He Will Slay the Serpent

“He Will Slay the Serpent”

 

December 2, 2018

Pastor Lucas Bitter

Intown Lutheran Church (Atlanta, GA)

Genesis 3:1-15

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
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 it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And 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.”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  He made the land and the seas, the birds and the fish, the sun, moon, and stars. . . and at some point within that time period God also created angels.

What, exactly, are angels?  Well, we know from the Bible that like God, they are spiritual beings (as opposed to physical beings.)  This means that most of the time you cannot see them.   And yet they are real and living and active in our world.  And that’s a good thing for God’s children.  God says in Hebrews chapter 1 that angels are “Ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.”    In another place, Psalm 91, he says this: “If you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”  In still another chapter of the Old Testament, we hear a story about a prophet named Elisha who was surrounded by a hostile earthly army – but then God opened his eyes and enabled him to see a much more massive spiritual army of angels lined up to protect him.  He had nothing to be afraid of.

So what, exactly, are angels?  They are spiritual beings sent from God to protect us and watch over us and make sure we make it through this world and into heaven.  That’s pretty good news, right?

But not all angels are good angels.

The Bible really gives us minimal information on this topic, but it appears that shortly after the creation of our physical world, there was a rebellion in the spiritual realm.  Some of the angels, who had been given free will by God, used that free will to become evil angels, or demons.  They were led by one particularly powerful evil angel – the one the Bible alternately calls “the Devil” or “Satan” amid a host of other nicknames – who became so arrogant that he thought he could take over God’s place in heaven and rule the universe for himself.

Thankfully that rebellion failed.  Can you imagine how horrible things would be if it had succeeded?  Can you imagine the one the Bible calls “a liar and the father of lies” sitting on God’s throne with the keys to the universe, sending out countless legions of demons to torment human beings?  That would be the worst thing ever.

But thankfully it never happened.  The devil and the angels on his side were not able to overcome God.  After crushing the rebellion, God established a permanent angel prison and he established a permanent law that could not be broken.  “When the Day of Judgment comes, every rebel must be locked up in this prison and remain there forever, so they can never hurt anybody else again.”  That spiritual prison, which God designed to punish the devil and protect us from him, is the place we know as hell.

So far, so good, right?  The devil’s rebellion has been dealt with, and God has protected his people.

But here’s where that story intersects with our world.  We read it just a few minutes ago.  The devil came down to the newborn earth and possessed the body of an ordinary snake.  In the body of that snake he slithered up to an innocent Adam and Eve, who also had been given free will and were using that free will to serve God.  And from the mouth of that snake, the devil began spinning his lie.  “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees?”  (No, just the one.)  “And you didn’t think that was strange?  Don’t you see that God’s just trying to hold you back?  He’s scared that you will know as much as he does.  He’s scared that you’ll become as powerful as he is.  There is a great big mysterious thing out there called evil, and unless you eat from that tree you’ll never even know what it is.”  And that did it.  Curiosity took over.  Adam and Eve listened to the snake, ate the fruit, and fell into sin.

NOW – do you realize what the devil has done here?  He has gotten wide-eyed, innocent Adam and Eve to do on earth the exact same kind of thing he did up in heaven: rebel against God, and selfishly try to seize control for themselves.  Because they fell for it, because they rebelled, now the devil has God trapped!  By God’s own rules, by God’s own unbreakable law that he just made, Adam and Eve should now be condemned to that eternal prison of hell along with all the devil and all his evil angels.

But the reason this is a particularly brilliant stroke of revenge from Satan is that it it doesn’t just condemn Adam and Eve; it also condemns all their children.  As they will soon find out, sin is an inherited trait.  Every natural descendant of Adam and Eve will from this point on be born a rebel: cursed with a “sinful nature” that causes them to do on earth the exact kind of thing the devil did up in heaven: rebel against God and selfishly try to seize control for themselves.

We know all this from experience, because this is what we do.  We were all born with the same seed of rebellion.  It’s the reason we hate being told what to do.  It’s the reason we hate not getting the things that we want.  It’s the reason we struggle so much to trust God to control our lives when we would rather be controlling them ourselves.  Actually if you think about it, every single sin, in one way or another, is an act of rebellion against God and an attempt to seize control.  And thus according to God’s unbreakable law, every single sin earns us the same fate as Satan and his evil angels: locked up in the prison of hell forever.

Do you know what the name “Satan” means?  It literally means “accuser.”  And that that’s what Satan does.  He goes before God and accuses people of their sins, saying: “Look, God, rules are rules.  You created this prison of hell for all the rebels; and guess what?  If I have to go there, (pointing) so does he.  And so does she.  Because they all did the exact same thing that I did.”

And you want to know the worst part of all?  Satan’s right.  Rules are rules.  God made a permanent law that cannot be broken.  When the Day of Judgment comes, every rebel must be locked up in hell and stay there forever.

So in a very twisted way, this is actually a brilliant stroke of revenge by the devil.  He has found a way to hit God right where it hurts – his love for people – and to spiritually destroy the human race almost before it starts.

