Genesis 3:15, 1 Samuel 17:46, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

The Place of the Skull

Most everyone recognizes Genesis 3:15 as the first promise of the Gospel where the seed of the woman will have victory over the serpent.  An interesting aspect of this passage is that the first Gospel presentation was made to Satan. It was in God’s address to Satan that we find this verse. We have it as a promise however as did Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve would not be able to save themselves from the serpent but God promised them a deliverer who would in the future accomplish that task for them.  Most translations say that the promised one will “bruise” the serpents head while the serpent will simply bruise the promised one’s heel.  Some translations say they will “strike” each other. Satan will strike the promised one’s heel and the promised one will strike the serpents head. But I like the stronger language of other translations which say the promised one will “crush” the serpents head. The NET Bible says He will “attack” the serpents head.  I actually would prefer it to say “cut his head off.” It seems to carry the idea of a more thorough victory which the Hebrew word seems to imply.  Cutting off the head of one’s enemy was a common practice among the ancient people’s of the Mideast.

To rightfully understand the story of King David, one must understand him as a “promised” one. He was a prefigure of the one and last promised one. Most people point to David as an example for us to follow as we face the giants in our own lives, but this is to miss the point completely. David was the one chosen by God to deliver his people from slavery to the Philistines.  The people could not save themselves from their enemy. They needed a savior and God sent them one.  Just as God addressed the serpent in Genesis 3:15, David addresses the giant in 1 Samuel 17:46. He said “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.” That is exactly what happened!

Please notice what followed David’s victory.  After taking Goliath’s own sword and cutting off the giant’s head, David took the head to Jerusalem. It doesn’t tell us where exactly, but I’m inclined to think that it was to a place that became known throughout Israeli history as the “place of the skull.” Someone was crucified at that place a thousand years later! At that execution, Satan inspired Judas, the religious leaders, and the Roman authorities together to nail Jesus to a cross part of which included driving a spike through his heels to secure him to the cross.  But what looked like a victory for Satan ended up being a non-fatal blow according to the will of God. Christ was placed in a tomb but then rose again on the third day declaring final victory over the serpent! We are now heirs to that victory! In 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Paul writes, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24

The Perfect Gift

Gifts are a big part of Christmas and the day is rapidly approaching for families to gather together and exchange them. We’ve made lists of all the favorite things our loved ones delight in, purchased our selections accordingly, wrapped them lovingly, and secured them with hopeful expectation under our trees. All that remains is the anticipation of how our gifts will be received. Do we really know our loved ones? Do we know them well enough to predict what they would like or not like? Will our selections bring them delight or disappointment? Will they illicit joy and excitement or will they be tossed aside to make room for the next one? It’s no wonder Christmas is so stressful!

What gift are you giving God this Christmas? Do you know Him well enough to find the right gift? Do you know what kind of gift He would truly delight in? Thankfully, the Bible tells us. In Jeremiah 9:23 the Lord says “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” Okay then, God does not delight in your wisdom, your might, or your riches. You’ll have to look elsewhere for your gift for Him. The next verse says “But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight!” Ah, there it is! God’s favorite things are steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.

Before you rush off to do your shopping, scrounging around those bargain bins for discount love, half-price justice, or last year’s righteousness, please know this: you can only present God with one gift, and underneath God’s tree is a gift which has already been sealed and delivered. It’s from Christ Himself and it contains all of His matchless love, His divine justice, and His perfect righteousness. And He signed it from the both of you. Every other gift God opens will be tossed aside to make room for the next one. But when He opens the gift Christ picked out for Him, He will be filled with pure delight! Because no one really knows the Father and what He likes, except the Son. So rejoice! Your shopping around for a gift that would please God is no longer necessary. Your gift is already there, presented by Christ, beautifully wrapped and waiting under His tree with your name on it. You can be genuinely and confidently excited and filled with joy to see Him open it because He is going to LOVE it!

Genesis 1:1, Romans 5:8

God is the subject!

The Bible begins with a prepositional phrase: “in the beginning.” The next word gives us the subject of the sentence; “God.” Then follows the predicate which goes on to tell us what the subject did: “created the heavens and the earth.” We can learn a lot about God by studying what He created. Everything in the world shouts out the greatness of God. It’s obvious that if God is the cause of everything that exists, He’s greater than what He created and everything just “declares” His glory as the Psalmist says. Although we can see the glory and majesty of God in the creation we can only learn about his character, his nature, his interests and his dealings with both the created order and mankind from the Bible. The Bible was written to teach us about God. God is not only the subject of the first sentence of the Bible, He’s the subject of the whole Bible.

To a large extent churches miss this truth and reduce the Bible to a selection of self-help practices. We hear sermons on Joseph teaching us how to manage our affairs. Abraham teaches us that we must surrender even our most precious things to God. The prayer of Jabez becomes a step by step process of how we can get God to increase our influence in life. Jonah becomes a story about the futility of running from God and resisting God’s call on our lives. David’s victory of Goliath becomes a series of lessons on how we too can fell the giants in our own lives. Bryan Yawn writes, “Fact is, the same sort of life lessons could be derived from any contemporary biography or history. The meanings and applications we’ve given these events have nothing at all to do with what’s going on in the true story.” Bryan is absolutely right!

