Decisions, Decisions: “Will You Give In?”


Dr. Jim Somerville


Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7


Sermon Transcript

Bulletin PDF



First Baptist Richmond, February 26, 2023

The First Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Welcome to the First Sunday in Lent, and to the beginning of a sermon series called, “Decisions, Decisions.”[i]  In my notes to the worship planning team I wrote, “Each of the Old Testament lessons [in this season] presents us with a choice, a fork in the road, a need to decide. So much of life is like that, isn’t it? But few decisions are as important as the ones these texts demand. If we can learn to make these, the rest should be easy.” And so, with a little fear and trembling, let us turn from the well-thumbed pages of the New Testament to the first few pages of the Old Testament, where we find an explosion of creative activity. 

For some time now I have believed that Genesis 1 could function as a call to worship for the entire Bible.  It’s very poetic.  It has the kind of rhythm and structure that lends itself to such a thing.  God says, “Let there be light,” and then there is light, and God sees that it is good.  So, maybe you could help me.  I’ll be the leader and do the hard part, but when I give you the signal you say, “And God saw that it was good.”  Got it?  Here we go:

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light.”

And God saw that it was good.” 

But that was only the first day.

Then God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters, and it was so.  God called the dome Sky.” 

And God saw that it was good.” 

That was the second day.

Then God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”  And it was so.  God called the land earth and the waters he called seas.  He caused a profusion of vegetation to spring forth from the earth; plants yielding seed and fruit trees of every kind.

And God saw that it was good.”

That was the third day.

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the sky to separate the day from the night!” And so God made the sun and the moon and the stars to keep them company,

And God saw that it was good.”

That was the fourth day.

Then God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”  And it was so.  And God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and that’s what they did. 

And God saw that it was good.” 

That was the fifth day.

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image,
            in the image of God he created them;
            male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

And God saw that it was good.”

Only this time the Bible says, “It was very good.”  That was the sixth day, and on the seventh day God rested. 

It makes a pretty good call to worship, doesn’t it?  It’s poetic.  But in chapter 2 the poet steps off the stage and the storyteller takes his place, and his version of creation is a little different.  He says, “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up, the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man stood up, a living being.  And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” 

I often say that Jesus was working to bring heaven to earth, but he seems to have gotten the idea from his Father, who took that big, empty field described at the beginning of chapter 2 and turned it into the Garden of Eden, into Paradise, into Heaven on Earth.  And he put the man that he had made smack-dab in the middle of it, and gave him the responsibility of tending it and keeping it.  Not a bad job, right?  Keeper of Paradise?  And the Lord said, “You may freely 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 die.”

And so, apparently, the man worked in the garden, and ate of its fruit, and in so many ways it was heaven on earth.  But in one way it was not.  The Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  And so, out of the ground, the Lord formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and he brought them to the man to name them, and whatever the man called them, that was their name.  But there wasn’t found among them a suitable helper for the man, so the Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping the Lord took a rib from his side, and fashioned it into a woman, and brought her to the man.  And when he woke up from his sleep and saw her he was delighted and said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  I will call her woman, because she was taken out of man.”  It is for this reason, the storyteller explains, that a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves unto his wife and the two become one flesh.  And the man and his wife were naked, and they were not ashamed.

And then the storyteller steps off the stage and the preacher takes his place.  He begins chapter 3 by saying, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.”  And let me just point out that this serpent is not the Devil.  The text never says that.  It simply says that he is one of the wild animals that the Lord God made.  But it does say that he is crafty.  He is a sneaky snake.  And in this part of the story he slithers along a branch and says to the woman, “Did God say you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?”  She said, “No, we can eat from every tree in the garden.  Well, except one.  We can’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden.  God told us that if we eat from that tree, or even touch it, we will surely die.”  But the serpent said, “You won’t 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.” 

Decisions, decisions.

