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What Is God Up To?

God At War

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 11, 1990

Selected highlights from this sermon

Satan has routinely attempted to thwart God’s purposes. But God has proved His superiority through sending Jesus Christ to secure the victory at Calvary. 

All of Satan’s supposed gains are merely illusions. The Lord’s victory is firm, but the battle continues to go on—and will until Christ returns. Whose side are we on? We can’t play both sides, nor can we stay out of the way.  

Now my topic today is God at War. It was Toynbee who said, “Blessed is the nation that has no history, for history is a record of war.” I’m not going to be talking about military battles or physical battles, because those kinds of battles take place on earth between countries. I’m talking about battles that go on in the human heart. I’m talking about the conflict that has been going on for centuries between God and the devil, and it’s a conflict in which you and I are directly involved. Whether we want to be or not, or whether we know about it or not, we are a part of what is happening.

In order to set the context, I want you to turn to Genesis 3 where we find most things got their start. In Genesis 3 we find that the Lord, of course, is cursing Satan. He’s giving him a curse. Now, remember that the first message of this series was on the topic of God when He was alone. In the next message I spoke about the fall of Satan. And last week was man, the casualty. And this time we’re speaking about the conflict between God and Satan.

Genesis 3:15 has sometimes been considered as the John 3:16 of the Old Testament. Let me read it to you: “I will put enmity between you and the woman (the Lord here, by the way, is speaking to the serpent), and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

You say, “Well, what is the text saying here? It doesn’t seem to be very clear.” First of all, let me explain that Satan’s seed refers to demons and all the people of the world who side with Satan against God. And the text says that there will also be the seed of the woman that is the righteous seed, culminating in Jesus Christ in the birth of Christ the Redeemer.

So with that background, let’s try to understand the text this way. First of all, the Lord says that a Redeemer is going to come, but there is going to be conflict. “I will put enmity – I will put hostility between the work of Satan and the work of God.” There’s going to be war, and that’s what we’re talking about. Furthermore, the Lord not only says that there’s going to be war, but He predicts how it’s going to come out. What is Satan going to be able to do? He will nip the heel of the Redeemer. That’s the best he will do. He will nip the heel of the Redeemer, but what will the Redeemer do? The Redeemer will bruise or crush his head (I’m told that serpents have their poison in their head), and so what Jesus is going to do is to stomp on the devil and twist him into the dirt and end his authority and reverse his work. But there is going to be enmity. There is going to be war. Is Satan going to give up? No! Is he going to lose? Yes! Are you and I involved in the conflict? You bet! If pastors bet, you bet!

What I’d like to do today is to give you three examples of conflicts that Satan has been involved in, conflicts in which God has involved him to win some tremendous victories – awesome victories. But in the end, the victories are illusionary because it only hastens Satan’s judgment. And to do that, we’re going to be looking at a number of passages of Scripture. Some we will be reading; others I will simply recall to your mind.

The first conflict is when Satan tries to destroy the race. If we had time to read chapter 4, we’d find out that Cain kills Abel. Who was Cain’s inspiration? The Bible says in 1 John that Cain killed Abel because he was of that evil one. Why was that important to Satan? It’s because, you see, Satan can’t see the future. He doesn’t know that it’s going to take thousands of years for the Redeemer to be born, and he probably is thinking that Abel, who is a righteous child, likely is going to be the one who is going to crush him on the head because, you see, he can’t foresee the future. He can know what people are thinking. He can know what is being planned, especially those who belong to him, but he cannot predict the future. When President Kennedy was shot in Dallas many years ago, all kinds of soothsayers came forward and said, “I predicted it.” Have you ever noticed that it is much easier to predict an event after it happens than before? Have you ever noticed that?

You know, if you buy those newspapers at the beginning of the year with all those predictions, keep one of those sometime. Keep it for a few years and see how many of them came true. Very, very few! As many as you and I might be able to predict!

So, you see, what Satan tries to do though is he has two tactics. The first is to kill the righteous seed. That’s number one. Number two – if you can’t kill them, corrupt them.

Alright, he tries to kill Abel, and Abel is killed, and what does God do? God gives Adam and Eve another son whose name is Seth. And the word Seth means substitute, and so Satan begins to understand that no matter how many he kills, God will only give another one, and therefore he changes his tactics, and he says, “I’m going into corruption now.”

