Friday, 25 December 2015

Daily Reading: Genesis 3 'Christmas; the serpent crusher comes'

Happy Christmas.  

What is Christmas all about? I wonder how you would answer that question. For the next few days I'm going to look at Christmas through Old Testament eyes, to get a sense of the building expectation and excitement through the Old Testament as they anticipate the promise being fulfilled. To see it for the pivotal moment in history and in God’s gracious plan of salvation which it is. So that we don’t treat it as just another Christmas, or as a time to survive a series of endurance challenges, or a set of chores to do before we collapse in an exhausted heap the day after Boxing Day. But so that we rejoice in Christmas and in all its significance and joy.

I think Genesis 3 is potentially the bleakest chapter in the Bible, in fact not just in the Bible but in the whole of history, partly because of the sense of overwhelming loss. In his grace, glory and goodness God has given Adam and Eve and their children a brilliant world. As it is described in Genesis 1 and 2 it is the holiday destination of our dreams, except this isn’t just a holiday destination it’s everyday life and it is even better than we can imagine.

God has given them a world of beauty and bounty. They are free to eat from every tree and plant in the whole world, except one. God has lovingly given them each other as perfect companions. Adam and Eve don’t have a honeymoon period, their marital life is one long honeymoon. They never argue, selfishly insist on their own way, or mis-communicate. There is nothing they keep from one another, they never resort to manipulation, coercion or emotional blackmail. They simply serve and enjoy one another. There is total intimacy, total unity, total respect, and perfect communication. And they enjoy all that against a backdrop of a world in which there is no threat, no death, no insecurity, no boredom. A world so good, just like its maker, that even work is fulfilling, fruitful and enjoyable not occasionally but every day.

And all of that, every blessing they enjoy are just the side effects of the greatest treasure of all. Adam and Eve are made to live enjoying and knowing God. They are made in his image, equal but different and yet united in living for God’s glory. They are made to relate, to love, to enjoy one another and God Father, Son and Spirit.

That is why this chapter is perhaps the bleakest in the bible, because in Genesis 3 we see destruction on the scale of a nuclear war. It’s as if a nuclear bomb has gone off where the irradiating effects of sin damage everything, including forever warping mans DNA so that sin is passed on as a genetic defect to future generations, yet bizarrely still leaving things standing, though now twisted and decaying.

When Adam and Eve choose the fruit they reject God, they decide God doesn’t love them, that he is restrictive, that this God who has given them everything to enjoy, who created them to share in his joy was really holding them back.

If you look at an old stone arch you will notice in the middle of the arch there is a stone. It is called the keystone and it is crucial to the whole structure of the arch, remove it and the arch collapses. That is the world in Genesis 1 and 2, God’s word is the keystone to creation, it is what brought it into being and what sustains it. But Adam and Eve pull it out, as they decide they know better than their loving God, that they can make a better world, a better life, find more fulfilment, more enjoyment without God.

And the consequences are devastating, a perfect marriage now marred by secrecy, manipulation, one-up-man-ship and blame shifting. The world now subject to decay, rebellion and death, work now a hardship and a struggle. And above all their relationship with God decimated, now they run and hide when God appears, and are driven out of God’s presence because of their sin.

Genesis 3 is bleak. But it makes sense of our world, our society, our relationships, our hearts better than any other explanation. The world is broken, our hearts are broken, we search for meaning, for significance, for something to fill us up because we are missing the very thing we were made for – to know and enjoy God.

Perhaps you wonder; if God exists, why would he make a world so broken? Maybe those are questions our friends and family ask around us. Genesis 3 shows us the answer, God didn’t make a world like this we did when we rejected him, but if it finished there, there would be no hope.

Look at 3:15 God curses the Serpent who we are told elsewhere is the devil and says:

“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.”

I’m sure you’ve seen images and heard stories of rescue teams digging through the rubble after an earthquake and finding a survivor. Such a discovered rekindles hope.

The great news is that amidst the rubble and remains of the perfect creation in Genesis 3 lies God’s promise, and because it is God who says these words it is a promise you can hold on to. God is not done with his creation yet, God is not done with mankind yet. God is not giving up and simply leaving the world and us to our own devices, left forever wondering what is missing, continually trying to pour something else into our lives to fill up the emptiness. God promises that there is hope amidst the hopelessness and that hope centres round a person, an offspring, one of Adam and Eve’s descendants.

Here is the first ever Christmas card, a promise of hope, that one day someone will be born who will crush evil.  That figure of the serpent crusher, one who will be born as a man but who will destroy Satan, who will defeat the enemy of God and his kingdom. That becomes the big hope and is the question as each succeeding generation in the Bible is born; is this ‘the serpent crusher’?

