To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death;
~ Psalm 102:20
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
~ Hebrews 11:13
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
~ Romans 8:3
And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
~ Numbers 21:6-9
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
~ Colossians 2:13-15
There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;
~ Mark 15:40
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
~ Acts 16:25-26
When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.
~ Luke 11:21-22
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
~ John 12:32, John 19:30
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
~ Acts 2:23-24
The Triumph of the Cross, or Victory Over the Devil, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.
~ Galatians 6:14
As we have been studying this great verse, we have seen that for the Christian, the cross is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened, and it is very important that we should be clear about this. Let me put it in this way. The Christian church, very rightly, has always referred to the day on which our Lord’s death is commemorated as Good Friday. I remember a man coming to me once who said, ‘You know, I cannot understand why you call this Good Friday.’ And when I asked what we should call it, he said, ‘You should call it Bad Friday. It was the day on which that terrible thing happened. Why do you call it Good Friday?’ And thereby of course the poor man revealed to me that he had never really understood the meaning of the cross. He had never understood what happened there. A man who objects to calling it ‘Good Friday’ is one who is admitting that he has never gloried in the cross. It is Good Friday because of the wonderful thing that happened there. It is a good Friday because it was the Friday on which the Son of God did that without which none of us could ever be saved.
Without that, none of us could ever come to a knowledge of God.
Now, that is just another way of saying that we glory in it, in Good Friday, the best day that has ever happened in the history of the human race. I realise that the moment I say that, I am testing the view of everybody who is at this moment considering these words on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you do not end by seeing that it was good, glorious, wonderful, the best thing that has ever happened anywhere, you are misunderstanding it, and you are misinterpreting it. But the Apostle glories in it. And we have seen something of why he does. And that is what we are going to continue doing now. It is the thing, he says, by which we are saved, delivered from our great enemy, the world. It is the thing in which one really sees fully the person and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is also the place, the act, in which one sees the glory of God the Father—the truth concerning the Father. And I am sure that the trouble with most of us is that we have never seen the greatness, the grandeur, and the extent of the cross.
So then, we must continue with this survey of the cross. It fulfils all the things we have been dealing with, but now I want to call attention to another aspect. We want to look at the cross now to see in it the way in which it delivers us from the power of the devil. I wonder how often you have thought of the cross like that? The cross is a great victory. It is the final move, as it were, here on earth in a great battle, a great conflict, a great crusade. I want to call your attention now, therefore, to the cross as it displays to us the Lord Jesus Christ as a victor, as a conqueror. We sometimes sing a hymn, ‘Oh, Jesus, King most wonderful, thou conqueror renowned ….’ I wonder how often we have considered it from that aspect? When you think of the cross what do you instinctively see there? What do you find? Do you find all these things there?
So, then, I want us to look at this aspect of the matter, and in this connection there is a passage in Colossians 2:15, where Paul put the matter very clearly. He writes, ‘And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.’ That is what was happening, he says, on the cross. He has been saying that what happened there was that the Lord blotted out ‘the handwriting of ordinances that was against us [which was contrary to us] and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross’ (Col 2:14). We have considered that. ‘And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly’—he has ridicu led them — ‘ Triumphing over them in it ’ — through it or by it . The cross is a marvellous exposition of the triumph of the Son of God over the devil and all his forces and powers.
Let us look at it like this. This subject follows on very logically, and indeed quite inevitably, for those who believe the Bible, from the matter that we were considering earlier. The Apostle says that he glories in the cross because it is by the cross that the world has been crucified to him and he to the world, and we have seen what that meant. We have seen, too, that all our troubles in our personal lives, and in the whole life of the world today, are due to the fact that the world is what it is. This outlook, this way that man thinks apart from God, that is the cause of wars, it is the cause of every trouble. I think I have been able to prove that to you. Yes, but we cannot leave it at that; we are bound to ask another question. Why is the world as it is? Why should the world be like that? Now, that, I suggest to you, is one of the most profound questions that we can ever put. And it is the question that is always put by the Bible, for the Bible is the profoundest book in the world today. There are clever people who do not go to places of worship—that is true of about 90% of the people of this country. How do they spend their Sunday? Well, they have been reading the Sunday newspapers. I do not mean now necessarily the reports of the law courts or the police courts. I am thinking of the sophisticated, clever people who have been reading the articles—those by the great thinkers—and the reviews of the learned books on philosophy and history and various other matters. These men who, because of their learning and their knowledge, have long since given up considering Christianity. These men who are really concerned about doing something about this world and putting it right.
