Silent Night, Holy WarErwin W. Lutzer | December 3, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
We often focus on the quietness of Christ’s birth; He was a king born without pageantry and pomp. But while Bethlehem slept, the heavens were in turmoil. The ancient dragon was aroused with anger against this infant Savior.
Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright!
There’s no question about the fact that it is the most widely loved Christmas carol that has ever been written. And yet, as providence would have it, we probably would not have that carol were it not for a broken organ.
Come with me to the little village of Oberndorf in Austria. A young pastor by the name of Joseph Mohr has the responsibility for his congregation. He’s only 22 years old, but the organ is broken. The rumor was that the mice ate the bellows in one of those old pump organs. The question is, what to do? Christmas is coming and it can’t be fixed.
Well, he promised his congregation that there would be music for Christmas, though he didn’t know where it would come from. But on Christmas Eve he went to visit a woodcutter and his wife who were celebrating the birth of a little baby in their home. So thinking about the baby Jesus, on the way home, Joseph Mohr, looking at the village and seeing the calmness and the stillness around, wrote:
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht.
In German the words are exquisite.
Silent night, holy night,
Everything is asleep.
Only loneliness keeps watch.
He took the words and he gave them to his friend, Franz Gruber, who had the responsibility for the music. Now the organ is broken, but Franz played a guitar, so that night he stayed up and he came up with the music that we sing to this day. And the next day – Christmas day – they sang a duet together.
Spring came and the repairman came to fix the organ. And then he said, “Play something for me.” They played Silent Night, which was so beloved by the congregation. The organist took it, spread it to other churches, and 22 years after it was written, you have King Wilhelm of Prussia saying that Silent Night has to be first among all of the carols when they are sung in the concerts of Prussia. Twenty-two years after that, of course, it was famous. Today it’s been translated into 120 different languages, but God blessed Joseph Mohr. He died as a young man in his early forties, and he died not knowing that he had given the world its most popular Christmas Carol.
We love Silent Night, don’t we? There’s something about the virgin, a child and the sentimentality. We love to sing Silent Night, and I hope we sing it often this Christmas.
But there’s something about Christmas that’s troubling to me, and that is that in our society we have so sentimentalized it as the baby and the virgin and Joseph. We have sentimentalized it. We have also commercialized it, and of course, we have sanitized it. And you have our own city hall, at what is known as a Christ Child Market, saying that clips from a movie, The Nativity, cannot be shown. Our society says to us today, “Give us the baby; give us the virgin, but nothing more.” We don’t want to know anything about Jesus. We don’t want to know about His history. We don’t want to know why He came, but we do love the commercial aspect, so buy whatever you like, but whatever you do, don’t tell folks the real message.
How would you like it if we were to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, but it would be “forboden” (forbidden) to say anything about Martin Luther King, because after all, we want to turn it into a commercial venture, and you can’t say anything about him because you might offend somebody? That’s where we are at in our society.
But what do we do with Christmas, so sentimentalized? What got me thinking along this line is the story of a little girl who, when she was walking along the street with her mother, looking into the window of the store, said to her mother, “Who is the baby?” And the mother said, “That’s the baby Jesus.” And she said, “Really? Why doesn’t He grow up? He’s the same size as last year.” (laughter) That troubles me. Jesus never grows up. He’s always the same size as last year.
Well, today we’re going to realize that the birth of the baby Jesus may have been at a time when nature was silent. And we love the carol because Jesus came so personally and so silently, so we sing Silent Night. But believe me when I tell you that in the cosmic realm, His birth elicited and began a whole series of battles, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today – Silent Night, Holy War.
I’m sure that as long as you’ve been listening to messages on Christmas you have probably never heard a message on Christmas taken from Revelation 12. Revelation 12 is where we are at as we show what really happened when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But what happened to Him was not seen by the naked eye, but the cosmic world was abuzz, and a battle ensued.
Chapter 12 of the book of Revelation: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.”
