Man Banished From God
Genesis 3:22-24 “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live for ever.’ So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life”
The early chapters of Genesis present to us the only authentic account of human origins. They describe that world of primitive integrity before man fell into sin. It was a world of intimacy between man and God; they walked together in the Garden of Eden. Those familiar words of Austin Miles describe what Adam could have said as he began describing to Eve their wonderful life:
“I come to the garden alone when the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses.
He speaks and the sound of his voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gives to me within my heart is ringing.
And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me that I am his own
And the joys we share as we tarry there
None other can ever know.”
It was a life of love, joy and peace, because God’s blessing rested on our first parents. They were made in God’s image, glorious and beautiful beings, but into that fellowship of holiness Satan came in the form of a serpent. There was insinuation; seeds of distrust in God were sown in their hearts. It seems that Satan needed to exert only the slightest pressure on man for God to be defied. In five minutes the rebellion was in full flow. The blessings of the Garden were forfeited, and in our text the consequence of the fall of man is described.
There is such solemnity in these closing verses. One sees the Trinitarian deliberation, “Man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He cannot be allowed to stay here.” It is Adam particularly that God is speaking of as the responsible had in covenant with the Lord God. The man had attained a knowledge of good and evil, but it was not as he anticipated. It was a knowledge for which Adam ever rued the day he had gained. Man had now lost his right to eat of the tree of life. There is the banishment, man and woman are driven out, the gates are locked and the bolts drawn into place. Armed sentry stand on duty preventing any possibility of return. Here is man’s final exodus from paradise, leaving behind sinlessness and blessedness for evermore. Please be aware that the God we meet here is the same God whom Jesus described in Luke 15 as the expectant yearning father of the prodigal son, but he is also holy and sin hating as well as forgiving. The father of the prodigal son didn’t go for a vacation to the distant city to watch his son indulging himself with his prostitutes and binge drinking in his parties and laugh indulgently at every thing he saw – “Attaboy! Go for it son!” No. He waited for humiliation, godly sorrow and repentance to do its work. There was no way to him without that; without a son’s confession and humbling and crying for mercy there could be no fatherly tears of joy, no kisses of welcome, no fatted calf, no dancing and no party. The son must turn in penitence to his father having left the distant city. Until then he must be far from his father.
Yes, there a way back to God, but it is a narrow path entered by a narrow gate and the road is one of immense difficulty. It is not only one of obstacles against the Christian raised by the world and Satan – like the many obstacles Pilgrim meets on the journey to the Celestial City – but there are obstacles that have been deliberately placed there by Almighty God. You may be imagining at this moment that the problem of your estrangement from God is focused on your own reluctance to becoming a Christian, but I am saying there is something else. There is a deliberate divine resistance by God to your returning to him. Deep in the very nature of God, of God’s being and character, there is resistance to reconciliation. Not only is the road of the transgressors back to God hard, it is well-nigh impossible because of who God himself is. The God of light in whom is no darkness at all is standing here before Adam and Eve as the supreme impediment to communion. “He drove the man out” (v.24). I want you to understand first of all this fact;
1. YOUR ROAD BACK TO PARADISE IS BARRED.
Paradise was an idyllic existence; it was as real as your life in Aberystwyth this past week but unimaginably more delightful. There was no sin in Eden; no sorrow; no death; no tears; no personality problems; no grumbling and complaining; no financial strains; no family tensions; no wars – not even cold wars; no pollution; no boredom; no frustration; simply pleasures that could never cloy. There was solely the high, consummate, unending privilege of man deeply in love with the Lord, glorifying and enjoying God, heaven on earth, and so man had peace and harmony within himself, and with his whole environment, and with his God.
We know that deep in the heart of every man is a longing to return to that condition. Think of the mundaneness of the job, its boredom, the hours of tedium and the prospect that the future will be exactly the same as the past. Can this be all there is? Isn’t there a yearning for a better world? God has made us for himself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. There is a longing which is an ineradicable part of our human nature that comes to expression often unconsciously and in many different ways. All men assume that somehow or other, given the right system or other, there might be paradise regained.
