Last week we began a new Easter sermon series entitled “No Pain – No Gain: Why Easter Matters”. And we started off illustrating the principle of no pain – no gain as we talked about how our muscles grow. We had Jake & Micah up here straining their muscles as we talked about how it takes the pain of tearing those muscle fibers in our bodies order for our bodies to repair the damage and make the muscles stronger than they were before. That’s how muscles grow.
But our purpose wasn’t to talk about body-building. There is a spiritual truth that we wanted to discover. Somehow all this talk of straining our muscles in order to grow strong, somehow that ties in with the meaning of Easter – believe it or not. And though we haven’t fully laid that all out yet, last Sunday we tried to define the gain that we’re talking about in this catch phrase “no pain, no gain”.
Of course, we’re not trying to gain muscles in this instance, but rather the gain that we’re after is something that every person on the planet wants – it’s that sense of deep, inner satisfaction in life that seems so elusive for so many of us.
We talked about how Solomon tried to find satisfaction in all kinds of ways. He looked for satisfaction in wealth, power, hard work, women, pleasure – but he found it all to be meaningless. Nothing gave him true, lasting satisfaction.
The Rolling Stones echoed that sentiment. They couldn’t get no satisfaction either – even though they tried and they tried and they tried and they tried. They just couldn’t get no satisfaction.
And I think most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves – would have to agree that money, fame, pleasure, power and all those things we chase after – while they may be pretty exciting for awhile – none of them give us deep, lasting satisfaction.
And we got a hint of why that is in Ecclesiastes 3:11 – which says..
[God] has planted eternity in the human heart. Ecclesiastes 3:11
In other words, there is this built-in awareness that there is more to life than the here and now. We exist for a much more significant purpose than to just gather wealth, power, and prestige for the 80 years we live on this planet.
God has created within each of us with a deep inner longing to fulfill out our eternal purpose. And until we discover and live out that purpose, every person on earth has this inner feeling that something is missing in their life. And all of us try to find that missing thing just like Solomon did. We chase wealth, power, pleasure, control, or whatever else that we think will fill that need… But something is always lacking. Like the Rolling Stones lament, we can’t get no satisfaction in those things. Because true satisfaction is only found when fulfill our eternal purpose.
And the Bible tells us that we are created and designed to be connected with our Creator – to have a genuine, loving relationship with Him. That’s what we’re created for. That’s our eternal purpose – to be unconditionally loved, to be accepted and embraced by our Creator, and to live in loving community with Him. That’s our purpose. That’s when we find real, lasting satisfaction.
This is the only thing worth gaining. Because everything else is temporary. We compared our life to the game of monopoly – when the game is over, it all goes back in the box. When our life here on earth is over, none of our wealth, the pleasure we’ve enjoyed, or our great achievements – none of that matters. All that matters then, is our relationship with our Creator.
And we closed last Sunday with a good news/bad news. The good news of course, is that God wants us to find satisfaction. He’s not out out trying to make your life miserable or difficult – but He wants you to find ultimate satisfaction in Him. He wants you to have true joy and delight – not just temporary pleasure. It pains God to see us settle for just a few fleeting moments of fun and pleasure here on earth – while missing out on an eternity of joy and delight with Him.
And that leads us into the bad news. And we didn’t have the time to talk about this last week, but talk about it we must.
Even though life with God is what we are created for and we simply cannot find satisfaction in any other way – most people will never know that satisfaction. By default, there is a barrier that keeps us from that satisfaction. It’s not an impassible barrier, (as we’re going to find out next week) – but it is the one thing that keeps us from fully realizing the satisfaction and joy and delight that God created us for.
So to understand this barrier that keeps us from the satisfaction that we were created to enjoy, I want to take us right back to the beginning of time – back before this barrier existed.
The Bible opens with a brief account of Creation. We certainly don’t get all the details, but it includes enough to give us a vivid picture of what life on earth was like for the very first humans – who were of course, Adam & Eve.
Throughout the creation process, as God creates one thing and then another, we see this repeated comment in the first chapter of Genesis. It seems that whenever God creates something new, we see this line:
“And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 24
Five times we read this in chapter one. And then after creating man in his own image, we hear it one more time, but just a little different this time.
31 “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” Genesis 1:31
This fact that God created a good world is repeated 6 times in the first chapter of Genesis. That kind of repetition kinda makes you think that maybe its an important detail.
It’s pretty clear that God intended mankind to live in a very good world. Chapter two tells us how God placed the man in a beautiful garden that was filled with beautiful fruit trees full of delicious things to eat.
Even if you’re not an outdoorsy type, you can imagine and appreciate what a beautiful place that would have been. I’ve been to a lot of awesome places in my life – from old growth forests and different botanical gardens and beautiful parks and remote mountain peaks and the beaches of Australia – there are a lot of beautiful places out there. So I imagine that this garden, handcraft by God Himself – would have been absolutely awesome!