That’s what was happening the night before Christmas. The dragon wanted to kill the Christ child. Now in order to understand this, realize that it was to the serpent that the statement was made by God in Genesis, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed, and you will be able to nip the heel of the woman’s seed, but the woman’s seed will crush your head.” The whole history of the Old Testament is the dragon, the serpent trying to kill the seed of the woman. He thinks it’s Abel, so he inspires Cain to kill Abel, and lo and behold, Adam and Eve go on and they have another child by the name of Seth who carries on the seed. He causes the whole world to fall into a state of rebellion and lawlessness and horrendous sexual sin, and he thinks the whole world now is corrupt. No seed! But lo and behold, there’s Noah in the ark with his family carrying along the seed. The whole world is then paganized and he thinks, “What can God do now?” and there is Abraham being called by God to continue the seed.
Now he overhears, because he’s a keen student of prophesy (There’s no question about that.). He overhears the words of the angel to Gabriel to Mary that “that which is conceived in thee is of the Holy Spirit. You shall bear a child and he shall be called Jesus. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father, David, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” And he begins to realize that this at last is indeed the promised seed.
And so the scene is grotesque. It’s intended to be. The woman who represents Israel (I don’t have time to show that but that’s who this is.) is about to give birth to a child, and the dragon is standing by to devour it.
Now, let’s look for a moment at how the dragon tried to destroy the true seed, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s look at Christmas from the cosmic realm and find out what was happening. You think, for example, of how he did it. Jesus is born. He (that is, the dragon) inspires Herod to have all of the male children two years old and younger killed in the environs of Bethlehem to try to make sure that Jesus is killed, but Jesus and His parents escape into Egypt, and the plan is foiled.
So the first thing the devil tries to do is to say, “Destroy Him.” That didn’t work, so he says, “I want to distract Him,” so you have the temptation in the wilderness. Satan says, “Come and turn these stones into bread. Eat before God the Father wants you to. Come, bow down and worship me. Grab all the kingdoms without going to the cross.” Well, that didn’t work because Jesus met him with a Word of God and said over and over, “It is written,” so Satan had to leave Him.
So it’s destroy Him, distract Him, discredit Him. The Pharisees said, regarding Jesus, “You are of Beelzebub, the father of demons. You are demon possessed.” Try to discredit Him! When that didn’t work, derail Him. The people in Nazareth tried to push Jesus down the brow of a hill, and if you’ve been to Nazareth you know it is seated, sitting on a hill, and you can go to the brow of the hill where they tried to push Jesus down before His time.
Well, that didn’t work. Jesus was able to escape, and so at the cross finally Satan said, “I’m going to defeat Him in physical combat.” He inspires Judas to betray Jesus. Jesus is nailed to the cross, and His death is verified. And the dragon and all those who fell with him, and by the way it’s on this passage that you have the idea that a third of the angels went with Satan when he rebelled, because it says his tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven. And sometimes in the Bible stars are used to refer to angels.
So you have the devil and all of his angels rejoicing. They are saying, “He’s dead. He’s dead. We got Him! We got Him!” And all of the hosts of evil are having a party, but the party happens too soon because three days later something happens, and Satan is beginning to learn, “What’s a tomb to the Son of God? What’s a sealed tomb to the Son of God? What’s a dead corpse to the Son of God? Nothing! Jesus is raised from the dead,” and as the text says, “He was caught up into heaven.” You have all of that history in those verses right here. He was caught up into heaven and in a few moments we’re going to be reciting the Apostles’ Creed, which says, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father, from whence He shall judge the living and the dead.” Defeated again! Defeated full time! Defeated because Jesus triumphed over everything that the dragon tried to do.
Well, what is Christmas all about? Silent night – holy war! Centuries pass. We struggled with the devil. We sometimes lose to him. We often win against him, but the Christian church advances, and then you have setbacks as the devil is given authority to stop us as he sometimes does, as we shall see in the text.
And now we’re in the middle of the Tribulation period, because if Israel is represented here by the woman, she is driven away for 1,200 days, the Bible says in verse 6, which is actually 3-1/2 years, and that is verified at the end of the chapter. Satan reads prophecies, and he knows that Israel are the people of God, and God made certain promises to Israel that He intends to fulfill to Israel. So now there’s going to be a cosmic battle in heaven. He’s going to be thrown down to the earth, and for 3-1/2 years he is going to persecute the woman and try to destroy her in his last gasp to discredit the promises of God.
