“….the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” –I Corinthians 2:8
There is more going on in this universe–above us, underneath us, in the spirit world surrounding us–than we can imagine.
God is always at work. The hosts of Heaven are constantly serving Him in ways unknown to us. But so is His arch-enemy at work, as well as his minions. We see this throughout Scripture.
Satan is the enemy is all that is good. Anything that would honor God, benefit humanity, and spread the gospel, Satan hates and works to sabotage.
But God is not stymied by Satan. The Heavenly Father loses no sleep worrying about him. Satan’s doom is settled, his fate is sealed, his days are numbered.
“On earth is not his equal,” said Martin Luther about the devil in His majestic anthem “A Mighty Fortress.” Granted, you and I are no match for Satan. But in Christ we are more than conquerors. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith in Christ. (Romans 8:37 and I John 5:4)
God is constantly handing the devil defeat after defeat. We see it in life, we observe it in the world about us, and we see it demonstrated in Scripture.
Case in point: The First Christmas.
First, understand that Satan is a created being. He shares none of the attributes of Almighty God—not omniscience, omnipresence, nor omnipotence—meaning that he is limited in knowledge and space and power. When it comes to predicting what God is going to do next, he has to rely on what he can figure out, what he remembers from the timeless past when he resided in Heaven as a favorite angel, and what he reads in Holy Scripture.
Since the Holy Spirit does not enlighten his understanding, satan sees as the world sees, not with the mind of Christ. Once we understand this, a hundred puzzles fall into place.
Satan did not know God’s plan which involved the cross.
The Apostle Paul pointed out that had the enemy known what God was up to, he would never have crucified Jesus. One might say that God pulled the wool over the devil’s eyes and fooled him. On that first Easter Sunday morning, in the middle of the weekend celebration going on in hell (or somewhere!), an imp rushed into the presence of his satanic majesty. The demon breathlessly announced that the tomb was empty, the body gone, and the soldiers looked like they had seen a ghost. Satan spewed out his champagne and cursed. He had been had and he knew it. He had played right into God’s hands and was defeated.
Satan was often fooled in Scripture.
Sometimes in biblical history, we see that the Lord manipulated Satan, as in the cases of Job and Joseph. Sometimes, God gave him a good comeuppance as at Mount Carmel when Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal in a fire-calling contest. At other times, the Lord used subterfuge to fool His enemy. Christmas is one of those times.
And here’s the story….
–Satan knew some things about the birth of the Messiah.
Satan can read. He knew from Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. What he did not know was the timing of the Savior’s birth. So, in another of his endless efforts to thwart the purposes of God, Satan pulled in demons from around the world to concentrate on the Holy Land, specifically the region around Bethlehem. That’s one reason for the ubiquitous demon-possession in the New Testament. The devils practically outnumbered the citizens. They served as Satan’s spies, and were charged with keeping an eye out for godly young couples about to have babies. Satan was lying in wait for the Messiah.
–So, God proceeded to fool Satan.
The first thing God did was to choose a man and woman not from Bethlehem, but from Nazareth, far to the north. Secondly, He saw to it that the woman’s purity and morality would be in doubt. The devil can count; he knows it takes 9 months to make a baby. However, he had no way of knowing of Gabriel’s visits to Mary and Joseph or of the miraculous conception of this Baby. If he had heard anything about this young Nazarene couple, he quickly discounted them, certain that the God he remembered from Glory would never deign to use obvious sinners for so holy a role.
Then, quietly, God slipped the Holy Family into Bethlehem
The third thing God did was to arrange to move Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in time for the birth, but not so as to draw attention to themselves. When Caesar Augustus put out a call for a census of the Empire, God had put it in his heart. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1)
Mary and Joseph were among thousands returning to their ancestral homes for the census. Perhaps the roads experienced a primitive form of gridlock. With Bethlehem’s few inns and available homes filled, the young couple took the only thing offered, a stable. ” She brought forth her firstborn son and laid him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) If the devil’s imps were vigilant, they would have dismissed the young family camping out in a barn for good reason.
