The church a body - vital principles

Text 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 Time 23/03/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We looked last week at the opening 11 verses of 1 Corinthians 12. We made five main points.
1. Understand that pagans do not have the Spirit but Christians do
2. Realise that the one God gives his people different roles
3. Recognise that these different gifts are all for the common good
4. Think of the variety of gifts given but all by the one Spirit – some nine are listed here. Most of them are no longer in use.
5. Never forget that all these gifts are given by one and the same Spirit as he determines
Now the rest of the chapter (verses 12-31) covers similar ground, repeating and expanding on the points already made. What I have done is to isolate eight principles. If we can see and live according to the principle Paul gives us here then
1. The unity principle
The main illustration that Paul uses throughout this section is that of the body. This is not difficult to visualise as we all have one and are seeing our bodies every day. In verse 12 Paul says The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. How many bodies do you have? Just the one. How many parts does that body have? Many. There are arms, legs, torso, hands, feet, fingers, toes, etc. The body is a unit made up of many parts. So it is with Christ says Paul. There is one universal church and in each locale there is just one body of Christ, though it is made up of many parts.
Paul argues for our essential unity in verse 12 For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. $ He uses two pictures then – baptism and drinking. All of us here this morning, we were all baptised immersed by one Spirit into one body. Yes, we may be Jewish or Gentile, religious or pagan in background, rich or poor, black or white but it is the same Spirit who has baptised us all or to put it another way, we have all drunk the same water of life, the same Spirit of God and so we are essentially one.
We do not deny our clear differences. We do not pretend that they do not exist but let us remember that we are essentially one. We are united. Let us never forget the fact. What we do cannot be simply for ourselves or in light only of our own needs. Rather, we need to think of others and keep the principle of unity high in our thinking.
2. The belonging principle
So says Paul (14) Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. He then gives two obvious examples of how this works out.
15 If the foot should say, for example Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. No, the foot may wish it was a hand but it is not and though it may protest, it is still part of the body.
16 And if the ear should say, Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. “I'm fed up of listening, listening all the time” says the ear “all I hear is moaning and complaining. I'm fed up of it. I want to see the world. I want to be an eye. And if I can't. I'm off.” It will make no difference, however. It is still part of the body.
Do you ever wish you were someone else? I wish I was a deacon not an elder. I wish was an elder not a deacon. I wish I had teaching gifts rather than helping gifts. I wish I had helping gifts rather than helping gifts. So easily we can start thinking – I'm not great at witnessing so I'm not really part of the church, I can't preach so I'm not part of the church, I can't teach Sunday School so I'm not ..., etc. But the belonging principle says that we all belong though we have different roles.
3. The diversity principle
Having been a little surreal Paul carries it on - 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? Say all the parts of the body want to be an eye or an ear. Okay granted. If a body was one great eye it would be very good at seeing but no good at hearing! If it was one big ear it would hear very well but, again, it wouldn't see anything.
And so if we are all preachers or all helpers or all administrators – how can that work?
Say we decide the only gift any of us has is cleaning the church. So we all come and clean it on Saturday and we get the place spick and span for today and the place looks better than ever. And so we arrive and sit there. We need someone to start the hymns off. Will you do it? No, I clean the church I can't play the piano or start us off unaccompanied.
Or say we all decide the only thing we can do is give out tracts and so we all go up to Golders Green and give out tracts. Gilders Green doesn't know what's hit it. We give out 200 tracts and a number of people promise to come. But then who will preach? Perhaps someone tries to say something but they cannot preach ….
What a nightmare.
But that is not how it is thankfully in fact (says Paul in verses 18-20) God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
I don't think that this is a guarantee that we shall never want for a preacher or a giver out of tracts or pianist or someone to clean the church but it does mean that we should expect diversity. One will have this gift and one another. We will not all have the same gifts.
