A Festival of 9 Lessons & Carols
The Lord's Day Morning
December 4, 2005
“The Promised Seed”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter three.
As I said before the service, today we begin a series of studies of the Lessons that are used with the Carol Service at King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England, and have been used every year since 1918; and which, for many years, at least in part have been used here at Christmastime for the Music of Christmas.
These Lessons span the course of redemptive history: moving from the fall of Adam, his plunging the world into a state of sin and misery, through his original act of sin and rebellion and pride against God, to the consummation when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.
That's the journey that we’ll take during the month of December, and we begin, as we should, in Genesis 3.
Understanding Genesis is foundational for appreciating the message of the rest of this season. If we do not know why it is that Jesus had to come, we cannot adequately appreciate what He has accomplished in His coming; nor can we adequately appreciate the plight which we are in without Him, and starting in Genesis 3 puts everything in perspective.
God has created the world; He has made man, male and female, in His image. He has made man to be His image-bearers. He has given man dominion over His creation, over all of the created order, to rule as His steward. He has given man blessings and He has given man responsibilities. He has given man the blessing of fellowshipping with the living God, of being the representative of the living God in the world, of imaging or exampling or modeling God's rule in the world through his rule and dominion over creation. He has given man scope for creativity in his labor, in his work. He has blessed man with a companion and with the gift of marriage. He has told man through this marriage to fill the earth, and so through child-rearing the extension of dominion over the world is to be carried out. What a blessed thing God has given to man! He has planted them in a garden, and Adam and Eve together are cultivating this beautiful world which God has created for them.
But, as you will remember, in Genesis 3:1-7, Adam and Eve choose to rebel against God. Paul tells us in First Timothy that Eve was deceived, but that Adam knew exactly what he was doing. His was a crass, bold rebellion against God. It was an act of pride in which Adam sought to be as God, even as the serpent had tempted Eve: ‘Oh! If you disobey God and take of that fruit, you will be like Him! That's why He doesn't want you to take that fruit!’ And Adam took, and he ate knowingly.
It was an act of faithlessness; it was an act of refusal to believe the word of God, because God had said to Adam, ‘Adam, in the day that you eat of that fruit, you will surely die.’ Adam did not believe God's word. He had no idea what it would take to undo the act that he engaged in. He had no idea.
Think of it, my friends. In Genesis 3, the serpent's temptation was ‘Take and eat something which God has not offered to you.’ In order to undo that temptation, the blood of the Son of God would have to be spilt, and then He would turn to us and say ‘At this table, take and eat. This is My body, which is offered to you, for you.’
Adam had no idea of the consequences of his sin, how deep his sin would plunge this world into misery and despair, and we begin to see the inklings, the beginnings and despair here in Genesis 3 in this first Lesson.
Jesus’ coming into this world was a redemptive act. It was a reclamation process, it was an act of salvation, and we need to know ‘Saved from what?’ Well, the origins of the answer to that question stretch all the way back to the very passage we're going to study today. In fact, I'd encourage you now even to allow your eyes to glance back through Genesis 3:1-7 and the account of the serpent's temptation of Eve, and her subsequent stumbling, and then Adam's embrace of the same (and indeed, worse) sin, because the passage that we're reading today lays out for us what came along with that sin and the consequences of it, as well as the solution. And that's what we're going to study together in the passage.
In verses 8-13 we see a description of what came along with the original sin of Adam in the garden — what eventuated in Adam and Eve's relationship with God and one another because of that sin in Genesis 3:1-7.
And then, especially in verses 16-19, we're going to see the fallout of that sin. We’re going to see the fallout of that sin in three areas: family, marriage, and work. And then, especially as we look at verse 15, originally spoken by God to Satan in the form of that serpent, we're going to see a word that is not only a word of cursing to the serpent, but it's actually a word of blessing to all those who trust in Christ, because in it we're going to see the solution to the dilemma that man has brought upon himself in the original sin recorded in Genesis 3:1-7.
So let's attend to God's word as it's set forth in Genesis 3, verses 8 to 19.
Let's go to God in prayer before we read His word. Let's pray.
