‘This Present, Evil Age’ – Galatians 1:1-5 – July 21st, 2019

If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the book of Galatians – chapter 1, verses 1 through 5:

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

This is the word of the Lord.

*

We live on “Hell’s front porch,” which is a horrifying sentiment. But it’s true. I’m going to have to explain that, because you can’t just say something along those lines and then leave it.

Here is what I do not mean: I do not mean that “the earth” is Hell’s front porch, although you might’ve heard something like that, and I certainly have. You can look at Rev. 21, which talks about a whole lot of this stuff. And what Revelation chapter 21 doesn’t say is that God is “taking us out of the earth and then nuking this place.” It says that there will be a “new Heaven and a new earth.” We’re not ditching earth for heaven. We are ditching what Paul calls, “this present evil age,” in verse 4.

The grammar in Revelation 21 is a little bit obscure, but the Greek scholars tell me that the term “new,” here, doesn’t mean “new” in the way that you would say you got a “new car.” It means “new” in the way that you would say that you’re a “new man” after you finish the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program. It’s “new” in the way that you would say you have a “new marriage” after God transforms both you and your spouse in such a way that your old, destructive patterns are no more and instead you embody the vision the Paul gives us in Ephesians 5, of husbands and wives mutually supporting each other, honoring one another in Christ, and serving one another rather than trying to control each other.

God will make “the heavens and the Earth” new like he has made us “new” in Jesus Christ. He will “destroy” the old heaven and the old earth like he has “destroyed” our old natures. He will “rescue us from this evil age,” he will liberate us from “Hell’s front porch,” by transforming this earth and this heaven into a “new earth” and a “new heaven.”

So when we say that “this present evil age” is “Hell’s front porch,” we mean that we live in a world that’s been so shattered by the Fall that’s described in Genesis chapter 3 that the horrors Jesus describes in the story of “Lazarus and the rich man,” or the “Lake of Fire” described in Revelation chapter 20, or the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in Luke chapter 13, read almost like extensions of what we already live.

It seems like we nearly always end up heading back to Genesis chapter 3, but that’s inevitable since so much of the story that the Bible tells is rooted in what happens there: Humanity rebels against God in the garden, and we are cast out from God’s presence. But that’s not the beginning and end of what happens in that passage.

God recites a very strange poem as he is banishing us from the garden, and you probably remember it because it’s weird. He turns to Eve and says “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe. / with painful labor you will give birth to children.  / your desire will be for your husband / and he will rule over you.”

And he turns to Adam and he says, “Cursed is the ground because of you / through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. / It will produce thorns and thistles for you, / and you will eat by the sweat of your brow / until you return to the ground that you were taken from. / Because from dust you were created and now to dust you will return.”

That passage is written in poetic verse, and so it strikes us as really odd the way that it’s worded, but if you step back, you see that what’s happened is that by rebelling against God, we have created a situation in which our relationship with the rest of the created world has been shattered, so “the ground produces thorns and thistles” rather than “bearing good fruit” in cooperation with us;

And we see that our relationship with other humans has been shattered – when Genesis 3:16 comes up and God laments that “the woman’s desire would be for her man but that he would dominate her,” I probably don’t have to try to convince you that that’s the way things tend to work, because most of the women I’ve ever met in my life have a handful of “Genesis 3:16 stories.”

But that doesn’t even just apply to men and women: We see in the Garden of Eden that the relationship between Adam and Eve and God and the animals is harmonious and cooperative, but in the days since our Fall in the garden everything has skewed towards domination.

The folks who “ascend to the top of the ladder” are rarely folks who have “merited” ascending to the top, they’re just the folks who were cruel enough to do the things they had to do to get there. It is not a secret that quite a few politicians made it to where they are today less because they out-worked their opponents than because they were ruthless enough to edge out the folks who weren’t;

Or that philanthropic CEO of such-and-such company made his way to raking in 40 billion dollars every year by finding ways to produce his product in such a way the keeps his profit margin wide and his expenses slim by seeing to it that the folks at the bottom of his work force are exploited rather than cultivated. “Human society” since the fall has skewed towards “domination,” not “community.”

But more than anything, our relationship with ourselves has been fractured, God says that “we will return to the ground from which we came,” “from dust we were taken / into dust we will return.” You are going to die, and so am I. We aren’t supposed to. But we will.