The early 19th century was a fertile time for emergence of utopian dreams. All the major cults were born in America and promoted these fancies. There had been the industrial revolution and now commercialism and capitalism were changing society. There was the movement from the countryside to the crowded cities and orators were firing the masses by dreams of paradise restored, of goods distributed freely, and the total abolition of money. Some such person stood in a street in Aberystwyth five days ago and held in his hand a wad of notes and threw into the air five thousand pounds for the wind to blow here and there. There would be heaven if we could do away with money, so dreamers have said. Citizens would do only the work they enjoyed and which was for the common good, with all the time in the world to cultivate the arts and sciences. The early socialists spoke of this, but so did the capitalists with their vision of perfect market economies and no market failures. Both ends of the political spectrum thought of world history ending in a global utopia of peace. What was the Welsh means of regaining paradise? The Christian gospel was rejected and the political formula was believed; nationalisation of transport and the coal and steel industries, the redistribution of wealth through taxation, state education, a national health service, expansion of the public sector, environmentalism, government micromanagement, regulations about most things, and the welfare state. That was the formula for generations of Welshmen especially in South Wales. When Caesar is my shepherd I shall not be in want.
Then there were the religious formulae for the return to paradise; communities would be set up under firm leadership and everything would be shared. There would be no private possessions. We come across it centuries ago in the Qumran community living under the “teacher of righteousness” near the Dead Sea in Israel before the time of Jesus Christ, and then we meet it again in another form in recent years in the South American country of Guyana in 1978 where an evil man called Jim Jones had taken 912 followers to set up the People’s Temple. They all killed themselves by swallowing cyanide. You note that this was no evangelical Christian group. They believed in reincarnation; Jim Jones claimed he was the reincarnation of Jesus and Lenin. I am saying that there has been the religious quest for paradise from Qumran to Jim Jones. Throughout history we see the emergence of one religious commune after another which claimed they knew the formula for reentry to Eden. Muslims today are seeking to introduce Sharia law to make Islamic societies wherever they can. They would like to do it even in parts of England where clusters of them live. The Mormons on the other hand trekked to Utah to set up a society favourable to the Latter Day Saints. So it goes on, the religious promise of paradise regained.
If there have been in human history thousands of religious communities attempted to regain paradise then there have been tens of thousands of political tyrannies implementing with unbelievable savagery their leaders’ views of gaining paradise, but hundreds of thousands of scientific and technological paradises dreamed up. There was a BBC television series which was broadcast weekly for years with the title “Tomorrow’s World.” The great improvement in our nation would be wrought by scientific ‘breakthroughs’. I remember fifty years ago a sixth form boy in our boys’ grammar school at the weekly Scientific Literary and Debating Society standing up and holding in his hand a matchbox and saying, “It will only take the amount of uranium contained in this matchbox to supply all the electricity Britain needs for a year.” Those were the dreams of regaining paradise. Promises were made that not only suffering would be overcome but in time death too. Sleeping, and eating, and reproduction would be replaced by artificial means. Eugenicists believed that a healthy and more intelligent human race should be bred; criminality and people with learning difficulties would be terminated. In other words only those who had good genes could have children while those with bad genes would be prevented altogether by confinement or forcible sterilization. So paradise would be regained.
Then there have been countless works of fiction which describe their formulae for paradise from Plato’s Republic right up to such books as H.G.Wells’ A Modern Utopia, Aldous Huxley’s Island, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Paradise is what the Star Trek series on television is about, and also the Matrix films, and John Lennon sings about it in Imagine.
The dream of regaining paradise is everywhere. You meet it in people imagining that if somehow they could return to some rural paradise then mankind would be rid of the problems and tensions of life today. There are popular programmes on television following the progress of people selling their city houses, leaving urban living with all its complications, transport difficulties, neighbours, and pollution, and searching for a cottage surrounded by fields in the countryside, purchasing and redecorating it. Thus paradise would be regained, and life would be finally idyllic and contented. It is one of the great undercurrents of life on our crowded island today, people imagining that somehow it is city life that has caused the problem, and if only they could escape to a less sophisticated way of life then Eden would be restored in rustic simplicity. “If only man could get back to a pre-technological situation . . . if only man could abolish machines, undo the scientific revolution, take away the noise and movement, all this terrible dependence on metal, fuel, oil, energy and the microchip, by removing ourselves from all of that man would discover an idyllic existence.”
