“The first step on the way to victory
is to recognize the enemy.”
— Corrie ten Boom
Phil was a gifted writer who had earned the privilege of being published in National Geographic. When I met him in the early 1980’s, he was working as a computer software technician. He had experienced the Viet Nam War, and he was no longer emotionally able to write.
In the 1960’s, Phil was drafted and sent into combat. Though this chapter in his life was not one he would have chosen to write for himself, he vowed to uphold his duty as an American citizen, and for thirteen months he did his best to honorably represent his nation.
Then, on the day Phil was scheduled to return home, he witnessed a scene that dramatically changed his life. He had grown up within a generation that expected Americans to demonstrate utmost respect for their country and the United States flag. So when he saw young American military men ripping apart U.S. flags and wrapping themselves diaper fashion to protest their forced involvement in the Viet Nam conflict, he was deeply offended. The fact that he could do nothing to stop or even discourage their insolent behavior left him feeling intensely frustrated, ashamed and personally defeated.
When his family greeted him at the airport, Phil desperately wanted to share the details of the incredible demonstration that still dominated his thoughts. But as he became aware of all the scurrying, oblivious people who surrounded him, he sadly realized that not one of them would be able to comprehend his story. And would they even care?
Fifteen years after the incident, Phil was just as keenly intelligent as he had always been. But the scar left on his emotions had rendered impotent his passion for writing and reporting.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write again,” he told me. “Maybe I could if someone could just explain to me the answer to one question: “Who was the enemy?”
I find it interesting that the spiritual entity we call Satan or the devil, first appears in the Bible in disguise. When he appeared to Eve in the Garden of Eden, she didn’t run away screaming, so his presence must have been alluring and non-threatening. He pops onto the stage without fanfare and dominates the scene. After the Lord God pronounces his punishment, he instantly disappears … unless you know where to look for him.
Throughout the Old Testament, this master of disguise skillfully wreaks havoc in the minds and lives of men and women. Satan has made himself so invisible to most modern-day historians that they have failed to acknowledge his involvement in some of the most heinous activities in the history of the world. So we have to rely on Scripture for details on how the devil operates.
In the book of Job, we are granted a rare peek into God’s throne room, where angels – including “the prince of this world” (John 12:31) – are gathered to receive their orders from the King Himself. It provides a rare look into the invisible workings within spiritual realms and confirms who is ultimately in control. For some, it goes against everything that they may have been taught about a loving God who can do no harm to the righteous.
Isaiah helps us see Satan from another angle. Laying out some interesting details about the rift between God and the devil, the prophet writes: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God … I will make myself like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-14). Unfortunately, many choose to believe that Isaiah was only talking about the historical king of Babylon, rather than to see Satan hidden in plain sight among Isaiah’s lofty phrases.
After 400 years of silence from God, and despite the devil’s displeasure, the promised Savior was born in fulfillment of many ancient prophecies. Thirty years later, Jesus finally kicked off his ministry by being baptized in the Jordan River “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Then, when the Son of God is at a physically low point, the devil finally steps out into the open to challenge the Redeemer (Luke 4:1-13). He offers to trade the things of this world for the one thing over which he has no authority – control of the human soul. Then when he sees that the situation is hopeless, he disappears yet again, planning to come again at “an opportune time.”
As Jesus restores sight to the blind and addresses physical needs of the masses, Satan lies invisible, taking cover beneath the spiritual blindness of men. He deceives the teachers whom they depend on for guidance … gives credence to established political systems … enters into a trusted friend of the Teacher. Then he sits back and watches his carefully conceived plans fall into place.
But through all of this, God is still working on His plan to give mankind a second chance to choose the King of heaven over the prince of this world. He is setting in motion seemingly impossible actions that will result in the fulfillment of ancient prophecies and prove that the Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah.
Perhaps the prophet Isaiah summed it up best:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away…. he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer … and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
“After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53)
And as God in the flesh declares, “It is finished,” Satan becomes a spiritually defeated foe.
“Later, knowing that all was now completed,
and so the Scriptures would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ …
When He had received the drink,
Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’
With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”
A RUST REMOVER …
Make time to look up the scriptures mentioned within this devotion. Highlight verses that seem to speak to you and offer wisdom or insight. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you remember Jesus’ words of truth and hope: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).