Here's a transcript of a talk I gave at Advent in July on Genesis 3; specifically God's clothing of Adam and Eve.
Okay! So many of us are probably familiar, at least to some extent, with the first three chapters of Genesis. Even if this is your first time at church on a Sunday morning, there’s probably still a mental category for the Garden event, whether it’s come from John Steinbeck or…pick any CS Lewis book. These first chapters are important not because they lay some sort of overarching foundation for human experience, though they certainly do that. Rather, much groundwork is laid for the rest of Scripture in these first three chapters. We see a God who is different from His Creation, who is powerful enough to transcend it, but is yet still involved intimately in its day to day functions. We see a temple in which God dwells with His people in the Garden of Eden that will serve as a sort of template for Solomon’s temple later on. And, perhaps most famously, we see a perfect humanity fall from grace, sending ripples down through the ages and afflicting the race with both an original guilt and a sinful nature.
All that said, and all that given it’s due, in our reading of the first three chapters of Genesis there’s sometimes a tendency to skip over one crucial part, and one especially poignant picture of the Gospel: the clothing of Adam and Eve. Okay, so let’s read through this section really quick. I’ll read it out loud and you can just follow along on the sheet of paper in front of you.
This is always such a sad, sad story for me. Genesis 2 ends with such a tranquil and peaceful note, but it doesn’t take long for the other shoe to drop. Of course, Adam and Eve eat from the tree from which they were told not to eat. Now, a few things happen after they eat from the tree and their eyes are opened, and I’d like to really concentrate and spend some time on just a few of those things. Let’s start with verse 7. We read, “then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
There’s a little bit going on here. Let’s start with the first half of the verse. The eyes open, and they know that they’re naked. Important to observe here is that Adam and Eve have been naked in the Garden. It’s just that now, they realize it. An important shift happens here - nakedness, at least for Adam and Eve, moves from being primarily a sign of innocence to a sign of shame. Adam and Eve, in trying to usurp God’s authority in discriminating between right and wrong, have tried to do a job that wasn’t theirs to do. They had not been endowed with this kind of authority from God. Herman Bavinck, the great Dutch Reformed theologian, says this about the Garden episode: "By violating the command of God and eating of the tree, they would make themselves like God in the sense that they would position themselves outside and above the law and, like God, determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was.” In desiring the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Couple is after “the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own.” The issue is not that Adam and Eve were trying to discern the difference between right and wrong. If it were just that, we’d have to ditch the whole book of Proverbs. The issue is that they sought to construct their own sort of reality in which their whims dictated right and wrong. It’s at this point that nakedness is becomes a pointer to one’s shame, rather than a signal of one’s innocence.
So how did they respond to realizing their own shame? “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” The more I read this verse in preparation for this talk, the more pitiful that sounds. It’s like, most of y’all have seen kids, like young kids, when they break something like a coaster or a glass and they know they’ve done wrong, and then they try to put it back together, but you and anyone else who’s watching knows that the only way that coaster is coming back together is if 1) Jesus comes back right now or 2) if the nurse from Harry Potter who regrows bones shows up at the doorstep. Honestly, that’s what it feels like is happening here. Adam and Eve have broken something, and in making for themselves loincloths, they’re trying to put it back together under their own power.
We should see a lot of ourselves in this story. When we sin, when we fall, our first reflex often isn’t to seek the Lord. Like our first parents, our first reflex is to fear, to hide, and to try to cover our sin on our own. When we commit that sin, that sin that we feel the weight of almost immediately, and our first thought is, “Oh, well I’ll just start reading my Bible extra hard,” or, “I won’t listen to the RoundTable on the way to work anymore, I’ll just pray instead,” we fashion our own loincloths. Our religiosity does not and cannot atone for sin. Our self-righteous efforts to fashion our own loincloths always fail! Believe it or not, this is great news.
Let’s jump on to Genesis 3:20. Here, we read that after this whole clothing kerfuffle, “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” Adam and Eve have tried to cover their own shame. It hasn’t worked. However, God comes to Adam and Eve and makes for them garments made from animal skin. A few things are worth observing here. First, it’s ultimately God Himself who must cover our shame. We can’t do it on our own with any amount of religiosity or works or prayers; it’s God who has to come to us and cover our shame. Second, an animal had to die for these skins to be placed on Adam and Eve. In order for shame to be covered, blood had to be shed. It’s obviously not a coincidence that so many years later, the same God who provided Adam and Eve with clothing to cover their shame is Himself shamed. Lots are cast for His clothing, and He is cursed that we might “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14). In a sense, Christ Himself becomes the animal out of which those first garments were fashioned all those years ago in the Garden. It is Christ who must be disrobed and shamed so that the high priests of Exodus 28 and Leviticus 16 can be clothed in glorious attire which not only covers nakedness but also clothes in dignity and splendor. It is Christ, ultimately, who gives up His clothing and His life so that our shame might be covered and that we might have life, and have it to the full.
So, in conclusion, a few points. First, the Gospel in Genesis 3 and in general exposes us. It shows us our shame and nakedness. Second, in doing the first, the Gospel makes clear that we ourselves have nothing to bring to the table. Our loincloths can’t get us anywhere in the divine economy. But third, and finally, it shows us that that shame and nakedness, if we are joined to Christ, is no longer ours to bear. He has made a once-for-all oblation for sins, and that is yours. Like I said earlier, this is great news. It’s great news because if Christ is the one saving folks, if he’s the one drawing people to Himself and clothing them in His righteousness, then the responsibility is no longer on you to keep your fig leaf loincloth looking fresh. If you could do nothing to gain Christ, you can do nothing to lose Him, for after He has clothed you with Himself, He won’t let you escape (John 10:28-30).