So let’s set the stage. This whole study was premised off an encounter I had where someone asked me what the book was about, pointing at my Bible. And so that set me out on a journey or the story, on a search to come up with a way to answer that question. So when we talk about the Bible, we talk about it as a story. And what we mean by that is even though it has lots of different literature and lots of different subplots, lots of different characters—written over generations, if not centuries, by several different authors in three different languages—we believe that it does, in fact, present to us a comprehensive story with a beginning and an end and a narrative that arcs through all of those various pieces.
Reading the Bible as a story, we’re arguing, as a complete and comprehensive narrative then, gives us a framework whereby we can begin to understand how the parts of the Bible fit together within this great overarching narrative. So typically, what we do in our own devotional lives, and in church, is we consider passages or individual words or individual ideas, and that’s very good. We will continue to do that. But what we’re saying is that those passages—every passage, every story, every book—every truth that’s presented is presented as a part of a whole. And the question is, What is that whole? What is that story? When we use the word story, we’re entering into kind of the language that’s often talked about, some— here’s the phrase—metanarrative, some great sense of what was in the beginning, what’s happening now, what’s going to happen in the future, what’s God’s role in that, what’s my role in that, where do I find myself in this great narrative?
And so the Bible makes the audacious claim that it doesn’t just tell a story of human history, but it tells the story because it tells the story of the one true God. And every week we’ve said the same thing because I don’t think we can emphasize it enough. That was an audacious claim made by the biblical authors from Genesis through Revelation. It was audacious because the worlds within which, the cultures within which, the Bible was composed, the authors, the human authors who composed the text all were highly pluralistic. They lived in pluralistic contexts. So we talk about our pluralism today with world religions being somewhat geographically, but now less geographically, defined: people of other faiths coming together and being asked to interact and live alongside one another as a pluralistic world. The Bible makes today, just as it did hundreds if not thousands of years ago, the audacious claim that it is the story of the one true God. This claim is offensive to many and one that, as we interact with others, we need to be aware is offensive to many.
So what kind of a story is it? Well, we would be tempted to say it’s the story of God, and it is, of course. You hear, you read in the Scripture who God is, what He’s about in the world. His character is revealed. Some would argue His heart is revealed as well. More than that though . . . not more than that, alongside of that, we would say it’s also a story about humanity. It tells us what happens at the very beginning of the creation of humans; and it tells us what happens at the end of human existence, so to speak, or the end of this world as we know it. Most of the Bible is very human in nature. The Bible is not a PG story. At places it’s a PG-13 or an R-rated story at best. It is a story that sometimes makes us cringe. It’s a story that causes us to ask hard questions because it reveals to us how God engages humanity. And so that’s what we’re going to say about the Bible. It’s the story of God’s engagement in all of human history and all of human destiny.
So if somebody asks you tomorrow when you’re on the train or when you’re in a public place and you’re reading your Bible, “What’s that book about?” a very quick, I think, an accurate answer is, “It’s the story of God’s engagement in all of human history and all of human destiny.” We’re going to say that when you pick up your Bible, you’re not just picking up a collection of ideas about God, and you’re not just picking up a collection of tips of how to have a happy life. When you read your Bible, you are holding in your hand (or looking at your screen), you are looking at and engaging the one true story of God’s engagement in human history and human destiny. That’ll get a conversation started, won’t it, if you use that and begin to engage another.
But we’re going to say that this engagement is very definite. It’s an engagement of redemption. And we’re going to quote an author by the name of Chris Wright and say “mission is what the Bible is all about. It is God. It is the story of God’s redemptive mission.” Our focus today is this idea of redemption. We’ll go into it in much greater depth. But God’s redemptive mission indicates that the world isn’t yet what God intended it to be, and so God has to intervene. It’s the story of how God rescues and restores humanity to what He intended them to experience. That’s what we’ll call redemption.