Rebelling against God, we became temporary. We became “mortal.” And we would. These are the things that we should expect to happen. Because God’s world is characterized by permanence. God’s world is characterized by “eternity.” God’s creations are meant to be “everlasting.” They’re meant to be whole. They are not meant to decompose, or wither, or cease to be.

But we rebelled against God: We rebelled against his kingship, we rebelled against his order, we rebelled against his will – and that means rebelling against permanence, rebelling against wholeness, rebelling against “eternity.” Rebelling against God is demanding death. It never isn’t.

And the rest of what God spells out is to be expected as well. God’s kingdom is characterized by “cooperation,” not “competition.” In God’s creative design, “survival of the fittest” is not the rule. We are created to cooperate with one another, to care for each other’s needs, to prop each other up rather than tear each other down, to “outdo one another in showing honor” like Romans 12 says, but by rebelling against God we are rebelling against cooperation.

By rebelling against God we are “embracing domination”, we are embracing the kinds of oppression that we see everyday and that we complain about on the news. Rebelling against God in the garden is rejecting the kind of gentleness we were created for. Rebelling against God in the garden breaks the world. So we live in bits of broken glass, so to speak. We’ve declared independence from God’s good design and planted our flag on Hell’s front porch.

And I probably don’t have to convince you of that, because you’ve probably been trampled on by the folks who clawed their way to the top. Or maybe you’ve been the one who’s done the trampling. Maybe you have worked “this present, evil age” to your own advantage, found ways to benefit or gratify yourself by dominating others just like God talks about here in Genesis 3.

It may very well be that the last thing that you want is a world that operates the way that God designed it to. And if that’s the case, I have very bad news for you: Paul says in verse 4 that Jesus has “given himself to set us free from this present, evil age.”

*

A few months back we celebrated Easter – that’s when we formally celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – and what’s remarkable about the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just the resurrection part, although generally speaking people don’t get back up after being crucified, it’s the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ remade the world.

By dying on a Roman cross, and then rising again on the third day Jesus “put to death” the old world that we created in our image when we rebelled against God in the garden and he “created a new world.”

To use the language that a bunch of old, dead Baptists would have used, he “inaugurated the new heavens and the new Earth,” he planted the seed that will one day grow into a plentiful garden, he raised us up out of the grave with him, and he raised his world up along with us. All of this has been really abstract and kind of airy, so we’re going to get more concrete in just a second, don’t worry, but track with me.

If we look back at Genesis chapter 3, we see that before God recites that terrifying poem to Adam & Eve, he turns to the snake who stirred up their rebellion, and he says, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals. / You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. / I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. / He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

Just like before, God is speaking in “poetic verse” here, so it all sounds a little strange, but for about two thousand years, theologians have been referring to verse 15 as the “Proto-Evangelium.” That’s a weird word, but it means the “First Gospel,” or the “Proto-Gospel”; it’s the first stirring that we get of what God is going to do in response to our rebellion in our Fall.

Later on in the book of Galatians, Paul starts to trace the concept of “the seed” that God mentions here in the Book of Genesis. He goes through a whole, long argument about Genesis chapter 12, and he ends up arguing that “the seed” that God refers to, here, is Jesus Christ. Paul had a better grasp on Hebrew grammar than I do, so I’ll take his word for it, but he argues that the promises that God makes to us throughout the Old Testament are ultimately fulfilled through Jesus, and so God says that the “enmity” between the serpent that stirred up our rebellion in the Garden and the seed that he’s describing here will come to a point where the serpent “strikes his heel” and he “crushes the serpent’s head.” One day, Jesus is going to destroy the serpent.

In Revelation chapter 20, John suggests that the “serpent in the garden” is the devil, or something like him, and that “destroying the devil” is wrapped up in “undoing the Fall,” un-breaking the world, making right everything that we have made wrong. Jesus rescues us from “this present evil age” by dying on the cross and then raising us up with him.

That means that when Jesus died on the cross, he began the process of bringing all the brokenness of the world, all of the horrors God describes in Genesis 3, to an end, and healing us under his wings. A day will come when the world that we live in isn’t “Hell’s Front Porch” any longer.

*

But all of that will only be good news if we shut down the rebellion, right? When the American Revolution came through town, it did not go well for “British Loyalists.” When the French Revolution came through town, it did not go well for Marie Antoinette. When God purges the world of the darkness we’ve created, when God pries the world he’s made from the clutches of hell, it will not go well for us if we are still leading the charge against his good rule. When God comes around to liberate the creation from its brokenness, it is very important that we are no longer “enemy combatants,” or else the good news of the Gospel will be very bad news for us.

