It Sounds Like Life (Sermon)
There’s a country music song that talks about a man’s troubles (unlike most country songs). The lyrics go like this:
Got a call last night from an old friend’s wife
Said I hate to bother you
Johnny Ray fell off the wagon
He’s been gone all afternoon
I know my buddy so I drove to Skully’s
And found him at the bar
I say hey man, what’s going on
He said I don’t know where to start
Sarah’s old car’s about to fall apart
And the washer quit last week
We had to put momma in the nursing home
And the baby’s cutting teeth
I didn’t get much work this week
And I got bills to pay
I said I know this ain’t what you wanna hear
But it’s what I’m gonna say
Sounds like life to me it ain’t no fantasy
It’s just a common case of everyday reality
Man I know it’s tough but you gotta suck it up
To hear you talk you’re caught up in some tragedy
It sounds like life to me [i]
Who knew that you could find good theology in a country song? His diagnosis is right, though not his cure. Cars and appliances breaking, not having enough money in the bank, kids up all night crying, not getting enough hours in at work, failing health…these are all part of life. It’s not unique. It’s not uncommon. It’s not a tragedy or a fantasy. It’s life.
Not all of life is trouble, but trouble is part of life. As much as we would like life to be the gentle swaying of a hammock, it’s more often the wild spinning of a merry-go-round.
We don’t need to debate if trouble and trials are part of life. They are. If you disagree, just wait. At some point, we all agree. What we need to understand is why trouble is a part of life. How do we explain life? How do we make sense of it all? Why does a list of problems sound like life?
To find this answer…to make sense of this life, we need to go back to the very beginning. We need to start at the very first episode of mankind’s story. So open your Bible to the very first book and the very first chapter. We’re going to start with the very first sentence of human history.
(Genesis 1:1 ESV) In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
This is where we must begin if we’re going to understand life right now…your life and my life. It begins with God. God, who existed before time, brought everything we see into existence. Before He created the universe, He was the only thing that existed. He is (this is a big, fancy word), but God is self-existent. That’s a way of saying that no one brought Him into existence…no one caused God to exist.
If we’re to understand life, it’s imperative that we understand how it began. To make sense of life now, we need to understand what life was like, what life is like and what life will be like. These three pieces make up the complete story. If you leave any piece out, it won’t make sense.
It began with God. The very first chapter of the Bible records how God created everything that now exists. In 6 days, God spoke our universe into existence. He created light out of the darkness and separated land from the seas. With a simple command, He formed trees and plants, fruit and flowers. He hung the sun in the daytime sky and assigned the moon and stars to illuminate the blackness of night. He filled the sea with fish, the sky with birds and the land with animals. And on that final day, He created the very first human.
(Genesis 1:26–28 ESV) 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.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 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.”
What Life Was Like
So what was life like in God’s brand-new creation? Seven times in chapter 1, God looks out over His creation and declared, “It is good.” It isn’t until chapter 2 that we learn that something was not good. It was not good for the man, Adam, to be alone. Immediately, God created a woman from the man’s rib to meet that need, and again made all things good.
You could describe the goodness of this life with two words: rest and relationship. In chapter 2, verse 15, we read:
(Genesis 2:15 ESV) The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
The word “put” could be translated “rest”. God rested the man in the Garden. This concept of rest becomes significant as the storyline of Scripture unfolds. God made men to be in rest.
That could be misunderstood. If you think of God’s rest as laziness, sluggishness or inertia. Rest is sometimes called peace or shalom. It means that things are as they should be. It’s the absence of conflict and freedom from turmoil. It’s being completely at home in God’s place under God’s rule. It’s the absence of a deep-seated longing for something more or greater.
C. S. Lewis describes this sense of longing as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.” [ii] Do you understand the longing of the soul he’s referring to? Do you know of the restlessness of the human heart that he’s describing?
That’s not what life was like. Adam (the first man) and Eve (the first woman) were at rest. No longing for something more. No restlessness of soul.
(Genesis 2:8–9 ESV) And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.
