Crushing the Serpent’s Head

Lesson 62: Romans 16:19-20

Crushing the Serpent’s Head

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Several years ago, my son was out doing some gardening when his hand brushed up against something that moved under one of the bushes. It was a fair size rattlesnake.

Here was a situation I did not think we should ignore. The snake had found a nice cool spot in front of our house not far from windows we often keep open, and just a few feet from our front door. I was concerned that he might decide that he’d find better shade inside our house than under the plant.

As we stood a respectable distance away weighing our options a sheriff’s patrol car drove by making his usual rounds. I hurried out to the street, flagged him down and explained the situation. The deputy got out of his cruiser and walked over to evaluate the situation. He looked grim and agreed that we had a dangerous situation there.

He mentioned what we already knew. If the rattler was left where it was he would pose a serious danger to our neighbors little children and pets. He also commented about the likelihood of his slithering into our house. Having had snakes get into another house before, this was very much on my mind. So I asked him what needed to be done? All he said was that he wasn’t authorized to do anything about it.

So I asked the next logical question, “Who is authorized?” He said that I could call a wildlife control help line. I was on the phone fast. When I finally got a human to talk to me they said they would have someone there within 48 hours. What was I supposed to do? Keep the snake comfortable and entertained until then?

I asked if there was someplace I could take him if I captured him. The deputy told me that he wasn’t sure but it would be illegal to let him loose anywhere. I was not about to keep him as a pet.

Then he told me that there was another option. I had the authority to kill it. Me?!!!

Reluctantly, I selected the shovel with the longest handle. I stood as close to the snake as I dared. It was one of those moments when time seemed to stand still. There he was, that dangerous but quite marvelous animal. He did not mean to hurt anybody at the moment, but had gotten into a place where he should not have been. I debated the moral issues, but came to the conclusion real fast. I knew of no other options.

I held the shovel at a carefully planned angle. In my mind I went through the motion a few times. I did not want to miss and get him angry with me. I looked at the deputy who was standing a safe distance away looking as if he was about to run. I asked him if he was authorized to use his gun if I missed and the snake went after me? He said that he was authorized to do that if my life was in immediate danger. I was not real comforted relying upon someone I did not know well shooting at a striking snake while I was standing close to his target. This was not something I wanted to count on as a good option.

There was no putting it off any longer. With one fast but carefully planned move the head of the snake was crushed. A cheer went up from the crowd of neighbors that had been watching at a very safe distance.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, God used a similar illustration to explain his promise to deliver his people from the power of Satan. In Genesis 3:15 God spoke to the serpent, the embodiment of Satan, and said, “And 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.”

A deadly blow will be administered to Satan by the seed of a woman. We live in a time when we can look back with greater understanding of that promise. Satan’s defeat was assured by the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Paul had just urged the Roman believers to learn to recognize false teachers among them. They were causing dissent and offenses by teaching things contrary to God’s word. They were to be avoided. Their enticing and flattering lessons were appealing, but were also dangerously deceptive. In contrast, Paul now turns to commend the faithful believers for their obedience to God.

The Roman testimony for Christ was reason for joy.

Romans 16:19a, “For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; …”

Evidently the obedience of the Romans had become well known. Unlike those who caused dissensions and offenses in the church, these faithful ones were intent upon obeying the revealed word of God. They humbly submitted to what God said, rather than to follow the theories and words of those who thought they could reason better than their Creator. They did not let the opposition deter them from taking an obedient stand.

Paul rejoiced over what he had heard about them. It is wonderful to see people stand strong against adversity. It is encouraging to see obedience as an evidence of God at work.

Then he warned them to keep on with their good testimony.

Romans 16:19b, “… but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.”

This is a sincere warning. Even true believers can be drawn in by enticing but deceptive ideas. Though the Romans had a reputation for standing firm, there was the danger of being led astray.

Regarding what is good, they must be wise. We should all know the truth of God’s word well enough that we will not be taken in by deceptions. Paul in warning the Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 said, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

The best way to recognize the counterfeit is to know the genuine article well. By knowing the true doctrines and moral principles taught in Scripture, and by wisely seeking God’s grace to conform to them, a person is strengthened to resist attractive appeals to follow after heresies and moral compromise.

Regarding what is evil, they must be “simple,” or as some translate it “innocent.” The Greek word being translated is akeraios (ακεραιος). Literally it means “not-horned”. The root word keras (κερας) refers to a horn like on an ram, bull, or similar animal. One common use of it was used to refer to the little hooks on some letters in the alphabet. These horns or adornments were added to basic orthographic forms. When the “a” (α) is added to a Greek word, it negates it. The idea of being “not-horned” came to refer to something that is pure or not-mixed with additions, or harmless as in an animal without horns. Evil needs to be kept simple in our minds without adornments, exceptions, and carefully crafted excuses. A believer must be without man-made exceptions or additions to what God spoke. They should recognize and avoid the burrs that change the shape of the main issue. Believers should also not use evil an a harmful way. The concepts of being “simple” and “harmless” meld together in this interesting Greek word.

