Satan is patient, stoking the power of evil that he believes is stronger than God. He devises a scheme and becomes one with a snake. And there he waits. He will wait as long it takes to entrap and ensnare. And so, he waits. He waits for Eve to walk past the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Satan hopes that he can undo the goodness that God created in this world. He heard God tell Adam that if people eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they will die. That is what Satan wants; he wants life to waste away and death to become strong. And so, he waits. And his patience pays off. Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he beguiles Eve, and he casts us onto the highway of hell.
But our Lord does not want us to live in the ruins of sin. Our Lord did not want us to die. He warned Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But Eve, and in turn, Adam was deceived. That is why God reminds us that He has provided a second tree, the Tree of the Cross, the tree Jesus used to restore what Satan had brought to ruin.
So which tree do you live under? Is it the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or the Tree of the Cross, the “tree of death” or “the tree of life”? In truth, it is both: we Christians live under both trees.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is evil disguised as good, full of tempting, forbidden fruit hanging from its branches. But do not be deceived. What the devil did to Eve and to Jesus, he also does to you. He attacked them when they were most vulnerable, at their weakest. Satan still does that today. He tempts you when you are at your weakest, when you are down, and when you are doubting God.
Satan tells you what he told Eve: that God’s commandments are His way of controlling your life and keeping you down. Can you hear Satan’s voice echoing inside your head? (A) “Did God actually say you can’t put anything else before Him?” (B) “Did God say you have to love you neighbor as much as you love yourself?” (C) “Is God such a killjoy that He won’t let you bend the rules–even a little– when He knows so much is at stake?”
Yes, we are still under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For Satan still tempts us. And we still fall bedazzled by the devil’s lies.
And when we get caught, we still do what Adam and Eve did. When God asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I command you not to eat from?” Adam responded, “The woman you gave me–she gave me the fruit,” In other words, “It’s your fault God. If you had not put that woman here, everything would be fine.” “It’s not my fault,” Eve protests. “The serpent tricked me.” All too often that is the way we respond, isn’t it? Blame someone else; blame someone else for our problems and mistakes.
And so, we try to pass the blame. Students copy answers and cheat in school, and they blame it on the pressure for better grades. Business owners cut corners, and they blame it on the economy and the need to make a profit.
Depending on where we are, we can all say we gave in to temptation for whatever reason. (A) I was running with the wrong crowd. (B) I have a boss who is too demanding. (C) My parents abused me. But even if all that is true, that does not excuse our sin.
Do you realize what you are saying to God? You’re telling Him, “It’s your fault. These people you put here in this world with me, they tempted me, and I sinned.” Well, of course, they tempted us, they are sinners. Do we expect fallen sinners to encourage us to do what is right and listen to our Lord? This is what life is like under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
We cannot keep from being tempted. But as Christians, we do not have to give in to temptation. We are in communion with Christ’s divine nature–the Christ who resisted temptation, the Christ who defied Satan, the Christ who becomes one with His own just as surely as Satan became one with the snake. With Christ within us, we can withstand the withering assault of Satan. We can say no to temptation.
And when we fall into temptation, we do not have to lie and say, “It’s his fault,” “It’s her fault,” or even “It’s your fault, God.” Instead, we can speak the truth to the One who is Truth: “God, I am a poor, miserable sinner. I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed.” That is what God wanted from Adam and Eve. That is what He wants from us. God wants true repentance: sorrow for our sin, a yearning to change our sinful lives, and trust in our Lord Jesus.
Life under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil makes a mess of our lives. But that is not the end of the story. Your Lord places you under another tree, the cross, that restores your life.
After Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, he licked his wounds in defeat. But he waited. He waited for a more strategic time to attack and tempt Jesus. And there, suffering the assault of death, Jesus withstood the deceptions of the devil. There, Jesus defeated the devil on the Tree of the Cross–the Tree He places you under.
Of course, the Tree of the Cross is not attractive and alluring. It is just downright ugly–scarred, splintered, and bloodied–compared to Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The cross looks ugly: two limbs lashed together, holding a thin weak man called Jesus, who gasps for His last breath. But by the blood of this man Jesus, that was shed on that tree, God has given us the means to overcome Satan who has overcome us.
God told the serpent that one of Eve’s offspring would crush his head. Yes, Satan’s conqueror would be a human like Eve, a human like us. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Adam disobeyed God, which puts us all under the tree of death. But Jesus obeyed God, which put us under the tree of Life!
If you have ever walked in the dense underbrush, you may have had to kill a snake or two. Now, if you were to kill a snake by stomping on its head, you would want to make sure you wore a tough, thick pair of boots. You would want to make sure the snake did not strike your heel as you were crushing its head.
But Jesus does His killing differently. That is not how He kills the venomous viper. Jesus stomps down Satan’s power by letting Satan strike His heel. Our Savior crushes Satan by letting him sink all his deadly venom into Him on the cross.
So how can the devil destroy me and you? He stands before God and points out all the wrongs we have ever done, all those deeds he deceived us into doing. But the moment that Jesus let Satan strike His heel–the moment the devil sank his venom into Jesus, instead of us–Satan had no more venom left to harm us.
Yes, Satan can still accuse us. Satan can still demand that God give us what we have earned by giving in to temptation. But his accusations ring empty. For God has given to Jesus what we deserve. As we confess in the “Apostles Creed” “He descended into hell.” Jesus suffered it for us. There is no hell left for us to suffer.
In Genesis 3:21, following today’s Old Testament reading, it shows how God covered Adam and Eve’s naked sinfulness with clothes made of animal skins. It reads “The LORD God made garments from animal skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them”. Here Moses points forward and testifies to the Messiah, the Christ, to come. He prophesies that only the shedding of blood can cover someone’s sins. Heb 9:22.
Even back then, another living thing had to die to cover sin. That was the first death after the Fall, the death of animals to cover sin. (A) That death did more than point to the animal sacrifices to come in the Covenant of Old Testament. (B) That death pointed forward to the death of God’s Son, the death of all deaths, which would usher in the New Covenant. That was the first prophecy to show that it would take death to make right what sin had made wrong.
When the time was right, to cover up our naked sinfulness, our Lord sacrificed, not just an animal but His own dear Son. For sin is such a separating chasm from God that only a sinless death can bridge the vast expanse. And so, God sent His own Son to go to the cross of death.
Today, God does not clothe us in animal skins. He clothes us, instead, in the sinless life of Jesus. The sinless life that Jesus lived now clothes us. Only He stood up to all of Satan’s temptations, in the wilderness and even on the cross of death.
(A) God wraps the sinless life of Jesus around you in your Baptism. (B) He wraps that sinless life around you again when your Lord says, “I forgive you all your sins.” (C) God is wrapping that sinless life around you right now as Jesus Christ is preached into your ears. (D)That sinless life is wrapped around you–and put into you–when your Lord gives you the body and blood of Jesus at His altar.
(A) Now, God looks at you and sees—not the sinful you–but His holy and righteous Son. (B) Now, God looks at you and sees the One who has never failed to resist temptation.
The scriptures remind us that we live under two trees. The first tree was the one by which Satan conquered us. But the second tree was one by which Jesus conquered Satan for us. And because of that we live. Amen.