Now, all I have to say about them is that the trouble with all that is that it is so indescribably superficial. That is why it never comes to anything. That is why all civilization is not affected. That is why, in spite of all the effort of the centuries, we are in this terrible predicament as a world today. And the trouble is entirely due to the fact that these people have never really faced the problem of the condition of men and of the world in a profound manner. It is all so superficial. This is all most alarming, and it is still going on. Not a week passes but that we find that some new royal commission or some process of investigation is to be set up. They are going to tackle the problems, the juvenile delinquency and all these other things. But they have been doing it all before, this is nothing new. It is all because they have never asked the fundamental question. And the fundamental question is this: why is the condition what it is? Why is the world as it is? Why is there this worldly outlook? That is the profound question, and it is the question which, I claim, is raised and answered only by the Bible.
Let me put the answer before you. It is covered by this great biblical teaching about the devil and his forces and his powers. I cannot at this point take you through all the evidence, but I must point out some of the most important pieces found in the teaching of our Lord himself, in Luke 11:14: ‘And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.’ Now, this is our Lord’s teaching. He says, ‘But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you’ (v.20). Then he adds: ‘When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.’ Now that is our Lord’s own account of that he was doing in this world. The strong man armed, he says, keeps his palace, and when he does so, his goods are in peace. That is our Lord’s way of describing this world, and life in it. Life in this world is like a great palace which is dominated by its keeper, this strong man armed. And ‘his goods are in peace’. This means he is governing them, he is ruling them and he is controlling them. And they can do nothing at all about him. They cannot escape. ‘But,’ says the Lord, ‘when a stronger than he shall come upon him’—that is his way of describing himself—‘and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.’ He will release these goods that were kept in peace, and set them at liberty. That is our Lord’s own description of his work in this world. He has come to deal with this ‘strong man armed’ who is the devil, who keeps men and women in the thraldom of his own tyranny and power.
Let me also give you one or two more illustrations of the same teaching, as you find it in the teaching of the Apostles. I give you this evidence for one reason only—that I know that the average man in the world today, not only does not believe in the devil and his powers, but thinks this is the greatest joke of all. And indeed there are many in the church who no longer believe in the devil. We have all become so clever, and that is why the world is getting worse. We do not believe in the existence of the one who really causes the whole trouble . So read Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4: ‘But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.’ The same thing. The god of this world, blinding and keeping men in the dark.
Then take another passage, from Ephesians 2:1: ‘And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.’
Listen to Paul in Ephesians 6:12: ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’
And the teaching is not confined to the apostle Paul. All these apostles repeated the teaching that was given to them by their blessed Lord and Master, so the apostle John puts it like this in 1 John 5:18–19: ‘We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; [does not go on sinning] but he that is begotten o f God keepeth himself , and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.’ And the word means that the whole world lies in the embrace of the wicked one. He has got them in his arms, he is embracing them and holding them to himself. The whole world.
Now those are just specimens of biblical teaching. And what I am trying to put to you is that this is the explanation of why the world is as it is. Is it not about time we faced this question? Why are things as they are? Why have we had the two world wars? Ah, says somebody, the Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler. Do you believe that? What made those men what they were? Even if they were mainly responsible what made them what they were? Is it merely men, are we merely wrestling against flesh and blood? What is the matter with the men and women of the present time? In view of all our advantages, all our education and so on, why is there all this moral muddle? Not only that, but why this almost incredible folly that is being put before us so regularly day by day? Why do people behave in such an utterly mad and unintelligent manner? Why can they be amused by the things by which they can be amused, with the world as it is today? What is the explanation?
The answer which the Bible gives is that it is not merely human nature. Man, I know, is a fool, we are all fools. But even that is not enough to explain the present state of the world, that of every individual human being. We are all conscious that there is something wrong, and we strive to be better. But we always fail. What is it that has dogged every human effort to improve the world, that vitiates all human effort? Why is it that, in spite of all the efforts of civilisation after civilisation, the world is as it is today? What is this thing that is dogging the fate of man, and ever holding him down? That is the question.
And the Bible has an answer to the question, the only answer. It is not man only, it is not human nature alone. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. We are not suffering merely from a kind of evolutionary lag. How much longer is the lag going to last? No, there is no evidence of this upward march.
The world is as it has always been, in this terrible predicament that it is in today. No, it is not man. There is something behind man, something deeper. The biblical answer is that it is the devil. ‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood , but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [in heavenly] places’ (Eph 6:12).
Now, let me put this to you as concisely as I possibly can. According to the Bible, the whole trouble with the world was initiated by this one who is called the devil. You see, there is an unseen spiritual world. That is why the world goes wrong. It is not my purpose here to criticize statesmen, or philosophers, or anybody else, but it is simply a truism, that all their efforts are valueless and come to nothing, because they do not recognise the unseen spiritual realm. They always operate in the realm of the seen. They operate with human nature, and they make their investigations and they try to understand. They do not realise that there is something bigger than man. There is an unseen spiritual realm which is constantly influencing us, and, according to the Bible, it is a realm which can be divided into two main sections. There is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is, on the other hand, the devil and all his forces and powers, the ‘principalities and powers’ and all that he governs and controls. And according to this teaching, all these powers are exerting an influence upon this world and upon the mind of man. And the whole explanation of the predicament of men individually and collectively, at this moment, is that it is the result of the work and the activity and the efforts of the devil and his powers.
Now we are not given many details about this. All we are told is that the devil was in existence and manifested his power the moment man was created. He was there, indeed, before man. He is an angelic being. All angelic beings were created by God, and he made them all perfect, but we are told of this one who had such great power that in his pride and arrogance he rebelled against God. He was not content to be subservient to God, or to be a servant of God. He wanted to be equal with God. So he rebelled against God, we are told, and persuaded a number of other angels to do the same thing with him, and there you have the devil and the fallen angels. And they are consumed with a passion of antagonism against God. The devil hates God. That was the reason for his fall. But since his fall he has hated God still more. And the devil has really only one ambition, and that is to ruin God’s world. God made the world. He made it perfect and as he made man in his own image, man was made perfect. The devil hated it, and he knew that the best way to harm God and his name and his glory, was to ruin God’s creation, so he came in and he tempted man, and man in his folly listened to him and he fell. He went into a state of sin and he dragged down the whole cosmos with him.
Now that is the biblical explanation of the trouble. As you see, it started long ago. That is why the Bible starts its history in the Garden of Eden. It is interested primarily in man, in his creation and condition. It says that all the troubles in the world have resulted from that initial mistake and error of man when he listened to the devil, and lifted up himself in pride as the devil had done before him, and down he went dragging the whole creation with him.
So then, according to the Bible, the result is the very thing I have put before you in these various quotations. Man, in listening to the temptation and the enticement of the devil, became the slave of the devil. He became an absolute serf in the devil’s hands, and his life ever since has been dominated by the devil. That is why he is called ‘the prince of the power of the air’, ‘the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’. That is why he is called ‘the god of this world who blinds’. The whole of the human race has become his slave. He is ‘the strong man armed that keepeth his palace’, whose ‘goods are in peace’.
We must be clear about this. The Bible tells us that the power of the devil is tremendous. That is what makes the world so tragic. It does not even believe in the existence of the devil, and it does not realise, therefore, that all its troubles are due to this tremendous tyrant with his awful power. Listen to the Son of God: ‘the strong man armed, keepeth his palace, his goods in peace’. Or take again those words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:12, Do not think, he says, that the problem of living is the problem of flesh and blood. You are not up against merely your own weaknesses or the weaknesses of other men and women; behind all that are the principalities and the powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, the spiritual wickedness, high in the heavenly places, exerting this awful power upon the entire human race.
