This week I came across a story about a man who was a very qualified TV meteorologist but for some reason he did a terrible job when it came to actually forecasting the weather. In fact, he became something of a local joke when a newspaper began keeping a record of his repeated faulty predictions. They followed up with a feature story that showed he had been wrong almost 300 times in a single year. Thanks to all this bad press, the poor meteorologist was fired. After living off his unemployment for a few months he moved to another part of the country and applied for a job as a weather forecaster at another TV station. The job application asked him to state the reason for leaving his previous position. Do you know how he answered that question? This is what he wrote, “The climate didn’t agree with me.”
My brother Jon is a very skilled meteorologist and I think he’d say the same thing. In spite of all our scientific advances in weather forecasting we are still far from perfect when it comes to predicting the weather such that we get it exactly right all the time. A great example of this is the fact that the national weather service has gotten it’s hurricane forecasting very wrong two summers in a row now! Predicting the weather can be a very difficult thing.
We could say the same thing when it comes to predicting other things like: how our kids will turn out, who will be elected to the presidency in 2008, what your wife wants for Christmas, etc. Dr. Neis Bohr, a noted physicist once commented on this frustrating principle and said, “Prediction is a very difficult art…especially when it involves the future.”
I bring all this up because today we are beginning this year’s advent sermon series and, borrowing an idea from Brian Bill, pastor of Pontiac Bible Church, I’ve decided to call it: “Christmas B.C.” With these sermons we will study the predictions in the Bible concerning the birth of Jesus, prophecies indicating that Christmas began long before that night when Jesus was born and divided time itself into “B.C.” and “A.D.” As most of you know, Jesus’ coming had been predicted for thousands of years. In fact, the Old Testament contains about 300 specific predictions about the Messiah.
Of course the Advent season isn’t long enough for us to look at all 300 Messianic prophecies, so this Christmas we’ll study just four of the major ones. Here’s the schedule:
- Next week we’ll look at Isaiah 9:6-7, verses that foretold several of the names that described the promised Messiah.
- On December 23rd we’ll study Micah 5:2, a verse that predicted, the place where Jesus would be born.
- On Christmas Eve we’ll focus in on Luke 2, those familiar verses that tell us of the night that the predictions came true as Jesus was finally born.
- And we begin today with the first prediction of Jesus’ coming-a prophecy that is found in the first book of the Bible.
But before we read our text I want to try to help you grasp the significance of all these Messianic predictions. Most of them were written hundreds and even thousands of years before Jesus was born and He fulfilled all of them. Did you hear me? Each of these predictions came true in Jesus Christ, so it would be ridiculous to say that this was accident. The nature of Jesus’ birth and life and death was not some sort of Messianic coincidence. In Lee Strobel’s excellent book, The Case For Christ, he points out that the probability of just eight of these predictions being fulfilled in one person is one in one hundred million billion. Mathematician Peter Stoner took it up a notch and calculated that the probability of one person fulfilling 48 of the 300 Messianic predications in the Old Testament would be: one in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. And Jesus fulfilled not 48 but all 300 of them!
I don’t know about you, but for me that goes a long way toward helping me know that the Bible is completely trustworthy. No committee of authors could have made this up. It also tells me that my faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah-my belief that He is the One Who gave His life so that I could be forgiven and enjoy eternity in Heaven-these fulfilled predictions tell me that my faith in the babe of Bethlehem is well-placed. There is still faith involved, but I for one think it takes more faith to believe Jesus wasn’t Who He claimed to be than to simply trust what the Bible says!
God didn’t waste any time telling us that Christmas was coming. He began predicting Jesus’ appearance in the very first book of the Bible. So, take your copies of the Scripture and turn to the book of Genesis-chapter 3. We’ll look at verses 1-24. See if you can spot the verse where the first Messianic prediction appears.
1 -Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 – The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
3 – but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
4 – “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.
5 – “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 – When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
7 – Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 – Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
9 – But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you”
10 – He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 – And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? ”
12 – The man said, “The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 – Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 – So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
15 – 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.”
16 – To the woman He said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
17 – To Adam He said,”Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
18 – It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 – By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
20 – Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
21 – The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
22 – And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
23 – So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
24 – After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Before we go any further, I want you to note a few things that are found in this ancient but familiar text.
