Satan Strikes Out
Satan Strikes Out
From the editor:
In the second half of Mark's sermon, he shares that C. S. Lewis once wrote that we often fall prey to two equal yet opposite errors concerning the Devil. Sometimes we take him far too seriously. Other times we do not take him seriously enough. Whether we're thinking about him all day long or thinking about him on only the rare occasion, we're setting ourselves up for possible defeat. And defeat is a shame, given the victory one for us in Christ. Here's a sermon that takes very seriously the havoc Satan can bring to our lives. But what I love most is that it takes even more seriously the victory that Christ brings. Mark's message is a sobering one, but ultimately an encouraging, celebrative one. Click here to listen to the audio.
Scott Peck begins his book The Road Less Traveled with these memorable words:
Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
What's interesting about this quote is that as followers of Jesus Christ, we know life is difficult. Jesus told us it would be in John 16:33: "In this world you will have tribulation." Paul agreed in Acts 14:22: "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." And we know that at the end of the age, the church will go through the most intense persecution of her history. In Matthew 24:21, Jesus spoke of "a great tribulation" which "has not been seen from the beginning of the world until now, and never will be." Throughout Scripture it is made clear that the life of a believer is anything but a cakewalk.
Unfortunately, many of the trials and hardships we face as Christians are our own doing—the result of our own foolish choices. Very few of us actually suffer because we follow Christ. This wasn't true when John wrote the Book of Revelation. Nor is it true in some countries today like Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey. But even if that's not our experience, we still wonder why life is so difficult for believers. Why is it so hard to make everyday choices that are conducive to growing in our walk with God and loving our neighbor as ourselves? Why does it feel like we're always running uphill? Why do we so often feel defeated?
Revelation 12 addresses some of these questions that plague believers. This chapter comes along just after the sounding of seven trumpets—each of which signify God's sovereignty in the pouring out of judgment upon those who worship the Beast. With the seventh trumpet comes an announcement of the end—a time when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. In chapter 12, John describes in more detail what will happen before the end actually comes. He reveals what's really behind all the tribulation and suffering that God's people face. He pulls back the veil that separates heaven and earth to show us that the tribulation believers face is part of a war that is taking place in the spiritual world.
The defeat of Satan, the victory of Christ, and the persecution of the church
In 12:1, John says he saw "a great sign" in heaven. He then introduces us to three characters, each of whom are symbolic of someone or something else. The three characters are a pregnant woman entering labor, the child she gives birth to, and a red Dragon. There is no question about the identity of the Dragon. In verse 9, John identifies him as "the Serpent of old who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world." His seven crowns and ten horns symbolize his powerful empire. There's no question as to the identity of the child. Verse 5 says the child's destiny is "to rule all the nations with a rod of iron." This is clearly pointing to Jesus, the Messiah, because Psalm 2:9 says the Messiah will "break them with a rod of iron" and "shatter them like earthenware." But who is the mother? Some say it's Mary, the mother of Jesus. But there are several problems with this theory. In John's vision the woman is persecuted and flees into the wilderness. As far as we know, that never happened to Mary. The story also speaks of the woman's offspring as being under attack by the Dragon. That doesn't really fit with Mary's story either. With this in mind, then, several scholars believe this woman doesn't represent just one person but the whole people of God throughout history. She represents Israel, and her offspring represents the church.
With the identities of these three main actors in mind, we're ready to look at the story in which they find themselves. This story can be divided into three visions, all of which tell the same story of the defeat of Satan, the victory of Christ, and the persecution of the church.
First, let's consider the vision of the woman, the child, and the Dragon in 12:1-6. As the woman goes into labor, the Dragon stands over her. He's determined to devour the vulnerable child the moment he's born. When we read these details, we can't help but think of the various threats Jesus encountered during his lifetime. It began with the determination of Herod to murder the Christ child, continued through his temptation in the wilderness, and culminated in the Crucifixion. From the very beginning of Jesus' life, Satan was determined to devour Jesus. But do you remember that in Genesis 3, God said that enmity would exist between the Serpent and the woman and her seed? Look at what happens in Revelation 12. When the child is born, he's immediately snatched up by God and delivered to the throne. Then the woman flees to the wilderness to a place prepared for her for 1,260 days, or, 42 months. We've seen the numbers "1,260" and "42" before. They are numbers that represent the period of evil at the end of the age when Satan will try to frustrate the plans and purposes of God. This first vision is a condensation of the gospel story from Jesus' birth to his resurrection and ascension, and on to the persecution and protection of the church.