There is the explanation, then, but let us take it step by step. I say that it is a tremendous power and I prove it in this way. The power of the devil, the power of evil, is so great that every human being ever born into this world has been defeated by it. Read the Old Testament. There are some very great men there. Abraham and the patriarchs, the prophets and godly people like them, but every one of them sinned. Every one of them fell down before the devil. The Bible puts it as strongly as this. Man, even when he was perfect—Adam, a perfect man, made in the image of God—was defeated by the devil. The devil was so powerful, so subtle. His ingenuity is such that no man has ever been able to stand against him, even a perfect man. The apostle Paul sums it all up by saying, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:10, 23). There has never been a human being in this world that has lived a wholly righteous life and has satisfied God, not one. The whole world, therefore, lieth guilty before God.
Why is this? It is because of the terrible power of the devil, who dominates and who controls, and who masters. He does so, firstly, through the mind. He hates God, and so he persuades the human race to hate him too. I have already quoted 2 Corinthians 4:3 ‘But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.’ The devil does not want anybody to believe in God and in the Son of God, so he blinds their minds. There is nothing new about unbelief. You are not being particularly modern or clever by not being a Christian. There has always been opposition to the gospel. The Bible is full of examples of it. It does not conceal it. No, the gospel has never been believed by men and women en masse in this world. ‘Few there be that find it’, says our Lord. ‘Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it’ (Mt 7:13–14). The devil dominates the bulk of the life of mankind. He has always done it, and you know you are not being anything new or different by rejecting this gospel and this preaching and teaching of the Bible. Mankind has always been doing that. The devil has been dominant and he governs the mind.
The Apostle puts it again in that great phrase of his in 1 Corinthians 2:14. He says, ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ The clever people of the first century ridiculed the cross as much as the clever people of today do. They did not believe in the Son of God, nor in his atoning death. No, they ridiculed it, and said it was foolishness. It was foolishness to the Greeks, and it is still foolishness to such people. There is nothing new. It is all a manifestation of the devil, dominating the mind of man. He does not allow man to think freely. He keeps him in blinkers. He only lets him see what he wants him to see. And the whole difficulty for man is to see the truth. You try and you soon find and feel something of the power of the devil.
But then he not only controls the mind, he controls the desires. Why is there always sweetness in stolen or prohibited fruit? Why does every child immediately want to do something that his parents tell him not to do? Why is sin so pleasing and so pleasant? Answer that question . Where do these desires come from? The answer given here is that they all come from the devil, and he governs our actions, and our wills, in exactly the same way. He rebelled against God, and as he wants everybody else to do the same, he persuades everybody else to rebel against God. He makes us hate God, and he makes us hate God’s laws. ‘The carnal [natural] mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Rom 8:7). Man by nature is a God-hater. As I have often pointed out, that is the reason why the newspapers are always ready to put it in their pages if they can find a man who has just said that he does not believe in God. In it will go. If they find a Sunday school teacher who has fallen morally, they never fail to say, ‘ex-Sunday school teacher has done this or that’. They hate God. They are against him and all his laws. It is because they are dominated by the devil, the hater of God, who is reproducing himself in them.
And he not only dominates the mind and the desire and the will, he dominates the whole of life, and he produces a fear. There is a great statement about this made by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, in the second chapter of his great letter. He puts it like this: ‘Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’ (vv. 14– 15). And the long story of the human race shows this fear of death. You find it in your Greek mythology, you find it in all ancient literature, a fear of death. Death is pictured with a scythe coming and ever c o m in g .
Why is mankind afraid of death? What is the cause of this? Well, there is the answer. It is a power exercised by the devil. And he is able to exercise this power because of the law of God. People do not believe in God, or in the law of God. But there is still a relic and a remnant of belief which remains. They have a fear of death because they know that death is followed by judgement and the law condemns us all. Death is the last spectre, which is ever growing nearer. Man would like to evade death if he could, but he cannot. So he is in a kind of bondage. The end is death and he does his best to postpone it. He whistles in the dark. He pretends he does not believe in all this, and yet he does. The fear remains.
Now I can show you all this in a brief picture.