Well, let’s look at this second battle. It has been depicted many times by artists. You’ll notice it says: “Now war arose in heaven.” Who started it? Probably Satan! What he wants to do is to grasp one more time – one more attempt - for the throne of God. And you’ll notice Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. “And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth.”
And now the angels can say, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” He’s going to be thrown into the lake of fire very soon.
Let’s back off and look at this passage. Amazing spectacle! Some people think that Satan was thrown out of heaven when Jesus died, or even before Jesus died when the disciples were casting out demons. You remember Jesus said, “I saw Satan fallen,” and so some interpret that to mean that that is a reference to this. But that just simply shows that Satan’s power was broken, and it was broken at the cross.
You say, “Well, what’s Satan doing in heaven?” Well, he’s not in the very abode of God – not the heaven of heavens, but he is in the atmospheric heavens most assuredly. You see that in the book of Job, and he’s accusing us before God. He’s the accuser of the brethren. And notice how he is spoken of. “He is the great dragon, the ancient serpent.” That of course connects us with Genesis 3. He is called the devil. The word devil means accuser and Satan the adversary. All of those names and others belong to him.
But who is he being thrown out of heaven by? By Michael!
Who is Michael? He’s one of the angels, a popular angel, referred to a number of times in the Bible. He and Gabriel are the only two that are really named. But now let’s think back. At one time when this dragon was actually Lucifer, when he was the prince of the angels, and he had the responsibility of making sure that all the praise that the other angels and beings offered got to God, Michael was most probably beneath him in the hierarchy. And what angers this old serpent, what angers this devil… There are many reasons why he is furious, the text says, but one is this: He is being thrown out of heaven by someone who at one time was his underling. And he has to bear the humiliation of this defeat. He knows that he will never be able to sing again. He will only be able to howl. And the text says that he is thrown out of heaven, and when you get to Revelation 20, it says that this being is thrown into the lake of fire, and he knows his doom is sure, and the time is short, the Bible says.
And now he begins to persecute the woman, and God keeps the woman because he wants to in a last effort kind of way destroy Israel so that God can’t fulfill His promises to the nation.
Now with that understanding, you’ll notice a couple of things as we try to recognize our own conflict with him – our own battle. You’ll notice that Satan accuses us, it says in verse 10, “during the day and during the night.” Night and day! What an adversary we have! How wily! What a deceiver!
Here’s what he does. He tempts us to sin by making sin look good. He sugarcoats sin, doesn’t tell us the consequences, and we think to ourselves, “Surely sin isn’t that bad.” So he begins there. And then after we’ve sinned he comes to us and says, “Ha ha ha, so you think you are a Christian, huh? So you think that God has forgiven you! What makes you think that God has forgiven you? You have no right to forgiveness. As a matter of fact, you knew better when you sinned, didn’t you? You have no excuse, do you?”
And so he begins to accuse us, and he even has the nerve to accuse us to God. And what he wants to do is to destroy us, to discredit us, to make us feel so unworthy of God’s love, and believe me, feeling unworthy of God’s love is wonderful if we don’t stop there, but that we actually accept God’s love, and God’s forgiveness. And it becomes so real to us that we can move on. And because of that accusation against us, he always wants to come back again and again and again.
You all do remember the experience of Martin Luther, don’t you? It is said that the devil came to him and the devil wrote down all of his sins. And Luther says, “Are you finished?” And he says, “No, get more paper.” So he continued writing down all the sins, and Luther says, “Are you finished yet?” He said, “No, there’s more. More paper!” And then Luther wrote at the bottom, “Of all of these sins, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (applause)
And the Bible says right here: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” That’s the grown Jesus. That’s not the Jesus in the manger. To answer the question of the little girl, “Does Jesus ever grow up?” the answer is, “Yes, He did grow up.” It’s not the Jesus of Bethlehem. It’s the Jesus of the cross. It’s the Jesus of the crown. That’s what Christmas is really all about. (applause)
In a few moments we are going to participate in communion, and you will hear me say, “This cup is the cup of the New Covenant in my blood. This do in remembrance of me.” It is the death of Jesus Christ. It is His resurrection that crushed Satan. And we overcome Him by the blood of the Lamb.