4. The interdependency principle
And so Paul says in verse 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, I don't need you! And the head cannot say to the feet, I don't need you! Again it is slightly surreal. The eye says to the hand I don't need you but how is it going to get those lovely grapes it has seen into the mouth without hands? The head says to the feet I don't need you but how will this brilliant idea you talk about of going to see the Mona Lisa in Paris or whatever it is if your feet don't take you?
And so it is great if someone can give out tracts or invite people to church but it is also a help if someone can clean the church before we meet. To have someone at the door to open up and welcome everyone is a great help too as is having someone organising the coffee afterwards. We don't need flowers I guess though it can be such a help and certainly someone making sire the heating on or off is important. Without a pianist and a preacher it is difficult to see how we are going to get anywhere. It helps to have someone on the PA too and someone to do the collection. And if we try and do all this and no-one prays it will be pretty useless and if we only manage to do Sunday things and never speak to each other or help each other outside that then it is going to be pretty useless too.
No the more you think about it the more you see how we all depend on each other. And in the church of Christ that is exactly as it should be.
5. The weakness principle
In verses 22-24a Paul uses a very bold picture I think and it answers a question that I think often goes through people's minds when they hear this sort of thing. He says to the idea of getting rid of certain body parts as not needed On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. He probably has in mind our private parts here. They are, says Paul, weaker, less honourable and unpresentable. Paul lied in a much more modest age than our own but we know how tender and vulnerable are certain parts of our body and we rightly do not want them to be seen. These parts we know have their important role to play and so we cover them up and take special care of them.
Now in a similar way we know that some in the body of Christ are very weak and appear to be able to contribute very little. They can't preach or be deacons. They can't easily do beach missions or children's work. They can't take the collection or make the coffee or clean the church. They can't visit others. They may not even be able to come on Sundays. And yet they can give and they can pray and they can say something encouraging when we visit them and so far from thinking they are useless or not part of the body we recognise that they are an essential part of the body too.
Let's never forget the weakness principle. It is a very superficial understanding of things that thinks such people are unimportant or that they count for nothing.
6. The sympathy principle
Paul goes on to develop this in verses 24b-26 But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
We are so familiar with this and it is so obvious that we hardly notice it. You hit your thumb with a hammer. Your mouth doesn' t say glad it was only my thumb and not the rest of me. No, your mouth says “ow!”, your other hand holds the thumb or puts the tap on to douse it with cold water. Your whole body is very eager to do what ever it can t help. Someone tells you bad news. It is your ears that hear this bad news but your whole body reacts. Your eyes may fill with tears and your hands may wipe those tears away. Similarly with good news, your whole body is excited. Your arm may do an air punch, your feet may lift you off the ground, your arms may wrap round someone near you. If a gold medal is put round your neck at the Olympics, your head willing bows to let the neck have its medal, your hand holds it up for people to see, etc.
If one of us asks someone to come to church and they come then we are all glad, if one of us gets a positive answer to prayer we all rejoice, only one may preach but we are all glad if it helps a believer or if an unbeliever is converted. And when anyone of us suffers or is disappointed we all sympathise in that too. Their loss is our loss, their failure is our failure, their trouble is our trouble. That sympathy principle should be prominent in all our church life.
7. The variety principle
So says Paul to the Corinthians (27) Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. He then again lists some of the gifts of the Spirit. There are eight items this time and although some of the gifts mentioned before are mentioned again some are not and others are introduced. He has mentioned already prophets .. workers of miracles … those having gifts of healing … and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. He introduces apostles … teachers … those able to help others and those with gifts of administration.
One of his aims here is to put gifts in some sort of order. He begins with apostles and prophets teachers. Miracle workers and healers come after these. Those speaking in different kinds of tongues a gift highly prized by most of the Corinthians he deliberately puts last behind those able to help others (deacons and such like) and those with gifts of administration (those able to lead the church).
Using the list he asks (29, 30) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? (another gift mentioned early in the chapter). He misses out helpers and administrators as being gifts less likely for people to covet.
As we suggested last week prophets ... workers of miracles … those having gifts of healing … and those speaking messages from God in different kinds of tongues are gifts only known in the New Testament era and not something we should expect today. This would be true of Apostles too – though the need for church planters or missionaries continues. There are still teachers … those able to help others and those with gifts of administration today.
