Sermon 03-05-2023: “Why We Need a Savior”

Scripture: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-15

In Luke chapter 24, two disciples of Jesus are returning from Jerusalem to their hometown of Emmaus, about eight miles away. It’s Easter Sunday. Although some of their fellow disciples told them that they found the tomb of Jesus empty, they don’t know what to make of it. As of yet, along with most of their fellow disciples, they don’t believe that their Lord has been resurrected. So they head for home, discouraged and confused.

Then the resurrected Lord meets them on the road, but, as Luke tells us, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” At Jesus’ prompting, they tell him about the events of Good Friday as well as the reports of the empty tomb.

Jesus tells them: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then Luke writes: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

To say “Moses and all the prophets” is shorthand for, well, the entire Old Testament. And when Luke says that Jesus “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” he’s implying that all the scriptures—which at that time meant only the Old Testament—have something to say about Jesus Christ and his gospel.

And by the way, eight miles is a long walk, so we can imagine that Jesus had a lot to teach these two disciples about what the Old Testament said about him!

The Bible—the whole Bible, both the New Testament as well as the Old—is all about Jesus!

So, for the rest of this season of Lent, up through Maundy Thursday, I’m going to preach a sermon series on several well-known Old Testament passages that communicate something important about who Jesus is and what he does to save us from our sins.

In today’s scripture, we just heard about where humanity’s problems began. But even here, praise God, we get a glimpse of Jesus and his redemptive work on the cross!

So today’s sermon is broken into three parts: the text; the test; and the triumph.

But first, the text… 

What kind of story is this? Or what kind of literature is this? How do we interpret it? It seems strange to us—I mean, walking and talking snakes? What’s going on?

I was on Twitter last week—as I am too often, I’m afraid—and I came across this meme, which is based on today’s scripture: It’s a picture of Adam and Eve hiding from God. It reads, “Adam and Eve hid among the trees. The omniscient God asked, ‘Where are they?’ Think about that one calmly.”

The person who made the meme is an atheist or skeptic, and this is their way of mocking Christianity or the Bible: if God is omniscient, after all—if he knows everything—then why would God have to ask where Adam and Eve are?

This meme is bad on so many levels—it’s hard to imagine that anyone thought this was a serious objection to Christianity or the truth of the Bible. But it’s also inaccurate: God asks not “Where are they?” as if God genuinely can’t find them; he asks, “Where are you” because, first of all, he knows Adam and Eve as his children—and as dozens of commenters pointed out in reply to the tweet—parents often ask their young children questions to which they already know the answer! God is asking a rhetorical question, hoping to give Adam and Eve the opportunity to fess up, to come clean, to be honest about what they’d done.

Parents often do this with their children!

Still… this internet skeptic, like many people today, is troubled by the very human ways in which God is pictured, especially in these early chapters of Genesis. And I agree that these early chapters don’t seem quite like a straightforward historical report—and certainly not like the front page of a newspaper or a breaking story on cable news.

Should we be bothered by this?

Not at all

One well-respected English pastor, Dick Lucas, who’s now a retired Anglican evangelical pastor, explains it like this: In Second Samuel chapter 11, King David sleeps with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, he gets her pregnant, and then he attempts to cover up his sins by having her husband Uriah killed. Terrible, evil sins on David’s part—the low point of his vocation and his life! He wrote the penitential psalm, Psalm 51, in the wake of these sins. 

So chapter 11 reports these historical events in a straightforward way. But in the very next chapter of 2 Samuel, chapter 12, the prophet Nathan comes to David and tells him a parable… a parableabout thesesame tragic events… The parable, like all parables, uses figurative and symbolic language… and metaphors… Finally, David sees that the parable is really all about David, his sin with Bathsheba, and his sin against Uriah.

Nathan obviously thought that describing these events in parable form would help David understand it better.

Dick Lucas’s point is, both the straightforward historical report of chapter 11 and the parable of chapter 12 are each completely true. They just communicate this truth in different ways.

It’s possible that something like that is happening in today’s scripture. 

So if we want to say Genesis 3 includes figurative, or metaphorical, or poetic, or parable-like language, I am perfectly okay with that… just so long as we also recognize that God, through these God-breathed words of scripture, is telling the truth about how a real Satan tempts actual human beings—the first human couple—into committing humanity’s first sin.

On the other hand… God certainly could have created a walking and talking snake—that would not be hard for God to do. There’s no scientific reason to believe otherwise. We can’t object, “But no one has ever seen a walking and talking snake.” Well, of course that’s true… And today’s scripture explains why, doesn’t it?

My point is, regardless how we interpret it, the Bible is telling a profound truth in precisely the way God wants tell it: there was a first couple, Adam and Eve; there was and is a real devil who tempted them to sin; and of course Adam and Eve fell into sin. And it happened something like this…

So that’s a word about the text itself: Point Number One… Point Number Two: the test

How does Satan do it? What strategy does the devil employ to get Eve and then her husband, Adam, to sin?

Ian and I have recently been watching old episodes of Seinfeld. In one episode, George Costanza’s dreams are starting to come true: a TV network has picked up a show that he and Jerry Seinfeld, his comedian friend, have been writing.

And then… George notices a “strange discoloration” on his lower lip. He goes to the doctor—and he expects the doctor to say, “Oh, that’s nothing.” But nope… The doctor wants to biopsy it. Uh-oh! It might be cancer! 

In a later scene, George is talking to his therapist: “God would never let me be successful; he’d kill me first. He’d never let me be happy.”

The therapist said, “I thought you didn’t believe in God?”

George said, “I do for the bad things!”

And that’s kinda sorta what the devil is doing to Eve… Trying to get her to believe that God is actually working against her. That he wants her to be less than fully happy. That he wants to deprive her of happiness and joy.

Look at verse 1: Satan—in the guise of the serpent—asks, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

So the devil is quite literally calling into question God’s Word to Adam and Eve: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And of course, going back to chapter 2, verse 16 and 17, that’s not even close to what God said. Far from saying, “You can’t eat of any tree,” God said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden”—except one.

If you’ve heard a sermon on this text before, you’ve probably heard us preachers make a point about the necessity of knowing God’s Word, the Bible. And believing it. And while I don’t disagree for a moment, I don’t think that’s Eve’s main problem: Eve doesn’t fail to understand God’s Word. I mean, yes, she adds a little bit to God’s command—she says that God said she wasn’t supposed to even touch the tree; God didn’t command that. Regardless, she knows that God doesn’t want her to eat this fruit, and she does so anyway… along with her husband.

The test, in other words, isn’t whether she knows God’s Word, or understands what God wants from her; or how God wants her to live… She perfectly understands those things. And she doesn’t doubt that God said these things. Her doubt is much more significant: She doubts whether she can trust the God who said these things.

She doesn’t doubt that God said, “Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.” She doubts whether she can trust the God who said it!

In other words, Satan instills within Eve doubts about God’s character, his trustworthiness… his very goodness!

And this satanic strategy might ring a bell when… when this very same Satan later shows up in Matthew chapter 4.

Recall that the devil shows up for Jesus, when Jesus is on the brink of starvation—having been led by God to fast in the wilderness for 40 days. There’s no food in sight. Meanwhile, forty days earlier, when Jesus was being baptized by John in the Jordan, he heard the voice of his Father from heaven: “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” 

So Satan means to put the Father’s affirmation of his Son Jesus to the test: He says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 

In other words, it’s as if Satan were asking Jesus, “What kind of loving Father—and God is your Father, right? What kind of loving Father would lead you—his beloved Son, after all—out here in the middle of nowhere to starve to death? Surely a loving Father would want you to eat… and he doesn’t appear to have provided you with any food himself. 

“Are you sure he loves you the way he says he does? Are you sure you can trust him?

“When he said that you were his beloved Son, do you think he was telling the truth?” 

Similarly, in the garden with the first couple, Satan questions God’s character: “You’re not going to die if you eat of this tree. God only told you that because he knows if you eat of it you’ll become just like him. And he’d be jealous. Do you really think you can trust a God like that?” 

In both cases, Satan is tempting them to believe that God doesn’t have their best interests at heart. God isn’t going to take care of them. God doesn’t really love them… So instead of depending on God completely, they’d better depend on themselves. Instead of trusting in God completely, they’d better trust in themselves. “Go ahead,” Satan says, “eat that fruit”; “Go ahead, turn that stone into bread.”

That’s the test… Adam and Eve failed it; Jesus passed it with flying colors. That’s Point Number Two… 

And it’s a test, by the way, that every single one of us, not counting Jesus, has failed. 

We sin: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. And our sin has consequences: “The wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. Eve was right the first time when she told the devil that her sin would lead to death. And this isn’t merely death at the end of our natural lives: It’s an eternal kind of death… First, “death” begins immediately in this life when we are estranged from God. That means we are separated from God; our fellowship with God is broken; we are no longer in a right relationship with God. 

Adam and Eve’s estrangement from God is nicely symbolized by their wanting to hide from him… as if that were possible!They wanted to protect themselves from God: so they hide in the trees and try to cover up their nakedness with fig leaves. 

After all, God is holy; they are sinners.

So death begins in this world as estrangement from God. We’re born into a world in which our relationship with God is broken. And unless God does something to solve this problem, our estrangement from God will end in eternal separation from God… in hell. “[I]t is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matthew 10:28.

When Paul, near the end of Romans chapter 7, considers our helpless human condition—how, apart from God’s grace, we are enslaved to sin, we are unable to escape it bonds, he cries out, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” 1

And then he says, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So let’s explore this “answer” in Point Number Three… the triumph. How does Christ solve our problem with sin and death?

And we begin to see this answer in Genesis 3:15. This requires some explaining, so if you have your Biblesand you should—please, please, please turn to Genesis 3:15. You’ll have a hard time understanding what I’m saying if you’re not looking at the verse. 

So let me first read the verse in my favorite easy-to-understand translation, and then let’s make sense of it: 

“And I [God] will cause hostility between you [the serpent] and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.”

On a literal level, the first part of the verse seems to be explaining the simple fact that the vast majority of people throughout the world are terrified of snakes… especially poisonous snakes… and always have been. Including yours truly. 

So that seems clear enough…

But God continues… “He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Who is he? That’s a big mystery!

Suddenly the verse is speaking of one descendant of the woman, not a group of descendants. It’s singular—“he”—not plural. God is not talking about a group of future descendants, the way he was in the first part of the verse. Just one. That’s strange

And who’s head is being “struck”? Not future descendants of the serpent. That’s what we might expect… because that’s what the first part of the verse was talking about. But no… God is speaking of the same serpent who led Adam and Eve into sin. The original serpent’s head is going to be struck.

The Amplified Bible’s translation adds a couple of words to get the nuance across: “He shall [fatally] bruise your head, And you shall [only] bruise His heel.” 

Are you beginning to get the picture?

If God were merely talking about humans and snakes—as he seems to be at the beginning of the verse—we would expect the verse to say something like, “the descendants of the woman will strike the heads of the descendants of the serpent”—since this will take place far into the future. 

But that’s not quite what it says…

Instead, it says, “This descendant, which can literally mean son”—a word that is singular, not plural—“this son, who will be born at some point in the future, will crush the head not of some future descendant of the serpent, but of the serpent himself”—the very same serpent who led humanity into sin.”

In other words, this verse looks ahead to Christ’s future victory over Satan. But notice this victory will come at a cost to the Son—the serpent will “strike his heel,” but the Son will not ultimately be destroyed.

So the Church has always considered Genesis 3:15 a messianic prophecy—right here at the beginning of the Bible. The Church even gave it a Latin name: protoevangelium—this verse is considered the first announcement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And Paul himself likely refers to this verse in Romans 16:20, when he writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

So Genesis 3:15 tells us that Christ will win a victory over the devil, but how?

I like the way Colossians 2:13 to 15 describes this victory. Here are the first two verses: 

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh [or as the NLT puts it, “your sinful nature was not yet cut away”], God made [you] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 

This is another way of saying that Christ suffered the penalty for all of our sins on the cross, he suffered the death penalty for sins, he suffered hell. So that we wouldn’t have to. And in exchange, Christ gives us his righteousness. So that when God now looks at us he no longer sees our sins, he sees the righteousness of his Son.

