On Wednesday I still hadn't settled on a subject for this week's sermon, and since I was hitting up Barry Duke for a potential ride to our 7:15 activities, I also figured I'd ask him if he had any suggestions for a sermon topic. Somehow in the text messages he thought I had requested one related to Satan…and so when he suggested a topic connected with the father of lies, I thought it a bit odd…but (as he and I agreed)…sometimes we don't put enough consideration into what our adversary is up to when it comes to the battles we face in life.
So…ignoring all the confusion and miscommunication that led up to it…this is Barry's sermon on Satan…although Wednesday night Barry then let me know he wasn't going to be here for it. 🙂
By the way, I humorously told him that I would say one of the Devil's minions suggested the subject :-), but after our conversation degraded to me standing up here dressed as the Saturday Night Live Church Lady…it was best to just leave it at me doing a sermon on the god of this world.
Anybody here a fan of C.S. Lewis? Well, beyond books from the Narnia series?
Although I haven't read a ton of his stuff, my favorite Christian book outside the Bible itself his Mere Christianity. When I first read it I put those little page markers wherever I found a quote I wanted to share in the future on my blog, and by the time I was done there were so many is looked like the feathered wing of a bird. 🙂 I highly recommend it to everyone.
But, today's sermon is better suited for another one of his works titled The Screwtape Letters. It is one half of a fictional correspondence between two demons. One, Wormwood, is actively trying to lead a human to damnation, and the other his uncle, Screwtape…who pens the 31 missives with advice.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Lewis' preface pretends that they are real intercepted communications, and it has something in the preface that effectively speaks to my hesitation in doing a sermon on our accuser:
I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.1
After a bit more he also writes:
Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.2
I hesitate giving a sermon on Satan because we can get too fixated on the prince of the power of the air…so with that in mind let's focus on the way the ruler of this world interferes in our lives.
A Short History
And one of the best ways to see exactly how Satan messes with us is to go through a short history of his interactions with some of our forefathers.
But before we do that…
Did You Notice All the Names?
Beyond the obvious names Devil and Satan, did you notice some of the other biblical terms for the serpent I snuck already into this sermon? In order that I included them, they were:
- The father of lies (John 8:44)
- [Our] adversary (1 Peter 5:8)
- God of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)
- [Our] accuser (see Zechariah 3:1)
- Prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2)
- Ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)
And, instead of using a short history, we could just study those and learn a lot about this evil, fallen angel…and it probably won't surprise you that some of the terms will work their way into our short history…
The Consummate Liar
Which, sadly, begins pretty much at the same time our race's history begins…let's turn to an episode I've previously brought up in a sermon here:
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" (Genesis 3:1-5).
We do not know how long Adam and Eve were alive before this conversation happened…but we do know how much death, misery, and destruction have resulted from it…and just how much of a liar the serpent was.
But, notice how subtle Satan was. Did he go right out and say, "God is a liar"?
No…instead he asks an undermining question that would allow plausible deniability if Eve had accused him of contradicting God. Then…again not just flat out saying that God is a liar…he challenges the contention that eating from the forbidden tree will kill Eve, promises her a reward of sorts if she does it, and then implicitly accuses the Most High of keeping something good from us.
Not only was C.S. Lewis right to remind us that Satan is a liar…he's a really, really good liar…he's had a lot of practice…and (as mentioned earlier) is the father of lies (John 8:44).
Lest that not register enough…we may just think that somehow the youth and innocence of our original parents meant a naïveté that made it easy for the serpent to trick them. However, don't forget that Satan also fooled a whole bunch of angels into following him all the way into open warfare with the Lord (Revelation 12:7-9). And, it does not appear that it was just a couple of angels he turned against God…Scripture appears to say it was "a third of the stars of heaven" (see Revelation 12:2-4).
You think you've met a good liar?
He's better. He's a consummate liar.
Next in our short history we head to the book of Job…Job 1:6-12 to be exact:
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." 8 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" 9 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." 12 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
Although we could take away more, there are two things we will focus on from that pericope.
First, the devil is very active ("From where have you come?" "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.") C.S. Lewis correctly pointed out that demons don't care whether you don't believe in them or get too fixated on them…both are great in their eyes.
In this case, just imagine how dangerous the Devil is for people who don't even believe he exists. It would be like someone who kept seeing things explode around them, holes next to where they were sitting, and so on…all the while not realizing a sniper was shooting at them the whole time.
If they knew, don't you think they'd at least duck for cover?
Second, see how what is playing out down here on our blue planet has ramifications far beyond just how many humans end up in heaven and how many in hell. Angels were listening to the conversation where, once again, the Devil creatively and meticulously contradicts the Lord.
