The other day I turned on the TV and it came on in the middle of a programme. I have no idea what it was. But there was a woman - her face drawn, full of silent anguish. In her hand was a photograph. The photo was a picture of a smiling, happy couple, arm in arm. The woman in the photo was her.
She took a pair of scissors, and cut through the picture, cutting it right in half, and cutting precisely between the man and herself, separating the two of them. Then she threw the pieces down and picked up another photo. Same happy couple on a different occasion. And again she cut between herself and her man, and threw the pieces down. And another picture got the treatment. And another.
That's all I saw. I switched over at that point. But that's stayed with me. We don't know the details but we don't really need to. We understand the situation. Another devastated relationship with the bitterness, guilt, rage, suffering and despair with which we're familiar.
What went wrong? It all goes back to Genesis 3. It all goes back to sin. My title this evening is Fatal Attraction, and as we work through the early chapters of Genesis we've come to the first half of Genesis 3, so do have that open in front of you. You'll find it on p5 of the Bibles in the pews.
I have two main headings. First: To sin is to revolt against the Lord God. Then secondly: How to escape the trap of temptation. So:
First, TO SIN IS TO REVOLT AGAINST THE LORD GOD
To get a grip on the events of chapter 3 we have to back up for a minute and remind ourselves of what's happened to the first man and the first woman - Adam and Eve - in chapters 1 and 2. And you can sum that up by saying:
1. God had blessed Adam and Eve
How had he done that? He'd given them a place to live. A good place. He'd set them in a delightful garden. And he'd made sure there was provision. 2.9:
And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
They had everything they needed - but more than that, this garden and this life gave them pleasure too. And it was a life full of productivity and purpose. In 1.28 God commands them:
Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
And 2.15 says God…
… took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
And God blessed them by giving them commands to obey. Eat anything in the garden. But with one exception. Don't eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you do, you'll die. So those commands give both protection and freedom.
And then God gives them each other. So they don't only have a place to enjoy, but a person to love.
They have no cause for complaint against the God who made them. God is a good, gracious, generous, loving God towards them. And he hasn't changed. We cannot bring any reproach against God.
Vivienne and I bought a table tennis table a while ago as a present - and it's been a disaster. The supplier has treated us abysmally. We have loads of just cause for complaint and redress against them. I won't tell you the details because it would give me too much pain.
No doubt there are people in your life with whom you have a just grievance. But God isn't one of them. God's plan for us is unadulterated blessing.
What's gone wrong? We have, that's what. And it began with Adam and Eve.
2. The disobedience of Adam and Eve is an act of revolution.
What's a piece of fruit? When they eat a piece of fruit that their Creator and Lord has told them not to eat on pain of death, then it's a wholesale act of defiance and rejection of his rule.
It's an attempt to dethrone God. In fact even more than that, in the final analysis it's an attempt to destroy God and at the same time it's an attempt to put themselves in the place of God.
God's rule is that God rules. That's the significance of God's command to the man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He's not just saying it to throw his weight around. He's saying it for their good. Like a father who tells his child: Don't step out in front of an oncoming car.
And when God's command is refused, that is a claim to autonomy. It's saying to our creator: 'I'll decide the law round here. If I say something's OK, then it's OK. If I say it's not OK, then it's not. What you say doesn't count round here any more. If I do what you say, it's just because it suits me to do it. You're not my Lord any more. I'll run my own life without you, thank you very much.' It's a silent statement that we wish God was out of the way, not interfering in our lives. We wish he was dead.
Such arrogance and hatred in response to such grace and blessing would be unbelievable if we weren't so familiar with it from our own hearts.
To sin is to revolt against the Lord God. And there are two other things to see about that. One is that…
3. …the result of their disobedience is devastation and death.
That distraught women viciously cuts up photographs that remind her of a relationship that was once everything to her. Her plight is one drop in the torrent of destruction that was unleashed by the sin of Adam and Eve. When God says death will follow in the wake of rejection of his rule, he means what he says. Death in our relationships with one another. Death in our relationship with God. Death in our bodies. Death for all eternity.
We all live under this great black blanket of death. Everything we do, everything we have, all our relationships end in death. But it did not have to be so. Our ancestors Adam and Eve chose that fate.
And we're like them. So the other thing to understand is that…
4. …their temptation and fall is the prototype of all sin.