Turn to Genesis 6. It says in verse 2, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive, and they took as their wives any they chose. And then it says in verse 3 that the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” Verse 4 says, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” You say, “What in the world is going on here?”

In every other place where the expression “sons of God” occurs in the Hebrew Bible, it’s a reference to angels. So I take this text to be a reference to fallen angels involved in illicit sexual immoral activity, either directly or indirectly. You say, “That’s absurd; that’s 18th century; that’s Medieval.” Oh yeah? I have spoken to people who have been so given over to immorality that they had sexual experiences that were demonic. Or perhaps these demonic spirits were simply energizing the people in their sexual activity, but at any rate, the evil is so profound that it says in verse 5 that “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Wow! What a society!

I could imagine Satan saying to himself, “I’ve won! I’ve won! I’ve won! The whole race is corrupted. There is no good seed that’s going to bruise me.” Ah! Verse 8: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” One man, one family, and that’s all that God needs. Do you see how close God is willing to allow Satan to come to a point of victory, and then suddenly cuts him off and doesn’t allow him to have what he thinks he might have? And so he has to snatch defeat out of the very jaws of victory. It’s so close, but there’s no hope.

Let me give you another example of a battle that Satan appears to win and then eventually loses. First of all, he tries to destroy the race. Now if you look at Genesis 12, you remember that God called Abraham. And the Lord said that Abraham is going to be the one who will be the righteous seed, and it says in verse 3 (I’m assuming you know the text here), “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Obviously this is a not-so-veiled reference to the coming Redeemer. So it’s going to be through the seed of Abraham that all the families of the earth are going to receive blessing. Satan, understanding this, begins a persecution process. Remember his two methods are to kill, and if killing doesn’t work, to corrupt. So Abraham’s lineage continues. You know the story of how the Israelites go into Egypt, and once they are in Egypt under the leadership of Pharaoh, what is Satan trying to do? To exterminate the seed of Abraham!

And so Pharaoh says, “I’m going to try to kill people by hard labor, and then he says to the midwives, “When a child is being born, if he is a male child, kill him.” Extermination of what we now call the Jewish race! That’s what he was after. Did it work? Well, not quite because God allowed the people to get out of Egypt after inflicting judgment on the gods of Egypt. You know that all of those plagues in the book of Exodus – every single one – were directed to a different Egyptian god. For example, they used to worship the Nile River. What does the Lord do? The Nile turns to blood, and it’s unusable. They used to worship the sun. What does God do? Darkness is upon the face of the land and the sun doesn’t shine. God is mocking the gods of Egypt, it says in Exodus 12:12. “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord.” Some people escape. They go through the Red Sea. They end up in the desert. Eventually they get into the land. Extermination didn’t work, so Satan changes his strategy and he moves to corruption.

And so once the people are in the land, what do you read in the book of Samuel, and in the book of Kings. Nothing but idolatry - the people worshiping the pagan gods! No matter how much righteousness there was in the land - generation after generation – it always collapsed again, and there was idolatry all over the place. And eventually God said, “I’ve had enough,” and He allowed the Assyrians to come in and carry off 27,000 people to Assyria where they lived there as refugees. And then he allowed the Babylonians to come in and to carry off thousands of people into Babylon. And Satan again is waving a flag and saying, “I’ve won! I’ve won! I’ve won!” Well, not quite!

There were some people who came back. They came back 70 years later, and they started to rebuild the temple and all, and the reason that you have all those genealogies in Ezra and Nehemiah is because God is making sure that we understand that His prediction to Abraham is being fulfilled, and the genealogy is being preserved because things are being set up for the coming of Jesus Christ onto planet earth. And Satan seems to be so close, but God always wins.

Let me give you a third example. He tries to corrupt the whole race. He tries to corrupt the whole nation. Now he tries to destroy a baby. Turn to Matthew 2 for just a moment. What’s going on here in the text? Well, we find out that Herod wants to worship Jesus. Ha ha ha ha ha! The Magi come to Jerusalem and they say, “We’re looking for the Christ child. Incidentally, the star did not lead them to Bethlehem. It led them to Jerusalem so that the scribes could tell them what the Scripture says. Because the Magi were led by the stars, people are into astrology, which the Bible forbids. It is rebellion against God for people to go by the horoscopes.

