December 17, 2008
“Christmas from Afar”
Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas
Now turn with me if you would to Genesis 3. We’re not going to read the whole chapter, but we're going to read what constitutes the First Lesson of the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols service. This will be the opening Lesson, I suspect, on Sunday evening, as we have done for many, many years. The First Lesson in that traditional carol service is Genesis 3, from verse 8 to verse 19. Now for some reason (which we needn't go into tonight) in that Lesson, verse 16 is omitted — the statement of a curse to the woman. For some reason, in that original carol service that statement is omitted, but tonight we're going to actually read verse 16 as well. It's important in the context of just what is happening here.
As we are going to read this passage tonight, it is of course the last prayer meeting before Christmas, and just as it is possible to get from any passage in the Bible to Bethlehem, it is most definitely possible from this passage to get to Bethlehem, and beyond Bethlehem. So if you look at your bulletin, I gave it a title a couple of weeks ago when the office were frantically looking to me for a title…off the top of my head I said, “Christmas from Afar,” and it's about as far away from Christmas as you can get, in Genesis 3…although one could preach a sermon on Christmas, I suppose, in eternity. From before the foundation of the world God had set His love on us, which of course included the coming of Christ into the world at Bethlehem.
Well, let's look to God now in prayer. Let's all pray.
O Lord our God, we come again into Your presence. We are about to read holy Scripture, and we are mindful as we do so that this is God's word. This is Your word. You caused it to be written. We pray once again that You’d give us a certain solemnity and a certain sense of anticipation, and a certain sense of reverence as we read the Scripture. We pray for the work of Your Spirit, that what we read might also be applied to our hearts. We want to grow in grace. We want to love You more. Enable then Your word so to grip our hearts as we read it. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word, Genesis 3, beginning at verse 8:
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ and he said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ 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.’
“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock
And above all beasts of the field;
On your belly you shall go,’
and dust you shall eat
All the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your offspring and her offspring;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise his heel.’
“To the woman He said,
‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
In pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.’
“And to Adam He said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
And have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
And you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
You shall eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.’”
Well, thus far God's holy and inerrant word.
Now if I were to give you a little quiz tonight, it would go something like this: “The reason the Son of God appeared was___________” [and you fill in the blank].
The reason the Son of God appeared, John tells us in I John 3, was that He might destroy the works of the devil. It wasn't the only reason of course why Jesus came. Jesus came for many reasons, but at least a part, and indeed a significant part, one might argue, a central part in the reason for Jesus’ coming into the world is to destroy the works of the devil.
And here in this section, verses 14-19, we have a trilogy of judgments — a judgment against the man, a judgment against the woman, and a judgment against the serpent. And in each case they are charged and tried and sentenced. To Eve, to the woman God says that she will still bear children. To Adam He says that he will still be a farmer. He will exercise dominion. His judgment is tempered with mercy in both instances. But to the serpent there is no mercy:
“I will put enmity [verse 15] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
You notice in verse 14 that literally the serpent bites the dust, and in verse 15 his head is to be bruised, is to be crushed, is to be destroyed by the seed of the woman. And I want us to think along the lines of what we read in verses 14-15 tonight — heading, to be sure, in the direction of Bethlehem. I want us to think about three particular things that emerge from this passage.
I. An announcement of war.
The first is that what we have here is an announcement of war. There is to be enmity…enmity between the serpent and the woman in the garden, but more especially enmity between the serpent's offspring and the woman's offspring.
Now the first readers of this passage — and of course I'm referring now to those of the time period of Moses — the first readers of this passage would have understood perfectly that this is no mere serpent that we have in the Garden of Eden. This isn't just a story about a snake. This isn't just one of Aesop's Fables that we have in Genesis 3. It's not given to us to provide the rationale as to why serpents have no legs. It's not given to us to provide an explanation of why women are scared of creepy things. It's not given to us to answer the question why do serpents speak, because Moses’ first readers knew that animals do not speak. The only one that spoke in the Bible, I suppose, is Balaam's ass. But there's much more to this passage than just a story about a snake. You remember that Paul reflects on this, and what he says is that “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Adam and Eve exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
What we have here is the entrance of sin into the world, and an explanation of how that happens in terms of the instrumentality not just of a mere serpent, but of the devil himself — of Satan.
