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.
— Genesis 3:15 (niv84)
I heard an alarming story the other day. It seems that quite a few people have had their Pyrex glass baking dishes explode in the oven lately. Imagine yourself putting your hotdish or your Christmas side dish into the oven, and then twenty minutes later hearing a muffled BOOM! from the kitchen – the oven door blown off, food everywhere, maybe a big hole scorched in your countertop or kitchen floor. That would be quite the Christmas surprise! It would probably be time to think about making a frozen pizza, except your oven would be a mess.
What happened on the first Christmas Eve in Bethlehem was no less explosive, but not as attention-getting. Now Christ’s birth is celebrated worldwide by millions, and it has been for centuries; but at the time, who noticed it? Who knew? Mary and Joseph, certainly, but she was probably just a young woman from a little backwoods town, and he was just a carpenter – good people, but nobody rich or famous or important. A handful of shepherds heard the news from the angels, but again, just regular working men, not great religious or political leaders – and did anybody listen to them as they ran through the streets of Bethlehem shouting the good news of the Savior’s birth, or did the people of Bethlehem snore right through it – roll over and say to their mate, “Did you hear something?” before going back to sleep? Other than that, nobody really heard.
But that Baby that was born in Bethlehem was the culmination of centuries of waiting and watching by God’s people, because He was the fulfillment of this first promise that God gave to Adam and Eve. After the devil tempted them and they fell into sin, He banished them from the Garden, and life would never be the same. Sin touched everything in their lives and ruined them. They now knew pain and sorrow and hard work. They got sick and bickered with one another. Eventually they died. To get them through the rest of their lives, now ruined by sin, and in order to bring them safely to eternal life – to restore what was lost in the Fall into sin – God gave His people this promise.
The surprising thing isn’t that God kept His promise. He always does. His Word is always true and it never fails. Nothing God promises ever fails to come to pass. The surprising thing is how God kept His promise. Who would have thought that a little baby would do everything that’s described here? Crush the head of the serpent – stomp it into the ground – smash it flat with one single killer blow. Yet that’s what Christ has done to the devil. He has completely taken Satan apart – destroyed all of his power, undone everything Satan has worked to accomplish. Now Satan’s lying must cease and God’s people are free, because Christ has set us free from the fear of death that held us prisoner our whole lives. He has taken away our sins and made their hearts glad by giving us a good conscience before God. And He did it in the most unexpected of ways: by being born as a baby, by living under the yoke of God’s law His whole life long and keeping it perfectly, and by humbling dying in our place on the cross. It looked like the devil had won. It looked like the devil had taken Him down. He had struck Christ’s heel and pulled Him down into death. But then Christ smashed the serpent’s head forever when He rose from the dead.
I don’t know if any of us would think we were quick enough to step on a snake’s head. Theodore Roosevelt thought he was that quick once. In 1912 he was exploring the River of Doubt, an uncharted river in South America, when he and his men stopped to make camp for the night. They were clearing away brush for a campsite when a poisonous snake slithered out and headed straight for the men. Everybody scattered except Roosevelt. He began to jump and dodge around – witnesses later said that it looked like he was dancing a jig. He was trying to find an opening to step on the snake’s head. Finally his boot came crashing down – but he’d missed the mark. He hit the snake in the back instead of on the head, and the snake whipped around and tried to sink its fangs into his leg. Fortunately the snake’s bite was stopped by the thick leather boots Roosevelt was wearing. He didn’t crush the snake’s head but he did end up killing it.
What Theodore Roosevelt was not able to do, Christ was able to do – by rising from the dead. When Jesus came back to life on Easter morning, Satan was done. He had nothing more to use. The law that he throws at us to accuse us – “You are the most rotten sinner ever! God knows what you did! Why would He ever forgive you or love you?” — is gone. The sin that ruins everything is paid for. The death that waits for each of us is no longer a punishment; now it’s the way God brings His own to heaven. By rising from the grave on the third day He broke all the devil’s power and set free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
That smashing of the serpent’s head, that destruction of our worst enemy, begins tonight – not with shots fired or missiles launched, but with the birth of a little baby in a stable in an out-of-the-way town in Judea. God has come to help His people. He’s lying there in the manger, smiling up at us, for you and for me. That little baby came to crush the serpent’s head – for you. And He has. Amen.