Every year during the busy holidays, Christians remind themselves of the real significance of Christmas: the coming of Jesus. Our hearts are filled with gratitude that God the Father sent a Savior to redeem us. And celebrating Christ's birth is a sweet and pleasant time, filled with blessings of all kinds. We love seeing colorful presents around the tree in our living room. We enjoy singing carols and hymns, thanking God for his many blessings. Some of us even enjoy "A Charlie Brown Christmas," with Linus quoting from Luke 2 at the end.
Yet despite these nice things, in reality Christmas is about war. And Jesus' birth story in the gospels focuses on a key battle in this war. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the Bible is a book — length story of conflict. It traces the story of God's plan of redemption for humankind. We tend to isolate the Christmas story from the rest of the Bible, especially at holiday time, but the truth is Jesus' birth is the central point in this long conflict.
Christmas is, in effect, a D-Day landing against the entrenched forces of hell. With Christ's birth, God established a beachhead in order to fight in a new way. Most of us have seen war movies with intensely pitched battles. Those battles pale in comparison to the conflict that takes place in the spiritual realm. The same is true of every human enemy depicted onscreen. They are harmless compared to the enemy who is dead set on assaulting you — your mind, your body, your family and loved ones.
Please don't misunderstand me here. We are to be grateful with all our hearts for the blessings we enjoy at Christmas. We know that all good things come from the Father of lights. Yet we are also to remind ourselves why Jesus came: because we are at war. We are at war with the powers of darkness, with demonic spirits, with the devil himself. And that is ultimately the reason we celebrate Christ's coming. With Jesus comes our ultimate victory in the war.
Many believers don't want to ac knowledge this war in their lives. They simply ignore it much of the time. Yet even when we aren't actively doing battle against our enemy, he is still waging war against us. C.S. Lewis wrote, "Satan's greatest lie is to try to get us to think he does not exist."
It is a biblical fact that the enemy of our souls is always on the move against God's people. Therefore, if our focus during the holidays is only on blessings — even good things like giving and receiving — we miss the fuller impact of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf. And we miss out on the deeper, ultimate blessing that Christmas reveals is ours.
The war between Jesus and Satan began a long time ago.
This war between heaven and hell has been taking place for thousands of years. The book of Job points to its origins when it speaks of angels being formed long before the earth was created: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4, 7).
Satan was one of those heavenly angels. At the time he was called Lucifer, and the prophet Ezekiel speaks of his great fall from heaven: "You were an anointed guardian cherub…. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you" (Ezekiel 28:14, 17).
In the beginning, Lucifer occupied a high seat of authority. Ezekiel describes him as one who "covers" — meaning he had a lot of power, with many things under his oversight. We see this type of angel atop the Ark of the Covenant, acting as a "cover" (or guardian) for the mercy seat underneath. Yet Lucifer wasn't content to "cover" the many things entrusted to him — he wanted to cover all things.
In short, he believed he rivaled God. His pride and self-exaltation convinced him he needed even more power. Eventually he went to war against God, persuading one third of all the angels to take up arms with him.
Of course, Lucifer's rebellion had nowhere to go. No power on earth could accomplish any such scheme against the Almighty. In that heavenly conflict, God cast Lucifer — now Satan — out of heaven and down to a place Scripture calls "the pit."
Evidently, after the Creation, Satan took some measure of authority in an earthly realm. His first recorded appearance on earth is in the Garden of Eden, where he tempted Adam and Eve. In short, Satan continued his war with God by coming against the crown of his creation, man.
The New Testament gives us further perspective on Satan, with warnings that we are to be wise to his assaults. Jesus called Satan the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31), making it clear the devil has some authority over the earthly realm. In similar fashion, Paul called Satan "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4). He also identified Satan as "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2).
In Revelation 9:11, John calls Satan the "angel of the bottomless pit." I appreciate this description, because it describes Satan's future. One day our enemy is going to be bound forever in a bottomless pit. Until that time, however, Peter warns that "your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
The Greek word for "adversary" means "one who stands against." What is it about us, exactly, that the devil is against? He seeks to thwart the good that God has planned for us. If you are a Christian, God is on the move in your life. He is molding and shaping your heart, mind and circumstances for his plans and purposes. In short, God has something good in store for you, and according to his Word no weapon formed against you may prosper.
It is this good, this heavenly purpose that Satan comes against. So he does everything he can to thwart it, using everything at his disposal: "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy" (John 10:10).
Jesus shows us how Satan goes about this antagonistic work in the parable of the sower. In Matthew 13:39, Jesus describes Satan as "the enemy that sow(s)." According to the parable, God is the farmer who sows good seed in our hearts and lives. By contrast, Satan comes along afterward and sows bad seeds that bring forth weeds, choking out the life that God has sown.
Christ uses an even stronger description to warn us of Satan's work against us. He calls the devil both a murderer and a liar: "He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44).
I live in Colorado Springs, a city recently named by one magazine as "the most religious city in America." It is not a big city, yet the Department of Human Services reports that 60,000 people here live in poverty. I believe Satan relishes this problem and does what he can to worsen it. For example, our church is involved with a ministry that reaches out to single mothers. These women's abandonment is tragic, yet I don't believe it is merely the bad behavior of men. It is fueled by Satan, who comes to steal relationships, kill hope in children and destroy homes permanently.
It is easy to discern Satan's work as a murderer in Congo, where bloody civil unrest claims the lives of thousands. It is easy to see the prince of the power of the air moving in Haiti, where he capitalizes on the havoc wreaked by an earthquake (followed, cruelly, by a hurricane, then floods, then a cholera outbreak, then a suspect election that has caused riots). Satan fuels the chaos, bringing more destruction and despair.
