The Beginning of the End
December 4, 2016
The beginnings of good things can be very special. The opening of a dream business. The birth of a beautiful baby. The first episode of that amazing television show. The sunrise of a brand new day. The prototype of a cool piece of technology. The season opener of team favored to win it all. The first assignment in a promising career. The first date that leads to marriage. The beginnings of many good things are special indeed.
In today’s scripture text, we are given perhaps the greatest beginning of all: the beginning of the gospel of salvation in Christ.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God approached them with the sound of his judgment and the glory of his righteousness. Horror and shame was felt. Death was imminent. It was all bad news.
But then two very interesting things happened. First, God asked Adam and Eve questions. He put them on trial. Very interesting. We looked at that last week. But a second thing happened as well - something far more interesting than the first. After God put Adam and Eve on trial, he turned to the serpent. But for the serpent, there were no questions. No trial. Only a swift and devastating word of judgment. Very, very interesting indeed.
And God’s judgment on the serpent was a double-edged sword of dishonor and enmity. The serpent was dishonored and relegated to an existence that was close to the ground. Being on one’s belly and eating dust was symbolic of humiliation and subjugation. For example, it was said of the king in Psalm 72:9, “May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!” And it was said of the wicked in Micah 7:17, “…they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their strongholds; they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall be in fear of you.” Today’s text is not a mere Wikipedia moment on why snakes look like snakes. Today’s text is a moment of cursing and damnation. The serpent was literally brought low. The serpent was dishonored in God’s judgment.
But the blade of God’s double-edged sword of judgment does not only drip with dishonor. It also drips with enmity. This is really, really fascinating.
Enmity means opposition or hostility. And here’s the thing: enmity was supposed to exist between God and mankind! That was the goal of the serpent. The serpent had hoped to destroy Adam and Eve’s allegiance with God and forge an alliance with them in order to defiantly rebel against God together. In a real life-and-death game of Mafia, the serpent schemed to bring the covenant to utter failure and collapse. His hope was to make it creature versus creator, servant versus king. And so when the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day reverberated on the face of the earth, the serpent must have been licking his lips at the mouth-watering prospect of disastrous enmity between God and mankind.
But God is God. And God took the enmity that should have been between him and Adam and Eve and threw it right back at his face. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring….” This is huge. Enmity was transferred. And thus instead of God having to oppose Adam and Eve as his enemy, Adam and Eve would now oppose the serpent as their enemy. The alliance between mankind and the serpent was stopped and destroyed. And instead of creature versus creator, instead of servant versus king, there would be a brand new conflict: the creature of mankind versus the creature of the serpent, the offspring of the woman versus the offspring of the serpent. What a reversal for the serpent! He went from licking his lips in supposed victory to licking the dust in guaranteed defeat.
Brothers and sisters, what a gospel! It is good news that God cursed the serpent. It is good news that the enmity would now be between man and the serpent. It is good news that no one can beat God. Praise the LORD for this gospel!
Thus, the serpent got dishonor and enmity. And what did Adam and Eve get? What did we get? We got a person. “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.” God did not promise bricks or bitumen or a tower like that of Babel. God did not promise easier terms or conditions or a humanly achievable covenant. God did not promise a method to use or an equation to calculate or any thingamajig that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. God did not promise magic. God did not promise self-help or better willpower or a supplement to just doing the right thing. God did not promise an idea or an ideal. God did not promise a way that is just a way or a truth that is just a truth or a life that is just a life. God did not promise another mere religion. In other words, God did not promise salvation by works. God promised salvation by a person. The bruising of the serpent’s head would be done by a representative head and hero. By a second Adam. By a shepherd king. And the only way to be saved would be to believe in this person. To cry in repentance and kiss his feet. To want to touch his cloak and stop the bleeding. To ask him to remember you when his kingdom comes. To confess that the way and the truth and the life is actually a person, and that no one can come to the Father except through this person. We got a person. Brothers and sisters, we got a person.
But the drama of redemption is that God did not provide this person right away. In his wisdom that surpasses all human understanding, it pleased God to let this gospel unfold in history. It was his will to have the gospel in infant and seed form to grow bigger and bigger. Signs and seals and pictures and prophecies about this person would begin to pile up. And so for thousands and thousands of years, heaven and earth waited for this promised person. And at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. But then the day finally came (hashtag Christmas, hashtag the cross, hashtag resurrection, hashtag ascension and exaltation, hashtag Day with a capital “d”) - the day in which he has spoken to us by his Son, Jesus Christ. And he was worth the wait.
For Jesus Christ gloriously defeated Satan. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them. Colossians 2:15. The Apostle John showed us the future in Revelation 12:9 when he said that “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” The writer of Hebrews (2:14-15) tells us that through death Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all of us who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. And in the wilderness of Matthew 4, Jesus himself said to Satan after the third and final temptation, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
As the lamb of sacrificial death, Jesus was crushed on our behalf for our sins. It was a legitimate strike, but it was only astrike at the heel. As the lion of resurrection glory, Jesus returned and crushed the serpent. And it was more than a legitimate strike. It was a death blow to the serpent’s head.
But the following point is so important to remember. God promised this as early as Genesis 3:15. It’s simply not true that the good news of Jesus Christ starts in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The gospel of our Savior really began here, right after the fall of Adam and Eve. Today’s scripture text is so special. It is so special because it is the beginning of a truly good thing. It is so special because it shows us that the war between the serpent and God and his people was lost a long, long time ago. It is so special because is means that salvation was never a question of if, but only when. It is so special because it is the beginning of the end.
Praise be to our God! His grace is sovereign. His love is unconditional. His victory is sure. His aim is true. His promises are yes and amen in Christ. And, as I will explain in the benediction at the end of this service, his victory is also your victory.