The Serpent Crusher

Do you trust people to keep their promises? It is almost a year now since we had a General Election in the UK, meanwhile the US have just had their presidential election.  The politicians made all kinds of promises. Do you think they are keeping them?  Of course apart from the promise to “Get Brexit Done” our Government might argue that the Global Pandemic has knocked them off course.  But throughout the pandemic they’ve been making promises too haven’t they.  Promises to get things under control by a certain date, promises of vaccines, promises about how different groups would be treated during lockdowns.  I suspect that when we look back, we will see that some promises were kept and others broken.

We learn to be sceptical about promises because we see them broken. Perhaps today you are waking up to the devastation of a broken promise, let down by a friend, colleague, neighbour, parent.  Some families will be experiencing the devastation of discovering that a husband or wife who made promises at their marriage has been unfaithful to them. Your experience teaches you not to trust people to keep their word.

Can we trust God and his promises? Again, I think some of us have learnt to distrust because we have been told that God has promised things such as healing from an illness or success in a particular calling and then things haven’t worked out. Did God fail to keep his promise? Is God trustworthy. Here we are beginning to engage with the oldest question in history!

Our Advent teaching series is focused on this question “Can we trust God to keep his promise?”  Can we depend upon him We are going to see over the next few weeks that “yes we can trust him”

Let’s have a look at the events that lead up to this first promise

A promise and a warning

In Genesis 1 and 2 we are told about how God made man and woman.  We are told back in Genesis 1:26-28 that God blessed them. In other words, God made a commitment to them that he would be at work in their lives, protecting them and providing for them, enabling them to be fruitful as the obeyed his commission on their lives to fill and to subdue the planet.

In Genesis 2 we see God placing Adam and Eve in a paradise garden called Eden.  He plants two trees in the garden. One tree was called “The Tree of Life” and it represented God’s promise of blessing. The other tree was called “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” and it represented what it meant to refuse God’s blessing and not to trust his promise. God said to Adam and Eve that eating from that tree would bring certain death.

Adam and Eve had every reason to trust God. They had seen him provide for their every need. They saw that God is good.  They also knew that God was great and so able to keep his word. Everything God had said would happen so far had happened. He had created the world, the stars, the planets, the land and the sea simply by speaking the word.

Unbelief

In Genesis 1 and 2, the main voice we hear is Gods. In Genesis 3, God’s voice is replaced. The serpent seeks to challenge, rival and question God. He does so by getting Adam and Eve to question God’s Word.  “Did God really say?” He gets them to doubt God’s goodness. He tells them that God is lying and that God is trying to stop them eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because he is afraid it will give them power to rival him too.

Adam and Eve eat from the tree. The immediate result is that it brings shame. They feel exposed, they are aware of their nakedness and instead of this nakedness being beautiful, they feel ugly. They try to make clothes and they hide away from God. Lies and distrust lead to shame and fear.

Promise kept

God finds them and challenges them they start to blame each other and it is at this point that God brings judgement. The key parts of the judgement for them are

  • Pain in childbirth -the work of filling the earth is hindered
  • Toil, sweat, weeds and thorns – the work of subduing the earth is hindred
  • They are exiled from the Garden (Biblically this is a form of spiritual death)
  • They will physically die (return to the dust)

God had promised them, or warned them about the consequences of unbelief and rebellion. Now, God’s Word had come true.

The New Promise

It is there, right in the middle of this judgement that we discover a fantastic new promise.  God says to the Serpent.

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike
[a] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”[1]

Now on one level we could interpret this to explain why so often people have a phobia of snakes.  Yes I know that some people like them and keep them as pets. I know of two people that have done. One was a friend of Sarah’s who kept a python. She used to take it for walks wrapped round her waist until one day a driver seeing her with the snake bibbed his horn and the snake panicked and started to constrict nearly crushing her. 

We also knew a lady who worked at the Bible College who kept a few snakes. Every so often there would be an appeal for someone to take care of her pets whilst she was away. This apparently involved taking a frozen mouse out of her freezer defrosting it and then dropping it into the snakes’ cage. I don’t think she got many volunteers.

The imagery here is also of the enmity, the spiritual warfare that there is and should be between God’s people throughout history and those who seek to oppose God and are led astray by the Devil. In fact Jesus and John the Baptist identify the religious leaders of their day as serpent’s offspring. They call them a brood of vipers and challenge them as “children of the devil.” Jesus tells us that the devil is the Father of lies and was a murderer from the beginning because he brought death.