And in this beautiful garden, God had this wondrous variety of animals. You’ll remember that God brought all the animals to the man – one by one – to see what the man would called each one. That was like man’s first job – naming all these crazy looking, wonderful creatures of every kind – giraffes, monkeys, fuzzy caterpillars, little turtles, flamingos, lions, bears… I wonder how long that process was – as Adam spent days or weeks or months just hanging out with God and the animals – observing all the unique characteristics of each one? That would have been pretty awesome too.
But of course, there was no companion among the animals for Adam, and so God created Eve to be Adam’s partner and the Bible says she was just right for him. She complimented him perfectly. They were the perfect team. Can you imagine the joy and satisfaction in that first marriage? Not only are they enjoying God’s amazing Creation together, sharing each new and wonderful moment – like a newly wed couple on their honeymoon in some tropical paradise – but they were in perfect harmony together. To this point, they didn’t even know what selfishness was! They lived for the joy and the delight of the other person. It was a marriage without discord – without hurt feelings, without conflict. It would have been amazing. Together, they were to multiply, fill the earth, and have dominion over everything that God created.
And so the picture that the Bible is painting for us here is that Adam & Eve had everything they could have wanted. Their every need was met – not just their physical needs, but even all their deepest emotional and spiritual needs were met as well. We read that quote from Dr. Henry Cloud last week:
“Our deepest need is to belong, to be in a relationship, to have a spiritual and emotional “home”. ~ Dr. Henry Cloud
Adam & Eve had all those things. I’m sure they felt completely “at home” both physically in the garden – and also relationally with each other and with God. They were absolutely open and honest with each other and they knew they were unconditionally loved and accepted. In fact Genesis 2:25 tells us
25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. Genesis 2:25
They had a perfect relationship with each other – they literally had nothing to hide – they had no secrets – no resentment, no shame. And that had that same kind of relationship with God as well – no secrets – no resentment, no shame. They were living life exactly how God intended them to live – in community with God and with each other in perfect harmony. In fact, I believe they were the only human beings who have ever experienced true satisfaction on earth.
But of course, it didn’t stay that way forever. You know the rest of the story too. God, in making mankind in his own image, created man with the ability to make choices. Man could choose to submit to the authority of God, or man could choose to rebel against God’s authority and do things his own way.
And by the way, every one of us has that choice. We can choose to live under the authority of God, or we can choose to do things our own way. However, it important to note, that even if we choose to rebel against God’s authority – that doesn’t change the fact that God still is the authority. We can choose to ignore him, pretend he doesn’t exist, or flat out reject his instructions and commands for how he wants us to live, but at the end of the day, we are still his Creations – and He is still God. He is our authority and our rebellion doesn’t change that fact.
Rebelling against God’s authority doesn’t put you in the place of authority – it might seem like it for awhile as you do whatever it is that you want to do – but the fact remains that God is still the authority and choosing to rebel against Him will lead to consequences.
And God points that out in his instructions to Adam in Genesis 2:15-17. It says…
15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17
In essence, God told Adam, you have choice. You can follow my instructions and freely eat from any tree but one – or you can reject my instructions and eat from that one forbidden tree. But if you do, you are sure to die.
Adam was free to make that choice – but God clearly warned him, if you do, you are sure to die.
And I don’t think God says that as a threat or as even as a promised punishment – but He’s telling Adam that death is the natural consequence, (of not just eating the fruit) but its the natural consequence of rebelling against God’s authority.
And this is the bad news that I was talking about because each one of us, somewhere along the way in our life (or many times along the way in our life) we have made the choice to rebel against God’s authority and to do things our own way – and as a result, we too, are sure to die.
And I want to pause here for a second because I think we get stuck on this phrase ‘we are sure to die.” We’ve heard this language in church many times before – this idea that sin (which is rebelling against God’s authority) leads to death.
We often hear verses like Romans 6:23
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
or James 1:15 which says:
15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. James 1:15
There’s the repeated theme throughout the Bible that sin leads to death. But we have a hard time buying into that because, as we typical north Americans understand it, sin is not what leads to death. Most North Americans would say that cancer leads to death or heart failure leads to death or car accidents lead to death or whatever else we come up with. But its not sin that leads to death. You never see that in any autopsy – cause of death: sin. It’s not how it works.
Even as we reflect on our own lives – I know that I’ve sure sinned a lot – but here I am – still breathing, standing in front of of you.
And in fact, if you know the story of Adam & Eve – when they did choose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, nobody keeled over and died like you’d expect if sin truly did lead to death. Adam actually went on and lived to be 930 years old! That connection between sin and dying seems pretty week.
But to understand these verses and to understand God’s promised consequence to Adam that he would surely die, we need to have a better understanding of death. Our North American understanding of death distorts the meaning of these passages.
In our culture today, death is generally viewed as the end of one’s life. It’s like our life is a timeline – at one end we are born, and at the other end, we die. Life is the middle part. Death is when we reach the end.
That makes pretty good sense, right? Most of you are tracking with me. Well, the Biblical understanding of death is a little different.
