The Serpent Crusher

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There is a scene in The Matrix where Morpheus tells Neo that he has a nagging sense that there is something wrong with world – a splinter in your mind he calls it.  And we know the reality of that splinter don't we?  There is something wrong with our world, something that irritates us, something just below the surface, just out of reach of our perception.  The matrix is just one of hundreds of movies that takes as it's starting point a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the way life is.  They work because somewhere in all of us there is a sense that this world is somehow a disappointment.  That there should be more to life than work weekend work weekend; more than mundane drudgery – we feel trapped.  If we're honest we feel that we should be more, that we let ourselves down time and again.  And over and above everything else there is death, the defeater of all our hopes and dreams, the miserable end that strips the rest of life of hope…

Am I overstating the case?  No, I don't think I am - actually I'm understating it.  Surely we were made for more than this?  Surely the great plagues of violence, of addictions and depression, broken relationships, poverty, oppression, war, sickness and death scream out to us that there is something really wrong with our world.

And the bible agrees – something is wildly wrong with our world… and Jesus is the solution.  By his death on the cross Jesus overcomes all that is wrong with our world and restores God's good order.  That's our big idea today, and it's a very big idea; but before we jump into it we need to just take a little step back… We're starting a new series this morning, a series called shadows of the cross – looking at events, people and ceremonies in the OT that teach us the meaning of the cross.  Why are we looking for Jesus death in the OT?  Because it's the key to everything.

Just for starters Jesus death is where we see:

–       sin and guilt in all it's depths and ugliness; and so learn to see ourselves as we really are;

–       God's justice and holiness; and so realise God is angry with us, we need saving;

–       God's great love and so we learn that, though sinful, we are immensely valuable to God;

–       God's power and so learn to trust him in everything;

–       religion is not enough to save us;

–       and so much more…

You could make a good case for preaching the cross every week and we'd all be better for it.  So this term we're going to take a good, long, deep look at the cross, but we're going to do it a bit differently, we're come at the cross from the OT.

Why?  The OT is full of pointers that look forward to Jesus' death.  We could run this series for a year and still leave plenty untouched.  But we don't have a whole year, so I've chosen a few of the main ones, just a few OT passages that anticipate the cross, and that also explain it in some way.  The cross is so rich and deep that it the whole OT is given to make sense of it.  None of these passages on their own explains what Jesus did in all it's fullness, but each gives us an aspect of it. So together they give us a richly nuanced and meaningful explanation of what Jesus achieved for us by his death.

So let's jump into our first passage together.  We start almost right at the very beginning; the first mention of God's rescue plan for humanity comes right at the point when Adam and Eve first fell into sin – Gen 3.

And we're presented with two clear ideas.  First, we see that by sinning, by turning away from God and doing what they wanted, Adam and Eve have made themselves slaves to three great enemies – sin, death and Satan.  Sin is alive and at work in them.  And sin leads to death.  And behind both lie Satan, the deceiver, the enemy.  That's the first idea.  And the second is that God will send a man who will overcome these enemies.  It will be a fight but it will end in triumph for God.

Put those two together and our big idea is that through sin Adam and Eve fell into slavery to sin, death and the devil, but God promised a rescue from every enemy.

How do we see this?

First: the fall – Adam and Eve reject God in favour of Satan's promises.

Second: the curse – Adam and Eve think they are finding freedom; but instead they become slaves, under God's curse, stuck in sin, subject to frustration, pain and death.

Third: the rescue – by a man; under attack from Satan; but successful.

These will be our points this morning, and we're going to sprint through them.  So first let's look at where it all goes wrong:

Point 1 Adam and Eve Rejected God and Fell into Sin

Have a look at verse 1 with me:

1 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'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 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.'" 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 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. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 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.

Briefly notice the steps in this deception:

First, verse 1 that the serpent undermines Adam and Eve's confidence in God's word and character.  He say's: 'did God really say?' – as if to say I can't believe anyone would say such a thing… what sort of a God would say such a thing?  Implying God can't be trusted– 'he's not got your best interests at heart, he's keeping the best stuff for himself'.

Second is a flat out denial of what God has said – verse 4: did God say you would surely die?  You won't.  He's lying.

Third is a twisted version of the truth – verse 5: 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'.

And the woman doubts God, feels the pull of the false promises, and eats, and her husband with her.

So Adam and Eve fall into sin and so gain knowledge of good and evil. What does that mean?  They already knew obeying God was good and disobedience was evil.  Does knowing good and evil mean having experienced both?  No, in verse 22 God says that Adam and Eve have become 'like one of us, knowing good and evil'.  God doesn't know evil experientially; he never does evil.

So what then? They have learnt good and evil in the sense of deciding for themselves what is good and evil – as self-determined choosers – they did as they saw fit.

So they reject the actual truth – God's version of events, good and evil as they actually are – and instead embrace a lie – the lie that they can be their own God, making up the truth of the universe for themselves … choosing for themselves what is good and what is evil.

This fall is an actual event in history, it happened, but like so many biblical events this event sets a pattern and that pattern explains our behaviour that follows.  Adam and Eve sinned first, and all sin that follows is another repeat of their sin.  When we sin we do the same – we reject God's version of events – the truth – and embrace the lie that we know better, that we can see for ourselves what is best and what is right, and pretend that good and evil depend on our decision.

By this definition Sin is self determination; it is rejecting God's truth and embracing lies; it is living in God's world but denying God the right to be God.

The great irony of this is that today this is how we define ethics. Modern ethics has rejected the idea that there is actual 'right and wrong' and declared that the only basis for ethics is mutual agreement – we decide for ourselves what is right and wrong; and if we change our minds then what is right and what is wrong changes – so we used to think that marriage was for a man and a woman for life, and the only legitimate context for sex and bringing up children.  But today we think marriage should be reversible, so drop the 'for life' bit; and we think sex doesn't need marriage, so drop that bit; and we think it should be for male and male, or female and female. No big deal, we've just changed our minds, if we all agree it, or mostly agree, so it will be. If there is no outside measure of right and wrong all we have is a social contract – the tyranny of the majority.

But that is not all there is; God decides right and wrong – right and wrong flow out of God's good character.  And he doesn't change.  And he has built right and wrong into his world. That's the truth we rejected at the fall, and we continue to deny it to this day.

So that's the fall - Adam and Eve rejected the truth and embraced the lie that they could decide right and wrong for themselves.

But notice what inevitably follows– if we reject the truth then we must live the lie.  What they did was exchange true reality for a falsified version.  And that lie enslaved them.  Their slavery was inevitable, but it was formalised in the curse that followed.  This is our second point:

Point Two: Adam, Eve and all creation were cursed by God for Sin

Look with me at verse nine:

9 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 from which I commanded you not to eat?" 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 the livestock and all the 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." 16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." 17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,`You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

… 20 …  21…

22 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." 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 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.

What do we see here – God curses Adam and Eve – this is not just action and reaction, but God's deliberate response to the fall.

And we can summarise it like this – Adam and Eve were cut off from the perfect presence and provision of God and condemned to a world where sin and death reign.  The curse brings frustration, struggle and alienation to all of life:


Relationally the man and the woman were no longer naked and comfortable, but now alienated and in a power struggle – he will reign over her and she will fight for control.  And children will join the battle – there will be joy in child bearing, but also pain.  I'm sure this is meant to include more than just the pain of birth – children bring joy and pain throughout their lives – from the terrible twos to the difficult teenage years, to the disappointments of adulthood; all human relations are now strained: husband and wife, parent and child, we're all given over to sin.

Vocationally they're alienated from the work God gave them to do – they don't tend a productive garden now; work will be both hard – painful toil – and less productive – the ground will produce thorns and thistles as well as food.  There will be productivity, but also frustration.

But worst of all there is frustration and struggle and alienation from life itself.  Life comes from the God they have rejected – therefore they are cut off from eternal life and subject to death – they will return to the ground, for dust they are and to dust they will return!

This is so familiar we don't find it shocking.  But let me point out to you this is ABSOLUTELY SHOCKING – Shocking on every level.

Sin ruined everything.

They thought they were choosing to become like God.  They thought that they could throw off their master and control themselves.  But freedom from God brings frustration, struggle and alienation – that is slavery to sin and death.

It hardly needs to be said that this is the world that we live in: A world of astonishing beauty and glory; of Mozart and Monet; of fireworks and mountains and sunsets and beaches; a world of joy and beauty; of new born children and gurgles and laughter.  And a world of grotesque evil – of school massacres, missiles and concentration camps and fascism and repression and cruelty of every conceivable kind.  There is sickness and pain and suffering and scars that never heal.  And in the end we all die.

What have we done to this beautiful world that God made?

Perhaps the worst of all this is that we are so clearly enslaved.  Who doesn't feel the pull of sin? It's an addiction – it's the fundamental addiction.  We do things we can't explain – we know it's wrong, we know it won't satisfy us, but we do it.  People get addicted to gambling, alcohol, pornography, drugs, sex, computer games, the internet, shopping, texting, even eating… at some point we have to admit that the problem is not those things first of all, but they are acting on a problem in us.  We're addicted to sin.  Sin is alive and at work in us.

And did I mention that in the end we all die?

And underneath it all is a real live Satan.  We can all too easily forget that we are in a spiritual battle, but we are.  We are at war with a powerful enemy, and he hates us. Satan is no match for God – let's be clear about that – but he is more than a match for us.  We can not stand against him; we are fatally outmatched.

