The Wall Is Finished

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Nehemiah 6:15-16

All that we know for certain of Nehemiah is found in the book bearing his name. He first appears as a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes Longimanus (Neh 1:11-2:1) about 446 B.C. In that year he was informed of the deplorable condition of his countrymen in Judea, and was determined to go to Jerusalem to endeavor to better their condition. Three or four months later he presented his request to the king to be allowed to go and rebuild Jerusalem. His royal master granted his request and appointed him Tirshatha, “governor.” Accompanied by a troop of cavalry and letters from the king to the different governors through whose provinces he was to pass, as well as to the keeper of the king’s forests (to supply him with timber), he started upon his journey, being under promise to return to Persia within a given time (2:1-10). Nehemiah, without a moment’s unnecessary delay, began the restoration of the city walls, which was accomplished in the wonderfully short time of fifty-two days (Neh 6:15), 444 B.C.

In this he was opposed by Sanballat and Tobiah, who not only poured out a torrent of abuse and contempt upon all engaged in the work but actually made a conspiracy to fall upon the builders with an armed force and put a stop to the undertaking. The project was defeated by the vigilance and prudence of Nehemiah. He also reformed abuses, redressed grievances (chap. 5), introduced law and order (chap. 7), and revived the worship of God (chap. 8).

Various strategems were then resorted to in order to get Nehemiah away from Jerusalem and, if possible, take his life. But that which most nearly succeeded was the attempt to bring suspicion on him with the king of Persia, as if Nehemiah intended to set himself up as an independent king as soon as the walls were completed. The artful letter of Sanballat so worried Artaxerxes that he issued a decree stopping the work until further orders (Ezra 4:21). Nehemiah, after twelve years’ service, returned to Babylon 434 B.C. It is not known how long he remained there, but “after some time” he obtained permission to again visit Jerusalem, where his services were needed because of new abuses that had again crept in.

Nehemiah’s character seems almost without a blemish. He was a man of pure and disinterested patriotism, willing to leave a position of wealth, power, and influence in the first court of the world and share the sorrows of his countrymen. He was not only noble, high-minded, and of strict integrity, but he was also possessed of great humility, kindness, and princely hospitality. In nothing was he more remarkable than in his piety, walking before his God with singleness of eye, seeking divine blessing and cooperation in prayer, and returning thanks to him for all his successes.

In 1962, Bedouin discovered a collection of papyri, evidently from Samaria, hidden in a cave in a desolate area outside of Jericho. The papyri dated from the close of the Persian period. They were all legal or administrative documents. One of the documents spoke of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, the same Sanballat who with Tobiah and Geshem found out the walls of Jerusalem were nearly completed.

Nehemiah is the cup bearer for the king, he is comfortable and lives in the palace. Yet, he sees a need for his people and steps out on faith. Without a vision from God, without hand writing on the wall, without a voice from a burning bush, Nehemiah feels a need to go to Jerusalem. A lot of us set around waiting for that great revelation from God and it never comes. Part of our faith sometimes means stepping out on our own.

Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach, Phil Jackson, once wrote, “I sensed that there was a link between spirit and sport. Besides, winning ‘at any cost’ didn’t interest me. I’d already learned that winning is ephemeral. Yes, victory is sweet, but it doesn’t necessarily make life any easier the next season or even the next day . . . In basket ball–as in life–true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.”

In the introduction to his book, Make a Life, Not Just a Living, Dr. Ron Jenson lists ten MAXIMIZES principles that will produce what he considers authentic success: Make things happen. I take charge of my life and am a difference-maker. Stop waiting for that burning bush! Achieve personal significance. I live my life with a sense of destiny. Mark 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. X out the negatives. I embrace problems as positive opportunities. Internalize right principles. I center my life on bedrock principles. March to a mission. I passionately pursue my mission. Integrate all of life. I keep all vital areas of my life in balance. Zero in on caring for people. I put others first and honestly serve them. Energize internally. I cultivate my character and spirit. Realign rigorously. I keep adjusting to needs. Stay the course. I never, ever, ever quit.

A few years ago I attended a meeting with a group of ministers who were concerned about some issues in our public school system. I learned something in that meeting about education. When a child is a senior in high school what do we want them to know? We say we want to give them a competency test to see if they are ready for college or the world. He said, you have to decide what it is that they should know and then you set into place beginning in grade school what is necessary for them to learn that information. Where are we headed?