And that’s why Satan couldn’t find Baby Jesus.
The God whom Satan remembered from Heaven resided in a level of glory unimagined on earth. Satan was unsure of a lot of things, but one thing he knew: God in Heaven would not have His Son born in a barn. We can assume he had told his demons to keep an eye on the finest homes in the most luxurious surroundings with the most outstanding parents. But, the Lord fooled him.
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” (I Corinthians 1:27) This is a basic lesson of spiritual warfare which historically Satan seems incapable of grasping. To this day, no carnal mind believes it.
Simply stated, Satan’s eyes were blinded.
When Jesus was born, God enlisted a welcoming committee of the lowliest people on the planet—shepherds—primarily to reassure the young parents that all was well. Satan had no way of knowing angels had appeared to these sheepherders that night, no means of hearing their clues on how to identify the Baby. And this will be a sign unto you: you will find a Baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12) No one noticed or cared when a small company of ragtag shepherds ran breathlessly through Bethlehem village looking for—what else?—a stable.
Then God funded an emergency trip.
After Joseph had moved his little family into a house in Bethlehem, a delegation of foreign visitors arrived. These “magi from the east” created no small stir in Jerusalem as they naively announced their search for the one “born king of the Jews.” (Matthew 2) From the gifts they presented, Joseph was able to finance a sudden trip to Egypt made necessary when murderous King Herod sent soldiers on a search-and-destroy-mission for the babies of Bethlehem. As they slaughtered infants in the area, Satan–he who comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy–would have fumed to learn that the objects of his wrath were already out of town, slowly making their way toward Egypt where they would remain until Herod’s death. Eventually, when the Holy Family re-entered the country, they moved back home to Nazareth where Joseph opened his carpentry shop.
Satan had lost Jesus.
He came so close! “We had him there in Bethlehem,” he must have said to his demonic gang. “And we let him slip through our fingers! Curses!”
And Jesus lived in anonymity for the next thirty years.
Jesus grew up with a normal Jewish childhood in Nazareth. He was not a “Superboy in Smallville,” amazing the hometown folks with his miraculous deeds and inspired teaching. Had he done so, Satan would have heard the talk about the boy wonder and come calling. He heard nothing because there was nothing to tell. The young Jesus must have been similar to hundreds of other godly and faithful young men in Judaism, indistinguishable from all the others.
The first the devil learned of Jesus’ identity was the day the Lord stepped into the waters of the Jordan and waded out to John the Baptist. Nudged by the Holy Spirit, John called out, Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And that’s how everyone learned that the Messiah was Jesus from Nazareth.
Jesus’ baptism was His coming out. The gloves were off. God in Heaven was announcing, “There He is, devil! Do your worst. We’re ready.” The game was afoot; the battle was joined.
It all came to a head one day three years later on a hill outside Jerusalem. For a couple of days, Satan reveled in his victory. Against all odds, he had defeated the Lord of Heaven and stymied His plan. What were the chances. The team was tearing down the goalposts, the fans were pouring out onto the field, when suddenly, they learned: The game was not over.
On that first Easter Sunday morning, an imp came running in to the celebration, all out of breath, announcing, “He’s gone! The tomb is empty! And we don’t know where He’s gone.”
I can imagine Satan spewing his champagne across the room as he slowly realizes he has been “had.” He played right into the hands of the Almighty who had planned this from the beginning. Satan meant it for evil but God meant it for good.
That’s why, ever since that day, we who stand in the pulpit talk about the importance of the blood of Christ, the centrality of the cross of Christ, the absolute necessity of the gospel of Jesus Christ by which people are saved. The cross was a stumblingblock to the Jews and sheer foolishness to the Greeks, but to us on the inside, it is the very power and wisdom of God. (See I Corinthians 1:23-24).
Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)