We don’t just need God to purge the world of its brokenness. We need to be forgiven for our sins. We need somebody to “go to the guillotine instead of us.” But there is nobody who can go to the guillotine instead of us. There is nobody on planet Earth who can bear our guilt in our place. Nobody else can be justly punished for our rebellion against God.

Even if I’ve wronged you, and you forgive me, by wronging you I haven’t just wronged you. Everything we do to other people we have also done to God, every wrong we have committed to anyone else we have also committed against God, so we need more forgiveness than the person we’ve wronged has any capacity to give out. We need God’s forgiveness. The person we need to go to the guillotine in our place is God himself.

We need the God that we rebelled against in the garden to step up to the chopping block and take our execution, or else the good news that God is destroying all the evil in the world will be very bad news for you and me because we will be part of the evil that God is purging from the world.

But the good news is that God did take the guillotine instead of us. The God that we have rebelled against by fashioning our world into Hell’s Front Porch came to Earth, lived as a human, and then turned himself over to us to murder him in our place. And so Paul says it pretty succinctly, he says “the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to set us free from this present evil age.” There is no “rescuing us from this present evil age” without “giving himself for our sins.” But he does. He does exactly that. This is the God that we worship. This is the God that exists.

This is the story that we tell every week at Mount Zion – from a different angle, obviously, but we always land in the same place. I have one sermon. Literally one sermon. Every text in the Bible is going to make its way to the death and resurrection of Jesus because the death and resurrection of Jesus is the truest thing about you. The death and resurrection of Jesus is “the true story of the world.”

I’ve learned over the years that I need to say more about that: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the truest thing about you, which tells us that you are bad enough that God needed to give himself to be murdered in your place and that you are precious enough that God didn’t think twice about doing so. That’s true about you whether you believe it or not.

That will continue to be true about you when you leave the church in a few minutes, head to a restaurant, open up a 24-hour news app and get mad at your congressman about something before forgetting what we talked about today. This is the true story of your life, and there’s a sense in which it’s the only true story of your life. Which means that you can submit yourself to the God who “gave himself” to “rescue you from this present, evil age” or you can rebel. Those are your choices. If you have not surrendered yourself to the God who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, you are still in rebellion. You can stay that way, or you can submit to him. But those are your choices.

Now, this is the part where I’m supposed to beg you for five minutes to give “let God into your life.” Somebody jumps on the organ, starts playing “Just As I AM,” I’m supposed to get increasingly desperate and convincing, plead with you to “give God a chance.”

But the reality is that you do not “give God a chance.” You do not “let God into your life.” God let himself into your life by creating you. Every one of us has been running from God in one form or fashion since we were born, since the day we woke up in the garden and decided to rebel. And that same rebellion that was at work in the garden will be at work in you now, telling you that it’s fine – that you do not need to surrender to the God we meet in Jesus Christ. Groveling from a pulpit while the organ plays isn’t gonna change that.

So instead I’m gonna level with you: You have no bargaining chips. You have no leverage on God. I’ve met people who’ve told me that they’re gonna hold off giving themselves to the Lord because they wanna cash that in the next time they’ve got a sick family member or a late mortgage payment. That might be you. And if that is you, you deserve to know that you’re fooling yourself. You’re lying to yourself if you think that’s a bargaining chip that you have.

You are going to throw yourself on the mercy of the God who “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present, evil age” or you aren’t, and there’s nothing I can say that’s clever enough or touching enough that it’ll change your heart. So I’m praying that the Holy Spirit does that for you. I am praying that you wake up this week recognizing the reality of your sin in a way you haven’t before. I’m praying that you’ll develop a desire to know-and-be-known-by the God we read about in the Bible. I’m praying that you will want-to-want to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

And when that happens, you can email me. We can set up a time, talk through what it looks like to throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus, and pray together. But if you’re ready to abandon your illusions today, I’ll be standing at the altar while we worship the Lord through song, and you can come talk to me.

You can also come talk to me about literally anything else. Anyone coming down to pray or speak with me could be coming down for any number of reasons, so the folks in the pews aren’t gonna assume anything about you. For all they know, you’re asking me about the sports game I didn’t watch last week. But I will be available for you to talk through what’s on your heart, because whatever’s on your heart, it matters.

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