A WAR OF WORDS
"It is written." Matthew 4:4
THE 40 days of Lent are observed in memory of the 40 days that our Lord spent in the wilderness fasting, praying and overcoming the temptations of Satan for us. His time there was a microcosm of humanity ejected from Paradise as the punishment for sin, and living in the wilderness of the world. There are many warnings today about things that are "harmful to your health," but what they fail to say is that living in the world is "harmful to your health," and that no one makes it out alive.
The planet, for all its beauty and charm, is out to get you, to "bring you back down to earth," as it were, to return you to the dust from which you came. It is angry with you, even jealous perhaps, in a poetic kind of way. If it could speak it might say, "Who do you think you are, O man, to rise up from the dust and receive into your nostrils the breath of life from the Lord God, and to become a living soul?" Like Nikita Khrushchev of old the dust cries out, "We will bury you," but as the redeemed of Christ we "tremble not, we fear no ill," because we believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Not only is the inhospitable planet against us, but so is the one who Jesus calls, "the Prince of this world," and who St. Paul names, "the Prince of the power of the air." St. John of Damascus, the last of the "early church fathers" speculates that in calling Satan a Prince neither the Lord nor St. Paul were engaging in figurative speech, but instead that Satan, before he fell, when he was still Lucifer the angel of light, was given charge of this world by God to be its guardian angel. Again, this is before he fell. He did fall. He did rebel, and Scripture indicates in Revelation 12:4 that he took one third of God's angels with him in his mutiny, and that further, in order to take revenge on God who now excluded him from paradise, who now cursed him with eternal darkness, he turned against God's children and set out to corrupt them, which he did!
Eve was no match for the snake who must have been as charming as he was crafty, perhaps even beautiful to behold. A case of Satan appearing as an angel of light, to quote St. Paul. In any case the Old Evil Foe made short work of Eve, who in turn made short work of Adam. Now a redeemer was needed, because even in our rebellion, God did not despise His good creation, or leave us in the cruel ministrations of the one who, according to our Lord, "comes only to steal and to butcher and to destroy." Instead our Lord says to Nicodemus that, "God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." We are those people.
Yes, Jesus is the one Who God sent to crush the serpent's head and to free us from his tyranny, but we still live in the world, and what our Lord faced in the wilderness, we encounter every day of our lives, so we must stay spiritually strong and arm ourselves with what St. Paul calls "the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left," but what are those weapons, and how do we use them?
The weapon is the Word of God, because, you see, unlike earthly warfare, spiritual warfare is a war of words: God's true words against the devil's lies. This is how it happened in the Garden on that fateful day. The Serpent engaged the woman in a conversation. He wasn't there to talk about the weather, but to corrupt God's good creature by his lies. This is why Jesus calls Satan, "the Father of Lies," and "A murderer from the beginning," because by his clever use of words, he deceived our first parents and caused them to fall under the curse that came with rebellion: "The day you eat of it you will surely die." Yet the death they were to die was a slow motion one. The woman would suffer in childbirth, and after a lifetime of the labor and stress that accompany motherhood, and of sorrows that included her older son Cain, murdering her younger son Abel, she would breathe her last and return to the dust from which she came. Adam likewise, after a lifetime of frustrating, back-breaking labor in a hostile world that produced nothing but thorns, would finally exhaust himself, breathe his last and return to the ground from which he came.
Eve did not have the words to win that war, but the LORD God did. He came to the rescue, even as He comes to ours. He cursed the Serpent, broke up the newly formed friendship he had struck with the woman, and He gave a golden promise: that through her Offspring, meaning Christ Jesus our Lord, He would destroy the devil's power and redeem His beloved children.
Fast forward many centuries now -- we don't know how many -- and we find the Son of God engaged in a war of words with the prince of this world. Satan too knows Scripture, we find, and can quote it, but like so many who quote the bible today, he does it for his own end, so beware of false prophets. You will know them by their works, by their liturgy, their creeds, their doctrines, their sacraments and by the morality they teach. It is in line with the faith once delivered unto the saints? Is it in line with the catechism?
What our first parents could not do, our Lord handily did under the most contrary conditions possible. Our Hero did not only win in the wilderness, but at their next match as well, on Calvary. He did not talk His way out of crucifixion, come down from the cross, or in any way shrink from the death that gained our salvation. Instead, even affixed to the cross, broken and bloody, in the worst imaginable agony, He fully trusted that God would deliver Him and raise Him from the dead, which He did, and which He will do for you, O beloved child of God.
What, then of our daily warfare with temptation, with the devil's siren song that the culture sings to us day and night? As the hymn says "One little word can fell him." What word? The word of the Gospel, of course, the one we pray, sing, recite and confess in the Lord's House and on the Lord's Day:
"I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."
"Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the World."
"Take, eat. This is my body."
"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace."
"The Kingdom ours remaineth." Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras