Spiritual Warfare, First Sunday in Lent, March 1st 2020.
Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-11
So, as it isn’t too early in the morning. If one of your work mates, or family members would say to you ‘I don’t believe there is a devil?’ What would you think? Or say back? Our two bible readings both point to this evil creature. Appearing as a snake in Genesis, appearing in an unknown form, in the wilderness, to Jesus.
1) So why believe there is a devil? What to ask our friend to consider? We see Satan, the devil, active in different parts of the Old Testament, not just in Genesis. Job is another situation. We also read of his activity in the days of King David. And how he accuses faithful believers, as seen in the vision of Zechariah (Zech 4)..
Jesus believed there was such an enemy. He regularly drove out demons and he saw this as part of the war against Satan’s domain. In Mark 3, when he was challenged and condemned for casting out demons, he was accused of being in league with the devil. But Jesus said:
‘’ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself, and is divided, he cannot stand. His end has come. In fact no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions, unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.’’
For Jesus, there is the problem of the human heart, humanity’s falleness. But there is also a spiritual enemy, from whom he seeks to set people free.
But it is possible to say. Yes, Grant, but now? I mean Jesus defeated the devil at the cross.
Well. Post resurrection, post ascension, post Pentecost. Peter and Paul remind the Christians of the spiritual warfare they face. Peter writes to the disciples:
‘’Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, stand firm in the faith, because you know your brothers throughout the world are under going the same kind of sufferings.’’
Peter tells Christians, you still have a spiritual foe. Yes Jesus won the victory, yes the cross shouts of love, yes the power of sin, the barrier of sin, is broken and removed, yes the penalty of sin has been paid by Jesus, yet, there is still an enemy. Peter, writing from Rome, knew what lions were about – not the type we see in a zoo where you think, you could jump in run round and probably get out before it gets up. No, a lion was an aggressive, threatening creature. Peter says ‘’Looking to devour you.’’ Jesus said it in John 10 – devil comes to kill, steal, destroy. He is your enemy. He is the enemy of this church. And yet Peter, says, it is possible to resist – ‘’stand firm in the faith.’’
When Paul is writing to the Ephesians, he has shared about all that Christ has done, in the first three chapters. Then 4-6, he moves onto practical living as a believer. Lifestyle, unity, relationships at home, and then as a closing set of lines he says: ‘’Finally be strong in the Lord, and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.’’ (Ephesians 6:10-12).
Returning to Jesus. When he teaches about the kingdom life, he taught on how to pray – a shape to the things we should be praying about regularly. ‘’Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.’’ The Greek can mean evil or evil one. But. Matthew 4 is about spiritual attack from Satan. And then Jesus talks about deliver from evil – so it is more likely, after what we have just read, he means ‘’deliver us from evil one.’’ He encourages our regular prayer to include prayer for God’s help– we recognise our helplessness before the devil, yet Jesus vanquished him. We trust our heavenly father for deliverance from the devil’s attacks. Jesus recognised we would be in a spiritual battle as we sought to follow him. There was an enemy who sought to devour and wage war against us.
2) What are the devil’s tactics as seen in scripture?
His tactics. blinding, lies and doubt, temptation, accusations.
Blinding: ‘’the god of this age has blinded the mind of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. … For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’’ (2 Cor 4: 4,6).
There is a spiritual battle over people who do not believe in Christ. It is not just about getting the right answers, getting them to come to Alpha or church, this passage reminds me, that in all my witnessing, it needs to be built on prayer. We need to pray regularly for those non believers with whom we have contact.
Lies and Doubt. The devil approaches Eve. ‘’Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’’ And again to Jesus – ‘’If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’’ You can hear the doubt – did God? If you are? From there, Satan moves to pour lies into Eve’s head – you will not die, you will become like god. …
Lies and doubt. The thoughts that come into mind. ‘That you aren’t loved by God, how can you be when you live like that?’ ‘Those sins God has not forgiven.’ You see there is an issue we face. It struck me a few days ago. ‘The importance to believe the Bible and know the Lord.’ Yet I think for many of us, we can substitute the believing the Bible for knowing the Bible. The challenge is when these doubts or lies come into mind, how God sees us, who he is, when it becomes a battle, to believe what he says about us – some of the thoughts will be from others or our self talk or life experiences, but other thoughts will be the work of Satan. We can know those promises and statements from God. But do we believe them? That often is part of resist the devil. As these lies come in, resist means to take the truth of God, and hold onto it.
Temptation. Jesus is tempted to eat bread – to meet his own needs and not trust God; tempted to throw himself down – do a great miracle- and save all the hard work of getting people to listen to him; tempted to get his ultimate goal – the worship of the nations, but to get this goal in a wrong way, to worship Satan. Temptations. Meet my own needs, I’m most important and not trust God; temptation to avoid difficulty for God, take the easy way; temptation that the goal is the most important, the process doesn’t matter.