We’ve talked about, and we’ll use throughout, a fivefold thematic understanding of this great story. We talk about the beginning as the creation of all things. We looked at that last week in some depth. And then we see at the very end of the story in Revelation 21:1–22:5 a re-creation where God says, “Behold, I make all things new.” And so something had to happen between the original creation, as it’s described in Genesis 1 and 2, and this need to re-create in Revelation 21 and 22. What happened in between the creation and the promised re-creation? And so last week we looked at the idea, or every week we’ve emphasized the idea, that there was a rebellion on the part of humanity, sometimes called the fall of humanity; and God’s response to human rebellion, we’re going to say, is ultimately redemption. His great act of redemption then brings what God originally created back to what He sees in the end. He restores creation. He reconciles humanity to Himself, and we’ll talk about that in some great end . But the fifth theme is that God uses His people to accomplish His mission of redemption. In the Old Testament, they’re known as Israel; and in the New Testament, they’re known as the church. I’m going to use the phrase with you “the people of God” to span both the Old Testament and the New Testament’s understanding of those through whom God accomplishes redemption.
So where are we in our study so far? Well, we’re going to . . . last week we looked at the creation consummation, and we began to look at the issue of the fall. We’re going to look at that much more in-depth this week. So take your Bibles and turn to Genesis 3, if you will. You would remember, we’ll start at the end of Genesis 2, and this is where your handouts pick up. You would remember that the description of humanity, Adam and Eve, at the end of chapter 2 reads like this: “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
What we talked about last week is that this language is perhaps literal but likely metaphoric. The idea of “naked” implies that they were vulnerable before one another and before the rest of creation. “Not ashamed” indicates that they were in some ways unaware that there was any possibility of evil, unaware that anything could go wrong. Do you remember the picture we used last week of the children in the playground? Remember that? It’s like two toddlers in a playground who are completely and wholly consumed by how much fun that playground is. Everything they could ever imagine is there. They’re enjoying it to the nth degree, and there’s no sense that anything could be wrong. But then you get to Genesis 3:1, and you read this: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.” And all of a sudden you realize that there’s a predator circling the playground. We talked about that last week. The word crafty actually becomes a virtue in the book of Proverbs, often used as the word wise, or not wise but discerning. Crafty is also translated shrewd. What it means is you know how to assess a situation and behave in a way to accomplish your goal. If your goal is good, then you’re shrewd. You’re doing what you need to accomplish your goal. If your goal is evil, then the Bible uses the word here, crafty. There is a play on words here. I think you asked about that last week. The word translated “naked” in 2:25 and the word translated “crafty” sound very similar in Hebrew, so the tension emerges. This couple is completely and wholly vulnerable. They’re naked. And the serpent is crafty. The sound of the words, if I could read it to you in Hebrew, would draw those two and put those two in relationship; and automatically the scene is dangerous, isn’t it? They’re vulnerable, and there’s someone who will do them harm.
So the story unfolds. I think we . . . I don’t want to go too far back into this. The narrative unfolds very quickly. The temptation, of course, is for them to find good apart from God, that somehow God is withholding good from them. There’s a better life than what God has given them. And then in verses 6 and 7, the narrative is very terse. She saw, she took, she ate, she gave, he ate, and it’s done. She saw, she took, she ate, she gave, he ate, and what God had created and all that humanity had experienced changed in that instant. That rebellion, that disobedience, that willingness to believe that there was something better than what God had created for humanity changed everything. The innocence, their innocence is shattered. Their awareness of good and evil now leads to a sense of guilt and shame. Not only do they know the difference between good and evil, they now know that they have chosen evil. So when we get to verse 7: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.” That’s why we assume in 2:25 that nakedness isn’t anything, or not necessarily, about their physical nakedness. They now realize just how vulnerable they were, just how threatened they are, just how guilty now they are. So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Now if you just try to back up and assume that you’ve never read this story ever, you have this picture of—and you can understand the nuances in Hebrew—this picture of a man and woman completely vulnerable, unaware of any sense of evil, and then the introduction of this evil character who’s going to take advantage of their vulnerability—and he does it. And they rebel. If you’d never read this story before, and you’d only read from Genesis 1:1 up to Genesis 3:7, it seems to me the tension of this story at this moment would be almost overwhelming, because the question is, What is God going to do? Now if you go back, you have an indication of what God is going to do. If you go back to 2:17, he’s already said what will happen. He says to them, “You are free,” verse 16, “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.”