But I want you to notice that Herod, of course, is so kind, isn’t he? In verse 8 of chapter 2 he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make careful search for the child, and when you have found him, report to me that I may come and worship him also.” The liar!

They of course worshiped Christ, and then they are warned and they go into Egypt, and Jesus and his parents go into Egypt, and Herod finds out about it in verse 16. It says, “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” He said, “I’m going to kill them,” and he didn’t know which baby to kill so he said, “I’m going to kill the whole works.”

Satan says to himself, “Surely, I’m going to win this victory.” Did he win the victory? No! What happened was Jesus and His parents had slipped away into Egypt and escaped the hand of this dictator who was more interested in killing people than he was in any kind of righteousness.

Alright? I’ve already told you. Satan has two methods. Number one, he always tries to kill. That’s his preference. You say, “Well how strong is he?” It says in the book of Hebrews that Satan has the power of death. Awesome! That’s what he likes to do. He’s the destroyer. He’d like to kill us and to kill the people of God. Does he pull it off? No, he doesn’t pull it off. Jesus eludes his grasp, so he moves on to plan B – corruption. He says, “I can’t kill them. I’m going to corrupt them.”

He takes Him into the desert and says, “Look, command these stones that they be made bread.” In other words, do a miracle independent of God. And if you don’t want to do that, bow down and worship me. Fall into the sin of idolatry, and if you do that, I’m going to give you all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory.” And he had the right to do that, by the way, because Jesus didn’t rebuke him. He’s trying to corrupt the Son of God, of all things. What audacity! But that’s the best shot. He’s desperate.

Jesus, of course, says no to all of the temptations, and once again now, Satan has a real dilemma on his hands because he knows that Jesus is the Redeemer. He doesn’t quite understand all that is going to happen, and he doesn’t know now whether to support the crucifixion of Jesus Christ or to be against it. What is he supposed to do in the middle of this? If he allows the Jews to accept Christ by not offering any resistance, and they embrace Jesus as Messiah, Jesus would be embraced by the nation, possibly establishing the Kingdom, and of course, he knew that He had to die. But he can’t stand the nation accepting Christ as Messiah; so he, as a last-ditch effort, inspires the nation to nail Jesus Christ to the cross. And for a few brief moments he is gleeful. It is ambivalent madness because he thinks to himself, “I have put the Son of God on the cross,” which incidentally is the topic of my sermon next week. He says, “I’ve put Jesus on the cross,” and he gets that momentary delight of seeing Christ appear in all weakness, hanging there, dying like a common criminal.

Moments of delight! Right? Ah, listen! Did God have anything to do with that? Turn to Acts 4 for just a moment. How well did Satan do to thwart the purpose of God? Did he really derail God’s program? God’s in heaven saying, “I don’t know what to do! The devil is so strong. He is just doing awful things down there, and I don’t know how to handle it.” No! Acts 4:27 says, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” I love it! Fantastic! Here they are going to do away with Jesus, right? I mean, that’s the assignment. Nail Him to a cross. Herod! Pontius Pilate! I mean they were enemies but they said, “We can agree on this. Let’s get this guy out of here. Let’s nail him to a cross.” The Gentiles and the Jews are all gathered together and they are saying, “Look, we don’t care how many differences we have. This guy’s got to go.” And they nail Him to a cross and the blood is running, and he’s dying there in shame. And they’re all saying, “Well, good riddance. Thank God He’s out of the way!”

The text says that they gathered together to do what God predestined to occur. Wow! Satan’s not doing very well. He may have gotten a moment of glee when he saw Jesus hanging on the cross, but then three days later, Jesus, who had been buried, is raised. And then He goes on to heaven to sit at the feet of God, above principalities and all powers, and every name that is named, both in this world, and the world to come.

I have to tell you a story my secretary told me this past week. She said that there was a woman in a church in the south who heard music in the church basement that she didn’t like. You know people sometimes have their preferences, and people say, “I don’t like this kind,” or “I don’t like that kind.” And she was hearing some music that she didn’t like, and she went to her pastor and she said, “Pastor, the young people downstairs are playing such awful music that I’m sure makes Jesus roll over in His grave.” (chuckles) You did get that, didn’t you? (laughter)

Jesus was raised from the dead, seated above all principalities and all powers, and what did He say just before He died? “Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” winning an incredible victory against the devil.

