Sunday Mass Study Notes for Sunday, 3-5-2017
Welcome back to the Sunday Mass Notes. This week we will examine the creation of man in the Book of Genesis and then the fall of humankind into sin through the temptation of the devil that brought about God’s curse upon the earth. Then in the second reading, we will examine God’s plan of redemption that He brought about by sending Jesus to die for our sins. Finally, we will study in the Gospel lesson how Jesus successfully resisted the temptation of the devil. Our lesson this week followed a lengthy study last week on the subject of worry. If you haven’t read that we suggest you find time to review it on the web site.
Introduction to the First Reading:
The first reading is from the Book of Genesis and covers the sections of creation and the fall of humanity. This text together with the second reading from Romans constitutes the great bookends of human history. On one hand, Genesis records the creation of the universe including the earth, animal kingdom, and humankind. This is closely followed by the ugly record of the day when man sinned against God, which invoked His curse upon the world. On the other hand, the Book of Romans that we will see in the second reading, records in detail God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. This is a critically important study this week because we will cover a summary of all of human history, which can be summed up in just four short words: creation, fall, redemption, and glory.
As we move to the first reading let me point out some helpful context since the reading skipped the ending of Chapter 2 in Genesis. The context of the reading from Genesis is that it occurred just after the point at which God created Adam and before He made Eve, the first woman, though she wasn’t officially named until Chapter 3 (Genesis 3:20). Chapter 1 recorded the record of the entire creation, including man. Chapter 2 expands on the creation account by filling in additional details. In the opening of Chapter two God had finished his creation of the universe and had placed Adam on earth in the Garden of Eden with the commandment to cultivate it (Genesis 2:15). He provided clear direction to Adam by saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (2:16b – 17). Subsequently, God formed the entirety of the animal kingdom and appointed Adam with the task of naming every animal and bird (v. 19). The creation story continues:
20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man." 24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:20-25).
At this point in history man was in the perfect company of God, had the perfect wife named Eve, tilled a perfect garden with unlimited food, and walked around perfectly naked all day. What more could anyone ask for? However, it was just too good to last. Think back to the single commandment that God gave to Adam. He said not to eat of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” (v.17). It is easy to look back on Adam and wonder why if he had so much, he had to concentrate upon the one thing that he couldn’t have. But, don’t we do the very same thing? If we know that the speed limit is 55, why do we feel the need to drive 60 or 70? Just the fact that we have a law almost compels us to break it. Our consideration of whether or not we will break a law is generally tied to the penalty for failing to obey the law. A speed limit law is one thing, but God told Adam that if he broke this one certain law that the penalty would be death (v. 17). Adam had no frame of reference for the devastating effects of death upon his life here on earth.
Now, with this context in mind, let’s jump back to verse seven where the first reading begins. As you read, notice the mention of another special tree growing in the Garden.
2:7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" 4 The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. (Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7)
With the job of creation completed God placed man in the Garden of Eden with trees that were already fully grown (3:6). Adam’s wife was then confronted by a talking serpent, which probably wasn’t too unusual to her because of her complete lack of history – everything would have been new to her. The first thing the talking serpent told her was to question the word of God. “Indeed, has God said?” spoke the serpent to the woman (3:1). The woman restated the warning from God, but added a prohibition about touching the tree, something which wasn’t recorded in the warning given to Adam. The text doesn’t say whether Adam told his wife not to touch the tree as a protective measure, or whether Eve added to God’s prohibition not to eat from the tree. Regardless, had she not touched the tree this whole affair wouldn’t have played out the way it did, at least not at this stage of history. [It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Fall was going to happen, it was just a matter of time.]
Next, the serpent tempted the woman a second time by once again casting doubt about the word of God. He said, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 6). There is a nugget of truth in what the serpent said, as is usually the case, since he was a master deceiver and he evidently understood that the woman wouldn’t believe an outright lie. What we mean by saying that there was some truth in the statement about not dying is that after both Adam and Eve sinned they did not die physically (3:7), but they certainly did die spiritually. God defines death as separation from Him, which is what happened in their disobedience (Ephesians 4:17-18). God just delayed Adam’s physical death for some 930 years. “So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died” (Genesis 5:5). We are not told when Eve died. The second element of truth in the serpent’s subterfuge was that their eyes were opened, as was told clearly in the text (3:7a).
The sin that Eve committed was great, but she at least had the excuse that she was deceived by the serpent. Adam however, could not plead that the devil made him do it. No, the text said, “she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (v. 6e). Adam sinned without having the excuse that he was deceived, he sinned with his eyes wide open, and willfully disobeyed God’s law regarding not eating from the tree. God held Adam responsible for his sin and the subsequent curse that He poured out onto His perfect creation, something that must have grieved our Lord to no end. Adam was created first, and was appointed as the leader for stewardship of God’s creation, including the woman. Eve was created as the helper (2:18). If we look forward in Chapter 3 we will see that God questioned Adam first about what happened in the Garden. “Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (3:9). In the New Testament God verified that He held Adam responsible for the sin, even though Eve sinned first. We will read about this when we study the second reading from Romans Chapter 5.
The other special tree in the garden was the “tree of life” (v. 9b). It’s important to note that although Adam did eat from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” he didn’t eat from the tree of life. Had he done so he would have remained in his fallen state in the cursed creation forever. God said later in Chapter 3, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’” (3:22). Instead, what happened was that Adam ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and as a result, his eyes were opened (v.7), just as the devil had said they would be (v.4), such that he knew both good and evil. He knew about goodness before he sinned, and after his sin he found out about evil.