Now notice the next verse: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Who are the “rulers and authorities”?

Paul gives us a clue in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities”—there are those two words—“against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” 

Notice: these “rulers and authorities” are not “flesh and blood” humans, Paul says. Paul is referring to demonic rulers and authorities. He’s referring to spiritual forces of evil—by which Paul means Satan and his fellow demons.

So getting back to Colossians 2:15… Paul says, “He,” Christ, “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” There’s that word “triumph,” by the way. Christ “triumphs” by disarming the devil.

So… How does Christ “disarm” the devil? For us who are Christians, Christ does so by taking away the most effective weapon in the devil’s arsenal—which is what

First, let’s remember that the name “Satan” literally means “the accuser.” Satan loves accusing us Christians of our sins. 

And so our Accuser still loves to sidle up next to us and whisper words like, “Did God really say… he loved you—even you? After all, the Bible says that because of your sin, you’re under a curse. The Bible says because of your sin, you deserve the death penalty. The Bible says that because of your sin, you deserve hell.” 

Yes, but because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, the Bible says much, much more…

Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” 

2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” 

1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” 

And, finally, Philippians 3:9 “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.”

Because of Christ’s victory on the cross, he’s turned every one of the devil’s accusations into lies.

There’s a Christian writer and apologist I admire named Clay Jones. I’m Facebook friends with him. I read one of his books several years ago, called Why Does God Allow Evil? In the book, he describes an episode in his life many years ago during which he thought he was literally dying. He went to the hospital. The diagnosis was grim: The doctor told him the tests came back, and he had some rare, untreatable, inoperable form of cancer. He was dying.

And then, while he and his wife are still at the hospital, he described what happened next… something that amazed me. 

He said that he and his wife, upon receiving the diagnosis, immediately went to hospital chapel, they got on their knees—not even to pray for a healing miracle—but they got on their knees to thank God and to praise God… even in the wake of what should have been the most devastating news they could possibly hear!

Why were they doing this? I didn’t quite understand why when I read it in the book. And since I was a Facebook friend, I reached out to him in a private message and asked him about that episode from the book. 

Here’s what he wrote back to me:

When I got cancer I realized that there was a huge audience watching me—The Creator of the Universe and His angels—and I knew that [by thanking and praising him] I was honoring Him through that. Also, I could tell that worldliness was lessened [within me] and I was thankful that [God] had taught me the endurance to hang in there when things were tough. All of that made me feel loved. The beginning verses of Romans 5 are true—I was able to rejoice in my suffering because I knew that God was working His character in me.

Notice these words of his: “All of that made me feel loved.”

Clay Jones could only “feel God’s love” if he knew the following: “This cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean God is mad at me because of my sins; it didn’t mean that God is holding a grudge against me; it doesn’t mean that God is punishing me; it doesn’t mean that God is working against me. Rather, I know that God is on my side and that nothing, not even deadly cancer, can be against me. 2 And even if I have to die of cancer, that means I get to be with Jesus—and that ain’t bad; that’s hardly a consolation prize! And even if I have to die of cancer, I know that God will transform my present experience and use it for my good, and for the good of people I love, and for God’s glory! Amen!

And Dr. Jones could only believe that if Christ won this victory on the cross! If Christ struck the head of the devil on the cross. If Christ disarmed the devil!

As it turns out, the cancer—though serious—wasn’t the inoperable kind the doctors originally thought it was. So Dr. Jones is still with us today. But his point was not to say that, because of his faith, God healed him—although I’m sure God did heal him. 

His point was to say that because of Christ’s victory on the cross, Dr. Jones and his wife experienced God’s inexhaustible love for them even in the midst of what our world says is nearly the worst thing that can happen to us!

And nothing, not even the deadliest form of cancer, has the power to separate us from God’s love!

“Did God really say… he loved you—even you of all people? With all of your sins?”

You bet he did, and he proved that love by dying on the cross. 3 Amen.

 

  1.  Romans 7:24 NLT
  2.  Implied by Romans 8:31, among other verses
  3.  Romans 5:8

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