For years now I have believed that the tree in question was not an apple tree, but a fig tree, because I used to have one in my yard in North Carolina, and when the fruit was ripe I could not resist the temptation.  The figs were soft, and plump, and warm, and sweet.  But there is no fruit so tempting as the idea that you could be like God.  To be fair to the serpent, he didn’t say that the woman would be like God in every way.  He only said she would be like God in her capacity for knowing good and evil, but I’m not sure she even heard that part.  She had been able to resist temptation as long as it was only a fruit tree.  There were plenty of those in the Garden.  But when she heard that its fruit would make her like God she took another look.  She began to see that tree in a whole new way.  

It’s the same for us.  None of us wants to be “the Lord God Almighty”; that’s too much responsibility.  But we do want to be the god of our own lives.  We don’t want anyone else telling us what to do.  Some theologians call this event in the Garden “Original Sin.”  I don’t know how original it is.  I often tell people that if it hadn’t been Eve it would have been me.  It’s not especially original but it is perennial; it comes around again and again; this temptation to be the god of our own lives, to call the shots and suffer the consequences, whatever they may be.  But often those consequences are disastrous.  How many stories do we have to hear, how many movies do we have to see, about someone who tried to do it their way and ended up in a body cast, or worse?  We human beings are not good at this.  We don’t make wise choices.  Often we don’t even seem to have our own best interests at heart. 

So, turn with me to the pages of the New Testament for a different and better model.  Turn with me to Matthew 4:1-11 where Jesus is, in fact, being tempted by the Devil.  He has been fasting in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.  He is famished.  And that’s when the Tempter comes to him and says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Which sounds like a really good idea.  If you were famished, and you had the power to turn hot, smooth, desert stones into warm, crusty, loaves of bread, wouldn’t you do it?  But here’s the difference between Jesus and most of us: Jesus doesn’t even pause to consider that option.  Believing that God and God alone has his best interests at heart Jesus simply obeys the word of the Lord.  Quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy he says to the Devil, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 

Meanwhile, back in the Garden, what some theologians refer to as “the Fall” began to take place almost in slow motion.  Listen to the verbs: convinced by the serpent that she would not die the woman looked at the tree; she saw that it was a delight to the eyes, and that it was to be desired to make one wise; she took of its fruit and ate, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  And what the serpent had said turned out to be entirely true: in the moment they ate of the fruit they knew the difference between good and evil, because up until that moment they had never done an evil thing, but afterward they had.  Their eyes were opened, and they saw that they were naked, and for the first time in their lives they were ashamed. 

Do you know how it is when you are tempted to do something, and you struggle against it for a while but finally give in to the temptation and do it?  Whatever it is, when it’s over, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?  Aren’t you filled with remorse?  Can’t you see that it was so not worth it?  I think that’s how this man and this woman must have felt, still wiping the juice of forbidden fruit from their chins, when they saw themselves as they really were.  It wasn’t their nakedness that was the problem, it was them.  They wanted to cover themselves up.  But no matter how many fig leaves they used they couldn’t get away from God.  When he came to the Garden in the cool of the evening they hid in the shadows, hoping he wouldn’t find them. 

Things were so different than they had been in those earlier, innocent days, when God would come to the Garden, and call their names, and they would come running, delighted to hear his voice, eager to see him.  Again, those of you who have had some experience with sin know what I’m talking about.  When you do that thing your mother told you not to do it affects your relationship with her.  Only the day before she had been your best friend, and you had been making cookies together in the kitchen.  Now you hide in your room, wretched, hoping she won’t knock on the door.  Is there any way out of that mess?  Well, yes, and that is to not get into it in the first place. 

Think about it like this: there is a time when are able to make a decision, when you still have the power to do so.  But there is a time when you lose that power, when the temptation becomes so strong that giving in feels almost inevitable.  “Might as well get it over with,” you think.  But the way to resist temptation is to not walk down that street in the first place.  I don’t know what it is you might be trying to resist, but if you’ve had any experience with it you know: giving in doesn’t make you feel better, it makes you feel worse.  So, while you can still make a decision, make it.  When you’re still feeling strong enough to walk away, do it.  Save yourself from the shame of giving in, so that when God calls your name in the Garden,

You can run out to meet him.

—Jim Somerville © 2023

[i] Suggested by my friend Amy K. Butler, former Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in New York City and still a member of the annual sermon planning retreat we call “Preacher Camp.”