The Wages of Sin: Why Nothing Works Right
June 9, 2002 | Ray Pritchard
Three hundred seventy-nine days ago, Martin and Gracia Burnham were captured by Muslim terrorists in the Southern Philippines. They were staying at the Dos Palmas resort off the island of Palawan when members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (an organization affiliated with the Al Qaeda terrorist network) took them hostage. Gracia had surprised Martin with the trip to celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary. For over a year they were held by the terrorists, constantly being shuttled from one hiding place to another. The plight of these brave New Tribes missionaries attracted worldwide attention and generated a tidal wave of prayer from Christians everywhere.
On Friday, the Philippine army finally located the guerrilla band in a remote region of Mindanao Island, about 500 miles south of Manila. The firefight lasted 20 minutes. When it was over, Martin Burnham was dead and Gracia had been wounded but survived. Evidently the guerillas knew that government troops had been closing in on them because they were constantly on the move and the Burnhams had not eaten in nine days. Each night they made the Burnhams sleep in a tent pitched between them and the direction they thought the attack would come from. When it finally happened, they were caught in the crossfire. Gracia was wounded in the thigh while Martin was seriously hit in the chest. He died during the assault while both were on the ground inside the tent, with his body partially covering her. Gracia witnessed her husband’s death.
Martin Burnham had a premonition that he would not survive their long captivity so he had written letters to each of their three children, Jeffrey, 15, Melinda, 12, and Zachary, 11. He told his wife to make sure that they got the letters if he didn’t get out of the jungle alive. When the soldiers finally rescued Gracia, she begged them to find the letters before they evacuated her to safety. After a search of the battle zone, the letters were recovered.
Martin Burnham grew up in the Philippines, where his parents have been missionaries for more than 32 years. The three children were all born there. Martin and Gracia had served with New Tribes Mission in the Philippines since 1986. He was a missionary pilot who often flew into isolated regions. He was only 42 years old.
Singing His Wife to Sleep
One thing is clear about the Burnhams. During their long captivity, their faith never wavered. Every night Martin sang songs to help Gracia go to sleep. Although desperately hungry and malnourished, they even shared bits of food with their captors. Francis Ganzon, a Filipino who was released by the guerrillas two weeks after she was captured with the Burnhams, said that when other hostages were praying to be released, Martin was praying, “Thank you, Lord.”
After she was rescued, Gracia told the soldiers, “That is God’s liking. That is probably his destiny,” speaking of her husband’s death. Jeffrey, the oldest son, said, “We know our dad is happy now.” Martin Burnham is not the first missionary to die in the service of Jesus Christ nor will he be the last. But he is the latest in a long line of heroes that stretches across 2,000 years. His death will not stop the missionary movement. There has always been a high price tag attached to the Great Commission. He and Gracia knew the risks when they went to the Philippines. They always knew something like this could happen.
As long as we live in a world of sin, bad things will happen to good people, even to people who have given their lives to serve the Lord. The Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). It has always been that way, ever since God warned Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. “When you eat of it you will surely die,” God said. When the serpent came to Eve, he made short work of her. She saw, she ate, she gave to Adam, and he ate. Just that quickly sin entered our world. And ever since then, death has stalked our trail. They ate, and we die. It may not seem fair to you, but that’s the way it is. And while we offer our feeble theological objections, it is well to note that there is a direct connection between what happened on Friday to Martin Burnham and what happened to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Whatever else you can say, the course of events across the centuries has unfolded just as God said it would.
The Personal Consequences of Sin
Our text is all about the consequences of the first sin. Verses 7-13 tell us what happened to Adam and Eve personally. These verses are like a case study in human nature. As we ponder how they reacted to sin, we will see ourselves in them. What they did, we still do today.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7). The serpent came to Eve and tricked her into eating the fruit. She offered some to Adam and he ate, knowing full well that he was doing wrong. Suddenly the world became a very unfriendly place. Shame entered the human heart for the very first time. Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness, and they were ashamed. The innocence of Eden was gone forever.