These verses remind us what a variety of gifts the Spirit has given to his church. The lists are not exhaustive and no doubt other gifts could be mentioned such as those in Romans 12 which include serving, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others and showing mercy.
We do not all have the same gifts but what gifts we have must be used in different ways to serve others.
8. The ambition principle
Finally, Paul says (31) But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way which leads into Chapter 13. There is more to say on this subject, certainly but it is right to eagerly desire the greater gifts. What are these gifts? First, missionaries, church planters, those who can teach, then those able to help in different ways or with gifts of leadership. Elsewhere Paul says it is good to desire to be an elder. We are not all elders and deacons but it is right to aspire to such tasks. 8 principles then: unity, belonging, diversity, interdependence, weakness, sympathy, variety, ambition. Keep the m in mind.

The One Holy Spirit and his many gifts

Text 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Time 16/03/14 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Around this time last year we began a series of studies in 1 Corinthians. By the end of November I'd preached 30 sermons covering the first 11 chapters. We've had a break since then and what I want to do today is to pick up where we left off.
In the first 6 chapters Paul talks about what he wants to raise – their unacceptable divisions, their toleration of the man guilty of incest, their taking each other to court and their misunderstanding of Christian freedom. Then at the start of Chapter 7 he says Now for the matters you wrote about and begins to deal with those things. Chapter 7 is on marriage and divorce, etc. In Chapter 8 he begins to deal with the matter of food sacrificed to idols and the need for brotherly love and not standing on your rights, which goes on into Chapter 9 and then Chapter 10 which is full of warnings from Israel's history. Chapter 11 is famous as the first part is about maintaining differences between men and women – the hats passage some call it – and the second part is about the Lord's Supper.
When we come to Chapter 12 Paul starts on a new subject. He says Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. Back in 1:7 he has told them you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed but this is the first place where he really takes up the subject, which was clearly causing tensions in Corinth.
One of the Corinthians problems was their spiritual pride. All the way through this letter Paul is seeking to slowly let the air out of their puffed up balloon. At the beginning of Chapter 8 he says Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. Before that he has been digging away with his Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? (3:16) Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? (5:6) Or do you not know that the Lord's people will judge the world? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19)
We get it again in 9:13 and 24 Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?
Ringing the changes in 10:1 it is For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea and here again (12:1) it is Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
In each case Paul is really covering Christian basics, things that the Corinthians should surely know by this stage. So what we want to say this morning is quite basic. If you are a Christian you should know these things. These are basic.
1. Understand that pagans do not have the Spirit but Christians do
Paul begins by reminding them of their past (2) You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. This applies to the Gentiles in Corinth but even the Jews were like Gentiles influenced and led astray to mute idols. The influence that guided their lives was a pagan one, demons led the way. Outside of Christ, that is all there is. If you are not a Christian, you will be led astray and worship created things rather than the Creator.
But, of course, a great change had come in the lives of these Corinthians. This change was something that the Holy Spirit brought about. Verse 3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. Paul perhaps when he was a persecutor of Christians would try to get them to say "Jesus be cursed," but he now knew that those with the Spirit would not say it. Conversely, without the Holy Spirit we cannot honestly say that Jesus is Lord that he is God. It is only as the Spirit works in us that we come to know the truth.
Here is something vital to begin with. The only way any of us can honestly say that Jesus is Lord is if the Holy Spirit enables us. We need him at work in our lives. Is the Holy Spirit at work within you? Can you honestly say Jesus is Lord? If not, pray that God will give you the Holy Spirit. Once he enters into your life then you will be a Christian indeed.
2. Realise that the one God gives his people different roles
That's the first thing to get then. But then the next thing Paul wants us to see is that although it is the one Holy Spirit who works in all believers yet he does it in different ways. In a very Trinitarian series of phrases Paul says in verses 4-6
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
It is the same Spirit who works in all Christians then but the gifts he gives them differ. Every Christian acknowledges that Jesus is Lord but they do not all serve him in exactly the same way. God works in all of his people, though in different ways.