It is a new year, in fact a new millennium, a time to dream dreams and to seek and find God’s will for our future. I hear all of the time, “We might fail!” Thank God we live in a country where our dreams can come true, where failure sometimes is the first step to success and where success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be. James 4:7 states, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Why is that? It’s not because we’re so smart or have the power. It’s because he has been defeated by Christ at Calvary. When I was growing up, a bully moved into my neighborhood. He was about four years older than I was, and one day he decided it was time to pick on me. This bully came into my front yard and scared me to death. After a few long, tense moments, I decided the only way I could get this guy to back off was to stand up against him, so I held my ground. Much to my surprise, he became scared. He started to tremble all over! I said to myself, “Man, I’m really something!” Then I heard a noise and turned around and noticed my father standing behind me on the front porch. It’s the same way for us as believers. Except our Father isn’t standing behind us–He’s active in us through the presence of His Son and the power of His Spirit. Who could ever challenge Him and win? No one, not even Satan and all the power of hell. The devil doesn’t stand a chance.

I think that the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. — C. S. Lewis. Matt 17:20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Even building a great wall around a city in 52 days.

The Whispering Chambers Of The Mind

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Ezekiel 8:12-18

How does God speak to you? Ezekiel is the son of a priest and one of the four greater prophets. Ezekiel was taken captive eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem. He was a member of a community of Jewish exiles who settled on the banks of the Chebar. It was by this river that God’s message first reached him. He is distinguished by his firm, inflexible energy of will and character, and we also observe a devoted adherence to the rites and ceremonies of his religion.

We forget sometimes that God is all knowing and ever present. Tam’muz (tam-uz) refers to the worship of this Babylonian deity in a vision of his apostate brethren who were enamored of this cult. The prophet saw the women weeping for this god at the North Gate of the Jerusalem Temple (Ezek 8:14). Tammuz was known by the Babylonians as the god of pasture and flocks, of subterranean water, and of vegetation. “Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”

The chastisement is because the Jewish people are not listening to God and are ignoring God’s Laws. Scripture implies that there is no reason to not listen to God. If God communicates with us, how is it done so that we will listen?

There are five Biblical ways that God comes unto the Christian. God sometimes meets us in God’s glory. Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18) After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2)

God appears in dreams and visions. Joseph: Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” (Genesis 37:9) In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:17)

Sometimes God’s direction is found in a sign. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11)
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.
She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (Revelation 12:1)

Sometimes God’s guidance is as simple as reading the Bible. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105) Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Feelings many times can be misleading but God can be found in feelings. Leading of the Holy Spirit gives us guidance. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26)

God speaks in the quiet and reflective times of prayer. The LORD said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:3)

“A rabbi, went on a journey with the prophet Elijah. They walked all day, and at nightfall they came to the humble cottage of a poor man, whose only treasure was a cow. The poor man ran out of his cottage, and his wife ran too, to welcome the strangers for the night and to offer them all the simple hospitality which they were able to give in straitened circumstances. Elijah and the rabbi were entertained with plenty of the cow’s milk, sustained by home-made bread and butter, and they were put to sleep in the best bed while their kindly hosts lay down before the kitchen fire. But in the morning the poor man’s cow was dead.

They walked all the next day, and came that evening to the house of a very wealthy merchant, whose hospitality they craved. The merchant was cold and proud and rich, and all that he would do for the prophet and his companion was to lodge them in a cowshed and feed them on bread and water. In the morning, however, Elijah thanked him very much for what he had done, and sent for a mason to repair one of his walls, which happened to be falling down, as a return for his kindness.

The Rabbi Jachanan, unable to keep silence any longer, begged the holy man to explain the meaning of his dealings with human beings. ‘In regards to the poor man who received us so hospitably,’ replied the prophet, ‘it was decreed that his wife was to die that night, but in reward for his goodness God took the cow instead of the wife. I repaired the wall of the rich miser because a chest of gold was concealed near the place, and if the miser had repaired the wall himself he would have discovered the treasure. Say not therefore to the Lord: What doest thou? But say in thy heart: Must not the Lord of all do right?”

Whom Do We Strive To Please?

