On Friday of last week, in APJ 1869, we looked at the terrible things Satan can do to people and to us. We saw that Satan can bring on physical suffering. He’s behind much sickness. We know Satan brought a thorn of physical pain into Paul’s life. He can even throw Christians into prison. Satan got Jesus arrested, beaten, and thrown on a cross. And just as he sought to destroy our Savior, Satan seeks to destroy our faith today. He’s very powerful. But he’s not all-powerful. Where Satan acts, he only acts “by permission,” and never with “ultimate control.” Nevertheless, he’s real. “He’s strong. He’s evil. And he’s on a long leash.” And even on that “long leash” of God’s providence, “he does terrible damage.” Those were the points from that recent episode. Satan is no joke.
But there’s another reality we must add to the mix. And it’s this: there’s only one “finally destructive weapon in the artillery of Satan.” Only one — one lethal weapon he can wield over you and over me. What is it? Here’s Pastor John’s answer in a 1996 sermon.
All the old high priests, remember what they did in the Old Testament. They had bulls and they had goats and they had doves, and they’d go into the Holy of Holies, and they’d take blood and spill it on the altar, covering the sins of the people for a year, perhaps, on the Day of Atonement. And they had to do it for their own sins too.
And here comes Jesus. He has in his mind, “I’m going to do a high-priestly work one time, and it’s over. No more temple sacrifices when I’m done because the blood I’m taking is not the blood of a bull, the blood of a goat, the blood of a lamb, the blood of a dove. It’s my blood. It’s infinitely valuable blood, and I’m going to pour it out one time.” Or another image would be, “I’m going to go in there, and I’m going to lie down, and I’m going to die. I’m going to do that. I’m going to finish this whole system of sacrificial offerings once for all by laying down my life that I might propitiate sins.”
“Christ strips the devil of his power in death by propitiating sins.”
So, the aim of his death is to make propitiation for the sins of his people (Hebrews 2:17). And the aim of his death is to destroy (or nullify) the power of the devil and his power over death (Hebrews 2:14). Christ strips the devil of his power in death by propitiating sins.
Propitiating Just Wrath
Now, we’ve got to deal with that word propitiate. It’s okay if you don’t know that. It’s not common parlance in American vocabulary. You won’t hear it on TV, probably, you won’t read it in the newspaper, and even Christians have pretty much dropped it, but let’s get it. Let’s just get it. Stick it in so you can use it now and then with people you ought to use it with. To propitiate, in the context of judgment and punishment for broken law, is to take away the wrath and the anger of the offended party. You propitiate their wrath.
So here’s God, the lawgiver, in justice and holiness, who has the expectation that people will love him, honor him, trust him, obey him, delight in him, and the whole world falls short of that expectation. And therefore, the justice of God kicks in, and he has a legitimate, just anger against sinners.
Now the solution to that is to deal with not only the guilt of sin, but the anger of God. We’ve got to get rid of his anger. We can’t. There’s not a thing in the world you can do to do that. Only one person can take away the anger of God: God. And since he’s just, he doesn’t just say, “Well, we’ll let bygones be bygones. I’ll sweep my anger under the rug. Sin is okay, and it’s not a big deal. My honor is not worth dying for.” Instead, what he says is, “I love you so much, and I love my honor so much, that I will send my Son as the high priest to absorb my anger.” That’s what happened at the cross.
He put his Son forward, and the Son willingly, in love to us and in love to his Father, lays his own life down on the altar of the cross — as a high priest and as the offering of the high priest — and God pours out on him the curse of the law. He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).
And in doing that, he drains every drop of the wrath of God against his elect dry. In Jesus Christ, “there is therefore now no” — what? — “condemnation” (Romans 8:1). This is glorious. This is what was meant when it said, “Oh, don’t neglect your great salvation” (see Hebrews 2:3). This is a great salvation.
Now we’re right on the brink of answering our question. We’re not there yet. We haven’t got it solved, but we’ve almost got it solved. The question was, How is it that the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our high priest, by propitiating sin, defeats the devil? How is it that the devil loses his power to destroy you through death because of that?
Satan’s One Lethal Weapon
There is only one lethal weapon in the artillery of Satan. If you’ve ever thought about this, listen carefully. There’s only one lethal, deadly, final, destructive weapon in the artillery of Satan. You know what it is? Your sin. Nobody goes to hell because of being harassed by the devil. Nobody goes to hell because of being possessed by the devil. Nobody goes to hell because of being oppressed by the devil. Nobody goes to hell because of seeing green apparitions on their ceiling at night and hearing weird noises under the bed, which are real. Nobody goes to hell because of that. People go to hell for one reason: unforgiven sin. Period. That’s all.
“People go to hell for one reason: unforgiven sin. Period. That’s all.”
Satan has one way to get you to hell: keep you from a savior and get you to sinning. That’s all. He can’t scare you — I mean, let’s get rid of our fear of this guy. He has one deadly weapon. Sure, he can rough you up. He can kill you. “He has thrown many of you into jail. For ten days you will suffer, and you’re going to die” (see Revelation 2:10). Satan can kill you today. This text does not mean that Satan’s hands are bound and that he can’t make you sick or he can’t make you dead.
It means the one who had the power of death to destroy you no longer has that power. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). It’s gone. Why? Because the law is satisfied, and sins are forgiven. And all Satan can do is look you in the face and just rage at you. And if you’re covered by the blood of Jesus, if you’re clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, you can look him right in the face and say, “Be gone, Satan.” Or, if he rages against you such as to put you in jail, or to make you sick, or to kill you, you can smile back at him and say, “I’m free from the fear of this thing.”