It is one of the functions of Genesis chapter three to tell us once and for all that all these aspirations, philosophical, religious, political, scientific and personal are futile, that there is no way we can run away from the consequences of the fall. We cannot go back to an idyllic childhood; we cannot return to teenage adolescence with loads of ‘relationships’ to find joy. We cannot by bidding farewell to technology recreate some sort of paradise for mankind.
We have to stand up and look steadily at the bleakness of the closing verses of Genesis chapter three. There we find that God has laid down for us irreversibly the everlasting conditions for mankind. Here is the absolutely unchanging framework for human lives. What is it? We have to live our lives outside the Garden of Eden. We have been expelled from that place and there is absolutely nothing we can do to get back there. There is no way we can avoid that loss. Men must live their lives under the anathema of God. We have to live with the obligation of labouring and toiling in the sweat of our brows, facing an unavoidable death. Dust we are and to the dust we shall return. We have to live lives subject to individual harassment and temptation, with all kinds of domestic upset, bitterness and the frequent frustrations of personal relationships. God has said that it will be in sorrow we shall bring forth children, and in sorrow we will rear and raise and educate families and there is no way that this can be undone.
Even as we toil and perspire with the problems of our own domestic situation then time and again our environment is going to beat us. The sea defenses will not hold up; the hurricanes will come rolling in; the tsunamis will smash through the coastal towns; the rivers will overflow; the earthquakes will shake whole communities to pieces, the volcanoes will erupt, the floods will breach the dykes, the asteroids will strike the earth, the fossil fuels are one day going to run out, and a hard rain is going to fall. I wish we could reconcile ourselves to that and get rid of every idea of some sort of idyllic earthly existence. There is no possibility of utopia. We will never reestablish paradise on this earth. We have no right today to plead before God for a life free from the condition of the anathema and the curse. It lies heavily and unmovably on human life, on individual life and upon nations, and there is no way any of us anywhere is going to escape from the consequences of the fall . . . nor should we want to.
What we must say to ourselves is this; “This is the day God made. It is a great gift, the vast groaning world, this sad little town with all its pain and strife and sin. Like every part of God’s earth, in every hemisphere and continent, it is all under the anathema, struggling and sweating and gasping under the ordinances of toil and tears and childbirth. We read our local weekly paper and we discover fallenness, divorce, strife, theft, disorder, fire, calamity, pain, violence, ugliness, pollution, disease and the grave. Then we say to ourselves, “it is the day God made.” More than that, it is in this environment that God pleads with sinners to turn to himself. You go back to the New Testament and you never find anywhere a command saying, “Serve God and witness to the world when circumstances are improved.” Do we imagine to ourselves that if only there’d be some kind of revival, or awakening that that would remove all the dimensions of the anathema out of the situation? That then there would be no more disease, and no more death?
I say that God tells us to bear witness to Jesus Christ in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; that is where we live our lives as Christians. We are to live godly and soberly and righteously in this present evil world – just there! Amidst human life with its sins and sorrows, that is where we are to live, and let’s not imagine that there are other kinds of ages and places where men did or yet will find it easier to present their bodies a living sacrifice to God. It was not easier in the 18th century when Daniel Rowland lived. It was not easier in London in the 19th century when Spurgeon was preaching there. It was not easier in Wales at the beginning of the 20th century when there was a famous revival. We today have to steel ourselves and say to this horrible 21st century, “I am going to live for God in you.”
