The great preacher Charles Spurgeon once called ministers of the gospel of grace to stake their lives on the truth and righteousness of Christ: “The want of the period is brethren who know the gospel for themselves, who have had a personal experience of its power, who have tested it as silver is tried in a furnace of earth, and who set such a value upon it, that they would sooner part with life than give it up.” Spurgeon’s words certainly apply to youth ministers and parents today just as much as they applied to the listeners of Victorian England.
The Big Hopeless Mess
The Church of Jesus Christ needs pastors, youth workers, and a new generation who has courage to stand in the gospel of grace when the world around them seems to fall. Issues of political tribalism, increasing teen suicide, bullying, depression, and mental illness abound. Abortion rates, biblical illiteracy, and gender and sexuality issues seem like separate matters, but put together they make one big seemingly hopeless mess.
The cultural climate of today – one that is catechizing our teens all on its own – has much to contribute to the sinfulness of humanity; but as the apostle Paul said, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against… the rulers of this dark age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Satan has been studying the weaknesses of humanity ever since the Fall in the garden of Eden. He has won many battles, and continues to be a thorn in our side. He attempts to shatter the beautiful vase of humanity, and lead us down a path of slaughter. He – the true spirit of darkness – is a key contributer to this mess.
The Snake Crusher
Thankfully, I primarily love Christmastime not because it is a time of joy, laughter, and gifts, but because it is a time to remember the humble coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as our solution to the mess. It is a time to remind ourselves of Old Testament prophecies and promises that give us courage in a dark world. Genesis 3:15 is the first messianic prophecy in the OT. In the midst of the Fall and the pronounced judgment for Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God said to the Serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise (crush) your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
There would be a lifelong war between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the devil. But in the end a singular offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent and defeat the powers of evil once and for all. God is a God of mercy, and so he makes plain that his image bearers will triumph over the wicked snake. Many of us are familiar with such a promise, but have thought little about the implications of this prophecy in relation to the coming of Jesus.
Youth ministers would do well to teach and explain a promise such as Gen. 3:15 to their youth students. Such teaching helps students pull their Bible’s together and demonstrates the beauty of God’s answered promises, and the centrality of Christ throughout all the Scriptures. By way of helpfulness, there are at least two implications from Genesis 3:15 that can be reflected on during the Christmas season.
- The birth of Jesus is linked with the peace of God.
Throughout the Old Testament, the war between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the devil wages on. Yet, in anticipation for the final defeat of Satan (which would culminate on a cross), Jesus’ coming is the beginning of peace. A great picture of this is found shortly after the birth of Jesus when his family had returned to Israel in order to present Jesus at the temple. This was a normal custom to offer a sacrifice and dedicate their first child to the holiness of God. A Jerusalem man by the name of Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he could see the Lord’s Messiah. Upon presenting Jesus in the temple, Simeon says, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk. 2:29-30).
First, Simeon experiences peace because God has kept his word. God always keeps his promises and does exactly as his word says. Secondly, the foundation of Simeon’s peace is the connection between Jesus and salvation. In the eyes of Simeon, the coming of Jesus is the announcement of salvation. Therefore the reason why Simeon can be at peace is because he recognizes that Jesus is the one who will bring ultimate peace. Peace is ushered in at Jesus’ first coming!
This connection is further made in Romans 16:20 where Paul says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” God brings his peace through his son Jesus Christ.
- In a mysterious way God crushes the head of Satan by our testimony.
In the previous verse, Paul alludes to the fact that God crushes Satan through Christ, yet he also states that he does so “under our feet.” How do we make sense of this? In Revelation 12 we are told that ultimately Satan is defeated by the testimony of the believers who trust in the finished work of Christ. John says, “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).
The coming of Christ not only anticipates the peace of God, but further looks to the final conquering of evil, through the Church. Our mysterious union with Christ allows us to participate in the final doing away of evil. We do this not on our own volition, not through our own ability, but by the blood-bought sacrifice of Jesus Christ and our faith in his work. Because this work is finalized, and the battle has already been won, believers can now stand with courage that they are victorious in Christ. They will give up their lives for the sake of the gospel and will say with Charles Spurgeon that they would rather part with life than give up the power of the gospel.
Christmas is certainly a time to reflect on the first coming of Jesus Christ. But we must remember that it is a time to reflect on the snake crusher who brings the peace of God in his incarnation and who ultimately makes both he and us conquerors through the blood of his cross. The gospel is precisely good news because Jesus brings peace and victory. This good news is first evident at the first coming of Jesus Christ.
Youth ministers can have confidence in the promises of God and teach them with boldness to students who may seem bored with church. The modern teenager needs to see and be enlivened by the truth that the first Christmas was foreshadowed long before Jesus even showed up on the scene. Teenagers need to see that God is truly a God of peace, not of worldly peace, but of cosmic peace. Only through a proper understanding of these truths will the next generation be able to say that they would sooner part with life than give up the good news of the gospel. May the peace of God and grace of Jesus Christ be with you during this time of the year.