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Sunday, December 13, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "The First Gospel"

“The First Gospel”
December 13, 2015
Genesis 3:15

Three years ago, I began a new preaching tradition. Each year on the Sunday before our normal Christmas service (which will be next Sunday), I’m planning to preach on an Old Testament prophecy or foreshadowing of the Messiah. A prediction of Jesus Messiah from the Old Testament.

That first year, I preached on Genesis 49:8-12 which was the fairly obscure passage where we get the phrase, “Lion of Judah.” The Messiah would be the “Long-Expected Lion.” Remember that? Two years ago? Some of you do.

Last year, we focused on the prophecy of Immanuel from Isaiah chapters 7 and 8. Immanuel means, “God with us,” and we saw how Isaiah predicted that very thing.

This year, I want us to go back to the book of Genesis once more and look at the passage that Christians for many centuries have called “The First Gospel.”

Or big name for it is the “Protoevangelion" or "Protoevangelium."

The first time that God proclaimed the good news about His Son.

Now, we might guess that first gospel occurs very early in the Bible, and here it is in the third chapter.

We might also guess that it happens only after the Fall occurs. Because you have to  understand the bad news before you can understand the good news. And chapter 3 is actually the chapter that tells the story of the Fall.

And we might also guess that this first presentation of the gospel would be very shadowy and almost ambiguous because there is a looooong time between this first statement of the gospel and the fulfillment of the gospel’s promises. And there is a lot of story to develop and a lot story to unfold before anyone could really understand what this first prediction of the Messiah was really saying.

And that’s true, too. This one verse is shadowy, and if we didn’t have the rest of the Bible, I’d even say it was vague.

But for most of church history, many followers of Christ have seen in this one verse the whole story of redemption in a nutshell. Christians have heard the good news about Jesus pulsating here in seed form and then growing out of this simple statement into the astonishing forest of redemption.

However, what we probably would not guess, is that this first gospel was proclaimed  to the serpent of Genesis 3, the tempter in snake form, the enemy, the “bad guy” in the story of the Fall.

The first gospel appears as a part of the curse.

Do you know what I mean when I say, “The curse?”

We looked at this earlier in the Fall when we were talking about how the curse affects our work. Work is now tainted by toil and frustration and is characterized by groaning.

The curse is the statement of consequences that came on us and our world when we fell into sin. The curse is the promise from God of trouble as a punishment for our rebellion.

And that curse affects everything. Humans and the whole world.

And the serpent.

You know the story. God made a world that was good and He made people to live in it as his imaging-bearing representatives. A first man, Adam and a first woman, Eve.

And He gave them the responsibility of filling and subduing the earth.

But they failed. God had given one prohibition–to not eat the fruit of a certain tree.

And this serpent, a deceptive mouthpiece of God’s enemy Satan, tempted our first parents to disobey.

And, sadly, they did. And we did in them. “In Adam’s Fall, we sin all.”

The curse is the consequences of that sin.

Shame where there had been intimacy.
Fear where there had been innocence.
Blame where there had been love.

And so much more.

Pain, disrupted relationships, distorted work, a damaged ecology, banishment from the blessings of the garden, and worst of all, death.

And there was curse on the serpent, too.

A curse that involved both humiliation and hostility.

In verse 14, the Lord tells the serpent who was the most crafty (v.1) that he will be the most cursed.

“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.”

You will be humiliated. You might think that you have won this day because Adam and Eve have sinned.

You might think that you deserve an exalted position above all creation, but instead you will slither on your belly and eat dust in abject humiliation.

Whenever we see a snake in the grass, we are reminded of the humiliation of the serpent’s curse.

“Satan, you will not win. All of the days of your life.”

But God says more than that. He says verse 15 which we call “The First Gospel.”

“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.”

It’s important to understand the story that you are living in.

A lot of people don’t realize that they are living in a story.

They go through their life thinking that it’s just their life. They are not part of something bigger, something more complex.

Life is just this thing that you muddle through, doing your best to survive or pursue happiness or whatever.

