The Flaming Sword

It’s amazing how many “open-minded” individuals are defiantly “closed-minded” when it comes to discussing God’s Holy Word. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Nothing, I sometimes think, so proves the truth of the biblical teaching as the way in which men and women refuse to consider it.” Of course, the Scriptures reveal the underlying cause of their intolerant attitude – they’re spiritually blind. They see only what’s visible and refuse to believe there’s anything else to see. Yet many of them will readily say angels exist and that it’s possible there might be other dimensions we aren’t aware of. If you tell them they’re being contradictory they’ll shrug and snarl, “So?” To them angels and parallel worlds are about as vital to their daily routine as comic book superheroes. They deem the Bible and its talk of a spiritual realm a useless distraction from the real problems they’re constantly striving to solve. The tragic irony is the answers they seek are in the very book they insist on ignoring. Methinks it scares the devil out of them! Fact is, the Scriptures address directly the two fundamental questions people most often pose concerning the ills of the world: What’s the diagnosis and what’s the cure? However, the majority want to skip the first query altogether and get right to the second. But the Bible says we mustn’t put the cart before the pony and that infuriates them. Still, common sense tells us if we’re suffering a debilitating condition and consult a physician about it, he/she won’t be able to do anything until they’ve figured out what’s the matter with us. Non-believers detest the Bible because they suspect it’ll identify them as being part of the problem so they don’t give a darn about hearing God’s diagnosis, they just want a fast-acting remedy. Taking time to ponder the analysis God provided in Genesis 3 isn’t on their agenda. They’ve got things to do and places to go, don’t cha know?

 

“…The LORD God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken. When he drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). How easy it is to correlate Adam & Eve’s conundrum to our own in today’s world. They were expelled from paradise with no way back inside. They were confused, frustrated and terrified because they were no longer protected by God from predators, starvation, injuries and diseases. They now had to fend for themselves for everything. Isn’t that the ongoing human predicament? People sense the whole of civilization is up a creek without a paddle. Nothing gets better. The best of intentions fall flat and everyone feels something’s horribly amiss. What we need’s an honest diagnosis and an effective treatment for our collective malady. God supplies both in His Holy Word but too many folks demand a second or third opinion before submitting to the only cure there is – Jesus Christ.

 

Genesis 3 informs us the human species is in disarray because the first man and woman refused to accept who and what they were and tried to be something they weren’t and were never meant to be. In the garden Adam & Eve strolled along Easy Street. They weren’t in want of anything. Everything was provided by their Creator. But that wasn’t enough. They desired more “say so” and Satan not only recognized their festering sense of entitlement but also how to exploit it to the max. Regarding the off-limits tree he told them, God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good from evil (3:5) and they went all in. The idea they could attain equal status with God Almighty sounded like the greatest opportunity ever to them. They’d call the shots from here on out. No more of this “Yes, Lord” business. Free at last! They ate. God said, “Fine. Y’all can have it your way. But not in my garden. You’re outa here. Go make your own paradise and good luck with that.” They promptly got booted from Eden. Permanently.

 

There’s the world’s problem in a nutshell, spelled out in Genesis 3 for all to read. The principal trouble with men and women was (and still is) our unwarranted conceit. In light of that, ponder what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.” Then, in verse 31, Paul punctuates his point with a quote from the Old Testament, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (Isaiah 64:4). The gist is this: God’s way of salvation entails total abandonment of intellectual pride and becoming humbled by and subservient to His majestic universal sovereignty. But our pride is belligerently arrogant. It doesn’t want to accept we only exist in the magnificent mind of the great I AM. Pride wants to rule the roost.

 

Every day mankind collectively further convinces itself it’s getting smarter and more self-sufficient. Therefore, there’s less need for a Supreme Being. The public consensus is that we can manufacture our own Eden, thank you very much. They opine the Bible’s outdated I AM is being systematically usurped by modern advances in technology and science. How ridiculous humanity is! We stupidly overlook our own history that shows us over and over in Technicolor that no scheme we’ve ever come up with has turned out the way we were so dang sure it would. Notice in Genesis 3:22 that Adam & Eve did gain knowledge of good and evil but the tasty apple they gobbled contained a slimy worm. Keep in mind they’d never experienced evil before. Up till then they’d only known God’s blessings of uninterrupted peace, harmony with nature and blissful contentment. But the serpent led them to believe God was holding out on them and they deliberately disobeyed His law in order to find out what it was they were being deprived of. Lloyd-Jones wrote, “So man gained the knowledge of evil. Yes, but he discovered the knowledge of evil he obtained was not the knowledge of evil that God has. God looks upon both good and evil from the outside, objectively. But alas for poor man, his knowledge wasn’t objective. The knowledge he obtained was subjective. And what was that knowledge? It was the knowledge of the fact that the moment he ate that prohibited fruit, he became the slave of evil; he was under the power of evil, under the domination of Satan and sin.” Paul was well aware of how evil corrupts. He wrote, For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! …But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind (Romans 7:18-19, 23). Adam & Eve ingested the knowledge of evil and now we’ve all inherited it. Every Christian is aware of the war our sinful nature wages incessantly in our heart and mind and how that never-ending conflict discourages us so.

