… To Destroy the Devil’s Work
1 John 3:1 – 10
The Reason for Christmas, To Destroy the Devil’s Work
What is Christmas all about?
Well, it’s only 7 sleeps until Christmas!
School has finished,
Some here are already on holidays, others are anticipating holidays,
And so this is the time that many of us start our Christmas traditions.
Our family is big on Christmas traditions. We do the same things every year;,
Do the advent calendar,
Set up the nativity scene,
Decorate the Christmas tree,
Work our way through the Advent readings and craft.
But for some here I know, your Christmas tradition is watching Christmas movies. Some of us were talking about this just last weekend. And depending on your age and, maybe a few other factors, it might be the Home Alone films,
Or Holiday Inn, if you like the classics!
I know some people consider the Die Hard films to be Christmas movies!
Or maybe one I came across this week, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
It’s a Christmas special featuring Snoopy and Charlie Brown and all the Peanuts gang, since it was commissioned in 1965, it’s been broadcast at Christmas time every year, and is usually shown multiple times in the week before Christmas.
And as is often the case for poor old Charlie Brown, in this movie, he’s feeling sad and depressed as Christmas approaches.
He’s confronted with the commercialism and secularisation of Christmas, as all his friends and family seem to think of Christmas as an opportunity just to get what they want, and yet typically Charlie Brown can’t do anything right at Christmas, so eventually he cries out, “I guess I really don't know, what Christmas is all about.,
Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Why Christmas? To destroy the devil’s work.
Well, I wonder if we were to be asked that question, whether we could answer it. I imagine lots of us would be able to offer some kind of answer, and yet I wonder if we would say, that Christmas is about, God destroying something?
Why Christmas? Our question for these few weeks, so God that could destroy something.
It’s perhaps a bit out of left field for us, but the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, an eye-witness of Jesus’ life and ministry, in about 85 AD, he wrote this letter that we heard read a moment ago, and in it he says that Christmas happened, so that God could destroy something.
Look with me at 1 John 3, verse 8, picking it up in the second sentence, where we’re given an answer to this question we’ve set ourselves, The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
The baby Jesus,
All of that, was so that God could destroy something.
People are very kind to me, and I’ve already started getting Christmas cards. But not one of the cards I’ve received, has this as it theme!
“Seasons’ Greetings”, for the celebration of destruction!
You may have seen that Trinity City Church’s Christmas sign made it into the news this week because it was a bit controversial and confusing. Well, I reckon if we went with this for our Christmas advertising next year, we’d probably attract some controversy, too!
It’s not really how we think of Christmas is it?!
The reason that Jesus was born, was to destroy the devil’s work.
I know lots of people who think the devil has taken over Christmas, but we don’t often hear of the devil causing Christmas.
In fact lots of people I know think the idea of a real, personal devil is laughable!
It’s one of the reasons that when it comes to Halloween, I’m a real Grinch, a spoil-sport!
On Halloween, our house is the one with no decorations and the printed-out sign, “No trick or treaters, please.”
And so the neighbourhood kids probably hate me, but actually I don’t want to reinforce the over-riding message of Halloween, that all evil spirits are make-believe, something to be laughed at, and enjoyed.
Let me read to you from the introduction to C S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters,
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils., One is to, disbelieve in their existence.
The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
They themselves, are equally pleased by both errors.
Sometimes you’ll find people obsessed, with demons and the devil. Anything that goes wrong, from a sore throat, to a microphone that won’t work, must be the work of the devil.
But then there’s other people, who don’t think that there’s any sort of spiritual realm at all.
And maybe that’s you. You prefer to believe in things that you can see and touch, and that’s it.
Or perhaps even this includes Christian people, who acknowledge the reality of the spiritual realm, but actually they live their lives, ignoring that reality altogether.
But as Lewis says, being engrossed in the spiritual realm, or ignoring it completely, are 2 equally bad errors.
And I reckon for most people we know, our friends and family, and for most of us, the problem is more likely to be that second one;, disbelieving or ignoring the reality of spiritual evil.
But really, how can you explain what we see in the headlines every day,
How can you explain what we experience, to greater or lesser degrees in our life every day,
How can you explain life without the reality of a personal evil force in the world?
