Serving God: Bringing Hope to the Lost

The gospel is indeed a message of hope for the lost.  The message that a sinner like me not only can be cleansed of unrighteousness, but declared righteous by God is almost unbelievable.  Even more so when we realize that this is possible only by grace through faith as I place my trust in the work of Christ on the cross.  The reality that I will spend eternity with God is truly a glorious truth.  However, the gospel has far greater implications beyond my future in heaven.  There are cosmic implications of the atonement of Christ that bring hope for today to all who believe.

In light of this I would like to take a brief but comprehensive look at the cosmic implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I believe that by understanding the full scope of the gospel we can bring hope to anyone regardless of their current circumstances.  We can bring real hope of transformation today and for eternity.

Before we can fully grasp the scope of the fall of man into sin we must understand God’s original intent for mankind.  This is seen in the creation account of Genesis 1.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In the commission of Genesis 1:26-28 God reveals his purpose for creating mankind.  Certainly, we should understand the image of God to refer to mankind’s relational attributes, our creative and volitional abilities, and as the root of every human being’s dignity.   These are all true, but there is much more significance to this passage.

The idea of image bearer is very significant.  In the culture of the ancient near east, kings would erect statues bearing their image throughout their kingdoms.  These statues would demonstrate to the people that the king’s reign extended to that region.  The image of the king reminded the people of whose authority they were under.  As the kingdom expanded, more images would be erected.

By creating man in his image, God was commissioning them to mediate his reign on earth.  This is understood in light of God giving Adam and Eve dominion over the earth and everything on it.  God was the creator and sovereign King, but mankind was to be his vice-regents ruling on his behalf.  In this sense, Adam and Eve were kings.  As they obeyed the commission to “multiply and fill the earth” they would carry God’s image and thus establish his reign over the earth.

God placed Adam initially in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) which he had planted.  He commanded Adam to cultivate the garden (Gen 2:15) and he gave him Eve to assist him.  Their role in the garden is also extremely important to understand.  The garden was the place where God’s presence dwelt on earth.

Before the fall, mankind dwelt in the presence of God in the garden.  The command to cultivate the garden carries with it the understanding that Adam and Eve would expand the borders of the garden until it covered the entire earth.  The result being that the presence of God would extend over the earth.  In this sense, they were also priests.

In light of this we can better understand God’s original intention for humanity.  Adam and Eve were priest kings.  Their role was to mediate God’s sovereign rule over his creation and to expand his presence over all the earth.  God did not need them to do this, but rather entrusted them with the glorious privilege of participating with him in the created order.  This was the purpose of mankind.

Sadly, Adam and Eve did not exercise dominion for very long.  Adam demonstrated his mediation of God’s reign in that God allowed him to name all of the animals (Gen 2:19-20).  However, we see that Adam and Eve fail to fulfill their mandate.  Rather than mediating the rule of God over creation, they commit an act of treason and betray God.

They allow God’s enemy to enter the garden that they were commissioned to protect.  The serpent, Satan, begins to plant doubt in the mind of Eve and pander to her love of self.  He twists God’s words in an attempt to deceive her (Gen 3:1).  When Eve corrects him and states God’s actual command, the serpent calls God a liar (Gen 3:2-4).

The serpent says that if they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they will not die, but that they will become like God “knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5).  Immediately Eve was enticed in her flesh to eat the fruit.  It’s clear that it was her love of self that led to her sin.  She saw that the tree was “good for food” and would satisfy her hunger.  It was a “delight to look at” which increased her desire of it.  Ultimately, she desired to be wise like God and believed the fruit would exalt her (Gen 3:6).

Eve, just like each of us, succumbed to the tyranny of self-love and self-gratification.  Adam likewise desired the fruit and freely ate of it when Eve offered it (Gen 3:6).  The couple that God entrusted to rule the earth on his behalf betrayed him and as a result surrendered their dominion to God’s enemy.  Through deception and mankind’s love of self, Satan was able to gain a stronghold on creation.

There were several significant results of mankind’s betrayal of God and alignment with his enemy.  First, their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked and became ashamed (Gen 3:7).  They attempted to cover their shame by sewing leaves together for clothing, however this was useless.  When God came walking in the garden they hid from him, because of their shame.  The couple that God had created to fulfill the role of priest by extending his presence throughout the earth was hiding from the very presence of God (Gen 3:8-10).

Next, we see several curses are placed by God on his creation as a result of mankind’s sin.  The serpent is cursed and enmity is placed between Satan and humanity (Gen 3:14-15).  Thus, as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience mankind is now caught in the middle of a cosmic battle between God and Satan.  While this battle is cosmic it is worked out in the lives of mankind.  Thus, those who were intended to rule now find themselves under constant assault by Satan and his cohorts.  Satan desires to destroy them and wipeout the remnant of God’s image in creation.

In the midst of this curse however, there is hope.  God tells Eve that her offspring will ultimately crush the head of the serpent.  The understanding here is that God will raise up a man who will destroy Satan and return mankind to his rightful position as priest king mediating God’s reign over the earth.  This word of hope is the first prophecy of Jesus Christ.

The next curse is placed upon the woman.  God increases her pain in child birth and brings enmity into her relationship with her husband (Gen 3:16).  The woman who before, had the privilege of filling the earth with God’s image bearers, now will endure much pain in the process.  Though she was created to rule alongside her husband now he will rule over her.

In this curse we see the root of so many problems in the world.  Problems in the home between husbands and wives stem from this curse.  The oppression and abuse of women is a result of this curse.  Indeed, this passage can be seen as affecting all human relationships and thus is the beginning of strife between man and his neighbor.  This plays out very quickly in the life of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-8).

