Genesis 2:7-17; Mark 8:1-9
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
One question that even long-time Christians will sometimes struggle with, or at least wonder about, is why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden? It’s one of those things that can crop up every once in a while in our skeptical minds as an unresolved issue. If everything was good in the beginning, why did God put in an opportunity for man to mess it all up?
God certainly wasn’t foolish or evil for doing this. Nor was He playing games or toying with us. Rather, this has to do with the very nature of why God made man and what it means for man to be in His image. For the other creatures, it was sufficient that they lived primarily according to instinct, simply by virtue of the way they were made. But the Lord created man higher than the animals. He created us to have a unique relationship with Him. He is the God who is love, and who desires us to receive that love and return that love freely. And in order for love to be truly given and received, there also has to be the opportunity for that love to be rejected. If there were no choice in the matter, it wouldn’t be love but coercion, something forced, or at least something mechanical. But God did not create Adam and Eve to be robots or machines, but to be human. And to be human does not mean to be sinful; it means to reflect the very nature of the God who is love in their relationship with Him and with each other.
And so the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was there in the Garden that there might be the opportunity for such real love. Refraining from eating its fruit was a key way Adam and Eve showed love for God and honored Him as their Maker. Our first parents knew only good. God alone knew what evil was, how His goodness could be corrupted and turned against Him. We didn’t need to know that. For us, to know evil is already to be affected and tainted by it. You know how that is, with a movie, for instance, that has a graphic scene of sex or violence that you can’t unsee, or some traumatizing experience in your life that you can’t undo, and how those evils negatively color and affect the way you look at the world and how it diminishes life. God didn’t want that for you. He wanted you to be innocent of that. He simply wanted human beings to trust in Him and His words and to enjoy His good gifts.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then, was the place reserved for God alone, where our first parents would worship Him. It would have been treated with the same sort of reverence as we treat our altar. Martin Luther said, “This tree . . . was Adam’s church, altar, and pulpit. Here he was to yield to God the obedience he owed, give recognition to the Word and will of God, give thanks to God, and call upon God.” Luther continues, “This tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . would have been the church at which Adam, together with his descendants, would have gathered on the Sabbath day” (AE 1:95,105). To cross that boundary that God set would be to enter into the realm that belongs to God alone.
So then, one point we should understand clearly is that this tree was not some evil thing meant to trip up human beings. To be sure, there was a curse attached to its misuse–just as there are consequences to the misuse of any good thing. But above all, it was a place of worship, of hearing and honoring God’s Word, and of praising Him for His great goodness to them.
Beware, then, when you are tempted to use your human reason and thinking to call into question why God did things the way He did, as if our limited understanding could critique the depths of the mind of God, as if we were over Him in a position to judge Him. For whoever does so is engaging in the same sin that Adam and Eve did–putting themselves on the throne as judge of good and evil, trying to be God in place of God. Is it not utter foolishness to use our intelligence and mental faculties against the very God who gave them to us?
Of course, in one form or another that’s exactly what has happened. We’re often tempted to think like fools that we know better than God. Disregarding His Word and commands, we find ourselves under the curse He pronounced, “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die . . . Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The free will that man had in the beginning has been lost, just as the image of God has also been corrupted and polluted in us. No longer are we free in spiritual matters; rather we are in bondage to corruption. Ephesians 2 says that we are dead in our sin, spiritually stillborn. And dead people don’t make choices or exercise free will. We can’t do anything to bring ourselves to God or to get right with Him. The wages of sin is indeed death and separation from God forever.
However, the God who is love did not leave us to perish forever in our fallen state. For the Epistle reminds us, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s love is all about the giving of His free, undeserved gifts to us. And that was shown most fully and perfectly in the giving of Himself to us in the incarnation of Jesus.