I read an article in one of the UK papers, by a non-Christian journalist, he was pointing out that it’s becoming harder and hard to say things like, “the devil doesn’t exist”,
“people are basically good”,
“There is no spiritual realm”,
When we continually see the kind of atrocities people commit against each other, just as we have in 2016.
This journalist was saying, “You can’t make sense of the world we live in, if people are essentially good, and there’s no such thing as the devil.”
John tells us not only that is the devil real, but also that Jesus came to destroy his work.
And in fact, the word for work is plural, because, the devil’s works are many aren’t they?
Satan is doing everything he can, to spoil God’s good creation, and to spoil people for the purposes for which God made us.
At its simplest, the devil’s work is to try and undo God’s work.
The Bible tells us, places like Ephesians chapter 1, that God’s work, his ultimate purpose for the world, is to draw all things in creation under the lordship of Christ.
Well then, the devil’s work, is to try and stop us from living with Christ as Lord.
To try and throw off, and hinder, the rule of Christ.
That’s what sin is, rejecting God’s rule, and John says the devil has been sinning from the beginning.
Since the opening pages of the Bible, this is what the devil has been on about.
He does it by tempting people to sin by doubting God’s goodness, Genesis 3
He does it by trying to stifle and choke off people’s response to God’s and his work in their life. That’s the parable of the soils in Matthew 13,
He does it by deceive people. The armour of God pictured in Ephesians 6 warns us about that.
He does it by trying to accuse people before God. Maybe you know the story of Job. That’s what happens in the first couple of chapters there.
The devil seeks to devour Christian people, and to destroy the church. The devil hates this. Right here, right now. 1 Peter chapter 5.
He seeks to destroy relationships,
He leads people into error and falsehood
The devil’s work is to lead people into sin, and if possible, away from God.
And I reckon, for many of us, if we were to stop and think about our lives for a moment, and the lives of those around us, we could see those parts of the devil’s work, in action.
We see God’s Word being stifled in people’s lives, their growth in God being choked off,
We see deception hold, as people buy the lies our world feeds them,
We see people being led into error and falsehood,
We see people tearing down others, and destroying relationships.
That is the devil’s work, and we see it in our lives and the lives of others.
The devil’s work is our sin
See the devil’s work is not just out there.
The works of the devil that Jesus came to destroy, are just as much (HEART) in here, as out there.
Jump back with me to verses 4 and 5, as John works up to this great statement about why we need Christmas.
Everyone who sins breaks the law; he says, in fact, sin is lawlessness.
There’s his definition of sin;, throwing off God’s law,
Wanting to decide for ourselves what’s right and what’s wrong,
Refusing to let God’s rightful king ruler over us.
And then he continues in verse 5, But you know that he appeared, Jesus appeared, so that he might take away our sins.
Now, that sounds different to what he said in verse 8, doesn’t it? Jesus appeared, to destroy the devil’s work.
And it’s not that between verse 5 and verse 8 John goes off to get a cup of coffee, and then comes back but forgets what he’s already said about the reason Jesus came into the world, so in verse 5 it’s to take away our sins, but in verse 8 it’s to destroy the devil’s work.
No, John hasn’t confused himself.
He’s giving the same reason for Christmas, from 2 different perspectives.
Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil,
Jesus came to take away our sins.
These are 2 sides of the same coin.
It’s pretty easy to look at the world and see, lawlessness, isn’t it?
People refusing to submit to any rule or authority, other than what their own sinful heart desires,
And so we might be tempted to think, well obviously, lawlessness, flows from sin.
People are sinful, therefore they hate God’s pattern for life.
But John doesn’t say that, does he?
He doesn’t say lawlessness results from sin, but that lawlessness, is the essence of sin.
Sin is lawlessness, verse 4.
There was once a Sunday School teacher who asked her class, “Can anyone tell me what sin is?”
And one little boy put up his hand, and answered “Sin is anything you really enjoy doing.”
And you think, “well, there’s someone who’s going to have guilt issues later in life!”
But actually, whatever choice I make, whatever I really really want to do, it’s always at least partly opposed to God,
Contrarty to what is good for me and others.
My motives are never completely pure.
Sin, according to John, is that spirit of lawlessness, that makes us reject God’s pattern for life.
Sin is us taking the good gifts that God offers us, but refusing to acknowledge him, refusing to live as if he knows best.