In Genesis 3:15 we see the declaration of war between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the devil. That isn’t just talking about man’s fear of snakes, but about the battle that rages throughout history between those who follow and love God and those who don’t. Just glance at ch4 and we see the battle commence as Abel who loves God is murdered by Cain who is mastered or ruled by sin, but the hope of an offspring remains in Seth. And that battle rages throughout the Old Testament as the world waits for the birth of the serpent crusher who will defeat sin and Satan.

Offspring becomes a key term in the promises to Abraham (Gen 15) an offspring through whom God will bless all nations, and then offspring features again in the covenant God makes with David as he promises an offspring whose everlasting kingdom God will establish.

But with every new generation the question remains ‘is this the serpent crusher?’ Will he defeat Satan? And at every stage the answer comes back no, as Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon all sin and fail. Where is the serpent crusher?

Turn to Luke 3, we see this genealogy and it is deliberately placed alongside Jesus baptism. God the Father declares Jesus to be his Son, and he is filled and anointed by God the Spirit to engage on the mission God the Father has given him. Great you think, as you read, let’s get on with the mission. But then Luke stops and puts in a genealogy, I think we are meant to ask why? It isn’t just ‘a really bad bit of writing which a good editor would have noticed and made a footnote’, God inspired it to be there.

I think the clue is v23 and 38. Jesus “was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.” This is Jesus legal line of descent, though Luke emphasises that Joseph isn’t his father. Jesus is God’s Son, a fact emphasised with the final clause of the chapter “the Son of God”. Exactly what God has called him as the Spirit descends and heaven opens.

Luke goes back past David, past Abraham to Adam, why? Because Luke wants us to understand that yes, Jesus is in the line of Abraham and David, he is their offspring, but vitally that in Jesus God the Son becomes a man. In fact he is the Son of God as no one has been since Adam, and he is descended from Adam, Adam’s offspring.

The serpent crusher is here. And that is born out in Jesus words and actions as he faces down Satan in the wilderness, as he drives out evil spirits, as he heals sickness, as he forgives sin. This is the serpent crusher. But supremely it is seen in Jesus death.

Hebrews 2:14 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

At the moment when Satan thinks he has won, Jesus death, the tables are turned; God the Son willingly offers himself to God the Father as a sacrifice through God the Spirit in our place. And in so doing wins the victory, crushing Satan’s head once for all. It is no wonder that the angels sing out joy to the world at his birth. There can be no greater news, no more exciting message than that the serpent crusher has come at last, he lives his life crushing Satan, undoing the effects of the fall, showing what a world in relationship with God looks, like, filling up the ‘knowing and enjoying God hole’ in people’s lives that they have poured all sorts of other things into in unsuccessfully to fill it.

How do you feel about Christmas? Can we be bah humbug about the news that the world was waiting to hear from the very moment of the fall? About news which our world, our families, our friends, our colleagues still need to hear?

We will treat it as just another day if we believe we can engineer a return to Genesis 1 and 2 ourselves. But history tells us we can’t – communism, capitalism, feudalism, monarchy all tried and all failed. Science was the great hope and it has bought us phenomenal advances but it has also brought great destruction, it has developed wind farms, medicines, MRI scanners, and so on but has also produced the nuclear bomb, weaponised nerve agents and chemicals. All our technological advancements, all our sociological theories and experiments have not made us any more content, any more loving, any less lonely, or any less able to fill that hole in our lives.

Christmas cries out to us God has done what we could and can never do. Christmas is about hope amid hopelessness, it is about joy given to the joyless, love to the unlovely. The serpent crusher has come, death and Satan are defeated by Jesus who calls us to know him.

Who enables us to once again know God and to look forward to the day when we will enjoy him forever in a world without the marks of ruin, with the damage to our DNA undone, the curse removed. But you might say if Jesus coming has defeated sin and Satan why do we still see sins effects around us and in us?

It’s a great question. Christmas isn’t just a day when we look back it’s also a day when we look forward. Christ has come he has defeated death and sin and Satan, and he will come again. In the mean time we still live in the war zone, Satan is defeated but he wants to take as many with him as he can and so he lashes out. But even in his lashing out people see the brokenness of the world and look for answers. Seeing sin even in our hearts drives us back to Christ, and seeing sin in the world and knowing we have the joyful news to share drives us to tell others.

As those who have hope, who enjoy relationship with God Father, Son and Spirit, who have heard, responded to and live by this joyful news, Christmas has real meaning. It explains our broken world, but gloriously causes us to marvel at the love and grace of God, even as it causes us to look forward. And that ought to fill our hearts with joy so that Christmas positively bursts with it, so that our Christmas celebration is distinctive, because it is celebrating the most significant coming in history.

Are you ready for Christmas? Not the presents, not the trimmings, not the food, are you ready for the opportunity to remember, to praise, to give glory to God, to witness to the world, about the most significant coming in history? What will it look like for you to celebrate the coming of the Serpent Crusher?

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