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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:There's a great war, but God gives us great confidence in Christ
Text:Revelation 12:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 21

Hymn 15

Psalm 18:1,11,12

Psalm 124

Hymn 19

Scripture reading: Matthew 2

Text: Revelation 12:1-6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Martin Luther’s battles with the devil are legendary.  By “legendary” I mean not only are they famous, but some of them are actually legends with little or no basis in fact.  For example, there’s the legend about him throwing an inkpot at the devil while holed up in the Wartburg Castle.  One night the devil supposedly woke him up and tried to torment him, so he took the inkpot next to his bed and hurled it at Satan.  The ink splattered on the wall.  It’s just a legend.  There’s no proof for it.

However, there is plenty of proof that Luther believed Satan was real and active.  Luther often spoke about Satan.  He taught people the best ways to battle him.  One time at dinner, Luther remarked that the best way to vex the devil is to celebrate Christmas.  He said, “We cannot vex the devil more, than when we teach, preach, sing, and speak of Jesus and his humanity.”  The devil can’t stand to hear about Christmas, about how “the Word was made flesh.”  These words remind Satan of his defeat.  Satan hates Christmas more than any Grinch ever could. 

And here we are doing what Satan hates – celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus.  You and I are vexing him just by being here and singing God’s praises, listening to his Word.  This morning his Word comes to us from the book of Revelation.  Now you might think it unusual to go to Revelation on Christmas morning.  However, it’s not so strange if you remember the main message of this book.  It’s simple, two words:  Jesus wins.  That’s what Christmas is ultimately all about.  It’s about Jesus coming into this world to secure victory over Satan, sin, and death. 

You see, there’s been a war raging since Genesis 3.  It’s a spiritual war between God and Satan.  And with the conception and birth of Jesus, God was on his way to victory.  It’s a victory in which believers share.  It’s a victory that gives us joy and confidence in a world still suffering under the ravages of Satan and sin.  So on this Christmas morning I preach to you God’s Word from Revelation 12 and we’ll see how There’s a great war, but God gives us great confidence in Christ.

We’ll consider:

  1. The woman’s great anguish
  2. The dragon’s great power and fury
  3. The newborn Child’s great mission
  4. God’s great deliverance

The apostle John saw a great sign in heaven.  It was a woman gloriously arrayed.  She was so radiant, it was like she was clothed with the sun.  The moon was under her feet, and twelve stars made up a crown on her head.  Now as we try to figure out who this woman is, we need to remember that the book of Revelation takes much of its imagery from the Old Testament.  If you want to understand Revelation, you have to understand the Old Testament. 

In Genesis 37, Joseph tells his family about his dream.  In his dream, he sees sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to him.  These represent the family of Jacob – father, mother, brothers.  These represent the people of God in that era. 

So the Holy Spirit is using that Old Testament imagery to tell us that this woman represents the people of God.  You could say that she is the church.  In the Old Testament, the people of God are often represented by a woman.  Even today when we talk about the church, we often use the feminine pronouns:  she and her.  That reflects biblical usage. 

According to verse 2, this woman was visibly pregnant.  In fact, she was on the verge of giving birth.  She was already well into labour, on her way to delivery.  The woman was experiencing the anguish of child birth.

That pain and agony represents what God’s people experienced between the fall into sin and the first Christmas morning.  The story of the Old Testament is a story of pain, a story of childbirth.  It starts in Genesis 3 when God says that Eve will have offspring, though it’ll bring her pain.  But one of those offspring, birthed in pain, one of those offspring will be a head-crusher.  He will bruise the head of the serpent, deliver a death-blow to his skull. 

God’s promise hung there in the air for thousands of years afterwards.  The faithful knew of this promise and they anticipated its fulfillment.  While they waited there was pain.  There was disappointment after disappointment.  As great as he was, Moses wasn’t the head-crusher.  David wasn’t either.  Neither was Solomon, the son of David.  There were times when it looked like all that pain was going to be for nothing.  And Satan did what he could to make sure that it would all come to nothing.  He wanted to extinguish any possibility of God’s promise coming true. 

Let me illustrate one way in which Satan tried to do that.  In 2 Kings 11, we read of a wicked queen named Athaliah.  She was the mother of King Ahaziah – he was in the royal line of Judah, the line from which our Saviour was to come.  After Ahaziah died, she massacred the entire royal family, leaving behind no successor in the line of Judah.  That’s what she’d thought she’d done anyway.  Undoubtedly Satan thought he’d won the day with Athaliah’s massacre as well.  But in God’s providence, a woman named Jehosheba hid away the young prince Joash.  Athaliah had no idea that there was one left.  And from that one prince, God preserved the royal line of promise.  But through it all, there was sorrow, pain, and anguish.  It wasn’t an easy path to the birth of our Savior.  That’s what verse 2 is telling us.

Then in verse 3 John sees another sign in heaven.  It’s a great fiery red dragon.  Now when you hear “dragon,” you probably think of the mythological creature that breathes fire.  The dragon in your head probably looks a lot like Smaug from The Hobbit.  But put away that picture, because that’s not what we’re looking at here.  If you look ahead to verse 9, you’ll see that this being is also described as a serpent, a snake.  He gets called a “dragon” in Scripture because he’s not an ordinary snake.  For one thing, the snake that John sees is huge.  Because he’s so huge, he’s incredibly powerful.  Not only that, but this snake is filled with supernatural rage. 