We could even say that sin isn’t just being a law breaker, but a law maker.
We want to be the ones who decide right from wrong.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn the Russian dissident and author, in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, wrote, the line separating good and evil, passes not through states,
nor between classes, nor between political parties either,
but right through every human heart, and through all, human hearts.
Yes, sin is the devil’s work. John makes that point.
But sin is also the lawless, law-making streak in all of us,
Which means, we can’t blame the devil for our sin.
Just a week or so ago, there was road accident in America. A big Chevy ute cleaned up half a dozen cars. And the driver said afterwards, “the devil made me do it.”
It’s the oldest excuse in the book, but it’s no excuse at all.
I remember someone here told me once that at school, every time they did something wrong, their teacher would say, “I’ll pray for you, because the devil is making you do that.”
Please do pray for me when I sin, but not because the devil makes me do it, but because I choose lawlessness.
I choose to disobey God,
I choose, to try and set myself up as the law-maker.
Christ came to destroy the works of the devil.
Christ came to destroy sin, and that means my sin.
Christ came to take away our sins.
How does Christ destroy the devil’s work?
So how does he do it?
How does the baby born in a stable, laid in a manger, destroy the works of the devil?
Well this particular passage doesn’t give us the specifics, does it?
We need to fill in the picture from other parts of the Bible.
And from the Old Testament through to the New Testament, the Bible gives the same answer;
Jesus destroyed the works of the devil through his death on the cross.
Jesus, who John reminds, had no sin within him, took on our sins, and took on himself the punishment that we had incurred.
Sin is punished,
Justice is done,
The required penalty for rebellion is paid.
Do you know the concept of Double Jeopardy?
It’s a legal term that basically means that you can’t be tried again for the same offence, if you’ve already been declared not guilty.
And friends, something similar applies to those who have been declared “not guilty” in Christ.
If Jesus has paid the penalty for your sin, you will never be asked to pay that penalty yourself.
God is not going to come at you, palm open, saying, “Cough up, you owe me something,
You need to pay the price for your rebellion against me.”
Since Jesus pays the penalty for sin for all who trust in him, we will never be asked to pay that penalty again,
And with no debt of sin hanging over our head, the devil has nothing with which to accuse us before God,
Nothing for which he could demand God take action against us,
There is no accusation, and no condemnation.
You know that sinking feeling you get when someone points out something you’ve done wrong,
Or you realise you’ve done something wrong, and you think “there’s going to be consequences.”
If you’re a follower of Jesus, there is none of that, when it comes to your standing before God.
The devil’s works are empty, flat, destroyed.
His accusations against you, are pointless, a waste of breath.
But of course, we still see sin around us don’t we?
We still see the devil at work in the world.
The devil’s works are destroyed in the life of the Christian person, we are no longer powerless against this enemy, but the devil is still active.
The word for “destroy” that John uses in verse 8 there, is the word used to describe a building being destroyed.
These days we see multi-story buildings turned to dust in just a few seconds, by a demolition team and some strategically placed explosives!
But of course, in John’s day, when a building was demolished, it was stone by stone, piece by piece.
The Son of God came into the world that first Christmas, to destroy the devil’s work.
The process has begun,
The process is irreveversible, No one is going to start putting the building back together from the pile of rubble it’s become.
And that’s what John wants his readers to understand.
A Christian person can live in the knowledge that Christ came, to free them from the works of the devil.
Some of you know that in my recent annual leave, my daughter Heidi and I finished building her a bass guitar that we’ve been working on for quite a while!
And so now that it’s finished, we’ve been playing together, and one of the songs we’ve been teaching ourselves is the Christmas carol, God rest ye merry gentlemen.
I must admit, I’d always thought of it as a bit of a second-class carol. Mainly I think, because today the word “rest” tends to mean “relax, take it easy”, and so it didn’t seem to feel like a proper carol.
Of course in the 16th Century when it was written, “rest” meant “preserve, keep, protect”, and so the carol is actually a prayer, asking God to keep and protect his people in blessing.
So I’ve had to repent of my former disdain for it!
But as we’ve been playing it recently, I’ve noticed in the first verse, well, I’ll read you the verse.
God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ, our Saviour
Was born upon this day,
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.
Save us all, from Satan’s power.
Well, John says, we can tick that one off.
