Pushing Back the Darkness
We are in a series on the church. This week I want to look at the churches mission and your mission in life. What is your purpose? What are you supposed to do in life? How does that fit with God’s plan for you? How do you move his purposes forward, and how do you do that when the world seems so dark. We are going to focus on one verse today, but look at the first few chapters of Genesis to understand the context and also the church’s and your mission.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)
This verse takes place after creation. God created the cosmos, then at the apex of creation he creates man. He then places the man in this garden and also makes woman for the man.
They were to work and keep this garden. They were to cultivate it and protect it. Keep has a sense of guarding from bad things. I remember my mom always being in the garden. Pulling up weeds to protect them from choking out the good plants. She would also work the good stuff, water it, fertilize it. This is what they were to do. Cultivate and protect.
But this is not ordinary garden. The garden is named Eden, which in Hebrew means pleasure or delight, paradise. Some translated it as the Garden of Delight. God calls this garden paradise. That tells you something. It’s not just what the man said. Bill Gates might not consider luxurious what I consider luxurious. Here you have God saying this spot is nice! It had everything you want: every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. (Gen 2:9 ESV), gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx (Gen 2:12 ESV). "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, (Gen 2:16 ESV). The tree of life is there. God also meets with man and woman in the garden. He is present with them (3:8). God’s presence among his people means that Eden is a temple that all the later temples will pattern themselves.
Temple. Gen 3, Ex 25-27, 1 Kings 6
- God walks in the garden as he does in later temples.
- Eden and later gardens are entered by the East gate and guarded by angelic creatures
- The tabernacle lampstand likely symbolizes the tree of life.
- The river flowing from Eden is reminiscent of the river bringing life in Ezekiel and Revelation.
- Gold and onyx are used extensively to decorate later sanctuaries .
- Genesis 2:15 - the word “work” (aved) means to cultivate or serve someone and the word keep (shamar) means to watch over or guard. Used only of priests in OT.
Adam and Eve were to work and keep this garden v15. This means their work was to build and protect the temple of God. This is not just tending a garden. It is keep the territorial space in which God dwells with his people. Their work in the world was to extend the boundaries of the garden and by that extend the dwelling of God through the earth.
This goes back to Genesis 1:26 when God creates people in his image and tells them to have dominion over all the earth.
Example of God. This is what God did in creation. He took a dark formless earth and he began to fill it with light. The man and woman are to expand this through their work. They are created in God image in genesis 1:26. They are to image God. What does it mean to image God, well look at God’s work in genesis 1. He takes a formless, empty world and he starts to fill it with life. He fills it with light, He fills it with order. He fills it with goodness. God does this so that when you come to the creation of man and woman who are to image him you have a pattern of how the image him. Now in chapter 2 you are seeing a fuller expression of their mandate. They are to fill the world with his blessing, life, light, goodness.
The garden here is portrayed as the center of world blessings. It is what God intends the world to be.
Adam and Eve stood on the hillock of this confined garden outside of which lay the expanse of inhospitable land, and “they were to extend the smaller livable area of the garden by transforming the outer chaotic region into hospitable territory.”
This sets the stage for the great commission to baptize the nations. Our desire to see how come to know Jesus is the fulfillment of the plan set out in Genesis, and Genesis lays a foundation for how we are to think about our purpose and mission in the world.
“The Great Commission to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the Cultural mandate complement, not compete against each other. God’s erupting kingdom in a world that needs taming entails a people who purpose to develop a culture that pleases him. The Westminster Catechism teaches that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” but it needs to be clarified that humanity glorifies God by subduing the earth by words and by work.” –Bruce Waltke
They were to cultivate good. Restrain evil. Bring light. Eliminate evil. This is what God was doing in the beginning. It is what they are to do in imaging him. I want to give you a couple ways this garden temple paradigm should propel you.
- Ministry of Common Grace
Common grace is the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not immediately connected to salvation. Here “common” implies something that is common to all people and is not restricted to believers. –Wayne Grudem
God could have put them in an empty field, or a desert, or could have been only one kind of tree, but he didn't. And when he called his people out of Egypt, he took them to a promise land full of milk and honey, not bread and water. Jesus could have just provided for spiritual needs but he also fed and healed people. He brought life to the full.