Even this past week someone in the congregation called me and said that they’ve actually had aberrations of demons coming to them. And they overcome those aberrations when they are able to confess that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has overcome the devil, the accuser, and the adversary.
Let me give you a suggestion. When Satan reminds you of your past, you remind him of his future. Would you do that please? (applause)
A few ideas as we conclude! First, my friend, today don’t confuse the battle with the war. We lose battles, but we win wars. It may well be that someday [here in America that] America will do what Germany did under Hitler to change Christmas to Winter Solstice, to have a society in which we can have a Christ Child Market without any significant references to the Christ child. We could lose that war. We could lose the battle, I should say. We could lose the battle for stores, whether they say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. We can fight all that if we want to. And even if we win the Merry Christmas battle, we’ve still not won a whole lot. We could lose all these things. We could lose our freedoms. But let it never be said that though we lose individual battles we will lose the war. The outcome is absolutely sure! (applause)
Last night I wrote this down.
Satan is as far from winning the war when he appears to have victory in his hand, as he is when he is writhing in the lake of fire. He lives on illusions, and he thinks that because he can win this battle and that battle that in the end he can win the war. But you and I know better.
Listen! The outcome is not in doubt. The outcome of Jesus Christ over the forces of secularism is sure. The outcome of Jesus over the forces of Islam is absolutely sure. We are today worshipping not just merely the baby Jesus in the manger who won’t grow up, but the Christ of God who is ascended at the right hand of God the Father, who has triumphed over all things. Him we worship and Him we love.
Now there’s a final word to you. Holy Night, we sing – silent night. We’ve talked about the holy war. We’ve talked about all of the battles – not all of them but some of them - that go on in the cosmic world because of Satan, where he has his influence and where he wins from time to time, but loses big eventually.
How do you and I fit into all of this? Why should we be thankful for the Christ child who grew up and became Jesus the man who ascended into heaven? It’s because no matter where we are in life there is a move that we can make. We are not stalemated.
I don’t know whether or not the name Paul Morphy means anything to you, but I looked him up on the Internet last night, and he was indeed a great chess player. One day Paul Morphy was looking at a painting that had been made by an artist about a young man having a chess game with the devil. And the agreement was that whoever lost would become the servant to the winner. And the devil declared checkmate in three moves. And the young man had already, according to the picture, laid his king down and admitted defeat. But Paul Morphy looked at that picture. He looked at it this way and that way, and in his mind played this move and that move. And suddenly he cried out, “Young man, there is a move you can make. There is a move you can make! You are not checkmated!”
Today I speak to those of you bound by sin. There’s a move that you can make. We’re talking about a Christ, the child of Christmas, who triumphed over sin and the devil and death, and who is triumphant today if we trust Him, if we go to Him and transfer our trust to Him, and receive His forgiveness and His grace. There is a move you can make.
I speak to those of you who are going through times of discouragement, times of despair. You know Christ as Savior, but you are following distantly because you’ve been defeated so many times. I say to you, “There is a move that you can make.” As you see the ascended Christ, as you think of the blood that was shed on the cross, as you think of His triumph, you participate in that through repentance and faith. No one is boxed in. No one has to say, “I have to give in to sin and the devil.” Jesus said, “There is a move that you can make.” Christ triumphant! Christ Lord! Christ God!
Whether or not they know about the incarnation or will allow anything to be said about the incarnation in our own Chicago Christ Child Market, the fact is He triumphs as God, as King, as Savior. (applause)
Will you join me as we pray?
Our Father, we thank You today that Jesus did grow up. We thank You today that He sits at the right hand of God the Father in absolute triumph over His enemies. We thank You, Father, today that the outcome is sure because of His victory and because of His power. Today we pray as we continue to worship Him, and as we think about this opportunity to remember His death, make it a worshipful experience, we pray, as we contemplate His blood shed for us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.