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First Things First; How the World Came to Be - 4. Every Tree But One: Why Freedom Isn't Free

First Things First – How the World Came to Be

4. Every Tree But One: Why Freedom Isn't Free

Genesis 2: 4 - 17

What is freedom? One person says that freedom is the right to get drunk every weekend. Someone else - means doing whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. To another man - sleeping with as many women as possible. Someone - means making money, living the good life, and having a blast while you do it.

What is freedom? Is it really about money, sex and power? Lots of people seem to think so. But that concept of freedom is dead wrong. Freedom is not the right to do what you want; it’s the power to do what you should. That power comes only from God.

The world says - man can be successful without God. The Bible says - without God, life isn’t worth living. The man of the world pushes God to the side and builds his castles in the sand. The Bible reminds us that sandcastles don’t last very long because the tide comes in sooner or later and washes them all away.

Restless World, Restless People

The world says “It takes a man to make a man.” The Bible says “It takes God to make a man.” Can anyone truly be free? Yes, those whom the Son sets free are free indeed. Everyone else is a slave whether they know it or not. They are slaves to their own passions, to the prevailing cultural trends and to their own unfulfilled desires. Some are enslaved to money - do anything to have more of it. Some are slaves to sexual passion - will indulge every wild fantasy. Many are slaves to fashion, popularity, and the search for power, prestige and worldly fame. Many are desperate for a meaningful relationship and will trade anything for it. Augustine - our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. The world is filled with restless people who chase after things they can never find, and if they find them, they are not satisfied.

Genesis 2 gives us the secret of true freedom. We were made for God and without him we will not, we cannot, find happiness, fulfillment and freedom. Our text is about Adam but God is the main character. He formed man, placed him in the garden, gave him his orders and also gave him one important warning. Soon he will give him a wife. Later he will judge the 2 of them for their sin. So who is this story about? It’s Adam on one level; on a deeper level, it’s all about God. He is in complete charge here. Nothing happens outside his control.

Genesis 1 gives us a “wide-angle” view of creation. We start with “in the beginning” and we end up 7 days later with the universe perfectly formed. Genesis 2 gives us a “zoom” view of the events of Day 6 when Adam and Eve were created. Moses narrows the focus from creation in general to just 1 man—Adam—he wants to show us the beginning of the human race. So Moses lays out the big picture and then he begins to concentrate on the central details of the unfolding drama. With that we turn now to the story of Adam’s creation by the hand of God.

1. Adam’s Creation v. 4 - 7

This is one long sentence in Hebrew. The focus narrows to one spot on planet earth and to just one man - Adam. Evidently the climactic conditions were radically different before Adam and Eve sinned. When the Bible says that “no shrub” and “no plant” had yet appeared, it refers to cultivated plants that required personal care to bring them to harvest. Instead of rain, a gentle mist rose from the ground and watered the entire earth.

The Hebrew word for man is adam and the Hebrew word for ground is adamah. God said, “He will be called Earthling because he is taken from the earth.” We were made from the dust and to the dust we will one day return. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Little boy asked his mother if it was true that we come from dust and will return to dust. “Yes, sweetheart, it’s true,” she told him. “Mom, I just looked under my bed and saw a pile of dust. I think it’s a man but I can’t tell if he’s coming or going.”

When you work it out today’s market prices, the total worth of the human body comes to about R50. That’s all we are. Water and dirt.

Dirt-Man!

Psalm 103: 14 God “knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” No one is made out of super-dust. We’re all made from the same chunk of dirt. So here is Adam—the first Dirt-Man. He can’t stand, move, talk, sing, feel, think or remember. He can’t do anything because he’s not alive yet. God bends over and breathes into his nostrils the “breath of life.” Adam opens his eyes, looks around, stands up, and sees the world God has made for him. He gets his body from the earth; but his life comes from God.

Your value does not lie in your body or in the things you do with your body. Your value comes from the life God gave you. Apart from the “breath of life,” you wouldn’t survive even 1 second. If God should remove his hand from you, you would cease to exist and your body would quickly return to the dust. We like to boast of what we have done. We brag of our achievements. But what is your life? It is a vapour that appears for a moment and then vanishes. We are here today and gone tomorrow. The life we have comes from God and he can take it back any time he wishes.

2. Adam’s Location v. 8 - 14

The Garden of Eden is a real place that once existed on the earth. We don’t know the exact location - it was destroyed in the flood of Noah. We know that it was east of Israel, in Mesopotamia - includes much of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait. It was a vast area in which God planted a garden.

The text is clear about the incredible natural beauty and fertility of the garden. It was a lush region filled with fruit trees of every variety. A mighty river flowed out of the garden and divided into 4 smaller rivers—2 are unknown to us and 2 still exist—the Tigris and the Euphrates. In the garden there was beauty, peace and perfect harmony between the plants, the animals and God. It is a picture of perfection. No disease, no pain, no suffering, no death.

Please understand—there was nothing wrong with the garden as God created it. Adam was placed in a perfect environment. It’s not as if it’s a good garden but they still needed to sort out a few things. God placed Adam in paradise and gave him a choice.

If we’re not happy with what happens next, don’t blame God. He created the world and gave us paradise. We turned it into a rubbish dump. This puts to rest the popular idea that a bad environment causes crime and if we could just clean up the slums, people would stop doing drugs, stop killing each other and stop robbing. That’s foolish because it says that the basic problem of life is what is on the outside, so just improve our surroundings and we’ll act nicer. Here’s a man with no sin nature who is placed in a perfect environment and still chooses to sin. The problem isn’t out there somewhere, the problem is deep inside every human heart. We sin because we are sinners. We kill because we harbour murderous rage and selfish desires. We rob, steal and rape because something has gone wrong inside us. Until that “something” is fixed, changing our scenery will never change our basic nature.

