Devil

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

There is a venomous snake in the garden. While the great Messiah and his disciples enter the garden, a certain snake-like figure named Judas knows precisely where the faithful are. He enters the garden knowing that this was a place of constant fellowship and peace. But Judas is not a man of peace and his fellowship with the Messiah has been broken. He is now a man at war and his loyalty is with the darkness.

In the Garden of Eden, the Great Serpent entered the garden to bring about chaos; to tempt the first Adam. Indeed he was successful. The first Adam failed in his loyalty to Yahweh, being deceived by the serpent in the garden, and thus, thrusting all mankind into a state of sin and misery. Now in John 18, the New Serpent enters the garden. He is possessed by the same devil that possessed the serpent in Genesis. It is this precise battle that is unfolding before us in this text. The question is: “Who owns the garden?”

Does Judas with his new found commitment to darkness and evil own the garden or does Jesus own the garden? As the text reveals to us we see that Judas, the son of perdition, seems to have the upper hand in this sacred dispute. In verse 12 we read:

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.

Jesus is arrested and bound. They take him out of the garden bound like a defeated enemy. Now, in every conceivable scenario, this would be the historical determination that Jesus has lost. But if the Messiah is to bring this unshakable and unmovable kingdom with his coming, then how does this binding, this apparent defeat in the garden connect with this glorious kingdom? The answer to this question is: paradoxically. The coming of the kingdom is paradoxical. The kingdom does not come in the way and in the expression that many expected.

Now if the kingdom of God comes paradoxically, in a way unknown to the first century, then there may be a different way of understanding this garden scene. In this text, Jesus is not being bound because of defeat; he is being bound because of victory. Jesus’ arrest is his release. His arrest is not his binding, it may appear to be, but it is ultimately the binding of the evil one, the father of lies, Satan himself. This is why the gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus is the One who bound the strong man. He is the One who arrested the Serpent and dragged him out of the garden. Jesus owns the garden, not Judas or His master, Satan.

This arrest and this binding of Jesus in the garden is not a plan gone awry, it is exactly what has been planned. In one sense, this arrest is the cosmic Trinitarian conspiracy against the kingdoms of this world. When evil leaders and governments think they have the Son of Man trapped, he fools them. As Psalm 2 says, “God laughs at their plans.” The conspiracy of the cross is that the cross is Christ’s sword to defeat evil. But the serpent does not know this. He is virtually blinded to the Messianic plan and nothing will stop Jesus from conquering evil and bringing in a new world, a new creation. The garden belongs to him, because the garden is where his people gather, and eat, and fellowship. The garden is the sacred space, the place of peace. Make no mistake, we are a warring people, but we war against the enemies of Messiah. In the garden, the King, Master, and Messiah says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail. Death dies once and for all and victory will come and we will celebrate it this Sunday. Today, though we fast, it is only a prelude to our coming feast. Jesus’ death marks the end of the serpent’s sting of death.

About Killing Dragons

About Killing Dragons

We were chatting about something. It was common. But then he brought out the uncommon. “Daddy, I’ve never killed a dragon. Have you?” It caught me by surprise. I wish I had a handy answer for that one. I looked at him for a second and pondered what was going through his mind. It was so honest and pure. One of those out-of-the-mouths-of-babe moments. “I have never killed one, but I know who did,” I answered. “Who?” he asked enthusiastically. “Jesus.” I know as a trained theologian that when in doubt Jesus is the answer. And what an answer He is.  I told my son about that old Serpent, Satan, who abandoned heavenly glory because of his deception. I told him that this dragon is the father of lies and how he loves to draw children’s hearts away from God. I told him that this dragon wanted glory for himself.

“Does he know how to fight? Does the dragon know how to hurt Jesus?” “He does. He certainly does,” I answered. I was now willing to develop this a bit. It doesn’t take long to get a preacher going. I said that the dragon/serpent knows how to grieve our Lord when he draws away those whom God created. He is a liar. So, when we lie we are being bad representatives of Jesus. Does the dragon fight? Yes, he does. He fights like a coward. He would love to shoot people on the back without having to look at them in the face. “Well, will he hurt us?” “No, he will not. Because Jesus also knows how to fight.” Now, I’ve reached common ground with Batman’s greatest fan. Every child is invested in hero admiration. He wants to be a hero, but more importantly, he wants to be on the side of the hero who wins.

