NOT Autonomous

May 19, 2024 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2024

Passage: Genesis 3:1

Sermon 5-19-24

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

The Day of Pentecost


NOT Autonomous

The late teacher of the Reformed Church, R.C. Sproul, said something on a recorded teaching this week that’s of great importance. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was in the Garden of Eden to establish the fact — the overriding fact — that as creatures of the living God, Yahweh, Adam and Eve were not autonomous. And neither are we.

A dictionary definition of autonomy is “not being under the control of others or outside forces.” It’s being independent. An autonomous nation is its own sovereign nation, theoretically not under the control of another nation or group of nations.

There is only one truly autonomous being in the entire universe and that’s the God who created it out of His own mind, will and purpose. Therefore, everything and every creature of whatever specie, earthly or alien, is subject to Yahweh’s will. Everything and every creature is dependent on Him for its very existence. Our God proclaims Himself to be uncreated, eternal, infinite and self-existing. He is not the creature of any other being.

He is the very source of being. How that can be is the terrifying question that has no answer except Yahweh Himself. For without Yahweh our little souls don’t exist.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was in the Garden as a reminder to Adam and Eve that they were ultimately dependent on a being greater than themselves. This was so because there was a command that came with that tree — don’t eat of it.

A truly autonomous being is under no one else’s command. Therefore, through the power of the command, the Tree stood there as an ever present reminder to Adam and Eve — you are NOT autonomous. The remarkable thing is that as originally created in the Image of God, Adam and Eve were entirely content with that.

However, into this blessed scenario the mysterious talking Serpent entered. We read in Genesis 3:1, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” Yahweh made the Serpent. Therefore, the Serpent was a fellow creature along with Adam and Eve. 

All we have on earth today is snakes. And because many species of snakes are poisonous, we’re very wary of them. Some that aren’t poisonous can crush us to death. Fun.

However, the mysterious Serpent of Genesis 3 is a very intelligent creature able to communicate by language. For this reason we often equate it with one of Yahweh’s spiritual creatures, an angel. Today, it’s hard to see how a mute creature forced to crawl on its belly could have any intelligence other than the intelligence native to snakes. Nevertheless, the Serpent that came to Eve was a creature full of lies and deceit.

Jesus identified the mysterious Serpent for us in John 8:43-44. Speaking to a group of people who thought they believed in Him, Jesus said: John 8:43-44, “43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” 

Thus, Jesus identified the Serpent as a devil — a spiritual creature fallen into total evil. This devil probably inhabited the body of the Serpent that spoke so that an otherwise mute animal spoke to Eve. Scripture just doesn’t give us enough information. 

Scripture  also doesn’t tell us how a creature also made in the Image of God could fall into total evil. However, when we look at what the Serpent said to Eve, we get some clues. The thing the Serpent came to talk to Eve about was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That was the tree of command. It was the tree that demonstrated the true status of Adam and Eve as creatures of the living God. They were not autonomous. They owed their entire existence to their Creator. Therefore, when we realize that the Serpent aimed his attack precisely at Adam and Eve’s lack of autonomy, it becomes clear that in some way Yahweh had permitted the Serpent to rebel against his creaturehood. The Serpent had been permitted to imagine himself autonomous and out from under the control of his Creator. In other words the Serpent had been permitted to think of himself as his own god. And it was precisely with the news that being your god was possible that the Serpent tempted Eve; and through Eve, Adam.

Of course, in a created universe being your own god is a great delusion. And the Serpent had paid a heavy price to obtain his delusion. As Jesus said, separated from his Creator, the Serpent had become completely evil — so steeped in evil that he is a heartless murderer and a pathological liar.

For Adam and Eve the price of indulging in the delusion of autonomy was death. That’s the same price we, their descendants, pay for the same delusion. Autonomy from Yahweh is the delusion that Original Sin implants in us from conception. Rebellion against our Creator is the root of all Sin. It’s the reason why plenty of so-called “good” people are heading for hell — the second death. As I’ve explained multiple times, a complete autonomy from Yahweh like the devil has is the destiny of those bound for hell. And that destiny is pure evil. Nevertheless this complete autonomy from Yahweh is the vicious craving of Original Sin within us. It’s our secret heart’s desire — to be our own gods. 

So, the great struggle over the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was and remains the autonomy of Yahweh’s creatures. The question is: “Who will be God?” — Yahweh or you; Yahweh or me? Upon that question rests the main event in life — our destiny beyond death and our destiny in the resurrection of the dead.

Into this great struggle enters Jesus of Nazareth with His clarion call to all who hear His voice: “Follow me.” Into what are we to follow Jesus? It’s explained this way in Matthew 16:24-26, “24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’”

In other words, we are to deny our autonomy — any so-called “right” we might have to be our own gods. Then, we are to collapse completely into the hands of our Creator God just like Jesus did in this life. Jesus did this through the cross. Therefore, this collapse into God’s arms is only possible through the cross that puts the sinful nature to death. This death is so complete that on the last day we will rise to life again, existing in a body complete in the holy Image of our Creator God. This is the marvelous destiny of all given the grace to answer Jesus’ call to “follow me.”

Now, what qualifications does Jesus have that we should follow Him unreservedly in this life? First, Scripture tells us that Jesus of Nazareth was born mortal like all of us. Like all of us, the curse of Original Sin — namely death — rested on Him.

However, unlike us, He was not born with Original Sin attached to Him. His unusual conception and birth — born of a virgin — testifies to this. Even though death rested on Jesus for our sake, He was born in the Image of God — the same Image Adam had been created in. Free of Original Sin, Jesus was free to make the same choice Adam made. And because Jesus is Messiah, the choice He made regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil affected us all, just as Adam’s choice had. Jesus’ choice made redemption from sin possible.