The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11.3, as he warns the Corinthians about the spiritual danger they're in:
I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
In other words, the equivalent of what happened to Eve can happen to us, all too easily, as we allow ourselves to be turned away from Jesus.
And James puts the same point in a different way:
each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
What we need desperately to know is how to escape. And that brings me to my second (and final) main heading. So:
Secondly, HOW TO ESCAPE THE TRAP OF TEMPTATION
Here's a three point plan for escaping devastation and death. One: Be aware of Satan's strategy. Two: Be aware of our vulnerability. Three: Take God's escape route. Let me take those in turn.
1. Be aware of Satan's strategy
I remember hearing a woman talking about the years she'd spent in Africa, and showing some slides. One of her pictures was of a very evil looking Black Mamba. She said that if it manages to get a good bite of you, you're dead within a few minutes. She said their policy had been to kill any snake they came across first, and identify whether it was poisonous later. Adam and Eve should have had the same policy. The snake they encountered was poisonous indeed.
I also saw recently on TV some half crazy Aussie trying to have a conversation with a huge spitting cobra out on the African plains. At one point he thought he had it soothed and under his influence. But suddenly it reared up and shot a great stream of venom several metres straight into his face. A direct hit. He ran. He had at least taken the precaution of wearing sun-glasses. They saved his sight.
Snakes can be deadly things. This snake that Eve encountered is more deadly than them all. The venom that it shoots straight into the face of Eve consists of words more deadly than any poison.
Why? Because this snake speaks with the voice of Satan. Satan speaks through the serpent. Satan is God's great adversary. It's clear that this snake Eve meets represents him. The identification is confirmed in the Book of Revelation at the other end of the Bible. So in Revelation 12.9 the defeat of Satan is described in these terms:
The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.
Here's what we need to know about him.
He's a creature. 3.1:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.
The snake was made by God. Satan is a creature gone to the bad. He does not have any existence independent of God's creation, like some eternal dark side. He's powerful, but though he tries, he cannot compete with God. He is ultimately always under God's power..
He's in revolt. Jesus said (this is Luke 10.18):
I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
The closest we can get to understanding his nature is to say that he's a powerful angel leading a revolution against God who's been cast out of heaven. His final end will be to be thrown into the eternal fire. But until then he fights on against God and his people with every weapon of mass destruction at his disposal. And there's no let up. He's implacably and irredeemably evil.
At the moment the Daleks of Doctor Who fame are being celebrated - I can't remember why. It was the nature of the Daleks that they were hell bent on destruction and couldn't be reasoned with for a moment. 'I will exterminate you' was their only thought. The Daleks were neither powerful nor subtle nor real, and we find them laughable. The devil is hell bent on the destruction of humanity. He is both real and powerful. He is not laughable. And he's clever.
Satan's strategy is subtle. He doesn't just launch in with a full frontal attack. I think you can see a seven step process by which he seduces Eve into sin. And he's still doing exactly the same today. You can see all of these different stages of seduction going on all around us, both in the unbelieving world and also in the church.
Believers are not immune to Satan's attacks. He knows our weak points and he goes for them. So as we go through these, ask yourself where you've seen these things going on. And ask yourself whether you're in danger of succumbing to these attacks yourself.
First, there's a subtle denigration of God's right to rule. 3.1:
[The serpent] said to the woman, 'Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?'
Even before you look at the substance of what's being said, there's an assumption here: that it's appropriate for God and what he's said to be subject to judgement by his creatures.
Then there's a distancing from God. There's one little thing there that it's easy not even to notice. All through Genesis 2 and 3 God is referred to as 'the Lord God'. But the serpent just calls him 'God'. Not 'God my Lord'. Just God. Distant. And Eve follows the snake and uses the same form of address as he does.
Next doubt about revelation is raised. 'Did God really say?' What a powerful weapon in Satan's armoury that is today. Does God really speak? Is the Bible really God's word? Did God really say? Questions that are not really seeking the truth but that are intended to undermine the word of God need to be seen for what they are.
And to add to the confusion, there is built into that question a distortion of God's word of command.
'Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden.''
'What does God want us to do? Starve to death? He's a cruel God, isn't he.' But of course, he never said any such thing. In fact what he said was almost the exact opposite - 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but…'
Then once that distortion has got behind Eve's defences, hard on the heels of that comes a bold denial of God's warning of judgement. Verse 4:
'You will not surely die.'
The reality of judgement and the loving nature of God's warning about judgement is always Satan's target. He tells us what we want to hear: that we're not in any danger.