The second vision is of a war that takes place in heaven. Michael, a leading archangel, along with his army of angels, battles the Dragon and his demonic forces in all-out war. The Dragon and his forces aren't strong enough, so they're thrown out of heaven, down to earth. This isn't a description of the fall that Satan took at the dawn of time (as some suppose). This is a symbolic picture of how Satan has been defeated through the work of Christ. This shows us that Satan's power has been limited by what Jesus accomplished in his death, resurrection, and ascension. Satan has lost a massive amount of territory. He no longer has any access to heaven. Instead, he's been confined to wreaking havoc on earth. All of this is celebrated in the song that John hears someone singing in a loud voice in verses 10-12.
This brings us to the third vision in which the Dragon, furious over his defeat, takes out all his wrath on the woman and her offspring. The Devil relentlessly pursues the woman, and she is forced to flee into the wilderness. The text says that she flies on the wings of eagles. Remember that when God brought Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, he said to them, "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to myself." (Exodus 19:4) Something similar is happening here in chapter 12. God is protecting his people.
The inability to overcome God's protection fills the Devil with even more anger, so once more he tries to destroy the woman by drowning her in a river of water that flows from his mouth. When that also fails, he becomes even more enraged and makes war with the rest of her children—those who "keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus."
When you bring together all three of these visions, one theme emerges: the defeat of Satan. Chapter 12 teaches us that he has struck out. Strike one: he fails in his attempt to devour Christ, who instead was snatched up by God. Strike two: he fails to defeat Michael and his angels and instead is hurled down to earth. Strike three: he fails in his attempt to destroy the woman, who was rescued by God.
Though the crucial battle has been won through the work of Christ, Satan continues to harass the people of God.
I would like to make three observations that will help us understand how this text applies to our lives.
First of all, this text points out the simple truth that we are part of a cosmic battle between Satan and God—a battle that has been going on for ages. Hear me: Satan is not God's equal. Satan is nothing more than a created being. (Remember that Scripture tells us he is a fallen angel.) But despite their not being equals, God puts up with Satan for a time, and we are caught up in the battle, too.
C. S. Lewis once wrote that we often fall prey to two equal yet opposite errors concerning the Devil. Sometimes we take him far too seriously. Other times we do not take him seriously enough. So, the Devil is happy if you are preoccupied with him all day long. And he's just as happy when you hardly give him a thought at all. I believe that most of us fall into the latter error—we don't take him seriously enough. We need to be reminded that Satan is a living enemy, crafty in the way he seeks our destruction. We wonder why there is so much violence on our streets and in our homes. We wonder why there is so much greed. We wonder why our sexuality is so backwards. It's Satan! Satan is preoccupied with your relationship with Christ and your relationship in Christ's cause. Before you became a Christian, his main interest was to blind you to the truth about Christ. Satan sought to seduce you into his terrain. Once you become a Christian, he will do everything he can to render you ineffective for Christ and Christ's cause. Our text shows us that there are four ways Satan works to take us out at the knees: he tempts, he accuses, he deceives, and he devours.
First of all, Satan will do his best to tempt you. The kind of temptation changes for each person and often in each stage of life. Satan knows how to push your buttons. He might tempt you in your need for a relationship, your desire for great achievement, your lust for more things. J. C. Ryle once wrote:
We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colors, saying, "I am your deadly enemy, and I want to ruin you forever in hell." Oh no! Sin comes to us like Judas, with a kiss; like Joab, with outstretched hand and flattering words. The forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve; yet it cast her out of Eden. Walking idly on his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David; yet it ended in adultery and murder. Sin rarely seems like sin at first beginnings. Let us then watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation.
