The Promise of the Messiah

You probably don’t need reminding that you live in a fallen world, a world under the curse that God pronounced when Adam and Eve sinned. You listen to the news and you are reminded. And when you look honestly at yourself you are reminded again. But, as Genesis 3:15 & 4:25–26 point out, into our broken, hurting world, God promises to send the Seed of the woman. That gives you hope and comfort.

God gave his promise in the context of a curse. You need God’s promise because you stand guilty before him. Although not all the problems we face are the result of our particular sins, we all are guilty because we sinned in Adam and fell with him. Adam and Eve knew that they were guilty. Satan had suggested that they would be like God, knowing good and evil—but knowing evil experientially was far different from their expectations. Fig leaves were a pathetic covering for their guilt as well as for their nakedness. God, as the righteous judge, was questioning them, not because he needed information, but to bring them to see their guilt. The question of Genesis 3:11 focuses on God’s command, and gives opportunity for clear confession and repentance. With your first parents, you are guilty. Adam was your representative. You are involved in his guilt, but you also have added to his guilt placed on your account your liability for all of the daily sins you commit. You stand with Adam and Eve.

God pronounced curses because of sin. The serpent was cursed and would be the object of degradation and hatred. Yet, even the curse on creation, Genesis 3:17–19, shows that there is something drastically wrong with this world, see Romans 8:20–22. This curse contains a measure of common grace. It helps keep the world from being as bad as it can be. The ultimate object of the curse was Satan. He is the one cursed directly (Eve and Adam are affected by curses, but are not cursed directly). Note the structure: God questions the man, and the woman, and then speaks to (and pronounces a curse relating to) the serpent, the woman, and the man. The curse relates to and affects Adam and Eve and all of their sons and daughters. Although Moses is describing what happened historically to our first parents, the story he is telling is your story–because of the unique role Adam and Eve filled. The grief, pain, suffering, loss, and frustration you experience is the result of the curse. It strikes all of us, young and old, alike. See the curse–and look at two things: 1) Remember that sin has consequences. A nation that persists in taking the lives of the unborn will suffer consequences. The practice of waging war for reasons other than national defense will ultimately result in God’s judgment. The worship of wealth is a form of idolatry–and God does not look the other way forever. And the church too often becomes complacent, being more part of the culture than a prophetic voice confronting it. When the church looks for a political savior, it is likely to find what it looks for—but that will be a reed that pierces the hand of the one leaning on it. When we go through difficult times we need to ask ourselves if God is chastening his people and/or judging the unrepentant. 2) When you see the effects of the curse, appreciate more clearly the need for the Savior. Understand how cosmic his work truly is.

God promised you a Redeemer. God takes the initiative. He doesn’t leave us in the middle of the problem of our sin. He doesn’t just stir up enmity, he establishes it. In the context of the curse, God provides a promise, the very first promise in Scripture of a coming Redeemer. It is when you are most aware of your helplessness, your frailty, and above all, your sin, that you see most clearly your need of a deliverer. This Redeemer will remove the curse, and will ultimately restore paradise. But in the meantime om the space between Genesis and Revelation, there is conflict. The promise of the Messiah is part of an ongoing conflict. The woman will have a descendant, and God will place enmity between him and Satan. The rest of Scripture describes that conflict. It is there in Egypt when the infant boys are thrown into the Nile, it is there when David is tempted and sins, when Judah is led into captivity, and when Herod strikes out at the babies of Bethlehem. That conflict’s great battle happens at the cross and the empty tomb as the second Adam triumphs. Understand that everything you do happens in the context of this conflict. It either advances the kingdom of the Seed of the woman, or it contributes to the darkness of the seed of the serpent. You have entered into this true story. Your actions are part of it. The enthusiasm (or reluctance) with which you go back to work or school tomorrow reflects your consciousness of your role in this story. “The first redemptive revelation after the fall (Gen. 3:15) . . . predicted the final victory over sin, the removal of the curse, and, by implication, the return of the conditions of paradise.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the Old Testament, p. 37).