First, notice how Satan appeared. He appeared in the form of a serpent. And don’t assume that he was some slimy snake crawling around on the ground hissing up his temptation at Eve. No. Apparently at this very early point in history serpents didn’t crawl. Otherwise it wouldn’t have made sense for God to punish them by making them do so. So, originally a serpent was an upright being, possibly bird-like, graceful, beautifully colored-very appealing. Perhaps before the fall, the serpent was the most magnificent of all the animals. Why else would prideful Satan choose that particular animal form?
I also want you to note that Eve didn’t seem to think it odd that a serpent would talk with her. I’m just speculating of course, but maybe all animals could communicate in some way before sin entered the world. In any case, I want us to look at this text and note that Satan never appears as himself. No, he always shows up as something attractive, giving mankind grand and glorious predictions and promises that he does not intend to fulfill-even if he could. Remember what Paul warned in 2 Corinthians 11:14? He said, “Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” So when the devil tempts you it’s not going to seem ugly or demonic. It will seem attractive and appealing. It may even seem logical!
I also want you to understand that part of Eve’s problem when it came to Satan’s temptation was that she did not know God’s commands first hand. God had spoken directly to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 and said clearly, “You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Adam passed this on to his wife, so her knowledge of God’s command was secondhand, which made it easier for Satan to plant seeds of doubt in her mind with his question in verse 1-a question in which he elaborated greatly on the wording of God’s command. Remember? Satan asked: “Did God really say that Eve? Perhaps Adam elaborated a bit. Did God really tell you that you couldn’t eat of any tree?” Well, Eve’s response shows that she didn’t really know God’s command word for word. Look at verses 2-3 again where Eve says to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” Did you catch her misquote? God’s command said nothing about touching-just eating. To me, this underscores the importance of each Christian being a diligent student of the Bible. We don’t need to learn things by hearsay, but by reading God’s Word ourselves. This was Paul’s advice to young Timothy. Remember? In 2nd Timothy 2:15 he said, “Study to show yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed…and who correctly handles the Word of Truth.”
While my treadmill is waiting to be repaired, Stephen Price gave me a pass worth 30 free visits to the Sport and Health Club at the Rio. One day when I went to run this week the only open treadmill faced a TV that was tuned to the Oprah show. Her guest was Elizabeth Gilbert author of the best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love. Ms. Gilbert was sharing her testimony of how a visit to a far eastern guru named Ketut helped her get her life back on track. It was the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Her philosophies are full of new-age teaching-and just plain foolishness-but those women in the audience were eating it up. They were all planning on following in her footsteps by hopping a plane to Bali. I’m serious! They were drooling all over this woman as if she was the wisest person in the world. I thought, “How can they buy into this nonsense?” And do you know how? It appealed to them because they don’t know the truth. They were falling all over themselves to embrace this woman’s lies because they don’t know God’s Word of Truth.
The fact is, if you know the truth, you’ll recognize a lie when you hear it! So let me ask you, how well do you know the Bible? Are you in a Sunday School Class? Are you reading it daily? Are you asking God’s Holy Spirit to guide you in your study of it’s truth? Are you better equipped to handle temptation than Eve was that horrible day?
I want you to note something else. Satan tempted Eve at a time when she was at ease with her guard down. In her book, God’s Story-Finding Meaning for Your Life in Genesis, Anne Graham Lotz writes,
“Eve walked through her Garden home one day, perhaps enjoying the tranquil perfection of the views around her as well as the satisfaction that was hers in being ruler over all. She probably felt the dew on the soft moss beneath her feet, smelled the fresh air that now and then carried with it the rich, heavy scent of blossoms, and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on her skin. Eve, newly created with the body of a woman yet the pure innocence and naivete of a baby, was totally relaxed. At ease. Off guard. At that moment she was approached by the most appealing animal in the garden. The serpent planned his approach carefully, making contact with Eve when she was off guard and alone.”
