Topical Scripture: Revelation 12:1-9
A woman rubbed a magic lamp, and out popped a genie. The amazed woman asked if she got three wishes. The genie was indignant: “Three-wish genies are a storybook myth. I’m a one-wish genie. So, what will it be?”
The woman did not hesitate: “I want peace in the Middle East. See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other and I want the Arabs and Jews and Sunnis and Shiites to get along. I want world peace and harmony.”
The genie looked at the map and complained, “Lady, please be reasonable. These countries have been at war for thousands of years. I’m out of shape after being in a bottle for 500 years. I’m good, but not that good. I don’t think it can be done. Please make another wish, and make it reasonable.”
The woman thought for a moment and said, “Well, I’ve never been able to find the right man. You know–one that’s considerate and fun, likes to cook and help with the house cleaning, gets along with my family, doesn’t watch sports all the time. That is what I wish for–a good man.”
The genie let out a sigh and said, “Let me see the map again.”
The genie is right: there have been wars since history began.
This Memorial Day weekend we pause to remember with tremendous gratitude those who have died serving our country in those wars.
And in worship, we remember that we are in a war as well. Not in Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine, but in our souls. There is a spiritual war which has been going on since time began. You’re right in the middle of it this morning.
Knowing that fact will help you understand why you face the battles, temptations, and struggles you do. Learning how to win this battle is crucial to finding the abundant life of Jesus, the joy of the Lord, the power of the Spirit, the victory you are intended to experience every day. So let’s watch the battle of the ages unfold, and learn how to make its victory ours.
Know that you win
So far in Revelation we’ve focused on Jesus as he truly is. In contrast to The Da Vinci Code’s human prophet, we have watched him rule the universe from his throne, open the word of God with his power, and receive the worship of heaven and all eternity. Now we watch his enemy and ours stride on the stage of heaven and history.
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven” (Revelation 12:1a). “Sign” is used in the Bible to warn us that something of cataclysmic importance is about to happen.
Here it is: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (v. 1b). “Clothed with the sun” is a reference to divine favor and blessing; “the moon under her feet” shows that she has been raised and exalted by God. The “twelve stars” most likely refer to the twelve tribes of Israel and/or the twelve signs of the Zodiac, indicating that she is crowned by the One who rules the nations and the universe.
Some think this image refers to the believing community which anticipated the Messiah, or the early Christian movement. The more obvious reference is to Mary and Herod’s attempt to murder her family. Whichever we choose, here we learn that God’s people are protected by his purpose and power.
“Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads” (v. 3). The “dragon” is a typical symbol of Satan in the Old Testament and ancient literature (cf. Isaiah 51:9). “Seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns” symbolize great knowledge, power, and authority. This dragon did his best to devour the Child of God, but he was defeated (v. 5).
Defeated on earth, and in heaven. Michael cast him from heaven’s glory to his eventual doom. As he was defeated in Revelation 12, so he will finally be destroyed in Revelation 20:10: “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
I saw a t-shirt which conveyed some excellent theology: “The next time Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.” He loses and we win–this is the promise of God. Now, how does this battle relate to your battles today?
Defeat your enemy today
C. S. Lewis once suggested that we make two mistakes regarding the devil. One is to give him more authority than he deserves–then he can do what he wants. The other is to deny that he exists–then he can do what he wants. People today typically think of Satan as a symbol of evil, wearing red tights and a tail, the stuff of Saturday cartoons. He’s just as happy to be ignored as to be feared.
But it’s impossible to ignore his work–broken hearts and homes, abuse, disease and immorality. In some places in America, the worship of Satan is growing ten times faster than any Christian church. In recent years, the Satanic Bible has outsold the Holy Bible in many university bookstores.
How are we to do battle with Satan today?
First, know your enemy. Jesus described his nature and agenda in frightening detail (John 8:42-47).
Satan wants to control us. He claims ownership over every unsaved soul. Jesus referred to his enemies as children of their Satanic “father” (v. 44). He is the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). Christians live in a world dominated by the devil. We are soldiers stationed on enemy soil, living in an occupied country.