So you’ve had this marvelous story of creation. And remember from last week, when God created humanity, He created them as His image, unlike anything else in creation. Everything in creation is good. The man and the woman come together in a sense of joy and a sense of satisfaction that is full and complete. Everything that God has done has gone exactly as God had desired it would go, and now the rebellion. He has said that they will die. And so the tension in the story is, What is God’s reaction to human rebellion? Is He just going to be done with them? They will pay the penalty that they have incurred in their rebellion. And certainly as the one who made them, He can unmake them. Or as Bill Cosby said to his children years ago, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”
So what’s God going to do? Genesis 3:8, “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.” Now, if you just take that at face value, the image that we can create in our minds of God’s response to human rebellion is rather passive, isn’t it? I’ve heard preachers and others talk about this. Well, God must have had a habit of walking with Adam and Eve in the garden every day in His fellowship with them. And so in 3:8, He’s just out for His normal daily walk. But ask yourself this question. Does that make sense? Would the one who created them, who gave them the command not to disobey , respond to their rebellion by just going through His normal daily casual routine? That doesn’t seem like the God that’s revealed in the rest of Scripture, who always judges sin because He is always just. So if you look at this passage pretty carefully, some of the ways we traditionally have translated it may lead to a wrong image.
For example, the beginning of the verse says the man and the woman “heard the sound of the LORD God.” This reminds us very, very strongly of Israel’s experience at Mount Sinai in Deuteronomy 5 and in Deuteronomy 18. There the word translated “sound” in Genesis 3:8 is translated “voice.” And, if you recall, when Israel was gathered at Mount Sinai and they heard the voice of the Lord, they trembled in fear. In fact, the author of the book of Hebrews brings that up in Hebrews 13, that they couldn’t stand the sound of the Lord God. It made them tremble or quake in fear. So the sound of the Lord God doesn’t necessarily have to be the sound of footprints on a pathway. In fact, the sound of the Lord God in other places brings a sense of terror and even judgment.
“Walking” is an interesting word, “the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The word walking can be used in a more general sense of simply movement. It can be translated walking. If you put it there in verse 3 or verse 8 of chapter 3, you’re implying a theophany. In other words, that God somehow is there in some type of visible presence. The text never indicates that anywhere else other than Genesis 1–3. So now, if you just take the general sense of this word and make it a word of movement or going back and forth, now perhaps you read they heard the sound of the Lord God moving into the garden.
And if we talk about this phrase “in the cool of the day,” we recognize that it’s a translation built around the Hebrew word ruach, which means wind and sometimes spirit. So think about the difference between the image of the Lord God casually walking into the garden and what could possibly be translated “and the Lord God moved into the garden in the sound of the wind.” By the way, we know from Psalm 29 as well as Job 38 that the Lord does move in the roar of the wind. So maybe this sound of the Lord God was more than just the rustling of leaves. Maybe it was the movement of God into the garden that’s similar to the idea of the roar of the sound of the Lord both on Mount Sinai and in the passages in Psalms and in Job. Perhaps what we have here is God confronting rebellion in a powerful wind of judgment. Maybe, just maybe, Adam and Eve hide because they know that they’ve rebelled, and when God comes into that garden in the sound or in the rush of wind, they know He’s come to judge.
But the question still remains: What’s God going to do? If He’s come in judgment, then clearly the next thing you expect from God is a pronouncement of sentence upon rebellious Adam and Eve, is it not? Wouldn’t that be the normal thing if God is judging their sin and demonstrating His displeasure by moving into the garden in the sound? Instead of that, in verse 9 we read this: “But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’”
Did God know where the man was? Of course He knew where the man was. And so when God poses the question, Where are you? He’s inviting Adam to step back toward Him. In other words, God doesn’t roar into the garden and pronounce judgment and execute the sinner. God comes into the garden clearly, I would argue, in displeasure because of their sin, and then He invites them, as an act of His mercy, to step back toward Him. Where are you, Adam?
The same scenario plays out as Adam steps back toward God, and he says in verse 10, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And God says, “Who told you that you were naked?” Did God know who told him he was naked? Of course He knows the answers to these questions. Every question is designed to bring Adam back toward God in His mercy and even confess. The interchange between Adam and Eve has been much commented upon in that both Adam and Eve don’t seem to come back with that sense of repentance that we will see later in the Scripture. Crawford Loritts, a wonderful speaker and teacher from Atlanta, once said, “It took all of the wiles of Satan to deceive Eve for her to sin, and all it took was for Eve to say to Adam, ‘Eat this stupid,’ and he did.”