There was an artist who painted a picture of Satan and a young man playing a game of chess. And evidently the artist believed that evil was going to triumph over good, and so he painted the pieces in such a way that the devil had just moved his queen and announced checkmate in four moves. The young man’s face was ashen and pale because the agreement was that if he could not win over the devil, he would have to become the devil’s slave. And I am told that that picture hung in art galleries, and chess players came from all over the world and looked at it and agreed that the devil had won. But there was one man by the name of Paul Morphy of Louisiana who went and looked at that picture, and he stood there and he stared at it 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and he began in his mind to make various moves, and suddenly he shouted, “Young man, there’s a move you can make. There’s a move you can make that you overlooked.” In fact there was a move he could make. It wasn’t checkmate!

You look at Jesus Christ on Good Friday. How weak He seems to be and undistinguished! But you look at Him on Easter Sunday and you realize there was a move He made. No checkmate for Jesus! The devil was checkmated and how fearful he was.

I’ve given you three examples. No matter how awesome Satan’s power, all that he could do was nip Christ’s heel, and it was Jesus who gave him the awesome blow to the head. He tried to destroy a race. He tried to destroy a nation. He tried to destroy a man, and he couldn’t do it.

Let me give you now three brief conclusions. First, you realize, of course, that there are only two kingdoms in this battle. Only two! The Apostle Paul says that it is the Lord who translated us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. There is the kingdom of Satan with all of his antagonisms and rebellion against God, and then there is the kingdom of light with its righteousness, with its love and worship and praise and adoration of God, and you and I are in one kingdom or another. There is no such thing as neutrality. Please understand that. Either you are a member of God’s kingdom or you are a member of Satan’s kingdom. You say, “Well, I don’t feel though that I’m in a battle. I’m just coasting along in life.” Well, you’ve been anesthetized.

A couple of months ago I needed a biopsy, and I was put to sleep. And the woman who did it – the anesthesiologist – told me, “I’m a Christian. I don’t attend Moody Church, but I’ve often heard you preach on the radio.” And she said, “When I saw your name on the list I deliberately signed up today so that I could be the one to put you to sleep.” (laughter) I told that to the man with whom I play tennis every week, whose identity shall be concealed for obvious reasons. He said, “Well, it was only fair play.” He said, “No doubt she wanted to put you to sleep with a needle because you, no doubt, had often put her to sleep with a sermon.”

By the way, I’m glad I got through that illustration. I was telling my wife yesterday, “You know, if I tell the congregation this, rather than saying I needed a biopsy I might end up saying I needed an autopsy. And I’m glad that I got that out right, but the biopsy was benign, so that means I probably will not need an autopsy any time soon.

You know when I was there asleep, anesthetized, I was still in the battle even though I may have been unaware of it. My dear friend, the more involved you are in the battle, the more conscious you are of the tremendous spiritual dynamics and power that is going on in the world, because our atmosphere is populated with evil spirits and with angels. And of course, God is everywhere, and we are involved in the conflict. Please don’t say, “I am neutral.” You are either advancing the kingdom of God or you are a hindrance to it because there are some Christians who are members of the kingdom of light, but they step over into the enemy territory and actually are of no value to the kingdom of light whatever, even though their names are listed on that roster. There are only two kingdoms – the kingdom of the serpent and the kingdom of the Savior.

There’s a second observation I want to make by way of conclusion, and that is that Satan’s victories are always illusionary. Now by that I don’t mean that they do not have far-reaching consequences. I am not for one moment denying the devastation that he has wrought on planet earth – the marriages that break up, the immorality and the impurity. The spiritual bondage goes on and on and on. I don’t think that there’s a single day that passes here at the church when we don’t receive phone calls from people who are in spiritual bondage seeking counsel. Sometimes there are many calls in a single day.

So he has awesome power, but in the end, God will judge him, and there is a move that Christ will make. Satan will be checkmated, and already has [been]. It’s just a matter of playing the game to the conclusion. Christ checkmated him at the cross, but there are a couple of moves that he can still make. But the checkmate is absolutely and totally inevitable. Jesus took him and crushed him with His foot at the cross, and his head ground into the dirt, and he was humiliated. And some day he’s going to have to admit it publicly in shame.