Theirs was a perfect existence. They were created by a perfect God and rested in a perfect garden. Perfectly at rest—no turmoil, no struggle, no pain, no longing. In this garden, there was no need for words like starvation, cancer, debt, dementia, abuse or sorrow. The garden was a place of perfect shalom—perfect and complete peace.
This life was not only characterized by rest, but it was also characterized by relationship.
(Genesis 2:5–6 ESV) When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground.
Man’s relationship with creation was perfect. Weeds didn’t exist. Crabgrass wasn’t taking over the garden. Adam didn’t have to move the sprinkler or dig a trench for irrigation. He wasn’t a gardener. He was a king, exercising dominion over creation. He cared for it, not by backbreaking effort, but by picking the ripe fruit and relishing its sweetness.
Even the animals responded differently to mankind. They came to Adam to be named. Nowhere could enmity between man and animals be found.
(Genesis 2:21–25 ESV) So the LORD God caused a deep seep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
The man and woman had a perfect relationship with each other. The nakedness speaks to complete trust and unhindered intimacy. They didn’t need clothes because there was nothing to hide—no lies that needed to be covered or shame that needed to be concealed. Theirs was a relationship marked by innocence and intimacy.
Of all the relationships that existed in this new creation, the one that mattered most was between man and God. God was with Adam and Eve. He came and walked with them (3:8). Nothing hindered their relationship. There were no barriers to overcome. No sin that barred man from God’s presence. Adam and Eve walked with God, in His presence. The perfection of their life in the Garden flowed from the perfection of this relationship.
Unlike the rest of creation, mankind was made in God’s very own image. Animals cannot worship and relate to God. They cannot communicate with God. But we, crafted in His image, were imbued with the ability to relate to Him, to know Him and to worship Him. Adam and Eve experienced this relationship in a way no one else has. Life in the Garden was life in the very presence of God.
We need to remember how God created this world. In times of difficulty—when there’s more month than money, when another migraine starts, when our child rebels—in these times, it’s easy to blame God. We look for someone to blame and settle on Him. “God, how could you do this? God, how could you allow this?” In those moments, we need to remember what life was like. God created the world, and it was good. It was designed to be a place of rest and relationship. God is not the source of evil. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
What Life Is Like
That’s what life was like, but it’s not what life is like. Let’s read what happened:
(Genesis 3:1–7 ESV) Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Mankind stepped out from under God’s rule and chose self-rule. We picked foolishness over wisdom. Instead of trusting God to know what was good, we decided for ourselves what was good. At that moment, everything changed. The rest that characterized life was shattered, and the relationships were broken.
Rest was exchanged for restlessness, peace for trouble, and shalom for chaos. No longer would creation joyfully meet man’s need. Now it would struggle against man’s dominion. God told Adam:
(Genesis 3:17–19 ESV) “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Work became labor. Enjoyment turned to drudgery, and rest to toil. Man was sent from the Garden to work a land filled with weeds and thorns.
Not only was rest shattered, but relationships were broken.
(Genesis 3:16 ESV) To the woman God said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
What had been characterized by intimacy would now be marked by enmity. The joy of bearing children would be marked by extreme pain. The partnership in marriage replaced by a desire for control. The innocence of being naked before sin has been replaced with the shame of nakedness. Now, there’s something to hide…something to conceal. Now, there’s a danger of being exposed.
Of all of the tragic consequences of mankind’s fall, the greatest was the damage done to the relationship between God and man. Because of sin, man was exiled from God’s presence. Sin had defiled mankind, and they could no longer stand before a holy God.
Again, C. S. Lewis describes this alienation: “In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside—repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored.” [iii]
This is the great tragedy. Sin severed man’s relationship with God. One act of folly cut us off from the source of life. All of the brokenness you see in this world…all of the brokenness you experience flows from your broken relationship with God. This broken world is the result of a broken relationship.
Even the ultimate evidence of brokenness—death itself—flows out of our alienation from God. God is life. Mankind lives because God breathed life into the body He had formed. Death is the result of being cut off from God.