This great red dragon is Satan.  Who is Satan?  His name literally means “enemy.”  He is God’s enemy, at war with him already for thousands of years.  He is an angel, the leader of the rebellious and fallen angels.  He’s represented here by this picture of a powerful red dragon filled with hate and fury.

This dragon or serpent has seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems or crowns.  These are meant to picture Satan’s sway over the world and the power he has to cause destruction.  Satan is a powerful and destructive being in this world.  As one commentator puts it, “Satan manifests his power through multiple channels and in multiple institutions and events.”  He is not to be trifled with.  He’s huge, hideous, and angry.

And all of that gets amped up with the image in verse 4.  The tail of this great red dragon sweeps down a third of the stars of heaven and throws them down to the earth.  The stars represent God’s order and rule.  According to Psalm 147, he has set them in the heavens and determined their places and names.  But now Satan comes along and he tries to upend God’s order and rule.  But he’s limited in his ability to do that – he can only sweep down a third of the stars.  He can only go so far.  Yet the fact that he is able to go that far tells us again that this is a formidable foe.

Nevertheless, he couldn’t stop that one star from guiding wise men from the East to Bethlehem.  They came to King Herod in Jerusalem.  The wise men were looking for the King of the Jews.  They were directed to Bethlehem.  But King Herod was filled with rage when he heard about this new king.  He was Satan’s tool to try and destroy this newborn King.  When the wise men didn’t return to him, Herod did something reminiscent of Queen Athaliah – he ordered a massacre in Bethlehem.  All the male babies less than 2 years old were brutally murdered.  Our Saviour escaped however.  There was one baby Herod couldn’t touch – the most important baby in world history.  

That’s all portrayed symbolically in the second part of verse 4.  We see the dragon standing in front of the woman.  He’s there waiting for her to give birth.  When she does, he intends to devour the baby.  Satan wants to kill this baby, destroy it – because he knows what this baby means.  If he doesn’t do something about it, this baby is going to bring about his defeat.  If Satan doesn’t act, this baby will grow up to be the head-crusher promised in Genesis 3.

At the beginning of verse 5, we read about the event of Christmas.  John sees the woman give birth to a son, to a male child.  From the church, God has brought the Messiah who will save her from her sins.  This is the way Revelation describes the birth of Jesus.  The Son of God comes into this world in the humblest way, as a small baby in human flesh.  He comes with a mission. 

The child’s ultimate mission is “to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.”  Now again, to understand the full breadth of what that means, we have to go back to the Old Testament.  This is Old Testament Messianic language, so it’s language speaking about the Messiah, the promised one who would crush the head of the serpent.  In Genesis 49, when Jacob blessed his sons, he said that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah…”  A scepter is a special ornamented metal rod used by royalty to symbolize their rule.  The rod or scepter of iron appears with God’s Anointed King in Psalm 2.  According to Psalm 2, the Messiah shall break the nations “with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  Revelation is borrowing the language from Genesis 49 and Psalm 2 to tell us that the child described here is the Messiah, the Christ, the one promised from long ago.  The child is Jesus. 

Compressed into verse 5 is the whole earthly life and ministry of Jesus.  It’s bookended by two events.  The first is his birth and the second is his ascension into heaven.  Between those two events we have the 33 years he spent on this earth.  At the end of those 33 years, we have his suffering, crucifixion, death and burial.  Then we have his being raised from the dead after three days.  Then Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, “her child was caught up to God and to his throne.”  That’s where he currently rules all the nations with a rod of iron, fulfilling his ultimate mission to serve as King of kings and Lord of lords.  Christ can do that because he’s been victorious at the cross and with the empty tomb.

Loved ones, today Christ reigns as King from heaven.  He’s delivered the death-blow to his great enemy, to your great enemy.  While the war isn’t yet over, the decisive battle has been fought.  The dragon’s days are numbered.  Satan is fatally wounded and doomed.  Everyone allied with him is equally ruined, facing the eternal lake of fire.  Whether demons or those humans who remain in sin and rebellion, they’re all going down with him.  Because Jesus has won, because Jesus is King, the book of Revelation tells us repeatedly that there’s judgment and condemnation for Satan, for the demons, and for everyone who has made themselves into God’s enemy with their sin and rebellion. 

But this same book of Revelation also promises God’s great deliverance for those who are in Christ by faith.  Through what Jesus did on the cross, if you place your trust in him and turn from your sins, you’ve already been delivered from God’s wrath and condemnation.  You’ve been saved from the hell you deserve.  And verse 6 tells us that God also provides deliverance to his people from the power and fury of that fatally wounded dragon. 

