Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent: the Battle Begins

The Son became as we are that first Advent,
vulnerable to the temptations of the devil;
He took on the sentence of death due to us
and defeated its reign of fear on our behalf!

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14,15).

Several years ago my youngest daughter was having a skin abnormality removed from her leg. It was potentially cancerous. Despite the fact that it was a relatively minor procedure, it was anything but minor to this dad. I was in the store the day before and thought I'd buy her a new Dora the Explorer nightgown to wear when she returned home. I remember standing there, holding this little nightgown, with Sting's "Fragile" playing as background muzak (seriously, it was!). "Flesh and blood" is really weak stuff to be made of.

Several years before that I was speaking at a funeral for a church member I loved dearly. Halfway through the sermon, as I was holding myself together by sheer will-power, I heard a voice in my head, "I don't want to do this anymore." It stunned me. I love the ministry. I love pastoring. I love preaching and teaching the Word more than I can say. That voice scared me. I've spoken a few older, more experienced pastors since then and the Lord has ministered to me through it, but it was an exceedingly fragile of the most fragile in my life. "Flesh and blood" is really weak stuff to be made of.

But our weakness is not merely our experiences in this world as sometimes powerless beings in the midst of unwelcome circumstances; being “flesh and blood” is far more serious - and weak - than tough days in this world. The writer elaborates on this at the end of this chapter: “...He had to be made like His brothers in every respect...He Himself has suffered when tempted...” (2:17,18). The weakness of being “flesh and blood” is our vulnerability to being tempted. This weakness is further emphasized later in Hebrews. Christ is effective as our heavenly, eternal High Priest because He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The weakness is not merely being “flesh and blood,” but the vulnerability to sin in temptation we inherit from our “fleshly nature.”

Ours is a slavery to the curse of the Law (death). Being children of Adam and Eve, we are born into this slavery; we further the slavery by our own freely-chosen transgression and lawlessness. All of us. Every one. This is our biggest problem. Our weakness means all of us are enslaved to sin before our Creator, a holy God Who is eternally offended by that sin and wrathful against it.

The Accuser and His Power

The devil introduces sin into humanity through his temptation of Eve (Genesis 3:1-6; 1 Timothy 2:14). It’s important that the devil used the Law of God (Genesis 2:16,17) as the tool of his temptation (3:1) - he does the same with us (if it ain't broke...). Eve gave in to this temptation, then Adam, and therefore all humans are born with a nature that inevitably rebels against the Law of God.

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7,8).

“Cannot.” It is impossible. The standard is God's, and we fight against it, attempt to re-define it by our preferences, and roar about the injustice when the penalty time approaches.

With the Fall sin entered into the “spiritual DNA” of humanity. The title “devil” means “accuser.” Now that all of humanity is fallen in sin, the devil accuses us before God day and night.

“...the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10).

With sin came the condemnation to spiritual death and physical death. We all have an innate spiritual knowledge that we are guilty before God because of our sin and deserve hell for our guilt. "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:32). The devil uses this knowledge to fill humanity with fear of death. Remember, death is not “natural,” as is usually said these days. This is the philosophy of a naturalistic, evolutionist worldview. The Bible tells us that death is the curse of the Law of God against sin, and we are all born with a cursed sin nature, already condemned to die.

The devil/sin uses the Law of God to tempt us into transgression of that Law, the penalty of which is physical death and eternal spiritual death: 
  • “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Romans 7:10-14).
  • “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). 

Remember, the Law of God is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12) and even “spiritual” (7:14). The problem isn’t the Law. It’s us as sinners. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

The Law of God itself is not evil, except to the libertine rebel heart of fallen humanity (Psalm 2:1-3). God originally gave His Law to humanity as a means to avoid death and stay on the paths of His life:

However, the devil used the Law of God as a means of temptation unto death with Eve in the garden:

Since we are all born as descendants of the fallen Adam and Eve, we are born with a “spiritual DNA,” or sin nature that automatically desires to rebel against God’s Law. What was given as good is now an instrument of temptation, sin, and rebellion unto death. After the Fall, no human being can be right with God through Law-keeping (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; 3:11). The devil, being the author of our death sentence through violation of the Law, then stands before God and accuses us of lawlessness and the death we deserve because of that lawlessness. He uses our condemnation under the Law to make us continually fearful of the curse of the Law: death.

Every human being is aware of the Law of God and the death sentence, even if they spend their whole lives denying it (Romans 2:14,15; 3:19). We do all we can to avoid facing this weakness. But it's still there. This is the fear of death from which Jesus came to deliver.

Advent Unto Deliverance

Jesus became one of us at Advent to destroy the power of the devil: “...the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). There is still Christian grief over death (Acts 8:2), but it is not a hopeless, defeated grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Jesus’ victory over death on our behalf did not avoid death, but went through it to destroy it.

“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:8-10).

Remember, we are born facing physical and eternal spiritual death because we are born under the condemnation of the Law of God. We need a Savior.

One of the most famous verses about victory over death is actually a quote from the Old Testament: “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from My eyes” (Hosea 13:14). In this O.T. passage God is actually summoning the grave and death to bring judgment! When the apostle Paul quotes this verse in the N.T., though, the victory of Christ totally reverses the meaning of the passage: “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:55,56). Even though the Law of God is “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12) and even “spiritual” (7:14), the devil uses it as a weapon of accusation and fear against our sin nature. He uses it as a means of temptation, since we are born with sin natures that rebel against the Law of God (7:15-23). No matter how fragile and weak the circumstances of this life sometimes make us feel, it's far, far worse than we can imagine.

But Advent means that the eternally divine Son of God took a human nature upon Himself and entered the world as one of us. He lived the perfectly holy, righteous, Law-keeping, and obedient life we could never live. He took the penalty for our lawlessness upon Himself, paying that penalty of death upon the cross. He rose on the third day that we might have life. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, where "He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Advent was the beginning of the battle over our super-fragility and profound weakness as sinners. And the battle has been won in Christ, the Child of Advent.

No comments: