“Christmas from Afar”
Dr. Derek W.H.
Now turn with me if you would to Genesis 3. We’re not going
to read the whole chapter, but we’re going to read what constitutes the First
Lesson of the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols service. This will be
the opening Lesson, I suspect, on Sunday evening, as we have done for many, many
years. The First Lesson in that traditional carol service is Genesis 3, from
verse 8 to verse 19. Now for some reason (which we needn’t go into tonight) in
that Lesson, verse 16 is omitted — the statement of a curse to the woman. For
some reason, in that original carol service that statement is omitted, but
tonight we’re going to actually read verse 16 as well. It’s important in the
context of just what is happening here.
As we are going to read this passage tonight, it is
of course the last prayer meeting before Christmas, and just as it is possible
to get from any passage in the Bible to Bethlehem, it is most definitely
possible from this passage to get to Bethlehem, and beyond Bethlehem. So if you
look at your bulletin, I gave it a title a couple of weeks ago when the office
were frantically looking to me for a title…off the top of my head I said,
“Christmas from Afar,” and it’s about as far away from Christmas as you can get,
in Genesis 3…although one could preach a sermon on Christmas, I suppose, in
eternity. From before the foundation of the world God had set His love on us,
which of course included the coming of Christ into the world at Bethlehem.
Well, let’s look to God now in prayer. Let’s all
O Lord our God, we come again into Your presence.
We are about to read holy Scripture, and we are mindful as we do so that this is
God’s word. This is Your word. You caused it to be written. We pray once again
that You’d give us a certain solemnity and a certain sense of anticipation, and
a certain sense of reverence as we read the Scripture. We pray for the work of
Your Spirit, that what we read might also be applied to our hearts. We want to
grow in grace. We want to love You more. Enable then Your word so to grip our
hearts as we read it. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is God’s word, Genesis 3, beginning at verse 8:
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in
the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence
of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the lord God called to the
man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ and he said, ‘I heard the sound of You in
the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said,
‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I
commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me,
she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman,
‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and
“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock
And above all beasts of the field;
On your belly you shall go,’
and dust you shall eat
All the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your offspring and her offspring;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise his heel.’
“To the woman He said,
‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
In pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.’
“And to Adam He said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
And have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
And you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
You shall eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.’”
Well, thus far God’s holy and inerrant word.
Now if I were to give you a little quiz
tonight, it would go something like this: “The reason the Son of God appeared
was___________” [and you fill in the blank].
The reason the Son of God appeared, John tells
us in I John 3, was that He might destroy the works of the devil.
It wasn’t the only reason of course why Jesus came. Jesus came for many reasons,
but at least a part, and indeed a significant part, one might argue, a central
part in the reason for Jesus’ coming into the world is to destroy the works of
And here in this section, verses 14-19, we have a
trilogy of judgments — a judgment against the man, a judgment against the woman,
and a judgment against the serpent. And in each case they are charged and tried
and sentenced. To Eve, to the woman God says that she will still bear children.
To Adam He says that he will still be a farmer. He will exercise dominion. His
judgment is tempered with mercy in both instances. But to the serpent there is
“I will put enmity [verse 15] between you and the woman, and between your
offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His
You notice in verse 14 that literally the serpent bites the
dust, and in verse 15 his head is to be bruised, is to be crushed, is to be
destroyed by the seed of the woman. And I want us to think along the lines of
what we read in verses 14-15 tonight — heading, to be sure, in the direction of
Bethlehem. I want us to think about three particular things that emerge from
I. An announcement of war.
The first is that what we have here is an
announcement of war. There is to be enmity…enmity between the serpent and
the woman in the garden, but more especially enmity between the serpent’s
offspring and the woman’s offspring.
Now the first readers of this passage — and of course
I’m referring now to those of the time period of Moses — the first readers of
this passage would have understood perfectly that this is no mere serpent that
we have in the Garden of Eden. This isn’t just a story about a snake. This isn’t
just one of Aesop’s Fables that we have in Genesis 3. It’s not given to us to
provide the rationale as to why serpents have no legs. It’s not given to us to
provide an explanation of why women are scared of creepy things. It’s not given
to us to answer the question why do serpents speak, because Moses’ first readers
knew that animals do not speak. The only one that spoke in the Bible, I suppose,
is Balaam’s ass. But there’s much more to this passage than just a story about a
snake. You remember that Paul reflects on this, and what he says is that “they
exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Adam and Eve exchanged the truth of God
for a lie.
What we have here is the entrance of sin into the
world, and an explanation of how that happens in terms of the instrumentality
not just of a mere serpent, but of the devil himself — of Satan.
God has entered into a covenant with Adam and
Eve. In Hosea 6 we read the prophet’s interpretation of Genesis 3 as a
covenantal exchange between God and Adam and Eve, a relationship in which there
are blessings, and a relationship in which there are obligations.