The word is found in only 2 other places in the New Testament. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus warned, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The same word is used there of being “harmless” as doves. It is also used by Paul in Philippians 2:15, “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” Then in the next verse, Philippians 2:16, he gives the same advice regarding the remedy, “holding fast the word of life, …”

Each time the word show a contrast. It describes standing firmly against the deceivers around us. Each time the same answer is given, follow after what God says in his word. As Dr. Haldane puts it, we must be “without cunning, dexterity, or skill” in the doing of evil.

God’s truth must be taken in its simple meaning, without spin or exceptions. God’s word and ways must be kept in simplicity, not colored with claimed innovative insights which turn what is good into a harmful tool of evil. We must learn to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

Calvin interpreted Paul as saying, “I would have you to be harmless and simple as to the doing of evil; but in doing good, to be most prudent, whenever it may be necessary, so that you may preserve your integrity.”

The Roman’s good testimony up to that point was being looked upon by many. Therefore they must stand strong as an example of what is right and true. They had learned well concerning Christ and the gospel of grace. They must not become good learners of bad things. False teachers love to target simple believers and snare them.

Paul then offers this firm promise.

Romans 16:20a, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly…”

He calls God, “The God of Peace”. The Lord is the author of all true peace. Regardless if it is freedom from calamity, or an inward calm in the midst of it, God is the source. His overruling power is all that restrains evil and provides whatever inward rest our bodies or souls enjoy.

God will crush Satan, that unseen enemy behind his evil empire. Satan is our “adversary”. As the “devil” he is the accuser. In the imagery of the serpent he is the tempter, a liar, the prince of this world, the destroyer.

So why did God create Satan? There is a central eternal plan underlying all that God made and does. Creation is for the purpose of disclosing the divine nature and glory. That nature includes the qualities of Justice, Mercy, and Sovereign Holiness.

God would not only redeem a family of undeserving humans from a lost race. He would also crush a spirit being which was made to become the ultimate enemy. That was the purpose behind the words of Genesis 3:15, that by the seed born of a woman God would crush the head of the serpent. Not just the snake Satan used in the temptation in Eden, but the Devil himself!

That part of the promise was to be fulfilled in stages: It was a plan that had no beginning. It always existed in the unchanging mind of God. It was set in motion by the creation and fall of Satan, then developed in the spiritual and moral battles through history which all lead to the final victory.

A quick preview of that plan was shown in Genesis 3:15 right after mankind fell into sin. Throughout the ages the prophets spoke of the ultimate victory over sin and death by a Redeemer.

Then Jesus came, God in human flesh, born as the seed of a woman. As he said of himself in Matthew 12:28-29, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”

Jesus had just cast out demons (Matthew 12:26). The “strong man” he spoke of was Satan, the Lord of the demons. Jesus was about to plunder his house in the victory of the cross. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus “spoiled” the principalities and powers of Satan. John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.”

Hebrews 2:14-15 speaks about the death of Jesus, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Revelation 20:2-3 tells how God’s angel, “laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.”

Today, Satan no longer holds the nations, the Gentiles, in deception. That is the only bondage mentioned here in Revelation 20. The era of Jewish dominance ended at Calvary, and the church became a non-national family of God. All through this age the strong man is bound by the power of Christ and kept from the freedom he once had to deceive the Gentiles.

Jesus has taken the spoils from his kingdom. The Gentile believers in Christ’s true church testify that Satan is defeated already. Though in ways other than the deception of the nations spoken of in these verses we find Satan still quite active. The battle goes on. Though the Devil no longer keeps the vast world of non-Jews from believing, there is a daily struggle in which we all engage against the orchestrated evil around us.

The amazing message Paul refers to here in Romans 16:20 is that God is using us in that process. We are the army of the King of kings. Satan is being crushed under our feet!

As the seeds of women, as literal descendants of Eve, as spiritual descendants of the covenant people, as adopted children of God redeemed by the ultimate Seed of the Woman, Jesus Christ, we are instruments in the hand of God to continue to trample upon the seed of the serpent.

Though we are the army, it is God who does the conquering. We are the means he has ordained to use. So Paul says to the Roman believers that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. We are the Creator’s tools. A saw without a craftsman cuts no wood. Yet we are more than an inanimate saw. God uses us as persons in his plan. Satan uses the disruptors of the church (Romans 16:17-18) as his instruments, but still they act only by the allowance of God.

