The Serpent Crusher, Dragon Slayer, and Stronger Man

Genesis 3:8-15 8They heard the voice of the Lord God, who was walking around in the garden during the cooler part of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

10The man said, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” 11God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” 12The man said, “The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13The Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14The Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all the livestock, and more than every wild animal.  You shall crawl on your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. 15I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel.

This past month, the blood pressure of one of our members skyrocketed. It caused her to go into a coma. In less than a week, God called her home.

Within that same month, about a dozen of our members spent time in the hospital because of cancer, strokes, falls, infections, and a myriad of other ailments.

As the school year came to an end, I dealt with grumpy parents, grumpier students, and probably the grumpiest of all – teachers. I gave advice or counseled people for addictions, anger issues, and guilt. I did marriage counseling with couples who were butting heads. And, I did pre-marriage counseling with couples to prevent them from butting heads in the future.

While our members have been dealing with these personal issues, this past month around the world, there have been riots in response to the American embassy opening in Jerusalem; there was another school shooting in Texas; and lava from Hawaii’s volcano has destroyed over 600 homes and caused tens of millions of damage.

Many will wonder where all these health problems, anger issues, violent acts, and destructive forces of nature come from. People want to blame the foods we eat for our cancers. They condemn one political party or another for the violence in our schools or in our world. They attribute anger, isolation, and depression to social media, video games, and entertainment. They connect hurricanes and volcanoes to climate change.

But, by looking for someone or something to blame, they never go where they need to go. They need to go to the beginning – or shortly after the beginning.

Adam and Eve were living in the perfection of creation. Adam and Eve traded in that perfection for a piece of fruit. They brought anger, guilt, illness, violence, and death into creation because they wanted to be like God – knowing good and evil. They listened to the hissing whisper of the 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.

God created Adam and Eve for fellowship with Him. He gave them the garden and its fruit to sustain them. Eating the forbidden fruit spurned God’s generosity and poisoned every relationship in the garden. Though it seems that God the Father liked to take walks with His children in the “cool of the day” (Genesis 2:8), because the children had broken their relationship with God, they hid from their Dad – much like your children might hide from you when they’ve done something wrong.

We are like our first parents and we continue to hide from God and others what we have done wrong. We, too, have broken our familial relationship with the Father. We have continually crossed the boundary from good into evil. We have tasted forbidden fruit. Then, we try to cover up our public sins so others don’t catch on. We try to keep hidden those stomach-wrenching private sins. We don’t think about our sins of omission – those things we fail to do right. We ignore our sins of commission – those things we do wrong. But even without all those big or little sins, we would still be considered sinners in God’s eyes for we have been born in sin, born with Adam’s inherited sinful nature.

I recall visiting an elderly lady in a nursing home over two decades ago when I was a vicar. After the confession of sins, I asked her, “Is this your confession, then answer yes.” She said, “No.”

“What, you can’t say no?” I sputtered.

She said, “Vicar, I’m in a nursing home. I can’t sin here.”

Being a young, wet-behind-the-ears vicar, I didn’t know how to respond. I fumbled something out. “Well, do you ever get upset with your roommate?” “Oh, yes! All the time! She leaves her TV blaring at all hours!”

“Do you ever get upset with your family?” “I’m so mad at them! They stuck me here and never come to visit me!”

“Do you always enjoy the food and staff here?” “I despise the food! I hate their green Jell-O! It’s always runny!”

“Let’s go with those three sins,” I replied.

How often aren’t we like this older lady in the nursing home? We overlook our sins of commission. We ignore our sins of omission. And, we can never fully understand the depth of the depravity of our sinful nature.

In order to understand just how awful our world is; in order to appreciate just how sinful we are; we need to constantly go back to Adam and Eve in the garden at that tree. The questions and answers in Eden are still the only ones that matter.

In the garden, Adam and Eve plunged the whole world into sin. Whenever we get sick, feel selfish, get angry, become addicted, or deal with violence, it’s because of Adam and Eve. After God called His first children out of hiding, He spoke curses upon them and all humanity. We are still living under these curses. That’s why we work and toil, why we have problems in our relationships, and why we all will die. God said, “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:18).

God also spoke a curse to the serpent. “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This was a curse upon Satan. At the same time, it was a blessing for humanity. This was God’s first promise of a Savior.

