Texts: Gen 3, Ps 24, 1 Tim 2, Luke 4.1-13

1. The trial

God gave everything to Adam and Eve. He made them in his own image and likeness, pure and glad and good, and offered them a creaturely share in his life of love, glory, and peace. He gave them Eden, a palace fit for the King and Queen of all the earth. They lacked nothing. They feared nothing. If you’d told them about the everyday realities we know and suffer and cannot escape from – of pain and loss and sorrow, of guilt, shame, and regret, of betrayal and loneliness, of fear and cowardice and cruelty and death – they wouldn’t have understood a single word of it. It’d be like trying to explain what cold and darkness are to the Sun. Because Adam and Eve were holy, they were free. Because they had no sin, their only experience was abundance and joy. Their whole life was a song of praise to God. Best of all, they walked with God, and God walked with them. Adam and Eve were unbelievably alive because they lived in perfect communion with God.

One thing he required of them. Gen 2.16-17: “And the LORD God commanded Adam, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Why did God give Adam this command? To test him; to try his obedience, his loyalty, his love. In Gen 22, the Lord tested Abraham by commanding him to offer his only son, Isaac, in sacrifice on Mount Moriah. What did Abraham do? He bound his son and raised the knife to slaughter him on the altar. By obeying the Word of God – incomprehensible as that Word must have been to him – Abraham proved he feared, trusted, and loved God with all his heart.

In the Garden, God tested Adam and Eve by requiring a simple act of restraint. If they listened to God’s command about the Tree and obeyed it, it’d prove they loved God as their kind Father, trusted him as their wise Maker, and submitted to him as their sovereign Lord. It’d prove they accepted the fact that they were creatures of dust, and that the Lord alone is God. In fact, it’d prove they enjoyed being creatures, that they wanted God to be God, and that they considered this arrangement of things – God as God, Man as Man – exceedingly good. If they passed the test, content being small in the presence of the God who is great, they would never taste death.

But what if they failed?

Deep in our flesh, each of us thinks God was too severe to punish our race with death “just” for eating the apple from the tree. But the fact that we resent the just judgment of God, and even blame him for our punishment, and plead mitigating circumstances in defense of our race – all this only goes to show how deceitful our hearts became (Jer 17.9) the day we rebelled against the One who gave us everything because he is kind. Do you really think the Judge of all the earth (Gen 18.25), whose throne is built on righteousness and justice, would sentence his image-bearers to death for a mistake about a piece of fruit?

The sin at the tree consisted a coup, a putsch, a power grab, the willful refusal of creatures to remain creatures, the delusional attempt of beings made from nothing to replace God with their “selves.” The awfulness of the first sin beggars description: unbelief, ingratitude, envy, rebellion, treason, idolatry, blasphemy, all wrapped up in a bundle held together by pride. In Adam and Eve, our entire race looked God straight in the eye – God, who had given us everything as the free gift of his love – and said to him what the prodigal said to his father in Luke 15: “Dad, I wish you were dead, so that I could get my hands on your stuff.” It was the independence day of our race – the day we chose to reject communion with God in order to pursue life, liberty, and happiness on our own. But we need to look into this a little further.

2. The Rebellion

First, the Serpent. This is no mere reptile, but an animal possessed by the Dark Lord himself. Like every other being in the first creation, the Devil was once noble and good: a mighty angel of God. But he did not stand fast in the truth (John 8.44), exalted himself against God in pride (Isa 14, Ezek 28), and incited rebellion against the Lord (Rev 12.4). Here in Genesis 1-3, however, there’s not a word about Satan’s former glory or his present power. All we hear is that, rather than fighting Adam face to face, the coward slithers into the garden in disguise and attacks the human race, the image-bearers, the kings of all the earth, not in the king but in the queen, not in Adam but in his Eve. To use the proper theological term: Satan is a real dirtball.

Pay close attention to how Satan murders righteous souls: by telling lies (John 8.44). Gen 3.1: “Did God actually say?” Then as now and until the Last Battle, the Enemy sows the seed of rebellion by attacking the Word of God (Matt 13.18ff). There are two stages in the assault. In v. 1, Satan piously quotes Scripture but twists it just enough to make his argument compelling. Eve withstands this first attack, barely (vv. 2-3). But the Serpent’s winsomeness, Eve’s desire to keep the dialogue going, and Adam’s silence open the door for the direct attack that follows in v. 4: “The Serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die.” This is sheer blasphemy – a direct contradiction of the Word God spoke to Adam in Gen 2.17: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” How do you harmonize that? The difference between light and darkness, good and evil, truth and the lie, is out in the clear; a child three years old can tell you, the Word of God (“You shall surely die!”) and the word of the Serpent (“You shall not die”) can’t be reconciled.