Only the Bible can teach us about God! It’s about God’s love for His people and His divine redemption of them through His one and only son Jesus Christ. It’s not about what man has done to impress God. It’s about what God has done for man. The Bible is not about how God would occasionally step into time to applaud the faith of a few individuals. It’s not at all about how we can learn to become better people! It’s about our failure to be the people we should be and how God loves us and sends His son to die for us anyway. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God demonstrates His love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Trying to live up to the standards of Biblical figures drives me to the realization that I fall way short. I don’t need an example to follow. When I’m drowning I don’t need a man standing on the dock making swimming motions and yelling, “go like this!” I don’t need someone to throw me a life saver either. I need someone to jump into the ocean of my sin and save me! Guess what! That’s what the Bible is about: Jesus!

Genesis 4:2-5, Isaiah 64:6, Ephesians 2:8-9

The Works of our Hands

In Genesis 4:2-5 we read about the the sacrifices of Cain and Abel: “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,  but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” What was it that made Cain’s sacrifice unacceptable? It seems that we see grain offerings and first fruit offerings pleasing to God in the Bible so what caused God to disregard Cain’s offering?

I think the answer is found in the way the translators of the English Standard Version handle verse 2. Abel was a “keeper” of sheep. I believe he recognized that the sheep were not his but were something that God had given him. He might feed them and care for them but  only God can produce them. As Abel saw them, they were resources entrusted in his care by God. On the other hand, Cain was a “worker”of the ground. You only get from the ground what you sow into it. It was hard work because the ground had been cursed in the previous chapter requiring the labor of sweat to produce its yield. As Cain saw them, they were the wages of his own hard work with which he expected to earn God’s favor. The problem with Cain’s approach is that he thought he could earn or deserve God’s favor by making a sacrifice from the works of his own hands. But according to Isaiah 64:6 all of our “righteous deeds are as filthy rags” to God. I expect Cain’s spirit was a proud and boastful one and thus when his sacrifice was not regarded as highly as Abel’s  he became angry. It is clear in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved “by grace alone and not by works” so that no one has any reason to boast. Abel simply gave back to God what God had given him. Cain brought the crops which he saw as the product of his own labor.

I often feel that if I give God something I can earn favor with God. But once again I see that it’s not about what I do for God or give to Him. It’s all about what He did and what He gave to me.  When Abraham was ready to offer His own son as a sacrifice God stopped him. God did not want Abraham to believe He had to give something to God but rather God Himself provided the sacrifice by way of the sheep caught in the bushes near by. It was this lamb that Abraham offered on the Altar at Mount Moriah. And as John the Baptist made perfectly clear Jesus was “the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world.” It was this lamb that was offered as our sacrifice on Mt. Moriah years later.  With new meaning I sing, “nothing in my hand I bring, solely to the cross I cling.”

Isaiah 9:6

A Son is Given

All throughout Scripture, God demonstrates His sovereignty over the affairs of men, inviting us back into a relationship of trust and dependence on Him. I couldn’t even begin to enumerate the multitude of ways He did this. When mankind was thriving and families were growing into nations, God said to Abraham “I will make you into a great nation.” When men were conquering and possessing vast territories, God said to Abraham “I will give you all your territory.” God  chose to make for Himself this nation and give them their land to demonstrate to the whole world His majesty and sovereignty over all our affairs.

One aspect among the affairs of men over which God was most fond of demonstrating His power and authority was regarding childbirth. In all Abraham’s travels, it appeared to him that men everywhere in every nation were having all the children they wanted, whenever they wanted them. But God made childbirth for Abraham and Sarah impossible in order to demonstrate to the world that He Himself is the one who gives children. Not only was Sarah not able to have children but even if she could, God took Abraham and Sarah well beyond the years where childbirth would have been possible before He stepped in and gave them a child.

Abraham named him Isaac which means “laughter” and when he was born, Sarah said “God has given me laughter! And everyone who hears about this will laugh with me, for who could ever believe that I would have a child!” This was truly something remarkable and we know Isaac gave this a lot of thought because Genesis 24:63 says he was fond of meditating out in the fields. So when he realized his wife Rebekah was also childless, he knew he could turn to the Lord as he does in Genesis 25:21, and God heard his prayer and gave him twin sons, Esau and Jacob.

When Jacob’s wife Rachel was also childless, she demanded he give her children. This made Jacob angry and he said “Am I God? He is the only one able to give you children!” Rachel must have taken this to heart because she began praying and in Genesis 30:22, God answered her prayers and gave her a son. Yes, this was a people and a nation created by the will of God with a territory inherited by the promise of God. Many years later when God needed to send a judge for His people, he gave a child to a childless woman who named him Samson and many years after that, when God needed to send a prophet to His people, he gave a child to a childless woman who named him Samuel.

Many years later, when the oppression of this people’s sin cast them into darkness, the prophet Isaiah reaffirms this promise from God: “Nevertheless, this time of darkness and despair will not go on forever… The people who walk in this darkness will see a great light… For God will break the chains that bind His people and the whip that scourges them.” How would He do this? By giving them a son! “For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given!” The miracle of this child being born to a virgin was a sign given to affirm this promise God made to His people so when the world witnessed the sign of a virgin birth, we would know this promise would be fulfilled.

Christmas is a memorial. It’s the time of year those of us who have faith in this child remember that we were once slaves to sin. We were bound hand and foot with the chain of its oppression and tormented by the whip of its condemnation. In a world where men fought to free themselves, God says “I will be your salvation.” The child He sent was bound in our chains, whipped with our condemnation, and dragged down to the depths of death itself. Then He shattered the chains, broke the whip, and rose again! Our chains have been broken! Our torment has ceased and death has no more power over us! Joy to the world! The Lord, our deliverer, our salvation, has come!

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