Christmas and the Defeat of Satan
Christmas is fast approaching so I’d like to move in that direction over the next three weeks. I’d like to connect this Christmas message to the series we’re in - moving from “Consumption to Compassion” - I think it’s a natural fit. Christmas is all about moving from comfort to mission, from consumption to compassion. This is a central call for those who have given themselves to Jesus. Remember what the apostle Paul said in another core Christmas passage:
Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
To Jesus the Glory of God was the most beautiful reality and purpose that existed. Through Jesus’ humble life of faithful obedience, which included his death, God would display his Glory - we should be like that. In order for any hope to exist there needed to be someone who could represent us before God and bring his children safely home. So instead of simply leaving us in our sin with no hope, Jesus gives himself to the need - we need to be more like that.
Two thousand years ago Jesus came as a humble servant AND as the focal point of history. This was difficult for the world to accept then and it’s difficult for the world to accept now. It’s easy to think that if Jesus is truly the King of Glory he would rule the way a good earthly king would rule, except with more power and force. Earthly power and force - that’s something I can believe in. God wouldn’t really come as a baby and expose himself to the evils of humanity would he?
This is what the book of Hebrews talks about - the perfect ways of God, in Jesus, verses the imperfect thinking of man. There is a wonderful Christmas passage in the book of Hebrews that I’d like to look at.
Hebrews 2:14-18 (NIV)
14 Since the children (those Jesus would rescue) have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement (propitiation) for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Verses 14 - 15 give an overview of why Jesus needed to become like us.
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy (disarm - render powerless) him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil -
This is a profound reality. Jesus could not die in our place unless he could die. Jesus could not face God’s judgment for us unless he could actually take our place and face God‘s judgment. He needed to face everything we face, without sin, and die like we do - and face God‘s judgment for all those who would trust him as their Champion. How can God die? He becomes like us. This is the message of Christmas - God comes to earth as a child so we can kill him. Through his victory over death he disarms Satan. We don’t celebrate Christmas because a baby was born 2,000 years ago - babies are born all the time. We celebrate Christmas because God came into our sin-filled reality in order to render powerless the one who holds the power of death. Paul mentions this disarming in his letter to the Colossians:
Colossians 2:15 (NIV)
15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Jesus was on Satan’s home court 2,000 years ago - and he was human, like us. With life and death in the balance, angels and demons looking on while Satan hurled everything he had at the One who is our only hope. AND the cross itself is the tool God used to disarm Satan - a public defeat that cannot be reversed. Jesus made a public spectacle of his enemies at the cross.
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15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
And now that death cannot win, we are free to live the fear free lives we were meant to live. Now physical death is NOT defeat and there is no victory for the enemy. Now we do not need to live as if this is all there is. We can live for the King like Jesus did. The priorities of this world no longer need to be our priorities. I’ve asked this before but I must ask this again, “How does one live if he/she cannot die? How does one live if this world holds no sway over us?”
Verses 17-18 help us understand, in more detail, of how Jesus becoming like us actually accomplished the saving work on the cross.
16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.
Two thousand years ago angels were predominant in Jewish thinking so the author of Hebrews is letting them know that Jesus is the not some only-spiritual being - like an angle. The logic goes something like this - Since Jesus needed to become like the one’s he rescued, he was actually human - because he came to rescue humans - he didn’t come to rescue angles. In the coming of Jesus, God is fulfilling promises he long ago.
Genesis 3:15 - “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
17 For this reason (because he came for humans - not angles) he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement (propitiation) for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
When Jesus became like us he also fulfilled the Old Testament role of high priest - the one who would stand between God and man, the one who would represent the people before God, the one who would offer sacrifices for the people.
Hebrews 7:23-25 (NIV)
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
This priest does not need to offer sacrifices for himself and he lives forever - Jesus is the perfect priest who can stand before God, for us, perfectly.
Second - Not only is Jesus the perfect priest who can represent us forever, he is also the perfect sacrifice. So, I’d like to talk about this very important word in verse 17 - atonement.
This is a vital concept here. Jesus does what must be done to connect us with God (at-one-ment). And by reading the verse here we see that what needs to be done is, sin must be dealt with. The life-ending cancer of sin must be dealt with if there is to be oneness between God and man. Sin must be killed if there is to be life, and not death, for us.
So how does that work? How is sin dealt with. The word “atonement” here is being used to show us the outcome of Jesus action for us - connecting God with all those who trust Jesus as their savior. This is good and right and wonderful. But the Greek word here does more than describe the end result of Jesus work - it describes the work itself. This word atonement here, is actually another theological word - propitiation. Propitiation is the role of the sacrifice - to absorb the wrath of God. Jesus accomplished atonement for us, Jesus brought God and man together by absorbing the wrath of God for us. If I am to take the consequences of my treason (loyalty to self and not God) - I have not hope.
I want to close by making sure we understand how God, based on this passage, actually disarms Satan. I want to summarize how Jesus has made Satan impotent. I want to make sure we know why we celebrate Christmas - Jesus coming to earth as a baby. We don’t see in this passage that Jesus defeats Satan by banishing him to hell - that will come. We don’t see in this passage that Jesus defeats Satan by using a magic incantation or fights him with a sword. How does Jesus destroy Satan’s power? By going to the cross so are sin is dealt with - so we are forgiven. If my sin does not stand between God and me; if God is now my friend and not my enemy, sin has no power and Satan is neutered. My sin is Satan’s power. If my sin is forgiven Satan is defeated. Does this mean Satan won't attack? No. But his attacks, his darts and arrows have no power of their own. It is my weakness that is the problem. Instead of confronting Satan, I need to have a bigger and better understanding of the gospel. Instead of confronting Satan, I must draw closer to Jesus.