Not only is Satan our accuser, he is God's accuser before the universe.
That is, as much as our egotistical species would like to think otherwise, it's not about us…it's about God.
He Doesn't Give Up
To save time, we won't read the second time in Job that Satan disputes God's assessment of that righteous man…please take a look at Job 2:1-6 later to see it for yourself. However, we learn another thing from the fact it happened twice.
Satan does not give up.
Think about that a little.
He is a really, really good liar.
He is very, very active.
And he does not give up.
Can you think of a more deadly combination of attributes?
The Frog and the Scorpion
What's so crazy about his persistence is that he knows he's already lost. The Devil knows the Bible…just think of how he quoted Scripture as he tried to trip up Jesus in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11).
So, why does he keep trying? And even more than that…why does he do what God has prophesied? For instance, he knew that Jesus had to die on the cross…that it was part of the Lord's plan…so why did he enter into Judas so Judas would betray Jesus? (See Luke 22:3-6) Wouldn't it have made more sense to try to throw a monkey wrench into the plan of salvation and spare our Savior? Why does Satan always play into God's hands?
Well, beyond the fact that God is infinitely smarter than the Devil, it seems to me that Satan is like the scorpion in the parable of the frog and the scorpion. No…that parable not in the Bible…but it seems very applicable.
The short version is there is a scorpion who wants to cross a river…so he asks a frog to let him ride over the water on his back. The frog isn't stupid, so he says, "Why would I do that, you'll kill me."
The scorpion replies, "Why would I kill you? If you die crossing the river I'll drown."
The frog sees the logic in what the scorpion says…and they start across.
Half way, the frog feels an awful sting. He asks the scorpion, "Why did you do that?! Now you'll die too!"
The scorpion answered, "It's in my nature."
Satan does not give up and Satan does evil even when it plays into God's hands…because it is in his nature.
He may not be my imaginary sniper perpetually taking pot-shots at you, but we know from 1 Peter 5:8 that he "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." A lion that does not give up because it's in his nature.
Nobody is Immune
I haven't gotten very far into our short history…and I don't know about you, but the odds against us seem overwhelming…and that's without considering things like the fact he probably knows Scripture better than we do and that he attacks us when we are weakest (think "Jesus in the wilderness" again).
Or, for that matter, without considering something we can learn from one final incident I'm going to include in my short history:
31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." 33 Peter said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." 34 Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me" (Luke 22:31-34).
Yes, those verses were our Scripture for today…well the ones I meant but obviously gave incorrectly to Peggy based on what's in the bulletin. 🙂
Not only is the Devil a really, really good liar and…
Not only is he very, very active and…
Not only does he not give up…
But, nobody is immune.
Here is Peter…not just a disciple but one of Christ's inner circle. He spoke with Jesus. He walked with Jesus. He ate with Jesus. He saw Jesus' miracles first hand.
And he fell into Satan's trap!
What hope do we have?!
Don't Give Up
The Devil may not give up, but based on that apparent hopelessness, maybe we should. Except…
I may have listed it just to "pile on" all the bad news about Satan when it comes to mankind…but I actually have always found those verses about Peter some of the most hopeful in the Bible. Why?
Because even though Jesus knew that Peter was going to blow it, He also knew Peter would realize his mistake, repent of it, and come back stronger than ever.
Thus, the title of this sermon, "And When You Have Turned Again."
Just as God was not caught unaware when Adam and Eve brought sin into our DNA, He isn't surprised by our individual weaknesses and their sinful results. Just before we are informed that our "adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" the same Peter who blew it at Jesus' arrest and trial tells us to "cast all [our] anxieties on [God], because he cares for [us]" (1 Peter 5:7).
And, as such, another Apostle, John, explains that our Father has us covered:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).
Also, just before John said those comforting words he assured us that "if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
If there is any one of the Devil's lies you should leave here rejecting, it's the one where he whispers into your ear that what you've done can't be forgiven…that you are forever lost. Especially for us Christians there can be an awful temptation to doubt the cross' sufficiency. We figure that after we've "tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away" then there is no way to "restore [us] again to repentance" (see Hebrews 6:4-6).
Those oft misunderstood words in Hebrews 6 have to be taken in context with the verses in 1 John we just read. Satan wants you to believe that you've committed the unpardonable sin when, in reality…
…neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
Yes, Satan is a scary being whose power we should respect and never underestimate.
However, if you accept the Lord neither he nor your sins can separate you "from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
And that, my friends, is truly good news!
1Lewis, C. S. (1976). The Screwtape Letters (17). Charlotte: Commission Press, Inc.