Christ has destroyed the devil’s works,
He’s taken our sin,
He’s freed us from our slavery to Satan.
The destruction of sin means we can be God’s children
And so Christmas might start with the birth of Jesus, but it continues to another birth, our birth. Or strictly speaking, our rebirth.
Did you see that in verse 9?
So it was my birthday last Sunday, But I was due to be born on Christmas Day. I think I decided I didn’t want to share my birthday with Jesus, and so I arrived early!
But although there’s at least one person in our church who does share their birthday with Jesus, if you’re a Christian, then you can celebrate your birth, your rebirth, at Christmas.
How did this section of John’s letter begin?,
Verse 1, See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
Or verse 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God,
Or verse 9, because Christ came to destroy sin, No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them;, they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.
Christmas is part of our birth.
Because Christ came to destroy sin, our sin, we can become children of God.
It’s our sin that separates us from God. And so once that sin is taken away, as John’s been telling us Jesus does, then there’s no longer anything blocking our access to God.
We come into relationship with him as his children.
We’re born of God.
And did you notice, part of God remains in us; God’s seed remains,
These days John would say, “we’ve got God’s DNA.” That’s the sense of it.
There’s a part of God that is within us, because we’re his children.
And so something of who God is should be reflected in us, because of the family relationship.
So, my son Jamie, he gets some of his attributes, his good looks, his charm, from, his mother!
And other attributes, stubbornness, wilful streak, from, his grandmother!
No! But if you look at Jamie, there are some things that you think, that looks like Clayton.
He obviously has Clayton’s DNA!
In fact there’s a photo of me as a child, at my parents’ house, and even Jamie thinks it’s a photo of him!
You look at him, and you see his father.
John expects that when people look at us, if we’re Christians, then they’ll see something of God in us.
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him
The destruction of sin means Christians can’t go on sinning
This week I do something that do every year about this time, the ongoing professional development training that I have do to as a marriage celebrant.
It’s something I’m legally obligated to do before December 31st every year, and the fact that I leave it until this week will give you some idea of how much I look forward to it!
So I was thinking about marriage this week.
And when I’m preparing couples for marriage, we talk about what’s called “family of origin issues.”
When we get married, a lot of our expectations are based on what our family life was like growing up, so that’s what we think our married family life will be like.
So a Christmassy example, when it came to decorating the Christmas tree, my family put the lights on last. Tinsel and everything else goes on first.
Kathy’s family, put the Christmas tree lights on first!
Have you ever heard such foolishness?!
I’ve spent enough time now with people to be able to tell certain things about their family by the way they live.
John expects that people will be able to tell which family we belong to, by how we live.
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.
Now let’s be very clear. John is not teaching what’s called “sinless perfectionism”, which is a false teaching that says that when we trust in Jesus, we should expect never to sin again.
He’s already said twice in this letter, that if you say you don’t sin, then that itself is a sin, and you’re making God out to be a liar.
So there’s 2 strikes right there!
But most of us are probably not at risk of falling into that error. Aren’t we much more likely to read this, and be confronted with the reality of our sin, we know that we do sin, and so maybe we’ll even start wondering if we are in fact God’s children at all.
So let’s notice 2 things.
Firstly, John is talking about the ongoing practice of sin, he doesn’t mean the various sins that trip us up. His grammar makes it clear that his focus is on ongoing habitual sin, rather than individual occasions.
Some of you have the ESV Bible, English Standard Version. You’ll notice that version translates verse 4, Everyone who makes a practice of sinning
What’s on view is a settled pattern of behaviour, like the devil, actually. Remember verse 8, he’s described as sinning from the beginning.
Because Christ came to destroy sin, we mustn’t make a habit, or a practice of what he came to destroy.
Because of the current situation in Aleppo, Syria, I was reading this week about the Halo Trust, the landmine clearing charity.
So imagine they’ve got a team out in a warzone, and they’re clearing mines from a mine-field, so that kids can go to school, and people can grow crops and all that,
But imagine when the team goes into the town where the people live, they discover that one of these townspeople has been stockpiling the mines that they’ve been digging up, and they’re all piled up in their bedroom!
Why would you attach yourself to, make a habit of, what Christ came to destroy?
The other thing it’s helpful to understand about John’s argument, is that he’s not saying a Christian person can’t commit any sin at all. He means it’s no longer natural for a Christian person, to continue in sin.