It seems to me that there are real and terrible perils facing us, that we are on the run from urbanisation, that is, we are on the run from city life, and above all that the whole of evangelical Christianity in Wales is on the run from the 21st century as if searching for some idyllic backwater in which to live for God and then it would really enjoy knowing and serving him. But God wants us to redeem a sinful civilization and a dying world and we are to live in it as its salt and light and witness in it in order for its redemption. And if we find ourselves today with all kinds of problems and tensions because of our environment then let’s please say to ourselves, “It is all to be expected as fallen sinners. The road back to paradise is banned,” and let us rid ourselves of our nostalgia. The most popular Welsh religious programme on the radio is the Sunday half hour of hymn-singing at 4.30, and it is an exercise in nostalgia. The most popular Welsh painting is of a woman sitting in a pew in a country church called Salem and she is dressed in a traditional Welsh costume. Again it is all about nostalgia for an age that never was, and for clothes that were never worn, for quaint days when people worshipped God in a way people think is impossible to worship him in our ‘scientific’ day. Two years ago Christianity in Wales began to wallow in the nostalgia of the centenary of the 1904 revival, spending months looking back in longing from the toughness of our position today. A friend from the Swansea area, having to witness close up numbers of those commemorations, with people traveling to Wales from the USA and the continent said to me at the close of that year, “I am revivaled-out.”
Let us thank God for where we are. Let us thank him for Wales even as it is; let us reconcile ourselves to that. Let us engage it with the keys of the Kingdom, the word of God and the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. They are absolutely adequate for our calling. I am not saying but that one day paradise will come. Yes, a new heavens and a new earth will be formed, that one day this world will be the theatre of a life of spiritual beauty and power, a life of joy and blessedness that our minds cannot even hope to conceive. It must come for God has said it. Behold the mountain of the Lord in latter days shall rise! But it will not come by politicians, and by human technology. It will not come by the United Nations or by Bill Gates’ extraordinary generous philanthropy or by any human process at all. It will come by God’s fiat when his Son shall appear and all his holy angels with him. The glory of God will then fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. But until then God’s church only witnesses to an evil and crooked generation. We never, never witness but in a lost world. We never, never preach but to a present evil generation. So I have said these words to you that your road back to paradise is barred.
2. YOUR ROAD BACK TO GOD HIMSELF IS BARRED.
Do you understand? I have spoken so far of the impossibility of making paradise on this earth, that the road to an idyllic existence in this earth is like climbing a rainbow. I have not dealt with the other barrier that prevents this, the state of man’s heart, the inner corruption, the lusts of the mind and flesh which pervert the very best of men. I have rather dealt with the mind of God determined that man shall not attain paradise while in his alienation against God. He has driven man away; he has set guards on the road to Eden. He has forbidden its attainment. But now I am making one more statement, that the road to God himself is barred.
Eden was not only paradise in terms of its environment, but it was heaven on earth where man walked with God; “The voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses.” There was a certainty of God’s love and the consequent peace within. There was unspeakable blessedness; in God’s presence was fulness of joy; at his right hand were pleasures for evermore. All that glory, and from it God expelled Adam and Eve. The Lord God sent him forth; he drove out our first parents, so that today between our souls and God there are cherubim and there is a flaming sword which turns every way, no matter by what avenue you might try to approach him. There is always the prevention of the flaming sword.
Do you remember when Jesus Christ the last Adam entered the home of his Father, the Jerusalem temple? There is great curtain guarded the entry in the Holy of Holies. It was covered in emroideries which said, “Don’t forget Eden and the flaming sword in the hands of the cherubim.” Do you remember how Christ entered his Father’s home and saw that sinners had taken it over shouting out the exchange rates on temple coinage and the prices of animals for sacrifice? Do you remember how Christ took a flaming sword in his hand and went for them? The sword was in the form of a whip which he himself made and he whipped them out driving them from his Father’s presence. The great curtain of the temple and the whip in the hand of God the son both urge us to banish from our minds any thoughts of trying to enter paradise by our devices. You can only go to God when he draws you by his Spirit, and in his way. Cry to him that he will do that or your perish! Give him no rest!