Look at the pagan world. Look at it in past centuries, look at it in our own time. It is the picture of a life of fear, fearing the sun and the moon and the stars, fearing their own man-made gods; a life of fear, of squalor, of evil and of sin. That is what the devil is producing. God produces perfection, paradise. The devil produces chaos. He reduces God’s order to chaos. That is what the world is today. What God has made is turned by the devil, in his power over the minds of men, and over their hearts and wills, into the chaos with which we are familiar. But, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ ….’ Why? Because he and he alone, on that cross, has delivered me from that thraldom, that tyranny, that dominion, of Satan and sin.
Now the Son of God came into this world to do that very thing. Let me give it to you in the words of John—I want you to see that these are not my own theories, but that I am just expounding the Scriptures to you—in 1 John 3:8. ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil’ (italics mine). That is why the Son of God came into this world, in order that ‘he might destroy the works of the devil’. That is what he himself meant by his words about ‘the strong man armed’, and of the time when the one stronger than he should come. All humanity was too weak to fight the devil, he had beaten us all, he had clubbed us on the head, and we none of us could get out of that castle, that palace of his. It needed somebody stronger, and now he has come, the Son of God has come that he might destroy the works of the devil. That is why he was manifested.
Have you, I wonder, ever worked that out, and followed as it is depicted in the pages of the four Gospels? When you read your Gospel, do you just see our Lord fighting human beings? Well if that is all you see, you are a very superficial reader of your Bible. Do you not see him fighting this power that is behind men? Do you not see him engaged in this mortal combat with the devil? What an epic it is, what a fight, what a crusade. The Son of God has come—what for? To fight the devil, because the devil is the master of man. The moment Jesus was born, the devil tried to deal with him, did he not? Do you remember the edict that was sent out by a king called Herod, that all male children under two years should be murdered? Why? He was trying to murder this one, the Son of God, who had been born as a baby in Bethlehem. The fight began the moment that our Lord w as born. And it continued. Look at him tempted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. What is this? It is the devil trying to get him down. ‘All these things [the kingdoms of the world] will I give thee, if thou will fall down and worship me’ [Mt 4:9). He is trying to bring him down, to make him bow the knee to him, he is trying to get him down as he got Adam down. Again, look at the fight as our Lord meets cases of devil-possession and sickness and illness, and all the ravages of sin and evil. There he is, fighting the battle, to release people from sin’s foul bondage.
Then, look at our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood on to the ground. What is this? He is in agony, he is struggling. What does it mean? Oh, he knows that before he can really deal with this enemy he has got to pass through the terrible moment when he no longer sees the face of God, and the thought makes him sweat blood. It is the conflict against the devil which culminates on the cross, with the devil attacking the whole time.
Our Lord came, then, into this world in order to rid us from the tyranny and from the power of the devil. But it was on the cross that he did it supremely and finally. This is the thing that I want to hold before you. Did you ever notice those words in John 12:31–33? ‘Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.’ What is happening in his death is the judgement of this world—we saw that earlier—and also, in his death he is going to defeat the prince of this world: ‘Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.’
This is the great and wonderful story. Have you ever been filled with a sense of amazement and wonder at the drama of the cross? Have you ever looked at it like this? We have been surveying the cross, and we have seen different aspects coming forth. Have you ever looked at it in these terms—the drama, the conflict, the fight? How did our Lord ever come to such a place, what brought him there? Ah, you say, that was men who did not understand him. Is that a sufficient and an adequate answer? My dear friend, can you not see the devil behind men? What was the offence of Jesus of Nazareth? To whom did he do any harm? What was wrong with his teaching? What was wrong with his miracles? What was wrong with his acts of kindness? He came to do good, he came to teach, he came to deliver mankind. What reception did he get? Well, look at it in the Pharisees and scribes, look at their bitterness and hatred, look at their scorn and their derision, look at their blasphemy. Look at it not only there, but also in the Roman governor, Pilate. Look at it in King Herod, the King of the Jews, look at it in the common people. Can you not see this terrible blasphemy, this scorn? Why all this feeling, why all this hatred, why all this vituperation? There is only one explanation. It is the devil that is fighting. It is the devil in these men and women.
But let me come right up to date. Why do you think it is a clever thing not to be a Christian? What is wrong with Christianity? What is wrong with this blessed person? What is wrong with his teaching?