Imagine a cake that your grandmother comes in. It is the most awesome cake. You just want a piece. Yet she tells you off. You get a coke. You eat some kook. You eat stampot. But the cake is there. In the kitchen. It won’t hurt. And it is now in your head. So you take a lick of the icing. Off you go. But you know, you’ve crossed the line. And next time you come in for a coffee, the cake is there. And you take a bit, off one side, and then you need to take a piece off the otherside so it lines up nice and nobody will know! But some point grandmother finds out! Someone said: ‘’Sin takes you father than you want to go. Keeps you longer than you want to stay. Costs you more than you wanna pay.’’
What tests or temptations are you facing now? What are the whispering voices trying to lure you off course, into doing the right thing in the wrong way, or the wrong thing altogether? Where will you look in scripture to find help and strength? (based on words from NT Wright).
Hebrews has a tremendous passage.
”15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. ”
(Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)
Can I really encourage you? When we are struggling with a sin, or facing the battle to resist, it may feel embarrassing or even shameful to admit that to another believer, even a close personal friend. Yet as a wise pastor said, John Wimber, once we admit the sin, 90% of its power is broken. This is part of the role of prayer ministry – a safe place where you can come and admit where you are struggling or giving into temptation. They will pray to our heavenly father for you… for grace and mercy to come and help you in this time of need.
Accusation. It is striking. In Zechariah 4, in a vision, Satan stands at the right hand of the high priest, Joshua to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan ‘’The LORD rebuke you Satan! … Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ In Revelation. 12. In the vision describing Satan as a dragon, it is said he is an accuser: Perhaps with that in mind, Paul writes to the Romans: ‘’Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.’’ He can accuse us all day long, but no charges have any effect – it is God who justifies through Jesus. You see, there is condemnation and conviction. Conviction. The clear sharp work of the Spirit, pointing out, highlighting sin, yet with the offer of a fresh start. There is condemnation – just a layer of shame, guilt, feeling rubbish, no chance of change, helplessness. Accusing – you have done it again. You have failed. Why continue? The Lord say about Joshua – he is a stick snatched – I know who he is. We may feel accused. Yet God looks at us – he knows who we are, we are his.
3) How do defend ourselves?
7 short tips for the spiritual battle we find ourselves within. From Ephesians 6 and the armour of God. This is armour provided by God. These tips also recap some of we have already said.
The Belt of Truth: Focus on Jesus – know who he is, why he came, why he died – to fight against Satan’s lies, Satan whom Jesus declared and described as the father of lies (John 8).
Breastplate of Righteousness – we have the righteousness of Christ given to us, through faith. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’’ (2 Cor 5). Protect your heart from guilt and condemnation – you are righteous in his eyes. You have been made right
Feet fitted with the shoes of gospel of peace. Paul has in mind probably: Isaiah 52:7-10, ‘’How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news who proclaim peace.’’ We walk in the shalom the peace of God, when we enter our battle. We have peace with God, we can have peace within ourselves and between us and others.
Take up the shield of faith: keeping trusting God in difficult times. Not just to know the bible, but to believe the Bible and what it says about the One we know, love, adore, worship, follow.
Take the helmet of salvation: past present future. Corrie ten Boom described once, using the image of Micah 5, of sins being thrown into the sin. And by that sea, there is a sign, she said, ‘no fishing allowed.’ Your mind is aware of all Christ has done for you and me. To protect our minds against doubts and lies of Satan and the accusation he throws.
The Sword of the Spirit – which is the word of God. The only offensive weapon in the armour. Jesus models this in our gospel. How he responds each time, he stands and is shaped by the Word of God. At the time of Paul, the word of God was also about the proclamation about Christ. People hear the good news and so, as their eyes are opened, they are set free, they are transferred, rescued from the dominion of darkness brought into the kingdom of the Son.
And pray in the Spirit. Not part of the armour, yet the next statement. The final tip. A sense of seeking the Spirit to empower and so guide and direct our praying in the situations we face. We face so many when we leave this place. For ourselves but also Paul then extends it – with this in mind, and keep on praying for all the saints.
The devil exists. We do not need to be anxious Yes. He has tactics of blinding, doubt and lies, temptation, accusation. Yet he was defeated on the cross. We can resist him in the faith through what Christ has done, the word of God and prayer and the power of the Spirit.
“Lord, you know the temptations I face,
give me strength not to give up;
Give me strength to reach for your word,
to remember what you are calling me to be,
help me to remember what you are calling me to do,
and with your help, help me persevere through whatever tests and temptations may come.
In Jesus name, Amen.”