Monday, April 10, 2017

Sermon: Genesis 3: 15 Scripture Fulfilled - The Serpent Crusher

“If you don’t want to know the scores, then please look away now.” Those are the words the newsreader says on Saturday night, just before they report on the football. It’s so that someone who hasn’t heard how their team has done can watch Match of the Day without knowing the end result in advance. But as we gather at the start of this Holy Week, we already know the end result. Jesus, who was crucified on the first Good Friday, was also raised to life on the first Easter Sunday.

And it’s helpful to know that, and helpful to remember the events of that first Easter Day as we begin our special series this week. Do you remember the two disappointed disciples, walking home from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus? A stranger catches up with them, asks what they’re talking about, and they can’t believe he hasn’t heard of all that had happened in the city. They had hoped that Jesus was going to redeem Israel. But their hopes were dashed. He had died on a cross. And surely that was the end. There were rumours flying about that his tomb was empty, but they had given up, and gone home.

The stranger then says, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ He then begins with Moses and the Prophets, explaining ‘what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’ The stranger was Jesus, and he gave them a big Bible study of how the Old Testament talks of him and points to him.

Having recognised him as he broke the bread, they set off back to Jerusalem in the dark, along the seven miles, to share the good news with the disciples. Then Jesus stands among them, risen, alive, and he reminds them of what he told them before his death: ‘Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

That’s our purpose this week - to see how the Old Testament scriptures about Jesus’ death are fulfilled. Now, we’ll not cover all of them - we won’t get near the ‘everything written about me’. But we’ll pick out some of the main passages and see how they point us to Christ’s cross.

Tonight, we start at the beginning - a very good place to start. In our reading tonight we have the protevangelium - the first declaration of the gospel, the first signpost to the cross, from within the Garden of Eden.

Eden was the place of perfect paradise, where Adam and Eve walked with God, and ruled the creation under him. It’s hard for us to imagine just how perfect it was, because we’re so used to the world as we know it now. But any time you despair of shattered dreams, or disappointments, or groan under suffering, sickness or sadness or regret strained relationships, you’re longing for the Eden experience.

Adam and Eve had it all, and yet how quickly they lost it. From Paradise to Paradise Lost in a matter of verses. So how did it happen? Behind it all was the serpent. You’ll see that here in Genesis, we’re just introduced to the serpent without any explanation. But in Revelation 12 and 20, the devil is described as ‘that ancient serpent’. So here in Eden is the devil, Satan.

‘Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.’ His craftiness comes out in the way he talks to Eve.

‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?”’ He’s challenging God’s word, seeking to undermine it, causing doubt. So when Eve says that they can’t eat from (or touch) the tree in the middle of the garden or they will die, the serpent strikes straight back: ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’

Do you see what he’s doing? Challenging, and now denying God’s word. He’s trying to convince her that God is holding something back, that God is not really good. That you can’t really trust God.

Her desire is stirred: ‘When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.’

The serpent had persuaded her, and tempted her, and deceived her. As Adam and Eve bit into the fruit, they realised they were naked. Guilt and shame were felt for the first time in the world. They had to cover up, fashioned in fig leaves, and then started the first ever game of hide and seek.

The story goes of a minister out visiting, and he rang a door. He had the sense someone was inside, so he wrote a Bible reference on the back of his card - Revelation 3:20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock... The next Sunday, the lady slipped him a piece of paper with a Bible reference on it - Genesis 3:10. ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’

Adam and Eve hid themselves from God. It wasn’t that God went missing and Adam and Eve had to go and find him, and that we still are on a search for God. No, it’s us who have gone into hiding. But still God comes looking for us, asking ‘Where are you?’

Perhaps you’re hiding from God tonight. You’re here, but you’re hiding, not really engaged. God comes to meet us where we are; comes to speak tenderly with us.

God asks them why they’re hiding. ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’ And it’s here that the blame game starts. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on!

But do you see how sin brings shame and blame? It’s not really my fault, God - it’s because of someone else; or because of my circumstances; or even because of you, God, you made me do it because of how you made me and what you gave me. ‘The woman you put here with me...’ It’s always someone else’s fault.

In the very place where there was blessing, and perfection, God’s good creation has been marred, spoiled, ruined. It’s like the painting of Jesus on a church wall in Spain a few years ago - that a lady attempted to improve and totally destroyed it. Or it’s like someone who has worked for ages building a model ship out of matchsticks, only for their toddler to destroy.

God has to judge their sin, their refusal to trust him, their disobedience of his word. But even as he declares judgement in the form of curse, there is mercy and grace. God could have wiped them out immediately. One day they would die, but it wasn’t that day.

The curse includes pain in childbirth for the woman and thorns and thistles in work for the man, but it’s in the curse on the serpent that we find the promise of the cross. ‘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.’ (15)

God declares to the serpent that there will be enmity, opposition, hostility between the serpent and the woman; between his offspring and hers; but do you see how it changes at the end?

It’s no longer between the serpent and the woman, nor their respective offspring. This time it’s personal - between her offspring and ‘you’. God declares to the serpent that at some point in the future, the woman’s offspring will do battle with him. There will be a decisive victory.

This is why we see the children of Israel so often being oppressed throughout the Old Testament. The serpent is each time trying to prevent the offspring of the woman from being born - whether it’s the baby boys being thrown into the Nile by the Egyptians; or the slaughter planned by Haman in the days of Esther; or Herod’s killing of the baby boys under two in Bethlehem - the serpent is trying to destroy the offspring before this ultimate battle comes.

That ultimate battle comes on the cross. Let’s think of it in the words of verse 15. (And I hope you don’t have ophidiophobia - the fear of snakes). Picture the two things happening at the same moment - as a man stands on a snake’s head, it bites him in the heel. ‘He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

The serpent lands a blow on Jesus. He strikes his heel - he brings about Jesus’ death. But Jesus rises from that death to live again. The serpent’s blow is fatal, his head is crushed. William Williams, the Welsh hymnwriter most famous for ‘Guide me O thou great Redeemer’ puts it this way:

‘Bruised was the dragon by the Son,
though two had wounds, there conquered one,
and Jesus was his name.’

As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.’ (2:14).

As far back as the Garden of Eden and Genesis 3, God points forward to the cross, and proclaims that the serpent will be defeated by the offspring of the woman, the serpent-crusher. And so, from Genesis onwards, the search is on for this promised one, the one who would defeat the devil, the one who would bring freedom for his people.

Perhaps tonight, you’re under the weight of your sin. You’ve been deceived by the devil, you feel yourself trapped and enslaved by him. Your shame shouts aloud. Your guilt goes before you. Look again to the cross. In Jesus’ death, he has defeated the devil, he has crushed his head.

And listen to the promise that Paul gives to the Christians in Rome, and to us as well: ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’ The devil’s days are numbered, and his defeat is sure because of the cross. We can look forward, not to Eden restored, but to the new heavens and the new earth, where nothing unclean or impure can dwell. The scripture has been fulfilled. The serpent crusher has come, and has won.

This sermon was preached in Brookeborough Methodist Church on Monday 10th April 2017 in the Scripture Fulfilled series of Holy Week services.

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