Sometimes, we Christians are reluctant to talk about devils too much for fear of being laughed at. When devils get mentioned, we may act as if it does not mean anything to us or embarrasses us. After all, who still believes in devils in this enlightened age? How many people take the devil seriously? Many assume it is a lot of old-fashioned superstition. Modern people have outgrown such silly notions as the devil. No, the devil is now something of a joke. Just think of the picture of the devil with red tights, pitchfork, pointy tail, and horns. He is comic, laughable nonsense. The word “devil” has gone from dread to endearment, as when a fond father says of his son, “Isn’t he a little devil?”
From this view of devils, we see one of satan’s most shrewd and strategic victories. Having gotten himself disbelieved in, he can go about his business. People do not even suspect he exists, let alone is working on them.
Many people who are captivated by the theory of evolution think that we humans are on an upward path of progress. From primeval slime we have attained such a position of mastery over nature that it is only a matter of time before universal prosperity and peace. Concepts like sin and satan have no place in such a world view.
Others who pay more attention to human history have noticed world wars, atrocities, slavery, infanticide. One would think that these people would have a growing awareness of the devil and his achievements. But many simply conclude that the devil is only a picture of the evil that lurks in human hearts. Human experience, no matter how heinous, does not always convince doubters, especially people who fervently refuse to admit the possibility of devils. Such closed minds may never be convinced.
Proof from observation or history are not what convince us either. As Christians, we look to the Bible for reliable information. The Bible tells us that there is a monstrous, powerful evil. Yet there is surprisingly little information about devils. But what there is in the Bible about devils is of extreme significance. The fall of man was decisive for us all, and in that the rebellious devil won the first of his many victories. We were made captive by the fateful triad – satan, sin, death. In the first Adam’s enslavement, the curse of evil came on all his descendants.
In the heart of every person is a throne. We were designed as dependent creatures. God intended to occupy that throne and by His rule give us the blessedness and freedom that He wants us to have. But we dethroned God. We sinned. We thought we could climb onto the throne ourselves. This was the devil’s lie: “You shall be as gods.” But we cannot really mount that throne. It is as impossible as if a horse tried to mount a saddle on its own back. If God does not occupy the throne in our hearts, it is occupied by the enemy of God, the devil.
This truth – that unless God is enthroned in your heart, the devil sits and rules there – is a hard truth to swallow. But that is what Scripture says. When Jesus called Paul to be His apostle, He told him that his work was to open men’s eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of satan to God. Here you see the division: two parties, either of light or darkness, either of satan or of God. This “either/or” runs throughout Scripture. There is no third possibility, no middle ground, no neutral. It is unrelenting war, satan against God, and the battleground is the human heart – your heart and mine.
The enemy is of an order of being we cannot understand. What is a fallen angel? What is satan? We know so little about who he is, but we know a good deal more about what he does. satan and his crew, thrown out of heaven, set themselves to overthrow the works of God. When God made people, satan tried to dethrone God and deceived us into thinking we could ascend the throne and be our own lord and master. Thus deceived, we came into the dominion of satan, who became what Scripture calls “the god of this world”. There, for all that we can do, we would remain forever lost, separated from God, and therefore dead.
But God in mercy looked on our plight and had pity. He promised One who would overthrow the dominion of satan. He promised one who would restore the rule of God’s love in the hearts of people, that is, establish the kingdom of God. Our text proclaims the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus of Nazareth has cast out the devil and restored the rule, the kingdom of God, in our hearts. He said, “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.”
Christ came to dethrone the usurper. The first vital battle we considered two weeks ago – the forty days conflict and the three crucial attacks. The decisive battle of the war comes in another three weeks, on the Friday we call good. The final action may come any minute. But a war consists not only of major offensives but also day-by-day fighting, giving a little ground, gaining a little ground. Throughout His life, Christ was having skirmishes with the devil, one of which is reported in today’s Gospel.
The Jews recognized that the things Jesus did could be done only by God or the devil. They were nearer the truth in this than those who deny that the devil exists. Such people may still make Jesus into a loving man who gave us rules of life that will make us loving too. But no, here was either the finger of God or the finger of satan. The Jews refused to recognize God in this Nazarene; therefore, the only other possibility was that He was or had a devil.
But Jesus speaks of satan as the enemy, and demons are his army. The Bible teaches us that devils are personal beings with activity and purpose. They sometimes cause sickness, though not every sickness. They also can get such control of someone that when that individual speaks, it is said that the devil speaks. Whether it is outright possession or only the devil confusing and misdirecting us, the purpose is to make wreckage of a creature designed for blessedness in the image of God.
This operation of the devil on someone can happen to the best of us. Into the heart of one of the twelve disciples, satan entered and got control. Jesus said, “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” When Peter told Jesus that He should not go up to Jerusalem to suffer, Christ called him satan. We are repeatedly told of satan’s untiring attacks on the church. We are warned to beware of him. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” If we mean to be of Christ, we, too, will certainly be subject to attack.
At the time of Christ and the founding of the Church, the devil, seeing his dominion in peril by Christ, lashed out with particular violence. Such direct and frontal attacks we may not see nowadays, but that certainly does not mean that satan has given up the struggle. It seems the devil has changed his strategy and is now more dangerous because of the current subtlety and stealthy manner of approach.
But if we are alert, we may discern his insidious efforts. Just try giving up some particular bad habit or try being kind to somebody you particularly dislike. You will see then the devilish difficulty and strange abundance of reasons that flood your mind to convince you not to bother with such a difficult and tiresome endeavor. Or think of the simple proposal of not going to church. How many reasons are immediately suggested in favor of staying away? Think of a time when you lost your temper and said and did things that you do not like to think yourself capable of doing or saying. Or in your prayers, how extraordinarily difficult is it for you to concentrate and keep your whole mind directed to your Lord? In some of the simplest endeavors of the Christian life there is evidence of an extraordinary power hindering you. This power of evil is even more evident in our uglier sins.
At every turn satan works to dethrone Christ from our hearts. The more earnestly we mean to have the rule of Christ’s love in our lives, the more we shall feel the devil’s efforts. His purpose is to destroy the purposes of God and bring to wreckage God’s sons and daughters. So it is that the greatest saints have known more of the devil than the most godless. The devil does not much bother with the godless for the time being. They are safe in his bag, so he bends his special attacks on the children of God. The more we strive for Christ, the more we shall suffer attack from satan. The better we do, the harder it will get. But our gracious God wants us to be like Christ; therefore we have to walk the same way of temptation.
This is our confidence: that Christ has walked this same way before us. He has made the path and shown the victory. If we stick close to Christ, we shall have the victory also; in Him we are secure. The decisive victory has already been won by Christ on Calvary. There the devil spent his utmost strength and was vanquished. That victory is for us also. But our Father allows us to be tempted so we may be tested and strengthened and cling ever closer to Christ.
As we cling to Christ and His victory, we can beat back the attacks of the devil. When he tries to claim us as his own and make us despair because of our much sinning, then we can boldly call the devil the liar that he is. “No, satan, I am not yours. Christ has died for me and I am forgiven. He has conquered you, and so shall I.” So when faith is strong, we can laugh in the face of the devil with boldness. He cannot bear such scorn. The devil must then depart from us, for our Lord Jesus sits on the throne in our hearts. Then is the kingdom of God come upon us. Amen.
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