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Friday 29 March 2024

The Conspiracy of Evil


Good Friday 


One of the most consistent arguments made against Christianity is this: how can there be a good God, when there is evil in this world? This is called the problem of evil, and it is an argument that has often been put forward by atheistic sceptics and especially by first or second year atheist university students who study things like philosophy or evolution, and other soft sciences.

But it is also a question that often plagues Christians as well. Many people struggle to understand how there can be evil in this world, when there is a good God.   

I am going to address it today, but probably not how you think. Because my contention to you will be this: Christianity does not have an evil problem, evil has a Christianity problem. By that I mean that without Christianity we would not understand evil, and we would not understand the solution to evil. By the end of this sermon you will understand why I say this.  

I want to show you in this message a part of how the Bible explains evil, from a perspective that you may not have heard it explained before. And then I want to show you why this is so vital to understanding Good Friday and the Bible’s answer to evil. Evil works in this world through many ways, rebellion, theft, covetousness, promiscuity, and more. But it also works in this world through conspiracy. Let me show you how.  

The First Conspiracy (Genesis 3)

We read in Genesis 3 about the first ever conspiracy of evil. Of course, central to the first act of evil recorded in the Bible is the most wicked agent of evil, the devil. We read there, Genesis 3:1-7,

“3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

This is of course the fall of mankind. Where the Devil hatched a plot to deceive the woman and overrule the man, to bring about the destruction of mankind. The Bible tells us that the devil did this because he “was a murderer from the beginning, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Of course, like all good conspirators, he deceives his co-conspirators and drags them down into his own folly.

We know this was a conspiracy for a couple of reasons. First, because we read in verse Genesis 3:8, “ And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” What do evil conspirators do? They try to hide their plans and hide their crimes to get away with it. But we also know it was a criminal conspiracy, because it fits the legal definition: “Criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime or to engage in illegal activity.”[1]

This was the first criminal act in history. It was not done on the initiative of one person. It was hatched by a group of people who followed the instigator of evil himself, the Devil. 

We learn a few things about how evil works from this passage: evil is deceptive, it is murderous, it likes to subvert, and it likes to drag others into its evil snares because evil is often conspiratorial. The very first sin and crime in history involved wicked people and a fallen angel conspiring together to break God’s law. The first sin in the Bible fits the definition of criminal conspiracy perfectly.

We see this strategy of how evil operates, work itself out again and again in the Bible. It is in fact one of the most consistent themes of evil in the Bible.

Conspiracy in the Bible (2 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 13, Psalm 64) –

There are many examples of conspiracies after this. Jacob himself plans one with his mum against Esau. Joseph’s brothers hatch a conspiracy to kill him, among many other examples. But the first use of the word in the Bible is when David’s own son plotted a conspiracy to destroy him,

“1 After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2 And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgement, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel”, 3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgement. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel…12 And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counsellor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing” (2 Samuel 15:1-6, 12).

Even if the word conspiracy was not used here, it is clear what is happening. Absalom was angry at his father David for not bringing justice against Amnon for his sin against his sister Tamar. But rather than deal with it in a righteous way, he starts a conspiracy to murder his brother Amnon and then another conspiracy to steal the hearts of the nation from David, gather power to himself, and lead to civil war in the nation.

We see all the same marks of evil we saw back in Genesis. The heart of the conspirator, drawing others to his cause, so that he can break the law of God with his co-conspirators. In this case, we have many murders, because a war is started. The Bible does not say that Satan inspired Absalom’s conspiracy. But it is certain that Absalom is acting in the mould of Satan.

I have never understood why there are no major, big budget shows on T.V. based on the books of 1 Samuel through to 2 Kings. These books have everything you want: War, Action, Love, Betrayal, Friendship, Kingdoms rising against kingdom, global empires, last stands, and conspiracy after conspiracy and more. In fact, most of the evil conspiracies mentioned in the Bible happen in these books. You could not get better source material for a powerful drama that people would want to watch from the Bible than any other book, I reckon. Although we can always be certain the book will always be better than the T.V. show, knowing Hollywood.  

In fact, the evil of conspiracy was such a reality for the people of Israel, that they sung about it in their own Psalms often. Here is just one example, Psalm 64:1-6,  

“1 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy. 2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, 3 who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, 4 shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear. 5 They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see them?” 6 They search out injustice, saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.” For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep!”

The reality of conspiratorial evil was so pervasive in the lives of Israel, that it even pervades their worship: “Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked…they talk of laying snares secretly…” This is of course written by David, who experienced many conspiracies over his life, starting with Saul plotting to kill him. But this Psalm, like any other Psalm, was also sung by generation after generation of Israelites in the temple of God, and the synagogues. And this song recognizes how evil inspires people to plot, in the secret and dark places, how they might bring down the righteous. You might have experienced this at work, or in your family, or in some other way. Evil loves the dark. It loves conspiracy, it loves to destroy.

The Bible even shows us the ultimate source of this corruption in Israel; idolatry, Ezekiel 8:7-11,

“7 And he brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall. 8 Then he said to me, “Son of man, dig in the wall.” So I dug in the wall, and behold, there was an entrance. 9 And he said to me, “Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here.” 10 So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all round, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. 11 And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up.”

The elders of Israel are worshipping evil in secret, and this corruption is flowing on through the society. Their conspiracy of evil is the source of many other evils. Evil is shameful, dirty, and an abomination. Therefore, the agents of evil know that they often have to work in secret. They can often even be foolish enough to think that God does not see them: “Then he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land’” (Ezekiel 8:12).

So, you can see the Bible is not shy about evil. It does not hide from the reality of evil at all. Rather than saying Christianity has an evil problem, we have to say that evil has a Christianity problem. Because it is the Bible that gives us our definition of evil, shows us the reality of how evil works, and it shows us how good men and women are confronted with evil. These are vital truths for understanding what evil actually is. But the Bible does one better, it also shows us the solution to evil.  

The Worst Conspiracy of All

The worst conspiracy of all was the conspiracy of the evil one, and his servants, to destroy the Son of God. One of the things the gospels make clear about Jesus is that the people of Israel generally loved him, and the leaders of Israel, especially the Pharisees hated him. Jesus was everything they were not, good, righteous, just, merciful, holy and truly powerful. We see their response to Jesus very clearly in Matthew 12:9-14,

“9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

After seeing Jesus heal a lame man with a withered hand, a man who desperately needed healing, what is the Pharisees response? “But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” The gospel writers want us to know that Jesus was killed by evil conspirators. They want us to know this, because this is what happened, and this is one of the ways that evil often works, and this is the very kind of evil the innocent Son of God himself faced in this world.

Innocent men and women often face danger from evil conspirators. It is the way of this fallen world. Our own saviour experienced this firsthand. He experienced the same kind of conspiratorial evil that killed Naboth, landed Joseph in an Egyptian jail and caused John the Baptist to be beheaded.

What was the Pharisees plan to take Jesus down? At this point they are just trying to find a way to get Jesus away from the crowds, “And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.” So they had to bide their time, wait for the right opportunity to strike. But then an opportunity presents itself, Luke 22:3-6,

“3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. 4 He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:3-6).

This is the opportunity they were waiting for. They needed to get Jesus away from the crowds. And now they know how to do it, they had added to their conspiracy one of Jesus’ own disciples, who is possessed by the devil. All they need to do now is wait for their inside man to tell them when Jesus is vulnerable.

Their opportunity finally comes. They wait until night, when Jesus is with a few of his men, so they can strike,

“52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:52-53).

These men are diabolical.

They take Jesus to the council, at night. Which was against the rules. You were supposed to try criminals during the day when there were many witnesses. But it is not Jesus here who is the criminal, the Jewish leaders are. They are working as their master Satan would work; in the darkness, in secret. They gather false witnesses to speak lies against this innocent man. They charge him with false charges, they beat him and strip him, and then hand him over the Romans where he is scourged with a brutal Roman whip, and then made to carry his own cross, which he can’t even do, because he is so badly beaten. And then he is nailed to a cross, and mocked in front of all. This is how Jesus was murdered.  

Our own Lord was the victim of an evil conspiracy. A supernatural and human conspiracy. A conspiracy of the Pharisees to destroy him, and a conspiracy of the Devil to help them. Our Lord was also betrayed by a close friend. One of his closest in fact. And he was abandoned by all the rest. People say Christianity has an evil problem, as if God is aloof from evil, and doesn’t let it touch him. But you could not be more wrong:

Have you been betrayed? So has our Lord.

Have you been abandoned in your time of need? So has our Lord.

Have you suffered abuse, injury, mocking, shame, and more? So has our Lord.

Have you suffered an untimely death? Our Lord has. Obviously, we have not yet. Hopefully we don’t, but our Lord did. He knows what it is like to be murdered, brutally and condemned as a criminal, when he did no wrong at all.

The difference is Jesus had actually never done any wrong to anyone, ever.

How could such a tragic crime happen? Well, Jesus, the Son of God, allowed this to happen to him, because it was God the Father’s will that Jesus should pay the penalty for our own evil,

“8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;…” (Isaiah 53:8-10),

The gospel affirms these twin truths: Jesus was killed by evil oppressive conspirators, murdered in fact. And it was God’s will for this to happen to pay the punishment for our sins, our evil, and ultimately defeat evil.

The Lord Knows How To Handle Evil

Christianity does not have an evil problem. To say that is to completely misunderstand Christianity. Evil is a requirement for Christianity, evil is a necessity, because our Lord came into this world to experience evil, fight against evil, and defeat evil. And he did.

Evil can conspire all it wants, but the Lord sees it, he has it pegged, and this is what his word says,

“1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” 4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain” (Psalm 2:1-6).

Evil can conspire all it wants. And it does. It conspired to bring down the King of kings himself, and in doing so it guaranteed its own defeat. The devil, the Pharisees and more destroyed themselves when they struck at the King. They killed him, but that was not the end of the story as we know. God was at work in this whole event making sure that his wrath against our sins found its satisfaction on the cross of Jesus. Because of this, evil’s greatest victory was its guarantee of defeat.

And evil’s defeat can be your victory, too, if you turn from your sins and place your trust in Jesus.  

Never let anyone tell you that Christianity has an evil problem. Without Christianity we would not have our definition of evil. No other religion in the world gives us the modern, western understanding of evil.  

And never forget this, if God were to just wipe out evil with a swipe of his hand, that would include us, because in our sins we are evil. But instead of defeating evil by his might and power like that, he chose a better way. God the Son chose to suffer on the Cross because of our evil, because of our sins, to take the punishment we deserved. And to make a way for us to be saved. Which we will cover more on Resurrection Sunday. Let’s pray.

List of References

1 comment:

  1. An insightful and moving explication of the truth... and The Truth. The atoning death of Jesus, true man and true God, is the only remedy for the otherwise terminal illness of this world. The full and unequivocal acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Master is the only way to receive the remedy. It never cease to amaze me that people refuse the remedy and prefer to remain in their sin-sick state. Yet they do.