What may not be so easy to see is that Satan is on the move in your realm — especially if you are serious about Jesus. He never stops setting forth schemes to come against you. Even as you read this, he is plotting to counter any life being spoken into your heart by biblical truth.
The Bible continually shows Satan's activity against God's faithful.
When the book of Job opens, we find Satan at God's throne, accusing Job, a righteous servant of the Lord. In this scene, the devil is prefigured as "the accuser of our brothers," as John calls him in Revelation 12:10, "who accuses them day and night before our God."
As early as Genesis 3 we find in Scripture words of warfare. After the Fall, God told the devil, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). The "woman" here represents the church of Jesus Christ. Satan's opposition to God's people has raged ever since.
Yet who is the "offspring" mentioned in this passage? Paul explains: "The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offsprings,' referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring,' who is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). What great news: The battle is no longer between Satan and the church — it is between Satan and Christ!
At that very first Christmas, the battle changed. For millennia Satan had brought all his warfare against the Hebrew children, defeating them often. Then 2,000 years ago Christ stepped into the battlefield. At that moment in history Jesus became God's centerpiece in the war. For thousands of years Satan had won battle after battle. This was especially true in the 400 years leading up to Jesus' birth. Israel endured a period of dark silence, not hearing from the Lord.
Elijah had prophesied about this bleak time, saying the people would live in "gross darkness." Because there was no word from the Lord, man's best response was to construct a strict religious system. Not surprisingly, sin began to rule and reign over God's people because they were unable to keep all the laws laid on them by man.
During that period, Satan must have been convinced he had won the war: "I couldn't win in heaven, but I have won on earth. Look at how men hate each other. It has been this way for 400 years with little interference. I have conquered — my reign is set!"
Then something happened. A certain "chatter" began in the atmosphere, signaling something was on the horizon. I use the word "chatter" here as a term used by our country's security agencies. From time to time U.S. forces pick up signals from terrorist groups, signaling that plots are developing. These signals are known as "chatter."
That is exactly what the demonic hordes heard near the end of the 400-year period. A holy "chatter" began, telling them something was in the works. Soon the devil's principalities reported back to him: "People are quoting the old prophets. Others are crying, 'Prepare the way of the Lord.' We have heard a child is coming who will speak as the voice of the One."
Micah was one of the prophetic voices being quoted. He had said, "Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth" (Micah 5:3). The phrase "give them up" here meant the world was subject to Satan's rule. But the phrase "she who is in labor" signaled a breakthrough in the long battle. The "birth" would prove to be the beachhead, the base of God's warfare against the enemy.
This news caused all hell to break loose. Satan gathered all his forces, thinking, "I know this is the 'offspring' mentioned in Genesis 3:15. I know what he has come to do, and I can't let it happen." So he stirred up evil Herod to kill every baby in the region, to make sure the Christ child was destroyed. (We see this kind of murderous work by Satan throughout history. In generation after generation he has moved tyrants or ungodly men to slaughter innocent children.)
But God the Father made sure his beloved Son was delivered — and the rest is history. Jesus' life, death and resurrection would become our victory. All the power of the gospel that was to come — all the miraculous victories enjoyed in the name of Jesus for centuries — lay there in the humble manger, in the tiny form of a babe.
Where is the Christmas victory in your life today?
It is crucial for us to see clearly Satan's work in the world, including our own realm of influence. If we don't discern his presence and work, we are lost. Already, as Paul says, the "god of this age" has blinded the minds and hearts of many. "Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:3–4).
Right now I know Christian husbands who are so blinded they no longer care if their troubled marriage works out. They remain nonchalant while their wives cry themselves to sleep at night. These men say the best they can hope for is, "I'll try to be better." No! Getting better isn't the problem. Casting Satan's work out of your marriage is the work that needs to be done! Yes, we all have problems caused by our own sinful nature. But we have to know there is a stronger force at work against us — and we are targets of its destructive power.
As Christians we tend to think of our difficulties in two categories.
The majority of Christians attribute their sorrows, pains and struggles to one of two things: (1) we cause them by our own sin and failure, or (2) they are brought about by God to achieve some purpose in our lives. It is true that God opens the door to allow certain trials to refine our faith. But it is also true that many of us never consider a third category: that Satan is continually working against us, that he still has power and authority in an earthly realm, and that he is at work to thwart God's good purposes in the lives of believers any way he can.
Let me return to the parable of the sower in Mark 4. In this parable, God's good seed can be choked out by several things. First there are the cares of life, including pride, ambition and the love of this world. Then there is persecution, which chokes out life through fear, doubt and discouragement. Jesus tells us there is also a third category: We have an enemy who comes to pluck away the good seed. Christ tells us exactly who this enemy is: "Satan immediately comes" (Mark 4:15). The devil comes into our lives to try to kill, steal, destroy and rob — all to derail us from God's good purposes.
As a pastor, I sometimes see people give Satan more authority or credit than he actually has. These folks build a theology around everything being satanic or demonic. Some people spend hours concentrating on discerning spirits, even trying to learn the spirits' names in order to cast them out. But Jesus' way was simply to say, "Be gone!"
Other Christians, however, have the opposite attitude. They ignore the fact that Satan is actively working against all who follow Jesus. It is time for God's church to take a stand and say, with Christ's authority, "No more, Satan. You will not take God's good from my life. Be gone!" So many Christian men need to step forth and say, "No, devil, you will not take my marriage. You will not steal hope from my children. Be gone from my household!"
Yes, we are at war — but Satan has been defeated in our lives. A tiny babe has rendered him powerless over every son and daughter of God. Our adversary now faces an eternal future in a bottomless pit. That is knowledge that should strengthen, encourage and empower every one of us.
As we celebrate Christmas, may we be thankful for all of God's blessings, including his D-Day plan. Our enemy is at work, knowing his time is short — but our God has won the war!