He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
— Genesis 3:11-13
My religion professor in college, M.B. Jackson, called this phenomenon “Blame Transference Syndrome” (BTS), and said this disease became part of our fallen DNA since that first disobedience. (Pretty good stuff for a Cumberland Presbyterian pastor moonlighting at a state school.)
Understanding BTS helps us see how sin works and how infectious and complex it can be: We believe lies to enter sin, and then we try to cover up our shame, dismiss it, hide from consequences, protect, and self-justify once inside it. Then, when we are called to account, we try to get out of it by offering some excuse about why it’s not really our fault.
All of this begs the question: How do we get out of this mess?
Well, we don’t. We can’t cure ourselves. But Christ can, and he does so in primarily three ways:
First, Christ endures the same temptations Eve and Adam did, only this time, demonstrating perfect obedience.
We need a perfect righteousness to cover us now that we’re sinful and broken. Jesus has that perfect righteousness and one way he manifests it is in undergoing the temptation of Satan that Eve did. In Matthew 4, we find him in the desert. He’s actually in a worse state than Adam and Eve in the garden physically because they are well-fed and healthy, and Christ has been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. Then Satan shows up.
And so do the same three desires tempting Eve!
Satan tells Jesus to turn the stones to bread, appealing to his appetite in the same way Eve saw the fruit was good for food. Satan then tells Jesus to employ his access to angels, appealing to his deity in a similar way that Eve was tempted to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Satan also shows Jesus the kingdoms of the world in all their glory, demonstrating their shiny appeal, echoing how Eve found the forbidden fruit “delightful to look at” (Genesis 3:6). The DNA of sin we see in Genesis 3 (and in 1 John 2:16) – desire of the eyes, desire of flesh, pride of possessions – are all introduced here as some mutation to Jesus’ perfection, and he rejects them all.
The narrative of Jesus’ temptation in the context of the biblical storyline shows us the total redemption available to us through Jesus’ work, not ours. Where Adam and Eve — and we — messed up, Jesus comes through. Where we failed, he succeeded. We are sinful through and through, so there is no sacrifice we can make that won’t be tainted with our inability to perfectly withstand temptation. But as his temptation in the wilderness reveals, Jesus is sinless, so his sacrifice will be effective. Here, in a foreshadow of the cross, Jesus presents himself as a perfect withstander of temptation. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” Hebrews 4:15 says, “but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Secondly, Christ willingly accepts the blame we’re trying to transfer!
Where we are always passing the buck, shifting the blame, justifying ourselves, Jesus says, “Okay, kids, pass the buck to me.”
Adam’s saying “it’s Eve,” and Eve’s saying “It’s the serpent.”
In our lives we are always trying to figure out who else’s fault it is, and Jesus says, “Enough with all that. Give it to me.”
The one guy who is without sin says “Give me your sin. Pass the blame, the shame, the cover-ups onto me. I will take them.” Jesus interrupts BTS by inserting himself into the cycle of blame and absorbing the accusations.
In the fulfillment of the ancient rite of the scapegoat, Jesus provides expiation by taking our sin upon himself, as if it was his, and taking it away into the void of nothingness at the cross. It is “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin . . .” (2 Cor. 5:21).
But he does more than take away our sin. He gives us his perfect obedience. 2 Corinthians 5:21 continues: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So, finally, Christ transfers back to us blessing, not accusation.
While Satan comes to accuse, Christ comes to accept.
Where the law announces death, Christ announces eternal life.
While we’re all blame-shifting, Jesus is blessing-shifting.
When you think about it, the justice of the gospel is rather unjust towards us, because in the gospel Jesus calls guilty people innocent. And he makes them innocent. He doesn’t just wipe the slate clean, he fills it with his sterling record of perfect obedience — we become “the righteousness of God.”
When God comes to us that we might give an account, we start the defense presentation, and we start naming names. “I wouldn’t be like this if it weren’t for my mother — she really made me this way. I wouldn’t act like this, if it weren’t for my spouse — they push all my buttons. I wouldn’t struggle with this anger, if my boss wasn’t always riding me. I would be much further along spiritually, if it weren’t for my pastor . . .”
The reckoning comes and we start naming names. But the name above all names, Isaiah 53 tells us, was willing to be named among the transgressors. He was willing to be called all kinds of names himself: friend of sinners, drunkard, blasphemer, servant of Beelzebub . . .
And when that time for reckoning comes, he names us in a completely different way: He could tell the truth of the law: sinners, unholy, unclean, unworthy, accursed, dead. But he tells the better truth of the gospel: saints, holy, clean, worthy, blessed, alive.
He is not ashamed to call us his brothers (Heb. 2:11).
Zechariah 2:8 reads, “For thus said the Lord of hosts . . . he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.” This is where the phrase “apple of my eye” comes from. And this is a rather interesting phrase since it was a fruit in the eye that started this whole mess. But God is a jealous God. He desires to possess us for himself. So where our sin brings the curse of death, Christ brings the gift of life, that all who trust in him should be freed from the bondage of lies, shame, and passing the blame.
Jesus endures the temptation we cannot, he accepts the blame we deserve, and he transfers the blessings of his righteousness that we could never earn.
Praise God for the gift of his perfect Son Jesus, the only antidote to death!