I wasn’t around at the time of the Revolutionary War, but I have read about it in the history books and its effects can be experienced to this day in my life. There is a freedom I have because of what happened so long ago. Today, I will gather my family and go visit friends and watch fireworks tonight to celebrate Independence Day. It will be a good time and a needed rest for my family in the middle of the crazy summer months.
As I think about my faith, I must also understand a different meaning of “independence day” that also has much bearing on my life. I wasn’t present on that day either, but I have read about it both as a matter of pure history and in the gospel accounts in the Bible. I was reminded last week during our Vacation Bible School that Jesus was a soldier against our greatest enemies - sin, death, and Satan…and there was a day he won that battle. Most of us think that it was when he when to the cross, but in going to the cross, Jesus surrendered to the world of sin, death, and Satan to be willingly defeated. But by the power of God, Jesus resurrected from the dead and it is in this event that the world was changed…it was made free. It was this “independence day” that freed us from the shackles of sin, death, and Satan.
Paul writes regarding the resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15:
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.
24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says, “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.
I can’t wait for the beauty of this display by our Lord, but until that day comes, I will gather my family and take them to see the fireworks, enjoy the food, and thank my country for the freedom I experience as an American and thank my God for the freedom I experience as a Christian, which I must admit transcends nation and people and position. This freedom we have in Christ, Paul would write later in the same chapter, motivates our lives… “58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” AMEN! Happy Independence Day to you…Come, Lord Jesus!
A friend and mentor of mine, Dave Bland, reflected on the scene in Revelation 12 where a great red dragon tries to devour the baby of the pregnant woman. The issue for Dave and for us is whether we truly acknowledge the presence and existence of evil in our world and how Satan impacts us, influences us, and even interacts with us.
Our culture refuses to believe in the reality of evil in the world. Often, we simply deny Satan’s existence and relegate him to an archaic religious or Christian tradition. Some see him as an outdated idea, an unrealistic figure, and a figment of our creative imagination. The devil’s cleverest trick, however, is to convince people he does not exist.
Many see Satan, or the Devil, as a playful figure. He is confined to the nether worlds. He is a guy that is easily spotted because he's in this red suit with a pitchfork in his hands and he has horns (especially during Halloween). Satan is nothing more than a cartoonish boogeyman. We lightheartedly sing: "If the devil doesn't like it, he can sit on a tack.” And we jokingly say on occasion when we do something ornery, "The devil made me do it." We associate mischievousness with Satan. We have difficulty taking Satan seriously.
Additionally, sometimes people simply psychologize Satan. Evil is associated with our mental or emotional ailments. Evil is within not without. Evil is confined to human imperfections and mistakes. While it is true that sin resides within us as humans, evil is not confined to the human mind. That too makes Satan anemic. He’s nothing more than a personal or mental problem.
But for those who do acknowledge the existence of Satan, and by extension evil, we still carry some problematic misunderstandings about Satan. To start, some believe that God and Satan have the equal amount of power. So it becomes a back and forth ongoing battle between them, like the Greek myths of the gods battling one another. But Satan, though powerful, is not a god. He does not have the power God possesses.
For others, even Christians, the reality of Satan’s power strikes fear in their hearts. They live out their Christian lives in constant fear of being assaulted by these demonic powers. A popular novel some years back was This Present Darkness (1986) by Frank Peretti. Peretti presents the reality of demons in the world and their constant assault on Christians. It is good in that he portrays the reality of these evil powers in our world. But it is wrong in depicting Christians as always looking over their shoulder, living in constant fear as if we're on a tight rope ready to fall at any moment if we let our guard down. But Christians do not live life in and out of fear. We do not obsess about devils and demons. Christians live their lives with confidence and with joy. Our lives are not characterized by perpetual fear.
Sometimes we connect Satan, and evil, to stereotypes so we can project demonic qualities onto others we don’t like or we project evil on another ethnic group and call them Satan. That enables us to confine Satan to our stereotypes. The result is twofold: (1) it results in horrendous injustices to others, (2) it does not take Satan seriously.