Take hope because God promised his Son. Hope rises with the birth of Cain—and then falls. You cannot jump from Genesis 3 to the last chapters of the Gospels, and then on to Revelation. We have all kinds of questions to satisfy our curiosity. The account is condensed, focusing on what God wants us to know about this period of time, about these people, and above all, about how he is working out his purposes. Exiled from the Garden, Adam and Eve have a son. She names him (remember Adam’s naming activity in the Garden as part of his work of exercising dominion)–she names him Cain, and explains that she has brought forth a man with the help of the Lord. Clearly she sees in his birth the hope that this is the promised one, that this son, brought forth with God’s help, will be the one to remedy the situation, to reverse the effects of the curse. The reason for the name speaks of a different attitude than the independence from God expressed in Genesis 3. This son is brought forth with the Lord’s help, in dependence on him. Hope is building, because of the assurance that the Lord does help his people. Could this be the promised child of the woman who would crush the head of the treacherous, deceptive, but now hated serpent? We’ve seen the fall into sin, but it is followed here in Genesis 4 with trust in the Lord. Hebrews 11 explicitly commends the faith of Abel. We don’t have time to dwell on the murder of Abel by Cain. He is angry with Abel because the latter’s sacrifice was accepted by the Lord and his was not. Moses gives us a thumbnail sketch of the Lord’s confrontation with him, his exile as a wanderer, and his descendants. You see this line (in a book that emphasizes family connections) advancing in dominion over the world (animal husbandry, development of music, and the rise of metallurgy), but culminating in Lamech’s brutal song of vengeance. But that is an aside. For our first parents, the sad fact is that they have lost both sons. Abel lies dead, his blood crying out for vengeance, and Cain, his murderer, has gone into exile. You can imagine the soul-searching questions facing Adam and Eve. Did we go wrong somewhere in rearing our sons? But you can’t always point the finger at a specific failure in parenting. If you were to speak in defense of Adam and Eve you could remind critics that both sons had learned, presumably from them, to worship the Lord by offering sacrifices. And both boys shared the same gene pool, and apparently received the same upbringing. Yet one is an exiled murderer, and the other is listed in Hebrews 11 as an outstanding example of faith. God’s faithfulness to his covenant does not guarantee that every covenant child will experience the blessing side of the covenant. Some reflect the judgment side. No the problem is not primarily a fault in child-rearing. It goes back earlier and deeper to the problem of original sin. Adam an Eve had disobeyed, and thus their sons entered a fallen, broken world. And while the first sin of our first parents was unique, every parent, every man, woman, and child (our Lord alone excepted) has our own guilt, our own disobedience. And there is indeed plenty of occasion to weep for our sins, our failures. But the problem is much bigger than the pain of a family broken by sibling murder. What has happened to that hope, that trust in the Lord expressed when Eve named her first son? What has happened to God’s promise?

God grants peace and comfort. After tracing the rebellious line of Cain, Genesis 4 takes you back to Adam and Eve. Again God blesses them with a child, another son. And this one the name Eve gives reflects “granted.” In their broken, painful situation, God has granted them another son. Again there is an expression of trust. The tragedy of what had taken place with Cain and Abel does not mean that God has forgotten, that he us unfaithful. Not only does their family continue, not only has God given them another child in place of Abel, but the promise of God continues. Seth has a son, whom he names Enosh. People begin to call on the name of the Lord, v. 26. What does that mean? There had been private worship of God before. Cain and Abel brought offerings in worship. But here is the first mention of corporate worship. If God is going to redeem his people tere is still place for trust, for worship, for faithful service of God. This is the anticipation of the promise of the Messiah. The promise is there, and it is being worked out. Genesis 5 gives the line from Seth to Noah, whose name resembles “comfort.” The genealogy has the depressing refrain, “and he died,” because it is still in this broken, sin-cursed world, but it leads to Noah, then on to Abraham, to David, and ultimately to the Messiah. Genesis 3 and 4 call you to see, not just the brokenness of the world, but your own sin and guilt as well. But then it refuses to allow you to allow you to wallow in feelings of guilt. It shows you the gracious gift God has given as the remedy, not just for feelings of guilt, but for real guilt. And that leads, not just back to Eden, but to a garden-city that is far better than Eden, where there is no serpent, where there will never be a fall. “The New Testament makes it clear to us that no man is to partake of the tree of life until he has the right to do so, and there must come the second Adam, who by his obedience (as the first Adam disobeyed) obtains for his people the right to partake of the tree of life. We will eat of that tree when we have the right to partake of it, and that right we receive through Christ.” (Edward J. Young, In the Beginning: Genesis 1–3 and the Authority of Scripture, p. 110). In giving Seth, God is assuring that One will come whose blood will speak better things than that of Abel. (Remember the New Testament Scripture?) Instead of crying out for vengeance, his blood speaks the comfort and joy of forgiveness. The joy and peace sung outside of Bethlehem, the triumph of the resurrection, and the wonder of the new heavens and earth are all encapsulated in what God granted Adam, Eve, and you. And notice where is found that description of blood that speaks of better things than that of Abel. It is in the context of worship. And the scene of worship in Hebrews 12 is not in the future. In Christ you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem.

You will continue to be confronted by the curse—as you listen to the news, and as you look at your own heart and life. But as you wrestle with the what ifs, the if onlys, think of Seth. Remind yourself of the anticipation of the promise that God gave to Adam and Eve, and take hope. And do what the saints in Hebrews 12 are doing. Do what the saints in heaven are doing in Revelation 4 and 5. Do what you will do throughout eternity—worship your great promise-keeping God!

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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