This brokenness…the broken life we experience—all of the medical bills and medical problems, the fractured relationships and estranged marriages—all of it reminds us that the relationship between God and man is broken. Because of that, we should not only curse the brokenness, but we should also heed the brokenness. Your broken wrist and your broken car signal that something far greater is broken. These symptoms point us to the cause.
How easy it is for us to forget the cause as we deal with the symptoms. Our broken world is like your body’s nervous system. Your nervous system alerts you to problems in your body. When you stub your toe or cut your finger, your nervous system screams loudly that something is wrong. You then have a choice to make. You can deal with its screaming by taking some type of drug that quiets your nervous system or you can deal with the problem that caused the screaming pain.
Leprosy is a disease that causes your nervous system to malfunction. Your nerves stop signaling when something is wrong. Now, you could consider it a blessing—no more pain when you stub your toe or cut your finger—but the problem is that you don’t deal with what caused the nerves to send their alert. Ultimately, you lose a finger or a foot or your life because you didn’t realize you had been injured and infection had set in.
If we didn’t see and experience the brokenness of our world, we might forget about a greater problem. Every frustration, trouble and disappointment is a spiritual pain sensor sending a signal to your heart that a problem exists. It reminds you that your biggest problem is not a broken transmission. Your biggest problem is a broken relationship. Sin has severed you from your Creator.
Because the brokenness serves a purpose doesn’t mean we need to like it. It’s still brokenness. It still hurts. The sting is real. But we need to know where to direct our anger. If you hate the brokenness, don’t aim that frustration and anger at God. Remember, this world is not how He created it. Turn your frustration and anger to sin. If you hate the brokenness, hate sin.
What Life Will Be Like
We currently live in a broken, damaged and malfunctioning world. That is not how it once was, and it is not how it will always be. Life now is filled with trouble, but it will not forever remain this way.
Turn with me to the very end of the story—Revelation, chapter 21—the end of the final book. I want you to see what life will be like.
(Revelation 21:1–4 ESV) 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.”
Turn ahead one chapter. Revelation 22, verse 1:
(Revelation 22:1–5 ESV) Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Nothing accursed….no pain, sorrow or death…trees with life-giving fruit…dominion over the created realm…and best of all, life in God’s presence. What does that sound like? It’s a return to life before sin. It’s a return to life in the Garden of Eden. The condition of life currently will not be the condition of life eternally. Everything shattered by the Fall will be mended. The pieces will be put back together. The Garden will be reopened.
The final act in the story of man is restoration. Act one: creation. Act two: brokenness: Act three: restoration. All of it will be restored. In that day the lion will lie down with the lamb, and children will play with cobras.
We know how this life was broken. It was when mankind gave into temptation and stepped out from God’s rule. We need to understand how this life is restored. For that, let’s turn back to Genesis, chapter 3. Speaking to the serpent, God said:
(Genesis 3:15 ESV) “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
The offspring of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. A child, born of woman, would crush this tempter’s head. You see, when mankind sinned, it was as if the serpent had crushed man’s head. He had, it appeared, defeated mankind, and even mankind’s Creator. But in that moment of apparent victory, God made a promise. A child would be born of a woman, who would defeat the Serpent. He would not lose to the Serpent as Adam had. He would be victorious. He would reverse the outcome of what transpired that fateful morning in the Garden. This time the Serpent would be utterly defeated.
This promise is the frame in which we read all of Scripture. From Genesis to Malachi, we see this promise expanded. A son was coming who would crush the Serpent’s head and reverse the curse. A son was coming who would restore mankind’s relationship to God. A son was coming who would rule and reign over a renewed creation after vanquishing all of God’s enemies.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we learn that Jesus of Nazareth was this Son. He was both the son of a woman and the very Son of God. He would crush the Serpent’s head by offering His life as a sacrifice for sin. He would destroy the greatest enemies of God and man—including death itself—by living a perfectly righteous life, dying in the place of sinners and rising from the dead.
The books of Acts through the letter to Jude show us how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have begun this process of restoration. They show how we should respond to what He accomplished—how we must rely upon His work entirely to save us from death. Only faith in Jesus brings restoration with God. These books show us how to live for Him as those who have been restored to God but still reside in a fallen world.