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Romans 15:1-4

A wealthy but eccentric man called his pastor, doctor, and a political friend to his deathbed. He told them how he disagreed with the conventional belief that you can’t take your money with you when you die. He said, “I’m taking mine!” He pulled out three envelopes and handed one to each of the gathered trio. He explained how the envelopes contained $30,000 in cash and he wanted each man to throw an envelope in when they lowered his casket. At the funeral all three men did as their dead friend had requested. Upon returning from the cemetery the pastor’s conscience got the best of him and he made a confession to the doctor and politician. The minister said, “I needed the money for our church so I took out $10,000 and threw $20,000 into the grave.” The doctor then came clean and admitted to taking $20,000 for some costs he had incurred at his clinic. The politician was appalled at their dishonesty. He pridefully said, “I’m ashamed of you gentlemen. I threw in a check for the full amount.”

Groucho Marx was ahead of his time. He said, “I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.” With the ongoing deterioration of morals in television it is significant to know that in America 98% of homes have a TV but only 96% have an indoor toilet. As Bob DeMoss notes, “This is the first time in history we have more garbage coming into our homes than flowing out of them.”

While at the prom, a girl delivers her baby and suffocates the child in the bathroom. No one even knew she was pregnant, and the mother claims that she never really felt like the baby was hers. A father in Florida drives his two sons into a canal in the Everglades and drowns them because he is angry with their mother. A girl who is believed to be about twenty-one years old and mentally impaired is heard screaming and is found locked in her bedroom.
Investigators suspect that a man who claims he is her father left her there for prolonged periods of time. At the time police found the young woman, she weighed only about sixty pounds and wore a nightgown that was stained with urine and covered with feces. The great tragedy of our society is that we continue to lose our moral underpinnings.

Jesus said, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Americans owe $384 billion on credit cards alone, and 70% of credit card holders carry an average balance of $3,900? While some of that is truly necessity, most is not. John D. Rockefeller once said, “The poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money.”

Americans are spending over $1 billion a year on cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic operations have risen 60% in the last decade and the number of plastic surgeons has quadrupled since 1965. Have we forgotten 1 Samuel 16:7? “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Voltaire predicted that within 100 years of his life (the 18th century) Christianity would be nothing more than history. He admitted, though, for this to happen the world would first have to get rid of Sunday. He said, “There is no hope of destroying Christianity so long as the Christian Sabbath is acknowledged and kept as a sacred day.” Football season is over and we know that many schedules have been affected by the desire to watch the games, a perspective check is in order. Don’t forget, more people gather each Sunday to attend church in America than the total attendance of all professional football games in an entire season.

There was the delinquent church member who suddenly began attending church faithfully on Sunday mornings. The pastor was greatly pleased and told him: “How wonderful it makes me feel to see you at services with your wife!” “Well, Parson,” said the prodigal, “it’s a matter of choice. I’d rather hear your sermon than hers.”

In his short story, “The Window,” author G.W. Target tells of two seriously ill men who occupied the same hospital room. The man by the window was propped up for an hour each day to drain fluid from his lungs. The other man spent his entire time on his back. The two men enjoyed each other’s company and talked for hours about all different types of subjects. During the hour the one man sat up in his bed, he would describe all the things he saw to his bedfast roommate. Each day great detail would be given to the activities going on outside. He described the park with its lovely lake and grand old trees. He would tell of children playing and lovers walking through the park outside their window. One day, a beautiful parade went by. Even though he couldn’t hear the music, the man on his back could see it all in his mind as his roommate gave exquisite details. But somehow, it didn’t seem quite fair. Although he enjoyed listening to his friend describe the sights, he began to crave the view of his comrade.

His desire for the bed by the window became a consuming thought. It even kept him awake at night. Then, in the darkness of one sleepless night, his roommate began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs and was desperately groping for the button to call for help. The covetous roommate could have easily pushed his button to summon a nurse, but instead, he watched the old man die. The following morning the nurse discovered the man’s death. The standard procedure was carried out and the body was removed. The surviving man then asked that his bed be switched so he could see out the window. At last, he would have what he felt he deserved. Painfully and slowly he struggled to prop himself up for that first look at the park. To his chagrin, the window looked out to a blank wall.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The temptation of Evil is that it is all about “me.” Paul, frustrated by some of the things happening in the Galatian Church writes, Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Our first thought in the morning should be pleasing God. “What Would Jesus Do?” A farmer once went to the county fair with a pumpkin that was the exact size and shape of a two-gallon jug. His pumpkin won the blue ribbon. When someone asked how he got a pumpkin to look like that, he said, “It was easy. As soon as it started to grow, I stuck it inside a two-gallon jug.”