We read some of the blessings that flow from this covenantal relationship
between Adam and Eve and God: the blessings of procreation, of bearing children;
the blessings of labor; the blessings of cultivating the soil; the blessings of
work; the blessings of a Sabbath. All of those are part and parcel of the
relationship that God enters into with Adam and Even in the garden. But God is
particularly here testing them — testing their obedience by providing for them
just one prohibition. Not a mass of prohibitions; just one tiny little
prohibition amidst all of the multitude of blessings that Eden represents. And
we tend, don’t we, to focus on the negative of this particular tree. They were
not to eat the fruit of it, and we focus our gaze upon that. And Satan still
would have us focus our gaze upon that to the exclusion of the multitude of
blessings that there must have been in the paradise which is Eden.
What is Satan’s strategy? Well, it has at least
two, if not more, dimensions to it. The first, you remember, is that Satan
exaggerates the prohibition. You remember later in the exchange we read that
Satan not only says they were not to eat of the fruit of this tree, but they
were not even to touch it, making the prohibition of God appear greater than it
actually was. But what is the intent, what is the motivation behind Satan’s
attack here upon Adam and Eve? Surely it’s an attack upon the very character
of God Himself. Satan wants Adam and Eve to think of God as less gracious
than He actually is. “Has God really said…?” injecting even in the way that he
says it a seed of doubt that God’s love (if there is love), God’s grace (if
there is grace) in Eden is a miserly thing. It’s given and shown and revealed
Don’t we still think of God sometimes in that way,
that His perhaps first and paramount characteristic is one of judgment and one
of demand, and one of holiness, perhaps? Where in actual fact, Eden is
displaying to us something of the very gracious characteristic of God. That is
always Satan’s ploy. He wants us to think of God as less gracious than He
Adam is silent, and Eve is deceived and has the wool
pulled over her eyes. This is not a snake, you understand; this is the evil one.
This is Satan, this is that great red dragon of Revelation 12. You notice that
from Genesis 3 (a snake slithering on the ground) he has become and grown as it
were in stature to become the great red dragon of Revelation 12. It is always
his ploy to twist the nature and character of God, and Eve believes him. She is
deceived by him. She’s taken in by that lie. That is, the lie that God’s
character is miserly and reluctant in His gifting and gracious disposition.
That’s what Jesus said to the disciples, reflecting on this very passage: “You
are of your father, the devil.” Why? Because they believed the devil’s lies.
They believed the devil’s lies, and what you have here is the beginning of holy
war — the war between Satan and God, the war between evil and good, the war
between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed. It’s how Jesus reflects on
it in that most definitive moment in His ministry prior to the cross, at
Caesarea Philippi: “I will build My church, and the gates of hell [the gates of
Hades] will not prevail against it.” Jesus is saying, ‘I build My church, but I
build it in enemy-occupied territory. I build it within the sight and precincts
of demonic realm and demonic forces.’ What you have here first of all is an
announcement of war.
Now when we come to Bethlehem we have to appreciate
that it’s a declaration of war. Yes, the baby Jesus lying in a stall in
Bethlehem, the shepherds on the hillside, the angelic visitors who come to
Bethlehem — all of that is part and parcel of a declaration of war, a war
between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed.
II. An announcement of hope.
But secondly, what you have here is an
announcement not just of war, but an announcement of hope. An announcement
of hope…the language here is in the imperfect tense, meaning that what is being
said here is ongoing and repeated, and variously manifested. There were many
seeds of the serpent, but the enmity will end in a climax. “He shall bruise your
head; you shall bruise His heel.” That’s interesting that it’s not “they” shall
bruise his head. One could argue of course (from the history of the Old
Testament) there were many seeds of the serpent. In that very opening verse of
chapter four of Genesis, when they give birth to Cain, what does Eve say? ‘I’ve
gotten me a boy…it’s a boy…it’s a man! …by the help of the Lord.’ And you can’t
help but think that Eve thought Cain was indeed the answer to the promise that
had been given in Genesis 3:15. He wasn’t, of course. And worse than that, he
wasn’t even the seed of the woman so much as he was the seed of the serpent.
And down through the Old Testament, through the
various corridors of Old Testament history as Peter reflects on it, the prophets
who prophesied, what were they prophesying and what were they thinking about?
Well, this fundamental question: Is he the one? Is he the one that was promised
in Genesis 3:15? Is he the Messiah? Is he the deliverer of God’s people? Is he
the captain of the sons and daughters of light who will defeat the prince of
darkness? You can’t help but almost hold your breath when aged Simeon holds the
baby Jesus in his arms [Ligon is about to get to that passage in a few weeks],
and you can’t help but think of that elderly man as he must have spent his
entire life longing for the fulfillment of this seed of the woman.