So it’s done. God has shown His mercy. He has invited them to admit to their rebellion and come back into relationship with them. But there’s also still judgment. There are consequences for their sin; and we see that starting in verse 14. The land and the serpent are cursed. The language of curse is not used for the man and the woman in this passage. The serpent is cursed, and his end, his fate, at the end of his battle with humanity, is that he will be crushed. In relationship to the man and the woman, it’s clear that what they were mandated to do in Genesis 1: 27 and 28—that they were to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and rule over it—is now going to be much more difficult. The judgment against the woman is that with increasing pain, increasing toil, she will bear a child. And for the man, this same word exactly, although it’s not translated that way often into English, with painful toil he will strive for the earth to bring forth good things. He’ll work the earth. But what’s different? What’s different is that even though they would have born children and they would have ruled over the earth, with God’s help there was no uncertainty as to whether or not it would actually happen. It was the promise God gave them. Now being separated from God because of their sin, that certainty is gone.
The reader of this text, or the hearer of this text more likely in the ancient world, would have known that the number one cause of death among women was childbirth. It was a terrifying experience without the certainty that God would intervene and God would prevail. There was no certainty that they would do what God had created them to do: multiply, be fruitful, and fill the earth with image bearers. Adam would now work the soil; and thorns and thistles, the extra work that he would put into the soil, gave no guarantee that it would give forth the food that they needed to survive. That certainty was stripped away from them. The judgment was real, as real as God’s mercy in not wiping them off the face of the earth.
As the narrative unfolds then, we see one other thing. We see God’s grace. In verse 20, God clothes them to cover their nakedness to demonstrate that He will intervene on their behalf. He protects them from eating of the tree of life and living forever by placing an angelic guard at the gate of the garden. And then what I think is one of the most promising verses in all of Scripture, in Genesis 4:1, Eve gives birth to a son, and she says this: “With the help of Yahweh, I have brought forth a human.” That’s God’s grace. He provides for them that which they did not deserve by clothing them, by protecting them with the angelic guard, and ultimately by demonstrating that they will fulfill the mandate. They will be fruitful and multiply. We see from Genesis 4 that humans also begin to exercise their rule over the earth.
So here’s what I want you to pick up. In Genesis 3, the pattern—and I would argue, the foundations of God’s redemptive act, what God will do in the arena of redemption—are displayed. They are God’s judgment, mercy, and grace. God always judges sin because He is just. God treats the sinner with mercy by not destroying them in the moment of their sin. And God demonstrates grace with unmerited favor given to them, unmerited in that they deserved nothing. Justice, mercy, and grace are the foundations in God’s character that bring about redemption ultimately. Judgment, mercy, and grace. So God’s response then to human rebellion—judgment, mercy, and grace—we’re going to say is the foundation, the theological foundation for redemption.
I want us to take the rest of our time and, quite frankly, we’ll bleed over into next week as well this idea of redemption. You know how I used to talk about the three R’s in old days in school—reading, writing, and arithmetic—only one of which actually has an R. Reading, writing, and arithmetic; right, arithmetic. With redemption, I want us to think of three R’s. Redemption can be understood as God’s act of rescue, restoration, and then later we see as well ransom; God’s act of rescue, restoration, and ransom.
Now, redemption stories are very popular in all of literature, and they all unfold the same way. You could, you can, see it in movie after movie and in book after book. The scenario starts out good. Something bad happens. Those who are part of the story are in peril, and someone has to intervene and rescue them from danger and restore them to the life they had before. I mean, how many movies have that plot line? Like every one? How many thrillers that you’ve read—whether it’s Tom Clancy or David Balducci or Robert Ludlum—have that basic structure? All of them. Something was good. Evil came in. People are in peril. Someone has to step in, rescue them, and restore them. That’s the basic pattern in literature; and, I would argue, perhaps it’s the pattern that’s written on the hearts of humanity by God Himself, because that’s what redemption is. It’s God’s act to step into a perilous situation to rescue humanity from the consequences of that, of their behavior, of their rebellion, of that peril, and to restore them to what He has designed for them.
Judgment, mercy, and grace all undergird this act of God. And I think you could argue that redemption itself is the dominant picture that defines God’s relationship to humanity after the fall. Again and again and again God will step in. He will rescue. He will restore humanity because of His mercy and grace. Ultimately, we know that the ultimate act of redemption is Christ on the cross where all of sin is judged, where evil is judged and defeated, and God rescues all of humanity from the curse of the fall and restores them when they exercise faith in Christ.
