The Fourth Sunday of Advent December 21, 2008
1 Peter 5:1-9
62, 61, 70, 74
The Son obeyed His Father’s will,
was born of virgin mother,
and God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my brother.
No garb of pomp or power He wore,
a servant’s form like mine He bore,
to lead the Devil captive.
Dear fellow-servant—you who have Christ and therefore lack nothing:
One last time this Advent season we seek to focus our thoughts around the theme: “The Silent Christmas.” Having examined the meaning behind the silence of Zacharias and of Mary, we now focus in a very different and sinister direction. Today we observe a silence that is at the same time ominous and comforting. It is the silence of Satan.
Our final Advent meditation will be guided by the Word of God recorded in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the 8th Chapter:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These are the words of our God and are therefore holy and without error of any kind. Confident of this fact, we seek now to be guided and instructed by these words. To this end we pray: “Sanctify us through your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
From the God-imposed silence of Zacharias we were taught never to doubt the promises of our God. From the self-imposed silence of Mary we were taught to take the truths of God’s Word and promise into our own hearts, to set aside time to make the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins personal, and to thus apply the peace and assurance personally. Today we go to a very different place as we examine the silence of the Devil in connection with the birth of our Lord.
To gain a sense of the Devil’s silence at the birth of Jesus, consider first a bit of American history. When the United States Marine Corp landed on the Japanese Island of Iwo Jima, tens of thousands of marines did so in relative silence and tranquility. Not a shot was fired by the enemy until the American forces were ashore and slogging across the black sand beaches. The lull was certainly deceptive since the Japanese had 22,000 soldiers waiting in fixed and fortified positions—well-trained soldiers who would defend their tiny island fortress to the death, which is exactly what they did. So also Satan waited in relative silence for the battle that would one day be waged with unimaginable ferocity.
Think of it for a moment. What do we hear from or about the Devil in connection with the birth of our Lord? Did he know? Was he aware that the great, epic battle for the souls of all mankind had been joined by the Son of God when Mary first conceived the Great Champion promised of old? It is silly to image that he didn’t. Satan knew the Old Testament prophecies. He knew, therefore, exactly what to look for and where to look for it.
How then did he respond? What was his strategy? Can we assume that Satan’ s only early attack came in the form of the slaughter that Herod’s soldiers visited upon the children of Bethlehem when Jesus was no longer an infant?
Satan certainly played the fool when he imagined that he could lead a successful rebellion against God in Heaven, yet it is a grave error to imagine that Satan is therefore foolish in his dealings with mankind since that unsuccessful rebellion. Certainly he must have realized that for Jesus to die a sinless death at any point during His life on earth would have been a crushing defeat for the forces of evil and a tremendous victory for God and His creation. Satan’s only hope lay in successfully tempting Jesus to sin. The feeble attempt on Jesus’ life by Herod was probably little more than the panicked actions of a desperate and paranoid man. The feeble actions of man accounted for little or nothing in this great battle. They were minor skirmishes leading up to the inevitable meeting of the two great forces.
We therefore look and listen for some evidence of the Devil’s actions at the birth of the Son of God and we hear and see nothing at all—silence. This is really quite telling when you stop to think about it. We hear nothing about counter-attacks to the joyful announcements by the angels. We hear no systematic plans for denial or disinformation to counter the excited evangelism of the shepherds. We are told of no defensive measures designed to prevent the Wise Men from finding the newborn King. We hear only silence—ominous, impending silence.
We would like to imagine that the event itself was so precious, so holy, so divine that not even the Devil himself could possibly mount an effective assault upon it. Unfortunately, Satan is far too evil to grant any sort of a respectful time-out at the entrance of his great nemesis. He simply waited for his time to attack.
That is not to say that he waited with some sort of calm assurance of the final outcome—far from it! He is, again, purely evil in every way. We can only imagine the demons howling in both terror and rage at such a holy, pivotal event—such an attack against their hold on the souls of mankind. Yet, at the birth of Jesus Christ you and I hear nothing at all from the Devil and therein lies our first lesson on this day.
Understand this well: You and I will experience times like this in our lives here on earth. We will encounter lulls which Satan almost certainly intends as lullabies. He would love to fool us into believing that we have him whipped; that he has somehow been rendered powerless and impotent, and that the battle has already been won. As was certainly the case with Jesus, every quiet time here on earth will be followed by an attack against every single Christian by the Devil and his minions. Unless one has already joined him through unbelief, the Devil will not rest until you are his or until your Lord removes you from the battle. The Devil has absolutely nothing better to do with the time he has left.
In practical terms, this means that we are to regard any such quiet times as God-given opportunities to be strengthened for the assaults that will surely follow. Unfortunately, we tend to do just the opposite and Satan has enjoyed great success during these times of calm. History teaches us that the Church is never stronger than during times of all-out war and persecution, and it is never weaker than at times of relative peace and prosperity. Look back through your lives and you will almost certainly find this to be true in your own personal history. We tend to use the quiet, peaceful times to wander. It seems to take us very little time to fool ourselves into believing that the quiet times of our lives are indications that the danger is now past and that Satan has finally given up on us.
Understand that the Devil will never give up on you. Again, he has nothing better to do with the short time that remains than to exert every bit of power at his disposal against you and your salvation. Let forewarned be forearmed.
The Devil was silent at Christmas. The Devil appears to be silent from time to time during the course of our lives on earth. The best news is that we can also anticipate one final silence from the great Dragon. Satan’s raging will, without doubt, be stilled again when Jesus comes the second time to this earth in the Final Judgment.
Here is where today’s text comes into play. Hear these great words again with this thought in mind: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” [vv.31-33]
Doesn’t it seem that the logical answer to Paul’s inspired question is. “Satan”? Doesn’t it seem like the Devil can and will most certainly bring charges against you at the Final Judgment? After all, Satan tempted you to sin and you sinned—time after time after time after time. Day in and day out we have sinned in nearly every way imaginable. Indeed we look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Holy Law and we rightly see only wickedness. We are therefore forced to confess with Paul: “…the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice…O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:19-24).
All of this leads to the inevitable question: “Why would the Devil ever remain silent on Judgment Day when he has had so much success in tempting me to sin over my entire lifetime?” If sin were the only basis for bringing a charge against a human being on Judgment Day then Satan would surely be able to accuse us all. Paul writes of this in Romans 3: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20). If that were the end of the story we would be in trouble.
The good news—the GREAT news—is that we are not judged on the basis of sin but on the basis of our relationship to Jesus Christ as mankind’s only Savior. For this reason Paul goes on in Romans 3: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).
Satan is not our judge. He is our tormentor. He, therefore, must remain silent on the Last Day and do nothing more than listen in horror and rage at the declaration of our Righteous Judge. God is our Judge and He judges on the basis of one single question: “At the end of your time of grace, did you, or did you not, trust that Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for your sins when he died upon the cross of Calvary?”
The mouth of Satan will be stopped on that great day for he has nothing to add to the proceedings. Christians do not contest or deny our sins, we freely confess them. That was Satan’s one hope, one chance to condemn us on the basis of our sins. He cannot and will not be called as a witness because his testimony is irrelevant for all who confess their sins. Sinlessness is not the righteousness we claim. We claim “the righteousness of God apart from the law… even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.”
Dear Christians, note well the silence of Satan in the reading of the Christmas story and know that he will be subjected to that same silence on the Day of Judgment. Through faith in Jesus Christ you and I will stand unaccused and uncondemned. God preserve us unto that great day. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.