It’s not just the declaration of war, it’s an
announcement of hope that one is coming, one seed. You remember how Paul
reflects on that in Galatians: not seed as of many, but seed as of one. It’s
complicated and simple all at the same time. Paul is reflecting that in one
sense the seed of the serpent has many manifestations all down the corridors of
history, and in a sense the same is true of the seed of the woman. But it
culminates in one seed, in Jesus Christ, in the baby born in Bethlehem in a
stable: the word made flesh and dwelling amongst His people. So it’s not just a
declaration of war, it’s an announcement of hope that one is coming who will
crush the head of the serpent — the Captain of our salvation.
III. A statement of final
But there’s a third line of thought here. Not only
is this an announcement of war, and not only is this an anticipation of hope,
but it is also a statement of final consummation. There’s something
definitive about what’s being said in verses 14-15: “He shall crush his head. He
shall bruise your head; you shall bruise His heel.” There’s something definitive
about it. It’s what Paul is thinking about when he writes in Galatians, “When
the fullness of times was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, made
under the Law.” When the fullness of time was come, He sent forth His Son, born
of a woman — this woman. This woman Eve in the Garden of Eden. It’s what Jesus
is thinking about, isn’t it, at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, when the wine
runs out and Mary comes to Him with this problem. And you remember how Jesus
addresses her [in a way that is un-Southern!]…“Woman, what have I to do with
Why does He address her in that way? Because He’s
identifying himself as the seed of the woman. He’s not just the seed of Mary, He
is the promised seed of the woman. You see it in His dying breath on the cross.
“Woman,” He says, “behold your son.” Woman…woman…once again underlining the fact
that He is the promised one.
You see it in the layout of those closing chapters of
John’s Gospel. Something extraordinary happens at the end of chapter 14 in the
Upper Room discourse. Now you’ll recall that the Upper Room discourse in John’s
Gospel covers chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17, ending with the High Priestly
Prayer in John 17. But in the end of the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, He
says to His disciples that He will not talk much longer with them. And He says
to them, “Rise, let us go.” And the problem is that there are three more
chapters, where they don’t rise, and they don’t go anywhere! And the language
that Jesus is using there is military language. It’s not rise in the
sense of let’s get up and walk out of here, but it’s a call to arms, it’s a call
to battle. The seed of the woman has come. The mighty Conqueror has come who
will bruise the very head of the seed of the serpent.
You remember right at the end of your Bible…turn with
me to Revelation 20. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 — three chapters in and
three chapters out of Scripture. What an extraordinary thing that is in
“And the devil who had deceived them…” [notice the language of deception again]
“…the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur
where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and
night forever and ever.”
Not only, you see, is this a declaration of war, not only
is this a declaration of hope, but it’s a declaration of consummation. Jesus has
been born in Bethlehem. He has died at Calvary. He has risen again, and He’s
coming again on the clouds of heaven to defeat the principalities and powers and
cast Satan into outer darkness forever and ever.
Why did Jesus come into the world? Well, one
answer is to destroy the works of the devil. That gentle Jesus, meek and
mild, lying in a stall in Bethlehem, had come for this purpose: to put down the
enemy of souls and to establish His kingly authority. Yes, at the end of
Matthew’s Gospel, what does He say? “All authority in heaven and earth is given
unto Me.” All authority. He is the Prince. He is the Captain. He is the
King of kings and Lord of lords. He goes forth conquering and to conquer until
all of His enemies are put under His feet.
You and I now live in a
state of war. That’s why we have all these exhortations in the New
Testament to put on the whole armor of God, because we’re in a state of war.
Peter, who knew all about it, warns us that this Satan prowls about like a
roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
It’s a statement of war. And it’s a statement of
hope. And it’s a statement of final victory. As we look to Bethlehem and as
we look to the birth of the Lord Jesus, the inception of that work which will
culminate in His Second Coming and in His triumph and rule and reign sitting at
the right hand of God, the bringing into being of the new heavens and the new
earth, let’s worship. Let us worship. Let us bow down. Let us realize that we’re
on the victory side. We’re on the side of the forces of Jesus Christ, whom none
Well, let us pray together.
Father, we thank You for Your word. Thank You for
its promises. Thank You for its great hope. Thank You for the assurance of final
victory. As we find ourselves tonight amidst an ongoing war and battle perhaps
in our own souls, warring against indwelling sin and corruption, we thank You
for the promise that You have begun a good work and You will complete it unto
the Day of Jesus Christ. We pray that You would write this word upon our hearts
as we come near to Christmas, as we think again of the birth of our Savior. We
thank You for an unspeakable gift of love that will not let us go. And bless us,
we pray, and all of this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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