If God cares for those good things then we should to. We can ministry to others by extending common grace.
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” –1 Peter 4:10
Using our gifts to serve others through work is a way to bring the goodness, beauty and delightfulness of the garden to others. When you trim the hedges on your house you are bringing beauty to it. When you build websites with safe pleasant services that is common grace. When the garbage man takes away the trash that is grace. When you can go to the grocery store and find good food that is grace. When you manage the office so people know what and when they are supposed to do that is grace. When you design video games that are entertaining and holsome that is grace. When you provide home health services in a way that cares for people’s needs that is grace. When lawyers advise clients on how to protect themselves from evil people that is grace. When you fire an employee for doing wrong. When you stick up for someone who is being oppressed or bullied by another.
If you ever doubt the significance of common grace in your work just watch for what happens when people don’t do things the right way. When the realtor doesn’t do their homework and botches a deal. When your financial advisor turns out to be a crook and your retirement is gone. When your mechanic lied about fixing the breaks on your car.
“Man’s effort is required to cultivate the garden and the earth, and man’s immoral incompetence to image God’s dominion means that the earth slips into disorder.” –John Rushdoony
The Significance of Common Grace. Extending common grace is the majority of what we do in work. William Wilberforce
Common Grace as a Foundation for the Gospel. Many of connect our spiritual purpose in life to sharing the gospel. That is important and we will get to that. But it is through common grace that people first know we care about them, that we care about others, that we take our walk with the Lord seriously. If you are not doing this no one will take your words seriously.
- Ministry of the Word
It is good to help people. It is good to bring healing to them. But the greatest good is done by restoring a person’s relationship with God. We are brought into a relationship with God through faith in Christ. People don’t just need a random act of kindness. They don’t just need to feel better about themselves. They need to have their sins forgiven. They need to know what God has done for them. This can only come through hearing the word of God.
The gospel creates the greatest transformation by setting people free from guilt, renewing the heart, and restoring the right relationship of man to God. The Goal of ministry is to expand the presence of God, and the presence of God is expanded by people believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith in the gospel is what we most desire, because it is a reordering of the heart to God.
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2Co 5:19 ESV)
“God bestows the actual knowledge of himself upon us only in the scriptures” –John Calvin
Adam and Eve failure was nothing other than a failure with God’s word. They were told what to do and given one command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and Evil. They failure was a failure with the word of God.
We too have to see the place of sharing God’s word. This is the greatest way we push back against evil. Actions are important. Acts are import. Deeds are important. But only words explain what we are doing and why.
Do you ever look at the front page of the paper and see pictures there. You might see a group of people outside shouting. You have to read the caption to see if they are shouting because their team won the football game or because they are rioting because of new law. Words interpret the image. In the same way God’s word explains to others what he has done. It explains why we do what we do. “Why are you working so hard and with such honesty?”
It is also through the word that the greatest restraint of evil and the greatest triumph of light occurs. “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1Pe 2:9 ESV)
“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, (2Pe 1:19 ESV)
This word is a star rising in our heart. Do you know the power of a star. Inside the sun is a series of nuclear explosions. They raise the temp of the sun too more than 27 million degrees. The sun is 93 million miles from earth and we feel its heat. it’s enough this hour to power 2,880 trillion light bulbs. The sun continuously pelts the earth with 35,000 times the amount of energy required by all of us who now use electricity on the planet! It takes 8 minutes for light to get to us. That is power!
He says there is a similar power in our hearts through the gospel. That light. That power should change people. Do you ever feel dark within. Jesus said he is the light of the world, not the sun. He is greater than the sun. If you feel dark inside then you need to know this truth. You need to dwell on it and let it power your life. Don’t think that your sin, your failure, your genetics, upbringing or anything else control your future. What you have in Christ is far greater.
Are you doing things you shouldn’t do. Do you lack motivation and think change is impossible then you need to know the power of the gospel It ignites hope. Ignites change.