God has entered into a covenant with Adam and Eve. In Hosea 6 we read the prophet's interpretation of Genesis 3 as a covenantal exchange between God and Adam and Eve, a relationship in which there are blessings, and a relationship in which there are obligations. We read some of the blessings that flow from this covenantal relationship between Adam and Eve and God: the blessings of procreation, of bearing children; the blessings of labor; the blessings of cultivating the soil; the blessings of work; the blessings of a Sabbath. All of those are part and parcel of the relationship that God enters into with Adam and Even in the garden. But God is particularly here testing them — testing their obedience by providing for them just one prohibition. Not a mass of prohibitions; just one tiny little prohibition amidst all of the multitude of blessings that Eden represents. And we tend, don't we, to focus on the negative of this particular tree. They were not to eat the fruit of it, and we focus our gaze upon that. And Satan still would have us focus our gaze upon that to the exclusion of the multitude of blessings that there must have been in the paradise which is Eden.
What is Satan's strategy? Well, it has at least two, if not more, dimensions to it. The first, you remember, is that Satan exaggerates the prohibition. You remember later in the exchange we read that Satan not only says they were not to eat of the fruit of this tree, but they were not even to touch it, making the prohibition of God appear greater than it actually was. But what is the intent, what is the motivation behind Satan's attack here upon Adam and Eve? Surely it's an attack upon the very character of God Himself. Satan wants Adam and Eve to think of God as less gracious than He actually is. “Has God really said…?” injecting even in the way that he says it a seed of doubt that God's love (if there is love), God's grace (if there is grace) in Eden is a miserly thing. It's given and shown and revealed reluctantly.
Don't we still think of God sometimes in that way, that His perhaps first and paramount characteristic is one of judgment and one of demand, and one of holiness, perhaps? Where in actual fact, Eden is displaying to us something of the very gracious characteristic of God. That is always Satan's ploy. He wants us to think of God as less gracious than He actually is.
Adam is silent, and Eve is deceived and has the wool pulled over her eyes. This is not a snake, you understand; this is the evil one. This is Satan, this is that great red dragon of Revelation 12. You notice that from Genesis 3 (a snake slithering on the ground) he has become and grown as it were in stature to become the great red dragon of Revelation 12. It is always his ploy to twist the nature and character of God, and Eve believes him. She is deceived by him. She's taken in by that lie. That is, the lie that God's character is miserly and reluctant in His gifting and gracious disposition. That's what Jesus said to the disciples, reflecting on this very passage: “You are of your father, the devil.” Why? Because they believed the devil's lies. They believed the devil's lies, and what you have here is the beginning of holy war — the war between Satan and God, the war between evil and good, the war between the serpent's seed and the woman's seed. It's how Jesus reflects on it in that most definitive moment in His ministry prior to the cross, at Caesarea Philippi: “I will build My church, and the gates of hell [the gates of Hades] will not prevail against it.” Jesus is saying, ‘I build My church, but I build it in enemy-occupied territory. I build it within the sight and precincts of demonic realm and demonic forces.’ What you have here first of all is an announcement of war.
Now when we come to Bethlehem we have to appreciate that it's a declaration of war. Yes, the baby Jesus lying in a stall in Bethlehem, the shepherds on the hillside, the angelic visitors who come to Bethlehem — all of that is part and parcel of a declaration of war, a war between the serpent's seed and the woman's seed.
II. An announcement of hope.
But secondly, what you have here is an announcement not just of war, but an announcement of hope. An announcement of hope…the language here is in the imperfect tense, meaning that what is being said here is ongoing and repeated, and variously manifested. There were many seeds of the serpent, but the enmity will end in a climax. “He shall bruise your head; you shall bruise His heel.” That's interesting that it's not “they” shall bruise his head. One could argue of course (from the history of the Old Testament) there were many seeds of the serpent. In that very opening verse of chapter four of Genesis, when they give birth to Cain, what does Eve say? ‘I've gotten me a boy…it's a boy…it's a man! …by the help of the Lord.’ And you can't help but think that Eve thought Cain was indeed the answer to the promise that had been given in Genesis 3:15. He wasn't, of course. And worse than that, he wasn't even the seed of the woman so much as he was the seed of the serpent.
And down through the Old Testament, through the various corridors of Old Testament history as Peter reflects on it, the prophets who prophesied, what were they prophesying and what were they thinking about? Well, this fundamental question: Is he the one? Is he the one that was promised in Genesis 3:15? Is he the Messiah? Is he the deliverer of God's people? Is he the captain of the sons and daughters of light who will defeat the prince of darkness? You can't help but almost hold your breath when aged Simeon holds the baby Jesus in his arms [Ligon is about to get to that passage in a few weeks], and you can't help but think of that elderly man as he must have spent his entire life longing for the fulfillment of this seed of the woman.
