A Brief History Of Sin

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I still remember the day I found out that my first car was on its last legs (or tyres, I suppose). The mechanic I used also owned a clapped out Vauxhall Cavalier, and he used to greet mine like a long-lost friend. But there came the day when I drove it clunking and banging to his workshop and mid-afternoon came the fateful phone call. 'Mr Garrett? (Pause.) I'm afraid she's reached the end of the road.' 'Is there really no hope?' I said. 'No,' he said, 'No hope at all.' And hard as it was, it was a kindness to be told the truth. To be told that although I felt hopeful, there was in fact no hope. So that the only wise thing to do was to invest in a new car.

Well, we come tonight in our series in Genesis to chapters 4 to 11. And their message is very simple: apart from Jesus Christ there's no hope for this world. It won't get better because we won't get better. So that the only wise thing to do is to invest in the new creation that Jesus came to bring about.

So would you turn to Genesis is your Bibles and you'll also need the sermon outline, which is entitled, 'A BRIEF HISTORY OF SIN'. And you'll see at the top there:


What have we seen so far?

Well, in Genesis 1-2, we saw creation. And the idea was for mankind to live under God's rule. And the situation where everyone's doing that is what the Bible calls the kingdom of God. So in the picture, the crown stands for God, the circle for the world and the stickperson stands for Adam and Eve letting God be King of their lives.

Next, in the first half of Genesis 3 (vv1-6), we saw how sin entered the picture. Sin is the attitude of rebellion that crosses God out of the picture. And when Adam and Eve made that step from picture 1 to picture 2, it was in response to the temptation of Satan. So you could say that Adam and Eve joined the 'kingdom' of Satan. They changed sides.

And then, last week, in the second half of Genesis 3 (vv7-24) we saw how death entered the picture. Death in the Bible is not the end of existence. It's the end of existence in relationship with God. It's separation from God. And physical death makes that separation irreversible.

So was there any hope by the end of the events of Genesis 3? Yes - because we saw in Genesis 3.15 the first promise of salvation in the Bible. So:


Have a look at Genesis 3.15. The Lord is addressing the serpent, who stands for Satan:

15And 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."

Ie, there's reason to hope that this rebellion orchestrated by Satan will one day be put down. Because Satan is ultimately going to be 'crushed' - by one of Eve's offspring, ie, by a man. And that man is going to get 'struck' in the process. And that's why, from this moment on, the Bible is so interested in genealogies. Because people were looking for the coming of this 'offspring' of the woman. So 4.1:

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.

Is this the promised Saviour? No, it turns out he's the first murderer. 4.6:

6Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." [But like us, he can't master sin; sin masters him.] 8Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

On to 4.17:

17Cain lay with his wife [where she came from is one of the many questions Genesis doesn't answer], and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch… 18To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. Lamech married two women.

Ie, Lamech is the first bigamist. So, in the kingdom of Satan, first the sanctity of life goes; then the sanctity of marriage. 4.23:

"Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times."

Ie, proportionate justice goes: 'You hurt me; I'll kill you.' Welcome to the world of spiralling revenge and of vendettas passed down the generations. There seems to be no hope in these offspring of Eve. So, 4.25:

25Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, "God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him." 26Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

And here's the hint that hope may lie in Seth's family line:

At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.

Read on. Here's a heading to a new section (5.1):

This is the written account of Adam's line.

And here's one of the Bible's own 're-cap's:

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man."
3When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. 4After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. 5Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died. (5.1-5)

If the ages of people trouble you, you may need to borrow or buy a commentary on Genesis. Derek Kidner's Tyndale Old Testament Commentary is very good. I heard the Professor of Geriatrics here in Newcastle give the Reith Lecture on the radio a few years ago. And he mentioned that there's no inherent reason why we shouldn't live much longer. And he's right. Because mortality was not created into us - like what the manufacturers call 'designed obsolescence' (which is why your toaster will blow up in 5 years' time, and your jug kettle is already starting to leak). No, mortality was imposed on us as a judgement - and it's always been in God's hands as to how fast-acting that judgement is. Skip down the genealogy to 5.28:

28When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29He named him Noah and said, "He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed." 30After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31Altogether, Lamech lived 777 years, and then he died. 32After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth.

{Note: the Lamech referred to here is a different man from the "bigamist" descendent of Cain previously referred to.}

Which brings us to:


a) The judgement of the flood (6.1f).

