He Will Not Win the War (Part 2 – Ezra 4)

FPCNorwayEzra: Building the House of God, Sermons

God is faithful to you in affliction. Satan’s own battle plans will end up serving for your victorious good. God is sovereign over all of it. He is always in control. Let that great news give hope to your soul and strength to your limbs so that you can stand firm in the day of spiritual battle.

He Will Not Win the War

Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
January 26, 2020

The devil is a bully, a thief and a liar. His perpetual business is to pound God’s people into total submission. Satan will do anything to stop God’s people from doing their God-given work. He uses fraud to lead them astray, and he uses force to drive them away. Always, he is about this business, and we saw him use these means with great success in Ezra 4.

However, we also saw that while Satan may win occasional battles, he will not win the war. God will deliver the decisive blow and bring ruin upon our enemy. This glorious hope is guaranteed in the person and work of Christ. He delivered us by his own blood. And he will come again, in power and glory, to afflict vengeance on those who have afflicted us (2 Thess. 1:5-10).

But while we remain on this earth—this enemy-occupied territory—Satan will continue to do all that he can to stop the mission. As we see in Ezra 4, long after the second temple is built, the enemy continues to work away at God’s people and his holy city. He continues to slander God’s people and turn the world against them.

So how do we move forward? Last week, we devoted our time to an exposition of chapter 4. Now that the groundwork is laid, we will devote this morning to a biblical meditation on why the devil will not win the war. We will look at four Bible passages to give you hope and fortify your will to fight. It makes all the difference in the world when you know that victory is coming, and that God is in control.

The enemy will never win the war because…

1. The Devil Is a Dog on God’s Leash (Job 1:12)

There are those moments when you go for a walk and you come upon a great big dog. You wonder what that thing would do if it wasn’t on its owner’s leash. I remember leaving my apartment one day, after seminary, while my neighbor was going in. Her dog leapt at me with astounding speed and vigor. The only thing that stopped it was the leash. He tore my pants, but I kept my leg.

Beloved, Satan is a dog on God’s leash. In the book of Job, God is praising Job for his righteousness. One day, the devil approaches God and said, ‘You have blessed his work and increased his possessions. That’s the only reason why he worships you. But stretch out your hand and he will curse you to your face’ (Job 1:10-11). Then God responds to the devil.

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. —Job 1:12

Do not miss the theological importance of this text for understanding the limits of Satan’s power. The devil has no power that is not under the control and authority of God. The only reason that Satan can do anything to harm Job, is because God gave him permission to do it. The devil literally has to ask God for permission. He is a dog on God’s leash.

God defines the limits of what the devil can do. God tells the devil that he can mess with anything that belongs to Job—even Job’s children (cf. Job 1:18-19). But he must not touch Job’s person. If he could, the devil would devour every one of God’s people. But what he can do, is only what God will let him do. Even the devil is forced to obey the will of God. 

What this means for you, Christian, is that there is no suffering in your life that God can’t stop. He prescribes the limits and the extent. There is no demonic scheme that is outside of his sovereign control. The devil writes the workorder, but God has to give it the stamp. Christian, God may let the devil bring you harm, but he will never get your soul. The devil is a dog on God’s leash.

2. God Uses Man’s Evil for Your Good (Genesis 50:20)

God has a good purpose in everything. When you look back on your life, it is amazing how many times that God used a trial in your life to bring you to a new chapter in your journey. Sometimes you need to be brought low, so that you can see your need for God. Other times, affliction positions you for a new stage of life and ministry. 

In the book of Genesis, God used man’s evil schemes to save his chosen people. In chapter 37, Joseph’s own brothers sell him into slavery. Joseph was the golden boy. His father loved him above the rest. He was the son of his old age. Jealousy drives them to rage. They conspire. They try to kill him. But by the intervention of one of the brothers, they sell Joseph into slavery instead.

Joseph becomes a slave in Egypt. There is more suffering. A seductress’s temptation overcome. But false accusations lead to imprisonment. But then, by the remarkable and providential hand of God, Joseph rises to the most prominent position in all of Egypt. Pharaoh gives Joseph authority to oversee all the land of Egypt.

By his God-given wisdom, Joseph prepares Egypt for a brutal seven-year famine. This famine eventually drives Joseph’s brothers from Canaan to buy food in Egypt. To summarize the story, God uses the famine to save his father, brothers and their families through Joseph’s powerful connections in Egypt. They were given the most prosperous land in the nation—Goshen. 

But when Jacob dies, his sons fear the worst. They are certain that Joseph will now reap revenge. Now that the father is dead, he could wipe them out. But to their astonishment, Joseph has no such plan. Joseph sees how God used their evil, to save them all. If it were not for God’s purpose in their evil, God’s chosen people would have all died out. Joseph tells his brothers,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. —Genesis 50:20

Beloved, God uses man’s evil for your good. Actually, the text is even more strong than that. God means to do good. He meant it. He meant that evil for their good. What does “meant” mean? “Meant” means that God is not a god who, sitting in an armchair, sees something bad happen and then tries find a way to recycle that affliction for some good purpose. That’s not God.

Genesis 50:20 says that God meant good by their evil. The same word for “meant evil” and “meant good” are the same. The Hebrew word means to purpose, to plot, to plan, to devise. God is not passive. He is not reactionary. He is never caught off guard by evil. Rather, even when an evil providence comes your way, it is God’s purpose to bring you good by it.

Recall the greatest evil ever to be wrought upon this earth, the crucifixion of God’s own son. The God-man, Jesus Christ, in his humanity was the only sinless person ever to walk this earth. And by the hands of evil men, God purposed the redemption of his people. God used wicked pharisees, a wicked judge, and wicked soldiers for his definite plan. The apostle Peter tells the crowd,

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. —Acts 2:23

This was God’s definite plan. Now understand this. No affliction that we ever have, or will receive, is undeserved. We are sinful. We deserve God’s just wrath. But God, by his own good mercy and a definite plan, has purposed to save us by the greatest evil ever committed—the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. What evil men mean for evil purpose, God means for our good. Christian, Satan will not win the war, because even when evil strikes you, God means it for your good.

3. Affliction Purifies God’s People (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Gold shines bright in all of its radiant glory, because it has been refined by fire. But fire is a nasty weapon in the hands of our enemy. Fire burns the martyr at the stake. Fire is the dart that flies at our shield of faith. Fire is the vehement slander that cuts you down. Fire is the persecution that comes upon the church. But beloved, it is this same fire that purifies the people of God.

The apostle Peter writes to the church under heavy persecution. Just as in the days of Ezra under the Persian empire, God’s people were under the constant threat of the entire Greco-Roman world. Yet, even this threat, served to purify the church. Peter writes to Christians, struggling with how to reconcile external, bloody affliction with the living hope of being born again.

Peter blesses God for the imperishable inheritance of eternal life that they have received. He tells the church that when the fire comes their way, God uses it to test their faith. God uses their refining affliction for the praise and glory and honor of Christ.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. —1 Peter 1:6-7

The western world is very much in a post-Christian phase. Although I don’t particularly like that phrase, because the people of God have ebbed and flowed since the dawn of time. So, we are not post-Christ in the sense that we are dying out, but we are definitely in a period of regress as far as the visible church is concerned.

Someone raised that very point at a Gospel Coalition conference that I attended several years ago. My former professor, D. A. Carson, responded to that concern in a surprising way. The concern was that the present culture was so ambivalent to truth and that this ambivalence was leading many to leave the church.

Carson’s response was masterful. He told the concerned listeners, that he had never seen such a committed group of young Christians coming through the college and seminary. The cultural ambivalence of the day was actually refining the church. The present culture was sifting it. In large measure, only the faithful remained. 

There was no longer any cultural advantage to go into the ministry. There was no longer any cultural pressure to simply go to church. Those that remained were there because, despite all the pleasures and pressures of the world, they actually believed the gospel. He had never seen such a committed group of students going into the ministry.

Cultural Christians leave when the culture no longer values the church. And we should praise God for it! Nearly every great evil that the visible church inflicted on the world was done by cultural Christians who were there for worldly power and advantage. The best thing cultural hostility does is get those people out of the church. It purges the dross, and what remains shines all the brighter.

Beloved, Satan will not win the war, because even his fiery assault serves only to strengthen and purify the people of God.

4. Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God in Christ (Romans 8:28-39)

The devil is a dog on God’s leash. God uses man’s evil for your good. Affliction purifies God’s people. And nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Did you know that the real building work in Ezra’s day was not actually to rebuild a physical city—though they certainly did do that? The actual building was to prepare a people for the coming Messiah. Some of those people would reject him. But, to use the words of Paul, for those whom he foreknew, for those whom he predestined, who he also called, who he also justified, who he also glorified (Rom. 8:29)—for those people, no affliction, no assault, no stifling of the work, no power in heaven or on earth could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing!

Satan will not win the war, because we are more than conquerors through him that love us (Rom. 8:37)! And nothing can separate us from that love (Rom. 8:28). 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:31-39

Beloved, we press on through dark days as we continue in Ezra 5 next week, and we press on through dark days in the present. But knowing the outcome makes all the difference in the battle. And the more that we see and embrace God’s sovereign grace in our affliction, the more we can joyfully press on with the mission of building God’s house—the church. 

God is faithful to you in affliction. Satan’s own battle plans will end up serving for your victorious good. God is sovereign over all of it. He is always in control. Let that great news give hope to your soul and strength to your limbs so that you can stand firm in the day of spiritual battle.

We have unpacked four biblical promise that give us a wider perspective on Ezra 4 and, I hope, some encouragement as we continue to fight the same great spiritual battle today. I close with two quotations that I hope will bring you comfort, hope and purpose in the day of affliction. 

Reflecting on God’s hand in Job’s misery, Thomas Watson writes, 

It is one heart-quieting consideration, in all the afflictions that befall us, that God hath a special hand in them: “The Almighty hath afflicted me” (Ruth. 1:21). Instruments can no more stir till God gives them a commission, than the axe can cut of itself, without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction: therefore, as Augustine observes, he doth not say, The Lord gave, and the devil took away: but, The Lord hath taken away. Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God that sends it.[1]

And the apostle Peter calls back to faith and good works in the day of God-ordained trial,

Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. —1 Peter 4:19

Isn’t it good to know that God is in control of everything—even our pain? And because he does all things for our good, we can look to Christ, entrust our souls to him, and press on with the good work of building Christ’s church. He is no stranger to suffering, and he is with us always in the work. And with Christ at our side, the devil doesn’t stand a chance.

[1] Thomas Watson, A Divine Cordial; The Saint’s Spiritual Delight; The Holy Eucharist; and Other Treatises (The Writings of the Doctrinal Puritans and Divines of the Seventeenth Century; The Religious Tract Society, 1846), 23.