What is your objection? Why do you think it is clever to reject? Why do you blaspheme it? Why do you pour scorn upon it? Why do you hate it? There is only one answer. You are the unconscious victim of the devil. It is the hatred of the devil that is coming out in you. You cannot produce reasons for your hatred. This is the most extraordinary thing in this matter. You see it running right through the records in the four Gospels. Read the account of what happened to him: ‘And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him’ (Mt 27:29–31). Or again, ‘And they that passed by’—when he is actually nailed to the tree —‘reviled him, wagging their heads and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth’ (vv. 39–44).
Where are you, expert psychologists? How do you explain that? Here is an innocent man. Nobody can bring any evidence against him. He has done no wrong. Indeed, he has done nothing but good in the world. He came to help people and to teach, but look at the spite, look at the mocking and the spitting and the jeering and the scoffing. What is the matter with them? There is only one answer to the question—he gave it himself. He said, ‘But this is your hour, and the power of darkness’ (Lk 22:53); these people do not know what they are doing. That is why he prayed on the cross and said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Lk 23:34). And, indeed, they did not know what they were doing.
Would you hate a man like this, a man who has done no harm, and no wrong to anybody at all, a man who was always going about doing good? Would you treat him like this? Would you not make a protest? Would you join the jeering, mocking throng, would you spit upon him? I say it is unnatural. Of course it is! It is hellish, it is the devil, it is evil incarnate. They knew not what they did: ‘This is your hour, and the power of darkness’, and this is the wonder of it all. The world was very pleased with itself, was it not, as it looked upon him there dying upon the cross? That is why they laugh. That is why they are joking. Can you not see it, can you not see their faces? Have you got enough imagination? ‘Come down,’ they say, ‘you who say you are the Son of God. You who claim to save others, come down, save yourself. He cannot save himself. Wonderful! At last we have got rid of him.’
The chief priests and scribes, of course, were particularly delighted. In their council they had said: ‘What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.’
But there was a very clever politician among them, a man called Caiaphas. He thought this was very wonderful. He said, ‘Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not’ (Jn 11: 47–50). Let them kill him, he said, then we will be all right. Let us make a scapegoat of him. We will hide behind him. Once they have got rid of him, all will be well for us. Everybody was pleased, the whole world was delighted. At last they had got him, they had nailed him, they had killed him. He was finished.
Was he? ‘Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.’ And yet, here they are, they think they have reached the hour of victory, they have got this one whom they hate and the devil was delighted. If only he could kill him, that would be the end. And that was his terrible miscalculation. He did not realise, and this is the devil’s great blunder, that by bringing the Son of God to the cross he was defeating himself, and bringing about his own ultimate doom. How? Well, the Apostle tells us that our Lord there on the cross, in apparent weakness, was putting the devil and his powers to an open shame and that he was triumphing over them.
And the Lord does it in this way. The power of the devil is, after all, nothing but a usurped power. He has no power of his own. The devil is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, for one reason only, and that is that man in sin has gone out of the kingdom of God, and is therefore in the kingdom of the devil. The devil has no power over man, except that man is estranged from God, and is no longer in touch with the power of God. The only one who can master the devil is God. And the moment we are out of touch with God, we are mastered by the devil, and we are his helpless tools, and victims in his kingdom like goods in a palace. And that is the position of the entire human race. The entire human race sinned in Adam and it became the slave of the devil, as I have shown you. And we all continue by nature to be slaves of the devil. We are alienated from God, we are under the wrath of God, and we are outside the kingdom of God, so we are absolutely helpless in the hands of the devil.
‘The strong man armed keepeth his goods at peace.’ When he rules his palace his goods are at peace. There is only one power that can deliver a man out of the clutches of hell and of the devil. It is the power of God. But how can I have that power? I have sinned against God, I am a rebel against him. God’s wrath is upon me. Before I can know the power of God I must be reconciled to God. And that was the very thing that was happening on the cross on Calvary’s hill. What stands between every one of us and God is the broken law of God. We have broken God’s law, we have insulted him, we have spat upon him, and his condemnation is upon us, and we must be delivered from this and reconciled to God before we will ever know the power that can set us free. That is exactly what happened on the cross. That is why those two verses in Colossians go together: ‘Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross’; and then he ‘spoiled principalities and powers’. The two things belong together.