Listen, Christian-our adversary is just as crafty today as he was that day in Eden. He won’t attack you-he won’t try to lead you into temptation-when you are alert and ready, but rather when you are relaxed, alone, and off guard. So, let me just ask another question-what temptation is facing you at the moment? When you are at ease, relaxed, off guard, alone, what does the adversary dangle before your eyes? Remember, Satan knows exactly where and when you are the most susceptible to his tactics. He knows your weaknesses and he doesn’t “play fair” so he’s going to take advantage of you any chance he gets!
I also want you to note that Satan tempted Eve in the same way he tempts you and me. Herschel Hobbs writes,
“In this one verse we find the entire scope of temptation. One is physical appetite. ‘…the tree was good for food…’ Another is aesthetic nature. ‘…it was pleasant to the eyes…’ The third is ambition. ‘…a tree desired to make one wise…’ Every kind of temptation may be fitted into one of these three categories. Satan has no new ways. Indeed why should he? He catches us with the same old bait. He deludes us into thinking that sin is up-to-date, the in thing, when all the while it is as old-fashioned as Eden.”
What can we else can we learn from this text? By studying this first Messianic prediction, we can make three predicitons of our own, beginning with this one:
(1) Sin has been and always will be a problem.
Based on this one verse I can predict with complete confidence that there is no human being living on this planet who does not disobey God in thought, word, deed, and inaction. I make this prediction based on this text that tells us that sin entered the world through the disobedience of the first people, and their sin nature has been passed down to us all. As Paul says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Now, this is not something that our culture likes to admit. In fact, our society seems to be in denial when it comes to sin. These days sin is not something we like to talk about. It’s definitely not what you would call politically correct. Calvin Miller writes, “The word ‘sinful’ was once considered to be an important part of theology but of late its only an adjective we apply to gooey desserts and women’s perfume.”
And the sad fact is, this way of thinking can be found in many Christian circles. Even believers have a hard time thinking of themselves as sinners. These days it’s a concept that just seems too extreme. I remember hearing a candidate for the deaconate several years ago stating that he had never really committed any sins. Fortunately he wasn’t voted in as a deacon. The presbytery recognized that he wasn’t mature enough yet for that ministry.
A couple years ago, I came across a cartoon from Leadership Journal that showed four congregation members with concerned faces meeting in their pastor’s office. With earnest and imploring eyes they presented their shepherd with a clipboard filled with sheets of signatures of the people in the church. Their spokesman said, “Pastor, this petition requests that in your sermons you change the term ‘sinner’ to ‘person who is morally challenged.'”
The fact that sin is taboo in our culture and even in our churches has caused many of us to not be as familiar with this Biblical concept as we should, so let’s refresh our memories a bit. And the first thing we need to realize is that in the beginning our world was a perfect world. It wasn’t created evil. There was a time when there was no such thing as sin. Remember? Before the events chronicled in today’s text God looked at creation and pronounced everything “…good…” and said that man was, “…very good!” (Gen 1:31) So, everything began perfect. All nature was in harmony and free from pain and decay. The first man and woman were perfect in body and spirit, harboring no evil thoughts. They were in perfect harmony and joyful companionship with nature, each other, and with God, Who spoke with them face to face every day as a dear friend. At first, things were good, but with the fall, all human history became tainted by that which is very bad. For example: Genesis 4 records the first murder, a case of fratricide. Verse 19 contains the first mention of polygamy. Verse 23 tells of another act of murder. And from there the human race declines so bad that by Genesis 6:5 it says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was on evil continually.” In subsequent chapters the Genesis record tells us of the beginnings of such evil actions as homosexuality (19:1-5), incest (19:30-38), idolatry (31:30-35), rape (34:1-2), mass murder (34:25-29) harlotry, (38:14-19), and numerous other forms of wickedness and sin. But-as Genesis 3 tells us-all this evil stemmed from the actions of our ancestors, Adam and Eve, who used their God-given freedom in that garden to choose to do wrong.
I also want you to note that evil and goodness are not equal opposites. No, evil is dependent on good. Evil is like a parasite. Thomas Williams puts it this way, “Evil is to good, not as black is to white, but rather as rust is to metal, as disease is to health, as death is to life.” He’s right because evil can exist only where it can feed on good. Evil cannot precede good because it cannot exist independent of good. C. S. Lewis writes,
“You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. Goodness is, so to speak, itself; badness is only spoiled goodness.”
