Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sermon: Genesis 5:1 - 6:8 Beginnings: Grief and Grace


When I was still in primary school, I had to come home because I was sick. Mum and dad both worked, so I went to granny’s house. Of course I was spoiled, and tucked into bed. And rather than doing homework, I decided I would start to read through the whole Bible. (I don’t know how long I thought I was going to be off sick for, but that’s besides the point). So I started into Genesis 1, and read all about creation; then Genesis 2, and life in the garden of Eden; then Genesis 3, and the temptation and fall; then Genesis 4, and story of Cain and Abel. And then, Genesis 5, brought my reading through the whole Bible to a stop. All those names. All those numbers. I think I ended up doing homework instead.

Perhaps your heart sank as you looked up the reading today; or as you heard me attempting to read it. Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself - what could there possibly be in this chapter that will be useful or helpful? But please don’t write it off too quickly. Remember what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16 - ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Tim 3:16-17). All Scripture is God-breathed, not just the bits that we know really well, but even the bits that seem difficult or (dare we say it) appearing boring. So even this chapter today is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

So we need to change that question from asking - what could there possible be in this chapter that will be useful or helpful - and instead ask: what is God saying through his breathed-out word? What is he teaching us today?

The first thing to note is that we’ve reached the next section of Genesis in 5:1. It begins with those words: ‘This is the written account of Adam’s line.’ Throughout Genesis, we have similar phrases marking out the different sections of the ongoing story. The last was in 2:4 (‘This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created’ and the next is in 6:9 (‘This is the account of Noah’).

So this is a new section. And we’re being told about Adam’s line - his family tree. Last time we were in Genesis, we heard about the dead end of the family line of Cain, who had murdered his brother Abel. But now we’re back on the mainline; we’re continuing the ongoing hunt for the promised Saviour and serpent-crusher down through the generations of Adam’s family.

In verses 1-2, we get a recap of the story so far, and a reminder of where people came from: ‘When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.’’ Man here means male and female - mankind or people. And who are we? Created by God, made in his likeness; made either male or female. (Not like Facebook with a third ‘custom’ option).

I wonder have you noticed, though, that Adam had a son in his own likeness in verse 3. We’re made in God’s image and likeness (marred now as it is), but we are also in Adam’s likeness - we are like our parents and like our first parents as well. All of us are ‘in Adam’ (1 Cor 15:22) and we share in his sin - by nature and choice.

Now, from verse 3, we see a pattern emerging. When so and so had lived so many years, he became the father of yer man. After that, he lived so many more years, had other sons and daughters, lived so long in total, and then died.

The numbers may be different in each instance, but the pattern is the same. Now, some people read the ages of these men, and they think that it’s obviously nonsense. Adam living 930 years? Methuselah living 969 years? Surely that’s not true. And so some people will try to come up with other ways of reckoning with this information. Maybe they counted years differently to us. Or maybe we need to divide them all by 10. But that wouldn’t work. Plus, over the page in 6:3, God then limits man’s lifespan to 120 years.

This family tree is showing us the names of the succeeding generations - think of it like the credits that roll at the end of a movie. The names roll past and you’re not that bothered by them, you don’t know them, and so you leave the cinema. But if someone you knew had been involved in the movie, you’d sit and watch carefully to see their name. Well these are part of our family tree; part of our story of faith.

But the thing that most stands out from this repeated pattern of names and ages is that, no matter how old they were, eventually their years came to an end. ‘And then he died... And then he died... And then he died.’ The pattern is demonstrating what Paul says in Romans 5:14 ‘Death reigned from the time of Adam’ - why? ‘For the wages of sin is death...’ (Rom 6:23). Genesis is realistic that in the midst of life, we are in death. And it’s coming, some day, for each of us as well. Genesis 5 is telling us about the grief of being part of the human family.

We’re so used to patterns - maybe in wallpaper, or a check shirt, or wherever you see them. When you recognise the pattern, then it’s very noticeable when something doesn’t fit into the pattern. Did you notice the bits that don’t quite fit the pattern of this family tree?

There’s Enoch, first of all. His paragraph starts like all the others, but then it goes a bit different. ‘And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.’ (5:22-24)

Enoch is different. We’re told that he ‘walked with God’ - that he was in close relationship with God, that he was in step with God; and then we’re not told that he died (like everyone else) - he ‘was no more, because God took him away.’ So what happened him? And why? To find the answer, we need to look at Hebrews 11:5.

‘By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God...’ (Heb 11:5-6)

So Enoch didn’t die in the usual way. Instead, God took him to heaven, as one who pleased him. He wasn’t perfect - he was a sinner, in this family line of Adam - and yet he had such faith in God that he was commended by God.

But there’s another bit that doesn’t fit the usual pattern. Did you notice that no one speaks in this family tree - we’re not told any words, wise or otherwise, from any of these men, until we get to Lamech. He has a son, names him Naoh, and tells us why: ‘He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.’ (5:29).

The name Noah means ‘comfort’ - and it’s Lamech’s hope that Noah will bring comfort. As each generation goes by, there is grief from the reign of death; and there is grief in the labour and painful toil because of the curse brought about by Adam’s sin. The pattern of human existence is that of grief.

And, we see in those opening verses of chapter 6, that it grieves God’s heart. (Don’t worry about the Nephilim or the sons and God and the daughters of men. It seems to be an aside). Look at 6:5: ‘The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’

Every waking moment, every waking thought, was always and only towards evil. Wickedness has free reign. Can you imagine living in such a society? Actually, it doesn’t take very much imagination, does it? This sounds very much like society around us. The theological term is ‘total depravity’ - every part of us is infected by sin, and inclined towards wickedness.

And it grieves God’s heart. We probably always feel the effects of other peoples’ sin towards us. It pains us. And we’re probably aware of the effects of our sin on other people - maybe less so, but with some awareness. But have we considered the effect of our sin on God? The God who made us, and blesses us - only for us to use and abuse his gifts, to exploit and manipulate others, and to be self-serving and selfish at every turn?

God is grieved. So he decides to wipe out mankind from the face of the earth. Everyone is already under the sentence of death, and it will be executed in one single sweep. It’s the end for the world as they knew it. But in the midst of all this grief - over death, and sin, and our wickedness, grace is also found.

The death penalty has been passed on all mankind. ‘But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD.’ (6:8). It’s not that Noah was different to anybody else - he was just as much a sinner. It’s not that Noah was more religious or tried harder or prayed more - he was a sinner. But grace found him. God was gracious to him because God was gracious to him.

And God’s grace is given to us as well. We too deserve the penalty of death because we are in Adam’s family. We too are inclined to evil all the time. And yet God’s grace comes to us in the Lord Jesus, who took our sin upon him. The Lord’s supper is a reminder of the grace we have from the Lord. He has dealt with our sin; he gives us his comfort. We need only receive it with open hands and a thankful heart, as we trust him and his death for us.

In among these hard to pronounce names and repeating phrases, in amongst the grief of living in this world, as children of Adam; we discover the grace that reaches for us, to make us children of God, saved by him, and comforted.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 13th October 2019.

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