But Eve has traded the simplicity of a child for the sophistication of the wise. And as for Adam, who’d heard the Word of God about the Tree with his own ears and preached it to Eve after her creation from his side: Adam just stands there and does nothing while the Evil One encircles his bride (2 Cor 11.2-3). Like Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4.1-13), the first Adam ought to have drawn the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Eph 6.17), and cut off the Serpent’s head before the murdering Liar got to the end of v. 1. But in awe of the serpent’s wisdom, and unwilling to displease his wife, he leaves Gen 2.17 in its sheath and looks on as Satan positions himself to enslave the human race in the chains of sin and death.

The snake sees the opportunity and seizes it greedily. In v. 1, he twisted the Word; in v. 4, he denies it outright; in v. 5, he explains that God, whom Eve thought was such a good father, is really an evil, ungenerous Scrooge: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In plain English: “God is withholding something from you that’s so good, he feels he must keep it to himself. Just look at you: a pitiable talking beast who thinks this garden is a palace and honestly believes your servitude is a kingdom! Truth is, God’s given you hotdogs and Cool-Aid for supper and kept the filet mignon and the wine for himself. He doesn’t give a fig about you, and unless you’re incredibly naïve, you’ll have to start looking out for yourself.” An insidious lie. But Eve is like a freshman in philosophy class bedazzled by wisdom she’s never heard of before. And as for Adam the King – inaction, silence. Eve makes the final call: she takes the fruit and eats it, then gives some of it to her husband, who submissively eats some too (v. 6). And death, and Auschwitz, and hell itself are the result.

For the first time, Adam and Eve feel naked. Before, innocence was clothing enough. Now, earth’s fallen king and queen contrive to patch up the nakedness of guilt and shame with the leaves of a fig tree. Hours ago, the presence of the Lord was their highest joy; now, they flee from him in terror. The truth of God’s Word – which had seemed so out-of-date and revisable just moments before – comes rushing back to their bruised consciences with a vengeance: “On the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Of course they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord. They thought he was coming to kill them; and truth be told, had he done so, he would’ve acted within his rights. But this is where the story takes a turn the troubled hearts of Adam and Eve couldn’t possibly have imagined. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more (Rom 5.20). On the day God might have executed a swift but just sentence of death and damnation, instead he spoke a promise of grace.

3. The Promise (Gen 3.15)

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Because of this promise, the Church exists. Because of the invincible strength of this promise, the gates of hell fall before us as we advance by faith to tear them down. For in this verse, God turns a deaf ear to the silly excuses of Adam and Eve – “She made me do it! You are the one who made her in the first place! The Devil made me do it! It’s not my fault, but his!” (vv. 12-13) – God ignores all this nonsense, looks the Devil right in the eye, and promises that the day will come when the destroyer will be destroyed, when grace will drown sin in an ocean of blood and righteousness, when death itself will die.

This is the first time the gospel was ever preached, and God himself was preacher. His dear Son Jesus Christ is the “seed” or Son of Eve, the Last Adam. “His heel was bruised” beyond recognition: his feet and hands run through with nails, his head torn by thorns, his side pierced by a spear. But then, after the Devil had given Jesus his best shot, our Lamb roared like a Lion, trampled down death itself beneath that bruised heel of his, and crushed the Serpent’s head.

This is our gospel: the good news of real grace for real sinners like me. So – to quote Martin Luther – don’t worry about looking like a sinner, or even being one. For the strange, undignified God we hear of in the Bible – the God who handpicked women like Eve, and Tamar, and Rahab, and the wife of Uriah to be his grandmothers according to the flesh – is the God who is great in mercy and abounding in steadfast love. He thinks little of proud saints, but rushes to be near the humble sinners whose hopeless cause he made his own at the cross. 

Do you understand that through the gospel, God draws near to you in the midst of your sin and shame and fear, speaks this same promise of grace, and dares you to stake everything on his word? Because of all the scars in your soul, you think you have to cover everything up. But God sees straight through your fig leaves, and he loves you. His grace is stronger than you’ve yet dared to hope. Strong enough to forgive everything. Strong enough to heal your soul, your marriage, your family, your church.

Do you understand that because of the gospel, you are invincible? To be sure, the offspring of the Serpent have raged against the Church from the dawn of time, and will keep at it till the bitter end. The Evil One would like nothing better than to sink the ship of this church before we even get out of the harbor. So be it. We are in Christ the Serpent Crusher. We might get dinged up a bit now and then, but in the end, nothing can touch us. And even in the midst of cross and suffering, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom 8.37). Jesus Christ has crushed the Serpent. You are in Christ. Grace makes you unstoppable. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan beneath your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom 16.20). Amen! Amen!