But the promise here is not just of descendants but of a specific descendant. This descendant of Adam and Eve would strike the serpent’s head. In other words, he would be victorious in completely crushing him.

The New Promise Kept

So, over the centuries and millennia, the descendants of Adam and Eve waited and waited. They trusted God in the face of temptation, persecution, suffering and evil. They believed that God would keep his promise and over the next few weeks, we will see how God repeated and confirmed that promise.

Christmas is about the arrival of that promise because the promise is about a person.  Jesus is the one who comes to crush the head of the serpent.  Jesus is the one who has come to deal with the problem of sin and curse.  How does he do it? Well here is the irony.  Isaiah says:

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.[2]

 The “serpent crusher” is himself crushed and it is at that point when it looks like he is defeated that his is in fact victorious.  Jesus strikes Satan’s head by allowing him to strike his heal.  Jesus deals with the curse by becoming a curse. Jesus brings life by dying. 

God keeps his promise. 

Trusting God’s promise today

What does it mean for us to trust God to keep his promise? Well, first of all, it means that we have to know exactly what it is that God has promised. Earlier I talked about how many people have become disillusioned and disheartened because it seems that God hasn’t kept a promise. However, so often the reason is that they’ve been told to exercise faith for a promise that God hasn’t made. God hasn’t promised that our lives will be free from trouble and that we will succeed at everything.

The specific promise was that God would defeat Satan and that he would deal with the problem of sin and evil. God does that, God has done that at the Cross.  Because Jesus came, it is possible to know forgiveness for all the wrong things we have ever thought, said or done. Because Jesus came, it is possible to have peace in a troubled world. Because Jesus came, it means it is possible to have eternal life, to know that death does not have the last word and that even though we have to go through physical death, God will raise us to eternal life to be with him forever.

This is important because we do live in a world where there is pain and suffering. We’ve seen that brought home on a global scale this past year because of Coronavirus. And it is brought home to us each week.  Over this past year or so, as a church family we’ve seen the cruel pain and sadness of death. In two cases we saw men in their 90s go to be with their saviour. In one sense we were ready for the day although in one case it was sudden.  I remember speaking to him on a Thursday on the phone and he asked me to pray for him because he didn’t feel too good, then 2 days later he was gone.  In the last week, we have said goodbye to someone who has been battling with a long term illness for some time but was still incredibly young.  In each of those cases, we cannot deny that death was sad and painful.

We’ve also walked with people through other forms of suffering as a church, domestic abuse victims, asylum seekers etc all with deeply distressing life stories.  Sometimes not only is the pain for those immediately suffering overwhelming but it can become overwhelming for those walking alongside them too.  Where do we find strength from to keep going?

I believe the strength is found in knowing that God kept his promise in sending Jesus to deal with the root problem of sin and death.  I believe this means we can trust his promise that Christ will one day return to wipe away every tear and to lift the affect of the curse so that all suffering, persecution and war will cease.

Conclusion

Is there something holding you back from trusting God’s promise today?  Are you a long term Christian who has grown jaded and disillusioned? Perhaps you feel let down by other believers, by the church, by the things you were taught to believe about God? Perhaps you are disturbed by the evil and suffering you see in the world? Maybe it is the suffering you are experiencing yourself?  I would like to encourage you to get in touch with one of us. We would love to talk things through, to listen and to look more at God’s Word together.  We would love to pray with you.

Are you someone who is investigating Christianity but there are things holding you back, questions, doubts, experiences? Again, please get in touch. If it is particularly questions about suffering and illness, we have copies of a book by our friend Jeremy Marshall “The Big C” which talks about his experience of trusting God though cancer. I would love to send you a copy of this.

Maybe you are now ready to trust the promise. If so, you may find it helpful to pray this prayer with me

Father God

I know that I am a sinner, I have failed to love you as I should. I have failed to love my friends, family and neighbours as I should.  Thank you for Jesus. Thank you that he died on the cross and rose again for me. I believe the promise of forgiveness and eternal life.

Lord Jesus please forgive me, cleanse me and take charge of my life as my Lord and Saviour. Send your Holy Spirit to fill me and to help me live for you.

I pray this trusting in you and seeking your glory

Amen.


[1] Genesis 3:15.

[2] Isaiah 53:5

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