It's not just the declaration of war, it's an announcement of hope that one is coming, one seed. You remember how Paul reflects on that in Galatians: not seed as of many, but seed as of one. It's complicated and simple all at the same time. Paul is reflecting that in one sense the seed of the serpent has many manifestations all down the corridors of history, and in a sense the same is true of the seed of the woman. But it culminates in one seed, in Jesus Christ, in the baby born in Bethlehem in a stable: the word made flesh and dwelling amongst His people. So it's not just a declaration of war, it's an announcement of hope that one is coming who will crush the head of the serpent — the Captain of our salvation.
III. A statement of final consummation.
But there's a third line of thought here. Not only is this an announcement of war, and not only is this an anticipation of hope, but it is also a statement of final consummation. There's something definitive about what's being said in verses 14-15: “He shall crush his head. He shall bruise your head; you shall bruise His heel.” There's something definitive about it. It's what Paul is thinking about when he writes in Galatians, “When the fullness of times was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the Law.” When the fullness of time was come, He sent forth His Son, born of a woman — this woman. This woman Eve in the Garden of Eden. It's what Jesus is thinking about, isn't it, at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, when the wine runs out and Mary comes to Him with this problem. And you remember how Jesus addresses her [in a way that is un-Southern!]…“Woman, what have I to do with you?”
Why does He address her in that way? Because He's identifying himself as the seed of the woman. He's not just the seed of Mary, He is the promised seed of the woman. You see it in His dying breath on the cross. “Woman,” He says, “behold your son.” Woman…woman…once again underlining the fact that He is the promised one.
You see it in the layout of those closing chapters of John's Gospel. Something extraordinary happens at the end of chapter 14 in the Upper Room discourse. Now you’ll recall that the Upper Room discourse in John's Gospel covers chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17, ending with the High Priestly Prayer in John 17. But in the end of the fourteenth chapter of John's Gospel, He says to His disciples that He will not talk much longer with them. And He says to them, “Rise, let us go.” And the problem is that there are three more chapters, where they don't rise, and they don't go anywhere! And the language that Jesus is using there is military language. It's not rise in the sense of let's get up and walk out of here, but it's a call to arms, it's a call to battle. The seed of the woman has come. The mighty Conqueror has come who will bruise the very head of the seed of the serpent.
You remember right at the end of your Bible…turn with me to Revelation 20. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 — three chapters in and three chapters out of Scripture. What an extraordinary thing that is in Revelation 20:10:
“And the devil who had deceived them…” [notice the language of deception again] “…the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Not only, you see, is this a declaration of war, not only is this a declaration of hope, but it's a declaration of consummation. Jesus has been born in Bethlehem. He has died at Calvary. He has risen again, and He's coming again on the clouds of heaven to defeat the principalities and powers and cast Satan into outer darkness forever and ever.
Why did Jesus come into the world? Well, one answer is to destroy the works of the devil. That gentle Jesus, meek and mild, lying in a stall in Bethlehem, had come for this purpose: to put down the enemy of souls and to establish His kingly authority. Yes, at the end of Matthew's Gospel, what does He say? “All authority in heaven and earth is given unto Me.” All authority. He is the Prince. He is the Captain. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He goes forth conquering and to conquer until all of His enemies are put under His feet.
You and I now live in a state of war. That's why we have all these exhortations in the New Testament to put on the whole armor of God, because we're in a state of war. Peter, who knew all about it, warns us that this Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
It's a statement of war. And it's a statement of hope. And it's a statement of final victory. As we look to Bethlehem and as we look to the birth of the Lord Jesus, the inception of that work which will culminate in His Second Coming and in His triumph and rule and reign sitting at the right hand of God, the bringing into being of the new heavens and the new earth, let's worship. Let us worship. Let us bow down. Let us realize that we're on the victory side. We’re on the side of the forces of Jesus Christ, whom none can destroy.
Well, let us pray together.
Father, we thank You for Your word. Thank You for its promises. Thank You for its great hope. Thank You for the assurance of final victory. As we find ourselves tonight amidst an ongoing war and battle perhaps in our own souls, warring against indwelling sin and corruption, we thank You for the promise that You have begun a good work and You will complete it unto the Day of Jesus Christ. We pray that You would write this word upon our hearts as we come near to Christmas, as we think again of the birth of our Savior. We thank You for an unspeakable gift of love that will not let us go. And bless us, we pray, and all of this we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
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