The Christian understanding of Scripture is a story of God working out a rescue mission to save sinful humans from the wages of our own sin. The exceedingly good creation lasts only a couple of chapters before disobedience enters the world. Then a downward spiral of humanity—certainly not without a few bright spots in the text—is finally reversed by the advent, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent indwelling of the Spirit. But this look at the Bible is from a 10,000-foot view, so to speak. What are the actual stories of downfall and uplifting that guide us to an empty tomb at the end of this Lenten season?
The story of human sin starts shortly after the creation of a single human. We each read and interpret Genesis differently, of course, and will apply different lenses to the readings. For my devotional reading, I choose to read Genesis as one story. Several humans were created on the sixth day of creation, male-and-female (Genesis 1:27). God rested on the seventh day and got back to work on the eighth. God created another human, just like the others outside of the garden, but brought this one into a garden that was specifically prepared to allow the human to work, nurture and protect (Genesis 2:15). The garden was a place of work and growth and communion with God.
But that one human, isolated in the garden from the others, predictably became lonely. So God took a side of the human and made a sex-specific man and woman. (The Hebrew word tzela should best be rendered as “side” as in Exodus 25:12; 2 Samuel 16:13; Ezekiel 41:26 and elsewhere. A post-split Adam testifies in Genesis 2:23 that a single “rib” makes no sense when he recognizes Eve as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”) Now, Adam and Eve are together with each other and with God, so the garden really was perfect. There was just one rule: Don’t eat from the tree at the center of the garden.
You know the rest of the story. The serpent made the case that God had lied about the deadly consequences of disobedience—that God jealously guarded the knowledge of good and evil for Godself alone. Eve saw the fruit was good for eating, a delight to the eyes and desirous for gaining wisdom. She took some for herself and some for Adam, who was silently present at the tree for the whole exchange with the serpent (Genesis 3:6). After they ate the fruit, sin and death entered the world—and death reigned for years.
The Spirit led Jesus there to be tested. Jesus passed the test that Adam and Eve failed.
Then at just the right time, a baby was born in Bethlehem. That baby grew up to be a man and was baptized in the Jordan River. This wasn’t just any human, but one about whom, at his baptism, a voice from heaven proclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And immediately afterward, Jesus was taken out into the wilderness to be tempted by the slanderer/devil.
Jesus was tempted to make bread for himself after fasting for 40 days. Jesus was tempted to make a public spectacle of himself at the temple to show that he had power over life and death. And he was tempted by power over all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Each time, Jesus resisted temptation (by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 and 6:16, no less!).
The early church saw Jesus’ rejection of temptation as a key part of why he was able to free humans from our sins. Jesus was tempted as we all are but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Indeed, Christ’s sinlessness is an oft-recurring theme of early Christian letters (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 2:22).
As an analogy, during safety briefings on airplanes we are told to put on our own oxygen masks first and then to help others in the event of an emergency. To save others from sin and death, Jesus first had to demonstrate that sin and death had no claim on him. Jesus didn’t find himself in the wilderness being tempted by accident. Instead, the Spirit led him there to be tested. Jesus passed the test that Adam and Eve failed. Paul wrote that sin entered the world through one man (Adam) and brought death by sin (Romans 5:12). The obedience of one man (Jesus), however, makes many righteous (Romans 5:19). As we look forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, let us put them in the context of the whole story of God’s long rescuing of humans from sin and death.