Unlike Adam, Jesus didn’t have just one temptation. He had at least five major ones. First, was temptation in the wilderness directly at the hands of Satan (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). Second, was temptation at the hands of Jesus’ best friend, Peter. We read in Matthew 16:21-22, “21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’” This was a tug at Jesus’ heartstrings. You can’t leave us! So, we read in Matthew 16:23 “But he [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’”

Third, was the temptation we read about in John 7:2-9, “2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths [Tabernacles] was at hand. 3 So his brothers [blood brothers in Nazareth] said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.’ 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.”

It’s a Jewish tradition that the Messiah will appear in glory during the Fall festival of Tabernacles. Therefore, Jesus’ brothers were urging Him to reveal Himself in glory as Messiah at this festival. But that wasn’t the plan. Instead, Jesus revealed Himself on Palm Sunday, just before the Spring feast of Passover so that He could be sacrificed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Fourth, was the temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus could have fled. He could have resisted arrest. However, after Peter took out his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, we read in Matthew 26:52-54, “52 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”

Last, was what happened during Jesus’ suffering on the cross. We read in Matthew 27:39-44, “39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.”’ 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.”

In all the temptations the tactic was clear. If you are the Son of God, show your autonomy! You are God, right? Then forget the will of the Father! Do Messiah your own way. Show us that you’re Messiah on our terms, and not on Yahweh’s.

The tremendous victory Jesus won showed up precisely at the cross. He did not come down. He preserved His glory as God’s holy Messiah — God’s holy, obedient and dependent one. Through intense suffering, He once and for all destroyed the foul grip of Original Sin — a creature’s utterly delusional quest for autonomy from its Creator. Only a God/man could do this and that’s who Jesus is.

Even now He is at the right hand of the Father in human flesh. For our sake, our Creator took on His creature’s flesh and has redeemed us. This is the one who says, “If you want escape the delusion of autonomy and live in the Image of God as you were meant to live, Follow Me!” All those called to escape eternal death for eternal life can only follow Jesus and embrace the cross. Only through the cross can we become content as the dependent creatures we were meant to be.

The Tree of the Cross exterminates our autonomy and reestablishes the natural dependency we had before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was violated. As Jesus put it in John 15:5, “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.’” In this parable, the fruit Jesus is talking about is righteousness — Yahweh’s righteousness.

The fruit that dangles on the end of grape vine branches can only be produced if the branch is attached to the vine. In the same way, the righteous works of the Christian life can only be produced if the believer is attached to Jesus — the one who conquered the delusion of autonomy. Without attachment to Jesus, the kind of dependent, righteous living our Creator created us for is simply impossible. For without Jesus the only way to live is autonomously as our own gods. And any good we might do as our own gods is meaningless to our Creator. He did not create us to be our own gods! He created us to be intimately connected to Him as our holy Father in heaven. In the present age this is only possible through Messiah Jesus.

So, we come to the final questions. How is it that anyone can voluntarily take up the cross that puts their precious autonomy to death and follow Jesus in His victory over being our own gods? We can’t. There’s no way we can. It’s only by the grace of God.

And how can such marvelous pity, such marvelous mercy, such marvelous grace come to us? Scripture is quite clear. We can’t call on the Name of Jesus unless we know there is a Jesus. And the only way we can know that there is a Messiah Jesus is if we’re told. The responsibility for telling the world of Jesus rests with Messiah’s Church. The Church does so everywhere the Word of God is properly preached and Christ’s commanded Sacraments are properly administered.

And even when the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered, it’s not enough. For, souls locked in Original Sin’s autonomy cannot believe what they’re told and shown. Therefore, a power greater than Original Sin is necessary to spring its lock on our beings. That power is Lord Holy Spirit, the person of the Godhead who proceeds from the Father and the Son on high.

And so here we are on this glorious Day of Pentecost 2024. In case you don’t know it, Pentecost is actually a festival that Yahweh commanded Israel to keep through the Law of Moses. In its original Old Testament form, it was a day to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season in Israel.

But in the year Jesus was crucified and resurrected, Yahweh changed the festival forever. Instead of it being a celebration of the firstfruits of the yearly grain harvest, it became the celebration of the firstfruits of Holy Spirit’s harvest of souls in the present Church Age. For on that original Day of Pentecost, 3,000 men and their families who had not previously believed in Messiah Jesus believed in Him through the testimony and preaching of the Apostles. They believed because Father and Son poured out Lord Holy Spirit upon those who were destined to believe. For, only Lord Holy Spirit could break the chains of hearts locked in the autonomy of Original Sin. Only through Lord Holy Spirit could they believe the message they were hearing — Jesus crucified for the sins of the world, and resurrected in reward for crushing the power of the devil and Original Sin by perfectly obeying the Word of God unto death on a cross.

Only the divine power of Lord Holy Spirit can grant us power to believe what is otherwise unheard of — a real human being was resurrected from the dead. And, Jesus was not only resurrected from the dead, but resurrected in an immortal, deathless and eternally healthy human body. 

In the great main event of life — eternal life — similar eternal bodies will be the reward of those who follow Jesus here — as we follow Him into the death of autonomy and the resurrection into contented dependency that is the New Birth. Only Lord Holy Spirit can give the faith necessary to believe and enable such glorious things.

Therefore, this day we again glorify Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus was sent and accomplished our salvation. The Holy Spirit has been sent to bring us to Jesus. Blessed is Lord Holy Spirit. Blessed is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

All Bible quotes are from the ESV. 

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