In this excerpt from Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 25 Devotions Leading to Christmas, Mark Yarbrough shares a reflection on the connections between the serpent in the garden of Eden and Jesus’ ultimate victory over death.
In a recent interview with Yarbrough, he named this chapter his favorite from his new Christmas devotional:
For a five-year span during my teenage years I worked on and off at the Double “N” Ranch in Menard County, Texas. It was fabulous. I learned the joys of hard work and simple pleasures. But I also learned about the ranch enemy—diamondback rattlesnakes. Unfortunately, we had plenty of them, and they disrupted the thought of every step.
On one occasion, I was riding in the back of a pickup truck. As it slowed down near a pasture entrance, I foolishly jumped off into an unassuming patch of tall Johnsongrass, ready to open the gate. Upon landing, I heard an all-too-familiar sound: Tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, tic. Pause. Tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, tic, tic. I froze. I could hear the snake but could not see it. Then I felt it move underneath my boots. I had inadvertently pinned the snake as I landed in the grass. I had two choices: (A) I could try to jump out of the waist-high grass and risk falling or sliding back over the snake, or (B) I could start stomping the snake to death. I chose B. That snake paid the price! After one solid minute of the serpent death-dance, I had detached the snake’s head, pulverizing him into ground meat.
Pause that story for a moment.
Long before my encounter on the ranch, another more crafty serpent engaged our ancestors in the garden of Eden with the intent to deceive and kill. Prior to that moment all was right with the world. Man and woman had been placed as stewards in the garden and charged to rule over God’s creation. But there was a serpent. He was cunning and deceptive, with an agenda to destroy. This moment (Gen 3:1–5) is shocking because the serpent spoke and he challenged the caretakers, Adam and Eve, to trust his words as opposed to the words of God.
The text is clear that after assessing the tempter’s words (they will be like God, knowing good and evil), man and woman broke the command previously given (2:16–17) forbidding them to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Both Adam and Eve ate (3:6–7), subsequently choosing to follow up that moment with their own brand of deception and lies.
After speaking to the man and woman about this atrocity (3:8–13), the creator God spoke to the serpent with forceful certainty. In that garden moment the serpent was banished to crawl on the ground—like snakes do today. Was that particular serpent previously upright? We don’t know. But in that moment the Creator displayed his power over the deceiver. More importantly, an even greater proclamation was made: one would come from the ancestry of woman, whom the serpent had deceived, who would resolve the conflict between the deceiver and humanity by a blow to the serpent’s head.
Don’t lose the garden imagery and the reality behind it. One from the line of woman (an upright man) will one day crush the head of a serpent (a ground-crawling snake). The original hearers of this text understood the conflict and the picture it represented. In that time-bound garden moment, God made an eternal promise that he would send someone through the lineage of humanity to deal with the evil serpent once and for all. That one would come and do the serpent death-dance and eradicate the evil stranglehold that imprisoned humanity.
However, don’t miss the powerful twist. Remember my snake encounter? After pulverizing that snake in the grass, I sat down to catch my breath. That’s when I felt it. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. A pulsating pain in my right heel captured my undivided attention. No, I had not been bitten by the snake, but I had beaten that snake so hard I had torn a small tendon in my heel. I couldn’t walk for several weeks because of the pain I brought to bear upon myself in order to eradicate that evil!
Do you see it? The biblical picture and promise are powerful.
God sent his Son, one born of woman (Gal 4:4), through a virgin named Mary (Matt 1:18), to deal with the penalty of sin and to offer reconciliation with God ( John 3:16). How did this happen? We see the shrouded promise of the Christ in Genesis 3:15, and we frequently focus on what seems to be a trading of blows (heel versus head) between that ancient serpent (Rev 20:2) and God’s redeemer (Matt 1:21). God said to the serpent, “He [the one of woman] will crush your head, and you [the serpent] will strike his heel.”
While Satan certainly did his evil work and surely thought himself victorious when the Babe of Bethlehem hung on the cross, we dare not forget that our Savior went there willingly. In crushing the head of the serpent, the Son of God, a pure and perfect man, freely brought exceedingly great pain and suffering upon himself in order to eradicate evil. That’s love personified! He is the great Serpent Stomper.
Remember that his pain was our gain.
It may seem strange to start this Advent season with the cross as opposed to the cradle, but I think there is a great benefit in doing so. After all, the infant in the manger came to take our debt upon himself in order to reconcile us to God. As someone once said, the Son of God became the Son of Man, so that the sons and daughters of mankind could become the sons and daughters of God. Dear friend, let’s remember where this is going. Let’s frame the nativity by not forgetting that, in his first lap, the Messiah came to pull us out of this mess. He came down to our level to deliver us up to his. And his path was the way of the cross. Read Matthew 27:11–66. It makes our appreciation of the gentle manger scene all the more relevant and purposeful at Christmas.
Dear Lord, as I start this December, please help me to see the purpose of the nativity. Our Savior came to die and pay my debt. Because he loves us, he took on flesh at Bethlehem in order to present himself to the world as our atoning sacrifice. Help me to remember where this Advent story is ultimately going and to appreciate it more fully. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
This post is adapted from Tidings of Comfort and Joy: 25 Devotions Leading to Christmas by Mark Yarbrough (Kirkdale Press, 2021).