Look at 6.5 for what the world of Noah's day was like:

5TheLord saw how great mankind's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

Ie, every single human being was (and is) like one of those crown green bowls - with a bias or inclination which means they always go off the straight line of God's will. Or like a shopping trolley which has an inclination not to go straight ahead - however you push it. And that's how we were all born.

We first saw this back in chapter 4 with Cain - he was born a sinner. Something happened to Adam and Eve's nature as a result of their rebellion which meant they became predisposed, or biased, or inclined towards rebellion against God and his ways. But that's not how they were created. It's how they became. A small illustration. I still remember the first time, as a young boy, when I stole from my mother's purse. And it was a huge step. But thereafter I remember it never seeming so huge. In fact it seemed smaller and smaller. Because the moment I took that step, I changed. The step itself weakened me towards stealing thereafter. And that's a small and inadequate illustration of what happened when Adam and Eve rebelled. Human nature changed; it was weakened towards sin. And Cain and Abel and Seth and Noah and you and me have all inherited that fallen nature - or 'sinful nature' as the Bible puts it. Which is why our parents never needed Early Learning Centre games to help us get the idea of lying. We're born liars. And Enid Blyton never had to write stories to get across the idea of being selfish. We were born looking out for no.1. And so on, in every area of our personalities. So, v6:

6The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them."

And comes the most extraordinary verse:

8But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.

Now look back to v5. Was Noah included in v5? Yes. Verse 5 is about everyone, all the time. So Noah was part of the sin-problem - yet, v8:

Noah found favour [literally, grace - that Bible word for utterly undeserved, utterly unexpected love] in the eyes of the Lord.

Ie, the Lord brought Noah back into relationship with himself. To use our language, Noah 'became a Christian'. And as a result, v9:

9This is the account of Noah. [Ie, 'This is what God did in and through Noah.'] Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God [That doesn't mean he was sinless; it means he was put right with God by grace and as a result he lived to please God.] 10Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
11Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12.God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14So make yourself an ark of cypress wood [Ie, a massive 'lifeboat'].

Skip to v17:]

17I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark - you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you.

A covenant is simply a promise. When people get married, they make a covenant: 'I will.' And in v18 the Lord says to Noah, 'I will establish my covenant with you.' Noah's already in a covenant relationship with God - the implication of v8 is that God has already forgiven Noah and promised to forgive him and stick with him. Now God is saying, 'As I judge the rest of the world, I'm going to establish my promise, with you: I'm going to see to it that you come through this judgement unscathed.'

And he does come through unscathed. Noah builds the ark and gets into it. The flood comes. The flood recedes (see 6.22-8.17). Then, 8.18:

18Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. 19All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds--everything that moves on the earth--came out of the ark, one kind after another. 20Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.

It always seems tough to me that they survived the flood and then, within minutes of disembarking, they get the chop in a sacrifice. But Noah understood the principle of sacrifice that God had given them as early as Cain and Abel (see 4.1f). He understood that the animals represented him; their death represented what he deserved; and the whole process represented the fact that we can only be spared judgement if a substitute takes our judgement instead. And Noah, fresh from surviving the worst judgement ever to hit the earth, sacrifices in order to say to the Lord, 'That should have been me. I didn't deserve to be in that ark. I don't deserve to be here. I'm just a sinner like the rest of them were. Please forgive me - and keep forgiving me - otherwise we'll have another flood in no time at all.' And, v21:

21The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22"As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night
will never cease."

And that promise is why we are sitting here tonight. That promise is why the Tyne is not rising, and the rain is not lashing down indefinitely, and Kielder Water is not overflowing even as we speak. It's not because the world today has been any better than it was in Noah's day. It's because of this promise that God will not bring a universal judgment on sin ever again within history. But: notice the time limit to this promise - v22, 'As long as the earth endures.' Ie, he won't ever do it again within history. But one day he will wrap up history, and there'll be a judgment that makes the flood look like a drop in a bucket.

'It is not to be marvelled at that there was a flood,' said John Calvin, 'But that there has only been one.'

So it ought to be a marvel to us every day that we're even here - not to mention a cause for thanksgiving and praise. Every minute of every hour of every day we are not getting what we do deserve. And we are getting what we don't deserve.

