(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Evil’s Ultimate Defeat
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
In this archetypal story, evil entered the world when Adam and Eve, misled by the snake, ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Evil brought the human race terrible problems, but this was not a story of despair. The Hebrew storytellers were confident that evil would be defeated in the end. God firmly told the snake that, though he would strike humanity’s heels, Eve’s offspring (particularly Jesus, as it turned out) would strike (or crush) his head.
The night before Jesus went to the cross, evil’s power looked unbeatable. Religious leaders in Jerusalem, who claimed to lead God’s people, were joining forces with the procurator from Imperial Rome to kill him. Yet Jesus, who knew suffering lay ahead (verse 15), nevertheless boldly pledged that he wouldn’t eat or drink the Passover/Lord’s Supper elements again until the day when God’s kingdom had triumphed.
Paul, drawing insight from Jesus’ life, taught Christians in Rome how to deal with evil. It was thought-provoking counsel: “Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them” (verse 14). “Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions” (verse 17). Paul said we can do that because we trust God to deal with evil in better ways than we ever could. So, he ended, “Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good” (verse 21).
1 John 4:4-10, 5:1-4
On one hand, John’s churches faced teachers who used Greek philosophy to deny that Jesus was God. On the other hand, brutal Roman persecution threatened to imprison or kill anyone who didn’t recognize Caesar as “Lord.” In that hostile world, the only “weapons” Christians had were trust in Christ and love for each other. That was enough, John said–it would defeat the world.
In Revelation’s vivid imagery, verses 1-6 depict Jesus being born into the world. Revelation piled up phrases to capture all the malevolent power of evil arrayed against Jesus: “the great dragon…the old snake, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” But Jesus won a decisive victory over evil, and a loud voice from heaven declared God’s victory.
Revelation 19:11-16, 21:1-7
Some images change little over time—good guys, for example, ride on white horses. Others take a bit more thought—the sword from the victor’s mouth is a symbol for the power of God’s word (cf. Hebrews 4:12). The big message the seer of Revelation was sending to his friends in Asia Minor, and to us, was that evil is not forever. The story’s glorious ending is: GOD WINS!
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Heavenly Father, grow in us the love and faith that changes families, communities and the world. Reshape our natural attitudes, and help us live at peace with others, without malice. Eliminate the darkness of our hearts with your eternal light. Thank you for the glorious promise of a new life, free of pain and sorrow. Guide us to share that hope with those who suffer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
What movies have you seen lately that seemed to clearly show the line between good and evil? Which movies most clearly showed the victory of good over evil? Why do we seem to want good to stamp out evil in movies?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Genesis 3:8-15. When God said that Eve’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head, who did the serpent represent? Who did the promise that “Eve’s offspring” would crush the serpent’s head point to? Was this a rigid prediction of future events, or a foreshadowing of how God works? How is the serpent (or evil, or the devil) crushed? How did Adam and Eve’s hiding from God illustrate the spiritual impact of shame in us? Does shame ever make you feel like hiding from God? What’s required to get over that response? Do you believe that evil will ultimately come to an end?
Read Luke 22:14-20. When Jesus said, “For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes,” was he speaking wishfully, hopefully or confidently? What happens to evil when the Kingdom of God comes? What does communion mean to you? Does it express your confidence in God’s plan for the future? Do you think that, when millions of Christians take communion, God’s plan is somehow strengthened?
Read Romans 12:12-21. What kinds of evil do we meet in everyday life? Do we always recognize evil? How can we, individually or as a group, “overcome evil with good”? Paul said, “Bless people who harass you.” Is that consistent with our human nature? If not, how do we deal with these situations? Does God want us to be defeated by evil? In overcoming evil, Paul gave us several examples of how to act. Which of these do you find most difficult? All of us have, at one time or another, repaid evil with evil. How did this make you feel? Did it improve the situation?