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’” (Genesis 3:8-10). Why did they hide? Because they heard God’s voice. Why were they afraid? Because they feared being exposed. Sinners always hide their sin. We lie about it, we cover up, we run away, we change the subject, we shred the documents, we destroy the evidence, and we get angry and say, “How could you even think I would do something like that?” Or like the little child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, we smile and hope that Mommy won’t notice.
And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:11-13).
Adam is cornered, caught red-handed, stripped naked if you will of all his excuses. What will he do? He does what any self-respecting man does. He passes the buck. His answer is a classic form of evasion: “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Did you get that? “The woman you put here with me.” Adam passes the buck twice. First it was the woman. Then it was the woman you put here. “Lord, it was her fault. She gave me the fruit and so I ate it. What was I supposed to do? She’s my wife. You know how it is when your wife wants you to do something. What else could I do? Say no and watch her pout all night? And anyway, who put her in the garden? You did! She wasn’t my idea. I’m not complaining, Lord, because she’s beautiful and cute and fun and we have a great time together, but I didn’t have this problem when it was just me and the animals.”
And so it goes. The first man, the father of the human race, is also the first one to pass the buck. Make no mistake. The Bible is telling us something significant. It is in our nature to deny our own guilt and to try to shift the blame to others. That’s what these verses are all about. It’s no coincidence that the first sin led to the first cover-up. The first disobedience led to the first denial. The first trespassing led to the first buck-passing.
In all the thousands of years since then, nothing has really changed. Human nature is the same. Passing the buck is in our spiritual bloodstream. We do it now because Adam did it back then. He established the pattern:
Disobedience which leads to
Shame which leads to
Fear which leads to
Hiding which leads to
Adam doesn’t want to admit to what he has done. But there is no forgiveness without repentance.
Write it down in big letters, please. SIN ALWAYS SEPARATES. It separated us from God and from those close to us, and it even separates us from ourselves. We end up confused about who we are and uncertain about what we have done and how to get out of the mess we are in. So now Adam and Eve are separated from God and from each other because of their sin. He blames her, he blames God, she blames the serpent. We see this all the time in our pastoral counseling. It’s always someone else’s fault. It’s my wife, my husband, my children, my parents, my teacher, my boss, my neighbors, the guy across the street, or the waiter who was rude when he took my order. It’s his fault. Yeah, that’s the ticket! I’ll blame him.
So now the human race is divided. The church is divided. The world is divided. The nations are divided. We all have our groups to which we belong. Republicans vs. Democrats. Liberals vs. conservatives. Rich vs. poor. Men vs. women. Old vs. young. Married vs. single. India vs. Pakistan. Palestinians vs. Israelis. Muslims vs. Christians. Catholics vs. Protestants. Who started it? It can’t be us. It must be THE OTHER GUY!
In the end, they both have to own up to the truth. Adam finally says, “And I ate.” Eve finally says, “And I ate.” You can only hide so long, you can only lie so long, and you can only make excuses so long. God gave us a conscience that will not let us rest until we confess our sins. Proverbs 28:13 reminds us that “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” When we sin, we only have two options. Option 1 is to conceal it. That means to cover it up, to make excuses, to rationalize, to pass the buck. When that happens, we do not prosper. We go through the internal hell of living with a guilty conscience. In the words of Psalm 32, our bones waste away and our strength is sapped. We suffer physically and mentally because we conceal our sins. Nothing works right.
Our other choice is to confess our sins and to renounce them. Both those words are important. To confess means to own up to what you did. When you confess your sins, you are saying, “Yes, I did it and I know it was wrong.” To renounce your sins means to take steps to break the sinful pattern in your own life. When you renounce your sins, you are saying, “I’ve been walking in the wrong path and now, with God’s help, I’m not going to walk in that path anymore. I’m going to change the direction of my life.”
