“… the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)
KENNER, La. (BP)–Understand, Satan is a created being. He shares none of the attributes of Almighty God — not omniscience, omnipresence, nor omnipotence, meaning that he is limited in knowledge and space and power.
When it comes to predicting what God is going to do next, Satan has to rely on what he can figure out, what he remembers from the timeless past when he resided in heaven as a favorite angel, and what he reads in Holy Scripture. Since the Holy Spirit does not enlighten his understanding, Satan sees as the world sees, not with the mind of Christ. Once we understand this, a hundred puzzles fall into place.
The Apostle Paul pointed out that had Satan known what God was up to, he would never have crucified Jesus. One might say that God pulled the wool over the devil’s eyes and fooled him. On that first Easter Sunday morning, an imp rushed into the presence of his satanic majesty, interrupting the two-day celebration over the death of Jesus. The demon breathlessly announced that the tomb was empty, the body gone, and the soldiers looked like they had seen a ghost. Satan spewed out his champagne and cursed. He had been had and he knew it. He had played right into God’s hands and was defeated.
Sometimes in biblical history, we see that the Lord manipulated Satan, as in the cases of Job and Joseph. Sometimes, God gave him a good comeuppance as at Mount Carmel when Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal in a fire-calling contest. At other times, the Lord used subterfuge to fool His enemy. Christmas is one of those times.
Satan can read. He knew from Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. What he did not know was the timing of the Savior’s birth. So, in another of his endless efforts to thwart the purposes of God, Satan pulled in demons from around the world to concentrate on the Holy Land, specifically the region around Bethlehem. That’s one reason for the ubiquitous demon-possession in the New Testament. The devils practically outnumbered the citizens. They served as Satan’s spies and were charged with keeping an eye out for godly young couples about to have babies.
Satan was lying in wait for the Messiah.
The first thing God did was to choose a man and woman not from Bethlehem, but from Nazareth, far to the north. Secondly, He saw to it that the woman’s purity and morality would be doubted. The devil can count; he knows it takes nine months to make a baby. He had no way of knowing of Gabriel’s visits to Mary and Joseph or of the miraculous conception of this Baby. If he heard at all of this young Nazarene couple, he quickly discounted them, certain that the God he remembered from heaven would never deign to use obvious sinners for so holy a role.
The third thing God did was to arrange to move Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in time for the birth, but not so as to draw attention to themselves. When Caesar Augustus put out a call for a census of the empire, God had put it in his heart. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes,” as the Bible says in Proverbs 21:1.
Mary and Joseph were among thousands returning to their ancestral homes for the census. Perhaps the roads experienced a primitive form of gridlock. With Bethlehem’s inns and available homes filled, the young couple took the only thing offered, a stable. “She brought forth her firstborn son and laid him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). If the devil’s imps were vigilant, they would have dismissed the young family camping out in a barn for good reason.
The God whom Satan remembered from heaven resided in a level of glory unimagined on earth. Satan was unsure of a lot of things, but one thing he knew — God in heaven would not allow His Son to be born in a barn. Doubtless he had told his demons to check the finest homes for the most illustrious surroundings and outstanding parents. But the Lord fooled him. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). This is a basic lesson of spiritual warfare which historically Satan seems incapable of grasping. To this day, no carnal mind believes it.
When Jesus was born, God prepared a welcoming committee of the lowliest people on the planet — shepherds — primarily to reassure the young parents that all was well. Satan had no way of seeing the angels that appeared to these sheepherders that night or hearing their clues on how to identify the Baby. “And this will be a sign unto you: you will find a Baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). No one noticed or cared when a small company of ragtag shepherds ran breathlessly through the village looking for — what else? — a stable.
Later, after Joseph had moved his little family into a house in Bethlehem, a delegation of foreign visitors arrived. These “magi from the east” had created no small stir in Jerusalem as they naively announced their search for the one “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2). From the gifts they presented, Joseph was able to finance a sudden trip to Egypt made necessary when murderous King Herod sent soldiers on a search-and-destroy mission for the babies of Bethlehem. Satan would have fumed to learn that the objects of his wrath were already out of town, slowly making their way toward Egypt where they would remain until Herod’s death. Eventually, when the holy family re-entered the country, they moved to Nazareth where Joseph opened his carpentry shop.
Satan had lost Jesus.
Jesus grew up with a normal Jewish childhood in Nazareth. He was not a “Superboy in Smallville,” amazing the hometown folks with His miracles and inspired teaching. Had he done that, Satan would have heard the talk about the boy wonder and come calling. The first the devil learned of Jesus’ identity was the day the Lord stepped into the waters of the Jordan and waded to John the Baptist. Nudged by the Holy Spirit, John called out, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And that’s how everyone learned that the Messiah was Jesus from Nazareth.
Jesus’ baptism was His coming out. The gloves were off. God in heaven was saying, “There He is, devil! Do your worst. We’re ready.” The game was afoot; the battle was joined. It came to a head one day three years later on a hill outside Jerusalem. For a couple of days, Satan reveled in his victory. Then, on that first Easter Sunday morning, an imp came running in, all out of breath….
Joe McKeever is pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenner, La., and a regular cartoonist for Baptist Press at BPLife Lighter Side.