As a result of Adam’s sin all of creation is cursed (Gen 3:17-19).  Adam was created to be a blessing to the creation to cultivate it and to benevolently mediate God’s reign over it.  Instead, his sin leads God to place a curse on the earth.  The cultivation of the earth which was to be a joy to Adam now becomes a hardship.  The ground is no longer as productive and Adam will constantly battle against thorns and thistles.

We don’t have to look far to see the multitudes of problems resulting from this curse.  Natural disasters like floods, tornados, and earthquakes wreak havoc on our world.  Droughts and the resulting famine and disease are the results of this curse. The world that was to be a beautiful garden filled with the presence of God is instead a planet struggling to provide for those originally commissioned to care for it.

Finally, to protect mankind from eating from the tree of life and thus living forever in his fallen sinful state, God forced Adam and Eve from the garden (Gen 3:22-24).  Though they were created to live in the garden in God’s presence they were forced out of the presence of God.  Cut off from God’s presence and the tree of life they would no longer live forever.  Just as God had said, they would surely die.

Thus, we see the magnitude of the scope of the fall.  Every aspect of life has been affected by Adam’s sin.  He surrendered his position of authority to Satan who is determined to eradicate God’s image from the earth.  Human relationships have been twisted and the love of self is mankind’s driving ambition.  The creation itself groans for redemption as it struggles under the weight of the curse, the exploitation of mankind, and the constant assault of the war that rages between God and Satan.  Indeed, the fall of mankind has had immense implications for all of God’s creation.

However, there is a glimmer of hope seen in Genesis 3:20-21.  Adam, in faith, named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living (Gen 3:20).  This is a reference back to the prophecy in Gen 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan.  After this, God clothes them with garments of skin (Gen 3:21).

There are two very important concepts for us to understand in this act.  First, in order to make the clothing, blood must have been shed.  In this we see the necessity of the shedding of blood to deal with sin.  Second, we see the restoration of fellowship with God.  The couple hid from God because they were ashamed of their nakedness, but God in his grace clothes them in order to restore fellowship with them.  Both of these realities point forward to the hope found in the cross.

As extensive as the results of the fall are, we have hope because of the gospel!  The atonement of Christ is equally extensive overcoming all of the results of the fall and sin.  The immediate result of Adam’s sin was that they lost innocence and became ashamed of their nakedness.  In Genesis God clothed them in fur to restore fellowship with them, but believers are clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27).  That is to say our shame has been removed by the blood of the cross and we have been given the righteousness of Christ.  No longer must we hide from the presence of God; we can now approach him with boldness because of Christ (Eph 3:12).

As a result of the fall there were several curses placed by God.  When he cursed the serpent he placed enmity between him and humanity.  As previously discussed, this explains the spiritual warfare that we all endure from Satan.  He is a lion who seeks to destroy mankind (1 Peter 5:8), but as prophesied in Gen 3:15 the Son of Man has crushed his head.

This is evidenced in the ministry of Jesus.  By casting out demons, Jesus was demonstrating that he was reestablishing the dominion that Adam lost.

28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Matt 12:28-29)

Christ clearly showed that he had defeated Satan by exercising authority over demons.  The death blow was dealt at the cross and though Christ was bruised, his ultimate victory was established by the resurrection.  Satan has been defeated.  He still attacks the church, but in Christ we know that we have the victory and we will reign with Christ for eternity.

The curse that was placed on Eve made the process of filling the earth with image bearers a painful one.  In Christ, this process takes on new meaning.  Mankind is dead in sin and the image of God is marred in us.  Thus, filling the earth with the image of God requires new birth (John 3:3).  Paul talks of our old self being baptized into the death of Christ and raised with him to “newness of life” (Romans 6:3-6).  In Ephesians he refers to this as removing the old self and putting on the new self which is created in the likeness, or image, of God (Eph 4:22-24).  In this way, filling the earth with image bearers has a spiritual significance because only those who have died and been raised with Christ participate in his kingdom as image bearers.

As a result of the curse on the woman, discord arises in the home and spreads throughout all human relationships.  Yet Christ overcomes this by the cross.  He lives a life of self-denial and considers others as more important than himself.  Our old self was crucified with Christ and freed from the tyranny of self-love.  His life becomes our model of humility (Phil 2:3-8) as we seek to love God with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Thus in the kingdom of God, this curse is likewise overcome by the blood of Jesus.

Adam also was cursed as a result of sin.  He forfeited the dominion the Lord had given him and brought death and sin into the world.  The creation itself groans under the weight of this curse (Romans 8:19-22).  Christ, the last Adam, reestablished man’s role in mediating God’s reign over creation.

 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

The citizens of the kingdom of God reign with Christ.  This reign has begun even now as Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  He mediates that reign through his body the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Father.

For sure the reign of Christ has not come in its fullness.  There is a now and not yet reality to the kingdom of God.  The kingdom has begun and we build for the kingdom now with the hope that Christ will return and establish his reign in its fullness and completely wipe away all of the effects of sin.

This is exactly what we see in the close of scripture in the new heaven and new earth and the new Jerusalem.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Rev 21:1-7)

By the blood of his cross the Lord Jesus ultimately overcomes the fall and the curse.  Because of his righteousness the stronghold of sin is broken and all things are made new.  As originally intended, mankind will mediate the reign of God over a restored creation and we dwell in the presence of God forever just as was intended in the Garden of Eden!  This is a message of hope for everyone!

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