Think of a rugby team. They all wear the same colour shirts and play for the same club. They have the same manager, the same captain, the same fans. However, some are tall slim men, some are huge wide men. All shapes and sizes play. Some are forwards, some are backs; some are gifted kickers, most are not. Now among God's people, something similar goes on. As the Spirit works in each one he gives them different gifts and so they are enabled to serve the Lord in different ways.
Or think of a workman with his toolbox. When he is doing a job he selects the right tool for the right job. He uses a saw to cut wood, a plane to plane it. He uses a hammer to put in nails, a chisel to create a recess in the wood. There is one toolbox and one craftsman but many different tools.
So, if you have the Holy Spirit do you realise that he has gifted you to serve Jesus Christ as he intends? Do you realise that God is at work among us all, although in different ways in different people?
3. Recognise that these different gifts are all for the common good
Verse 7 takes the argument on a little further Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Every Christian has at least one gift. This comes with conversion and does not require some second blessing to gain it. Of course, a person may have more than one gift and it may take a little while before that is apparent. The gifts of the Spirit are not given to make us feel good about ourselves or to increase our assurance or in fact anything to do with ourselves, as such. No all these gifts are given for the common good. These gifts are all intended to all of us good.
Think of the rugby team. They play in different positions but they all want to win against the opposition. Every point scored is for the whole team not just for the individual. It is the same with the workman and his toolbox. If he is making a cabinet, say, he uses whatever tool he needs to get the job done. It is all bent to the one end. Or think of an advancing army. There are different roles. Some are leaders, some are foot soldiers. They may have different pieces of equipment. They all work together though to overcome the enemy.
Is this how you think? Whatever gift you have or that anyone else has in the church, do you see that it is intended for the common good? Are you using whatever gifts you have for the common good? That is God's intention.
4. Think of the variety of gifts given but all by the one Spirit
In verses 8-10 Paul gives a list of gifts of the Spirit. He mentions some other things at the end of the chapter too. This is one of several places where Paul lists spiritual gifts. It is clear from these lists that none of them, or even all of them together, are exhaustive. Paul is merely giving us examples of spiritual gifts. One problem we have with these list is that it is not always obvious what is being referred to. Phrases like gifts of healing or miraculous powers are fairly obvious but what is the message of wisdom or the message of knowledge? Something like prophecy or tongues is open to some interpretation too. Another issue here is whether all the gifts Paul mentions are gifts that we can expect to see in operation today. A similar question would be to what extent these gifts are what we think of as supernatural or natural. If a person is healed by prayer we would see that as a supernatural thing, whereas if it was through the work of a doctor we would think of it as a more natural thing, although, of course, all healings are God's work not ours.
Whatever we say about the nine gifts listed here then we need to be fairly tentative to some extent. The list begins with references to people being given the message of wisdom or the message of knowledge and it closes with references (10) to speaking in different kinds of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. These all sound like public speaking gifts as does prophecy but the other gifts in verse 9 (faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, distinguishing between spirits) are not of that order.
So let's think about these gifts. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit. This sounds like something supernatural and probably something largely confined to the New Testament period when there was no New Testament as such and so the need for a word of wisdom to guide or knowledge to inform was necessary. Even today we need people with knowledge, people who can teach us more deeply from God's word and with wisdom who when as a church we are facing difficulties can advise and guide us.
In verse 9a he says to another faith by the same Spirit. By faith here he cannot mean the faith that all Christians must have in Christ. He must have in mind wonder working faith of a very high degree. In 13:2 Paul refers to having a faith that can move mountains. No doubt there is a need for such people of faith today too.
9b to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit. We know that in the New Testament there were great gifts of healing. Paul and Peter and other apostles were able to do amazing things. Not that they could heal everyone necessarily. Paul talks about leaving Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). However, amazing miracles of healing took place that have never really been repeated since. Certainly there are cases where a person has been seriously sick and in answer to prayer they have been healed and I know there are people who claim to be healers but we are talking here about someone with the gift of healing.
