Sunday, December 07, 2008

Silent Night, Holy War

Revelation12:1 – 12, 17

“Silent Night, Holy War”


[Ron Sucek has a book out with this title based on this passage. Found in Mike Mason’s book “Champaign for the soul.”]


Why does our expectation of the Christmas season and its reality differ so much?


Christmas is expected to be a time of peace.


The angles declared “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” [Luke 2:14]


Look at the reality: We suffer from the Christmas struggle, the pressures of the season. We gain weight (stress or diet?). We have places to go and things to do (it stresses us out). We “have to” shop for Christmas presents (it becomes drudgery). We visit people we do not necessarily like (remember those endless Christmas day visits to relatives nobody mentioned during the year?). We send our children to places we don’t want them to go (like to their dad’s home).


It *almost* seems we are at war with ourselves, our schedules, and life in general this time of the year.


On that first Christmas day, God did three things.

 

            1.         God gave us the birth of Jesus to celebrate, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given...” [Isaiah 9:6a]


The successful birth of a child is *always* a joyful thing. It is a fresh of new in the stale of life. It is a shot of energy into the listless existence. There are hopes and dreams rekindled and passed on as an inheritance from our parents.

 

            2.         God gave us a new government, “and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:6b]


Sometimes we get sick and tired of the old government. Maybe we dislike it or distrust it. Fact is, when it comes to governing ourselves we should. The weight of governing our lives is lifted at the cross of King Jesus. Jesus offered, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28 – 30]


You see, left to ourselves; we get it all wrong. We struggle and not know why. We fight without realizing we are fighting the one who loves us and died for us.

 

            3.         God helped us in our greatest war, “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.” [Revelation 12:7]


There have been all sorts of ideas about who the woman, the dragon, and the child are in this story. Before the advent of “dispensationalism” (a theological view point started around 1900) one understanding was the woman was the church and the child was the Roman emperor Constantine. This doesn’t make sense because Constantine is of no eternal significance. Revelation is about eternally significant matters.


Some have thought that the woman is Israel and the child is the Christian church. They see images of the Exodus from Egypt in this story. It makes sense on several levels, except how do we understand the war in heaven and Satan being cast out?


Maybe Revelation 12 makes sense in context to the first Christmas.


Christmas upsets the spiritual balance.


Let’s take a look at the devil’s appearances BEFORE the first Christmas. He’s both in heaven and on earth.


Satan was the tempter in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:1 - 6). This story explains the origins of sin in this world and the sinfulness of the human nature and life lived in disobedience to God.


In Job, Satan had the privilege of freely presenting himself to God and leaving God’s presence at will (see Job 1:6 – 7, Job 2:1,7).


Satan was able to challenge and accuse God’s people directly to the face of God. (See Job 1:9 – 12, Job 2:3 – 5, Zechariah 3:1)


God’s angel was delayed and detained by satanic forces in response to Daniel’s prayer. (See Daniel 10:1 – 14)


Something changed.


Jesus stated, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” [Luke 10:18]


The angel to the shepherds arrived on time with a time specific message. (See Luke 2:9)


We are warned, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5:8]


Matching Revelation 12, there was an immediate attempt on the life of a child... Jesus. The devil lost his prey, his place in heaven, and his power.


“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. [14] So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, [15] where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: Out of Egypt I called my son. [16] When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. [17] Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: [18] "A voice is heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” [Matthew 2:13 – 18]


This leaves some interesting questions.


If the devil is so smart, why did he follow the script?


The prophecy was very clear about what would happen. In following the prophetic script, the devil helped prove the prophecy and the claims of Christ. Why?


You have to admit the chance to end God’s promised plan was too good to pass up. If the devil really does not believe what God says, then he would try. This was possibly the easiest point in history to end God’s promised plan of a deliverer.


Rage does blind intellect. Then again the devil was known for beauty and pride, not common sense.


If God is so smart, why did He risk everything on something so vulnerable as a human birth?


This story took human cooperation and obedience, something we are not good at. Joseph had to listen and act quickly, if not immediately to save Jesus. “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” [Matthew 2:14] What sort of man would move his, presumably sleeping family, in the middle of the night? An obedient man who is in tune with God.


This story risked the fury of an anti-Christ government. Herod believed the prophecy which is why he acted the way he did. Fact is this spirit has been operating since the birth of Jesus, “but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” [1 John 4:3]


Christmas puts us on the “front line.”


While victory is God’s, it is also personally ours. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” [Revelation 12:11] Its one thing to cheer on the winning side, it’s another to be the actual winner. With the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony we are the actual winner...


So, what kind of tools do we have in this victory?


There is the blood of the Lamb. Jesus established the new blood covenant, “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood...” [1 Corinthians 11:25a] In doing so, Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21) In other words, Jesus exchanged places with us.


We have the word of our testimony. What is this testimony? The life changing word is about Jesus and the possibilities of an abundant life (instead of just existing). Part of this is found in our mandate, “and repentance FOR the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. [48] You are witnesses of these things.” [Luke 24:47 – 48 TNIV, emphasis is mine, it is the difference between TNIV and NIV]


This should be backed by our lives. “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” [1 Peter 2:12] Of course people who hate Jesus will always find a way to interpret the believer’s behavior as evil. Why? Jesus said, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” [John 3:20]


Now we can understand the Christmas struggle differently.


When we celebrate Christmas with joy, we mark the birth of King Jesus. We lionize King Jesus and His kingdom. We brand our lives with King Jesus’ salvation and power.


In a real sense we acquire the taste of victory that comes before the final seconds tick off the clock, knowing we have won. In fact, Christmas is “the beginning of the end” to the spiritual depression of a world without its rightful King. This is “finalized” in the blood covenant of Jesus... His death and resurrection. It is empowered by Pentecost... the coming of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.


We gain weight (stress or diet?). We have places to go and things to do (it stresses us out). We “have to” shop for Christmas presents (it becomes drudgery). We visit people we do not necessarily like (remember those endless Christmas day visits to relatives nobody mentioned during the year?). We send our children to places we don’t want them to go (like to their dad’s home).


Underlying all the stress, depression, pressure, concern, and struggle there is a spiritual battle. God’s grace has been forcefully advancing though out history since the first Christmas. The light of King Jesus is expanding into a dark, joyless, violent, and a hopeless world. Is it a wonder the world wants to celebrate the “holidays” rather than Christmas? Is it a wonder that people use the court system and government to eliminate any visual representation (from manger scenes, to crosses and Ten Commandments) of this from the public eye?


At Christmas, we celebrate our personal and eternal salvation, a testimony that can change the personal eternal destiny of others, and the promise of complete victory.

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