Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Have you underestimated your Enemy?

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him. Matthew 4:10-11

WE stand helpless in the face of the devil’s temptation.  If we think otherwise it’s either because we’re not thinking, or because we’ve been so deceived that we don’t know night from day.

Adam and Eve did battle with the devil in paradise. They had everything a person could ever want and every reason to be faithful.  Further, there was only one possible source of temptation in the entire garden, but the devil found it, exploited it, and defeated them on his first try.  They were no challenge for the Tempter.

Old Testament Israel did battle with the devil too.  Though they were in the wilderness and not paradise, God provided them with all that they could possibly need.  He was their divine GPS, who led them every step of the way on their perilous journey.  He defended them, provided them with food and drink, was present among them to forgive their sins and to give them every spiritual blessing.  Like our first parents, they too, had every reason to be faithful, but they were putty in the Destroyer’s hand.  Their record was one of abject failure and unfaithfulness, and we are just as helpless as they when it comes to battling the devil.

History can be defined as man’s continuous attempt to rid the world of evil, but humanity, blinded as it is, can never get to the source of the problem which is the devil himself, who keeps himself well hidden from prying eyes.  Over the centuries we’ve tried to deal with evil by means of armies, philosophy, science, whacky religions and diversions too numerous to name, but none has been effective against the Old Evil Foe.

[March 1, 2008] Cleveland Police Officer Derek Owens was killed in the line of duty.  After many hours of surgery and prayerful waiting.  When word finally came that he had died, one young lady, an EMS dispatcher, said with a pathos no one will forget:  we shoot the bad guys 5 times and they live, they shoot us once and we die.  That’s how it is with the devil.  We can’t win against him on by our own might, but only by Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh, and by the Holy Scriptures, which our Lord used to soundly defeat earth’s deadliest foe.  Though temptations abound, and the devil’s successes are everywhere to be seen, we don’t ever need to worry because Jesus became incarnate in order to destroy the works of the devil, (1 John 3:8) not just by His passion and death; those were the climaxes, but also by His perfect faithfulness in the face of Satan’s temptation.

The name Jesus means "Savior." It was given to Him by God because that was His mission in life, to save us.  He didn’t come to fix us, adjust us or educate us, but to save us.  When a 26 year old girl fell into the freezing Cuyahoga River she didn’t need swimming lessons, or even a life-saver on the end of a rope.  Rescuers gave her one of those, but she couldn’t hold on to it because the coldness of death had already incapacitated her, even as sin has incapacitated us.  What she needed was to be rescued, and that’s what happened when a police officer, without any protective gear, and at the greatest possible risk to his own life and health, descended into the icy water and lifted her out.  But Jesus was no ordinary man.  He was the Son of God.  That’s not the un-important title that the Jehovah’s Witnesses would have us believe, but in theological parlance, to be the Son of God is to be God!  And how did the Son of God fare in the battle?  He succeeded where all others failed, not only because of His superior power, but also because of His superior knowledge.   He didn’t underestimate the devil’s power, and neither should we.  The Tempter is smarter, stronger and infinitely more resourceful than we are.  His intentions are purely destructive.  He doesn’t fight fair.  Neither is there the slightest possibility that the devil might ever take it easy on us, or give us a moment to recover before his next attack.  Like the cruel Egyptian taskmasters we read about in the Book of Exodus he piles trouble on top of trouble.  He makes more and more demands.  He makes more and more things go wrong until even the noblest and best must finally crumble beneath the load, but Jesus stood tall.  Jesus knew something else about the devil:  that he was "father of lies."  Before the devil made his appearance on the earth there was no such thing as deception.  There were neither little white lies, nor the vast deceptions of the kind now being perpetrated on the people of the world by their leaders.  In the last 25 years the world’s politicians have gone on the largest shopping spree in the history of man, and all on borrowed money.  They created the largest debt the world has ever known, and now they propose to save us from it by re-introducing socialism to the world, and by borrowing more money from the future.  Can deceptions of this magnitude come from anyone other than the Father of Lies who delights in the misery the future will bring us?

Jesus knew something else about the devil; that all he can do is tempt, but can’t actually deliver the things he promises.  He can’t give us daily bread, defend us from danger or give us the kingdom, power and the glory as he promised to give Jesus.

Jesus also knew, and so should we, that the devil’s promises are always conditional.  The word "if" is the chief word in his vocabulary, even as it is with many who call themselves Christian.  They offer God’s blessings to us if we will do our part, if we’ll buy their latest book, if we’ll follow their "4 spiritual laws," and most especially if we’ll send them a donation.  However, with Jesus there are no if’s, and’s or but’s, neither are there any strings attached.  Jesus conquered temptation, sin, death and the devil for us.  His victory is our victory, and it’s final.  There’s nothing we can do, or need do; it’s all been done for us.  Even the necessary faith to believe these things has been given to us, and is maintained in us by the power of God’s Spirit.

Yet our Lord’s victory wasn’t only a theoretical one, or future one, but one that has benefits in the present. We are New Creatures in Christ, so we don’t receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Cor. 6:1). Quite the contrary, His grace makes us sober and vigilant regarding our adversary, and enables us to resist him steadfast in the faith. (1 Peter 5:7) Like Jesus, who was led from His baptism directly into the wilderness to do battle with the Tempter, we too are empowered by the blessings of baptism to fight the devil by exercising the virtues he hates: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, genuine love and truthful speech, and to defeat him with the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. (2 Cor. 6:4,7)

As long as we live we can be sure of two things: first, the devil won’t leave us alone, but will continue to shoot his fiery darts at us; and second, that Jesus who was victorious over the devil for us, will keep us faithful unto death, and will give us the crown of life. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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