When I was a missionary in British Columbia, one year I had a licence to hunt bears.  Finally, one day I came across this one rather cooperative black bear – he was in range and didn’t run away.  After I shot him, he ran into the bush and I went in after him.  But I’ll tell you I was pretty scared.  My heart was thumping so hard.  I’d never hunted bear before, I was by myself, and the bear was wounded.  They say there’s no bear as dangerous as a wounded bear.  Well, he did come back at me in the bush and I tried to shoot him again.  Not sure if I hit him, but he ran one way and I ran the other.  But if I hadn’t shot that second time, I’d have been facing an angry wounded bear, the most dangerous kind. 

Similarly, after Christ has smashed his head, this dragon is even more angry, more dangerous.  He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Satan wants to destroy the woman, the church of Christ.  He wants to destroy all of us.  Satan wants to destroy you.

God has prepared a place of safety for the woman, says verse 6.  In other words, he has prepared a safe place for the church, for us.  That place is described here in Revelation 12 as “the wilderness.”  That term too calls up all kinds of Old Testament connections.  Most obviously, there’s the wilderness into which the Israelites fled during the Exodus.  The wilderness provided them safety from the Egyptians.  Later on, both Elijah and David spent time in the wilderness, finding safety from people who were trying to kill them.  The wilderness represents refuge and safety. 

But it also represents a place of testing.  When Israel was in the wilderness, God tested them to see if they would place their trust in him for deliverance.  While the wilderness provides safety, it doesn’t mean things are easy there.  It can be hard to find food and water.  You have to depend on God.  You have to trust in him that he’ll not only keep you safe from enemies, but also provide you with everything you need for body and soul.

The wilderness represents life right now for the church of Christ.  We’re in the wilderness, so to speak.  This means that right now the church is safe from Satan.  Satan can rage all he wants – and he will, and he does – but he can’t destroy the woman.  She’s kept safe in God’s care.  The church is safe.  She can’t be destroyed.  There will always be a church of Jesus Christ.  The gates of hell will never prevail against her.   

But that doesn’t mean the church never experiences tribulations or persecutions.  Trials are there in the wilderness so the church would learn to depend on God.  God tests and tries his people so that they’d learn to trust in him fully for everything. 

Verse 6 ends by saying that the woman is to be nourished in the wilderness for 1,260 days. First, who is nourishing the woman?  God is.  In his love, God is providing for her the food she needs.  Today God nourishes his church with what we call the means of grace.  The means of grace are the gospel as it comes to us in the Word of God, and the same gospel as it comes to us in the sacraments.  Through Word and sacrament, God is nourishing his church in the wilderness today.  He’s providing us with what we need for our souls to flourish.

And what does it mean that God does this for 1,260 days?  The numbers in the book of Revelation are symbolic.  They’re not meant to be taken literally.  1,260 days comes out to three and a half years.  That’s half of the number 7.  7 is a number of fullness or completeness in Scripture.  So one thing we learn from this number is that God is not going to allow that time in the wilderness to reach its full completion.  In other words, he will show mercy, he will cut it short. 

From the way the 1,260 days is used in the context here in Revelation, we learn that it represents the entire period between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.  So between Christmas and Christ’s return.  This is the period in which we’re living right now.  This is the time in which the church is called to witness to the world about the gospel.  But it’s also the time in which the church will be protected and nourished by God from the attacks of Satan and his forces.  And God will not allow those attacks to go on forever.  In his mercy, he will bring it all to an end.  Christ will return with the clouds of heaven and Satan and all his host will be thrown into the lake of fire.  As the hymn says, “Lo, his doom is sure.”

So loved ones, you might look around the world this Christmas and find reason for concern.  You might be tempted to be negative and cynical about our future as God’s people in this country and in this world.  Times are tough and maybe getting tougher.  The wilderness can be like that.  But hear the good news from Revelation 12:  Jesus reigns and God is protecting his church.  That dragon might have power and fury, but he is a doomed foe.  Satan is done.  We know the way this story ends, because God has shown us in his Word.  And as a result, we can be hopeful and confident about the future.

There is a great spiritual war raging.  But it’s not a war between equals.  Revelation 12 pictures Satan as a powerful enemy, one to be respected for his strength.  But he’s not God’s evil equal.  Not even close.  Satan is just a creature.  God is the Creator.  Satan is limited in his power.  God is unlimited in his power.  On this Christmas morning, we can be thankful that this God is on our side.  He gave us his Son so that we might know him as our loving Father.  As a loving Father does, he will always protect us and nourish us.  AMEN. 


Our loving Father in heaven,

Thank you again for sending your Son.  Thank you that in the fullness of time, the woman gave birth to a son, to a male child.  Thank you that through him, we are safe with you, nourished by you.  We praise you for having the power and the might over that great enemy, the great dragon, Satan.  We praise you for defeating him and his plans to derail your promises.  Father, as we live in this wilderness, please continue to provide your church with your protection.  Defend us from Satan and all our enemies.  As we live in this wilderness waiting for Christ’s return, please teach us ever more to rely on you and on your provision.  Please continue to feed us and nourish us with the Word and the sacraments.  Please feed our faith with Christ our Saviour.  LORD God, we depend on you.  In ourselves, we’re weak and can’t stand for a moment.  We need your help to resist Satan and all our enemies.  So please let your light continue to shine upon us, may your favour ever be upon us, please go with us each day, helping us to find our help and strength in you alone.                            

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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