Wednesday, 2 April 2014

THE FIRST GOSPEL (1)








 
  
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”    (Gen 3:15)




Belonging to a tradition that does not observe Lent does not absolve us of a responsibility to meditate upon the Cross as we approach Easter.


This we shall aim to do beginning today, and with many posts over the coming weeks leading up to the Easter celebrations.

And in order to understand the Cross we need to start at the beginning.

 Despite the title, our subject matter is (mercifully) not a discussion of the theory of Marcan priority in the four gospels or any such thing. Instead in this series of posts we are seeking to answer the question, where is the Good News first preached?

 Where in Scripture is the first proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?


 Here some might opt for Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Others for Jesus’ powerful declaration of His Messiahship upon unfolding the Isaiah scroll in Luke 4:16-19, or the announcement of the coming Kingdom of God under the ministry of John the Baptist. 

 Still others would point us to that very scroll that Jesus opened that day in Nazareth and identify instead the “Old Testament Gospel” that is the Book of Isaiah as being the first preaching of the Good News.

But the first proclamation of the Gospel was actually long before any of these.

 Instead the Good News was first preached to men at the very dawn of human history and in the Garden of Eden itself. It was proclaimed in the direct aftermath of the catastrophe that we call the Fall (Gen 3:1-19).

In fact in reading that whole passage we see that God revealed to us the Good News even before He delivered to us the bad news!

Even before judgement was pronounced upon our first parents, and a curse declared upon the ground for their sakes (v16-19), the Lord God had already unveiled His grand strategy for redeeming all of this.

 He did so by pronouncing the doom of one of the central characters of the drama in the garden, Satan- in the narrative embodied as the Serpent. 


“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" 

 This verse is called by theologians the Protoevangelium: the first proclamation of the Good News.


The preacher Charles Simeon called this verse “the sum and summary of the whole Bible.”And when Charles Wesley wrote his famous carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” he included lines based upon Genesis 3:15.

Come, Desire of Nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home.
Rise the woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head.”

It is here, in the immediate aftermath of the calamity that has just overtaken the human race, that God first reveals to us His Gospel of salvation.


This reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is no Plan B.

God has never had a Plan B. 

From the very beginning, indeed prior to anything that could meaningfully be described as a beginning, God has always known what He was going to do about the Fall of Man. He did not have to say to Adam, "Go away until I can think of something.” 

What He would do had been decreed from all eternity

What we see in the Protoevangelium is the immediate injection into a desperate situation of hope.

The painful consequences of transgression will shortly be outlined. The dreadful penalty for rebellion made known. The consequences will play themselves out for millennia, bringing incalculable misery to numberless lives.

But before all of this even begins, hope will be given.

Someone has said, “Where there is no hope for the future, there is no power for the present.”

How true this is!

 Men and women can live without many things but it is impossible to live without hope. It is an essential requirement of human existence, scarcely less vital than food or water. No one lives for very long without hope.

This, of course, does not mean that people are unable to live without the sure and certain hope which is embodied in the Christian Gospel. Unquestionably billions of people manage to do this every day of their lives.

But we need to realize that those who lack Christian hope do not actually live without any hope.  

They still have hopes and dreams just as we do. It is just that in rejecting the hope of the Gospel they instead look longingly for…something else.

That something else might be the hope of a dream spouse or a dream house, a dream car or a dream cure. This kind of hope can be embodied in anything from a world cruise to a football team hoisting high a trophy.   

 It goes without saying that all of these hopes are mere worthless trinkets compared to the hope of the Gospel. But so intrinsic is the human need for hope that even false hope will suffice in order to meet it -as the queue for the lottery testifies each week.

The Protoevangelium was the hope that God gave to His people. It showed us that form the very beginning He had always had a plan of salvation in mind, and He revealed it to us as soon as the need for it was apparent.   

And the hope declared to us is the hope of a Man.

A Man who is described for the moment only by the enigmatic phrase, “the Seed of the woman.” We must look in due course at what is meant by that.

We also need to note that mention is made here of two seeds. 

Two men are promised to us. 
One of these has already been manifested, the other is still awaited even today.

As Easter comes and the Cross looms large in our thinking, let us reflect on what this pre-announcing of the Gospel means for fallen man.
 
We have seen that no sooner had the misery of sin been unleashed upon our race than the promise of an eventual end to that misery was given.   

At no time in history have we ever been asked to live without hope.