So, how do we crush Satan under our feet? The method had just been explained in the previous verse: our obedience to God’s principles and promises as revealed in his word. Satan’s kingdom is diminished as Christians show the transforming power of their Holy King.

The obedience of the Roman believers and of all of God’s people is not done in secret. It is seen and observed like a shining light. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The greatest weapon that undermines the false kingship of Satan and proves his defeat is the evidence of the plundering of our lost souls by the conquering Savior. To advance God’s kingdom, to humble the great Devil, we do this by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and by the use of all the means of Grace God tells us to use. We should each develop the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives for others to see. Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. …”

No greater attack can be made upon the kingdom of Satan. No greater display can be made of the power of the gospel than to show its results. We proclaim that once we were blind, but now in Christ we see.

Of course, in this age the victory advances imperfectly and incompletely. The “soon” crushing of the serpent’s head under our feet has to do with the little victories we believers enjoy in this age. It was happening even as Paul wrote these words. Then, very soon, the gospel would spread through the Roman world like wildfire.

There is a greater dimension to this promise too. The victory will become complete in the return of Jesus Christ in glory and judgment. Revelation 20:7-10, “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

This last victory is not much of a battle. Satan assembles his attack but it doesn’t tell us that his armies ever get to start the battle. Fire falls from heaven, then the battle is over. Satan and his remaining forces are devoured and cast into eternal damnation.

So we fight valiantly against Satan with the full confidence that in Christ we are more than conquerors!

Paul closes with a benediction.

Romans 16:20b, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”

This is no mere wish, or formulary closing. It is a bold pronouncement. As we battle on we are not alone. As we battle evil we are not alone. The grace of our Lord is with us as our strength. His undeserved promise will inevitably be victorious through us. Central to God’s covenant is that Jesus is Immanuel — “God with us”.

As Satan, that old serpent, lays coiled up threatening to strike at us and our loved ones, we stand with the shovel in our hands confident in the promises of God and the inner power of the Holy Spirit.

We must make sure our aim at the evil one is taken carefully. He is a dangerous enemy. If our attack on him is presumptuous, careless, in any power but obedience to God’s ways, we will miss the mark and feel the fangs of the evil one as he strikes out at us. But when we obey and strike the target as a part of God’s plan, all of heaven will cheer as Christ’s church advances and the Devil’s head is being crushed by us.

What again is that weapon that is able to devastate the greatest enemy ever created? It is the shining light of the gospel announced in God’s word, secured on the Cross, applied to our hearts by grace, then seen in our changed hearts and lives.

If we live like the world, or are taken in by the enticing smooth words promised by our culture, if we live for wealth, hobbies, pastimes, leisure, reputation or lust we enter battle without the prescribed weapon. All alternative weapons will fail and leave us vulnerable. However, as we live for Jesus putting his glory, our duties to him and to our loved ones above all else, Satan’s head is crushed under our feet.

How simple really. In our homes, at school, at work, in the market places, and with our neighbors we must show that we are brought back into fellowship with our Creator by grace through the Savior. We openly admit to that saving grace. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we show love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Against this there is no defense for the evil one. No failure is possible for us. Victory is ours people of God! We cannot be defeated.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Rising Sun of Righteousness

The Rising Sun of Righteousness

Reflections upon Malachi 4:1-3
by Bob Burridge ©2010

I sometimes enjoy getting up early enough to see the sun rise. There’s something different about it’s coming up than the reverse where it’s going down. Probably played in reverse on a video recording we might not be able to tell the difference. Both are astoundingly beautiful and declare God’s glory with profound eloquence. What’s different about the sunrise is that when the sun is just coming up it sets the stage for the work day ahead. The darkness we slept in evaporates away.

The day doesn’t come all at once. It stretches out from the darkness slowly showing us its power to erase the night. The shadows that hid things we might trip over slowly shrink until by noon time they’re next to nothing at all. As the morning turns bright we can see to get on with our work. There’s a freshness in our hearts as the new day starts. There are all sorts of possibilities ahead.

The Prophet Malachi uses this as an analogy to encourage God’s people in Malachi 4:1-3 (That’s 3:19-21 in the Hebrew text); He had just warned the unrighteous who were oppressing God’s people.
Then he said,

“For behold, the day is coming,  Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, Says the Lord of hosts, ‘That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,’ Says the Lord of hosts.”

The wings of the sun are its rays as they reach out to touch the darkness. God’s power to purify and to conquer evil will heal the victims of God’s enemies. It will make his people grow strong and become victors over their enemies.

