Sometimes I just have to wonder about Satan. He’s been in the presence of the Almighty God. He watched as the Creator literally spoke planets and stars into creation with no exhaustion of the Lord’s power. He saw God’s glory and power and majesty firsthand. And yet. . . he rebelled. As best as we can tell, sometime near the Beginning of time he conspired against the Maker of All and gathered around himself some followers from among the other angels. He led some sort of open mutiny against the Lord, and was cast out of Heaven. Now think about this: The One he initiated a war against is Omnipotent (meaning he can destroy you with a thought), he’s omniscient (meaning that any scheme you come up with, he knows it beforehand), and he’s omnipresent (meaning there’s no hiding from him). Again, I have to ask—what was he thinking?
How foolish was/is he to do this? Well, take a look at today’s passage. I have to set the scene for you first.
As Paul was writing this letter, he was a prisoner of Rome, which was where we left him at the end of the book of Acts. Officially he was under “house arrest,” so his conditions weren’t nearly as bad as they would be in a Roman prison. But they were bad enough: He certainly couldn’t leave and go where he wanted, and it’s very likely a Roman guard was chained to him 24-7 to make sure he didn’t try to escape. He couldn’t go proclaiming the Message about the Messiah in synagogues or talking to pagans in the open marketplace about their need for Christ. He didn’t come to Rome to sit in a house, no matter how many comforts it had. He came to proclaim Christ to those who didn’t know him and to mutually encourage his fellow believers.
But the Enemy had other plans for him. Moving through his servants, the moment Paul entered Jerusalem, Satan incited a riot against Paul and had him arrested in order to keep him from spreading this “Good News,” this Message which was eating through his kingdom like a flame through dry kindling, and which was stealing men’s souls (which he considered his property). He had to have this useful servant of his most hated Enemy shut up, preferably permanently.
Now read today’s passage again. How had Satan’s plans worked out? Were they pretty effective? How’s about slightly effective? Or maybe a small hindrance?
Paul said that his present circumstances had worked out to advance the gospel. Satan’s plans and schemes had actually turned out to be quite effective. . . in advancing the Good News of Jesus Christ. How so?
Number one, his guards had noticed something. Undoubtedly they’d guarded lots of prisoners before now. But this one was different. No matter what was happening to him, this prisoner radiated joy and peace and thankfulness. Keep in mind that years earlier when Paul had been beaten severely, placed in stocks in the bottom of a dark dungeon, and was expecting to be executed at any time, his reaction was to sing praises to his Savior God. That’s the type of man these hard-bitten Roman soldiers were encountering, and a lot of them. . . had placed their faith in the Jesus that Paul was preaching. They thought that he was a prisoner of them, and his reaction was “That’s wonderful! A captive audience! They think I’m locked here with them, and really they’re locked in here with me!”
Consider the possibilities of this. A Roman soldier, becoming a follower of Jesus? From guarding Paul he could be shipped off anywhere in the Empire, which encompassed the entire known world. Presto, a new-born missionary sent off to share Christ in other lands, at the Empire’s expense!
And that’s not all. There’s a second effect listed in today’s passage. Because of Paul’s reaction to his situation, his fellow believers in Rome and elsewhere were encouraged and challenged! They could see Paul’s trust in his Lord in these harsh conditions, and they were challenged/encouraged to trust the Lord more implicitly themselves! Specifically they were encouraged and challenged to share the Message of Christ more boldly everywhere they could!
Remember Paul’s goals? He wanted to 1) Get the Message of Christ out to people who didn’t know about the Savior yet, and 2) Encourage and challenge his fellow believers. Done! And far more effectively than he’d planned or hoped.
Ponder this. We’ve been over it before: God does not accomplish his purposes despite Satan’s strongest efforts, but because of them. He doesn’t just overcome the Adversary’s power with power of his own. As wonderful as that is, he often does much better than that. He uses the Enemy’s own power and schemes to accomplish his own purposes. Of course, the best example of this in all of history was not when Paul was in prison, but at the Cross. All of Satan’s schemes and plans were actually quite effective. . . at destroying his own kingdom.
Please don’t lose sight of this. God’s ultimate purpose for you is quite the opposite of Satan’s, but our Lord—in his mysterious wisdom—uses all sorts of means, including the Enemy of our souls, to bring about his glory and your good. Just trust him. He knows what he’s doing. He really does.
Lord Jesus, I really don’t know what you’re doing at times, but I know enough. I know enough to trust you and do what you tell me to do. By your grace, help me to do both better.