Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Defeat of Satan at the Cross of Christ

Here is the manuscript from my part of the "Surveying the Wondrous Cross" conference.  The audio recordings are now available:  

Justin Childers, The Guilt of Man and the Glory of God  

The Defeat of Satan at the Cross of Christ

 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:15


My subject this morning is the defeat of Satan at the cross of Christ.  This is not a subject that is often preached upon in most pulpits across our land, probably because the majority of Americans and nearly half of so-called American evangelicals do not believe that Satan exists.[1]  Christ’s victory over Satan ought to be a source of great joy and comfort to us, but it is meaningless if Satan is nothing more than an imaginary creature like the boogie man.  Our unbelief in Satan has caused us to be blind to a significant part of the glory of God displayed at the cross.

It is because so many no longer believe in Satan that they can speak of him so flippantly.  Most of us are familiar with the Charlie Daniels’ song “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” in which a character named “Johnny” duels Satan at fiddle playing.  That hardly sounds like a devil to be feared.  It is not at all uncommon for people to call someone “a cute little devil”, or even for someone to have a little devil tattoo imprinted on his or her body.  People make jokes about the devil, and he occasionally makes an appearance at Halloween parties and in silly Hollywood movies.  If we only believed the truth, we would be much more somber and serious when we speak about Satan.

Of course, the Bible is not at all unclear about Satan.  He makes an appearance in the form of a serpent in the opening chapters of Genesis and reappears again and again throughout the Bible’s pages until we reach the end of Revelation.  We simply cannot deny the existence of Satan without doing violence to the Word of God.  If he is not real in Genesis 3, then we may also say that neither Adam nor Eve were real, and their Fall was not real, and that original sin is not real, and the cross of Christ is made completely meaningless.  If Satan is not real in Matthew 4, then the whole account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is a fraud and the gospels are not to be trusted.  You cannot deny the existence of Satan without ultimately losing Christ and all of Christianity as well.

Satan is an Enemy to be Known and Hated

It is important that we as Christians not be ignorant about what the Scriptures say concerning Satan, for he is our adversary who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 5:12).  I wonder if you say with Paul, “we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11)?

The vileness of Satan is revealed in his names.  He is called “Satan”, which means “adversary”, and “the devil” which means “the slanderer”.  He is called “Be-elzebul”, which has its roots in the name of the pagan god Baal.  He is called “the prince of the power of the air”, referring to his authority in the spiritual realm, “the ruler of this world” referring to his sway over planet earth, and “the evil one” referring to the essence of his character. 

The clearest passage about the fall of Satan and his demons is 2nd Peter 2:4: “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.”  Since the day of that fall, Satan has worked not only to bring about the Fall of man but to oppose every purpose and work of God.  His motivation is a burning, fierce hatred for God and all righteousness, and his desire is to bring all who bear God’s image to rebel against their good Creator.  He even went after Jesus and did all he could to convince the Son of God to defy His Father.  Make no mistake: Satan cannot force anyone to sin, but his tactics to persuade us to sin are innumerable and - apart from the grace of God -irresistible.  At Satan’s disposal are lies, deception, murder, temptation, doubt, guilt, fear, confusion, sickness, envy, pride, and a thousand other ploys to destroy God’s glory and our joy.   

Yet we not only need to know our enemy, but we need to imitate our God in hating our enemy as well.  Our God is holy, which means that He loves all that is good and hates all that is evil.  Jesus is all good, and God loves Him intensely and infinitely.  Satan is completely wicked, and God abhors him.  God despises him.  God has willed to create a place called hell that he may be tormented there forever.  Satan is the enemy of His Son, the enemy of His people, the enemy of all righteousness.  God justly hates the devil, and if we have the mind of Christ, we will do so as well.  As Abraham Kuyper once said, “as regards Satan, compassion is dead, hatred is right, and love would be blameworthy”.[2]

We have among others one particularly important reason to despise the devil and long for his ruin.  It was he who played an integral part in bringing destruction to our race.  We cannot cast the blame for the Fall on Satan alone; Adam and Eve sinned of their own wills and we sinned with them, which is why all humanity is rightfully under the curse.  Yet the sin of Adam and Eve came about because of the instigation and wicked designs of the devil.  He desired our fall.  He worked for our ruin.  He schemed and connived so that we would be ensnared in his wicked ways, that we would break the command of God, that we would receive the penalty of death, and that all disease, disaster, disorder, and discord would come upon God’s good Creation.  Satan takes pleasure in our despair, our depression, and especially in our unbelief.  His perverse heart is gleeful when he is able to influence men and women and even little children to commit abominable and heinous acts.  His chief design has been to separate us from our greatest treasure – God Himself – and he will do all he can to see that God is dishonored and despised by human beings. 

