The Seventh Sunday After Trinity
Before Marjorie and I moved to Broken Arrow we lived in Durango. Before Durango we lived in Houston.
In my last couple of weeks in Houston I got together with various friends of long standing. One of them, named Harry, was a retired pastor and Bible college professor who was by this time teaching three classes at the Southern Baptist megachurch he and his wife Sharon attend.
Harry was railing against the sad state of biblical literacy of the people in the pews. Teaching the Book of Acts, he reached chapter 11 and began class that day by asking, by way of review, in what chapter the Holy Spirit first appears. Blank stares.
Well, in what chapter is the church formed? More blank stares.
The answer to both questions, as Harry knew as well as he knows the rapture is coming, is ch. 2. But is it? Is the account of Pentecost in Acts 2 the story of the formation of the church?
I thought back on my oral exam for ordination to the priesthood. Archdeacon Payne, my examiner on church history, asked when the church began. “At Pentecost,” I said.
Are you sure?
Uh oh. Apparently not. “Well,” I said, “I guess you could say it began in Jeremiah 31, when God proclaims the New Covenant He would establish with His people.”
Are you sure?
Now I’m beginning to sweat. And trying not to squirm. “Well,” I said, “I guess you could say it began in Genesis 3:15, when God says the Seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent.”
The next voice you will hear is that of my examiner for pastoral theology, Bp. Grote:
“Works for me.”
“Whew! Me, too.”
By the way, I did pass.
So, contrary to what my friend Harry and maybe you and, not long ago, I, might say, the church did not begin at Pentecost. It began when God ordained, in Genesis 3 immediately after the fall, that the seed of the serpent would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman but the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the seed of the serpent.
Here beginneth the story of our redemption.
The location of this new beginning shouts the glad tidings of God’s immeasurable grace. No sooner have Adam and Eve succumbed to the devil’s blandishments and committed the first sins than God declares the way of salvation.
They have spat upon His love and introduced evil into the paradise of innocence in which He placed them . . . and His response is forgiveness. What unimaginable mercy!
But we must not leap over the dreadful curse to proceed to the happy news of grace. God had put them on notice as to the consequence of sin. It cannot go unpunished, for God, ignoring sin, would deny His holy nature.
“For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
The serpent will grovel in the dirt, detested by all, until at last the woman’s Seed annihilates him. The woman, having usurped the authority of her husband, will now struggle under his headship. No longer are they “one flesh” in the same sense as before their rebellion.
And childbirth now will involve pain. Under God’s mandate to be fruitful and multiply, the woman’s primary role is to bring children into the world. Now it entails a high cost.
The man – “because you have heeded the voice of your wife,” rather than instructing her – will labor mightily to fulfill his main role, providing for his family, in the face of a hostile creation.
A fallen man cannot rule an unfallen world. Worst of all, they are expelled from the garden, where God dwells. Having shattered God’s trust, they have forsaken communion with Him. Separation from the Father is death.
And death is the wages of sin. We must never minimize the weight of sin. Because of it, the entire creation is corrupted. We pass the sin nature on to our children, who pass it on to their children.
Some maintain the sins they commit behind closed doors affect no one but themselves. Bilge wash! Their sins color their thinking, their acting, their interactions with husbands, wives, parents, siblings, children. Sins contaminate us . . . and beget more sins.
Beloved, we as Anglicans, as heirs of the tradition of prayer book spirituality, enjoy a great blessing much of the church in our place and time has discarded. The daily office and the Holy Communion liturgies keep the horror of our sins constantly before us.
And we must have it front and center because to diminish the seriousness of sin is to diminish our need of salvation and the horrific price our Savior paid to redeem us from its penalty. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) until our Lord intervened for us on His cross.
Our sins are grievous . . . but God . . . but God . . . but God . . . Look at what God has done. Adam and Eve, suddenly shamed by the nakedness that had been their glory, try to hide – knowing all the while that God will find them.
They have covered their parts with fig leaves. We try to do the same. Our fig leaves are our good works, by which we attempt to justify ourselves before our Maker.
God supplies animal skins. Man cannot cover himself. Like our first parents, we enter into salvation only when we cast aside our fig leaves and put on the garments God provides.
Those garments were procured at the cost of a life. There is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). An innocent creature, perhaps a lamb, surrendered his life that Adam and Eve might be covered.
An innocent Creator, the Lamb of God, offered His life that we might be covered.
Sin stripped naked not only Adam’s and Eve’s bodies but also their souls. God said they are now
“like us,” knowing good and evil. They now know cancer as a cancer patient knows it. God knows cancer as a surgeon knows it.
God supplies covering for both body and soul. At the judgment, we will all stand naked before God, as our first parents once did, and He will finally and fully cover us with the robe of salvation.
With God, even punishment often conceals a blessing. Adam and Eve must bear their sins in their flesh for as long as they live. If they had remained in the garden they would have continued to eat the fruit of the tree of life – and lived forever in their sinful state.
Sometimes I think hell must be a place of repeating one’s vile acts of this life everlastingly. Nauseated by them, revolted by them, maimed and crippled by them, he is condemned to them, to wallowing in the evil of which he would not repent.
For those who do, even God’s judgment delivers His grace. Adam and Eve accepted it and escaped an eternity lived out in the wretchedness of their sinful flesh.
There’s a story about a highly regarded English artist of the 19th century, Sir Edward C. Burne-Jones. He went to his daughter’s house for tea. During his visit, his little granddaughter misbehaved and her mother sentenced her to stand in the corner with her face to the wall.