Look at it this way. People who sin-people who commit evil-are grasping for good but they are trying to get it in the wrong way. For example: Gluttons eat too much because they desire the good taste of food and the feeling of a full stomach. Tyrants grasp for power because they desire significance. Adulterers and fornicators have sex because they want pleasurable sensations. Now, food, significance, and the pleasures of sex are all good things. God created them. There’s nothing wrong with desiring them. But, evil-sin-enters when we try to get these pleasurable things, these good things, in the wrong way, in ways that are contrary to God’s loving laws. So you see, sin is indeed a parasite that feeds on things that are inherently good.
In Lewis’ book Screwtape Letters, the arch-demon writes to a junior demon and says of God, “He made the pleasures. All our research so far [as demons] has not enabled us to produce even one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.” So, evil is dependent on good. It feeds on it and distorts it.
But getting back to my first prediction-all of us yield to Satan’s temptations. All of us have a problem with sin. All of us do evil, following in the footsteps of the first man and woman. As Mark Twain once put it, “We are all like the moon. We all have a dark side.” Deep down inside every human being is an inclination to evil-a fascination with sin. Have you ever wondered why your toddler does that one thing you hope he will not do? Have you ever wondered why teenagers instinctively rebel against authority? Have you ever wondered why politicians risk everything they have for a moment of pleasure or additional power? Have you ever been shocked to discover that a co-worker you thought was as straight as an arrow turns out to be a wife abuser? Have you ever wondered why you have an inner attraction to gambling or pornography or swearing? Have you ever wondered why gossip is so appealing? Have you ever wondered why you, a righteous person, lose your temper on the way home from church just because traffic is backed up? It’s all because of sin-and all people are plagued by it. All people sin! It’s not that we can’t do good. We do. It’s just that on our own we can’t keep from doing bad. In theological terms we are totally depraved. Though made in God’s image we have fallen. And because we have fallen, we’re corrupt to the core. The very center of our being is selfish and perverse. Psalm 51:5 David got it right when he said, “I was born a sinner-yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” And, every human being born-no matter how cute they look in the hospital nursery-has this problem, this tendency to sin.
(2) Here’s my second prediction. Sin will always have painful consequences.
Satan never mentioned this fact when he tempted Eve. He said nothing about the aftermath of her actions-and he doesn’t mention that to you and me either. As 2nd Thessalonians 2:10 says, “Satan deceives those who are perishing.” And he does! For example: he fails to say anything about the trauma that women go through after every abortion. He fails to bring up the dirty feeling of being used that comes after sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend-a feeling that will haunt your marriage relationship years later. He says nothing about the panic and fear that grips you when you go through the mail and every time you answer the phone-after you cheated on your tax return. I could go on and on because there are serious consequences to all sin.
In his book, Genesis in Time and Space, Francis Schaeffer points out several areas of alienation that have resulted because of Adam and Eve’s sin here in our text.
A. First there was psychological separation.
Man was separated from himself. Look at verse 7, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Up until this point there was no shame, no guilt. Now, because of their sin, they are ashamed. The virus of sin introduced all the psychological problems of low self-esteem, poor self-image, and self-consciousness-problems we still battle with today.
B. Then because of their sin there was spiritual separation.
Man was separated from God. Look at verses 8-10. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Before their sin, Adam and Eve felt comfortable in the presence of God. But now they felt uncomfortable with their Creator. They felt guilty and didn’t want to be in His holy presence. All the spiritual estrangement that people still feel today-the emptiness, the dead-end searches down one religion after another, the disrespect for the Bible, the disinterest in church, the dislike of truly righteous people–all these varieties of spiritual separation stem from when Adam and Eve brought sin into the world.
C. Then there was social separation.
Man was separated from his fellow man. We see this in Adam and Eve blaming each other for their sin. Robert Russell pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville says, “When God confronted him with his sin, Adam took it like a man. He blamed his wife.” And he did. He essentially said, “I’m the victim here. She made me do it. In fact, God, since You made this woman. It’s Your fault!” Marital strife, divorce, frivolous lawsuits, gossip, hatred, and war-all the various kinds of social separation-were all introduced into the world because of Adam and Eve’s sin.