 

Evil comes with a lot of nasty baggage. One is punishment. Because of evil, man got evicted from paradise and exiled to the wilderness where he was forced to embrace the toil of stalking game and working the land just to provide food for his family. Man had to learn the hard way that sin has consequences. Another foul piece of luggage evil drags along is remorse. You know, that feeling you’re an idiot because you keep committing the same sin repeatedly even though it never ceases to cause more personal train wrecks. The resulting shame turns into depression and/or self-loathing over your inability to change. But the bulkiest trunk of trouble evil lugs with it is the unavoidable specter of death. It’s logical to conclude if Adam & Eve had managed to obey God they’d still be around. They would’ve been able to eat the fruit of the tree of life – and death would be an alien concept to Earthlings. As my pastor commented recently, “Things’d be a lot different, I betcha.” But the point’s moot. We’ll never know because the first couple took the law into their own hands and they brought the curse God warned them of raining down on us all. “…You must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die (Genesis 2:17). Ever since the fall of man, death has been a fact of life. It looms on everyone’s horizon. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody intelligent who’ll deny evil is the parent of punishment, remorse and death. Yet billions of folks will turn to anything and everything else before they’ll turn to the God of Abraham for salvation. They’ll insist that as long as we keep coming up with “new and improved” gadgets, drugs and philosophies we’ll eventually figure out a way to save ourselves. Ain’t gonna happen.

 

Another interesting line in Genesis 3:22 is where God says “…the man has become like one of us…” (A statement that also reaffirms the doctrine of the Holy Trinity). It’s obvious God isn’t addressing an angel or a human so He must be conversing with God the Son and God the Spirit concerning what Adam & Eve will now do with their illegally-acquired “knowledge.” Since God created them both He was no doubt keenly aware they’d attempt to evade the consequences of their rebellious act. So expulsion from Eden was imperative. Else they’d do everything in their power to get to the tree of life, eat of it and thereby avoid becoming better acquainted with the ghastly new kid in town, Death. They left God no choice. They had to get the boot. And there, preserved for posterity in Genesis 3, is the explanation for why civilization keeps on spinning its wheels in a bog of futility. But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Or the Bible’s, either. Check out any secular history book. You’ll read of mighty dynasties, hostile conquests, kings and emperors, great minds and their schools of thought, various types of utopian governments that were anything but, etc. You’ll eventually agree with King Solomon: ’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2). What you’ll see is man repeatedly trying to sneak back into Eden to pick fruit from the tree of life so he can prove to the heavens he can live happily ever after without God’s help. What nonsensical foolishness! For verse 24 states, When he [God] drove the man out, he placed on the eastern side of the orchard in Eden angelic sentries [cherubim] who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.” There’s no going back on our own. Period.

 

What we must conclude is that this explains the screwed-up state the world’s in. We’re still on the outside of paradise, looking in. Why? Because God’s angelic sentries and a flaming sword blocks the entrance. Some’ll scoff and say that’s a children’s story. I beg to differ. The Bible says cherubim represent the omnipotent power and awesome glory of God. For example, the Lord commanded two golden cherubim replicas be crafted and placed on top of the lid of the sacred ark of the covenant and anyone who dared tamper with it came to rue the day they did. Thus the fact God stationed two of the real McCoy to prevent all of mankind’s defiant attempts to enter the Garden is ominously significant. And then there’s the intimidating sword; a lethal weapon that represents the wrath of God against sin. Its presence means if a person wants a life that includes happiness, peace and joy, a life everlasting Satan can’t defile, they must deal with the flaming sword. In Genesis 3 God says we can’t have that beautiful kind of life until we’ve somehow gotten past His impenetrable road block. However, history reveals every assault humans have mustered against it have failed to make even a dent.

 

Does this mean we’re doomed? Condemned? Is lasting peace and joy unattainable? The New Testament emphatically says “No.” We can get back into Eden but there’s only one way. “…Brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain that is his flesh… we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water(Hebrews 10:19-20, 22). This is the Good News our Heavenly Father wants us to understand and accept. The cherubim and the flaming sword represent God’s power and glory. There’s but one person who could successfully get through those imposing, divine obstacles. He’s the Son of God. He voluntarily became a flesh and blood man and joined us in our banishment from Eden. And what He did for us out of His unconditional love for us is far beyond our ability to fathom. As Lloyd-Jones put it, “The Son of God advanced against the flaming sword, and it smote Him, and it killed Him. It broke His body, and in breaking His body, it broke itself. Now the way is opened into the paradise of God, to the tree of life, to salvation and all its indescribable blessings.” If you’re a Christian and that statement doesn’t invigorate you then you’d better check your pulse right away. According to the above passage from Hebrews, Jesus approached the fiery sword and it cut Him down. In that moment the curse was lifted. Because of His sacrifice it’s now possible for you and me to enter Eden again. We can eat from the tree of life. When we take Communion the wafer signifies His broken body and the wine His spilled blood. It’s not just a solemn, respectful ritual, it’s a figurative reenactment of what Christ did for us on the cross. Christ is the only way to avoid the wrath of God and return to His perfect realm where sin and evil don’t exist. If Jesus hadn’t experienced the agonizing death inflicted by the flaming sword in our place there’d be no hope for us. We’d be forever banned from the Garden.

 

It wasn’t sufficient for Christ to be born as a human being. His mission involved more than living a pristine life and teaching us how to behave in a manner pleasing to our Father. He came to open the gates of heaven to us. The flaming sword had to fulfill its justified purpose and, once it had, Jesus said, It is finished! (John 19:30). The ancient prophecies came true. He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed (Isaiah 53:5). Eternal life spent basking in the love and glory of God is no longer out of reach for men and women. The barriers are down for good. By submitting our hearts, minds and souls to Jesus Christ and becoming born again we’ll be allowed to worship God in person. Not due to anything we’ve done ourselves. We could never merit such a sublime privilege. Our cleanest thoughts and acts are but filthy rags in the sight of our Father. But if we’re washed in the blood of our precious Savior we’re as spotless as freshly-fallen snow in His eyes. We won’t be in heaven because of our obedience, but because of Christ’s. He alone kept God’s law flawlessly, not only for Himself, but for all who choose to believe and trust in Him. As Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). Search other avenues all you want. There’s no other way.

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