The cross and resurrection of Christ stand at the center of redemptive history and they are at the crux of God’s work on our behalf. Easter brought us forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. It is the key to our “Exodus.” We are officially free from sin and now set free to be righteous (Romans 6). Praise God we live on this side of Easter.
But something else happened at Easter, something that explains what is and is not yet true in our experience.
There were challenges that emerged in the Garden of Eden that had to be resolved. God’s plan to dwell in harmony and holiness with his people was met by two threats: the rebellion of humans and the continued rebellion of the devil. There was sin and, behind our sin, there was Satan.
In the context of God’s judgment on the serpent, God predicted enmity between him and the woman and between their offspring. And then, in what we call the proto-evangelium, the first proclamation of the gospel, God says that the serpent will strike the heel of the woman’s seed, but the serpent’s head will be crushed (Gen 3:15). The devil would cause damage, but the seed of the woman would bring about his final demise. Ironically, Jesus was the one who died on Good Friday and the devil the one who survived. But what was unimaginable to Satan was predicted in Scripture all along: Jesus’ death and resurrection sealed final victory over sin, over suffering, over death…and over the devil.
The serpent was not just an intruder in the garden, not just a tempting voice to Eve and Adam who reappeared in the Gospels for this final cosmic combat. Even after he was cursed, the devil maintained a measure of control on this earth. You know him as the Accuser from the story of Job and from oblique references to his heavenly rebellion in Isaiah and Ezekiel. When Jesus was tempted, “…the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” (Matt 4:8-9) Do we really understand how much authority the devil had in the world to this point? Do we understand how much authority he continues to have in this world?
What happened at the cross was the devil expressing his near-ultimate control over this world by freely entering Judas and influencing the thinking of Jews and Romans alike to convict and kill the Messiah. Jesus ultimately defeated the devil by coming back to life. He used the devil’s own weapon – the cross – to achieve his victory. The devil ruled … but God over-ruled. Jesus suffered beyond comprehension, but he won. He is the true Ruler of the Universe.
Yet somehow, in our experience, it doesn’t feel like the “battle is over and the victory won.” Luther’s sobering words are on point: “For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.” Even after Easter, the devil is, still, in the words of Scripture, “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), and “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31).
We live in a world that continues to show major signs of Satan’s rule. The devil and his demons torture people with disease, drugs and dysfunction. He sows discord between spouses, between parents and children, between races and countries. He arms worldviews that are contrary to truth; he fuels idolatry, injustice and immorality. To the humans he once made the false promise of divinity, he relentlessly offers new ways to destroy ourselves. He infects the thinking and systems of societies; he raises up unorthodox teaching and diabolical movements; he torments God’s people like a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Of course, we have the armor of God himself to protect us – but that does not keep us out of harm’s way. It didn’t keep Jesus from being killed. The devil still rules this age … but God still over-rules. We may also suffer beyond comprehension, but God has won, and God will win.
The message of Easter is that God’s triumph is here, that the end has come. But it is only the beginning of the end. The new age arrives while the old age thrives, and its ruler is as mad and mean as ever. He knows his end is sure. All the more reason to take as many with him into the pit of hell as possible. Yes, the devil rules, but God over-rules.
No amount of piety or prayer can keep the devil from attacking your life, your family, your finance, your health, your ministry. Like Job, you may lose it all except for your very life. Like Jesus, you may lose it all, including your life. But the promises of Scripture are that in this world that the devil rules, there is a God who is constantly at work over-ruling. If you, with the poet of Ps 73, wonder why the wicked prosper in peace and why honoring God seems to have no reward, then go to the end of that Psalm, or go to the end of Job. The real God of this universe – the one to whom the ruler of this age reports – He will appear and reward his own. He will appear and make all things right. He will appear and demonstrate his sovereignty over all things. He will redeem everything that was meant for destruction. He is the re-creator, the re-builder, the re-newer. The devil rules … but God over-rules.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him. The Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever. (A Mighty Fortress, vss 3 & 4)
Do you find it hard to wait for God to deliver you from the pain and chaos of this twisted world and its maniacal ruler? Do you wonder who is really in charge when you go from one calamity to another, from one inexplicable loss to another? Well, the devil does rule, even on this side of Easter. There are casualties everywhere to prove it. There are crippling injuries and collateral damage on every corner left by that roaring lion. But God over-rules. Although you cannot control the timing, God will “make everything work together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28)
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth, his name, from age to age the same, and he must win the battle. (A Mighty Fortress, vs 2)
This message is especially dedicated to those who live out their faith with a chronic discrepancy between the finality of Easter’s victory and the toxic results of a ruthless enemy running out of time. Praise to the God of this universe who is Ruler – and Over-Ruler – of all things!