I found an article on a Jewish website that give a good explanation on how death is understood in the Bible. Let me read for you a brief quote.
“Life is the integration of soul and body—the self and its physical vehicle—into a single entity. Death is the dissolution of body and soul into two separate entities—a separation of the spiritual self from that which was once a vehicle to that self.” ~ How Jews Approach Death – www.chabad.org
So in other words, life is when your soul and your body are together as one – it’s one unified unit – soul and body. Together they function as one person.
Death is when your soul is separated from your body. That connection that your soul and body once had is now broken. There is no communication between the two. The body lays there lifeless and the soul has no more interaction with the physical world.
So to go back to our string illustration, death isn’t seen simply as an end or a conclusion to someone’s existence. It’s not the final point on the timeline – rather, it’s a separation. It’s where two parts that were once integrated – that were together as one, are now separated from one another. They are two separate entities disconnected from one another.
And it’s this concept of death or separation that the Bible speaks about when it talks about how sin leads to death. Sin leads to separation – it leads to having two parts that were designed to be together, now being separated or disconnected from each other.
And this is exactly what we see happening in the garden when Adam & Eve first chose to disobey God – when they rebelled against his authority and choose to do things their own way.
Let me read you a few verse from Genesis 3 where Adam & Eve choose to disobey God, and as we read, watch for all the ways that death or separation is occurring. We’ll start at verse 6.
6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.
Remember that perfect togetherness that Adam & Eve once enjoyed? Where they had nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of – they were perfectly comfortable in each other’s presence. Not any longer. We immediately see the first signs of death. Adam & Eve lost that togetherness and separation began. They felt shame in each other’s presence and they felt the need to create these fig leaf coverings. Maybe that seems like a small thing, but I think it’s very telling of the separation that has occurred. And it continues in verse 8.
8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.
9 Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”
Not only did Adam & Eve lose their togetherness – we also see that loss of togetherness with God. Where they once had an unbroken, intimate relationship with God, now they are afraid of God – they hide from Him in shame. There’s clearly separation there too. Let me read just a little more:
11 “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”
12 The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”
So much for harmony and unity. Adam takes the blame and he places it squarely on the Eve. He’s certainly not protecting her or looking out for her interests anymore. Selfishness has entered the world and Adam is thinking only about himself. And no doubt that causes hurt and anger and resentment between Adam and Eve.
And we probably miss how shattering that moment was as they lost that perfect harmony and joy and delight with each other, and it was replaced with hurt, anger and resentment.
It was just as God had promised. Adam & Eve sinned and they surely died.
Not in the physical sense yet (although that death was set in motion as well in that moment) – but what God had designed to be together – to be one – was torn apart and Adam & Eve were separated from one another and they were separated from God.
From that moment forwards, mankind would have that deep inner sense that something is missing. Something is not right. We were not designed for death. We were designed for life. Life together with each other and life together with God.
Having wealth does not restore that connection. Having popularity does not restore that connection. Having pleasure does not restore that connection.
As long as sin is present in our lives, we will experience death. We will experience separation from both people and from God. And everyone of us knows exactly what that’s like. We’ve felt the effects of sin. We’ve felt guilt, anger, loneliness, betrayal, jealousy, hate, hurt, bitterness, resentment… And the list could go on and on.
Sin is the barrier that keeps us from satisfaction. Sin is what keeps us from enjoying the life that God created us to live.
But there is good news.
Like I said last week, the good news is that God wants us to find satisfaction. He wants us to experience life – not death. He wants us to experience the unity and harmony and perfect relationships that were possible before sin enter the equation. And so God made a way to undo the damage that was done – a way to restore us to life.
And we’re going to talk more about that next week, but I’ll give you another couple teasers verses before we dismiss. I don’t want to send you home with just the bad news. The first verse I’ll share is the same one I ended with last week. It’s John 14:6.
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:6
Jesus is the way to be reconnected to God. He is the life. He’s the opposite of death. Death separates. Jesus reconnects. In fact, in John 11:25 we read:
25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. John 11:25
Jesus reverses the effects of death. He brings life – he brings that reconnection between us & God and between us and one another.
At kids club this week, Greg taught the kids a new word – reconciliation. Do any kids here remember what it meant? To be friends again. “To restore friendly relations”
That’s what Jesus does. He un-separates us. He undoes the damage of sin and death. He restores and and brings life. He brings unity and connection between us and God.
Let me give you just one more teaser and then we’ll close. It’s from John 17:3.
And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. John 17:3
Eternal life is’t a timeline – it’s the state of being connected to God. Eternal life isn’t just existing forever. Eternal life is knowing God and being in harmony and unity with Him forever.
And I’m going to stop here – I’ve said too much already! I’ve got to save some of this good stuff for next week.
But I hope that despite all the bad news today and our talk of death, that in that, you’ve come to have a better understanding of what death actually is – and on the flip side of that, what Life actually is. And next week, as we continue our theme of no pain, no gain – we’re going to spend some time talking about exactly how we gain life through the pain that Jesus went through for us.