Lord God, these words are so familiar. Some of us surely have heard them hundreds of times, and we might be tempted to think that this is not a word for us; but today is the day of the Lord, and today You call out, “Hear My voice!” so speak to the hearts of every one of us, and grant that we would hear Your voice and respond in faith, and grow in grace and exalt God, our Savior. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“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. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he heard, and said, ‘I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ And the man said, ‘The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ And the Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every best of the field;
On your belly shall you go,
And dust shall you eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.’
To the woman He said,
‘I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Yet your desire shall b for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.’
Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow 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,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This passage takes us back to the very beginning of our redemption in this world. This passage takes us back to the point in which Adam plunged us into estrangement from God and from one another. This passage takes us back to the source of every sin and misery that has ever occurred in this world. All of the sin and misery that surrounds us today can be traced back to this point, and this passage takes us back to the point for which Jesus came into this world. And as we celebrate His incarnation — His incarnation, the staging point for this great redemption that He would do on behalf of His people — as we celebrate His coming into this world in our flesh, we need to remember why He did that, and why for us there was no other hope than that He do it.
We understand, of course, that He didn't have to do it in the first place. God could have dispensed with us like He dispensed with the wicked in the days of Noah. He could have wiped us from the face of the earth, and He would still have been a good and loving God. But in His mercy He showed a grace unimagined and unequalled, and it all begins right here. And so I want you to look with me today as we look at the problem and the consequences, and the solution.
I. The problem: Original sin disrupts divine-human fellowship and human relations.
The things that come along with this original sin are spelled out for us in verses 8-13. There we see living examples of the estrangement that now exists between Adam and Eve and God, on two sides, and between Adam and Eve themselves. We see the estrangement now between man and God and between man and man in full display in verses 8-13, but we need to go back to verses 1-7 to appreciate why this has occurred.
Satan, in the form of the serpent, has come to the woman in verse 1 and has challenged God's word: “Has God said ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” Satan's implication to the woman is that God is being unreasonable. ‘You mean He said to you that you can't eat from any tree of the fruit of this garden? How unreasonable is that! How stingy! How unfair! How ungenerous!’ His assertion to the woman is that God is not good – ‘How could a good God withhold that from you?’ He's planting a seed of doubt in her heart as to whether God is good.
And then he comes back with a frontal assault. He says to her after she answers, ‘We can eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden, but from this tree we cannot eat, or we will die.’ And he says in verse 4, “You shall not die!” He directly contradicts the word of God. He basically says ‘Your God is a liar! That won't happen!’ So, first God's goodness is called into question, and then His word is called into question.
And where is Adam in all this? In verse 6, the woman just turns around…he's right there. The God who has given Adam and Eve everything that they have, the God who has given to them communion with Him — He walks with them in the garden! We may sing of Jesus that we walk with Him and talk with Him, but God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden! He’d made them rulers over the earth! He’d made them in His image. They were vice-rulers, vice-regents over this universe. He had made them a lush garden in which to live, to cultivate. He had given them the ability to exercise their creativity in dominion and rule and labor. He had given them the privilege of marriage, so that they could share the sweetest of human relationship, the most intimate of fellowship with one another and with Him, and they’d been given the privilege of procreation so that the earth could be filled with servants of God to do His bidding; to bring form out of chaos, to bring fullness where there was emptiness, to spread light where there was darkness. What a rich gift He had given to Adam and Eve, and yet, when His goodness and His truthfulness are called into question, they do not open their mouths.
We see their pride. They wanted to be like God. But, my friends, understand: Adam especially wanted to have the place of God. Paul tells us that Eve was genuinely deceived in this case; Adam knew exactly what he was doing. It was a bold, brazen act of rebellion. The good God who had given Adam everything that he had, Adam spurned and rejected and rebelled against. And isn't it interesting that Satan promised them (verse 5) that they will be like God if they will just disobey Him. Now, you see, the irony is they were already like God. They’d been made in His image. They’d been given the privilege of fellowship with Him, and by disobeying they will be less like Him, not more like Him. Isn't that what we see in verses 8-13? In verses 8-13, are Adam and Eve more like God now that they've disobeyed? Oh, no!
First, they are estranged. What happens? God comes walking in the garden, and Adam and Eve hide themselves. They already feel estrangement. (Have you ever come home and the cookie jar has been broken…or the walls have been written upon with markers? And there's nobody around! “Kids, come here…..”) Adam and Eve already know that they've transgressed the Law. They already know that they have broken God's Law. They’re already hiding. Already the estrangement between them and God is deeply planted in their hearts, and they’re already fracturing in their own relationship.
