth come down.” And so we pray, “Fix in us your humble dwelling,”[32] please. For your Son’s sake. Amen.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] Oscar Hammerstein II, “Do-Re-Mi,” The Sound of Music (1959).

[3] 1 John 3:8 (ESV).

[4] See Genesis 2:7.

[5] See Genesis 2:21–22.

[6] See 1 Timothy 6:17.

[7] David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1–11: The Dawn of Creation, The Bible Speaks Today (Downs Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1990), 53.

[8] Revelation 12:9 (ESV).

[9] See Genesis 1:31.

[10] Genesis 2:17 (paraphrased).

[11] Jill Tweedie, “When Marriage Is Just a Cage,” The Guardian, 1976. Paraphrased.

[12] Romans 1:25 (ESV).

[13] Romans 1:23 (ESV).

[14] C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (1949; repr., New York: HarperOne, 2001), 26. Paraphrased.

[15] See Luke 19:1–10.

[16] John Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. 9, lines 795–96.

[17] See Genesis 4:1–16.

[18] See Genesis 11:1–9.

[19] See 1 Samuel 17:1–54.

[20] See Matthew 2:16.

[21] See Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13.

[22] See Romans 8:21–22.

[23] Zechariah 13:7 (KJV).

[24] John 10:14–15 (paraphrased).

[25] Isaiah 53:10 (RSV).

[26] Isaiah 53:4 (ESV).

[27] Isaiah 53:5 (paraphrased).

[28] Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” (1969). Lyrics lightly altered.

[29] John Lennon, “Give Peace a Chance” (1969).

[30] Mitchell, “Woodstock.” Lyrics lightly altered.

[31] Jeff Tamarkin, “Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’: Behind the Song,” Best Classic Bands,

[32] Charles Wesley, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (1747). Language modernized.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.