Victory on Earth Day – part 3

The effect of the cross on ‘The Undefeatable Sin’

In a continuing attempt to understand what Christ won for us on the cross it has to include his victory over ‘The Undefeatable Sin’ – the one thing we humans have had more trouble with than anything else.

The Bible quickly identifies what The Undefeatable Sin is too: It’s trying to be wise without God. And our history is full of it. As humans we can’t seem to STOP trying to be wise without God. Right now at this very moment there are probably billions of people all over the globe trying to be wise without God, and billions more before us too, who spent their entire lives trying to be wise without God. I imagine I spend much of my time every day trying to be wise without God as well, because I can’t help it either.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be wise, of course, but God made it clear from the beginning that seeking wisdom without him is suicidal. It’s like pushing a self-destruct button, or tying explosives to one’s body and setting them off. And to get that point across God created an alternative source of wisdom called the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’, and Adam could get his wisdom off that tree instead if he wished – but be warned, Adam, it will be the death of you.

But why did Adam need wisdom in the first place? Because in Genesis 1:26 God announced that he’d created humans to govern his creation: “Let’s make human beings in our image, in our likeness,” God said, “so they can rule over the fish, the birds and the animals, and over the Earth itself.”

So how would you react if the prime minister came to you and said, “I want you to run this country with me”? Where would you start? Well, you’d want to spend every waking moment hanging round the prime minister, right? You’d be camped in his office with four thousand notebooks and an equal number of pens picking up every tidbit of wisdom that dropped from his lips.

So why on earth didn’t Adam think of that when he heard God say, “Come and run the world with me”? Adam had no experience in running worlds, so why wasn’t he banging on God’s door every morning seeking help and advice?

The answer given in Genesis is quite startling: Adam was distracted by a serpent, another strange creation God made, that “was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made,” Genesis 3:1. It seems a bit odd that God would create a suicidal tree and a crafty serpent to trick Adam and Eve into eating off it, but I have to admit it’s not such a bad idea, because I’ve learnt from crafty people in my own life how stupid I can be.

I remember well the first car I bought because of a crafty salesman who knew I’d fall for a car that had some zip to it. He wasn’t lying either; the car did have some zip. I flung it down the back alleys of suburban Winnipeg and it held the road like glue. I’d never driven anything like it. I just knew in my wisdom, therefore, that this was the right car for me. And what a sight I would make, cutting through city traffic like a knife through butter, and people thinking how clever and wise I must be for choosing such a remarkable car.

Did I, however, at any point during the proceedings, think to check the car out with anybody else, other than the crafty salesman? No. I didn’t. Did I look up any reviews on that type of car? Not one. Did I feel any need to talk to an experienced mechanic about it? Not for a second. I bought the car on the spot because I thought I knew what I was doing.

It was an awful shock a couple of days later when I found out that this nippy little car I’d been so wise in buying had such a bad reputation that one of them had been set alight by its owner and burnt in front of the factory where they were made. And other people looked so sad when they heard I’d bought this wreck that I shot back to the salesman and told him I wanted my money back. “Too bad,” he said, “the car’s yours.” Oh, he knew what he’d sold me all right, and there I was with egg on my face and feeling like an idiot.

But what I did was really no different to what Adam and Eve did in response to the slick-talking serpent. It could read a human mind like an open book, just like my car salesman. It knew that Eve, and then Adam, would fall for the chance to feel wise and clever. So it sold them on this picture of themselves zipping through life like gods, without having to depend on anyone for help. They could manage on their own, thank you very much, and how clever that would make them feel.

So did Adam and Eve at any point in the serpent’s sales pitch ask for a time-out to consult with God about it? No. Did they at any point in the proceedings think to seek advice? No, they didn’t – because that’s not what we humans do, is it?

And God created a serpent that could read that weakness in us like a book. The serpent knew, just like my car salesman knew, that humans like to think we’re really smart, so all we need is a reason to think we’re really smart and we’re hooked. My car salesman was brilliant at it. I was young and it was all too obvious that I thought I knew a zippy car when I saw one. So he just gave me a reason to think I was smart with a simple statement like, “Well, I bet not too many people know about these babies and the zip they’ve got,” which I’d interpret as the salesman giving me inside information, because he recognized I wasn’t just an ordinary customer dropping by; I was a ‘man-in-the-know’.

The serpent did exactly the same thing with Eve too; he made her think she was smart by giving her inside information on the tree of death. All he said was, “You know as well as God does that it won’t kill you,” which Eve would interpret as, “Hey, that’s right, I am that smart,” and she was hooked.