Most miracles we read of in the New Testament were miracles of healing but we do read of others, miracles of judgement for example – blinding or even killing. So Paul adds (10) to another miraculous powers.
To another prophecy. Because there was no New Testament there would be direct revelations from God. There is no reason to expect these today because the Bible is complete. Preaching continues, however, and that ought to have a prophetic edge to it.
To another distinguishing between spirits. No doubt Satan was very quick to reproduce the things seen in the New Testament church, words of wisdom and knowledge, prophecies, and so on, for his own wicked purposes. Some misguided souls would simply pretend to be speaking in God's name. It was sometimes hard to know what to make of things. Some had the gift of distinguishing between spirits however and could reveal the true case. Of course, that gift too could be mimicked so it did not solve the problem but it enabled some progress to be made.
To another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. There is a psychological phenomenon called glossolalia. It enables some people in a state of ecstasy to speak in a way that sounds like a foreign language. Many people can do this I'm sure. Many Christians believe that is what Paul is talking about here. They also believe this gift continues today in one form or another. However, it seems to me more likely that Paul is saying that some people in Corinth had the ability to speak in quite uncommon tongues and were receiving messages from God in those tongues. Possibly they received messages in languages that they didn't understand but it is more likely to be something they understood. Prophecies came in Greek but there were also messages in tongues that few people understood. Now a tongue that most people can't understand is useless to most unless someone can interpret it. One thing I have learned about languages is that not everyone who speaks, say English and Welsh, has the gift of interpreting those languages. My wife as you know speaks Welsh and she sits down and translates things sometimes but it's hard work. Other people I know of can simultaneously translate as a person speaks – like in the UN. It is a gift.
In many missionary situations today people are only going to hear the gospel if someone goes to them, learns their language and translates the Bible for them and preaches to them. We need people like that.
So here are nine gifts – prophesying, speaking in an unusual language, being able to interpret such a language, a word of knowledge or wisdom, faith, healing, other miracles, distinguishing between spirits. Paul probably possessed most if not all of those gifts. It was more common to possess only some of them.
Today we should not expect to prophesy, speak words of knowledge or wisdom, have wonder working faith, heal people or do other miracles, distinguish between spirits or receive messages in other tongues or interpret such messages. However, how we need preachers, wise and knowledgeable leaders, men and women of great faith, healers of various sorts and people who do great things, discerning people and people willing to learn foreign tongues and how to interpret them. Pray for such people to be raised up.
5. Never forget that all these gifts are given by one and the same Spirit as he determines
The closing verse of this section is verse 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. Too often messages on this subject produce the wrong reaction. We either get steamed up about what is or what isn't a New Testament gift or focus on ourselves and our gifts. Rather the emphasis here is on the fact that All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, it is he who gives them to each one and just as he determines not as we think fit.
Give thanks that there is a Holy Spirit at work in this world today. If you do not have the Spirit, pray he will come to you. Pray he will come to your unconverted family and friends and to others too. Pray that he will give his gifts to the churches as he determines. Pray that these gifts will all be used to the praise and glory of God.

The Dragon, The Woman, Her male child

Text Revelation 12:1-5 Time 08/12/13 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We're coming into the Christmas season and so I thought it might be good to look at something in keeping with that theme – but something less obvious. A few years ago a Roger Ellsworth book came out called Christmas Pictures. It contains five Christmas meditations and the first is on Revelation 12:1-5. As he says there, sometimes people ask what Christmas is all about and one of the answers is found in these verses. Christmas for the Christian is about Christ and how he came and particularly about how he came to redeem his people. So we can say Christmas is about redemption and this is what this passage is really all about.
You can think of Revelation 12:1-5 as a little drama with three characters. The drama represents the complete history of redemption in a very simplified from. We will begin by identifying the three characters and then move on to looking at the drama itself.
1. Consider the three important characters portrayed here
1. Consider the dragon, which points to Satan
3, 4
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.