Paul exhorts us to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). If we don’t heed his advice, we will soon find ourselves pressed into the mold of this world. By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

When Christ Went Away

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Acts 1:6-9

A man went through a forest seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home and put it among the fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken feed to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds. Five years later, a naturalist came to see him and after passing through his garden, said: “That bird is an eagle, not a chicken.” “Yes,” said the owner, “but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle, it is a chicken, even though it measures 15 feet from tip to tip of its wings.” “No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle, and I will make it soar high up to the heavens.” “No,” said the owner, “it is a chicken and it will never fly.”

The naturalist picked up the eagle, held it up and said with great intensity: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the chickens eating their food, and down he jumped. The owner said: “I told you it was a chicken.” “No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle. So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” But again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed with them. Then the owner said: “I told you it was a chicken.” “No,” asserted the naturalist, “it is an eagle, and it has the heart of an eagle; The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city and away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top to the mountain with gold, and every crag was glistening in the joy of the beautiful morning. He picked up the eagle and said to it: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” Yet it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher and higher and never returned.

It was an eagle, though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken. We have been created in the image of God, but men have made us think that we are chickens, and so we think we are; but we are eagles, stretch forth your wings and fly! Don’t be content with the food of chickens!

Why does Jesus have to leave? Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7) Jesus goes so that the Holy Spirit may come in great power and fill the heart of every believer.

From the time of Jesus’ resurrection to His ascension, He appears to the believers no less that ten times. The last of those ten times is on the Mount of Olives at His ascension. When they arrive on the Mount of Olives the Disciples know His departure is at hand. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” One almost gets the feeling of deja vu with the transfiguration. Two men dressed in white appear. Angels? We assume so. It is a special moments but also a reminder of prophecy.

Zechariah in 753 B.C. gave this prophecy. On that day his (Jesus’) feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. Then the LORD my God will come (Return of Christ), and all the holy ones with him. On that day (Second Advent) there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime-a day known to the LORD. (Zech 14:4)

Even the ascended Christ does not stop making appearances to the Church.
There are four times that Jesus appears to believers following His ascension.
To Paul near Damascus (Acts 9:3-6;)(1 Cor 15:8). To Stephen outside Jerusalem (Acts 7:55) To Paul in the temple (Acts 22:17-21; 23:11) To John on Patmos (Rev 1:10-19) Jesus even makes an appearance in the Old Testament. Joshua is the leader of Israel and is camped outside Jericho. “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:14)

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, `I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”

What Jesus probably means is “Do not think, Mary that by grasping hold of me so firmly that you can keep me always with you. That uninterruptible fellowship for which you yearn must wait until I have ascended to be forever with the Father.” What he condemned was Mary’s mistaken notion that the former mode of fellowship was going to be resumed, in other words, that Jesus would once again live in daily visible association with his disciples, both men and women. The fellowship, to be sure, would be resumed; but it would be far richer and more blessed. It would be the communion of the ascended Lord in the Spirit with his Church.

Between the time of His resurrection and his ascension, Jesus challenged Peter concerning Peter’s love for Jesus. Twice Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. In both cases Peter responds to Jesus that Jesus knows that Peter likes him. Jesus then responds by asking Peter, “Do you even like me?” For the third time, Peter answers, “You know that I like you. And the third time that Peter answers, he is grieved, perhaps because he had also denied Jesus three times or because Jesus had to lower his expectation of Peter’s love for his Savior with his third question.

When Jesus asks Peter twice, “Do you love me?”, He was asking, “Do you love me because I am precious to you, with a sacrificial love that would make you willing to die for me?” Three times Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I am fond of you; I have an affection for you because of the pleasure I take in you.” (John 21:15-19). Jesus asked for a love of complete devotion. Peter offers him a love of personal heart emotion. Jesus asks for a heart of surrendering obedience. Peter offers Him a love of personal attachment.

Where Did Sin Come From?

