Theme: A Thriving Fellowship
In this week’s Easter lessons we note the futility of those who tried to keep shut the tomb that was soon going to be empty, and of the need for everyone to submit to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Matthew 27:65-66
There was another character who got into the act. In fact, he had been leading the battle against the Lord Jesus Christ for centuries. His name is Satan. We see him first in the Garden of Eden, where he tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and thus participates in the ruin of the race. We see him in Egypt and in other nations as they persecuted God’s people, through whom the Messiah was to come. At last we see him waging war against the incarnate Jesus.
All through his life Christ’s greatest foe was Satan. At the time of his birth it was Satan who stirred up the evil imaginations of Herod the Great to murder the babes of Bethlehem, thinking by this means to secure himself against Christ. At the time of Jesus’ baptism Satan appeared openly to tempt the Lord to sin: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. . . . If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’. . . All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me” (Matt. 4:2, 6, 9). Later in Christ’s ministry Satan moved the rulers of the Jews against Jesus. He even got Judas to betray Christ and the other disciples to forsake him.
What a triumph Satan must have imagined as he goaded the people to cry for Christ’s death: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” What glee he must have felt as the governor’s judgment was pronounced and the One he hated most in all the universe was led to crucifixion! What delight he must have nurtured as the rough nails were forced through Jesus’ feet and hands and the friends of sinners eventually weakened and died! What bliss when Christ was buried! What есstasy when the Master’s grey and lifeless body was sealed in Joseph’s tomb! Satan had won! The devil had killed God’s Son! He had secured his evil kingdom against the second person of the divine Trinity!
Yes, yes, Satan had made it as secure as he knew how! But when the Resurrection came he was no more effective than the soldiers in their attempt to resist the Lord of glory.
Satan did not give up. Indeed, he has not given up to this day. Though defeated, Satan still works against the power of the resurrected One. Satan persecutes the church. Thus, when Jewish persecution (such as that of Saul of Tarsus) was insufficient, he engaged strength of Rome and after that the powers of the state in most lands.
I note here the most important book ever written on the persecution of the church of Jesus Christ, namely, John Foxe’s comprehensive Book of Martyrs.3 Foxe wrote during the days of Queen Elizabeth to document particularly the persecutions of English believers during the reigns of the preceding English monarchs. But he begins at the beginning, noting at the beginning of his massive study that Jesus had spoken to Peter on the occasion of his great confession of him as “Son of the living God,” saying, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18). Foxe took this to teach: 1) that Christ will have a church in this world; 2) that not only the world but also the utmost strength and powers of hell should be arrayed against it; and 3) that notwithstanding the utmost hatred and malice of the devil the church would remain and prosper until Christ’s return for it.
That has happened. Whipped to fury by the Resurrection and subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Satan stirred the Roman world to despise and persecute the Christians. The first of the great persecutions was in the reign of Nero when thousands were burned as human torches or fed to wild animals in the Roman arena. Under Decius and Valerian the opposition spread throughout the Empire. In those days (AD 249 and 258) it became a crime to convert to Christianity, and those who were already Christians had their lands confiscated. In AD 303 Diocletian began the fiercest and longest of the persecutions. He too made it a crime to be a Christian. He circulated false documents purporting to explain the faith of the believers as a fraud. He reactivated the old pagan cults reorganizing them along “Christian” lines. Diocletian encouraged popular movements against the churches and caused the death of many. In the reign of Julian “the Apostate’’ (AD 361 and 363) the same tactics were repeated. Hatred! Persecutions! Banishment! Murders! These were the weapons by which the prince of darkness attempted to make his realm secure against the expanding forces of God’s anointed King.
Make it as secure as you can? Satan was trying, but it was no use. Jesus was risen, and the thriving communion and fellowship of his followers was advancing throughout the world.
Give some examples of times when Satan tried to overcome the Lord Jesus.
How does Satan continue to work against the risen Son of God today?
Application: How has Satan tried to afflict you in your Christian life? What needs to be your response to these attacks?