Romans 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When do you think Satan realized how intent God was to pursue you and to win you? When do you think he realized that the trip from heaven to earth wasn’t too much or for that matter the trip from earth to hell either? That no height was too high or no depth too low in his pursuit of you? When do you think he grasped that it wasn’t just death that can’t harm you, but that life can’t either? That those days that come when it feels easier to die in faith than to keep living in it that there in those days too is a Lord of grace and power. There for you. When do you think Satan saw that and despaired? That not even his greatest historical achievements like the World Wars could get you. That this present moment or the one that’s coming can’t either. When do you think he saw that though he was the prince of power and our greatest threat that as far as we were concerned he was defanged, dethroned, and destroyed – that there was no distance too great, no chasm too wide, no sin too grievous, and no life so backward that God wouldn’t or couldn’t bridge the gap? That’s my question. When did Satan get that he couldn’t have you?
Do you think he realized that he had lost before he ever began to fight? Do you think he already knew as he was slithering out of the Garden of Eden? There he was probably thinking that he had won total victory in his proxy fight with the Lord where he used Adam and Eve. There he no doubt was celebrating like the Evil One that he is, but then God barked joy to those first humans when he announced his plan to win both them and you. He said, “I’m going to win you back. Eve, you will have a son someday. He’s going to come. And he will be big enough. He will be strong enough. And he will be powerful to take his very human heal and crush Satan’s serpentine, lying head forever. Do you think in that moment that Satan already knew?
Or did he hold out hope for you yet? Hope that revived when Satan was able to raise up Cain. And it did revive. For a moment Satan must’ve thought that he was going to always own everybody. Here he was having captured the entire future line of humanity in Cain. Able was dead and Cain was the only heir. “They’ll be mine forever,” Satan must’ve hissed joyously, “I’ve trumped God’s hand.” And he just enjoyed the thought of murderous, selfish humans endlessly propagating his rage and murdering each other. And then Seth was born. And the gospel was preached and people started believing. And for the first time it must’ve have dawned on Satan that maybe this God – maybe this God – wouldn’t ever quit pursuing his people. That he was going to keep raising up people of faith no matter what.
Or do you think it took a bit longer? That it took Satan’s loss of Jacob? That the Lord took that lying, weak, and self-reliant man and wrestled with him both figuratively and actually in his life. He wrestled him out to Laban’s place. He wrestled him in his home life and in his marriages and through his kids. He wrestled and wrestled and wrestled until he had Jacob trusting him and when he did – that’s when the Lord finally put the brother Jacob had so grievously wronged back in his arms. Do you think that’s when Satan got it? Do you think he saw how the Lord could wrestle the most twisted, sinful, and broken of people into believers? Do you think Satan saw how futile and empty his power really was?
Or do you think it took something bigger, something more mammoth? Someone as history creating as Moses. Something as epic as the Exodus. That God would be faithful to the oldest of promises in the most mind blowing of ways. That he would liberate from slavery and captivity and death. That he could take Satan’s minions, ones as hateful as Pharaoh and as greedy as Judas, and use them to show that he was the Lord who always keeps his promises. That no matter what trick Satan may try or what strategy Satan may use or what levers Satan may pull that the Lord was so magnificent and good and supreme that he was already ten steps ahead. That the best Satan could do to God’s people is be a pest to them on their journey, but that he could never actually stop them from coming home.
Or do you think it was the power of the prophets that made Satan despair of you? That the centuries marched onward and the Lord just wouldn’t quit. That prophet after prophet after prophet came and people kept on hearing the Word and the promises. And no matter how much fury Satan sent the way of God’s people, it would always backfire because they’d just cling even more to the Word like barnacles to a ship. That they’d become people would wait in their tears, in their pain – even in their sin. That they’d wait for the one who would come to bring them forgiveness, and life and peace. That Joel held them up in faith. And Jeremiah too. And Isaiah – Isaiah! – preached Christ like nobody had before. He said a Suffering Servant would come and people trusted. And no matter what Satan tried they just kept trusting.
Or did Satan finally know that you’d be lost to him when Gabriel showed up in the quietness of coming Christmas? There Gabriel was – this angel of similar power and weight showed up in human history at that key juncture and announced the Serpent Crusher is here and the Suffering Servant has come and that he is God. And that child grew into that man who stepped in his first pulpit there in Capernaum and preached the gospel so forcefully that one of Satan’s minions had to go screaming away. Do you think Satan knew that you were sealed off from him forever? Or do you think he still held out hope until even his best, his brightest, his most powerful group of demons, one called Legion, was sent horrifically plunging into the Sea of Galilee?
I wonder though it if took Satan watching Jesus give that same power to his followers. That Jesus had put a word, his word, on their lips and that now they could make the demons run too. That these 72 sinners – these former nobodies – could go out and tell other sinners that their sins were forgiven in Jesus’ name and that now even sinners could make his minions scamper away in horror. That that awful reality must’ve sunk into his mind with terror when Jesus announced to his first 72 preachers, “I saw Satan fall like lightning,” and then made sure they never became obsessed with that power. He told them to just keep rejoicing that the gospel was true for them too – that now their names were written in heaven.