This Satan is God's enemy –God who is the source of life and everything good – so Satan stands opposed to life and to every good thing. Jesus said of Satan that he is a murderer and a liar, when he lies he speaks his native tongue.  He sounds reasonable, but he intends to destroy us and all life, just to spite God.

Put all those pieces together and you will see that we have a problem of considerable magnitude.  We are marred by sin and cursed by God.  Every power and institution, every school, hospital, media outlet

and political movement – all of them are tainted by sin – capable of great good, and great evil.  And Sin is alive and at work in us, personally, we can't escape it.  And sin leads to death.  And over and above all that, behind and in all that there is an enemy who bends all his power against us – who strains to turn every good thing against it's maker to ensnare us ever more deeply in sin and death.

I don't have to argue for any of this – all I need to do is point you to the news; all I need is point you to your own heart. As Solzhenitsyn said from the Soviet Gulags: the dividing line between good and evil cuts through every human heart.  Or as Jesus said: everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  We're slaves because we are under God's curse. God's judgement on us is perfect justice – we reject the truth, and so he condemns us to ignorance.  We reject the one who gives peace, so he gives us over to conflict.  We reject the one who gives satisfaction, so he gives us over to frustration.  We reject the one who gives life, so he gives us over to death.

As Paul says elsewhere – 'wretched man that I am, who will free me from this body of death?'  Who indeed?

That takes us to our last point:

Point Three: God sends a Saviour to defeat our enemy

Look with me at verse 13:

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 the livestock and all the 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."

We should have known that God wouldn't be thwarted – not by sin, not by us, not by Satan.  God made the world to be good, God made us to know and love him.  And God wouldn't be God if he didn't get what he wanted.  So God promises a saviour, one who will reverse the curse and restore God's good order; who will destroy our enemy and rescue us from sin and death. .

In a sense then you could say verse 15 is the programme verse for the whole of the bible and for history.  History is focused on this one event which defines all else – the battle between the serpent and the offspring of the woman.

See how this verse perfectly anticipates the cross of Jesus.  On the cross Jesus decisively defeats the enemy - crushes the head of the serpent, kills it once and for all

Feel the wonder of that.  Stop and mull that over, savour it.  Our great enemy met his end at the cross.  He is too powerful for us, he lords it over us.  He led us into slavery and we are his, we can't free ourselves.  But there is a man who can defeat him.  A man – a son of the woman – who will take the serpent down.

On the cross Jesus met the enemy in mortal combat – our enemy – and he won.  The serpent was defeated.

But it was not without out cost - Look back at verse 15: he will crush your head God promised the serpent – and you will strike his heal.  It will be a real contest – even as his head is crushed the serpent will fight with all his power and craft and cunning.  The very act by which the serpent is killed will cost the serpent crusher – he will not emerge unscathed, his heel will be struck.  How vivid that image is, and what a profound image of the cross – where Jesus crushed the serpents head whilst himself taking a mortal blow.

Do you think Satan might have allowed himself to believe that he had actually won when he saw Jesus being nailed onto that cross?  Did he believe he had defeated God when he entered into Judas to betray Jesus, when he manipulated the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus, when he worked up the crowd to shout 'crucify, crucify', when he led Pilate to wash his hands of Jesus for fear of the crowds, and when he watched Jesus hung there on the cross cry out 'My God my God why have you forsaken me?'

When Jesus died on that cross, there was real cost, real pain.  Jesus dreaded it because he knew full well how it would hurt.  And Satan delighted in it for the same reason.

But it was this very strike – that was the undoing of the serpent; Jesus crushed the serpent by taking his venom and pulling it's sting.  The sting of the serpent is sin, leading to death, but Jesus triumphed over him by taking that sting in his own death.

Through all human history, from the time Adam and Eve first fell until now, sin, death and Satan have held sway over all humanity.  Every heart has been subject to slavery to sin, and every life overshadowed by death.  But in time and space they have met their match.  Jesus, born of a woman, the son of God, has drawn the sting of sin and death.  Satan has been crushed and his power stripped.  We can be released from this awful slavery – in part in this life as God works in us by his spirit; and in entirety in the life to come when we will know no temptation, no sin and most of all no death.   All that flows from the cross of Christ – where Jesus took on our greatest enemies and defeated them all.

So as we begin this series we sets the cross in it's widest possible context.  The cross is nothing less than God's victory over every enemy.  The cross is the undoing of all that is wrong, and the re-doing of all that is right in creation.  At the Cross Jesus restores what was lost at the fall – and even more.  Christ has triumphed, Christ has risen.  Those who trust in him will triumph too, will rise with him, no longer subject to death, sin or Satan, but welcomed into Jesus' glorious inheritance to live with God in a renewed creation that will be even better than the one spoiled by Satan.  Now that is something to rejoice in, something to live for.  Let's pray.

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