What a contrast the setting of today’s Gospel reading is to Eden. Things have gone from a lush garden to a barren wilderness, from an abundance of food to the rumbling of empty stomachs. But notice that Jesus is right there in the wilderness with the people, enduring all of the effects of sin’s curse right along with them. Jesus said, “I have compassion on the multitudes.” His heart goes out to us in our need. Jesus entered into the bleakness and the harshness of this world in order that He might undo the curse and restore you to paradise. He went so far as to make your problems His problems. He knows what you’re going through right now, whatever it is–not just from a distance, but first-hand. In His great mercy Jesus came into the world to suffer with you and to suffer for you in order to take your suffering away forever. He made Himself a part of your life, with all the troubles and mess that it is, in order to redeem your bodies and souls and renew the fallen creation in which you live.
We see little foretastes of that renewal in miracles like this feeding of the 4000. Remember, the curse on Adam had been, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” But here the second Adam, Jesus, reverses the curse and produces bread in abundance apart from any sweaty or tiring labor. In this moment He restores the bounty of the Garden of Eden, where food is received in overflowing measure from the gracious hand of God. Here you see God the Son beginning to break the curse of decay and death and overcome the fall into sin. You see a small glimpse of how it was in the beginning and how it will be even more so in the new creation of the age to come.
Jesus completed His work of breaking the power of the curse on the cross. Since the wages of sin is death, Jesus took those wages you had coming and died your death for you. Sin’s deathly curse was broken and undone in the body of Christ the crucified. And notice the change in terminology–it’s no longer wages, what you’ve deserved and earned; it’s a gift, free love and grace. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the gift of life now flows to you and to all who believe in Him. For if sin has been undone, so also are the wages of sin undone. Death and hell have been taken away from you through the cross. You have been released to a new life, free and full, through the resurrection of Jesus.
That’s why it’s a key fact that it was on the third day that this miracle was performed in the Gospel. Jesus had led these people on a three day journey into the wilderness to teach them. So also Jesus leads you on a journey into the wilderness, into your daily callings in this desert world, so that as you serve your neighbor with all the difficulties that can bring, you may learn ever more deeply of your desperate need for Jesus’ mercy, so that you may learn to hunger for His Word and His righteousness. And then on the third day, that is, here in divine service, He fills you with manna from above. We bear his cross in the world, fasting in spirit with Jesus, often enduring affliction and trouble. But then the fast is broken and here we take part in the feast of the living and resurrected Christ, the Bread of Life.
Jesus took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people. In the same way still today, Jesus speaks His words of thanks and consecration, and His ministers distribute the blessed Sacrament of the Altar on His behalf. The seven loaves were multiplied to feed and fully satisfy 4000 people. In the same way still today, Jesus uses seemingly insufficient bread to multiply His grace and feed and fully satisfy the church with His very life-giving body. Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
When all had eaten there was more left over than when they started. Seven small loaves became seven large baskets. That’s how it is with the Lord. The more He gives, the more He has yet to give. His mercy toward you, His gifts don’t run out. There’s always more; there’s always better. The seven loaves stand for the seven days of creation. The seven large baskets stand for the even greater creation to come at Christ’s return. The Lord isn’t simply restoring you to the deathless perfection of Eden, He is exalting you to a status even greater and better than Adam and Eve. The place being prepared for you in heaven far surpasses even the Paradise of Eden. For by sharing fully in your humanity, Christ has lifted you up to the very throne and glory of God.
So, you may sometimes wonder whether or not God’s creation of man was worth it, with all that has gone so terribly wrong since the fall, with all that God knew He would have to do to save and restore us. But that’s not for us to dwell on. What we should dwell on is that you are worth it to God, worth the price He would have to pay to have you in His love forever.
Baptized into Christ, you are now given permission to come into God’s presence to eat. There is here for you the tree of life, the cross bearing Christ’s body and blood. From it you are given to eat and never die, never to be separated from God. As you receive this living bread that came down from heaven, you are being given a taste of paradise. For heaven is where Christ is, and Christ is here for you. “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” “For the Lord fills the hungry soul with goodness.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