And do you think God didn’t know this would happen? Of course he did, because he made the serpent crafty to reveal the one fly in the ointment, the one snag, in humans becoming partners with him in his plan: It was this pressing desire in us humans for “gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6), the kind of wisdom, that is, that makes us think we’re smart enough to rule this world without him.

And God still allows a crafty serpent to make us think that, because there’s nothing like a crafty creature to point out the one thing in our human experience that we’ve never been able to defeat, and that’s thinking we can be wise without God. Falling in love with our own cleverness has become The Undefeatable Sin for us.

God warned us about it right off the bat too – and he pointed out the deadly results. Adam and Eve’s son Cain, for instance, thinks he’s smart too, in how he got rid of Abel, but in doing so he created a bloodline of violent killers so evil that God destroyed the lot of them in the Flood.

There were deep, lasting and deadly consequences to Cain’s sin. But did that stop people building a massive tower “reaching up the heavens” (Genesis 11:4), so that they could “make a name for themselves”? No. And did what happened at the Tower of Babel make the people of Sodom and Gomorrah stop to think what God might do to them too? No. And does what happened to those two cities make people today even pause for a moment to think what the consequences of their actions might be? No. We still think we are gods and masters of our destiny.

And we’ve never been able to defeat that idea in our heads. It’s been an Undefeatable Sin ever since the Garden of Eden for us, and with the same deadly results. It not only wrecked our human role in God’s plan before we even got started in it, it has also – according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

The serpent has been so successful at pulling the wool over people’s eyes – like thugs and thieves of old pulled a man’s woolly wig over his eyes to blind and confuse him – that there are tons of people who have no idea what the purpose of human life is, or what their role in God’s plan was in the first place, or that because of Christ’s death they’ve actually got their purpose in life and their role in God’s plan restored back to them.

The serpent has focused our attention for so long on our own cleverness that we can’t see what Christ has done for us. How many people do you know, for instance, who understand, or even care about, what God created us for, what botched up his purpose for us, and how Christ restored everything back to us so we can start again, and this time get it right? But give us the chance to give our opinions on politicians, sports teams, neighbours, and whoever else is making the news, and suddenly we’re animated and all knowing, and full of expert analysis and judgment. We love hearing our own voice, and the feeling it gives us that we are gods who can detect with absolute accuracy the good and evil in everything. Who needs God, then? We are clever and strong enough to figure everything out for ourselves.

So God just keeps on allowing the serpent to make fools of us. And there’s no one but Jesus in the entire history of the world that’s been able to prevent the serpent doing that, including King David. God allowed Satan to test him too (in 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1), to show David that he too was susceptible to taking things into his own hands, and being sold on how strong he was.

And just because we’re Christians doesn’t make US immune either. We see that in 2 Corinthians 11:3 when Paul expressed his deep concern “that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds (too) may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” So the serpent is still being allowed by God to be crafty, and crafty enough to distract Christians too, through “false and deceitful workmen masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light,” verses 13-14.

It amazed Paul how easily Christians could be deceived. A crafty chap could stand up in Corinth in Paul’s day and “preach quite another Jesus than we preached – different spirit, different message,” 2 Corinthians 11:4 (The Message), and the congregation would “put up with him quite nicely,” just like Adam and Eve put up with the serpent quite nicely too. So are we Christians any different to them? No, we’re not. Even as Christians we’re still susceptible to crafty people who can make black seem white.

It’s interesting, then, that the first thing the Holy Spirit did with Jesus at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry – before Jesus got down to any of his Father’s business – was take him out into the wilderness for a face off with the devil. Adam and Eve went through the same process too. Before they got down to any business they too needed to face the serpent first of all. It’s obviously important to God that this happens, but that’s surely not surprising when the whole plan of him and humans setting up the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth together falls apart if humans can’t be trusted to stick to the plot.


Jesus does something rather startling at this point, though, because in preparing himself for his personal face off with the champion of craftiness he strips himself of all human strength by fasting for forty days and nights, by which time he’s close to death and powerless. So this wasn’t a battle of wits, or a chess match to see who was the superior player. Jesus wasn’t in this to “make a name for himself” like the builders of the Tower of Babel. He wasn’t testing out his strength like David checking out his military might, either. Nor was he striding up and down, huffing and puffing and doing push-ups to get all worked up for battle. He was as weak as a human could be, without dying.