But they don’t realize that they wake up each morning as a character in a great big story.

Now some do. Some realize that there is a story going on with their life but most of them have the idea that they are the main character in that story.

But we learned when we studied Genesis before in 2003 that we are not the main characters in the story in which we live.

That would be God.

He’s the main character.

We all have much smaller roles to play.

They are significant roles, but they are not central to the story.

It’s important for us to understand the story that we are living in.

Because understanding that story and where we are in that story will help us to understand what’s going on in our lives and guide us to make our choices as we live them.

That was the point of the Challenge Conference in 2014. I remember seeing the lights go on for our students who were attending as they began to understand God’s Big Story and their part in it.

Do you ever wonder why things are happening the way they are?

I hear a lot of people saying, “I just wonder why.”

I heard somebody say that this again this week. “I just don’t understand why.”

While understanding the story doesn’t always given the specifics of why, it normally will supply the categories. The big story makes sense of the twists and turns of the plot.

Understanding the story also helps us to understand Christmas.

Why is there a Christmas?
What does Christmas mean?

Why did Jesus come to Earth? Why was He born in Bethlehem? Why did the angels sing to the shepherds and the wise men visit from the East?

What’s such a big deal that we would celebrate it this way every year?

It’s important to understand the story that you are living in, and the First Gospel in Genesis 3:15 tells us the story in miniature.

It says, (point #1 of 2):

#1. WE LIVE IN A WAR-ZONE.

The story of the world is a story of conflict, of unrelenting warfare. V.15 again.

“And I [the Lord] will put enmity between you [that is the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Want to know what kind of a story you woke up in this morning?

It’s a war story.

There is a war going on. It’s part of the curse.

And it is, surprisingly, good news.

Because it’s something that God is doing.

Notice what it says in verse 15. Who is introducing the enmity, the hostility, into the equation?

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;”

This is something that God is doing.

And it’s hard thing. It means bad things. War is bad news.

But God always has a good reason for everything He does.

For one, He is introducing hostility between two parties who had been temporarily allied.

Notice that?

It doesn’t say, “I’ll go to war with you, Satan.” Though that’s part of what it means.

Satan and God are already at war.

But Satan may have thought that he had won.

He had tricked Eve into confederating with him. He might have thought that Eve was on his side.

But God says that He will step into that situation and assure that there is war between the woman and the serpent.

And between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman.

Who are they?

Well, a lot of theories could be advanced. You could guess that this is the offspring of the snake, which is other snakes, and the offspring of the woman would be humanity.

So there is a war going on between snakes and men.

That’s possible because really there is. Especially the more poisonous the snakes.

But most of us think there is something more going on here.

The offspring of the serpent could be demons as the family of Satan. And there’s probably some truth to that, as well. The unseen enemies, the principalities and powers with whom we are at war.

But it’s more likely that the offspring of the serpent are those human beings who are under the sway of Satan. Those who listen to His lives and live in sin.

They include the worst of people in the world...and some of the most religious. Jesus told the Pharisees (who were more religious than anyone in this room) that their father was the devil, who was a liar from the beginning, and he called them a brood of vipers, snakes.

The offspring of the snake are those who believe the snake and do what he wants. And it’s what all of us naturally are.

The offspring of the woman in this fight are those whom God has set apart to be His.  God’s people.  In this age, we call them “the church.”  The people of God.

They are the people whom God in His sovereign grace puts a love for Him and hate of sin in their hearts.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman.”

They are the people of faith.  Those who believe the promises of God and are saved.

Sin introduced a terrible consequence–a spiritual battle with Satan and his people that rages across our world and across history.

And that’s good news!

Of course, it’s bad news. War is always bad news.

But war is sometimes necessary. It’s good news here because it means that Satan has not and will not win.

God didn’t say, “Okay. You got them to sin, I guess the game is over. You win. I’ll just go home.”

No, He said, “This means war.”

“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.”

Does that help you to understand what’s going on in your life right now?

Why is life is so difficult?

I’ve had a very difficult year. Perhaps the hardest year of my life so far.