We have this news to take to other people. This is part of our calling as humans. Notice this is not just for the professional clergy. It is for all people. There is a basic desire humans have to shape others through words. We want to have an impact. Sometimes people think I need to become a counselor. I’ll quit my job and find a new one investing in people. You need to see that everyone’s life is to be like this. Your job has opportunities. The church has opportunities. Walking to the mail box has opportunities. Invest in people. Push back the darkness that is inside the hearts of people.
- Risks Taking
Consider what we are talking about. Adam and Eve were in paradise. They had everything they could want. But they were to move beyond the confines of their garden. They were to push out of that and go to the dark, untamed, inhospitable, uninhabitable and bring order, bring light, bring peace, bring love to those areas. They were to take risks to expand the presence of God in the world. Being content with where they were would lead to failure in their mission.
People are to have expanding drives that are seeking new territories to influence.
George Mallory, the English mountaineer who made attempted several trips to the 29,000 foot hight summit of Mt Everest in the 1920 was asked "Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?" His response was "Because it's there." His drive reflects God’s design for people to be pushing limits, conquering the unconquered.
They left the garden because of God’s glory. Moses wasn’t content to live in the palace but to save his people. David went out into battle. Paul traveled the world sharing the gospel and suffering for it. Jesus left his throne above to rescue us.
Such desire can reflect a godly ambition that is the driving force of influencing the uninfluenced. Jesus gave his disciples a commission to take the gospel to the entire world.
Robert Dabney said there is a praise worthy ambition that desires to influence and that is “uncomplicated by pride, arrogance, calculating selfishness, resentment, hatred of rivals and fear.” Such ambition he says is a “virtue” and the “necessary and legitimate energizer of the soul” to great things.
We will have to take risks at some point. If you want god to use you find a place where people are hurting and there isn’t a lot of hope. Find where people are being hurt. Entrepreneurs consider what business you might open to bring good to others. Consider how you might share God word with with people. Do good. Share the gospel. Take risks.
A passion for God and his kingdom should lead to some risk taking. If the gospel is going to advance it is going to take going into the darkness to push it back. People are not coming into the church like they use to. We have to be going out. If everyone you know goes to church then you might need to push outside the garden. In our area about half the people go to church, half the people don’t go, don’t read their bible, and do not see why faith is important. We need to move toward them.
I want our church to be a place your are recharged to go and do what God is doing. People say church isn’t important. Most of those people I do not see have any influence on others. It’s a cop out so they don’t have to attend church or take risks. I want to be a church that we are sending people into the darkness to change. I want us to be a church that is igniting change in the world. To do that we need to be internally healthy, strong, steadfast. You are going to make the biggest difference in the world when you are strengthened. You are not going to go out and stand the tide of sexual immorality in the world if you do not have vibrant relationships in the church. You are not going to stand up against injustices in the office if you are not being sharpened by others who are doing it. I want church to be a time we learn and a time we connect with others who are doing that. I want our kids to be equipped to go out and be difference makers in the world. If you are older you may be appalled at the changes in our country. If you are younger, you see the world as just the way it is.
I want you to take a moment. Consider Adam and Eve in the garden. The freshly pruned hedges. The wonderful grapes just beside you. The well manicured lawn of the garden. Everything pleasant. Watch out for that snack in the thicket. You are in the center of the garden. You look out to the edge of the garden and on the outer rim you see that great big hedge that serves as the boundary of the garden. Beyond that you see the dark mountains in the distance coming down. The sharp jagged edges of the rock lie in the back drop and cast it shadows on the woods beneath it. You know the gain of getting lumber for your house in the garden but it will take leaving the nice well confined area of the garden to venture out. It will take risk.
Now, consider, what is your garden? What is your safe spot? What is God calling you to do to help tame the darkness? What risks do you need to take.
When I came two years ago, one of the drives was to reach the community. If the church died would anyone know. The church is a bunch of individuals. How are you involved in the community? Are you willing to take risks to know people to share the gospel. This is what God calls us to do. This is what it means to follow his plan. You are never too old to take a risk or to honor god.