So, when “The tempter came to Jesus and said” in Matthew 4:3, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread,” the temptation was brutally clever, because here was the chance for Jesus to feel some power and energy flowing through his body again. And as humans that’s what we’re built for. In body and mind we want to be active and productive, and we hate being held up by sickness, or an accident, or having nothing exciting going on. We need action and projects to tackle – and turning stones into bread would have done that for Jesus. He could get going right away, full of energy and ready for action.

But Jesus wasn’t tempted, because it was God, not bread, he depended on, and he was waiting on God to give him the go ahead, not human energy.

But Adam and Eve weren’t willing to wait. The chance offered by the serpent to get instant wisdom so they could get going right away on their own steam was too tempting to resist. On the other hand, we can probably relate to that as Christians, because the western Christian culture is all about action, about churches growing, new and exciting ways of getting people to come to church, and eloquent evangelists bringing in the crowds, which is so much more appealing to action-oriented humans than sitting week after week in a small church with no one new attending, and being stuck in the same old routine.

It’s tempting, then, to have a peek when a new book hits the bookstores promising new and exciting ways of injecting life into the church. It’s like the smell of fresh-baked bread. It certainly smelt like fresh-baked bread in 2 Corinthians 11:5 when a “super apostle” or a “trained speaker” (verse 6) turned up, who could fire up the crowd and create a real buzz.

Paul, meanwhile, seemed so dry by comparison. He was always banging away at basics to keep the church locked on Jesus (verse 2), but here was this “super” apostle, just like the super apostles we get today, offering Christians much more exciting stuff, like setting up the Kingdom now and taking over the world, and all very cleverly packaged to make to seem like it’s the Holy Spirit’s doing too, with strange signs and manifestations often thrown in as proof of it.

Well, Paul was having none of it, verse 20, because he could see that all this stuff was just crafty people exploiting Christians with their own personal dreams of grandeur. And Christian history is littered with such people, who have caught up millions of Christians in their crusades, revivals, and other human-driven fantasies, all of which have confused and divided the Christian Church, just as super apostles were messing up the church members in Corinth.

Paul’s life in the Church, meanwhile, had never been the smell of fresh bread. He really was an apostle too, but he’d been in prison, beaten up, shipwrecked and in constant danger from bandits, storms at sea, and false gospels being preached in his churches. Sleepless nights, freezing cold, and hunger left him feeling utterly weak and powerless (verses 23-27). But he accepted the mandate Jesus had given him in Acts 26:16-18, and he stuck to it regardless.

Like Jesus, Paul was not tempted to veer from the plot God had given him. It was a tough cross for both Jesus and Paul to bear, but both men trusted that God knew what he was doing, and that HIS was the way that worked best.

So the tempter tried another tack in Matthew 4:6, along the lines of, “Come on, Jesus, you’ve got all this power behind you, surely God wants you to use it.” And isn’t that the same appeal being made by super apostles in the church today, that we’ve got the Holy Spirit and if we all get praying the Spirit will descend on our city and on our nation and great transformation and healing will happen? Humble ourselves and pray and the Holy Spirit is bound to answer.

But that’s exactly like the tempter telling Jesus to jump off the highest corner of the Temple Mount and God was bound to answer him too, by sending an angel to catch him. And verse 7 tells us what Jesus thought of that idea: He totally dismisses it. He would never put God in that position, of having to answer him. And yet we have super apostles today marketing all sorts of stuff as Holy Spirit inspired – that Paul would dismiss in an instant – because, they say, they pray, and therefore God supports what they’re doing because they’re so dedicated and humble. The force of their prayers and humility guarantees the Holy Spirit’s response. The Holy Spirit HAS to answer such noble motives. We have the power, in other words, to make God support what we come up with.

Well, super apostles may think they have the right to do that, but Jesus makes it clear to the serpent that he would never dabble in such impertinence. So the devil, in his last throw of the dice, offers Jesus the most tantalizing offer any Christian would love to hear: “You can have it all right now,” the serpent says in verses 8 and 9a. And super apostles today relish that idea. They love quoting Genesis, that God gave us dominion over this world, so this is what God wants us to do, take over the kingdoms of this world and make them all Christian – now – before Christ comes. Meaning, of course, that God must be giving us Christians the power and authority to make it happen now. We don’t have to wait for Christ to come to change the world; we can do it now.