He is the easiest to identify. It is spelled out for us later in verse 9
The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
This is Satan, then, the Devil. We don't know his history that well but it is clear that though God created perfect he rebelled and fell from heaven, taking other angels with him and so becoming God's inveterate enemy. He will ultimately be destroyed in hell but meanwhile he does what he can to oppose God and his rule.
2. Consider the Child, which points to Christ
She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
This is not too difficult either. This is clearly a reference to the Son of God, to the Messiah or Christ, the Lord Jesus himself. In Psalm 2 we read of God the Father and his Messiah or Anointed One. Messiah says
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.
3. Consider the woman, which points to God's people
1, 2
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.
This is a little more difficult. Here is a woman who is both beautiful and glorious and who gives birth, crying out in pain. Satan seeks to devour her child, which we have said stands for the Christ.
Is it Mary? The language is really too extravagant for that and it must be a wider reference – to the people of God as a whole, glorious in God's sight, to whom the Son is born and that is in labour pains until that time.
So here are three characters or entities that we ought to be aware of in our thinking – Satan, the Son of God and the people of God, the church. Many people assume that there is no personal devil and that there is no Messiah and so they have no time for the idea that there is such an entity as the people of God. Those are big mistakes to make.
2. Consider the important drama presented here
As for the drama itself we learn here about a number of things.
1. Learn about Satan and his antagonism towards God's people
Everything we are told about Satan here should alert us to the fact that we have a strong and powerful foe who is bent on our destruction and the destruction of all that is dear to God. He is
  • enormous This speaks of the huge and widespread nature of his power and opposition
  • a red dragon This speaks of his rapacious and murderous, his monstrous and supernatural opposition
  •  with  seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads This speaks of his perfect power and pride
  •  His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth This speaks of his original rebellion when perhaps a third of the angels followed him on his dangerous and desperate rebellion against God that led to his fall from heaven
  •  The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born This speaks of the special focus of his rabid opposition - God's people and especially the Christ or Messiah.
  • We must not forget the opposition of Satan – even at Christmas. Satan will do all he can to destroy the work of God. Never forget that.
    2. Consider Satan's antagonism in the Old Testament period of gestation
    We can consider the Old Testament period in at least two ways
    1 Consider that time as a time of looking forward
    We read of man's fall at the hand of Satan and his temptation as early as Genesis 3. No sooner do we hear of this than we also hear that God has a plan to put things right in the person of his Son. Genesis 3:15 is sometimes called the protevangelium – that is the first announcement of the gospel or as it has been put the first glimmer. God says there to Satan
    And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
    I've not seen Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ but I understand there is a scene where Christ prays in a garden and stamps on a snake. That is a reference back to this verse, which speaks chiefly of how Christ would defeat Satan (crush your head) but by dying on the cross (you will strike his heel).
    Even back near the beginning then it was clear that there would be continuous enmity between Satan and his offspring and the woman and her offspring but God says that Satan's head will be crushed by Eve's offspring even though he himself will suffer in the process. The story of the Old Testament is partly the story of how the Old Testament saints from Adam and Eve on looked forward to the coming of the Son of God who would crush Satan's Head.
    2 Consider that time as a time when Satan raised great opposition
    Besides this, of course, there is also the long story of Satan's opposition and we especially notice those times when the opposition almost succeeds (or so it seems to us). Obvious examples would be
    • Opposition before the Exodus in Egypt when Pharaoh held power. You remember how in Exodus 1 we are told of the opposition of Pharaoh to the Israelites who were his slaves. When he decreed that all the baby boys should die it was not only the nation itself that was put in grave danger but the coming of the promised Messiah. Thankfully God raised up Shiphrah and Puah the Hebrew midwives who were more than a match of Pharaoh and his wiles. Moses parents were also wise (as was their daughter Miriam) and Moses survived too and became a temporal saviour to his people in due time.
