1st Sunday in Lent 4 Significant Days: “The Problem: Dust in the Garden”
February 21, 2021 Genesis 3:19
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
One of our church-body’s pastors, who is also a professor at our St.Louis Seminary,
did some study on the various events & teaching that Jesus did in just the last week of His life & ministry in the flesh. So, we’re going to think about some of those things during our Sundays in Lent. In the Lutheran church, it is part of our good history that we observe the Lenten season, which is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. And just so you know, the Sundays in Lent are not counted in that number ‘40’.
So, Rv.Dr.GlenThomas observed something about Holy Week: We know what happened on Palm Sunday, and then later on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, & Easter Sunday.
But *what happened on that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week? Well, what happened was /some significant actions of Jesus, /and some significant teachings, /AND some significant confrontation with the religious leaders.
Dr.Thomas suggests there are 4 significant days which lead up to ‘the big three’, = thurs/fri/& sun. So, we’ll look at those 4 days. Now, some of you might be thinking that something doesn’t add-up. Between Palm Sunday and MThurs are mon/tue/wed, 3 days; and our theme is ‘4 significant days’. That’s because we’re going to begin with a noteworthy day that is outside of that Holy Week; that’s how we get the number 4.
And now, from the bulletin sermon title, you can see where we will start. We begin with a particular day back in the paradise Garden of Eden, where there is a significant problem. And because of a terrible temptation, decision, & action of the 2 first people, it was -sadly-
the last day in the Garden; for anyone = ever. That’s significant.
Four days ago, we observed the 2nd most somber day on the Church calendar:
Ash Wednesday; 2nd only to Good Friday, of course. Ash Wednesday is the day when we remember, with real physical dirty ashes, that we are dust; and because of our sin, we will return to dust. The use of /dust, /ashes, /sackcloth /& tearing of clothes are a few historic & special things used by God’s faithful people to acknowledge their wretched sinfulness, and their sincere, humble repentance before God.
In these NT times, we’ve used the symbol of ashes in the form of a cross on our foreheads; and it’s applied with the words: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ The ashes signify our dirty sin, the cross signifies our trust in the Savior who has taken away our sins, and when we wash that ashen cross off, we are being reminded of our gracious Baptism = the gift of God by which we are cleansed & washed & renewed in the world’s Savior – Jesus.
Those ashes & those words carry a lot of Biblical, spiritual weight. They take us all the way back to a most significant & tragic day in human history; the day that is the cause of the grueling rescue mission of God for us, which is our focus during Lent. So, to ponder our problem, we go back to Genesis 3:19 for that direct quote from the mouth of the Lord:
“You Are Dust, and to Dust You Shall Return.”
The beginning of the book of Genesis is really marvelous. It answers all of the main philosophical questions of life: *where did we come from, / what are we doing here, / who’s behind it all? Mankind flounders around for an explanation because he doesn’t listen to The Creator and His Word; but man’s soul yearns for answers, so he makes something up.
Ignoring the fact that God is in the picture, man imagines that everything that exists was always here & always will be; that -at some point- there was a macro or micro evolutionary ‘big bang’ which started this world’s life-clock. It just ‘happened by chance’ (they say); and over billions of years & billions of changes, life just ‘happened’ by many lucky coincidences, …and, here we are. Man is so foolish, and so wrong.
Our Creating God did not want us to guess. He has told us plainly & simply what we needed to know; and our life-questions have His own marvelous answers. In Genesis chpt.1, God’s describes for us the big picture of our wondrous beginning, which took Him just 7 natural-days-time. That was not hard for the Almighty God to do. He spoke; His words are creating words.
In chpt.2, God talks about day 6, & describes the way He formed & brought to life His most important creature, ‘man’ = male & female He created them; the only creature with His own image of soul & understanding; a true, eternal living being = different than all the other creatures. God also describes with more detail about their special home.
It was a unique garden paradise, where humans would enjoy their lives, with each other, & their offspring, and especially a complete daily relationship with their Creator. Amazing! Everything was ‘very good’, said God; which means ‘perfect.’
And then in Chpt.3, we come to that fateful Day. We are introduced to a creature described as ‘crafty’, and that doesn’t mean he was good at ‘crafts’; he is sneaky & deceitful. We learn elsewhere in the Bible that it is ‘satan’, a rebellious & disobedient angel, which God kicked out of heaven & condemned. It seems that God sent him down to the earth, perhaps to test the ‘free will’ of man. So, satan tempted, and Adam & Eve both failed the test; they disbelieved God’s word, & disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.” Immediately, their spiritual relationship with God died. God comes to them to hold them accountable, and pronounces the other consequences for their sin.
On that day, DEATH had now become a defining part of this once-perfect creation, just as God said it would if they disobeyed Him. Their guilt was shown in hiding & naked shame; their life was now marred by pain, struggle, & sweaty labor for survival; just as it would be for all their offspring. Their now-sinful human-nature would be passed on to their children, & to all humans = including you. Since then, no human has ‘free will’; our wills are born enslaved to sin, bent to disobey, and subject to physical & spiritual eternal death.
