If you would slay sea dragons then you must go down into the sea. It is dark down there, of course. But there is just no way to crush the head of the sea serpent without going down into the waters. Our Lord’s passion can be considered under many themes and slaying the sea dragon is one of them. Dragon slaying appears a fair amount of times in Scripture.
God will slay the sea dragon once and for all on a future day when Christ returns. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1).
But we don’t have to wait until that final judgment to see God slaying dragons. Asaph says in Psalm 74, “For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: Thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces” (Psalm 74:12-14). Asaph here speaks of God burrying Pharaoh and his army under the Red Sea. Isaiah addresses the same event when he says, “Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over” (Isaiah 51:9-10).
Isaiah’s words remind us that not only did God wound the dragon Pharaoh in the sea. But he also made his people Israel pass through the depths of the sea. We know from Exodus that they passed through the sea at night, which certainly would have made the whole event far more scary (Exodus 14:15-25). Being in that dark and watery dragon’s lair is not foreign to the saints’ experience. In Psalm 44 the saints cry, “Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, And covered us with the shadow of death.” Now we often wonder why the covenant people must go through the place of dragons. We are sometimes like the poor Jewish milkman Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, who upon receiving news of another wave of trials, looked to heaven and prayed, “I know that we are your chosen people and all, but just for once, could you choose someone else.” “Why are we in the place of dragons?” we ask. And the answer is God has dragons to slay down there.
This is the very thing we see on Good Friday as Christ, our older brother, goes to Golgotha, the place of the skull, to strike the head of the serpent. It is remarkable that all of the dragon battle stories, be they legend like St. George and the Dragon or biblical like Michael warring against the dragon in heaven or David warring against the armour-scaled Philistine in the Valley, all point to this central conquest of our Lord over the old serpent. Christ is the seed of the woman who ultimately crushes the sepent’s head. And he does so as the Greater Jonah who went down to a watery Sheol. Jesus himself said that the sign of Jonah would be the only sign given to the evil and adulterous generation. As Jonah spent three days in the whale’s belly so Jesus said he would spend three in the heart of the earth. In so doing, he struck the dragon’s head. In fact, we’re told in Revelation that upon Christ’s passion an angel came down from heaven, laid hold on the dragon, bound him with a chain and cast him into the bottomless pit where he awaits final judgment when he will be thrown into the lake of fire.
Now the saints do pass through dragonish places. But the death of Christ, his descent into Hades, and his triumph over the principalities and powers has radically transformed things. We go through dragonish places after Christ, not before. Jesus took up the cross. And we must also. But Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He did not say, “Take up your cross and lead they way, I’ve got your back.” Jesus has already passed through the watery deeps where the dragon lived and crushed his head. We follow him through those waters and are promied that God will crush Satan under our feet, too. We are not promised that we won’t pass through the waters. But God does say to his covenant people, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee” (Isaiah 43:2).
So as Israel faced the dark waters of the Red Sea and went forward, and as Christ set his face toward Jerusalem and went forward, likewise you must face the dark waters and go forward. What are the dark waters? That sin that you really don’t want to face up to and confess. That family trouble that you’ve been refusing to address. That bitterness you’ve been holding on to. That sacrifice for the welfare of your children and grandchildren that really is costly. That forgiveness you know you need to seek from your brother. That godly decision you know you are to make that will certainly lead to persecution. That discipline and self-control that you should have exercised long ago.
And if you are tempted to say, “I can’t go into those waters, it is going to kill me.” God’s response is twofold:
First, He says, “You’ve already died in the waters.” The Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:4, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death.” You are not going to die in the waters in front of you. You have already died in the waters.
Second, He says, “Those waters you fear are now truly dragonless.” Jesus went down into them before you and took care of that problem. And he turns to you saying, “The dragon is behind you, bound and in the bottomless pit. The dragon and his army is behind you, and God has come between you and him, putting him in darkness and shining light upon you. You must come follow me through the waters, and they won’t hurt you.” For, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory” (1 Corinthians 15:55)? In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.