    • Opposition in the time of the kings when Ataliah held power. Perhaps we are less familiar with that story from 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22 and 23. if you remember it begins with Jehoram King of Judah marrying a daughter of Ahab of all people. This was Ataliah who went on to put all the sons of the king to death but one who was rescued by his mother. That one – the boy Joash - was kept hidden in the Temple for six years until it was possible to produce him again and Satan's plan was thwarted.
    • Opposition in the time leading up to the exile when the Babylonians held power. This was another time when all looked grim and without hope. Interestingly the last chapter of 2 Kings (25) ends however on a word of hope (28-30) In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king's table. Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived.
    • Opposition in the time of Esther in the exile when Xerxes held power. This is another situation where the Jewish people are nearly wiped out entirely yet they live on and so the birth of Messiah is possible.
    How we should give thanks to God for these innumerable kindnesses and deliverances.

    3. Consider Satan's antagonism when Jesus Christ was born
    And it is not as though with the dawning of the New Testament period after 400 years or so without revelation that the opposition comes to an end. Satan doesn't decide to give up.
    You have those wonderful announcements to Zechariah and to Mary at the beginning of Luke and to Joseph at the beginning of Matthew but the next thing we know is that Herod is trying to deceive the wise men in order to kill the new born king and having been foiled he launches a violent and evil campaign inspired by that dragon Satan against all the babies under two years of age in the Bethlehem area, hoping again to destroy Messiah. It was Satan inspired malice.
    We can learn lessons from this.
    1 Satan is still a furious dragon and we need to take to ourselves the whole armour of God.
    2 Satan still uses deception and violence. Expect it.
    3 Never forget that Satan is not equal to God. He cannot win.
    4 Remember that all God's promises are absolutely sure and are indestructible. They cannot fail.
    4. Consider Satan's defeat when Jesus Christ was born
    Not only did Satan not win the victory when Messiah came but he also suffered defeat and we are left with (using Ellsworth's terms)
    1 A Wonder to behold. She gave birth to a son, a male child.
    The story of Messiah's birth is a wonderful one indeed and one that we should never cease to wonder at. How well do you know it?
    First, Mary is told that she will give birth to a child, even though she is a virgin. Joseph, her betrothed, is also made aware of the situation. Far away in Rome the powerful Emperor Augustus decides on a massive census of the whole Empire. In this census everyone will be required to register back in their home town. The timing so transpires that Mary is heavily pregnant when they arrive in Bethlehem, Joseph's town and, of course, David's, and the very place it was prophesied that Messiah would be born. There are so many people in Bethlehem because of the census Mary and Joseph can only find shelter among the animals and so when the baby is born he is placed in a manger. Mary wrapped him in strips of cloth she had prepared beforehand as poor people often did. While they are still in Bethlehem wise men from the east arrive with precious gifts. The next thing they know they had to flee from Herod and spend a short time in Egypt as refugees. They eventually move to Nazareth in the north of the country where Jesus grows up and is known as Jesus of Nazareth. We ought to know the story. Each detail is full of significance. What a wonder that God's own Son should be born a human being here on earth.
    2 A Saviour to receive. In Luke 2:11 the angels tell the shepherds Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
    Praise God it is so. A Saviour, a Champion and Provider has come for us all, one who despite Satan's efforts is the Saviour of all men and especially of those who believe, those who put their trust in him. Are you trusting in him tonight?
    3 A Victor to admire. Back in Revelation 12 there is that reference to Psalm 2 - who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.
    That little baby was weak and helpless and often Jesus seems to be meek and mild and defenceless. He is indeed the lamb of God who lays down his life for his own. Yet he is also the Lion of Judah, the one who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre. No-one can withstand him when he comes with power as he will one day soon.
    4 A Ruler to whom we must submit. Finally we note how her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
    Where is Jesus now? He has been snatched up to the throne of God. Yes, they put him to death. But death couldn't keep its hold on him. He was raised from the dead and then ascended into heaven where he is now at God's right hand praying for his own. Is he praying for you? If you have submitted to the Lord of all then he is. You can be sure of it. Humble yourself before him tonight. Trust in him.