Defeating Your Dragon

Defeating Your Dragon

Revelation 12:1-9

Dr. Jim Denison

A woman rubbed a magic lamp, and out popped a genie. The amazed woman asked if she got three wishes. The genie was indignant: “Three-wish genies are a storybook myth. I’m a one-wish genie. So, what will it be?”

The woman did not hesitate: “I want peace in the Middle East. See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other and I want the Arabs and Jews and Sunnis and Shiites to get along. I want world peace and harmony.”

The genie looked at the map and complained, “Lady, please be reasonable. These countries have been at war for thousands of years. I’m out of shape after being in a bottle for 500 years. I’m good, but not that good. I don’t think it can be done. Please make another wish, and make it reasonable.”

The woman thought for a moment and said, “Well, I’ve never been able to find the right man. You know–one that’s considerate and fun, likes to cook and help with the house cleaning, gets along with my family, doesn’t watch sports all the time. That is what I wish for–a good man.”

The genie let out a sigh and said, “Let me see the map again.”

The genie is right: there have been wars since history began.

This Memorial Day weekend we pause to remember with tremendous gratitude those who have died serving our country in those wars.

And in worship, we remember that we are in a war as well. Not in Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine, but in our souls. There is a spiritual war which has been going on since time began. You’re right in the middle of it this morning.

Knowing that fact will help you understand why you face the battles, temptations, and struggles you do. Learning how to win this battle is crucial to finding the abundant life of Jesus, the joy of the Lord, the power of the Spirit, the victory you are intended to experience every day. So let’s watch the battle of the ages unfold, and learn how to make its victory ours.

Know that you win

So far in Revelation we’ve focused on Jesus as he truly is. In contrast to The Da Vinci Code’s human prophet, we have watched him rule the universe from his throne, open the word of God with his power, and receive the worship of heaven and all eternity. Now we watch his enemy and ours stride on the stage of heaven and history.

“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven” (Revelation 12:1a). “Sign” is used in the Bible to warn us that something of cataclysmic importance is about to happen.

Here it is: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (v. 1b). “Clothed with the sun” is a reference to divine favor and blessing; “the moon under her feet” shows that she has been raised and exalted by God. The “twelve stars” most likely refer to the twelve tribes of Israel and/or the twelve signs of the Zodiac, indicating that she is crowned by the One who rules the nations and the universe.

Some think this image refers to the believing community which anticipated the Messiah, or the early Christian movement. The more obvious reference is to Mary and Herod’s attempt to murder her family. Whichever we choose, here we learn that God’s people are protected by his purpose and power.

“Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads” (v. 3). The “dragon” is a typical symbol of Satan in the Old Testament and ancient literature (cf. Isaiah 51:9). “Seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns” symbolize great knowledge, power, and authority. This dragon did his best to devour the Child of God, but he was defeated (v. 5).

Defeated on earth, and in heaven. Michael cast him from heaven’s glory to his eventual doom. As he was defeated in Revelation 12, so he will finally be destroyed in Revelation 20:10: “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

I saw a t-shirt which conveyed some excellent theology: “The next time Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.” He loses and we win–this is the promise of God. Now, how does this battle relate to your battles today?

Defeat your enemy today

C. S. Lewis once suggested that we make two mistakes regarding the devil. One is to give him more authority than he deserves–then he can do what he wants. The other is to deny that he exists–then he can do what he wants. People today typically think of Satan as a symbol of evil, wearing red tights and a tail, the stuff of Saturday cartoons. He’s just as happy to be ignored as to be feared.

But it’s impossible to ignore his work–broken hearts and homes, abuse, disease and immorality. In some places in America, the worship of Satan is growing ten times faster than any Christian church. In recent years, the Satanic Bible has outsold the Holy Bible in many university bookstores.

How are we to do battle with Satan today?

First, know your enemy. Jesus described his nature and agenda in frightening detail (John 8:42-47).

Satan wants to control us. He claims ownership over every unsaved soul. Jesus referred to his enemies as children of their Satanic “father” (v. 44). He is the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). Christians live in a world dominated by the devil. We are soldiers stationed on enemy soil, living in an occupied country.

The devil wants to manipulate us. He blinds our minds to the truth, for he is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). This is why the person who has not received the Holy Spirit cannot understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). From the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ wilderness temptations to the present, he manipulates truth to lead us astray.

Four Words Which Changed My Life

Four Words Which Changed My Life

Revelation 7:9-17

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend once sent me some advice from kids. It gives us a sense of what mothers must deal with: Never trust a dog to watch your food (Patrick, age 10); When your dad is mad and asks you, “Do I look stupid?” don’t answer him (Michael, 14); Never tell your mom her diet’s not working (Michael, 14); Stay away from prunes (Randy, 9); When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair (Taylia, 11); Never allow your three-year-old brother in the same room as your school assignment (Traci, 14); Don’t sneeze in front of mom when you’re eating crackers (Mitchell, 12); Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a tic tac (Andrew, 9); If you want a kitten, start out by asking for a horse (Naomi, 15); Never try to baptize a cat (Eileen, 8); Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a baseball bat (Joel, 10); Never hold a dust buster and a cat at the same time (Kyoyo, 9).

This morning I am going to give mothers and the rest of us the best advice I know. The greatest solution to the challenges you face in raising your children and dealing with your problems, whatever they may be. The greatest help for the rest of us, wherever we need God’s help most. My advice takes only four words to state. It is going to seem paradoxical in the extreme, the last thing you’d think you should do when you need help and hope. But it is the key to living for Jesus, serving him effectively, and experiencing his power where you need it most this morning.

To get to that advice, first we need to set the stage.