There on the cross our Lord was reconciling us unto God. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them’ (2 Cor 5:19). Christ had to pay this penalty; the law had to have its way; and he has borne the punishment. And because of that, if we believe in him we are free from the punishment, and free of the condemnation. We are reconciled to God, and the power of God takes over and delivers us from the devil and his cohorts, and transfers us into the kingdom of God. That is why the Apostle puts it like this in Colossians 1:13, ‘Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.’ That is how it happens. That is what was happening upon the cross. The devil thought he was defeating Christ, but Christ was reconciling us to God, def eating the devil and delivering us out of his clutches. He does it by paying the penalty and putting us right with God. The power of God comes in to us and we are born again, receiving new natures, and becoming new people. The Holy Spirit is put within us, and Christ’s presence is ever at hand to help us.
That is why John was able to say, ‘and the whole world lieth in wickedness’, but ‘the wicked one toucheth him not’. He not only touches the world, he embraces it, and the world cannot get out of his clutches. But Christ takes us out of his clutches, puts us into his own kingdom, and the devil cannot touch us. He can frighten us perhaps, he can shout at us, but he cannot touch us. That is why the apostle Paul says in Romans 6:14, ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.’ The one who is stronger than the strong man armed has come, and he has robbed him of his armour wherein he trusted and he has divided his spoil. Oh, what a fool the devil was! How ignorant, how blinded, how puffed up by his own conceit and pride. He thought he was finishing Christ. He was really bringing about his own defeat. Christ has conquered him. ‘Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,’ and he was.
Let me explain this a little more. Before our Lord died upon the cross, the whole world was in the power of the devil, apart from the Jews, the Children of Israel. One day, some Greeks came along and they said, ‘We would see Jesus.’ He says, no, not yet, I have got to be ‘lifted up’ before I can bring in you Gentiles.
The devil controlled the nations of the world, apart from God’s own people, until the cross. After the cross, our Lord said, ‘If I be lifted up I shall draw all men unto me.’ This means men of all nations. And he did. From the moment of the cross the Gentiles began to believe and to enter into the kingdom of God. Before, they were outside, and they were in the darkness of heathendom and paganism. Christ died, and he became the Saviour of the world. He draws all men, men of all nations, and of kindreds and of climes unto himself.
So, you see, that what he said himself has literally proved to be the case. From the moment he died upon the cross and ascended into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit, the gospel was preached everywhere. Men and women like the Galatians— who were not Jews, but pagans and Gentiles, ignorant and benighted, and besotted in sin—were drawn and claimed, and set free from the power of the devil. The same had happened to people in Corinth. Do you remember how the great Apostle reminds them of what they were? ‘Be not deceived,’ he says, about this, ‘neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor 6:9–10).
‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation’, says Paul to the Romans (1:16), and there is no other power that can save us. That was the power that was released upon the cross, and the testimony of the saints of the centuries has been that Christ has set us free.
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blest.
– Isaac Watts
Here is one of the most wonderful things about the cross. Here is one of the most glorious reasons for glorying in the cross. Here Christ defeated our ultimate enemy, the devil, the one who originally brought man and the universe down. He was cast out, he was defeated. He has been put in chains. And finally, he is going to be completely and utterly destroyed. He will be cast into the lake of fire with the beasts and all the false prophets. And he will have no more power. And:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
– Isaac Watts
Have you seen ‘the conqueror renowned’ as you have looked at the cross? Have you seen him now? If you have, you will join me in saying these words:
Gird thee on thy mighty sword.
Sinful earth can ne’er oppose thee,
Hell itself quails at thy word.
Thy great name is so exalted,
Every foe shrinks back in fear.
Terror creeps through all creation,
When it knows that thou art near.
– William Williams
Do you see him there at the cross, taking these principalities and powers and the devil, and putting them to an open shame; triumphing over them in it; ridiculing them, and defeating them; smashing them? At the moment when they were glorifying in their own victory, they were finally and completely defeated and routed.
King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In whom all joys are found!
– Bernard of Clairvaux
God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.