Sir Edward did not interfere. The next day, however, he arrived at the house with his paints. He went to that wall of shame where his granddaughter had served her penance and painted several scenes to delight a little girl – a kitten chasing its tail, lambs in a field, goldfish swimming about.
If she had to endure further judgment, it would at least be leavened by grace.
The Seed of the woman is our grace. The best commentary on our verse about the beginning of the church, Genesis 3:15, is St. John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
If you’ve ever wondered why the Old Testament includes so many endless genealogies, the answer lies in large measure in preserving a record of the ancestry of Jesus Christ, the Seed of the woman.
After Adam and Eve, this Seed passes to Abel, but Cain slays Abel, and the next son, Seth, becomes the conduit. And Eve knows it. She says:
“God has appointed me another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed” (Genesis 4:28).
When rampant wickedness covers the world and God condemns it by His great flood, the Seed passes through the God-ordained survivor Noah.
After men conspire to wrest control of the world away from God at the Tower of Babel, God confuses their languages and scatters them – and designates Abraham as Seed-bearer.
In the ancient world, a king often appointed eunuchs as attendants in the royal harem and in particular to the queen. His aim was to ensure that when a baby boy appeared he carried the royal blood.
Abraham twice jeopardized the purity of his line. In each case, a foreign king coveted his beautiful wife Sarah and Abraham, fearing for his skin, claimed she was his sister and agreed. Both times, God intervened to protect the succession.
But an older and wiser and more faithful Abraham passed an even sterner test. After siring Isaac at age 100, he trusted in God’s promise that he would be the father of a multitude and prepared to sacrifice the only son of his covenanted marriage on an altar before God again intervened.
It is the faith demonstrated in this willingness that is reckoned to him as righteousness.
Isaac follows in his father’s grave error by representing his wife Rebekah as his sister, and for the same reason. Again, God steps in.
Isaac endangers the succession once more when he tries to confer the blessing on his son Esau rather than God’s choice, Esau’s twin brother Jacob. In the end, Isaac submits to God’s will and passes the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant on to Jacob.
Jacob seeks to bestow the blessing on Joseph, the son of his favored wife Rachel. By God’s providence it alights instead on Judah, one of the sons of Leah, the wife Jacob does not love.
Is he not a curious choice? All of them are sinners, of course, but Judah comes in for special condemnation for his sin with his daughter-in-law Tamar. He evades his responsibility to provide for her following her husbands’ deaths and then, when she disguises herself as a harlot, he “goes in” to her.
His half-brother Joseph would seem a far better choice. Noble Joseph maintains his faith and serves his God year-after-year in a dungeon to which he was consigned for a crime he did not commit.
When he is finally freed and exalted to a high station in Egypt he forgives his brothers who have sold him into slavery and provids lavishly for them when a famine drives them from their home.
I would have chosen Joseph as the next vessel to carry the Seed of the woman. But God didn’t. Instead of Joseph, who spurned the advances of a married woman, He anoints Judah, who wallowed in sexual sin. And so it is that we know Jesus Christ as the Lion of Judah. God’s ways must remain mysterious to us.
Judah is hardly the only colorful character in the royal line. Three gentile women show up in the New Testament genealogy. Tamar is one of them. Rahab, a full-time harlot, is another. And the third is gentle, loyal Ruth, the Moabitess.
Their presence teaches two important lessons. One is that God uses and blesses sinners. When Jesus comes, in fact, He will make sinners His special friends, consorting with them rather than the high and mighty.
The other lesson is that God had included gentiles in His perfect plan of salvation from the beginning. Had He not told Abraham at the outset that his descendants, as numerous as grains of sand on the seashore, would carry the blessing of knowing God to all the nations?
It is to the Israelites’ shame that most among Abraham’s descendants coveted the blessing for themselves and refused to share it. Jonah balks mightily when God orders him to Nineveh to proclaim the truth of Yahweh to the Assyrians.
He goes only after God uses a fish to pluck him from the ocean and, having delivered the message and led many to repentance, Jonah sits and sulks over having been so used.
It is to the Israelites’ everlasting perdition that so many believed their status as sons of Abraham conferred a sort of carte blanche salvation on them. As St. Paul will explain, it is those who share Abraham’s faith, not his blood, who are his true heirs and enter into the promise of redemption.
The seed travels through a notorious sinner in Judah’s line, a fellow named David. He commits adultery and then murder to cover up his first crime . . . and is later called “a man after God’s own heart.”
If impeccability — perfect sinlessness — were the qualification for salvation, only Three would dwell in heaven. Not purity of character but confession and repentance mark him as God’s man, and no less you and me.
The Old Testament identifies the Seed of the woman as prophet, priest and king – a prophet like Moses, a priest like Melchizedek and a king like David. He would be both human and divine – human to appear as Seed of the woman, divine to fulfill the prophecies:
From Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6).
And from Micah:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (5:2).
For the Seed to be both God and man, to be born without the sin nature which is passed through the father, His must be a supernatural event. Back to Isaiah:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (7:14).
And while He would be a mighty King He must also be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy:
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (53:5-7).
The New Testament shows us Jesus Christ, born a Jew, born of a woman, and a virgin at that. He is prophet, priest and king: He is Suffering Servant, He is the promised Seed of the woman who will crush Satan’s head. Paul writes to the Galatians:
“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘and to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (3:16).
And so, when did the church begin? Way back then, when God launched His program to save all of the faithful sons of Abraham, both those who looked forward to the cross and those like us who look back to it.
Man’s sin never thwarts the will of God. Will you not rejoice? Amen.
Posted on: July 21, 2016Ed Fowler