As long as shame controls us, we are trapped in our sin.
As long as we live in fear, we cannot get better.
As long as we blame others, we cannot be forgiven.
As long as we deny our guilt, we are doomed to self-destruction.
The wages of sin is death. There is no getting around this eternal principle. You can pretend it doesn’t exist or you can say, “No one saw it” or “Everyone else does it” or “I don’t think it was wrong” or “It’s no one else’s business how I live” or “She made me” or “He drove me to it,” or any of a million other stupid excuses that we make for our disobedience. We’re good at that, all of us are, and we repeatedly hide and blame, hide and blame, hide and blame. We learned how to do that from our first parents. But it didn’t work for them and it won’t work for us. The chickens always come home to roost and the skeletons come out of the closet eventually.
The Divine Judgment for Sin
The rest of our passage reveals God’s judgment on sin from a broader point of view. God speaks first to the serpent, then to Eve, and finally to Adam. The judgments are different in each case.
A. On Satan 14-15
“Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).
The serpent is told two things. First, he will crawl on his belly and eat dust, a sign of his total humiliation. All creation is now cursed because of what the serpent did. Ever since that day, snakes have been a source of fear and dread. Second, there will be unending warfare between the descendants of Eve and the offspring of Satan. That is, there will be long war across the ages that stretches throughout the universe as the forces of evil and the armies of heaven do battle. It is a battle that rages even now between the angels and the demons, even though we are only dimly aware of its cosmic dimensions.
Verse 15 has long been called the “First Gospel” in the Bible because it is the first prediction of the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although the first readers of Genesis would not have understood it fully, this verse predicts an ultimate showdown between Satan and Jesus. At the cross Satan would “strike his heel,” a prophecy fulfilled literally when the nails were driven through his feet. But Jesus would crush the head of Satan by rising from the dead on the third day. Satan’s defeat was predicted from the beginning and the outcome of the battle was never in doubt.
B. On the Woman 16
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). The judgment on Eve is also two-fold. First, she will experience pain in childbirth. This speaks not only of the literal pain of giving birth, but of the sorrow of bringing children into a sin-cursed world. Occasionally I hear someone wonder if we should even have children in a world where sometimes they are beaten, sometimes they are abused, and sometimes they are kidnapped in their own bedroom. It all goes back to Genesis 3 and to the judgment God pronounced on Eve. This isn’t a safe world anymore. Our kids are not safe, they’ve never been totally safe, and no matter what we do, we can’t guarantee the future for our children. That’s part of the pain that comes to us as a result of living in a world of sin.
Second, God now declares there will be continual conflict between the man and the woman. Evidently the phrase, “Your desire will be for your husband,” means something like, “Even though he is the head of the home, something in you will rebel against that and make you try to usurp his God-appointed authority.” And the man “will rule over you.” But the word “rule” in Hebrew has overtones of tyranny about it. You will try to usurp and he will try to dominate. The battle of the sexes has begun. It’s the Rebel versus the Tyrant. Each now strives for control. The harmony of Eden has been replaced by an ugly competition. It has been that way from the beginning and it continues to this day. As we come into the New Testament, we discover that through Jesus Christ the effects of this judgment are partially (but not completely) erased through the introduction of God’s love into the marriage relationship. With God’s help, competition and envy can be replaced with sacrificial love and mutual respect.
C. On the Man 17-19
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
At this point, God stops to list Adam’s crimes. First, he listened to his wife. What he means is, “You listened to her when you should have intervened. You gave up your role as head of the home and acquiesced in her disobedience. She led you when you should have been leading her.” Second, he disobeyed God’s command. He ate when God specifically said, “Don’t eat from that tree.” Eve was tricked but Adam knew exactly what he was doing.
