The Serpent-Crusher

Genesis 3:1-15 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'" 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" 10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." 11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" 12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me-- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." 14 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. 15 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."

As an adult, you can look back at certain events in your childhood and remember them with complete clarity. And yet, some of the particulars surrounding those events may be a bit foggy, so in retelling your childhood, you fill in the gaps with exaggeration and embellishment.

I remember very clearly one sunny spring day when I was 6. I was walking over to my cousins’ house, which was right next door. As I walked through the tall pine trees separating our homes, I saw a snake curled up on the pine needles. I ran to get my two cousins who were 8 and 10 at the time.

And then things get a little foggy. Whether it was because I was 6 or because it is now 37 years later, I remember that snake being huge. My mom disagrees, but I think it could even have been a big, thick rattlesnake. 

I won’t go into the unpleasant details of what happened to that snake. Suffice to say, it involved my cousins use of a shovel and then placing both halves of the decapitated snake into their burn barrel.

Whether you are 6 or 86, most people do not like snakes. Snakes give people the creeps. They don’t like how snakes feel or their silent way of slithering around or their fangs, forked tongues and venom. 

I wonder if some of our fear and apprehension of snakes isn’t because of the events in the Garden of Eden several millennia ago. 

There are no foggy details in recalling these events. Everything is outlined very clearly for us in Genesis chapter 3. And there is no need for exaggeration or embellishment. The results of what happened in the Garden that fateful day are all too real and devastating. 

Adam and Eve were living in the perfection of creation. Adam and Eve traded in that perfection for a piece of fruit. They brought death into creation because they wanted to be like God, knowing good and evil. They listened to the hissing whisper of the colorful serpent and brought the earth under the constant attack of Satan and his demons. They ruined everything for everyone. They destined themselves, humanity and all of creation to death.

The Bible proclaims, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:19). You might think, “That’s not fair! Adam sinned, and we all have to pay the price?!” 

Perhaps it’s like when your teammates are messing around during practice, so the coach makes the whole team run laps. Or when you were part of a team project at work, and everyone did their part except for one person, and because he didn’t do his part, you didn’t get the contract and you all missed out on raises. 

That doesn’t seem fair. We are punished for the sins of another.

But that is reality. 

In his commentary on Genesis 3, the apostle Paul explained to the Romans in our Epistle lesson about the universal effects of Adam’s failure. Because Adam sinned, we all sinned. Because Adam became a sinner, we are all now born as sinners. We are not only born with sin, but conceived with sin (Psalm 51:5). From the very first moment God creates life in a mother’s womb, there is also death in that mother’s womb. God created humans to be perfect, but they are immediately corrupted by Adam’s sin. That’s why there are birth defects. That’s why there are miscarriages or problems with pregnancies. Because Adam has passed his sin down to countless generations of his children. 

And through all the generations that have lived since Adam, his sinful inheritance isn’t getting less and less, but that inheritance is growing! Because we keep adding our sin to it! 

Sin isn’t just a theological concept. Sin is something that is very real. Something that corrupts and consumes. Something that kills and damns.

Why is there trouble between Russian and Ukraine? Why do terrorists strap bombs to their bodies and blow up innocent people? Why does a fire displace elementary school students? Why do people get drunk or do drugs? Why do people experiment with sex outside of marriage? Why do spouses bicker and complain to and about each other? Why do children treat their parents with such disrespect? Why are their bullies or abortions or murders? Why do we hold grudges while withholding forgiveness? Why do we think so highly of ourselves and so little of those around us? Why do we lie, cheat and gossip instead of being loving, honest and truthful with one another?

The answer to every single question is sin. It doesn’t take long to discover the effects of sin on our world and on us.

God knew the damaging and damning effects sin would have upon humanity. That’s why as soon as Adam and Eve fell to the serpent’s temptations, God had already planned to send in the Serpent-Crusher.

After He called Adam and Eve out of the bushes, God gave them a promise by cursing the serpent: “And I will put enmity (hatred) between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers (Christ); he (Jesus) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” God did not announce when or where or who this special offspring would be. That must have driven the devil crazy, “Which newborn will be my nemesis?” Though the devil was told that he would get in a snake-like death-strike on the promised offspring, this promised Child would also crush the serpent’s head. 

Jesus is the promised Serpent-Crusher. He is the reversal of everything that took place with Adam. You can look at our two Lenten paintings to see the contrast. 

