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The Devil, Doubt, and the Power of the Cross

November 17, 2011

Some wise and comforting words from D.A. Carson:

*****

Revelation 12 is one of the most important chapters in the New Testament for understanding the devil’s perspective on the cross. There Satan is portrayed as full of rage because he has been banished from heaven and knows that his time is short. He has not been able to crush Jesus, so he vents his rage on the church. He is the “accuser of the brothers” who wants simultaneously to roil their consciences and to accuse God of ungodliness because God accepts such miserable sinners as these. But believers, we are told, defeat Satan on the ground of “the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11)—an unambiguous reference to the cross. What does this mean?

What is meant, of course, is that these believers escape the accusations of Satan himself, whether in their own minds and consciences or before the bar of God’s justice, because they make instant appeal to the cross. They sing with full attention and deep gratitude the wonderful words,

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling.

Augustus M. Toplady, Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Before that appeal, Satan has no retort. God has retained his honor while redeeming a rebel brood. We can be free from guilt—both objective guilt before a holy God and subjective awareness of guilt—not because we ourselves are guiltless, but because Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Imagine the first Passover, just before the exodus. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, two Hebrews with remarkable names, are discussing the extraordinary events of the previous weeks and months. Mr. Smith asks Mr. Jones, “Have you sprinkled the blood of a lamb on the two doorposts and on the lintel over the entrance to your dwelling?”

“Of course,” replies Mr. Jones. “I’ve followed Moses’ instructions exactly.”

“So have I,” affirms Mr. Smith. “But I have to admit I’m very nervous. My boy Charlie means the world to me. If, as Moses says, the angel of death is passing through the land tonight, taking out all the firstborn in the land—I just don’t know what I’ll do if Charlie dies.”

“But that’s the point. He won’t die. That’s why you sprinkled the lamb’s blood on the doorposts and on the lintel. Moses said that when the angel of death sees the blood, he will ‘pass over’ the house so protected, and the firstborn will be safe. Why are you worried?”

“I know, I know,” splutters Mr. Smith somewhat irritably, “but you have to admit that there have been some very strange goings-on these last few months. Some of the plagues have afflicted only the Egyptians, of course, but some of them have hit us too. The through that my Charlie could be in danger is terribly upsetting.”

Rather unsympathetically, Mr. Jones replies, “I really can’t imagine why you’re fretting. After all, I have a son, too, and I think I love him just as much as you love your Charlie. But I am completely at peace: God promised that the angel of death would pass over every house whose door is marked by blood in the way he prescribes, and I take him at his word.”

That night the angel of death passed through the land. Who lost his son, Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones?

The answer, of course, is neither. The fulfillment of God’s promise that the angel of death would simply “pass over” and not destroy their firstborn depended not on the intensity of the faith of the residents but only on whether or not they had sprinkled blood on the doorposts and on the lintel. In both cases the blood was shed, the houses marked; in both cases the firstborn son was saved.

So also with us who have trusted Christ and his cross-work on our behalf. The promise of deliverance, the assurance that we are accepted by Almighty God, is tied not to the intensity of our faith or to the consistency of our faith or to the purity of our faith, but to the object of our faith. When we approach God in prayer, our plea is not that we have been good that day or that we have just come from a Christian meeting full of praise or that we try harder, but that Christ has died for us. And against that plea, Satan has no riposte.

*****

D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 40-42 (bold emphasis mine).

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