You can take some people, send them to Business School, give them important jobs, and pay them millions of rand. What do you get? Eskom, SABC, SAA. It’s not the environment.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am in favour of those who have much helping those who have little. We ought to be concerned about the fact that most of the people in our country and in the world live in conditions far worse than we do. It is good, right and biblical to show compassion to the needy. But do not be deceived into thinking that sin is merely an “environmental” problem. It’s not. Sin is a problem of the human heart. Until we solve the sin problem, crime will be with us even if we all have 6 figure salaries, big homes and 3 cars.

Adam had no reason to complain against God. He has everything he needs. Soon he will have a wife perfectly suited to him as a friend, lover and helpmate. The only thing God requires is obedience. All the fruit of all the trees—every tree but one—belongs to him. How could he throw it all away? Remember this when your life is messed up: God didn’t mess it up. You did. God offered you paradise and you said, “No thanks!” Now you wonder why you are in the wilderness. It was your own foolish choices.

3. Adam’s Probation v. 15 - 17

Having placed Adam in the garden, he gives him 3 commands: Cultivate it. Guard it. Don’t Eat from One Tree. Adam was given the responsibility to cultivate the garden by planting crops. This is the beginning of agriculture. It shows us that work is part of God’s plan for us. Work is not part of the curse; the toil, sweat and struggle that we feel, that’s part of the curse. But even in paradise, Adam was given a job to do.

God never appointed anyone to sit around all day doing nothing. Work is good and part of what it means to be fully human. That’s why when we are out of work, we feel abnormal, out of place and unsure of ourselves. That’s perfectly normal. God created us with a natural desire to use our gifts to make the world a better place.

God said, “Eat from any tree. Eat from all of them except one particular tree—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You can eat a pear, an apple, an orange or a grapefruit. If you want a fruit cocktail, you can have it. How about some fresh coconut milk? Just climb the tree, pick one and drink till you are full. Go ahead. Eat from any of the trees. Eat as much as you like whenever you like. But remember this. There is one tree you must avoid. If you eat the fruit of that tree, you will certainly die.”

God is Not a Cosmic Killjoy

That’s not a hard command to understand? It’s not exactly restrictive. It would have taken Adam years to sample all the trees. The point is important because sometimes unbelievers act like God is a cosmic killjoy, looking for every opportunity to squeeze the joy out of life. But God’s prohibition is a sign of his love. If a mother says to her young child, “Sweetheart, don’t drink that poison. If you do, you’ll die.” Is that being unfair or unkind? No, the commandment is given in love. If she loves her child, she will warn him. If she doesn’t warn him of potential danger, she doesn’t really love him. It’s the same way with the Lord. He warns us - not to cramp our style - but to save us from needless suffering.

I imagine Adam listened carefully and nodded when he heard the warning. He probably even agreed with the Lord that it would be foolish to eat from the one forbidden tree when there were so many others available. You know the rest of the story. The serpent entered, tempted Eve, she was deceived, she ate, she gave the fruit to Adam, he ate, and rebellion became a way of life for the human race. It’s almost as if he couldn’t wait. The very first time he is tempted, he gives in without even putting up a fight. Ever since then we’ve all been born with a hankering for forbidden fruit. We’re born craving the fruit that leads to death. We eat it and can’t seem to get enough of it. That’s why the world is so messed up. We demanded our freedom. When we got it, it killed us.

Adam was saying to God, “I don’t need you to tell me what to do. I’m can handle life on my own. God, you don’t matter. I’m the centre of my own universe.” The serpent still says, “Go ahead, it’s okay. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. If you like it, take it. If you don’t like it, forget it. Don’t let your parents, your friends, your boss or anyone else—not even God!—tell you what to do.”

This is the warning from God: “Live in obedience to me and you will be blessed. Ignore me and life won’t work right and eventually you will die.” There is one way and only one way to be happy and fulfilled: Live under God’s control. Stop doing your own thing. Put down your weapons. Stop fighting your Creator. Until we submit, we will never be happy. He sets before us a banquet—all of life—and says, “Enjoy what I have given you. But do not attempt to live without me. You won’t make it. Don’t think you can survive without me.” He offers life—but we must take it on his terms.

That leads to some very personal questions for each of us. How long will we insist on having our own way? Are we still fighting against the God who made us? Are we ready to bow before him or must the fight go on a little longer? Have we crowned Jesus as Saviour and Lord of our lives? Are we willing to live on God’s terms or do we still think we can make up our own rules?

Son of the Dust, do you know where you are going? Do you think you are going to live forever? Do you think you are never going to die? How wrong you are. From the dust you came, to the dust you shall return. What will happen to you then?

Our only hope is in the Lord. From the dust we come; to the dust we shall return. But through Jesus we can live forever. May God help us to trust in him and find salvation that takes us from the dust of earth to the glory of heaven.

Prayer – “Our Father, how much we need the truth of your Word to teach us our true condition. Without you we are but little clumps of dirt. Forgive us for thinking we were ever anything else. Truly we are here today, gone tomorrow and after that, so quickly are we forgotten. Thank you for Jesus who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Lord Jesus, we crown you King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Amen.”

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