Look at verse 10. We’re told in verse 8 that “they hid themselves” when God was coming, but listen to verse 10: “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden…I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” That's Adam speaking. You wouldn't know that a creature named Eve had been created, from the reading of verse 10! It's all about Adam. Already we see the beginning of narcissism, and individualism, and egoism and selfishness on display in verse 10. So there is estrangement because of sin both from God and from one another. Satan had promised that they would become like God if they would disobey Him, and what they had found was that original sin would disrupt their fellowship with God, it would disrupt that sweet divine- human fellowship that God had granted to them, and it would disrupt their human relations.
Listen to the description of the wake of Adam's sin. Isn't it interesting that when Eve turns to Adam and she takes the fruit, and she gives it to him to eat, that that “take and eat” plunges them into a world that they could not have imagined. Adam could have had no inkling of what he was about to cost humanity. “Take, eat.” Adam had no idea what that would cost humanity, and he had no idea what it would take, what it would cost God to redeem His people because of that act.
And isn't it amazing that thousands of years later Jesus will stand or sit around the table, and He will say to His disciples, “Take, eat. This is My body offered for you.” They took and ate what God had not offered to them and plunged the world into sin and misery. He takes, and offers to us to eat what God has provided for us for redemption.
And so we see the problem. This is the source of every problem in this world, human and in our relationship with God. But there are consequences that go along with it, and you see them especially in verses 16-19, and I want to draw your attention to it, because this original sin recorded in verses 1-7, the implications of which are on display in verses 8-13, has consequences in family, in marriage, and in work.
II. The consequences: Original sin impacts marriage, family and work.
First of all, notice God's words to the woman in verse 16: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children.” And so in propagation of the human family now, though she will still have the privilege of being God's instrument to fill the earth with those who will be His followers, His disciples, those who are in His image, now she does it with pain. Toil and pain and frustration enter into…. What was once an unmitigated privilege without pain or sorrow is now ruined, corrupted by the fall.
And then there is the impact on marriage. Notice the next phrase: “Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” God had appointed Adam as the spiritual leader, as the federal head not only of his own home for of all of humanity, and Eve had the privilege of following that spiritual leadership, and now what should have been a godly, selfless spiritual leadership and a godly, selfless following of that leadership becomes a competition. She wants to rule over her husband and her husband often wrongly oppresses her, and what was a beautiful complementarian relationship of God's giving Adam a spiritual headship in the home that was designed for the spiritual well-being of his wife and his family, and God giving Eve that spiritual privilege of what it is like to follow God in the home–now all of that is ruined by the fall, and there is strife within the family.
And then to Adam He says in verse 17,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you.”
In other words, ‘Adam, yes, you’re still going to have the privilege of working and of exercising the creativity and potential that I've given you in this world in order to show dominion — My dominion — over the created order; but now it's going to be frustrating, and it's going to be toilsome, and it's going to be laborious. It is going to be problematic.’ So in each of those areas of life, sin intrudes and there are consequences.
It's no surprise, is it, my friends, when Satan strikes precisely in those areas? When men are tempted to make their work their god, or when men are so deeply frustrated by their work that they live in an inner turmoil; or when the rearing of children breaks your heart, or when a family is being pulled apart, it is not a surprise that Satan focuses in precisely these areas to undermine God's people — family and marriage and work. These are the consequences of the fall.
It's one reason I so love to sing Joy to the World, not just this time of year, but all year around. You remember that stanza? It's 195 in your hymnal, if you don't remember it. Remember the stanza that goes,
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;
He [Jesus] comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
What's it talking about? It's talking about God in His redeeming grace and mercy reversing the consequences, the effects, of Adam's sin. Adam's sin brings thorns and thistles into the earth: Christ's work reverses the effect of Adam's sin. He is the second, faithful, Adam.
But here we see God's divine judgment in the consequences: pain in procreation, discord in marriage, frustration and toil in work.