And this is when God speaks those haunting words of Gen.3:19. Addressing Adam =and every human being since Adam= God said two things: “You are dust,” which recalls God’s wondrous & perfect formation of humans from the dust of the ground. And God said, “to dust you shall return”, which confirms the truth of the result of Adam’s sin, which applies to all sinners. Sin results in death & decay. And because Adam & Eve were ‘the primary creature’, their sin has affected ALL of creation; not just all humans, but sin also affects all things on earth, AND even all things in the heavens. Those words of God are for the whole universe: ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
In the beginning, there was no death; there was perfect creatures with the perfect God. There was to be no end to that perfect relationship & living. Sin broke that holy spiritual relationship with God. God is life; apart from Him, there’s only death. This teaches us about the fulness of who man was to be; a human-being is both physical & spiritual.
Man cannot be only one or the other; we are both body & soul; it’s what we ARE. When the one was ruined, so was the other. Physical death & decay is the sign that there is also spiritual death & separation from God. And since God is perfectly holy, whatever is unholy, & spiritually stained cannot be with Him. On that terrible day, Adam & Eve cut themselves off from their good & loving Creator. This death of the spiritual part of man,
is included when God spoke those words: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
To make sure they understood this invisible, spiritual-part of death, God removed Adam & Eve from that Garden paradise; so they could no longer see God, or physically walk with Him as they once did. Their sin had caused that day to be THE LAST DAY in the Garden.
Their excuses didn’t matter, & complaining didn’t change the facts. If God didn’t present a solution for them, there was nothing they could do, and there would be -absolutely- no hope. That was their significant problem.
Fortunately, God did not hide this information & history from us; otherwise, we would have death, decay & eternal separation without any warning or explanation as to why our life & this world is this way. Without His Word we would be as ignorant as dumb cattle going to physical & eternal slaughter, without a clue why. It’s good that God told us, because humans like to have information like that. Other creatures are not aware of our lives like we are.
Unfortunately, we don’t like that ‘bad news’; so…. just like Adam & Eve, we’re tempted to not listen to God. Yet, His word is true: as offspring of sinful original parents, you & I are conceived & born facing that same problem as Adam. As the HSp writes thru Paul in Romans 5, “Therefore, . . . sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
That makes those words first spoken to Adam valid for US: “Remember that YOU are dust, and to dust YOU shall return.” This makes the reality of death an uncomfortable fact in our lives, which we must face, both physically and spiritually. Our minds would prefer not to ponder death, but our souls know we have to. When God uses the word ‘remember’, it’s not because we are ‘forgetful’, but because our old natures want to ignore the fact that we will one day return to dust. And even tho we see death in the world around us every day, it’s something that happens to someone else, not to us.
We want to think that the way to fully ‘live’ is to avoid thinking about death. That’s part of our significant problem. When we ignore the reality of our death, what it is & where it originated, we are avoiding the only solution to it. That’s why our Creator said ‘remember’. He means: remember what I have said: you were once wonderful & perfect dust. But that was spiritually ruined; and now the only way I can get your full attention is the visible fact that ‘to dust you shall return.’
And this is how much our Creator loves you & me: He reminds us. Only then will we admit our sin, and how it has ruined this life; this is how He draws us back to Him for that living relationship. Without knowing Him, the time we have on earth is like a countdown to death which leads to more death. That’s not much of a real life. BUT with Him, hearing His truths, our time on earth is not trapped by that countdown. This Christian faith begins our new life.
Even tho we face the shadow of death, we have His promise to go from this life with Him to the next life with Him; from faith to sight. To convince us of this, our Creator Himself came to earth to show us how this promise could be true. That even tho we now walk thru the valley of the shadow of death, it’s without fear; for like a Good Shepherd, He is with us, and will return us to that Garden paradise. Even now, He restores our souls, tho our body is wasting away. He has begun to make us fully human again, with a living soul which will pass thru death & into life, and with the promise of physical resurrection for this body.
This promise was also given in Gen.3 on that Last Day in the Garden when all humans began to have this significant problem. Four verses before God spoke to Adam about ‘remembering dust’, God declared to Satan that there was a countdown for him, too. God was going to send His Chosen One to crush Satan’s tempting, evil power over mankind. It would take time, but God would not forget that we are dust; and He would remember to send The Son of God as the solution for our problem.
That promise is why we begin our look at the other 3 significant days of Holy Week way back at Genesis chapt.3 and that Last Day in the Garden. This is the reason Jesus arrived and did the work that He did. Our problem and God’s solution is why Jesus came to gather up all the world’s sin and take it to the cross, and was forsaken by His Father in YOUR place = that was our spiritual penalty.
He then took our physical penalty too, as His body gave out & dies, and He is placed in the tomb. ‘Dust He was, and to dust He would return.’ And, if He was only a man, He would’ve stayed dead. Except for the other promise that is true because of Jesus: the promise of the physical resurrection unto eternal life.
On Easter, the 3rd Day, all our problems of that Last Day in the Garden were solved.
Jesus said, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ In Jesus we have seen what true life is. We live with God now by trusting His promises & living by His teachings until this body gives-out. That’s His solution to death. That’s why Jesus could say to that thief on the cross next to Him, ‘today you will be with Me in paradise.’
Think of how these truths & promises change your life right now. As we live with Him now, death is not the end; it IS a big change, but not the end. He was here, and brought life & immortality to light; and He is coming back to bring us the Endless Day. These are all the things God teaches us and brings to mind when, on Ash Wednesday each year, His words of Genesis 3:19 are spoken with a cross of ashes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Remember that your Creator loves you with a love that went to the cross & to the grave for you. Remember that your Savior has not ‘left you in the dust’, & has not left us with our significant problem. Jesus is risen, and has conquered our death; He lives & reigns & will return. And that will be the final Significant Day.