The Bible proclaims, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ [the second Adam] all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Jesus is the second Adam. He did what the first Adam could not do – be perfect. He undid everything the first Adam did. Whereas, the first Adam brought sin and death and damnation into the world, through the second Adam’s death, Jesus brought forgiveness of sin, the conquering of death and eternal salvation to the world. Adam surrendered to the temptations of the serpent in the plush Garden. The second Adam overcame the devil’s temptations in the barren wilderness. 

Though the snake appears colorful and lively in the Garden, for he has just defeated Adam, the snake is pale and colorless at the foot of the cross. He has been crushed under the heel of the woman’s offspring – Jesus Christ. If you look closely, you can see two fang marks on Jesus’ heel. The serpent struck and Jesus died. 

But it is through Jesus’ death that the serpent’s power was crushed!

Again, if you look closely at the paintings, you will notice a tree in both of them. The tree in Eden is in the shape of a cross. The cross on Golgotha looks like it has been cut from a tree. For Jesus fulfills the prophecy: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). The devil beat humanity on a tree, but Jesus defeated the devil on the tree of the cross. As we confess in our communion liturgy: “… who brought the gift of salvation to all people by his death on the tree of the cross, so that the devil, who overcame us by a tree would in turn by a tree be overcome.”

“Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Just as it doesn’t seem fair that we are lumped in with Adam and receive his death and punishment, so also it isn’t fair that we are lumped in with Jesus’ sacrifice, His free forgiveness, the promise of life and freedom from punishment. 

In the Gospel lesson this morning we see Jesus again doing what Adam could not do and what we cannot do. We see Jesus resisting the temptations of the devil. We see Jesus reversing the process. Both the Garden and the desert became the devil’s playground. What the devil forgot was that they both remained Christ’s kingdom. 

A party was being held at the home of the British governor general in India in the 1850s. A three-year-old boy wandered into a group of adults at the party. The child did not come alone. In his small hand the child was gently holding a Russell’s Viper, a snake, even now, that kills thousands of people each year. Many of the guests sized up the situation, but it was the boy’s father who took action and spoke.

With controlled, calm tones he said, “John, put the snake down this minute.”

Not knowing the danger he was holding in his hands, but trusting his father’s voice, the son did exactly as his father had instructed. John put the snake down and one of the guests quickly dispatched of it. 

John’s story is our story. All too often we think we know better than God. We see no problem playing around with dangerous and damaging sins, always to destructive consequences. We think we can handle the situation. We listen to the serpent’s seductive whispers. We block out the voice of our heavenly Father. Then we end up hiding from God. Terrified of what we have done. 

Far better for us to trust our heavenly Father and the gracious promises He provides in His holy Word. Far better for us to trust the Savior’s all-sufficient atonement. Far better for us to throw out anything which might try to drive a wedge between us and our living Redeemer. Far better for us to stay far away from the serpent’s seductive tactics. Don’t play around with danger. 

Nothing needs to be exaggerated or embellished. Our Hymn of the Day proclaimed it very well: “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; but for us fights the valiant one, whom God himself elected. You ask, ‘Who is this?’ Jesus Christ it is!” (CW: 200)

While we may have Adam’s blood running through our veins, infecting us with sin, robbing us of perfection, cursing us with death … that is not all we have in us! We also have the blood of the One who defeated the devil in us, as we come to His Table and eat His body and drink His blood. And we know whose blood is greater! It is the blood of Jesus that washes away all our sin. It is the blood of Jesus that makes us righteous. It is the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for us, that gives us the victory over the devil and his temptations. 

You may still be afraid of snakes, but you no longer need to fear the Ancient Serpent of the devil. Though the serpent struck Jesus’ heel, while he was down there crawling away, the Serpent-Crusher stepped down hard. The serpent’s head has been crushed! The serpent’s power over us has been broken! The serpent’s silky voice can no longer control us! 

And now the Serpent-Crusher wants you to remain free, remain forgiven, and remain in His new life and salvation. He does this through His holy Word. The same Word that overcame the devil in the desert. His Word which is preached. His Word which absolves. His Word which is splashed. His Word which is placed on the tongue and lips. 

It is a Word that needs no embellishment or exaggeration. It is clear and efficient. It is powerful and effective. For it is the very Word of our Savior, the Valiant One, the second Adam, the Serpent-Crusher. Amen.