God fulfilled that promise several thousand years later when the Son of God was born of woman. He wasn’t born of Eve, but from a daughter of Eve – Mary. Thirty years after His birth, the Son of God and the Son of Man was sent into the desert to do battle against Satan. There, Jesus listened to the hissing lies of the Ancient Serpent. But, unlike the first Adam, the second Adam did not fall for the devil’s treachery. Adam plunged the whole world into His sin. The second Adam was giving His righteousness to cover the whole world’s sin.

Three years later, the Ancient Serpent whispered into the ears of those who would listen and fall for his lies. Judas, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, and the crowd on Good Friday all fell for Satan’s lies and crucified the Son of God. Satan rejoiced when he sunk his fangs deep into Jesus’ heel. He thought he had won and beaten God’s curse.

But, three days later, the Seed of the Woman walked out of the grave and stepped down hard, crushing the Serpent’s head. Jesus defeated death. He conquered sin. And He crushed the devil.

Jesus is the Angel that St. John saw in Revelation 20 coming down out of heaven. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and bound him with a great chain. He threw him into the Abyss of hell, where he belongs.

Jesus is the Stronger Man in His own parable in Mark 3. Satan, the strong man, has bound us to our sin. We have no free will. On our own, we are slaves to sin, slaves to self, slaves to Satan. Our will is not free, it is bound. We look for a way out, but we don’t know where to look. We try to follow the advice of others, but they’re just as lost as we are. So, we go it alone, we go our own way, we stay at home where it’s comfortable and no one is talking about sin. We go fishing. We go golfing. We go shopping. We tell ourselves that we’re OK. Our lives aren’t that messed up. And where they are messed up … well … we tell ourselves that we can fix them. We can patch things up ourselves, get ourselves out, get ourselves to heaven.

And Satan, the strong man laughs. He knows … no one on earth is his equal.

Jesus teaches in His parable, “no one can enter a strong man’s house to steal his possessions unless he ties up the strong man first. Then he can plunder his house” (Mark 3:27).  Jesus is that Stronger Man who has entered Satan’s house with stealth. He does not appear as God Almighty, heaving His chest, swinging His arms, casting the bright beams of His glory to the far corners of the globe! He does not approach in glory but secretly, humbly, drawing little attention to Himself as He approaches. He bears our human nature and draws near as one of us – though without sin, unbound, free as humanity was created to be. He is fully human and hidden in, with, and under flesh and blood, bone and sinew, He is also fully God.

Jesus is the second Adam, born in perfection, born of the Virgin, the offspring of the woman, so He may enter the strong man’s house. Suffering under Pontius Pilate He allows Himself to be condemned. He suffers the hammer and the nails as though He were the chief of sinners. He is bound. He is tortured. He feels the sins that weigh you down and He bears them for you. He faces and embraces your impending death, taking it as His own, taking it into Himself and suffering it for you and for all people on the cross. In Jesus, God dies for you. He is bitten by the poisonous fangs of the serpent. He dies at the hands of wicked men.

But it is with His suffering, death and resurrection that Jesus Christ crushes the serpent’s head. The Angel of the Lord hurls the great dragon into the Abyss. The Stronger Man binds the strong man of Satan. Hell’s dominion is plundered. We no longer have any reason to hide from God (as if we could). We are set free. We, who had been the possessions of Satan, are now covered in the blood of Jesus. The strong man is himself crushed, defeated by the very tools that once defeated us. For though he once overcame humanity by a tree in the garden, this same tempter is himself overcome by a tree – the tree of the cross!

This means that for our member who died suddenly, she is at home with the promised Savior. Those who are hospitalized or homebound are content with God’s will for their lives. Christians can find forgiveness for their guilt, peace to replace their anger, and sanctified living to fill in for their addictions. Because of Christ’s victory over the serpent, now there is forgiveness in our broken paradise and the promise of the true paradise to come.

As I visited our shut-in members this week, I told them the story of the elderly woman who thought she wasn’t a sinner because she was in the nursing home. Then, I asked each of them the same question I once asked her: “If this is your confession, then answer yes.” Not a single one of them said, “No.” They, like us, admit to their sin. We are living under Adam’s curse.

Thankfully, though, we are also living under Satan’s curse – which has become humanity’s blessing. When you don’t realize how sinful you are – go back to Genesis 3. When you realize how much you need a Savior from your sin – go back to Genesis 3:15. Jesus is the fulfillment of the serpent’s curse and the Father’s blessing. He is the Serpent-Crusher, the Dragon-Slayer, and the Stronger Man. Amen.