The fall of humanity that we read about in the first reading had a gigantic impact upon the world, both on the creation itself, humankind and also the animal world. Just ask anyone that has raised a two year old. Although I haven’t had that privilege I do have a story about how the fall has affected even the animal kingdom. My family used to have a golden retriever named Rusty. I remember our beloved dog very well as both of us used to like to go running together. Whenever I went jogging around the country roads in the neighborhood, Rusty used to like to come along with me. He used to run in front of me and then would frequently cross into the woods to follow whatever animal scent he could find there. Rusty just loved running around the woods in the neighborhood. I remember that when Rusty was young he would follow me outside thinking that I was going to take him running. Rusty would then take off down the road and I would call him back. There was an awkward moment when I would call to him while he decided whether or not he was going to obey. He turned his body away from me but looked back towards me while he made up his mind. Frequently he would think it about it for maybe a half a minute while I continued calling, then he would take off running away from me down the road. What a little stinker. He knew that he was being bad but he ran away anyway. This sin wasn’t something that we taught him, it was instinctive. The corrupted state of this world frustrates all of us in every layer of life.
The fall of humanity resulted in God’s pronouncement of a curse upon His creation. This curse affected men’s relationship with women (Genesis 3:15), men and women’s relationship with their work (Genesis 3:19), and the ground itself (Genesis 3:17-18). God predicted the ultimate physical death for Adam. “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
Introduction to the Second Reading:
We need to let the depth of the bad news provide a backdrop to the message of hope delivered in the second reading. God sent the Second Adam to redeem mankind from their sin, which is a gift freely given to those who believe God has provided His righteousness through faith. This reading is from Saint’s Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The context of the reading is that Paul had just explained the crucial concept of justification by faith. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The word “therefore” is present to provide a linkage to what Paul discussed in the previous chapter. Here Paul explained how father Abraham’s faith was the reason that he was found righteous before the Lord, not his good works. Paul said, “For what does the Scripture say? ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Romans 4:3, the capital letters in this NASB version indicates a quotation from the Old Testament). Abraham’s good works were laudable, but they didn’t merit his salvation from the curse of Adam’s sin. Paul said, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (4:2).
As you read the second reading from Romans 5 you will recognize the story we read about in the Garden of Eden.
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)
Paul said a mouthful in this text, enough that entire books could be written on just one of these verses alone. Here are some of the key points that arise from the reading.
- Salvation, meaning forgiveness of the penalty of sin, is provided as a free gift (v. 15) only through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
- God held Adam (“one man”), not Eve, accountable for the Fall of Mankind (v.12). All people from Adam onwards are sinners (v.14), except for Jesus (v.18).
- Though everyone even before the Jewish Law was a sinner, those before the Law couldn’t be held accountable for the Law which hadn’t yet been given (v.13). Nevertheless, humans are accountable to God for the laws that are written on their heart. Paul said, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15).
- The sinful state of Adam was imparted to all of humankind from that moment forward. “For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners” (v.19a).
- Death didn’t exist before the Fall and came into the world only after sin (v.12b). This negates the possibility of theistic evolution to explain God’s creative process as any form of evolution requires a cycle of death.
- Jesus’ sacrificial death resulted in the imputed righteousness of believers, the “gift of righteousness” (v.16, 18).
These foundational insights give us a sense of hope in our day to day lives, if we have turned to Jesus as our righteousness. We no longer have to pay the penalty for our own sins, but we are declared righteous by God if we will live under His provision of grace. The idea of grace is unmerited favor, which means we have been given a gift. A gift that has been given, needs to be received if it is to be useful to the recipient. Have you opened the gift of God’s grace in your life by trusting in Jesus Christ as your only source of salvation?
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
The Gospel lesson from today is from Matthew Chapter 4. As we read in the first reading, Adam and Eve were tempted by the devil and succumbed to his temptation that resulted in the Fall of Humanity. In the Gospel reading we will see how Jesus was also tempted by the devil and how he persisted in his obedience to God the Father. As you read pay special attention to how Jesus dealt with the temptation of the devil, and how this contrasted with how Eve interacted with him.
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." 4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'" 5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'" 8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." 10 Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matthew 4:1-11)
We saw that Jesus dealt with the devil’s temptation by quoting from the word of God. Notice in the NASB version how easily it is to spot the quotations from the Old Testament since they are shown in all capital letters. Three times the devil tempted Jesus, and three times Jesus resisted while quoting from the word of His Father.
The temptation for Jesus was to get His rightful place of rulership without having to go through the cross. In some ways, all of our temptations have this sense of shortcutting the process in order to attain the glory without the upfront cost. What the devil doesn’t tell people is the price tag, which will be paid in full by the person who purchases his shortcut. Jesus saw through his scheme and was not pushed around by the devil’s slick talk or even deceived by the twisting of Scripture. By standing in the midst of temptation, Jesus becomes our strong advocate in our own times of temptation. Hebrews 2:18 says, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” He wants us to call on Him and to ask Him for help. Let’s take Him at His word.
How should we go about resisting temptation? Saint Paul provided us with some guidance, and along with what we learned from the readings it should be obvious that we too need to rely upon the word of God to deliver us from temptation. Paul said, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13). In times of temptation, instead of looking for a loophole, look for the way of escape!
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
This week had a lot of powerful concepts for us to consider in our daily lives. Here are some questions to prompt further reflection:
1. Compare the two temptation accounts again and list the ways that Jesus dealt differently than Adam and Eve. What do you learn from His example?
2. The bookends of history are encompassed in this week’s reading, starting with the bad news (sin’s price tag is death) and moving to the good news (Jesus’ payment for our sin). If you were to analyze where you are at today in your relationship with God, where would you place yourself on the continuum of living in your sin verses living in God’s grace?
| Living in my sin --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Living in God’s grace|