The hard reality is that these temptations will never go away, whether you're 14 or 40 or 84. And here's another hard reality: the fact that you are tempted is not all Satan's fault. James 1:14 tells us that that "each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own desire." When Satan tempts you, there is something in you that echoes back. The Bible calls it "the flesh." But keep in mind that being tempted is not sin in and of itself. After all, Jesus was tempted, and we know that he was one without sin. Luther said you can't stop birds flying about your head, but you can stop them from building a nest in your hair. So, it's how we deal with temptation when it comes along.
Second, Satan will do his best to accuse you. He's the great accuser of the brethren. While God's Spirit will convict you of sin in order to bring you back into fellowship with God through confession and repentance, the Devil will accuse you of sin in order to destroy your fellowship with God. He'll take that which is confessed and covered by the blood of Christ and use it to discourage and defeat you—to make you feel as if there is no way God could possibly want to have anything to do with you.
Third, Satan will do his best to deceive you. Notice in our passage that he is called the one "who deceives the whole world." In Genesis 3, Satan deceived Eve with these words: "Did God really say that?" In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul describes Satan as "the god of this world" who "has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ."
Finally, Satan will do his best to devour you. That's exactly what he tried to do in our story. He went to great lengths to try to devour Christ and the woman, and that's what he wants to do to those who follow Christ. Jesus once called Satan a murderer. And if this murderer can't kill you, he will harm you.
The second observation I want to make about how this text applies to our lives today is this: because of the work of Christ, Satan is a defeated foe who lashes out at God's people. According to Revelation 12, Satan is on earth, furiously chasing and harassing the woman and her offspring, because he's a loser! He's here because he couldn't defeat Christ. Take heart! He also can't devour Christ's people. This is why Martin Luther once wrote this line: "And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us." Let me encourage you to take Satan into account. Respect the damage he can do. Beware of him. But do not fear him. He shudders at the name of Jesus. Whether he seeks to tempt you or deceive you or accuse you or devour you, God will always provide a way of escape. As our text shows, God will lead you on eagles' wings to a place of protection and provision and closeness with him.
The final observation I want to make comes from verse 11. Here we see that God's people will prevail through the blood of the Lamb, through the word of their testimony, and by not loving their lives, even when facing death.
First of all, we prevail through the blood of the Lamb. The blood of the Lamb is that which Jesus shed for all of our sins—past, present, and future. Hebrews 9:14 says this blood cleanses our conscience. God's answer to our guilty conscience is the blood which Jesus shed for us. We are often tempted to think that the answer is something we do for God. But nothing we do for God is enough to pay for our sins. Only the blood of Jesus will do. Hebrews 10:22 says, "Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience."
Let's cover the second and third ideas together: we prevail through the word of our testimony and by not loving our lives, even when faced with death. To help you understand what I mean by this, perhaps an example from history will help. Just fifteen years after John wrote Revelation, a man named Pliny the Younger was appointed governor of Bithynia. Pliny didn't know what to do with the Christians brought before him for trial. Seeking advice, he wrote the emperor, Trajan. He wrote:
I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate. Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.
Having read Pliny's thoughts, Trajan replied:
You observed proper procedure. They are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it—that is, by worshiping our gods—even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance.
Even though many of these dear believers of the second century died, they still overcame Satan's efforts. Through their death they received life. Most of us won't have to make that choice. But what if we had to lose our job? What if we had to lose a friendship? What if we had to narrow the choices of who we could marry? Holding fast to the word of your testimony in Christ, spoken with love, seasoned with grace, is still the way we overcome the Enemy.
I once spent a day in Guam, swimming near the spot where the body of Shoichi Yokoi was found on January 24, 1972. Yokoi was a Japanese soldier who for 28 years hid in an underground jungle cave, fearful to come out of hiding because he wasn't convinced that World War II had come to an end. That's a lot like Satan. He knows he has lost the war, but he won't surrender until forced. In the meantime, he will do as much damage as he can. But as followers of Christ, we mustn't fear him. We must overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of our testimony, and by not loving our lives, even unto death.
To see an outline of Mitchell's sermon, click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.
Mark Mitchell is the lead pastor of Central Peninsula Church in Foster City, California.