Below is the text of the sermon called “The Dragon-Slayer,” largely as preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York.
Deceived by the cunning dragon’s slithering speech and sorcery, deep darkness covered all the nations of the earth in that day. Their stars standing in the heavenly court before the throne of the one true King were demons plotting death rather than guardian angels. Then prince Michael and His angels began an all-out war against the dragon and his demons. The dragon and his demons were so decisively defeated in battle that they were cast out of heaven to dwell on the earth. The dragon himself—though he continues to linger—has been mortally wounded in the head by the prince. That serpent did manage to bruise the prince’s heel (Gen 3:15). But unlike Achilles, who the stories say died from an arrow in his heel and stayed dead, this Prince rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to lead His people. Now everywhere the dragon-slayer’s children resist the slithering serpent he retreats. Warriors—young and old, male and female—put on the same armor as their prince with nothing to shield their backs – they can only stand firm and press forward. Their armor includes the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. The prince’s ambassador to the nations told the saints in Ephesus, “In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” I bring you good news this morning – it is the words of a dragon-slayer who gives you this armor.
The prophet Isaiah wrote down those words over 700 years before the birth of the Christ of whom He prophesied. Let’s turn then to the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 10, Christ Jesus sent out the seventy-two by twos into every town and place where He Himself was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And he gave them instructions and they were to heal the sick and tell the people, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” We pick up the story in verse 17:
Next we will turn to the epistles—to the final book of Scripture: Revelation. Revelation 12 consists of two symbolic histories covering the New Testament age, which is why it will sound like it is repeating itself, and you will also recognize in this passage one reason why we understand the virgin Mary to be a type of the church and for us to think of the church as our mother for the woman about to give birth in Revelation 12 represents both Mary and the church.
I. The Lord is a dragon-slayer.
A. One of the most terrifying dragons the Lord killed was named Rahab. Don’t confuse this monster with the prostitute in Jericho – they are spelled slightly differently in Hebrew. Rahab the dragon was a legendary sea-serpent that served as a common and natural symbol for the nation of Egypt. We are more familiar with Egypt as a snake like a cobra – after all, the Pharaohs wore those cobra headdresses. The Pharaohs of Egypt encouraged such sinister images as the cobra and the sea serpent Rahab to intimidate their own people and the armies of other nations. If it helps you to remember the point think about sports teams and how they often choose a scary animal for their mascot to intimidate the players on other teams. In any case, it was a slithering beast and his children that sought to kill the seed of the woman. You may remember that Pharaoh tried to stop the seed of the woman from multiplying by enslaving them and the more they were oppressed the more they multiplied so Pharaoh tried to enlist the Hebrew midwives to kill the Hebrew baby boys and when that didn’t work Pharaoh commanded his people to throw every Hebrew baby boy into the Nile to drown. Pharaoh plotted against the Hebrew people because he was afraid they would become a military threat. But Pharaoh’s schemes all backfired. And when the Hebrew people had almost escaped from the land of Egypt, Pharaoh thought he finally had them trapped. The Egyptian army overtook them while they were encamped at the sea. But then the Lord parted the sea so that the Hebrew people walked through the sea on dry ground and when the Egyptians followed them then the waters returned and the Egyptians perished. Thus the prophet Isaiah describes the Exodus Event as the Lord slaying the sea serpent Rahab. It was a major victory for the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent – a victory for the army of the Lord over the chariots and horsemen of Egypt. (The Lord knows how to kill dragons. Indeed, he has slain another.)
B. The Lord killed a dragon even scarier than Rahab – the dragon Leviathan. Leviathan was another of the legendary great sea-serpents. In the beginning God parted the waters and created dry land. He brought order out of chaos. He created man and told him to be fruitful and multiply. The great sea-serpents, however, sought to reintroduce chaos, to kill people made in the image of God, and to flood the earth. That was Rahab’s m.o. in Egypt. Rahab sought to kill all of the Hebrew baby boys in order to prevent one from growing up to be the Savior of the Hebrew people. Leviathan had the same m.o. When the baby Jesus was born, Leviathan tried to enlist the Wise Men to find the newborn king of the Jews for him and when they tricked him just as the midwives had tricked Rahab, Leviathan had all of the Hebrew baby boys in Bethlehem and in all that region slaughtered. Leviathan is the very image of Satan. But the prophet Isaiah spoke of a day to come when the Lord would slay this sea-serpent Leviathan. Isaiah spoke of a new exodus that the Lord would accomplish. This exodus was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration about—as most translations put it, “his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). The Greek word for departure in that verse is exodus. Jesus was speaking with Moses, who had been at the first exodus, and with Elijah, representing the prophets who prophesied a new exodus, about His exodus, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Thus if the first exodus was the slaying of Rahab, then the second exodus was the slaying of Leviathan. That serpent wounded Jesus Christ in the heel but Jesus Christ wounded that serpent in the head. Jesus, our strong man, mightier than Achilles, Jesus, the Champion Holy-Warrior-King, has gone on in front of us in battle and given Satan a fatal blow on the head. Thus this new exodus event – the mortal wounding of Leviathan – made it possible for people all over the earth to ascend the holy mountain of the new Jerusalem. (But, unfortunately, Satan’s banishment from heaven means that this mortally wounded serpent is more angry than ever, thus…)
II. We continue to resist the dragon and battle demons.
A. That slithering serpent continues to plot death. Satan is not only is real, but he continues to use government officials to kill the innocent. In Revelation, the sea-serpent dragon represents world government standing in defiance against God. Just as Rahab’s seed was Egypt so too Leviathan’s seed is Babylon or world-government. Not only has Leviathan been able to enforce a one-child policy in China that has led to the slaughter of countless babies, but he has even been able to sway the Supreme Court in our nation to legalize abortion that has led to the slaughter of somewhere between fifty and sixty million innocent babies. Furthermore, that devil persecutes innocent Christians even unto death in many nations in the world today. As if that isn’t enough, the dragon is crafty in his attempts to lead the people of God astray. The main way that Satan does this is by accusing us of our sins. The Hebrew Satan actually means adversary or accuser. He is a prosecuting attorney. God has thrown Satan out of God’s heavenly court. Nevertheless, Satan continues to try his case in the court of public opinion and in the court of our personal opinions. He also tries to lead us astray by casting doubt, “Did God really say that you are forgiven?” But all of his strategies backfire. The more China persecutes Christians, for example, the more the church grows there. In fact, the most recent statistics show that there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party that runs China. (Thanks be to God for the church in China, but what are we to do?)
B. James tells us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brethren throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). And Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). The devil schemes, he distorts, he lies, he is crafty. But the devil is not all powerful, he does not know all things, he cannot be everywhere at all times – these are things only true of God. That mortally wounded beast will flee from us every time we stand up to him. To be sure, this does not always mean that we will escape with our physical lives. But we will escape with our lives. We escape with our lives even if we witness to Christ with our physical deaths. Never forget the invisible dimension to all of this. Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but it is a spiritual struggle. Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). So whether you are looking at governments that oppress Christians or at a coworker who lies about you to others it is important to not take it personally. There is something deeper going on than what is on the surface. They are not the enemy, the sea-serpent Satan is. And thus this struggle is not just out there but in here (the heart). It is being waged in our hearts. So Hallelujah for the dragon-slayer Jesus Christ! Amen.
If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend the following posts: Cycle 3: Seven Symbolic Histories (Revelation 12-14) and especially The Monsters: Behemoth, Leviathan and Rahab. The wikipedia article Leviathan is decent, especially as it provides accurate information about the Ancient Near Eastern context for the beast.