Joining Jesus in heaven

We’re looking for pictures of Jesus in the Book of Revelation. We’ve seen him on his throne in divine majesty; we’ve watched him open the word of God in omnipotent power. Now we watch heaven worship him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The DaVinci Code says that in early Christianity, “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal” (p. 233, emphasis his). Let’s see if John agrees.

“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (v. 9).

This was the standard four-fold division of the peoples of the world. Today we might say, every nation and state and race and language. Despite the racial bigotry which was rampant in John’s time. In heaven’s worship of Jesus, everyone is included. Rich and poor, priests and people, sinners and saintly Christians–we’re all here.

We are “wearing white robes” (v. 9a). These refer to priestly robes as well as victory robes such as the Roman generals wore. Why are they white? Because “these are they who have come out of the great tribulation: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). As every mother knows, blood on a garment is one of the hardest stains to remove. But not this blood: Jesus’ blood has bleached out all the stains of sin in our lives. His forgiveness has removed them forever.

We are “holding palm branches” in our hands (v. 9b). These were used by the Greeks and Romans as victory signs at the Games, like our gold medals today.

If Jesus is your Savior and Lord, you’re in this crowd. You’re one of the saints of the ages, joining the angels of all eternity. You’re wearing the white robes of salvation and holding the palm branches of victory. This is our future with Jesus.

What will we be doing?

“And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'” (v. 10). We are engaged fully in the worship of Jesus. We are loving him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

We will do this forever: “They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple” (v. 15a). This is not Sunday morning in heaven, but Tuesday evening. This is our eternal joy, and privilege, and delight.

What will Jesus be doing?

“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat” (v. 16). Why not? Because “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 17). He will be the Shepherd of his sheep, leading us to green pastures and still waters. He will wipe every tear from our eyes, as he comforts and protects us forever.

When those in heaven worship Jesus, they are blessed by Jesus. When they honor him, they are honored by him. When they give him their highest praise, even though they have come through “great tribulation” (v. 14), he gives them his highest blessing and reward. Those who worship Jesus experience the presence and power of God.

Finding Jesus on earth

What does this scene in heaven have to do with mothers and the rest of us on earth? Let’s keep exploring. In Isaiah 43:21, God says that we are “the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.” We were created to praise God. That’s what we’ll do in eternity, and what he wants us to do now.

So worship is how we experience his presence and power today.

Psalm 22:3 teaches that God inhabits the praises of his people.

When Daniel was in danger of losing his job and his life, “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). And God spared him in the lion’s den.

The Da Vinci Code Bible

The Da Vinci Code Bible

Revelation 5:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

Did you know that some airlines refuse to allow a Christian pilot and co-pilot to fly together, for fear that if the rapture occurs the plane will crash? You didn’t know that because it’s not true. But it’s making the rounds. Did you hear about the Little Rock woman who jumped from her speeding car’s sunroof because she was convinced that Jesus was coming back? That’s because it never happened. But the story is still being published today.

What about this one: “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book” (The Da Vinci Code, p. 231). That’s more than obscure urban legend–it’s been read by 40 million people. If it’s true, you and I are wasting our time and our lives today.

We need to know why we can trust the Bible. Then we need to trust it today. Where do you most need to hear from God this morning? Let’s see if you can.

How did the Bible come to be?

Historian Teabing calls the creation of the Bible “The fundamental irony of Christianity!” and asserts, “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great” (p. 231). If this is true, the Bible we have today was produced by a process which occurred around AD 325. Let’s look at the actual facts.

The Old Testament canon was finalized by two councils held at the city of Jamnia, one in AD 90 and the other in AD 118. Constantine had absolutely nothing to do with the process.

So perhaps Teabing means the canonical process of the New Testament. Here the facts are just as damaging to his case. The early Christians quickly developed four criteria for accepting a book as Scripture.

First, it must have been written by an apostle or based on his eyewitness testimony. This criteria alone exempted the second-century Gnostic books like the so-called Gospel of Judas.

Second, the book must possess merit and authority in its use. For instance, The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ tells of a man who is changed into a mule by a bewitching spell but converted back to manhood when the infant Christ is put on his back for a ride (7:5-27). In the same book, the boy Jesus causes clay birds and animals to come to life (ch. 15), stretches a throne his father had made too small (ch. 16), and takes the lives of boys who oppose him (19.19-24). It was easy to dismiss such fiction.

Third, a book must come to be accepted by the entire church, not just a single congregation or area.

And last, a book must be approved by the decision of the larger church, not just a few advocates.

In the first century, a number of books were soon produced in response to the ministry of Jesus. Other, less reputable books, began to appear as well. However, by the mid-second century only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were accepted universally by the church. The other “gospels” simply did not meet the four criteria for acceptance set out above.

Note that this process was completed two centuries before Constantine. For example, in AD 115 Ignatius referred to the four gospels of our New Testament as “the gospel”; in AD 170, Tatian made a “harmony of the gospels” using only these four; around AD 180, Irenaeus referred to the four gospels as firmly established in the church.

The Muratorian Canon was established around AD 200, representing the usage of the church at Rome at that time. It lists only the four gospels in our Bible today, more than a century before Constantine.

Constantine and the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 had absolutely nothing to do with the formation of the biblical canon. I have no idea why Brown would make such a fallacious assertion.

F. F. Bruce was one of the world’s foremost authorities on the creation of the Bible. His opinion should be considered: “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect…what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities” (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?).

Can we trust the Bible?

Next we turn to the trustworthiness and authenticity of the Bible as we have it today. “Historian” Teabing claims, “Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history…Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (p. 234, emphasis his). Remember what we have already noted–that Constantine had nothing to do with a “new Bible.”

Teabing continues: “Fortunately for historians…some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And, of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms…The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda–to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base” (p. 234). Teabing later calls the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea scrolls “the earliest Christian records” (p. 245).