But redemption occurs in the Old Testament as well. The dominant event that defined redemption in the eyes of the people of God in the Old Testament is the exodus when God brought His people up out of Egypt. It fits perfectly, doesn’t it? The people of God are enslaved. They’re oppressed in Egypt. They’re not experiencing the blessing of God. In fact, they’re in peril because a Pharaoh comes to power “who knew not Joseph,” remember that? Quoting the King James at that point, “who didn’t know Joseph.” And so what does God do? God steps into their peril, steps into their restoration , and He rescues them from that oppression and then ultimately restores them to the land He had promised to their forefather Abram.
Let me read or turn with me to Exodus 6, and we’ll look at this passage that uses the language of redemption for the exodus. So God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.” Verse 6, “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am Yahweh.” Notice all the language of redemption there. I’m going to free you. I’m going to bring you out, and I’m going to bring you to . . . You see it? Rescue, bring you out, free you, redeem you, restore, bring you to the land that I promised, this great act of God becomes the defining event in how the people of God in the Old Testament understood their God.
In fact, one author has written it this way: “to know the Lord for who He is means knowing Him as Redeemer. Israel never knew the Lord as anyone other than the Lord her God who brought her out of Egypt. In other words, whatever else Israel may have known about God, she knew Him first as her Savior and Redeemer and did not know Him otherwise.” That’s a powerful statement. That’s a bold statement: that after the nation is formed their first point of understanding of their God was His redemption, His redeeming act of bringing them out of Egypt. Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that God’s redemptive act is the foundation of how God is to be known between the fall and the consummation: the God who redeems; the God who rescues; the God who brings out; the God who sets free; the God who restores.
We see this same act of God as He interacts with His people when they go into exile. He judges them for their sin. The prophets are full of those pronouncements of judgment. Because of their sin, they are sent into exile, first with the Assyrians, then with the Babylonians. But then when God brings them back into the land (the books of Nehemiah and Ezra), the Scripture describes that as an act of God’s redemption. He buys them out. He brings them out from the land or from the nations and restores them to the land. Let me give you some verses to look at in your own study: Isaiah 43:1; 44:23; 48:20; and 52:9. Exodus 15:13 is a wonderful verse. It says this: “In your unfailing love, Lord, you will lead the people you have redeemed.” Interestingly enough, the word, this same word translated redeem from Hebrew, is also used to describe God’s rescue of someone from death, someone who is close to death. You might look at Psalm 103:2–4. And the same language is used in Lamentations 3:54–58.
So by the time we get to the New Testament, the concept of redemption—that God, the God who had rescued and restored His people from Egypt, would rescue and restore them from the Romans—was the dominant understanding and expectation of God. The promise of Messiah that the Pharisees and the other religious leaders referred to all the time was the promise that God would once again, just like He had done before, step into the lives of His people, rescue them from their oppressors, and restore them to that glorious kingdom that they had read about under the reign of Solomon and David. So the hope for redemption, the longing for redemption, was fundamental to understanding God among the Jews when Jesus is born.
In the same way, it must be understood that when Jesus is announced as the fulfillment of Israel’s messianic hope, as the Messiah of Israel, He Himself is proclaimed as the Redeemer. Jesus as Messiah, in the minds of the Jews, is Jesus the Redeemer, the one who will reverse everything that keeps them oppressed. Go with me to Luke 4, if you will. The word redemption isn’t used here, but it’s a clear picture of this redeeming act of Messiah. Luke 4. When Jesus comes to His hometown in Nazareth, He goes to the synagogue. This is Luke 4:16. “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:” and he quotes from Isaiah 58 and Isaiah 62, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” You hear the language of redemption, freedom, recovery of sight. So this idea that the one who comes in the name of the Lord will rescue and restore is woven into that prophecy. And Jesus then says to them, “This day, today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s verse 21. Jesus never backs away from His messianic identity and His knowledge that for the Jews of the first century, that meant Redeemer. In fact, He will say in Mark 10:45, speaking of Himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Redemption, the Redeemer, what Christ accomplishes as the one who is to ransom humanity from their oppression from sin and evil and death is the ultimate act of redemption in Scripture. And it’s all embodied in Jesus. So when we think of who Jesus is, first and foremost we ought to go to the language of Redeemer, the one who has accomplished God’s rescue and restoration.