And yet at the same time the devil is making a fatal mistake.  Do you know what his mistake is?  He is underestimating just how powerful God’s love actually is.  The devil knows nothing of love – all he knows about is hatred and lies and rebellion and destruction.  He cannot comprehend a love so great that it would cause somebody to willingly sacrifice themselves for somebody else.

And so the devil, perhaps, is just as stunned as Adam and Eve when God appears before them in the Garden and instead of flying into a rage, he simply makes a promise.  He says to the devil, “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.” 

It’s not a very detailed promise.  But it lays down the basics of God’s plan.

  • God will put enmity – that is, hostility – between the devil and his “children,” and the woman and her followers. In other words, even though from this point on all members of the human race will be born rebels against God, there will always be a family of faith who repent of their sin and trust in God and his promises.
  • Out of that family of faith will come one special descendant who will be born a mighty hero.
  • And that special descendant will “crush Satan’s head,” even though Satan will “strike his heel.”
    • What happens when you crush a snake’s head? (it dies)
    • What happens when a snake strikes your heel? (maybe death. . . certainly pain)

So that’s the plan.  One day from the descendants of Adam and Eve, a hero will rise.  He will fight Satan on behalf of all mankind, and defeat him, and take away his power.  And yet in order to do so, he will pay a tremendous price of suffering, and pain, and death.

The hero God is talking about is Jesus.

It was, admittedly, a brilliant move by Satan to drag the entire human race into his sinful rebellion.  He’s gotten each one of us to do the same thing he did – to try and “upgrade” ourselves, take control of own life, and essentially become our own god,

But God’s countermove was even more brilliant.  Through Jesus, God planned to save us by “downgrading” himself, by giving up control of the universe, and by becoming a man.

That’s what Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians.

(Jesus) being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
             but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
            And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

It started at Christmas, when Jesus Christ the mighty Son of God took on the physical form of a tiny little bundle of cells, and was implanted inside the womb of a virgin named Mary.

It continued as Jesus was born and grew up and went through all the same stages of life that we go through, except that as the true Son of God he refused to participate in Satan’s rebellion.  Jesus lived his life behind enemy lines, with Satan attacking and tempting him at every turn, even using the people he loved to attack and tempt him at every turn, all in a desperate attempt to get him to sin and join the rebellion.  But he didn’t – because he loved us and he was committed above all else to saving us.

Finally the day of salvation came.  And around 33 AD on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus lowered himself to the point of becoming obedient to death, “even death on the cross.”  But this was no ordinary crucifixion.  On that cross, God the Father took the cumulative rebellion of all the people in the entire world and placed it upon his willing Son, and punished him for it.  Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because that is exactly what had happened.  On the cross, Jesus wasn’t just suffering physical pain.  He was suffering the spiritual pain of hell.  And he was suffering all of it.  On that one day, Jesus absorbed all the punishment, for all the sins, of all people, of all time.  It was the greatest act of self-sacrificial love that our world has ever seen.  It was a greater act of self-sacrificial love than the devil could ever have imagine.  And it changed everything.

I really like this picture of Jesus being crucified.  It’s not a traditional picture.  All you can see is his feet.  But you understand what’s happening?  Jesus is obviously suffering tremendous pain.  He has, quite literally, been “struck in the heel.”  But something even worse has happened to the snake.  His head has been crushed.

Do you remember what the name “ Satan” means?  (“Accuser”)  And that is literally what he does.  He goes before God and accuses you of your sins, saying: “If I have to go to hell, so does he!  And so does she!  Because they all did the exact same thing that I did.”  But now Jesus has taken away his power.   Every time Satan steps up to accuse you of sin, Jesus steps up too and he says “BE QUIET.  This one’s not a rebel.  This one’s mine.  I have loved her with an everlasting love.  I have paid the full price with my own blood for each and every one of here sins.  I have adopted her and put my name on her in holy baptism.  This one’s not a rebel. . . not anymore.  She’s a child of the King.”

And Jesus is right.  You and I were born into this world as rebels. . . .but by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus Christ, we’ve changed sides.  We are God’s children now.  We are part of God’s army now.  We have God’s Holy Spirit living in our hearts now.  And that means when that final day of Judgment comes, we will have nothing to fear.  Because our hero came behind enemy lines for us.  He crushed the head of that serpent who had his coils wrapped around us.  And he pulled us to the eternal safety of heaven.

It all started on Christmas.

We tend to view Christmas as a peaceful and quiet time.  It’s peaceful and quiet in our homes, as we turn down the regular lights and plug in the Christmas tree.  Maybe we start a cozy little fire in the fireplace because it’s about the only month of the year that it’s cold enough to actually do that.

And perhaps it was peaceful and quiet in the village of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, as Jesus was born in a stable while the stars shone brightly above, and his mother wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed him in a manger.  “Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright,” right?

But that seeming peace and quiet hid the arrival of a powerful warrior coming into enemy territory.  That humble manger hid something that was bigger than our whole world.  It was our hero, the Son of God, who would win a mighty victory against all the forces of evil, crush the head of that ancient serpent, and bring all God’s children to eternal life.

Amen.