Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sermon: Genesis 5:1 - 6:8 Rising Sons of Adam

Imagine that you decide to start reading through the Bible. An excellent idea. Where better to begin, you think, than the start. And so you read through Genesis 1 & 2, the creation story. You discover the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and see how it all went wrong as they disobeyed God’s command and listened to the devil. You continue on and read about Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. You’re full of enthusiasm, and then you grind to a halt in Genesis 5. In contrast to what has gone before, it might seem like a dry, dusty list of genealogy. The names are hard to pronounce, we don’t recognise them; they seem to live an awful long time; they’re remote, far off from us.

Perhaps you’re tempted to give up... maybe reading the Bible wasn’t such a good idea after all.. Another option might be to skip it out and move on to something more exciting- Noah’s ark. You’re maybe wondering why we would even spend time on a chapter like this- and as I was studying it during the free time at the clergy conference I wondered that myself- how could this possibly be useful? Especially as Greg is baptised- could we not have something a bit more exciting and inspiring for him?

Yet even in the face of all these questions, we can’t just ignore Genesis 5. You see, today is observed as Bible Sunday in the Church of Ireland - what better way of thanking God for the scriptures than by wrestling with a less well known chapter. Paul, in writing to his young friend Timothy, says this: ‘All scripture is inspired by God (God-breathed) and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ (2 Tim 3:16)

All scripture, not just our favourite Bible verses. All scripture, not just the bits we know. So rather than us saying - what’s the point of Genesis 5? We need to be asking - what IS the point in Genesis 5 - what is it God is wanting to say to us through this chapter? Why is it in the Bible? Why could we not do without it? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Moses to write it here, and in this way?

So as we turn to Genesis 5 (on page 4), what do we find? Those opening words of the chapter ‘This is the list of the descendants...’ show us that a new section is opening up. Right the way through Genesis, we have these markers as the action moves on from what has already happened, and we see the next sweep of God’s plan. (e.g. 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 10:32, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19). We begin with Adam and continue down through the generations to Noah and sons.

If you like, these are our original great, great grandfathers, but we’re not told that much about some of them. Did you notice the pattern going on? Look with me at verse 6. ‘When Seth had lived for one hundred and five years, he became the father of Enosh. Seth lived after teh birth of Enosh for eight hundred and seven years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.’

Each of the entries seems to follow the same basic pattern - the years of his life, the name of his son, and the final bit of information - ‘and he died.’ In contrast with Genesis 4, which we saw a few weeks back was a dead end in the maze with Cain and his family, here in Genesis 5 we’re moving on through the generations, tracing God’s line of promise. But even God’s promised line, his chosen family, is still under the curse because of their sin - they are born according to the image of Adam (3), sinfulness passed from parents to the next generation. That’s why Genesis 5 have the constant chorus of the curse: ‘and he died.’ The wages of sin is death.

For some reason we all seem to like patterns. Whether it’s houndstooth coats, or paisley ties; stripes or spots or flowery wallpaper; patterns are all around us. But sometimes, when you have a pattern, it shows up the contrast - whether it’s a feature wall in a bold colour; or something that’s just a little bit different. The exception that proves the rule.

Did you notice the exception, the stand-out difference in the chapter? Who is it? It’s Enoch, in verse 21. It starts out the same, but then it’s suddenly different. ‘When Enoch had lived for sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah for three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.’

We expect to hear ‘and he died.’ But instead we’re told that he walked with God, and God took him. What does this mean? Over in Hebrews, it’s explained for us: ‘But faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’

Enoch stands in this line from Adam (the same family as us), he’s a sinner, just like his great-grandfather Adam, and yet he pleases God, he walked with God. He escapes death and goes straight into God’s presence. Enoch stands as a signpost to the Lord Jesus, who defeats death and rises, ascends into heaven bodily. He’s an example of what happens when God’s power is at work in us - the victory of Christ given to a sinner. ‘He who believes in me will never die’ (Jn 11:26)

So how did Enoch do it? Was he exceptionally good, always trying to do the right thing? Did he never put a foot wrong? It can’t be that- he was in Adam, he was sinful, but he was also a believer- it was ‘by faith’ that he trusted in God and walked with him, and (to use a phrase of Abram:) he believed, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

After the mystery of Enoch’s disappearance, life returns to normal. The pattern continues. Death continues to reign. Sin spreads, so that at the start of chapter six, ‘The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.’ They woke in the morning, their first thought was of sin. Their thoughts through the day tended to sin. Their last waking thought was sin. God decides to act in judgement. Total wipeout - not just the BBC1 assault course, but actual total wipeout. All humans, and all animals and birds are to be blotted out. God the judge will act justly. Sin will be punished. The sentence has been passed.

As we read these chapters, we can’t fail to see ourselves as members of this same family of Adam; part of this sinful brood. We too deserve punishment, because of our total depravity (that’s not to say that we’re as bad as we possibly could be, but that every part of our life is infected by sin).

The last words of our reading, though, are a cause of hope. ‘But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.’ Noah found grace - unmerited favour, so that the Lord will save him from the coming flood. Noah is as sinful as those around him. But he is also graced. As we baptise Greg today, he responds to the undeserved grace of God as he turns from his sins and turns to Christ. It’s the same grace that is on offer to each one of us today. Will you receive that grace today, and walk with Christ, who has born the curse, defeated death, and offers us life in him, both now and forever.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 28th October 2012.

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