And that quickly leads on to the discrediting of God's character. This has already begun with the distortion of his command, but now the knife is twisted. 'What kind of God would threaten the death penalty? He's just trying to protect himself and his despotic rule. He doesn't want to be threatened'. So, verse 5:
'For God knows that when you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'
Satan always sweetens the pill of his lies with half-truths that let the lie slip down almost unnoticed. And the result: deception about the outcome of sin. Do you see how reality has been turned on its head? The life of blessing that Adam and Eve enjoy has been painted as an existence constrained by a mean-spirited, not to say cruel God. And in place of the Lord God's warning that disobedience will result in death, Satan has now sown the idea that disobedience will effectively bring more blessing than they've ever known.
Satan is a frighteningly effective temptor. However, what Genesis 3 does in a few short verses is to expose his methods for all to see who have eyes to see.
In the Second World War the Allies were able to read Nazi signals because they broke their code at Bletchley Park. Genesis 3 is like the key to everything that Satan's up to amongst God's people.
Be aware of Satan's strategy. That's point one of the three point plan for escaping the trap of temptation. Point two is this:
2. Be aware of our vulnerability to Satan's subtle strategy
Look at what happens to Eve.
She gets drawn into debate. Verse 2:
The woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden…'
And as a result of listening to Satan and taking him seriously, she immediately starts discussing on Satan's terms. She seems to start to see God's law as imprisoning and not liberating as in fact it is. Verse 3:
'… but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'
And with this new mind set, full of negativity about God, she's started to exaggerate the restrictions of God's rule. The Lord God had said nothing about touching the tree - just eating the fruit.
And she listens with new respect to Satan's lies, and now she sees in sin the promise of satisfaction, pleasure and profit. And then, all resistance to Satan's lies gone, she decides to disobey the Lord God. Verse 6:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
But we already know that the whole garden is stocked full of trees that are pleasing to the eye and good for food. She rebels to get what she's already got, and loses everything. The one thing she gains is a painful insight into her shameful plight. And that kind of wisdom is just a terrible burden.
Then lastly, so as not to be alone in her revolution, she drags Adam down with her:
She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Adam is absolutely no better, and if anything even more to blame. He was with her. The God given order of headship and helpership is turned upside down. He abdicates his responsibility. He ignores God's direct command. He too decides to disobey.
Then when the Lord God asks his probing questions to get them to admit what they've done, Adam and Eve both begin what is now a long-hallowed human tradition of denying responsibility and passing the buck - even laying the blame on God himself. Verse 12:
The man said, 'The woman you put here with me - she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it… The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'
'It's the woman's fault. It's your fault. It's the snake's fault. It's not my fault.'
Then there's us. Before we become believers, Satan can afford to leave us fairly well alone, because as a result of the switch of sides that Adam and Eve decided on, we're firmly in his camp from birth. We do his work for him even without realising that's what we're doing.
But when we've turned back to God in repentance and put our faith in Christ, that all changes. We become prime targets. And we need to be realistic about how very susceptible we are to Satan's seductions. We're even more vulnerable than Adam and Eve because of the Fall.
So: How to escape the trap of temptation? Point 1: Be aware of Satan's strategy. Point 2: Be aware of our vulnerability to that strategy.
That's so important, because it's only when realise that we need help that we'll ask God for it. He's always ready with it. And it comes in the person of Jesus. That's essentially what the New Testament is all about - Jesus rescuing us from the clutches of Satan, sin and death. So Point 3 is this:
3. Take God's escape route
1 Corinthians 10.13:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
What is that way out? It's simple and direct. Listen to God's word. Believe it. And act on it. That, of course, is what our parents Adam and Eve should have done, but didn't. What's different now? Jesus makes this possible. By his death and resurrection he frees us from the guilt of sin. So when we fall, it's not the end. Jesus has dealt with the past. And he frees us too from the power of sin. He releases us from Satan's grip and breaks his hold on our lives. He redirects our wills and our desires so that in our heart of hearts we want what he wants. Then all we have to do is listen, believe, and act.
In what way, then, is Satan trying his subtle strategies on you? Expose him in your own mind. And don't think you go it alone. Lean on Jesus. Find freedom in him. The freedom we were made for. The freedom that we lost all those years ago in the Garden of Eden.
Then instead of cutting up photographs and destroying our relationships with one another and with God, we'll find that Christ is putting them back together again.