It’s up there with the year we lost our daughter to stillbirth and the year we lost Heather’s mum to cancer.

And the last two months have just been really stressful for me.

I had been recovering from my surgery and then Blair died.

And I’ve had a lot of other stressful responsibilities that I have been carrying.

And you know what’s helped me the most recently?

It’s been our Hide the Word verse. John 16:33.

What did Jesus say? “In this world you will have trouble.”

Isn’t that encouraging?

Well, yeah, it is. Because that means that I’m in the right story.

This is the story where we have trouble. Followers of Jesus have trouble!

Don’t believe anybody who tells you that followers of Jesus don’t have trouble. Because Jesus said we would!

We live in a war-zone.

There is a spiritual battle raging around us.

So don’t be surprised if things get a little hairy.

And this also helps us to understand Christmas.

Christmas is about conflict.

Christmas isn’t about nice stuff. It’s about war.

Christmas is an invasion.

Jesus came to win this war!

But now, I’m getting ahead of the story.

First, I’ve got to give an application of point #1.

Make sure you’re on the right side.

If we are living in a war zone, if that’s the story we live in, it’s important to make sure you’re on the right side.

Are you offspring the serpent or offspring of the woman?

Those are the only two choices.

And I’ll tell you that everybody is born onto the wrong side.

We’re natural born sinners.

We’re natural born rebels.

Ever since Adam and Eve, our whole race has been born on the side of the snake.

So it takes repentance, which is treason against Satan[!], and faith in Jesus to get onto the right side.

You don’t get born onto the right side even if you are born to a Christian family in so-called Christian nation.

You’ve got to cross over the line and join up with the other side.

Have you done that?

Have you left the service of the serpent and entered in the army of King Jesus?

Here’s one way that you know.

Are you becoming more like Christ?

Do you hate sin?
Do you love sinners?

That’s Jesus for you, and His followers, His disciples, are becoming like Him.

Do you hate sin and do you love other sinners?

That’s how you know if you’re on the right side.

You’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus and you are becoming like Him.

Because faith, hope, and love are the “weapons” of the Christian. They are how we fight on our side of this battle that has been raging all through human history.

Faith, hope, and love.

Friends, let’s not get caught up in unbelief, fear, and hate.

I see a lot of that in our culture right now.

Including among those who claim the name of Jesus.

Unbelief, fear, and hate.

That’s the other side!

The right side is faith, hope, and love.

Make sure you’re on the right side.

Because there’s a war on, and it’s going to get dicey.

And here’s where it the good news part really shines.

#2. THE OUTCOME HAS BEEN ALREADY DECIDED.

Yes, we’re in a terrible war.

But the outcome of this war has already been decided.

It was from the first.

Jesus Christ has won and is going to win this war. V.15 again.

“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."

Now, at first, it’s not clear who will win this war.

The word for “crush” and the word for “strike” are actually from the same Hebrew root word.

And it says that the serpent will strike at the heel of the offspring of the woman.

That’s the normal approach of a snake isn’t it? To lash out and get a winning venomous blow in the heel, taking his enemy down.

So is this just an equal battle for all eternity?

No. Don’t forget where this prophecy sits.

It’s part of the curse.

This is bad news for the serpent. Very bad news.

Not just that he hasn’t won as he thought and now has a long war of ahead of him.

But that he is going down.

The seed of the woman will crush his head.

The people of God will triumph over the Deceiver.

This is the First Gospel. God’s people will win in the end.

The outcome has already been decided.

And the ultimate offspring of the woman is Jesus Christ Himself.

Do you see that little word “He” in verse 15?

Who is that?

If you have the King James, it says, “it.”

In the Hebrew, it’s a little third person personal pronoun to refer to the offspring of the woman.

It could represent the people of God corporately, but Christians have always seen Jesus Himself in that little word. And some Jews saw the Messiah in it centuries before Jesus was even born.

In some ways, the whole story of the Old Testament is a hunt for the “he” of verse 15.

Have you seen this children’s book called The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark?