III. The solution: God's intervention on man's behalf-enmity and a seed/champion.
What's the solution? Well, ironically the solution comes in God's word to Satan. In fact, it doesn't just come in God's word to Satan; it comes in God's curse word to Satan. It comes in the passage in which God is condemning Satan. Listen to it, it's in verse 15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”
You know, sometimes there are curses that are blessings, and this is one of them. God is cursing Satan here, but it's a blessing for the woman. You see what He's doing: He is saying ‘Satan, you see that woman that you tried to drag down in the pit of the inferno to separate her from Me forever, to finally cut her off from fullness and satisfaction and fellowship with Me, to rip her apart from her husband? You see that woman? I'm going to drive a wedge between you and her! I'm going to put an enmity between you and her, because you’re the enemy of her soul. And even though you seduced her, even though she fell in temptation and sinned against Me, I'm going to place an enmity between you and her, and that divinely established enmity will be the thing that will protect her soul.’
Isn't it interesting that God in the solution doesn't say ‘Now, here's what you need to do, Eve.’ No. His word is, “I will put an enmity between you and the woman.” You see what God is saying there: He is the solution! It's His grace that will take the first step–and not simply the first step, but His grace will take the initiative and will accomplish its purposes: “I will put an enmity between you and the woman”, between the woman and the enemy of her soul–‘I will put it there, and I will put it between your seed and her seed,’ and the whole Book of Genesis is the story of those who followed after Satan and those who followed after God. And the ones who followed after Satan are the seed of the serpent, and those who follow after God are the seed of the woman. Cain, though physically from Eve, was of which seed? The seed of the serpent. Abel, physically of Eve, was of the seed of the woman, of that promised believing line that God spared and protected. And so God emphasizes His intervention on man's behalf in this divinely provided enmity that He speaks about in the curse of the serpent.
But it's a package deal; He goes on. He says of the woman's seed, “He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” In other words, God is saying ‘I'm going to send a champion into this world, a Savior into this world, from the seed of that woman, and He's going to put your neck under His foot, Satan. Oh, you’re going to strike at His heel, and you’re going to bruise Him, and you’re going to think that you've mortally wounded Him; but, in the end, it's going to be His foot on your neck.’
We sing about that in Christmas carols. I challenge you: Go home, take out your hymnal. Maybe you have a hymnal at home, and look at the way we sing about this in Christmas carols. Here's one that I’ll bet you've never sung–I'd never seen it before. I was rifling through Christmas carols last night, just looking for allusions to this, and this is a beautiful one that was written probably 800 years ago. It's called Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem, and it says, “For Judah's Lion bursts his chains…” (Now, you see, this is a good Christmas carol, with The Chronicles of Narnia getting ready to be released in the movie!)
“For Judah's Lion bursts his chains, crushing the serpent's head,
And cries aloud through death's domains to wake the imprisoned dead.
From hell's devouring jaws the prey alone our Leader bore;
His ransomed hosts pursue their way, where Jesus goes before.”
The solution will be this Champion who comes into the world, and though Satan strikes at Him… we read about that in Psalm 41 today, when even His own familiar friend whom He trusted, Judas, raises up his heel as the instrument of Satan to try and put Jesus’ neck under his foot… [he] is foiled, and Jesus puts His foot on the serpent's neck. And all those who trust in Jesus, we're told at the end of Romans 16, do what? Tread the serpent under their feet. He's the solution. We’re not the solution. We don't contribute to the solution. God, in His grace, puts enmity–sends His Son, the Champion, to redeem us from our sins.
Would we be the seed of woman? Would we be in that godly line? Then we must trust in the Champion, who is not now that coming Savior to come in some future time, but that Savior who has already come and is coming again: the One who was born in Bethlehem, and who died on the Cross, and who was laid in the tomb, and who was raised again from the dead on the third day, and who ascended on high. He will come again, conquering and to conquer.
If we don't understand this, my friends, all of the rest of the beauty of the story of the incarnation doesn't make sense, because Jesus’ birth was because of the mercy of God. It was God's strategy for forgiving our sins. And so the question is not simply “What is the reason for the season?” as good a question as that is in our crazy world; but, “What is the reason for the reason?” And the reason for Jesus’ coming into this world is the mercy of God in response to our sin. That is the problem. Jesus is the solution. Let us pray.
Lord God, by Your Spirit grant that we would never lose the wonder of what You have done for us in Jesus Christ; but grant also that if we have never trusted in our Savior and Champion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, grant that we would do so now, lest we taste that dust of the final death. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.