A life of sin is now unnatural
A Christian is someone who has been born of God, someone who has God’s DNA in them,
It’s not impossible for a Christian to sin, but it is unnatural.
I’m sure you remember that in May last year, Princess Charlotte was born the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. And during both her pregnancies, the Duchess suffered severe nausea, and so on at least one occasion she was admitted to hospital.
Once upon a time, when she was “just” Catherine Middleton, if she got sick, and needed to go to hospital, I imagine she’d have called an ambulance,
Waited for the ambulance to arrive,
It would take her to the nearest hospital,
No doubt she’d wait there in the Emergency Department with all the other sick people, until it was her turn to be seen by a doctor.
But when she married Prince William, that all changed, didn’t it?
This time when she went to hospital she was attended by, not one by several of the Queen’s personal physicians,
She was whisked through the traffic, by a security escort to London’s most prestigious private hospital, King Edward the 7th’, where police hastily arrested barriers to keep back the crowds of media and well-wishers.
I suppose it’s possible for Kate to call for an ambulance like she would have done in her younger days, and be driven across town, to wait for hours in the Emergency Department at Lesser Whopping Women’s hospital?!
It’s probably possible!
But it’s entirely unnatural, isn’t it? It’s at odds with her new family identity.
Friends, a Christian isn’t a religious person,
A Christian isn’t someone who just makes sure they do more good deeds than bad deeds,
A Christian isn’t someone who never does anything wrong.
A Christian is someone who has a new family identity.
Someone with God’s DNA in them.
That’s who we are. Most of us are Christians.
And it so it’s entirely unnatural for us to continue in sin.
If Christ came to destroy sin, then if we dabble in sin, we’re toying with what Christ was born to destroy.
I wanted to get a new pair of shoes a few weeks ago, and I found a pair that were advertised as the shoes that the US Seal Team 6 were wearing when they killed Osama bin Laden.
And I thought, “Those are the ones for me!” Because of course, the only difference between me and the world’s most elite military unit is a pair of shoes!
But imagine Seal Team 6, when they arrive in Pakistan, determined to destroy bin Laden, they kick down the front door with their, remarkably reasonably priced shoes, and there’s bin Laden, and there you are, embracing bin Laden.
You’re embracing the one they came to destroy.
You’re identifying with the very thing their mission says, must be done away with.
What do you think is going to happen to you?
That may be a somewhat offensive image, and I’m sorry if it is, but let’s make sure we understand the offence of embracing what Jesus came to destroy.
And if we’re embracing, what Jesus was born to destroy, we’ll actually find ourselves fighting against Christ.
One of the reasons I chose this passage to for us to look at together in Advent, is because of what we saw last week, that Advent is about remembering Jesus’ first coming;, his birth that first Christmas, but it’s also about preparing ourselves for Jesus’ second coming.
And 1 John 3 helps us do that.
If we reflect rightly on Jesus’ first advent, we’ll be better prepared for his return.
See verse 2, Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is,
3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
John’s word for destroy, can also mean “loosen” or “untie.”
You get quite confused in first year at theological college when Jesus tells his disciples to either “untie” or “destroy” the donkey before he rides into Jerusalem.
We have been loosed. Set free.
Set free from sin, and yet if we remain in sin, it’s like we’re holding on to the handcuffs that once shacked us.
And if we do that, we deny both Jesus’ first coming, which was to destroy sin,
But we also deny his second coming, when we will be made like him.
In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 28th of December is the day the church remembers the children murdered by the paranoid King Herod in his attempt to kill Jesus. It’s the story told in Matthew chapter 2.
On Innocents’ Day, as it’s known, when Christmas is just a few days past, the congregation prays these words, “Mortify and kill all vices in us”
The language betrays its 17th Century origins, hey, but the plea is clear, isn’t it?
“Mortify and kill all vices in us”
If you’re a Christian,
If you’re born of God, you’re not immune from sin,
But please don’t be content, with a mediocre life, in which sin is allowed to become a habit.
Jesus was born, to destroy the works of the devil;, the sin that separates us from God
Let me pray.
And I’m going to use some of the words from that collect from 1662.
Almighty God, Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by your grace, that by the innocence of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord who appeared, to destroy the work of the devil, in our world and in us, Amen.