“Did they ever fight?”

“Did they ever?” This is where I got really creative and probably a little too creative for his comprehension. But biblical narratives are powerful little things.

God had promised many centuries earlier that Jesus would bruise Satan’s head, and that Satan would  bruise Jesus’ heel. It was a big, cosmic fight. The dragon thought he had the upper hand, so he tried for centuries to kill off the seed of the woman. He kept women barren and killed little infants by using wicked men to do his bidding.

But it was hopeless for him. God had promised and when he promises something it will happen.

There was a story about a little boy named David. We had read that story many times. The kids love to hear about the giant’s–the dragon’s–taunting of the people of God and how David took courage to fight on behalf of God’s people and not let the name of God be corrupted. That crazy, gigantic, dragon/creature was a little Satan. He loved to mock God’s people just like the dragon. But God will have none of it. His name will not be mocked. He send Davids and new Davids to defend His Name. And at the right time, He sent the final David. “Jesus?” he inquired. “Yes, Jesus!” He will defeat His enemies and not allow God’s Name to be mocked. That same Jesus will kill the dragon. He will crush the dragon’s head. He will protect and defend His father’s name and He will protect us, his children. And we are His children.

“Will the dragon ever come to our house?” “No!” I said emphatically, but not too emphatically for fear of waking up his little brother. God put the dragon in a big hole. “Will he ever come out?” “Yes, in the great eschaton he will come out, but for a short while before He will be crushed again for ever (Don’t worry. I didn’t use the word eschaton).” 

He was concerned that the dragon would pay us a visit. So, I made that question worth it. “The dragon,” I said, “will never pay us a visit.” That old serpent looks around and sees all the homes that are baptized with Jesus’ Spirit. “Are you baptized?” “Yes, remember, daddy?” “Of course, I remember!” It was a wonderful day for our whole family. Do not fear that the devil will get you. Jesus is in our house and in us protecting us from harm. We are baptized with His Spirit and the dragon fears Spirit-indwelt-people. But there is one lesson for us. Just like we don’t go near a barking dog, neither should we go near the dragon. We should always stay away from him.

I could tell the conversation was getting long and the information was getting heavy. It was wonderful to see him thinking through these issues. He said he didn’t want to tell his siblings the story for fear that they would be scared. “Maybe we can tell them together.” He was satisfied with that answer.

No, I never killed a dragon. But I know who did.

Communion Meditation: God Has Made It Clear

The good news of the Kingdom is that Christ has conquered the devil. But how He conquered is the important part of this text. He conquered Satan not by arguing with temptation, but by rebuking temptation with God’s Word.

He did not allow the devil to set the rules for the game. The rules were set long ago. We are not to give the devil the privilege of interpreting what God has made so clear.

We come to this table this morning with the full assurance that Word and Sacrament are clear means of grace for us this morning. God gives us His word for our nourishment and He gives us Bread and Wine as eternal signs that no temptation is greater than that which we can bear, but God is faithful and just to provide us a way to escape it.

Jesus and Temptation: A Meditation on the First Sunday of Lent

As we embark in this Lenten Journey, we follow the footsteps of our Lord from His entrance into the wilderness and His entrance into death for three days.

Luke 4 offers an extraordinary glimpse into the temptations Jesus endured in the wilderness. The typological significance of the event is inescapable. Jesus is the Final Adam. He puts an end to a long line of failed Adams. He hears the whispers of the Tempter and strikes back. When Adam heard those first words he sat attentively in the classroom and absorbed every lie as if it came from His Creator. Adam lost his ability to discern truth. He mastered listening, but forgot that to be a good theologian in God’s Garden, you need to be a good exegete.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. Just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit at temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee from it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of its former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke 4, we need to sit in Yahweh’s house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.