The devil wants to manipulate us. He blinds our minds to the truth, for he is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). This is why the person who has not received the Holy Spirit cannot understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). From the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ wilderness temptations to the present, he manipulates truth to lead us astray.
Satan wants to destroy us. He is a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He wants nothing less than the wholesale destruction of the human race and especially the people of God. To wage his war, Satan rules demons–fallen angels which serve as his minions and foot soldiers in his ongoing war against the Lord and his children.
Know your enemy: he wants to own us, deceive us, and destroy us.
Second, expect to be attacked. Lions roar only when they are about to attack their prey. Expect to be tempted and tested. If Jesus is your Lord, Satan has lost your soul. But he will stop at nothing to steal your ministry, lest he lose others to your faith. You have a target painted on your back. If you and Satan are not in conflict, that can only mean that he’s pleased with your spiritual life and health today. Expect him to attack you this week.
Third, resist him in God’s strength.
Satan is real, but he is also defeated. Jesus came to earth to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). When our Lord died on the cross, sin died. When he rose from the grave, the grave lost. One day Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire, to be tormented day and night for all time (Revelation 20:10). Satan will not reign in hell–he will be punished there, forever.
So “submit yourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). The moment you are tempted, submit the issue to God and choose to resist: “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). It will never be easier to refuse sin than when it first appears in your mind or heart.
And claim your victory in God’s power. Your Father promises that he will allow no temptation without giving you the strength to defeat it (1 Corinthians 10:13). The moment the enemy appears in your life, stand on that promise. Assume the victory which it promises.
Last, if you fall, get back up. Go to your Father for forgiveness, grace, and victory.
Remember that Peter failed Jesus three times during his trials and death, but then won the great victory of Pentecost a few weeks later and helped lead the charge against the gates of hell. Saul of Tarsus helped to murder Christians before he led the Christian army to global victory.
If you have allowed yourself to be trapped by habitual sin, turn to Jesus now. If you have hurt your Heavenly Father or his children by lies, slander, or gossip, confess them now. If you have been away from your Lord’s presence, return to it now. It will never be easier to come back to God than it is today. Every step into the enemy’s territory makes a longer journey home. Start back now.
Where has the dragon found you? What temptation has he whispered in your ear lately? What gossip or slander or malice does he want you to speak against one of God’s children? What bitterness or unforgiven wrong does he want you to cherish in your heart? What desire for power and prestige has he birthed in your mind? What lust has he enflamed in your spirit?
The fact that you’re tempted and tested just makes you human. Join the crowd. We’re all in this battle. You’ve done nothing wrong. In fact, if you belong to Jesus you’ve done something very right, and Satan hates you for it. I used to think that temptation meant I was a bad Christian. In fact, it means that I’m strong enough in my faith to threaten the enemy. He would leave me alone if my faith and service didn’t bother him. Be glad that he considers you a threat.
But know that this battle is deadly serious. The dragon wants to control you, manipulate you, and destroy you. Our postmodern, relativistic society claims there is no absolute truth or objective right and wrong–so long as you don’t hurt anyone else, you’re free to do as you want. That’s a lie. You’re being attacked by the enemy of all that is good. The same evil which crucified Jesus is after you. Gossip destroys reputations; bitterness poisons hearts; power and pride corrupts our minds; lust kills homes and marriages and ministries.
So take your enemy’s temptations immediately to Jesus. Refuse the self-reliance of our culture, for you cannot outsmart or outduel this dragon. You don’t have his experience and power, but Jesus does. Michael has defeated him, and the risen and returning Jesus will one day destroy him. You cannot win this battle, but he already has.
Refuse to give up, for the victory belongs to your Father and his children. As I was finishing this message, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a story I first heard and told years ago. It’s about a garage sale in hell.
All of Satan’s tools were on display. Murder, anger, lust, lies, slander–they were all there, labeled and priced. At the end of the long table was an unnamed tool, more worn with use than any other. Its price was much higher than anything else on display.
Someone asked the devil what it was. “Discouragement” was his answer. “Why is it priced so high?” “Because no one knows it’s mine.”
Now you do.