Speaking down at the Durham University CU Mission a few weeks ago, one of the titles I was given was this: Life's good - who needs God? And a lot of people would say that. And my first point in that talk was, 'Life's good because of God.' To say 'Life's good - who needs God?' is a bit like climbing a tree, sitting out on a branch and saying, 'This branch is good, who needs trunks?' Or it's like enjoying that cashpoint/ launderette/ restaurant/ taxi service rolled into one that we call home and saying, 'Home's good, who needs parents?' There's a basic failure to recognize dependence. God is in a 'lose, lose' situation. If he judges us through suffering, we shake our fists at him; if he is good to us, we take it for granted and ignore him. And, because of the promise of 8.22, this world does look like something you can take for granted - it's so apparently solid and reliable. As if there's no-one behind it to whom we owe everything. But this world is like the image on a computer screen - it looks so solid you can take it for granted. Yet a click of a mouse can close it down. And God holds the mouse of the universe.

On to 9.8:

8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9"I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10and with every living creature that was with you--the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you--every living creature on earth. 11I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant…

And every time you see a rainbow - or a bow (it's the same word in the original) - it's a sign that God has 'hung up his bow (and arrows)' Ie, it's a sign that he's holding back judgment until the end of history. There is a 'storm' of judgement awaiting the end of time; but there is currently a 'rainbow' of grace before it. 9.1:

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth…

Which should ring bells with Genesis 1 (see 1.28f). This is like a new beginning - as if the Lord, the Director, has picked up the clapper-board and said, 'Take 2'. But after the flood, has anything really changed? No. The flood demonstrated God's judgement on sin, but it didn't do anything to change the sin-problem in the survivors. Look, eg, at 9.6:

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

Ie, sin is now assumed. It's assumed that there will be more murder. So now there's legislation about it. Laws like this presuppose a situation of ongoing sin. Or look onto 9.20:

20Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent…

And a sordid scene unfolds. Noah always was part of the problem, remember. After the flood, there is still the problem of individual sin. But then, over in chapter 11, there's also the problem of corporate sin:

b) The judgement of the division and scattering of mankind (11.1f)

1Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

Ie, 'Let's try to organize society without reference to God. Let's pretend that we're God and that we're great and that we have all the answers and that we can rule the world.'

5But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. [God should know all about human potential because he made it. And he knows that potential can now be used for doing evil as well as good. So he says:] 7Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

So you get the judgement of the division and scattering of mankind:

8So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9That is why it was called Babel--because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

That was a judgment, but also an act of love - because it slowed down for all time our capacity as a race to co-operate in evil.


We've seen that promise of salvation back in chapter 3. And yet we've also seen that demonstration of judgement in the flood. Which raises the question: how is God going to resolve those two things - his mercy and his justice?

The answer is: through Jesus - which is where all the genealogies in the Bible are heading. To Jesus, who died on the cross under the judgement we deserve so we can be forgiven. And who rose from the dead. And who is now back in heaven. And who, one day, will 'click the mouse' and wrap up history and judge everyone who's ever lived. To use his own words,

'As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.' (Matthew 24.37)

And Jesus is to us what the ark was to Noah - he's our only hope of escaping judgement. And just as Noah had to get into the ark, we have to 'get into' Jesus - in the sense of put our trust in him and his death for us on the cross. Jesus and his cross is our protection, just as the ark was Noah's.

If you need to know more about how to 'get into' Jesus, how to put your trust in him so as to be put right with God, then do pick up a copy of this booklet, Why Jesus?, from the Welcome Desk at the back.

But if you've already trusted in Jesus and are trusting in Jesus, then take away the lesson of Genesis 4-11: there is no hope for the world apart from Jesus. Hard as it is, it's a kindness to be told the truth - whether by your mechanic about your car, or by your Maker about yourself and your world. We need to be warned off false hopes. And we need to be told to invest our resources - our time, our energy, our money, our prayers - in the one hope there is for this world.

There is no hope for it apart from Jesus It won't get better because we won't get better. God in his mercy uses all sorts of things to restrain evil - from the law to circumstantial judgements like the division of people groups. And he uses us who know him to stand out in our generation as Noah did in his. But at the end of the day, there's no hope for the world - no solution to the sin-problem (as opposed to the mere restraint of the problem) - apart from Jesus. Which is why the best thing we can do for the world is tell it about him. It's not the only thing we should do for it. But it is the best thing we can do for it.

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