The First Redemptive Promise in Scripture

How glorious it is, then, that after the Fall of man, even as God is pronouncing the curses, the very first redemptive promise in all of Scripture is a promise that one day this great enemy of mankind will be defeated.  As Adam and Eve wait in despair to receive God’s pronouncement of death on humankind, they hear this word of hope concerning the future of that dreadful serpent:

 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This has been called ‘the mother-promise’, the protoevangelium, the first gospel-word in Scripture.  At a superficial level, the promise is merely that men and serpents will be enemies and will cause harm to one another.  That, of course, is true.  There seems to be bound up in the heart of man an unique hatred for snakes.

Yet that enmity between snakes and human beings is meant to point us to something much deeper and much more significant.  I do not have time to unfold all the promises of this verse, so let me simply point out four of them and then we’ll focus on the final two. 

1.  The first promise is that God will put enmity between the serpent and the woman.  Again, this is something that we see is generally true in the relationship between humans and snakes.  Yet remember, the serpent here is no mere serpent; this serpent is Satan himself.  So the promise is that God will put enmity between Satan and the woman. 

Now remember what just happened!  Eve has just aligned herself with Satan.  She has trusted the devil more than God and believed the devil’s words instead of God’s Word.  God said, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17).  Yet look at Genesis 3:4-5.  But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil.”  There is no enmity between Eve and the serpent here at the beginning of Genesis 3.  Rather, the enmity that is creeping into the heart of Eve is enmity against God.  The fruit looks good, after all.  Why would God want to keep this away from her?  The serpent says this fruit is to be desired to make one wise; how dare God set this tree as off limits for me?  Do you see, friends?  The Fall of the human race took place because we made peace with Satan and rebelled against God. 

Moreover, the Scriptures teach that because of what happened on that day, mankind is now by nature at enmity with God and in league with Satan!  Remember what Ephesians 2:1-2 says about who we used to be before Jesus saved us?  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”  Do you hear what Paul is saying?  All people are by nature followers of Satan.

Now, very few people would acknowledge that.  Almost no one wants to be labeled a follower of Satan.  Yet the ways of Satan are marked by pride, selfishness, a desire to ones own will instead of God’s will.  Is this not what is in the heart of every person?  Does not our own experience confirm this?  Jesus once said to a crowd, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” (John 8:44).  He didn’t say that to a group of Pharisees.  He didn’t say that to a Judas.  He said that to a regular group of Jews who were interested in what Jesus was teaching.  It is true of all people.

1st John 3:8 is even clearer:  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”

Yet, here in Genesis 3:15 we have a promise – a promise that this will change.  A promise that the woman and the serpent who have just been in league together against God will have enmity placed between them.  God will change the heart of the woman so that she is no longer an enemy of God but an enemy of Satan.  This is the promise of the new birth.  This is the promise that God will come to Eve and transfer her from the kingdom of darkness back to the kingdom of light.  And in fact, that is what He does.  Yet this great change of heart is not only for Eve.  Here is the second great promise:

2.  God will put enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman.  So this great salvation is not only for Eve, but for her offspring.  Her offspring will have a heart that is aligned with God and at war with Satan.  Who is this offspring?  It is Christ, and all who are connected to Him.  Notice the next line: “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” God here informs the serpent that he has not won the battle for the hearts of God’s people.  From the woman will come a “he”, a Man, Jesus Christ, who will bruise or crush the head of Satan.  And He and all who are connected to Him will have new hearts that love God and love righteousness and hate Satan and all evil.