Men, listen up. Adam sinned by failing to lead. The woman sinned because she acted independently of her husband, forsaking his counsel and protection. The man sinned because he abandoned his leadership role and followed his wife into sin. In the first sin there is a total role reversal. Because he abdicated his responsibility to lead his family, both of them suffered the consequences. Remember this the next time you are tempted to do wrong. No man is an island. When you sin, those you love will pay the price with you.
The judgment is once again two-fold. First, the man will suffer unending frustration in his work. Now his life will be marked by trouble, toil, pain and difficulty. Nothing will come easily to him. It’s not just that he will work hard; it’s that there will be many obstacles and little lasting satisfaction. He will work long hours and have very little to show for it. This explains why so many men are unhappy workaholics and why they work so hard in a job they can’t stand. God made men so that we find a great deal of our significance in our work. And then he arranged things so that our work would never ultimately satisfy us. We are doomed to a sense of frustration and incompletion no matter how many overtime hours we put in.
Second, physical death now becomes a reality for Adam. He came from the dust and to the dust he will now return. The serpent had said, “You will be like God.” What a lie that was. Now we see the result: Sorrow, sweat, pain, suffering and death. So much for our vain dreams of immortality. Every graveyard and every funeral home and every hearse reminds us of the truth of these words. Because of sin, we all live with the prospect of our own death. No one escapes and no one postpones it forever. It is the one appointment we will not miss (cf. Hebrews 9:27).
If we learn nothing else from this message, let us be clear on this point: The Word of God is certain and sure. The wages of sin is death. That has never been canceled or changed in any way.
The Last Adam
It is precisely at this point that the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes incredibly relevant. Because of sin, death now enters the human race. In order to reverse that judgment, someone must die. That Someone can never be an ordinary person, like you or me. It must be Someone who is one of us yet is also like God. He must be like Adam and yet much greater than Adam. He must be sinless or his death will do us no good. He must willingly die the death that we should die for our own sins. He must be able to bear in himself the full consequences of all the sin, all the shame, all the fear, all the blaming, and all the guilt of every sinner from the very first to the very last.
Where will we find such a person who could die a death like that? Our text contains the answer. Verse 15 reveals that “he” will one day crush Satan’s head. His name is Jesus Christ. The New Testament calls him “the last Adam” because he succeeded where the first Adam failed. And in his death, he paid the price for your sins so that you could live forever with God.
I go back now to the death of Martin Burnham. When the news reached his family in Kansas, they were heartbroken, but their faith was undaunted. His brother Doug said, “Our faith in the Lord is still the same. That has not changed.” Speaking of the reunion they had hoped to have on earth, his father said, “We’ll have to wait for that reunion until we get to heaven.” Yesterday the Wichita Eagle published a tribute to the Burnhams that ended with these profound words: “Martin is with family, too, surrounded by a heavenly host that has welcomed him home where every tear is wiped away and death is no more. Their paths part for now. But for Gracia and her family, and for those who live by faith, a joyous reunion awaits. At the heavenly banquet, Martin already has a seat.”
Do you have that kind of faith? Do you know for certain if you died today, that you would go to heaven?
Lately I’ve been thinking about how uncertain life is for all of us. On Tuesday we come to the nine-month anniversary of the terrorist attack of September 11. If we’ve learned anything, we ought to know for certain that nothing in this life is certain. You aren’t guaranteed another day or another minute or even another second. It is the glory of the gospel to give us assurance of eternal life so that no matter what happens to us, we can know that when we die, we will go to heaven.
Do you have that sort of assurance? If you don’t, I urge you to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Run to the Cross! Place your faith in the Son of God who loved you and died for you. Several times in this sermon I have told you that “the wages of sin is death.” Here is the rest of that verse: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). The gift is for you, and it’s yours free for the asking. Reach out and take it. Open your heart to Jesus and welcome him as your Lord and Savior. Then no matter what happens today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, you’ll be ready when your time on earth is finally over. For those who believe in Jesus, like Martin Burnham, death is not the end of life, it’s the doorway that leads directly to heaven. Amen.