Sermon: The Red Thread of Salvation

[This sermon was originally preached on Sunday, February 21, 2016 as part of a series of  Community Lenten Evening Services between rural RCA and PCA churches in our area.]

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is the story of God bringing about salvation. Jesus would rightly claim that the whole of the Law and the Prophets, the whole Old Testament was written about him. All of Scripture, the whole trajectory of history, points to Jesus Christ. Woven through the intricate tapestry of Holy Scripture is the red thread of salvation. It is this red thread of salvation, this conviction that the whole of scripture points to salvation in Christ alone by grace alone to the glory of God alone that animate our time together in these community lenten evening services. We will take the opportunity to listen and study God’s word together in order to highlight just a few of the stitches of that red thread. We will be looking to see how it all points to Jesus. And to get us into the right frame of mind tonight, I want to consider these words from 2 Timothy, chapter three:

“if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 3:13)

The red thread of salvation cannot be seen clearly without God’s faithfulness in the face of our faithlessness. So throughout our time together tonight, when you hear me say, “if we are faithless,” I want to invite you to respond, “he remains faithful.” Do you think we can do that?

If we are faithless, he remains faithful.

Excellent.

If we are faithless, he remains faithful.

Our journey begins at the beginning, in Genesis 1. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,

    in the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

    for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;

    with painful labor you will give birth to children.

Your desire will be for your husband,

    and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

    through painful toil you will eat food from it

    all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

    you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

    since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

    and to dust you will return.”

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

If we are faithless, he remains faithful.

At the outset of Scripture, God’s goodness is on full display. In the opening chapter of Genesis, We see the intricacy and poetry of the days of creation. God’s word bringing life into being, shape where there was formlessness, and filling what was empty. Plants, Fish, birds, seas, livestock, sea monsters, and creepy-crawley’s. The gracious audacity that God would make mankind in his image, place his stamp upon us.

In the second chapter, we see the intimacy of God’s creation. Forming a man out of the dust, breathing into his nostrils. Give him a home and work. Making the woman and placing the man in this beautiful partnership known as marriage. The first human words recorded are poetry, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man.” We can almost hear the wonder and amazement in his voice and the woman who stands before him.

We are told that Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

But then things began to fall apart. The serpent’s deception and the disobedience of the woman and her husband rippled like an earthquake through the fabric of creation leaving ruins, cracks, and devastation. Biting into the fruit left guilt, shame, and misguided desire as an indelible mark upon them and all who followed them – all they ruled over and all people who lived after them.

Both eyes wide open, they hastily cover themselves with fig leaves and hide at the sound of God walking in the garden.

Things fall apart. But it is here, lying in the ruins of a broken creation, with Adam and his wife hiding in the bushes, that the red thread of salvation first makes its appearance.

For if we are faithless, he remains faithful.

In the brief time we have left together, I want to highlight just two stitches of that red thread. There are many more in just this passage alone, but we only have time for two this evening. The first is in verses 8 and 9 of chapter 3:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” God seeks Adam and Eve where they are hiding. God seeks them where they are lost. With makeshift coverings, Adam and his wife flee from the presence of the Lord, but the Lord God calls out to them, “Where are you?”

God seeks the lost. He doesn’t destroy them on the spot, doesn’t banish them immediately from the garden, God seeks them, calls out to them, like the Father of the lost son running out to meet him, God seeks us where we hide.

God seeks us when we hide behind our makeshift clothes hoping that no one will notice how lost we feel or how much we are hurting. God seeks us when we hide behind the blue light of the computer screen late at night, God seeks us when we hide behind our relentless work ethic, when we hide behind our bitterness and judgment, when we hide behind even our service as a way of keeping God at arm’s length.

God sees us covered in our fig leaves and hiding in the bushes of our lives, desperately trying to hold it all together and he says, “Where are you?” He calls us out of hiding into his presence. The same God who called Adam and Eve out of hiding is the same God who came in the flesh and called out to sinners, who ate with them, who came ‘to seek and save the lost.’ It begins already in Genesis. God seeks and saves the lost, even us.

For when we are faithless, he remains faithful.

And the second stitch I want to highlight for us tonight is simply this, verse 21: The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Adam and Eve needed clothes. They tried themselves, but no matter how many fig leaves they sewed together it wasn’t enough. Instead, God clothed them. And it says that he clothed them with garments of skin. Garments of skin – something had to die in order for them to be clothed. Blood had to be shed for Adam and Eve to stand clothed in the presence of God. Does that sound familiar? “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Romans 13:14) or “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”

Something had to die in order for us to stand before the throne of God. No matter how many fig leaves we try to string together, no matter how fancy we try to make our clothes or how hard we work to cover ourselves up, we need to be clothed by God, in the righteousness of his Son to stand before the throne.

Someone did die that we might be clothed. Someone did die that we might stand righteous before God. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the World.

For if we are faithless, he remains faithful.

Already in the opening chapters of Genesis, we grab hold of the red thread of salvation. We see a God who seeks the lost in his creation, calling out wherever we are hidden, “Where are you?” and we see a God who clothes Adam and Eve at the cost of the blood of another, foreshadowing the blood of Christ and his righteousness that will clothe all the elect.

May we ever cling to the promise of Christ, for if we are faithless, he remains faithful.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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