There are two things I should like you to understand about Satan.
First, Satan is much more powerful and intelligent than you are.
Second, Satan really doesn’t understand God. Only God’s children are able to understand him. You can understand God. Satan, despite all his intelligence, cannot.
This is Satan’s world, and so this world cannot understand God. If we think like the world, we shall be confused about God.
People who think like Satan have no problem believing in God, but they are confused by the things God does. People of faith know not to trust the world’s understanding. But since we are still learning the ways of God, the path of faith is difficult to follow.
Take Mary the mother of Jesus for example. Mary had an awesome experience with an angel. How many of you have had such an encounter? How many of you have thought that if you just could have such a meeting it would be so easy to be holy? It wasn’t like that for Mary. She had the amazing experience. She got pregnant by the Holy Spirit. And from then on things were awful. Just a young teenager, she went from exhilaration to despair. The angel had promised: “The baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”
Instead of being praised and her baby welcomed, people wanted to kill her. She was shamed, despised, rejected. The world hated her. She endured a long hard ride on a donkey instead of staying at home with her mother-in-law to give birth. And after God’s wonderful promise, she gave birth in an animal shelter with only her husband to help.
Take Joseph. He also had an angel experience. And after that nothing was easy. He was shamed and couldn’t even find a decent place for his wife to give birth.
In those dark days they walked by blind faith, not understanding how God could be using them to bless the world. Satan must have been rubbing his hands in glee as he watched the futile plans of God. How on earth could God rescue the world with a baby.
Satan had already defeated Adam and Eve. I guess he knew he couldn’t relax too much as God must have some purpose that he just couldn’t understand.
Was Satan shocked when shepherds and wise men gathered to worship the baby and bring him gifts? Did he then think things had gone far enough and it was time to put a stop to the plans of God? He’d tried to kill Mary, destroy the marriage and prevent the birth. How hard would it be for him to kill the small, helpless baby. God had come to earth and he couldn’t even walk, or talk, or feed himself.
Satan called on Herod to do his dirty work for him. Herod had no second thoughts about putting people to death. He had already killed two of his sons and his wife.
He had eliminated his brother-in-law, Aristobulus, who was at the time an 18-year-old High Priest. He also had his Hasmonean mother-in-law, Alexandra, executed in 28 BC.
On one occasion, in 7 BC, he had 300 military leaders executed. On another in the same year, he had a number of Pharisees executed. Herod’s natural reaction, when the wise men revealed the new “king of the Jews” had been born, was to eliminate Jesus .
Macrobius, one of the last pagan writers in Rome, wrote: “When it was heard that, as part of the slaughter of boys up to two years old, Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered his own son to be killed, the Emperor Augustus remarked, ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son’.”
Herod was a willing and eager puppet for Satan’s evil purposes. His soldiers went to Bethlehem and killed all the baby boys aged two or under. The single purpose was to destroy any potential rivals, even God’s messiah, but the faithful Joseph was warned and took the child to safety in Egypt.
Professor William F. Albright, the dean of American archaeology in the Holy Land, estimates the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth to be about 300 people. The number of male children two years old or younger would be about six or seven.
The age was determined by when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, which was probably at least 18 months after Jesus was born. And when they first saw the star appear.
God has announced the arrival of the saviour of the world, and heralded him with angels. Now the defenceless Messiah is running away on his mother’s back.
Satan may think he has won, but we know that because of faith he has lost. Mary and Joseph must have been most confused and disheartened at the way things were going just because they had trusted God. But we know that it was their faith and obedience that was allowing God to bring salvation to all mankind.
Did it feel like God was winning when Herod’s soldiers marched into Bethlehem and killed those children. Or did it feel like Satan was winning?
Did it feel like God was winning as Joseph and Mary carried little Jesus across the desert into Egypt. Taking him back where their ancestors had been slaves. Or did it feel like Satan was winning and everything until then had been in vain.
When the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt another king had tried to kill all the children.
Satan tried to prevent Moses from becoming the saviour of his people and setting them free from Pharaoh. But Moses was spared, just as Jesus was spared. God’s hope, weak and vulnerable, being nurtured and tended by fallen human beings.
We cannot judge by appearances. That is how the world judges. It is how Satan judges.
The angel had told Joseph, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
This is what Joseph had to cling to when everything around him was telling him another message. This was Joseph’s great faith, to trust in the word of God when his senses were telling him an alternative truth.
2 Corinthians 5 says: “While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh.”
That surely is the truth. It also says, “We live by believing and not by seeing.”
How many of you have experienced this. You had an amazing experience with God. You were filled with his Holy Spirit. You were inspired. And then life just seemed to betray you. The promises you thought God had given did not bear fruit.
You feel like you are alone on a cold night in an animal shelter. You feel like you are running away from people who are trying to kill you. You feel like you are in a foreign country and God has left you.
Remember, at the right time God used Moses to defeat Satan and lead his people to freedom. Remember, at the right time Jesus defeated Satan and death once for all time and set us all free for ever.
As we enter a new year still thinking of the birth of the messiah, we should remember this. We are in a war against evil, and Satan is using every means to defeat God. You see only the very small part you are involved in. You see chaos and suffering. But it doesn’t matter what things look like. It doesn’t matter how the world appears, because:
“We live by believing and not by seeing.”
We don’t look at the circumstances. We don’t give up because Pharaoh is killing the children. We don’t give up because Herod is killing the children.
We mourn the evil, and we trust in God’s firm promise. We have the victory.
When you find hardship and struggle coming your way in 2015 instead of the victory you expected, remember that God’s ways are not like our ways.
Let’s close with these words from Isaiah 55:8-9 – “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”