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TEXT: I John 3:8
SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #43: To Disarm Principalities
A couple of years ago, John Piper published a book titled The Passion of Jesus Christ. In his fifty short chapters, he tries to explain why our Lord went to the cross. Most of what he says is positive-Christ died for the glory of God, for the salvation of His People, for the renewal of the universe, for His own name's sake, and for other things too.
If His death is mostly positive, it has a negative side as well. If the cross means God is for us, it also means God is against the devil and all his works. This brings us to Chapter 42 in our study of Piper's book, the title of which is
Christ suffered and died to disarm the rulers and authorities.
WHO THEY ARE
The words, rulers and authorities often refer to human rulers of some kind-to kings, governors, judges, and other men exercising authority in the world. Such people are seldom what they ought to be, but we still owe them our respect and obedience, so long as obeying them does not make us disobey the Lord. These are rulers and authorities, but not the ones we have in mind for now.
The rulers and authorities this sermon is about are Satan and his non-human partners in crime. Who and what is Satan? Because he's a fascinating-and important-character, people often speculate about him and some of the guessing ends up in popular books, of both the lowest quality-whose name is legion--and also of the highest, including Milton and Goethe.
There's nothing wrong with this-as long as we remember that they are works of fiction and not of Bible exegesis.
What does the Bible tell us about Satan? It tells us all we need to know, without satisfying idle curiosity. His story goes something like this:
Because of his sinister work, the devil got the name, Satan, which means 'adversary' or 'accuser'. Though he and his friends lost all of their holiness, they did not lose all of their power, and the Bible admits this by calling them, powers, principalities, rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). It goes even further in the devil's case, calling him, the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4).
These are the powers that are arrayed against us. And make no mistake about it: they are definitely against us. Satan and his servants may be many things, but they're not apathetic and they're not lazy. They have a passionate, single-minded mission, and that is to destroy is, and they use everything they've got to do it. Though Christians are often lukewarm for our King, demons are always on fire for theirs!
These are the rulers and authorities our chapter-and this sermon-are about. Demonic powers dead set against us.
THE SUCCESS THEY HAVE HAD
Having things against you is never good, but having these things against you is very bad. The devil and his partners have been amazingly successful, both in the width of their work and in its depth.
The early chapters of Genesis tell a dreary tale of demonic success. First, a sinless couple in paradise fall from the holiness and lose their happiness by the working of Satan. Not long after they fell they had a couple of sons, one of whom was of the wicked one and murdered his own brother. A few generations later, a man named Lamech killed two other men, and threatened anyone who called for justice, If Cain shall be avenged seven fold, I will be avenged seventy-seven fold! Then we have the people leading up to the flood, when the earth was filled with corruption, and every imagination of the thoughts of men's hears was only evil continually!
The Flood wiped out the world of the ungodly, but it did not discourage the devil, who got right back at it, culminating in the Tower of Babel, when the pride of man was at its peak. After confounding that plan, the Lord turned away from the whole race and things went from bad to worse.
Thankfully, the Lord called one man out of the cesspool and blessed him and his family for many years. The man was Abraham, of course, and his offspring were the Jews who were the chosen people and under God's special care. But they too rebelled against the Lord and were, finally, guiltier than the world they looked down on.
The devil had corrupted the whole human race-There is none righteous, no not one!
But this is not all: If Satan's work has affected us all, it has also deeply affected us all. It's not that he got us to say a bad word when we hit our thumbs with a hammer (and then repent for our enormity)! No, he got us to degrade ourselves in ways we don't talk about in polite company. Romans 1 touches on some of the lowlights-
All unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful, who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Though no one (I hope) is guilty of all these things, everyone is guilty of some of them. If someone could be found who is not, then he's a Pharisee, whom, the Lord said, is farther from the kingdom that publicans and harlots.
The dark lords have had undreamed of success against us. John says, the whole world lies in the wicked one.
THEIR HUBRIS AND DEFEAT
The devil had amazing success, the success went to his head, and he went too far. After corrupting the whole human race, he tried to corrupt God Himself (in His Son, our Lord). This failed, of course, and he was sent away with his tail between his legs.
Then he hit on another plan: if Christ cannot be corrupted, He can be crucified! Satan got up a conspiracy between the rulers of Israel, King Herod, Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, and the Jewish people. They didn't know he was behind their actions, but he was, guiding them to his own wicked ends. Our Lord was crucified in [their] hour and the power of darkness.
Satan's success seemed complete. For three days and three nights champagne corks were popping all around him!
But then something happened. The Man they killed came back to life, and not just back to the life He used to have (for that could be crucified again and again, if need be), but to a Life that cannot be lost.
What's worse-from the devil's standpoint-is that this Man left the life of a servant and entered the Life of a Lord-and not just any lord, but the Lord of all, heaven, earth, and places under the earth!
Thus, the devil's brief victory over Christ became his own final defeat. Jesus Christ destroyed the works of the devil-not only the works against Himself, but also the works against us!
Satan is a defeated foe. He's a dragon with its head cut off. His tail is still thrashing around (and dangerous), but there's no doubt his end is near.
HOW IT WORKS
How does this work? A lot could be said here, but I choose to say only a little.
First, with respect to the world: the devil no longer has the power to deceive that he once had. Not every Christian would agree with this-'The whole world still lies in darkness', they remind us. 'If Satan is on a chain-I heard a famous preacher say-'it must be a long one'.
The point is not the length of the chain he's on, but that he's on one! Revelation 20 says just that-that he is bound so that he should deceive the nations no more. But aren't the nations still deceived?
Yes, but not as they used to be! When John saw His vision, only a tiny sliver of the world had ever heard the Gospel-and not one single solitary soul in North America, South America, Australia, or Oceana-not to mention Africa south of Ethiopa, Asia east of Persia, or Europe north of Italy. To a man, every one of these nations was deceived. But not anymore. The Gospel has gotten free, and saints can be found in every dark corner of the world.
This work-of holding whole nations in darkness-has been broken by the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If some of the benefits go to the world, most of them come to the Church. How did our Lord's death overthrow Satan in our lives?
It cuts the legs out from under his accusations. If you think Satan is man's enemy on earth, you should see what he did to us in heaven-accusing the brethren to God, day and night. But he can't do that any more because every accusation-even the true ones-are answered by the blood of Christ.
Did you see what he did? Says the devil.
Yes I did-God answers-But I also saw what My Son did, taking that sin and its guilt into His own body and bearing them on the tree!
Satan's got nothing on us any more.
Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died!
If His death helps us in heaven, it also helps us on earth. His death ratified the New Covenant, and this means we are forgiven, our consciences are cleared, and we receive the Holy Spirit. This means the devil cannot use our guilt against us and that he cannot keep us from becoming holy because, Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world!
It also makes sin look ugly. The first trick the devil used on Eve was calling her attention to the beauty of the Forbidden Fruit. He does the same thing to us-the beauty, the goodness of things we shouldn't have. But then we remember the horror of the cross. The things I find so attractive were the very things that hung my Savior on the cross. The things lose their power over me.
Finally, it makes obedience look good. If dying was the ugliest thing our Lord ever did, it was also the most beautiful-perfect submission to the will of God resulting in triumph. The beauty of His cross gives some luster to our own crosses.
Live with confidence in God. His Son died for you and His death breaks the power Satan used to have over you. Now live as though that sinister power is broken. Attempt great things for God.
Preach the Gospel to every creature. Yes the devil sets his will against the Gospel, but it's only his will against the Will of Christ who once crushed him under His feet and is still stomping all over him!
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