I wish we had more time to talk about the new birth that is promised here.  I wish we had time to go to Revelation 12 and see the unfolding of the hostilities between the Church of God and the serpent.  Go home and read chapter 12 in light of what we’ve just been talking about.  But now, we must press on to final two promises:

3&4:  God promises that a future “he” will bruise the head of Satan, and that Satan will bruise His heel.  Promise number three is that Christ will bruise the head of Satan.  Promise number four is that Satan will bruise the heel of Christ.  We have here the promise of two future events which in the New Testament we discover are in fact one event, for it was when Satan bruised our Savior at the cross that our Savior won the victory and crushed the devil with a fatal blow.

How Jesus Defeated Satan at the Cross

But how?  How did Jesus’ death on the cross defeat Satan?

To answer that question, you need to understand how it is that Satan seeks to destroy you and frustrate God’s plan to save us.  The devil uses all of the weapons in his arsenal to persuade us, to entice us, to allure us into sin.  Why?  So that he can accuse us before God and demand that God condemn us.

Satan’s chief weapon is the law of God.  His appeal to God’s justice.  Satan is not more powerful than God.  If Satan has purposed to destroy us, and God has purposed to save us, and it comes down to a battle of might, God will win every time.  But Satan is not trying defeat God’s plans through might.  No, he’s more conniving than that.  He’s more slick.  His goal is to lead us into sin so that God cannot save us without ceasing to be God. 

Imagine standing before God.  Imagine that to your great delight, you hear God’s good intention to bless us.  He says to you, “Child, you are mine.  I will love you forever.  I will bless you with an ocean of blessings like you have never imagined.  My peace will fill your heart.  My joy will flow into you and overflow in praise forever.  You are My treasured possession, on of My children, and I will care for you, protect you, and dwell with you forever.  No more sickness, suffering, pain, or death shall you experience.  I give you Paradise.  I give you Myself.”

Our hearts fill with joy, and then, all of a sudden, here is Satan.

“No!” he says, and wags a finger at God.  You cannot bless this person.  You must now be eternally separated from all of these people you love.  You cannot bless them.  You cannot bring them into your presence nor treat them favorably.  They are criminals.  You must condemn them.  You cannot love them.  You must hate them.  Your holiness demands it.  Your justice cries out for it.  If you welcome these rebels into Paradise and make them Your children, you are a wicked God, an unholy God, and God to be despised, in fact, no god at all.”

And here’s the thing.  Satan is right.  Holding up our sins before God, Satan gleefully believes that he has God trapped.  God’s purposes have failed.  God must condemn His people.

And then came Jesus Christ to the cross.  Do you see?  Do you see how the cross is the answer to the greatest riddle of all time: how can a holy God remain holy and yet bless sinners.

Listen to Paul in Colossians 2:13-15, and rejoice:  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

No longer can Satan take that record of legal debt before God and accuse us before Him.  No longer can Satan make the case that God is unjust to save us.  For at the cross, God’s justice was satisfied as Jesus bore the hell our sins deserved for us.

Friends, Satan was greatly involved in the death of Jesus.  Throughout the Scriptures we read of people being possessed by demons, but only once do we read of man being inhabited by Satan himself.  That was Judas, when he went out to betray our Lord.  Satan used envy to stir up the religious leaders so that they would not rest until Christ was dead.  Behind Pilate, behind the Roman soldiers, behind the Jewish crowd crying out, “Crucify Him!” is Satan.  He has not only separated God from His people, but now the devil intends to kill His very Son.  Here is Satan’s great moment of victory.

But then, when Jesus was near dead and victory was in Satan’s grasp, something happened that Satan did not expect.  Did God the Father send a million angels to rescue His Son?  No.  God the Father forsook His Son, and unleashed upon Him the judgment deserved by every sin ever committed by every person whom God has chosen for Himself.  In that moment, the death which Satan had worked so hard to orchestrate was now seen to have been orchestrated not by him, but by God Himself, and by Jesus Christ, who died willingly – not as a victim, but as a voluntary substitute.  Satan had been nothing but a pawn, and his victory was not a victory at all, but Christ’s victory over him, for now he has no weapon which he can use to do any eternal harm to a child of God, any eternal harm to the Son of God, nor any eternal harm to the glory of God.  Satan’s purposes were thwarted, his power broken, and his fate sealed.  At the cross he is now seen for what he is – a wretched worm who ultimately has done nothing to disrupt the plans of God, but has only played right into them.  Not only that, but the role he has played has only served to show more of God’s glory, and to increase our joy in Jesus Christ.  God’s wisdom is revealed, our salvation is secured, Christ’s name is lifted up as the name that will be worshipped throughout eternity, and Satan is once and forever defeated.