The final book (Revelation) tells us that Jesus will come again, and when He does the restoration job will be completed. He will tear down all of the brokenness, and He will rebuild a new and glorious heaven and earth for His people. He will then reign amongst us as a perfectly just and merciful Lord. We will serve Him as Adam was created to.
Genesis, chapter 3 and verse 15 is an undeniable promise that one day all that was demolished will be restored…all that was destroyed will be rebuilt…all that was damaged will be repaired. And here’s how it happened:
(Romans 5:18–21 ESV) Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. From the moment Adam and Eve took a bite of that fruit, death reigned. But now, through Jesus Christ, eternal life is ours. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. By His work on the cross, Jesus defeated the powers of death and hell, He crushed the head of the Serpent and He atoned for our sin.
How do we respond to what we’ve studied?
First, if you’re not a Christian, I challenge you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. For the Christian, this life is as close as we’ll ever be to hell, but for you, as a non-Christian, this life is as close as you’ll ever get to heaven. If you do not confess your sin to God and receive His forgiveness in Jesus Christ, you will not experience the future restoration. Your future will be final and complete alienation from God. The brokenness you experience now pales in comparison to that future. This life will seem like heaven compared to hell. Eternally separated from God, receiving the punishment for your life of rebellion to God, that is hell. So, turn from your sin and receive God’s grace today.
If you are a Christian, let me urge you to look at life biblically. We rail against this broken world. We are shocked when broken people do broken things. We grow frustrated when our possessions break and our bank account is empty. Of all people, we should understand why this happens. This is life in a world that’s been cut-off from God. This is the collateral damage of alienation from Him.
Never forget that you are a pilgrim in this world. Keep that perspective so that life’s troubles won’t shake you. Expect brokenness in a broken world. I’m not encouraging you to like brokenness, but don’t get so comfortable here, that you forget here is not your home. We are citizens of a different kingdom. This broken world is not our permanent residence.
Finally, brothers and sisters, start living as those who have been restored to God. We read earlier about the final restoration, when you can have a pet cobra and travel on the back of a lion. That’s not here yet, but restoration has begun. The root cause of brokenness was remedied by Jesus Christ, and you are no longer cut-off from God.
That means you can start to see victory over the brokenness in your life. Broken relationships and sinful emotions are no longer inevitable. Because you have been restored to God, other areas of your life can experience restoration.
Here’s one example. We know that marriages will struggle because of the Fall. God told Eve that there would be a struggle for control in marriage. The woman would desire to dominate her husband. Apart from Christ, we would have little choice but to accept that reality. But because we’ve been reconciled to God, we can see reconciliation and restoration in our marriages.
God commands wives to submit to their husbands, and husbands to love their wives. Because of Jesus’ work, we can now do it. We don’t need to live in the brokenness. We can experience healing right now.
Maybe you’re discouraged because of failure in your marriage. Maybe there’s another area of your life that seems to be in a constant state of brokenness. No matter how hard you try, you feel like you’re destined to fail. I encourage you to live in the victory, live in the rest, live in the peace, the shalom, that Jesus purchased through His death on the cross.
I just finished a book that detailed the life of POWs imprisoned in Japan during WWII. It was difficult to read at times, as the author described the cruel, inhumane conditions. It was amazing that any of the men survived. Near the end of the book, the POWs learn that the war is about to end. They start to see American bombers flying over them, deep into the heart of Japan. At one point, an American plane flies low over the prison with a message of Allied victory written on the wings of the plane.
Although the conditions hadn’t yet changed, the attitude and outlook of the POWs did. The victory, accomplished outside of the camp by someone else, radically changed how they faced life in the camp.
Brothers and sisters, the victory accomplished for us by someone else, radically changed how we face life in this broken world. Jesus has crushed the Serpent’s head. He has restored us to God, and He will eventually restore all things. Don’t live in defeat. Rest in what Jesus has accomplished for you.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] Darryl Worley, “Sounds Like Life to Me”
[ii] The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 1949), p. 31.
[iii] Ibid., p. 41.