Christmas time for many is a time for Santa Claus, passing out presents, figgy puddy, and overall holiday cheer. There are also those for whom Christmas is a painful reminder of what has been lost: broken relationships and marriages and the death of family or friends. For others, it’s a time to get sentimental about adorable baby Jesus all swaddled up in his manger with a halo on his head. Apparently, this baby Jesus doesn’t cry when he wakes up either (“no crying he makes”). The apostle John, one of Jesus of Nazareth’s best friends, gave us a different reason behind–and needed reminder of–the meaning of Christmas. He wrote,
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
When John considered the entrance of the Son of God on planet earth, the first thing that came to his mind was not how cute baby Jesus must have been, but the obliteration of the devil’s works. This is not surprising when one takes into account the whole story the Scripture’s tell. God’s gospel design did not begin on day one of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, but was planned in eternity past by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and was promised later to the devil himself in the third chapter of Genesis:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
The appearance of Jesus on Christmas morning was the beginning of the crushing of the serpent’s head.
The context of John’s statement suggests that he wants his hearers to see how their sins connect to Satan: “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil sinned from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8). According to John, sin is not just about something you do, but who you belong to. This is far from a Hallmark Christmas Card’s view of human nature. Anyone who sins is of the devil. Period. The idea behind the Greek word here is one of ongoing continuous action (Colin Kruse, The Letters of John, 122). Therefore anyone who continues to sin demonstrates that they are following Satan not followers of the sinless Son of God.
Sin, according to John, is not harmless. It is homicidal. The first temptation of Satan that led to first sin of Eve plunged all of humankind into an endless stream of death. And death came quickly, as one of Adam and Eve’s sons was a murderer guilty of fratricide. Cain was not the only murderer around though. Jesus called Satan “a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44). The gospel writers even attribute the arrangement of the murder of Jesus, the only perfect human, to Satan entering the heart of Judas Iscariot (Jn. 13:27).
And this devil is a deceiver. He makes us believe that sin is either non-existent or not that a big deal. But that’s the lie, and humanity has been buying that lie since the beginning. We like the lie of the murderer even as it kills us.
Satan came to steal, kill, and destroy. Therefore every dead family member missing from the Christmas table and every broken home through divorce is the result of sin and Satan. Yes, God is sovereign over all, but God the Son put on flesh to undo Satan and his works and make him fall from heaven like a lighting bolt (Luke 10:18). This “undoing” is exactly what John is getting at when he says the appearance of Jesus “destroys” the works of Satan. NT scholar I. Howard Marshall writes, “The actual word used here, however, “to destroy’ is somewhat unusual: the task of Jesus was to undo whatever the devil had achieved, to thwart whatever he tries to do” (The Epistles of John, 185).
While the devil is a murderer, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. While the devil is a liar and a deceiver, Jesus is the truth. While the one who sins is of the devil and is a willing participant in the devil’s works, Jesus never sinned, and, as the sinless son of God, died in the place of any sinner that trusts him. His shed blood secures the forgiveness of those who confess their sins (1:9) and believe in him (5:1), so that those who were previously “of the devil” are now “born of God” (5:1).
But there is even more. The good news of the gospel is that the reason Jesus appeared was to reverse sin’s effects and to conquer the devil and his strategies. Jesus destroys all of the devil’s works not just some of them. Christmas time should be a time of reflecting on all of the works of the devil that Jesus was born to undo. Here are a bit more:
- The devil is an accuser who reminds believers of their sins in order to have them live in a state of condemnation. Demonic accusations and charges that prick a Christian’s conscience cannot stand because the accuser of the brethren has been thrown down by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:10). No one—not a demon or the devil himself—can successfully bring a charge against God’s elect, because God alone is the Judge and in the business of justifying sinners (Ro. 8:33).
- The devil is an oppressor who torments body, mind, soul, and spirit. There is no mental or physical torment whatsoever if the Liar’s lie was not embraced at the beginning. Not every affliction in a particular person’s body is directly correlated to satanic activity, but some is. And, of course, there are many biological and neurological factors in mental illness, but some mental illness is the result of demonic torment.We must be nuanced here so that one doesn’t risk a kind of unscientific fundamentalism, but we must also be Christian here and realize that we Western believers have a tendency to nuance the devil out of everything. I’m convinced that one of Satan’s favorite things in the church is constant nuance. Over-nuancing everything de-supernaturalizes the spiritual realm and softens the prophetic edge and neuters the missional impulse of the church. The healing of the sick and the delivery of the oppressed in Jesus’s ministry was all connected to the fall of Satan through presence of the kingdom of God. In view of this, we should do all we can to pray for healing in the name of Jesus and work for healing through the medical and psychiatric fields all in the name of Jesus, knowing that he has ultimately secured this at the cross and will finally annihilate it when the devil is cast in to the lack of fire and curse is removed from the new heavens and new earth.
- The devil is a hinderer who disrupts the purposes of God on the earth. Jesus said Satan steals the seed of God’s word from people’s hearts so that they will not be saved (Luke 8:12), and Paul said after the victory of Christ in the resurrection that Satan had still hindered him from going to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:18). The devil’s hidering power, however, is not ultimate and is broken because the kingdom is advancing and cannot be stopped. Jesus builds his church. Hell itself will not prevent his Bride from being gathered from every nation and people of the earth.
- The devil is an inciter who motivates people to sin. Sorry, no, you don’t get to blame the devil for your sin, but we know that there are times that the devil does a bit more than tempt (1 Chr. 21:1; Acts 5:3). But we also know that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 Jn. 5:18).
- The devil is a blinder who blinds people to see the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan loves to keep people from seeing Jesus and hold them in the greatest of all sins, namely, unbelief. But God is sovereign and speaks his universe-creating and eye-opening word to shine “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” in the hearts of his people.
Clearly the devil still destroys. He prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour. The fragments of his works are scattered all over our Christmas celebrations. Nevertheless, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the events that secure the triumphing and conquering defeat of the devil and his works. Satan and his strategies can have no ultimate power over those who trust Jesus. The devil has been disarmed by the Lamb who is making everything new.
There is something that brings greater joy than eggnog with a splash of holiday cheer and there is good news that can mend all the bad news you’ve received this past year(s): the baby lying in a manger is the conquering King Jesus. The kingdom has come because the King is here. Therefore the devil and his works has been, is being, and will finally and forever be destroyed and undone.