It’s not really for little kids. It’s more for big kids who love complexity and artistry.

I love it. It’s just gorgeous and theologically rich.

The subtitle is “How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.”

Listen to how DeYoung tells this part of the story:
God was not happy with Adam and Eve. He wasn’t happy with the Snake either. God put a curse on the man and the woman and the Snake and everything else.
He kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden Paradise he had made for him. It wasn’t possible for a people who were so bad to live with a God who is so good.
They had to go.
But before they left, God made a promise. He promised that the evil Serpent, the Devil, would always be a war with Eve and her children.
Now that doesn’t sound like a very nice promise–that bad guys and good guys would fight all the time. Who wants to live in a war that never ends?
But here’s where the good part of the promise comes in: God promised that one of Eve’s children would, someday, eventually, sooner or later, crush the head of that nasty Snake.
Nobody knew when or how, but she would have a child to put things right. (pgs. 24-27)
Do you see how Genesis 3:15 is a messianic prophecy?

The whole Old Testament is a search for that conquering snake crusher.

Is it Abraham? No.
Is it Isaac? Uh uh.
Is it Jacob? No way!
Is it Joseph? Not quite.
Is it Moses? No.
Is it Joshua? Not really.
It certainly wasn’t one of the judges.
How about David?  Well, it almost seemed like it, didn’t it?

But it wasn’t him and it wasn’t any of his sons.

Until...Christmas!

Until the invasion of our world by the enfleshed son of God.

Christmas is the game changer.

Because when Jesus was tempted just like Adam and Eve had been–though His temptation was much harder, in a desert instead of a garden!–Jesus was victorious where Adam and Eve had failed.

And then on the Cross when the Serpent struck at his heel, and He even died, Jesus still didn’t lose!

Jesus won at the Cross.

He won this battle at the Cross.
He paid for our sins at the Cross.
Satan was defeated the Cross.

At the Cross, Jesus was putting an end to the this unending war.

Just as predicted.

The outcome has already been decided.

So, application: Take heart!

Right?  What’s our Hide the Word verse say?

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

He’s won the decisive battle.

And so we can have peace and joy and courage.

Take heart!

Those are the most precious words to me right now, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Do you need to hear that this morning?

I sure do.

Martin Luther said it in his great song, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

The Prince of Darkness Grim
We Tremble Not for Him
His Rage We Can Endure
For Lo, His Doom Is Sure:
One Little Word Shall Fell Him.

What’s that word?  Jesus!

I know that it doesn’t feel that way all of the time.

It’s hard to take heart. It’s hard to see that Jesus has overcome the world because He has not yet returned to make His blessings known as far as the curse is found.

We are still living in the war-zone.

And we have to keep watch like we talked about last week while wait for that victory to be spread around the universe and that peace to become universal.

But He’s told us.

“Take heart!” He said.

And that needs to be good enough for us for now.

Let me give you one more verse to chew on.

It’s in the book of Romans chapter 16, verse 20.

If the Lord gives me strength, we’re going to return to Romans in a few weeks in the new year.

So, I’m giving you preview of coming attractions.

Listen to Romans 16:20 and hear the echoes of Genesis 3:15 and John 16:33.

Paul says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Take heart!

Satan will not just be crushed under Jesus’ feet.  “Under your feet.”

We will share in His victory.

One day this war will be over and those who belong to Jesus will also be overcomers.

Because Jesus came at Christmas to overcome.

Take heart, Christian!

Here’s how Kevin DeYoung ends his book:
The Snake Crusher is coming back again to wipe away all the bad guys and wipe away every tear. He’s coming to make a new beginning and to finish what he started. He’s coming to give us the home we once had and might have forgotten that we lost.
So keep waiting for him. Keep believing in him. Keep trusting that the story isn’t over yet. God’s promises never fail and the Promised One never disappoints.
One day we will see him. One day we will be with him. One day there will be nothing but the best days, day after day after day after day.
And forever and ever it will be a wonderful time to be God’s children in God’s wonderful world. (pgs. 123-125)
Take heart!



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