There was a boy in school with me, a splendid soccer player and very intelligent; his name was Lyn, and I remember speaking to him once about the blessings of the Christian faith. He said, “I wouldn’t mind becoming a Christian one day, but first I want to taste all of life. Then when I’m older I’ll become a Christian.” It was so naive, and so common an attitude. Do you see its fallacy? Lyn thought that the obstacle to becoming a Christian was wholly one of his making. There would be a cramping of his style, a restriction on his fun, a limitation to his experiences and so he was saying no to Christ. He found moralism unattractive – don’t we all? He was properly hostile to it at that stage in his life, but given time, having indulged, shooting his bolt, he would be ready for the comforts and pardon of God and the gift of eternal life which he imagined he could take from God at his own whim.
He was not taking into consideration the barrier of God’s great “No!” He was ignorant of the barrier of the integrity of God, the barrier of the divine wrath, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of God. Lyn was ignoring the sovereignty of God which says, Salvation is of the Lord. In its conception, its continuance and in its consummation God must save and God alone. Salvation is not for the man who runs the fastest for it, nor does it all hang on a person who makes the decision to take forgiveness for himself; salvation comes from the God who shows mercy. Think of how the thousands of religious Pharisees were scrupulous in even tithing their herbs, and ceremonially washing their hands and arms before every meal and yet they lost salvation, while a proud and cruel bigot like Saul of Tarsus is confronted by the Lord as a young man on his way to a life of sin. He is halted and turned around; his whole life is changed. His plan to live for religion until he is an old man is blown to pieces, and from now on he is going to say, “To me to live is Christ.” He goes to heaven.
It was not Paul’s decision to choose for Christ on the Damascus road. He was kicking against the goads of a troubled conscience and defying God. It was the Lord’s decision to save him there. It is always the Lord’s decision. I am saying to you that the biggest barrier to your becoming a Christian is not the one you have erected to Christ when you say, “I will not become a disciple.” The biggest barrier is the integrity of God; it is the barrier of his condemnation. God is angry with the wicked every day. God is under no obligation to listen to your requests when you have been doing your own thing for thirty, forty or fifty years. What is the value of deathbed-muttered sentences following a life of ignoring God? Remember, the exercise of mercy is optional with God. He is a God who condones nothing. Consider the words of Jesus at the very end of the magnificent third chapter of John’s gospel, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (Jn. 3:36).
In other words we do not stand as equals looking into the eyes of the Holy One. We have no claim on God; we are in fact under his just condemnation. No one deserves a new heart from God. No one can say, “You must give me eternal life.” We stand before God deserving hell. We have forfeited every entitlement to be in paradise with God. When we go to God we go pleading will he have mercy on us? We open our hands and ask the Maker of the Universe to give us all the glories of heaven, to live with him for ever and ever in a new heavens and earth. We are the worst and poorest beggars asking the most perfect and just King to make us his own children. It would be fearful presumption were it not that he bids us come to him saying, “Ask and it shall be given unto you.”
So I am not saying that there is no road back to God. I am certainly not telling you today that there is no road back to God from here, and from you, directly into the presence of the only God there is. Thank God such a road exists, but it is not a road that ignores God’s sovereignty or seeks to avoid the flaming sword. There is no redemption which can dispense with the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereign holiness and the terrible obstacle of God’s condemnation. There is no salvation which can afford to ignore godly fear. I am probing you in God’s name; such hopes of salvation which you may entertain, have they reckoned with the flaming sword?
Think again of my friend Lyn; what he was saying was this, “I shall save myself at my own time and by my own choice.” How ludicrous! What arrogance! When I am drowning in deep water shall I decide somehow to rescue myself without a lifeguard? When I am in a blazing building on the fifth floor and all the floors below me are an inferno shall I somehow deliver myself without a fireman? When my boat is going down in the fierce storm shall I somehow save myself without the lifeboat men? What a fiction! “With one bound our hero was free!” What self-delusion!
What does the cherubim’s flaming sword, flashing back and forth guarding the way to the tree of life, say to us? It says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Here is a God who is of holier eyes than to behold iniquity. Would you have him any other way? Do you want a God who beholds porno movies? A God who delights in beholding gratuitous violence? A God who goes to the arena? A God who beholds the gas ovens and the shuffling lines of people waiting their turn to die, and that he is unmoved? Our God does not shrug his shoulders at sin. He is of holier eyes than to behold iniquity. He is a God who will not pardon sin unless his wrath against it is propitiated, and that anger is appeased only by the shedding of blood. That is how God operates; that is in how he is in his very being.