To super apostles with dreams of grandeur, this is hugely appealing, which is strange, because the devil actually told Jesus what this third temptation was really all about. It was all about getting Jesus to “bow down and worship me,” the devil, verse 9. So that was his game, the same game he played on Adam and Eve, that if they did what he said (bowed to his way, not God’s way) they could have it all right away. They could rule the world on their own terms, without having to consult God or wait.

So when Christians get the idea that God is giving us the go ahead to make this world into God’s Kingdom now, it’s actually the devil’s idea, not theirs.

It’s so easy for the devil to tempt us on this point, though, because he knows how dearly we Christians would love to change the world and sort this mess out. And it seems so right to us too, that God would WANT us to set this world alight and shake it up and get rid of crime and abortion clinics and sexual exploitation of children, etc.

The question is, though: “By whose methods?” And not surprisingly, God wouldn’t mind an answer to that before he lets us humans loose trying to change anything, because as partners in his plan he has every right to know if we’ll stay true to HIS methods and his wisdom, or will we veer off at some point into our own wishes and desires instead, like Adam and Eve did?

So he lets the serpent test us. And he allows the serpent to be crafty too. The serpent is allowed his own set of “apostles” to stir things up, “masquerading as servants of righteousness,” with their promises of new reformations and new moves of the Holy Spirit. And it sounds fantastic: The Church has been asleep at the switch, they say, but here’s this exciting new chap, brimming with confidence, who’s had a vision, or a sign, and he’s claiming special insight, and to Christians starving for action, whose lives and churches feel more like dead stones than freshly baked bread, it’s like manna from heaven.

But Jesus wasn’t having any of it, because he yells out in Matthew 4:10, “Away from me, Satan, for it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”

“We do things GOD’S way round here, serpent, so get lost.” It wasn’t an easy thing for Jesus to say, though, because God’s way was a whole lot tougher. It wasn’t the tasty, freshly baked bread way, nor was it manipulating the Holy Spirit into supporting one’s own dreams of grandeur, nor was it changing the world with power and authority now. God’s way by comparison was a life of opposition, suffering, and obedience to death on a cross.

God chose a similar life for Paul too, of suffering, loneliness, opposition, stress and feeling like death. But maybe that’s how we feel about our lives too, because here we are in the Church, supposed to be governors of God’s growing Kingdom and priests in his beautiful Temple, but life for most of us is uneventful and certainly not impressive, and we might as well be invisible for all the impact we’re having on other people. Life is pretty dead really; like cold stones.

So how can we possibly do what God’s called us to do in that condition?

Well, according to Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:10, what we do is “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus.” That doesn’t sound nearly as exciting, though, as shaking this world up with signs and wonders, and having super apostles drawing in huge crowds and having major influence on government leaders. But clearly what Paul says works as far as GOD’S wisdom for our lives is concerned; otherwise Paul wouldn’t have written that, right?

So what does carrying around the death of Christ in our bodies mean? It means our lot in life is the same as his. Jesus even said we take up our cross and follow him, so we’re following in his footsteps. But the road he trod was tough. It meant resisting the serpent’s temptations to seek an easier and more exciting way of doing God’s work. It meant trusting that God knew best, when it seemed like his way made no sense at all.

And since we now carry that around in our bodies, then it must apply to us too. But it’s tough. It doesn’t make sense. What is the point of our existence as a small, insignificant congregation that hardly anyone knows exists, for instance? We don’t seem to be doing anything for anybody. Ah, but we are, according to Paul, because the reason we tread the same road Jesus trod, is “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body,” verse 10.

It’s in OUR lives now that Jesus reveals what he accomplished in his obedience to death on a cross. And what he did was defeat The Undefeatable Sin. He dealt with the one snag – our constant weakness for wanting to do things our way – that prevented us humans becoming partners with God in his plan. And he did it by resisting the serpent, by choosing God’s wisdom for his life, not his own, and accepting the way of the cross over his own ambitions and preferences.

And that is the victory we now carry round and display in our bodies too, by us now “being given over to death” as well, verse 11, meaning it’s our turn now to accept the lot in life God has given us, despite how pointless and powerless it may seem to be. It’s our turn now to resist the serpent’s temptations to want something better and more exciting, and our turn now to trust that God knows best, even if our lives seem to have no purpose or use at all. And we do it “for Jesus’ sake,” verse 11. We do it to make Jesus’ victory over The Undefeatable Sin real, so that what he made possible in his obedience to death on the cross now becomes real in our lives too.

And that’s the effect of the cross on The Undefeatable Sin. It’s been defeated, first by Jesus and now by us.


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