This verse had a special application in the life of the great Presbyterian leader Archibald Alexander. He was born in 1772 in a cabin made of square logs in South River, Virginia, not far from Lexington. Three years later his family moved to the Forks to be closer to the Lexington area because his father had a mercantile business. When the Revolutionary War came in 1776, all mercantile businesses were suspended. His father became a deputy sheriff working with his own father in the new county that formed.

Though he lived in the rough lands just being settled Archibald had a good upbringing. When he was seven he had memorized the entire shorter catechism. He had already started studies in Latin and had become an expert swimmer and horseman. On his eleventh birthday his father gave him his own rifle. He would spend days on his own out in the mountains gathering up stray cattle for his father.

He loved to tell about his childhood in those early days of Virginia. He often told the story about how the boys then all grew their hair long. The style was to wear it tied in a long dangling queue down their back, but Archibald’s hair was very thin so it made a very skinny little queue of hair. The boys sometimes laughed at him and teased him about it. One day they started calling him “My Lord Pigtail”. But Alexander was more concerned about the “Lord” part than the “Pigtail” part. He complained to the head master at school that he believed the boys were breaching the third Commandment about using the Lord’s name in vain. That, he admits, drew even more ridicule than his skinny little tail of hair.

As a teen he struggled to understand God’s grace better. He read sermons and tells of taking his Bible out into the wilderness to read and pray. He got to a point of deep despair when he simply cried out to God for help and to save him. He said that at that moment God worked on his heart opening the wonders of salvation to him. He wrote of it saying, “The whole pan of grace appeared as clear as day.”

Soon after that he made a public announcement of his faith in Christ alone, at age seventeen. Even after this he still struggled with uncertainty fearing that he was worthy. As he came to the Lord’s table he feared that he would eat and drink damnation to himself.

Then he heard a sermon that changed his outlook. It was delivered by the old Presbyterian Scholar and Pastor, William Graham (not to be confused with the more recent evangelist “Billy Graham”).

The sermon was from this text in Malachi 4:2

But to you who fear My name, The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves.

He later wrote of it this way,

“The preacher compared the beginnings of true religion in the soul to the rising of the sun; sometimes with a sudden and immediate clearness, sometimes under clouds, which are afterwards dispersed. As he went on, it occurred to me with great distinctness, that the Sun of Righteousness began to rise on me, though under a cloud. When conversing with Mr. Mitchell in Bedford, I was relieved from despair by the persuasion that Christ was able to save even me. This shows how seldom believers can designate with exactness the time of their renewal. Now, at the age of seventy-seven, I am of opinion that my regeneration took place … in the year 1788.”

After surviving a serious illness in 1790, he began to spread God’s word whenever he could. He took on a pastorate in 1794 of the “Cub Creek Church” in Virginia. He was pleased that in his congregation there were 70 blacks at the Lord’s Table. His reputation for sound reasoning, excellent scholarship, and passion for Christ spread. In 1797 he became president of Hampden Sydney College, mainly set up to train ministers.

He struggled for a while with the issue of infant baptism. He read a book by the reformed Baptist, John Gill and refused to baptize babies. But though the arguments were well presented he saw some serious inconsistencies. He spent a long while researching one line of argument after another, primarily carefully examining all the Bible texts used by the Baptists. He later realized that Gill worked from some unsupportable assumptions. Archibald returned to his more reformed view of Baptism and never wavered.

In 1807 he pastored a church in Philadelphia. While there he helped found the Philadelphia Bible Society. It was in 1812 that the General Assembly called him to become the first professor of a new seminary they wanted to start up in Princeton, New Jersey. He was the only professor then. There were only 3 students who met in his home.
The next year there were 9 students and Princeton Seminary grew from there. It’s tragic that in later years liberalism crept in slowly until it took over that Seminary. Other schools were started about that time. One was called Harvard.

Archibald Alexander left us with a mass of great works and teachings which have been foundational still in a sound Bible education. We who continue in his heritage are the more conservative of the present Presbyterians.

His simple comments on Malachi 4:2 have always impressed me. Often when God’s righteousness comes to our hearts with victory it takes some time for the wings of the sun to stretch out and bring light to all of the soul. Patience with ourselves, with God, and with others is important.

What gets us through is the infallible promise that in Christ we are fully redeemed even though we may have a lot of growing to do, and that even when the battles seem harsh against us victory is as certain as noon day itself. God will cause his sun of Righteousness to dispel all the shadows, to destroy all the enemies, and to make his people grow stronger and stronger.

If you doubt that call out to God in simple undone humility. Cry out for help. It will come.

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