Read 1 John 4:4-10, 5:1-4. In verse 4, who do you believe is “the one who is in the world”? What then, is the significance of the entire verse that says, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”? As we look back, we realize that hundreds and thousands of Christians survived, despite the oppressive persecution of the mighty Roman Empire. How does knowing this affect your view of these verses? Is this Godly power at work today? Does it have any effect upon your view of the future?
Read Revelation 12:1-12. What do you see as the central message of these verses? They capture all the malevolent power of evil arrayed against Jesus: “the great dragon…the old snake, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” But Jesus won a decisive victory over evil. However, if we still find evil at work in the world today, where is Jesus’ victory? Is God’s victory at work in the lives of his followers? Can we more fully tap into God’s power in our lives? Rome exiled the seer of Revelation to an island called Patmos. Does that same force of evil work to isolate and discourage faith today?
Read Revelation 19:11-16, 21:1-7. Although evil might still exist in the world today, these verses promise its ultimate end by the power of Jesus Christ. Who will benefit from this victory? “To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring of the water of life.” What does this verse mean? Have there been times in your life when you were desperate for God and suddenly you felt God’s refreshing touch? Is this the message God would like for us to deliver to others who desperately need his help?
From last week: As you went through last week, were you alert to the times in which your thoughts, words and actions are inconsistent with your vision of what it means to call yourself a Christian? Did you pray that God might refine your life so that you might become more like Christ? Please share with the group whatever you discovered.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon of February 10, 2013:
How does Jesus rescue us from evil? He shows us a different way—the way of love, mercy and servanthood. By his death he offers us forgiveness and models for us how one defeats evil—not by returning evil, but by demonstrating sacrificial love. And his resurrection assures us that evil will not have the final word, but is ultimately defeated.
As we begin to follow Jesus, he redefines our values, our ideals and how we respond to evil….My small group was talking about what happens to us as we age. Some people, as they get older, become more of their best selves—beautiful, compassionate, kind. Others seem to become more of their worst selves—they speak ill of others, they become more self-absorbed, mean-spirited, judgmental and bitter. We all agreed we want to grow old becoming more like Christ, not less like him. But this doesn’t “just happen”—it is a daily process of choosing the right, of practicing the spiritual disciplines, and of inviting the Spirit to work in us.
That leads me to consider how evil is defeated in society. In this life there will always be evil in our world. Every human being wrestles with good and evil and God has given us the choice as to which we’ll choose to give in to. Jesus’ strategy for healing the brokenness of the world is found in his great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” He knew the world is changed one person at a time. Each person who comes to faith in Christ chooses to walk in a different path than they were walking in before.
This is why our mission here at Resurrection is “To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.” With each person who becomes a Christ follower the world is changed. This is how evil is pushed back in society—one person at a time. Then, when we work together, we can do more than we could alone.
We’ll continue to battle evil in our world—there will be injustice, terrorism, violence, genocide, atrocities and war—yet the Bible is clear that one day God will say, “Enough!” Goodness and mercy will always ultimately prevail, even if, for a season, evil seems to hold sway. Deliverance will always come. It may come slowly, but it will come. One day, evil will be finally and utterly destroyed.
This message is found across the scriptures. I love Zechariah 9:12 where the prophet speaks to the Jews who returned from Exile to find Jerusalem in ruins. He says: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope!” We are prisoners of hope. We believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God’s justice will always prevail. History shows this. In the last century alone, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pol Pot and Idi Amin and their cruel regimes were ultimately defeated. Evil can never ultimately prevail.
We began this sermon series six weeks ago in the Garden of Eden. In that Garden human beings misused their freedom, turned away from God’s way, and paradise was lost. John 19:41 notes, “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb.” John also notes that when Jesus was raised from the dead he appeared like a gardener. All that, as I have taught you before, pointing to Christ’s work and our work, of pushing back evil and restoring God’s garden, restoring paradise. The Bible ends where it begins, back in a garden. This garden is found in the last chapters of the book of Revelation, and here evil is finally and ultimately defeated.
