In the beginning there was as a tree, and concerning that tree there was a Word from God. This simple act of a particular tree combined with the Word of God established in its most basic, primal form the Church of God. Instead of large stained-glass windows, its branches stretched out toward the heavens. Of course, it is not just any tree, it is the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” And it is not just any old Word, and neither a description of the tree’s beauty or distinctive markings, nor a history of the tree’s existence, how it came to be and why God had placed it there. No, it is a command, a simple command given to humanity in the very beginning. God said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the Garden, but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” In the keeping of this command there was worship. In avoiding of this particular tree there was faithfulness to the Word of God. So, here in the beginning was the Church. Praises were sung by not eating. By steering clear of that tree, paradise remained and the perfect beauty of the creation of God seemed endless. But, as we know full well, paradise was lost.
It is a fascinating story, the arrival of Satan in the form of a serpent. The ancient accuser and tempter of the people of God enters into paradise to attack the one thing which held everything together. The focus of the serpent’s attack is on the Word of God itself. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Is that really what the Word was? Is this really the command? And the woman gives a faithful reply. “Oh, we can eat of any of the trees of the Garden, except that one in the middle. That we may not eat, neither shall we touch it, lest we die.” Here we see how our first parents conducted their worship service. Not only did they not eat of the fruit of that tree, but they also made sure to never even touch it. To honor the Tree was to treat it with the proper reverence. But the serpent does not relent, “You will not surely die.” He says, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And then something happens. The woman looks at the Tree and for the first time she longs for it, she desires to be wise, to be like God, to know good and evil. In a way, before she even takes a bite of the fruit the damage is done, for she doubts the Word of God.
This seed of doubt leads to the rebellion, to the eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fall into sin was a rebellion upward. Man and woman take and eat and aspire to climb heavenward, to be like God. And the serpent did not lie, not exactly, for their eyes are opened and what they see for the first time is their own shame. They see their nakedness. They see how exposed they are. Immediately they set about covering their shame. They do what they can to hide the evil they committed. They sew fig leaves together, a vain attempt to cover their sin, but their hiding has just begun, for they hear the sound of God moving in the Garden. Their Creator has come into His own creation, but they have destroyed the Church. They had disobeyed their God. They have perverted their worship, so they hide themselves.
God’s first words are marked by love and concern. Instead of being pointed with anger and rage, they seem to drip with sorrow and pain. There is no shouting, no thunderous damnation from the throne, but it is a crushing word non-the-less. “Where are you?” He asks. Never before had they hidden from their Creator. Never before had they run in fear at His arrival. “Where are you?” And what does Adam say? He says, “I heard the sound of you in the Garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Paradise slips away as sin, shame, nakedness, and fear come front and center.
Yet, this question asked in Eden can be asked of us here today: Where are you? I mean, you are here, you are in church, but you have a unique ability to create your own coverings, your own places of hiding before your God. Some of you hide by playing a part, by putting on your smiling face and greeting your brothers and sisters in Christ with the illusion that you are in control. You put all your energy into keeping up the charade. You do not dare allow the Word of God to get too close, for it might pull it all down. Some hide in their own sense of righteousness. You mark your own good works as worthy of praise and distinction among one another. You hide in your own delusion that you are worthy of the blessings of God, so you stand above the Word of God, choosing which parts are applicable to you and which parts you are going to set aside. You hide in your own works just enough so you do not have to actually take up your cross and follow Him. And some hide in their knowledge and understanding. They hide in the confidence of their own abilities and use them to keep the commands of God at a safe distance.
But not today. Today, God calls out and asks, “Where are you?” Why are you hiding? Why are you afraid? What have you done? It turns out He will not leave you alone. He will not allow you to remain hidden away in the garments of your own creation. No, He continues to speak His Word into a now broken and torn creation. God says to Adam and Eve in the Garden, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Then we watch the blame game spread around. It was the woman, Lord. She gave me the fruit and I ate. And the woman says it was the serpent who deceived her and so she ate. But no one is going to get out of this unscathed. Sin must be judged and, as a result, their transgression brings curses.
The serpent is cursed among all the animals of the earth and God places enmity, war between the offspring of the Devil and the offspring of the woman. This curse is felt among us each and every day. We cannot get away from it. It is the cause of our continual desire to hide from our God. The old evil foe continues to tempt you, to applaud your sin and shame, and lead you into rebellion against the Word of God. The relationship between the woman and her own children is cursed. There will be pain. There will be heartache and sorrow which will mark this relationship from here on out. The relationship between man and woman is likewise cursed. A perfect helpmate is now marked by desire and power struggles. The relationship between the man and the ground from which he was taken is also broken and one’s vocation becomes a means of suffering. Death now becomes a reality.
But in the goodness of our God, the Word He speaks is not just law and condemnation, but a Word of Gospel and life. These curses come with promises of hope. Even the entrance of pain, death, and sorrow will not come without the hope of life and salvation. For just as the promise of enmity is established between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman, so too there is the promise that one born of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. There will be a battle. There will be wounds on both sides, but it will not be equal. This promise has been called the first Gospel. It is the promise which is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ. Here God again enters into His broken and torn garden. He bears the burden of the curses and smashes the head of Satan by bearing all his accusations. He defeats the old foe by standing in your place and robs him of his victory.
Adam holds tight to this promise. This Word from God establishes the new Church, the Church we are still a part of today. He takes ahold of His bride and gives her a new name, a name fitting the promise of God. He calls her Eve, which means life, for she will be the mother of all the living. A Savior will come, a deliverer is promised. And then notice what God does. He clothes them, not with fig leaves but with the skins of animals. Blood was spilled to hide their shame, to cover their nakedness, a fitting foreshadowing of what will come on the cross of Calvary. And this, you see, is where you are found. When God calls out, “Where are you?” you can reply, “Right here, hiding not in my works, or wisdom, or spirituality, but hiding in the blood of the Lamb, covered in the righteous garments of Christ our Lord.” Here God finds you, dressed and ready for paradise restored.