Lastly, A misunderstanding of Satan can lead us away from taking responsibilities for our own sins and misbehaviors. When confronted by God in the garden, Eve said, “The serpent tricked me” pointing the blame to someone else. She was simply a victim of someone’s trickery. If Satan is the cause then we don’t need to change. We excuse behavior with the old “The Devil made me do it,” and give ourselves a free pass on sin.
So, are the advantages of believing in Satan? Sure, I believe there are advantages like causing us to realize that evil is not to be taken lightly. It is a powerful force in the world. Second, evil is more than individual acts of wrongdoing. Evil is not just within the human being. Evil has a life of its own. It affects institutions, organizations, and nations. This is part of the difficulty in trying to correct social injustices. Evil doesn’t reside in the individual alone. It is part of a larger social, political, and religious system. Lastly, Let me remind you of Eph. 6:12: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
Revelation 12 ends with the dragon, that is Satan the embodiment of evil, leaving to wage war with those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (could be seen as the church). In what ways can we encourage each other as Satan wages this war? Should we be surprised when we face persecution or hardship? How can we keep holding to the commandments of God when faced by Satan’s persecution within the institutions, organizations, and nations (not to mention the personal stuff)?
I think one of the scariest lines in the Bible comes in Luke 22:3, “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” This raises several questions, or at least it better, if we actually stop to think about it. Here are a few of mine:
Ok, so now that I have those out of my head, what are we to do with this? There are two responses that I find completely too simplistic to do much good. First, there are those who promote the idea that Judas was always a horrible person and while being one of the Twelve, he wasn’t really as good or as “discipled” as the others. Second, there are those who see Judas as a pawn used by God to fulfill the master plan. Thus, God in this view, becomes the puppet-master, using both Judas and Satan to do His will through means that we usually wouldn’t associate with God. There are problems here, in both explanations.
The story unfolds this way in Luke’s telling of it. Satan enters Judas. Judas goes to the chief priests and teachers of the law. He discusses with them how he might betray Jesus and hand him over to them. They agree. Both parties are keeping there eyes open for the right time to act. Thus, for Luke, it is the work of Satan that is orchestrating the betrayal of Jesus played out in the joint actions of Judas and the leaders.
As we might suspect, Luke is not writing to really answer our questions. For Luke, Judas will come to be known for doing one thing, and that one thing is betraying Jesus into the hands of those who wanted to kill him. Yet, Judas did not come to this action on his own, Satan entered him. This is the first time the reader of Luke’s gospel will read about Satan since the temptation of Jesus. Therefore, while Luke does not provide the motivations or the circumstances that surrounding Satan’s entry into Judas, we most certainly know the result. Jesus will be handed over to the religious authorities and be crucified.
The one thing I guess we can think about is the fact that while Judas has become synonymous with betrayal and sin, Judas’s story is not one that is uncommon or even set apart. Luke’s explanation for the actions of Judas and of the leaders of the temple was not personal, but one that pitted Satan against God once again. This time, Satan was orchestrating what he thought was his victory, but it was actually his defeat. Unfortunately, poor Judas was not in a place to deny Satan access…and I feel that many of us are in that very place. We are, like Judas, susceptible. Often, when we hear teaching about Judas, we tend to place Judas in a hole that we would never dig, and worse than that Judas ends his own life as he thinks and regrets his actions against Jesus. However, what if Judas’s issue was that his actions did not match his intentions.
Judas wanted to be disciple of Jesus, but he acted as a betrayer. Judas wanted to regret and repent of his first actions, but it led him to take even more consequential actions. Why do I say more consequential? Well, because the cross was Judas’s victory over sin too…but Judas would not accept victory, he went to his grave grieving his failure. (AH HA Moment!) And that can be the same pit we can fall into: Where are we susceptible? How to our intentions play out in out actions? Judas is not a disease, Judas provides us with a sobering lesson about discipleship and how to handle failure. Because if you have followed Jesus, you will fail! And Jesus died because we fail…but accepting the victory of Jesus makes all the difference in the world, and in our lives. We can look back and see times where “Satan entered” but we who have come to know Christ also understand that the “spirit of God has entered” and we must live empowered, not damned, lives.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.