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Genesis 2: 15-17

President Calvin Coolidge returned home from attending church early one Sunday afternoon. He was asked by his wife what the minister spoke on. “Sin,” Coolidge replied. Wanting to know more, she pressed him for some words of explanation. Being a man of few words (as only you wives can appreciate) Coolidge responded: “I think he was against it.”

As a very small child, Theodore Roosevelt had also experienced a peculiar and memorable fear of church. It was a small incident that, in later years, made an amusing anecdote of the kind every Roosevelt loved to tell. But for him at the time it was no joke and should not be discounted. Mittie had found he was so afraid of the Madison Square Church that he refused to set foot inside if alone and so she pressed him to tell her why. He was terrified, she discovered, of something called the “zeal.” It was crouched in the dark corners of the church ready to jump at him, he said. When she asked what a zeal might be, he said he was not sure, but thought it was probably a large animal like an alligator or a dragon. He had heard the minister read about it from the Bible. Using a concordance, she read him those particular passages containing the word “zeal” until suddenly, very excited, he told her to stop. The line was from the Book of John, chapter 2, verse 17: “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”

Peter writes, Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Perhaps we better understand sin, when we discover where sin came from. The origin of sin gives us a clue as to what sin is and how we may overcome it.

The Sunday School teacher asked her class: “What are sins of omission? After some thought one little fellow said: “They’re the sins we should have committed but didn’t get around to.” The new minister had just moved into town. It was late at night when his wife remembered that their dog, very aptly named Trouble” had not been taken out yet. Since it was late and most of the neighbors were asleep, she just slipped on her robe, put the dog on a leash, and stepped out the back door. Unfortunately the leash slipped out of her hand and the dog took off to explore the new territory. She ran around the house hoping to see which direction he had gone. Just then a police car was passing by and stopped to see if she needed help. “No thank you,” she said, “I’m just out here looking for trouble.”

Someone asked, “What is your sermon about this Sunday?” I said, “It is entitled, ‘Where did sin come from?’” “I know that, from Adam and Eve,” said he. “You really need to hear this sermon,” said I.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” In Genesis 3 the story tells us that the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. The serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 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.'” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 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. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. “Honey, what is for dinner tonight?” “Sin.” Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

This is not the origin of sin, it is a story about the introduction of sin into the lives of humanity. What some groups mistakenly call “original sin.” A term used to denote the effect of Adam’s sin upon the moral life of his descendants.
The fall of man is not the beginning of sin.

The Fall of humanity does reveal several things to us that are important.
Sin was already present in the world by the time that God creates Adam.
God’s gift to Adam and Eve is the gift of choice. The downside to the gift of choice is that God will not stop us from choosing to sin. The story reveals that sin is not the keeping of laws or a set of rules.

The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves. The being and law of God are perfectly harmonious, for “God is love.” The sum of all the commandments likewise is love; sin in its nature is egotism and selfishness. Self is put in the place of God. Selfishness is at the bottom of all disobedience, and it becomes hostility to God when it collides with His law.

A man in a former church was arrested and charged with embezzling at the bank he worked for. For the courts, I wrote a character reference letter. In the letter to the judge I wrote, “None of us understand why this happened, it is so out of character for George.” The judge read that part of my letter aloud and asked, “Why did you steal from the bank?” “I can tell you,” the judge said, “you wanted to profit from your actions.”

Sin is not about breaking rules, but breaking God’s heart. Sin is an offense against the very nature and character of God. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Sin is actually a contradiction to the holiness of God, whose image mankind bears.

Mankind originally fell into sin at the temptation of Satan. As the tempter, he continues to lure people into sin. God is not the author of sin, but His plan for world redemption does include His dealing with the reality of sin.

Ezekiel tells us of Satan, You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. “`In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.

The Rabbis of ancient history composed an imaginary look at heaven to convey the extent of God’s love. The drama unfolds when the Hebrew people were being pursued by the Egyptian army. The angels were perched on heaven’s edge watching the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. When the waters came crashing in on the Egyptians, the angelic host shouted and cheered in victory. God stopped the jubilant celebration with a wave of His hand. With tears in His eyes, God rebuked the angels for their perspective on this tragedy. He said, “The very work of my hands has been destroyed and you would cheer?” God’s love is extended to all men, even those who position themselves as enemies of His kingdom. This is most evident in Jesus’ request of forgiveness for those who nailed Him to the cross.