Do you think that made Satan even more desperate and even more personally involved? So desperate that he went straight for the jugular and tried to get Jesus to step aside from the cross. That he used Peter’s impulsive personality and outspoken nature to attack Jesus himself – it was the Garden of Eden all over in a sense Satan vs. a perfect person – and Jesus snapped back, “Get behind me, Satan, I’m going to the cross.” And that though Satan with his heart in his mouth and with everything on the line went after Jesus thickest and heaviest there in Gethsemane whispering into Jesus’ ear, “They’re not worth it. It won’t actually work.” And there the Son of God with you in his heart – true even though you weren’t yet in existence – stood up with absolute determination and said, “Get up. Here comes my betrayer.”
Do you think that Satan knew that God’s love for you was a runaway train – totally unstoppable – by then? Or do you think Satan’s gig wasn’t yet up? Not until Eve’s Serpent Crusher and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant hung there with the all sins of the world on his shoulders. Not until he saw the Lord’s faithfulness when the sun darkened and the temple curtain ripped in two and even one of Satan’s most hardened pawns acknowledged, “Surely, this was the Son of God.” Or perhaps even still on Easter morning Satan was still hoping however unreasonably, “Jesus may have done it all, but if I keep it under wraps I can still win.” And then the women showed up and the angels told them the truth and not all that long later the Spirit turned those them all from spiritual cowards into the most adamant and defiant group of gospel preachers the world had ever seen.
Or was Satan still yet hopeful for your soul? He still thought that maybe he could cut off hope from ever reaching your ears. That he could stop up the gospel. That he could make his best assassin, Paul, so determined, so ruthless, and so powerful that rest of history wouldn’t ever hear about the resurrection. Until God took Paul and made him one of the saved too. And Paul had churches sprouting up all over the world and people believing the good news everywhere so that the kingdom of this world was becoming the kingdom of our God. That’s what I want to know. I want to know when Satan figured out that he couldn’t have you. Not ever. When did he get that? When did he see that there was no suffering so profound, no chasm so wide, no sin so grievous, and no life so backward that God wouldn’t or couldn’t bridge that gap between you and him.
But you know what the truth it? It doesn’t matter. Not to throw everything I’ve just preached out, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter what Satan does or does not know. It never has. It matters what God’s pursuing. And he’s pursuing you. Maybe you’re just getting that when some pastor said, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit,” over you that though that looked like some kind of churchy ritual that it was nothing less than holy name and God’s perfect promise. That he had claimed you and that he wouldn’t quit. That he’d pursue you more. So he gave you a father who loved you with the truth, a mother who told you Bible stories, or a friend who got into your life with the faith. So he sent you that Sunday School teacher who made the light bulb burn a little brighter; that pastor who pulled you metaphorically out of the bed of your boyfriend and put you back into the arms of God; and that church you were unmistakably drawn toward where you learned about a justification so good that you came to believe it was better than your best works and gave you a forgiveness so deep that it covered your worst offenses. I need you to see that your life’s been no accident, no fluke, and no happenstance. You’re here and and I’m telling you that you’ve been loved through the life and work of history’s great hero and perfect man, Jesus Christ.
And nobody can take that gift from you. Not sin. Not death. Not Satan himself. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you’re loved. No matter what’s happened to you or what’s coming at you. God’s going to make sure you’re way more than just ok. And what Paul’s after now with all his questions is something more than belief in that. I know that may sound strange, but it’s time to do something more than believe that. Paul wants you to be defiant about that. Defiant. Faith on steroids. Satan will send you guilt, accusation, and shame. He will do whatever it takes to take the gospel from your heart. So be defiant. When he says, “Remember that decade of wayward living?” Say, “Go choke on hellfire, Satan. I’m forgiven in Jesus’ name.” When Satan comes to you and says, “But you just started coming back to church in the past few weeks after a pretty long break from Jesus. The pastor can’t possibly be talking about you.” Do faith on steroids and say, “Take your lies and eat dirt, you snake. I’m one of God’s own too.”
And it’s not just accusation, guilt and shame that God wants you to defy. It’s also death and life; trouble and hardship; danger and persecution. Because if Satan can’t convince that you’re unforgiven, he’s at least going to make you believe that God’s not really for you. That your surgery means he’s uncaring. That your sadness means he’s checked out. That your trouble means he’s not so good after all. And you know what you do with that? Take those thoughts and stick them right back in the eye of Satan and every single one of his friends. Defy them by barking back at your deep sadness, “You may be in me in this moment, but bliss is coming!” Think even in the midst of your anxiety, “These worries absolutely have no basis in reality. God is for me.” God wants you to be able look at your low bank account and to feel your grief and have a beefy faith that says, “If God did not spare his own Son then how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things. Even the money I need. Even the healing I crave.” He wants you to take every fear, every worry, every sadness, anxiety and pain, look it straight in the eye, be defiant, and just plain hope in God.
And you can. What the Spirit is saying to you today is that the Bible isn’t just some book full of stories about how God’s people have been saved. It’s way better than that. It’s a book full of stories telling you that you’ve been saved. That you are the one God is pursuing. That you are the one God is for. That you are the one that will win through him. That he will make you so victorious that Paul had to make up a word for you: a hyper victor. A super conqueror. An over-the-top winner. God just won’t quit ‘til he’s got you home, resurrected like Jesus, and with him forever. You can be sure, defiant, convinced. Paul already was a couple thousand years ago. I think it’s time we were too – that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.