3. THE ROAD BACK TO GOD AND PARADISE IS THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Jesus could not make it clearer; “I am the door,” he said. He could not make it more lucid, “I am the way . . . no man comes to the Father but by me.” One day in this world there was darkness at noon and there at the epicentre of that cosmic gloom was God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He had come forward under the constraint of his love for us and in his office as our Redeemer and Saviour. The green hill far away was a place of execution, and there the flaming sword was destroying him. He was there receiving our sin and guilt and blame. There on the cross of Golgotha he found this principle still applied, that without the shedding of blood there was no remission of sin. It was not enough that he had become incarnate; it was not enough that he had preached the Sermon on the Mount; it was not enough that he had pleaded for men to repent of their sins and come to him. No, there must be the shedding of blood. If Christ were to purchase our pardon then there was only one place he could do that, on Calvary’s tree. It was by the shedding of his own most precious blood. It was only by his dying under the condemnation of God that Jesus Christ could redeem us.
You take that great figure of the sword. It became a commanded sword, one that must do the work its Creator gave it to do, and so we hear, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me! declares the Lord Almighty. Strike the shepherd” (Zech. 13:7). That great flaming sword of God’s judgment against sin, turning every way against every form of iniquity, buries itself at last deep in the person of the Son of God.
“Jehovah bade His sword awake:
O Christ, it woke ‘gainst Thee;
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake,
Thy heart its sheath must be.
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me”
(Anne R. Cousin, 1824-1906).
Only thus does Christ become a Saviour. Only thus is he perfected, as he sheds his blood and the waters go over his soul, as the sword of retributive righteousness turns this way and that upon the head of the church and he receives double from God for all their sins. It is a marvelous principle, the great God who condones nothing, and his great Son in whose heart the sword of God is buried. That is the way to God. That is why Christ was able to promise the dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” What the first Adam lost the last Adam has regained.
I tell you when men approach God and come to his throne they still find the flaming sword. He is a righteous God and never anything else, but you will find something else, that if we go to him by Jesus Christ alone then we are sprinkled with his blood and there is immunity from the guillotine. We are inviolable if Christ has gone there first in our place, with our sin and taken responsibility for our guilt and the sword has fallen on him, then it cannot fall again on us. Punishment God cannot twice demand for the same sin. Where do we stand today in regard to this? As we approach the great white throne where do we find a covering for our sins? Here is the great inviolable principle, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” Where do we stand in the light of that? Do we cry, “I am saved from the sword of wrath! The door to heaven is opened wide, the blood of Christ has been shed for me, the sentries have become welcoming angels, there is remission and so I can come boldly”? This is the way of peace with God!
Let me tell you of an acquaintance who happened to be driving with an elderly man and they were talking about the church and Christianity. My acquaintance asked him: ‘Do you have peace with God?’ This is how he reported the following conversation.
The man was taken aback a bit, and he said to me, ‘I’ve tried for years to answer that question, but I just can’t find anyone to tell me how to be sure. I need to know if I am a Christian, or else know that it is hopeless to try to be sure of it’.
‘What kind of answer are you looking for?’ I asked. ‘Well, that’s what puzzles me. I want a definite witness, something I can’t be mistaken about. Some folks have told me that they felt a powerful surge of feeling when they got religion. I’ve been seeking that for years, but it’s always eluded me’.
I said, ‘Getting religion is one thing, but trusting yourself to Jesus Christ is quite another. Suppose you were seeking salvation, and suddenly there came to you a very happy feeling; would you be sure then that you were saved?’ ‘Well, I think I would’. ‘Then, suppose you went through life resting on your happy experience. Then comes the hour of death. Imagine Satan then telling you that you were lost and beyond hope. Would you tell him that you knew all was well because you had a happy emotional experience years before?’ ‘That’s true,’ he said. ‘A happy feeling can’t be enough’.
I followed up quic
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