D. And then there was environmental separation.
Look at verses 17-18, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ CURSED is the GROUND because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field." In other words, the whole physical world was thrown off kilter because of sin. Weeds and erosion, floods and droughts, volcanoes and earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, bugs and viruses, all these environmental horrors were introduced because of sin. The New Testament says all of creation groans, longing to have this reversed-longing to be redeemed and set right by the Creator.
E. Finally, there was physical separation.
Man was separated from his own body. Look at verse 19 where God says: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” From that point on, Adam and Eve could no longer eat of the Tree of Life, and because of that they began to age and move toward death. Adam lived 930 years and then he died and ever since that time, every person born has gone through the aging process such that eventually their spirit separates from their worn out body. All of us move toward death, and let me tell you as a human whose body feels less young and more old every day, it’s not fun. What happens to the Christian after death is glorious, but up until that point it’s painful and frustrating. It’s not pretty and it’s a consequence of this first sin. All the funerals that have ever been done and ever will be done are a result of sin. As Paul puts it that’s sin’s wage.
Sin always has painful consequences and it always will. Now, this would be a pretty pessimistic sermon if it weren’t for one more prediction. So, here it is:
(3) God has a plan.
Our Creator has a plan to deal with our sin. Actually, this is more of a reverse forecast, because as Genesis 3:15 tells us, God has always had a plan–a plan that was wrapped up in the Person of Jesus Christ. Genesis 3:15 is indeed the first mention of Christmas in the entire Bible. You might have missed it because the name “Jesus” isn’t in the text, but He is there nonetheless. Look at it. You see, Jesus is the “seed of the woman” Who would one day make His entrance into this world in a most unlikely fashion. I say unlikely because in Hebrew the male is considered the one who has the seed. Children are normally referred to as the “offspring” or the “seed” of the father. But this prediction said that a day would come when a child would be born from the seed of a woman-which is a way of saying Jesus would be born of a virgin. He would not have an earthly father-but rather through the power of the Holy Spirit-the Messiah’s Father would be God Himself.
Do you see the “location” in the Bible of this first Christmas promise of God? As I said earlier, our Heavenly Father didn’t waste any time. He didn’t wait until Deuteronomy the fifth book of the Old Testament or Malachi-the last book! No, God issued this promise of His Plan in the first book. Think about that for a moment. God made this plan at the dawn of time-in fact before that! So that’s how long God has loved you. That’s how long He has planned Your redemption!
In mushy movies guys often tell their sweethearts, “I’ve loved you all my life. I’ve loved you even before I met you.” which is silly because you can’t love someone you don’t know. But God, our omniscient, omnipresent God, has known you from the molecular level out and loved what He knew about you from before time began! God’s great love has reached across time to you and me and it has always been His plan to send His only Son to crush our enemy. Hebrews 2:14 says, ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy Him Who hold the power of death that is, the devil.” 1st John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
And a study of the Gospel accounts of Holy Week shows that Jesus clearly fulfilled this first Messianic prophecy. That horrible Friday Satan would strike His heel as He died on the cross. But on the third day Jesus would rise again and crush Satan. By the way, this one verse-Genesis 3:15-is called, “the Protevangelium,” the first Gospel, because it is the full gospel in embryo-the first predicion of the Good News that through His sinless life and atoning death Jesus would overturn the curse of the Fall. As Hebrews 2:15 says, Jesus came to “…free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Jesus came to destroy or undo the works of our enemy. Martin Luther wrote, “The prince of darkness grim; we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure; for lo, his doom is sure, one little WORD shall fell him!” And what is that word? The word is Jesus!
As I said a moment ago, we’re sinners-hopelessly lost-but because Jesus came, we don’t have to stay that way. It’s our choice. We can choose to live as victims of our depravity or we can live as victors through the power of Jesus. All we need to do is admit our sin and accept God’s Christmas gift, inviting Jesus Christ into our lives as Savior and Lord. If you’ve never made this choice, do so today!
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. And whatever you do–in word or in deed–do it all in the name of Christ giving thanks to God the Father through Him.