Friend: when Jesus died and bore our condemnation for us, He simultaneously destroyed Satan’s ability to accuse you before Almighty God, and thus destroyed Satan’s ability to do any lasting harm to you.  For a time, and ultimately for our sanctification and benefit, Satan is allowed to attack us with temporal weapons as God allows.  Some of the temporal harm that Satan can bring against us is very painful and will test our faith mightily.  But eternally, we are secure!  Friends, if we are in Jesus Christ, not only are our sins not held against us, but we have gained victory over our greatest enemy and we will rest secure forever while he receives the destruction he worked so hard for us to have. 

Two Exhortations:

1.  LOVE CHRIST!!  He is our victor, the One who has freed us from the legal debt of our sins, and from Satan and the kingdom of darkness.  Jesus is our Prince in shining armor, who comes riding on a white horse, and saves His Bride from the dragon that held her captive and had plans for her destruction.  By Christ we are set free, by Christ no weapon formed against will prosper.  I pray that your love for Christ will increase as you better understand how He has defeated your greatest enemy.

2.     Find freedom from the accusations of the devil.  There may be times when a satanic voice whispers into your ear, “God can never love you.  God can never save you.  You are too wretched.  You have messed up yet again.  There may be hope for every other person in the world, but there is no hope for you.”  Friends, when that voice begins to tell you that there is no hope for you, you stake your claim on the cross of Christ.  You call to mind how Jesus paid for you sins there, and how God treated Jesus as you deserve so you could be treated as Christ deserves.  You resist the devil, and find refuge and hope in Jesus Christ.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “There is one that has risen against me in judgment may times, and I dare say he has troubled many of the dear people of the Lord here—that is Satan. He is always rising in judgment against us. Whenever we get into a little trouble, he comes and says, "You are no saint." If we commit a sin—"You should not sin like that, if you had been a child of God; you have no interest in the covenant; you are an enthusiast, you have deceived yourself." How many times Satan has risen against me in judgment—so risen that I have been fool enough to heed what he said. I have told him sometimes, "You are a liar, and the father of lies;" but at other times I have believed his malicious accusation. O, it is no easy thing to stand against the insinuations of the evil one. You, my brethren, are not strangers to his devices. He has set conscience at you, the hell-hounds of legal convictions howled upon you, and the drum of terrible doom thundered in you ears; then up stood the fiend himself and denied your union with Jesus, claiming you as his own prey and portion. Ah, how glorious the moment when our Advocate entered the forum of conscience, and assured us that he had pleaded our cause in the court of King's Bench above. And, oh, when he showed us the adversary's brief, spoiled by the nails of the cross, we felt that the tongue of Satan was condemned, and his calumnies hushed. Glorious Councillor, all praise to thine adorable name.”

Martin Luther tells of a dream he had in which he was visited by Satan who handed him a long list recording his deeds written in his own hand. The devil said to him, “Is that true, did you write it?” And in terror Luther confessed that he had. Scroll after scroll was unrolled and each one contained lists of all the sins Luther had ever committed in thought, word and deed. Finally Luther was distraught and brought down to a state of utter misery, and the devil turned to leave, having accomplished his task. Then suddenly, in the dream, Luther turned to Satan and said, “It is true, every word of it, but write across it all:The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’”

When Satan tempts me to despair 

And tells me of the guilt within, 

Upward I look and see Him there 

Who made an end of all my sin. 

Because the sinless Savior died, 

My sinful soul is counted free, 

For God the just is satisfied 

To look on Him and pardon me.

 What a Savior!  Let’s pray.

[1] According to studies done by the Barna group in 2007, 57% of American adults and 46% of self-identified “born again Christians” deny the existence of a literal devil.

[2] Quoted in Frederick S. Leahy, “The Victory of the Lamb”, p. 119.

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