Some read Revelation as a roadmap to the end times, and make charts and graphs and write books about how the events happening today are fulfillments of the things in Revelation. But I don’t think that is how Revelation “works.” The book was written near the end of the first century. Most of the apostles, leaders of the early Christian movement, had been killed for their faith. Christians had been expelled from the synagogues in many places. The Romans had destroyed Jerusalem, and put to death a million Jews. Rome’s power seemed invincible. Her economic grip on the world seemed unchallengeable. And Christians were tempted to give up their faith in the face of adversity, and to worship the empire and her emperors and her economic benefits.
But John says, don’t do it! He paints a picture of the fall of Rome, which he sees as a pawn of the devil. And as he paints this picture of Rome’s defeat, he paints for Christians of every generation the ultimate defeat of evil.
In verse 11 of chapter 19 there is this powerful image of the last battle with evil: “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire…He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.” Do you see this powerful picture of the final triumph of good over evil? John pictured the powers of evil being destroyed in this battle by just a word from Christ’s mouth. The devil and his demons are bound in a pit for a long period of time. Later, he is released to test the nations once more, but evil is obliterated once and for all. Finally, in chapters 21 and 22, there is a new heaven and a new earth, cleansed of evil. Listen: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”
We are in a very real battle with evil. Revelation is a reminder that evil will ultimately be defeated. Evil in our world starts in each of our hearts. There are people who succumb to evil and do violent, horrible things. Some see this as evidence that the Christian faith is not true, that if it were, these things would not happen. Listen: a faith whose leader was crucified by evil people is not a faith that promises bad things will never happen. I see the evil that happens in our world as evidence that we need the Christian gospel.
Jesus came to be the light, and to call us to walk in the light. He came to save us from ourselves and then call us to be the light of the world, a city set upon a hill. He called us to walk in the light and to push back the darkness in our hearts and in our society.
The criterion of evil
What is the criterion by which to determine what is evil? In other words, is there is a universal, transcendent definition of evil, or is evil determined by one’s social or cultural background? C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, maintained that certain acts are universally considered evil, such as rape and murder. Yet it is hard to find any act that was not acceptable in some society. The Nazis found even genocide acceptable for their purpose, as did the Imperial Japanese Army with the Nanking Massacre.
For monotheistic religions, the criterion of good is the will of God. For them, evil is disunity with, or disobedience to, the will of God. But not all humans are monotheistic. Many belong to other religions, and many are unbelievers. Furthermore, the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have different interpretations of the will of God. Even people of the same faith many times have different understanding of the same God….
Given all this, what is the criterion of evil? One appropriate, perhaps more general and universal, way to put it would be to say that selfishness is evil, and unselfishness is good. And if it is still hard to make an immediate judgment, one can wait until anything bears its fruit, which can speak as to whether it is evil or good: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16, NIV).
If you could stamp out one thing that is morally evil in life, what would it be?
Genocide: After the crimes of the Holocaust became internationally known, the world vowed it would never happen again. But history since 1945 has shown that the international community has stood by, again and again, as genocide unfolds. From Bangladesh to Darfur, humanity is still struggling to end what Winston Churchill once called a “crime without a name.”
Human trafficking: Buying and selling people, for forced labor, sexual exploitation or other forms of exploitation, amounts to a form of slavery. The Council of Europe Convention on Human Trafficking—also known as the Palermo Protocol—wrote a definition running to more than 100 words. A simpler definition is: “The acquisition of a person, by means of deception, coercion or force, for the purpose of moving them into a situation of exploitation.”
Others: Child abuse in various forms, Crime in various forms, Addictions, Selfishness, etc., etc., etc.
This week, be alert to chances for you to put yourself in Christ’s hands and counteract evil with your influence as a gentle, loving Christian. Next week, share with the group whether you found this to be clear and simple, or terribly unclear and complicated