There’s a final line that I’d like to give you. What is God up to? God is proving in history His superiority. By the way, could I simply say that the devil uses the same two things against the people of God today? Kill, and if not, corrupt! The first three centuries of the Church – kill! Awesome persecutions! After that – after the time of Constantine, it wasn’t "kill" anymore. It was totally corrupt, and Constantine, of course, by bridging together church and state, and by inviting pagan ideas to float into the Church, caused corruption. Tremendous corruption has happened throughout Church history, so Satan continues to be at war with God.

So what is God proving? God is proving His unquestioned superiority over Satan. Even though God sometimes allows it to look as if Satan is winning, appearances are very, very deceiving. You look at today’s headlines, or yesterday’s headlines, or tomorrow’s headlines, and it’s depressing, but God always wins – always wins! Superiority over Satan in His wisdom! Superiority over Satan in His power! Superiority over Satan in His providence! Superiority over Satan in grace and loving kindness, of which Satan has absolutely none! The superiority of God!

Now let me ask you a question. Can you think of any reason at all as to why you as an individual today may be taking on God and holding out on Him when you know right well what He wants you to do? Can you think of any good reason? If God is the superior one, if God is the one who wins the battle no matter what the persecution is (the twelfth chapter of Revelation – the woman running into the desert and the man child being persecuted), if God is the one who has the final move, and has already called checkmate, why should you and I oppose the Almighty? Why should you as a Christian have a single sin in your life that you hang on to as if to say, “This is special to me and it’s more important to me than the will of the Almighty who always wins”? Why should you and I ever do that? We do. I do. You do. God always disciplines me whenever I do. I hope that He does that to you too. But why should we?

Why not just say, “God, look, I’m over it. I mean, I can’t handle this duplicity anymore. Let You be God, and I am Your servant, and what I am going to do is to unashamedly commit myself to righteousness and to live in the kingdom of light because I know that no matter how dark it gets, no matter who calls checkmate, God makes the final move. It only is sensible.

If you are not a Christian, you are losing because you are on Satan’s side. That’s as clear as it is. Jesus said, “Whoever honors me, honors the Father. If you dishonor Me, you dishonor the Father.” Some of you perhaps are in various stages of religious experience and belief but you have never personally received Christ as your Savior. You see, we are born into the kingdom of darkness when we are born physically because we are born as children even.Under condemnation,that’s why children sometimes die they are tainted with sin. But the only way we can be born from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son is to be born again. That’s why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he shall not see the kingdom of God.” There is a transformation that takes place when we admit our helplessness and our sin, and place all of our trust in Jesus Christ alone, and we say, “Oh God, let your Holy Spirit do the work within me, that God might forgive me, accept me and translate me.”

I want you to know that the difference between Satan’s kingdom and God’s kingdom is the difference between light and darkness. So what kingdom do you belong to? No neutrality.

The Greeks used to have a race in which they would put one foot on one horse and the other foot on the other horse, and then the horses would gallop, and the guy would try to stand on both horses. Evidently it worked for a while, but then the horses began to separate and he had a decision to make. And nobody can say, “Well, I’m in the middle. I’ll just leave neutral.” You leave neutral today and you leave putting in a vote for darkness. I urge you to respond to the Savior who can translate you from one kingdom to another. Join me as we pray.

Our Father, we just praise you so much that in Your goodness You have allowed us to understand something of what’s happening in the world. And we pray today for those who need to make decisions. Some people are struggling with sin, others with questions. Maybe there are those who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior, and they’d like to just avoid this whole thing and go home. Father, this half hour has been totally Yours. I’ve said all that I could say. The ball is in Your court. Do Your will!

Before I close this prayer, why don’t some of you pray to God right now and say, “Lord, I give up. I’m going to surrender the weapons of a rebel and I’m going to take You on, hiding all this sin in my life, trying to dodge what I know You want me to do. I just give up and surrender to You.

Some of you say, “I want to believe in Christ as my Savior. Jesus save me.” Tell Him that. Whatever you need to tell Him, do it.

Oh Father, hear our prayers, for we are very, very needy. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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