14th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 17 – B)
August 30, 2015
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
In his fantastic book, Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imagines a series of letters Screwtape, a veteran demon, sends to his young demon nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has been sent to test, seduce, and lead astray a young man, and Screwtape offers advice to help Wormwood keep the man out of the Enemy’s (God’s) hands. The book is quite a commentary on a wide variety of topics; sin, death, politics, reading, and even mothers. Screwtape Letters was written in 1941, and yet one of Screwtape’s comments, resonates quite clearly even now. Screwtape says, “If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that…he therefore cannot believe in you.” I find this fitting because a study done in 2009 revealed that almost sixty percent of Christians doubt Satan’s actual existence. If making himself invisible is one of Satan’s goals, he’s achieving it quite well.
But Satan is real, he is very real, and very dangerous. So what do we do? Do we live in fear that he’s stalking us and just waiting to jump out at us at the wrong time? Do we excessively think about him and find him behind every rock and around every corner? I’d say that these are not the best ways to deal with the Devil. Instead, what I’m going to tell you, is what Saint Paul tells you. Stand up to the Devil, and with what Christ gives you, you can stand firm when he comes around.
If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that He inspired it, that He doesn’t lie, and that it is without error, then we have to believe that the Devil and his demons truly do exist. He doesn’t have a body, but he is wily, cunning, and prowling around like a lion seeking to devour you. The Bible has numerous instances that reveals the Devil’s existence. Adam and Eve talked with him, and proceeded to bring Sin and Death into the world, exactly what the Devil wanted to happen. Jesus was tempted by the Devil for forty days, and yet stood firm where Adam fell. Satan led David to sin, Job to suffer, and King Saul to a murderous rage. Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude all spoke of the Devil as a real “person”, who is dangerous. The devil is not a metaphor, a figure of speech, or an image of evil. He is the very epitome of evil.
Luther said, “A Christian should know that he is sitting among devils and that the devil is closer to him than his coat or shirt.” And while he close to you, he doesn’t want you to know he’s nearby. He is your adversary, your enemy, and he wants to destroy you, but not so obvious that you can prepare for him. Think about our great nation. Do you think that there are terrorist cells within our borders? I do. But they’re not going to advertise or bring attention to themselves. They’re not going to update their status on Facebook or set up an Instagram account. They’re going to stay hidden until it’s time to strike, and then we’ll know they’re around. The Devil is the same way. He doesn’t want you to think about him, let alone get ready for him.
But while we may not think about him the way we should, his presence permeates everything. Paul says, earlier in Ephesians, that the Devil is at work in the Sons of Disobedience, in the unbelievers. Satan is a liar who stirs up war and bloodshed. The world hates Christians, babies are ripped apart and sold for sixty bucks a part, and terrorists rape, blunder, enslave and murder. And the Devil’s fingerprints can be seen on it all. Paul says in our text, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” You see? It’s the Devil behind all this evil. Sometimes he looks harmless, such as when he says that a baby that won’t be healthy shouldn’t have to suffer, so we should put it out of its misery, or that abortion is better than giving life to a child that would be unloved. Do not make the mistake that the Devil is only at work in warzones or crime. He is at work all over the world.
I want to warn you though to not overestimate the Devil’s power either. The Devil is not God’s evil twin. He is not equal to God in anyway. There is only one Creator and one Ruler, and it’s not the Devil. The Devil and his demons are nothing more than fallen, rebellious angels. They oppose God and all that is good, and for that reason they will be judged by God.
And while the Devil appears to be everywhere, all the time, he’s not. The Devil is cunning, but he’s not all-knowing. He’s powerful, but he’s not all-powerful. In I Corinthians 10 Paul tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Paul is saying that the Devil comes at us, but his power is limited. We cannot rationalize our behavior by echoing Flip Wilson who used to say, “The Devil made me do it.” He can’t make you do anything. Give the Devil credit for what he can do, but don’t give him more than he deserves. He likes that.
Instead of fearing him and worrying about his influence, Paul tells us to simply stand firm. When the Evil days come, when we are tempted to sin, when we are tempted to doubt God’s love and care, when we are attacked with crime, sickness, or pain, Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “Be as strong as you can” and he doesn’t say, “Go to it”. He says be strong in the Lord. Use God’s strength and His power. Your power can’t withstand the Devil, but when you use God’s almighty power, the Devil cannot overcome you.
Paul gives us a great picture what we are to do when attacked. He says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” The suit of armor isn’t your own, it’s God’s, and nothing can penetrate His holy armor. The first thing you put on is the Belt of Truth. The Devil is the Father of Lies, the Great Deceiver, and he’ll try to lead you astray by lying. It’s his very nature to lie. Remember what he said to Adam and Eve? “You will not die, but you’ll be like God!” Or what he said to Jesus, “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you worship me”. Or what he says to you, “Your sin isn’t that bad, you’re not hurting anyone”. Or “Your sin is so bad God won’t forgive you”. Stand firm in the truth of God’s Word – your sin is bad, it’s total rebellion against God. But the truth of God also says that because of Christ Jesus’ suffering and death, you are forgiven. Your past doesn’t matter, only what Christ has done matters – He died for your sins. Go in peace, that’s the truth.
This ties in nicely with the Breastplate of Righteousness that Paul tells you to also put on. You’re not righteous on your own, you’re a sinner. But that’s not all that you are. You’re a forgiven sinner, and while you were unrighteous and unholy, Christ has given you His righteousness, His holiness to protect you. His righteousness covers your cleansed heart, the heart that He has given you, the heart cleansed in the forgiveness of sins.
And as the Devil attacks you, as he tries to push you off balance, as he tries to knock you down, stand firm in the shoes that God gives. These shoes have spikes that dig in with the peace that God gives. The Devil wants to steal your peace, to trouble you, to cause you to despair. But God gives the peace which the world cannot give, He gives the peace which surpasses all understanding. His love and care assure you that you are not alone, that you need not be afraid, but you can face the Devil with the peace that God stands with you, to defend you and support you.
Roman soldiers used to carry large wooden shields covered in cowhide. They worked great against regular arrows, but wood burns so their enemies discovered that flaming arrows were very effective. To counter this strategy, the soldiers would soak their shields in water the night before a battle. The Devil fires flaming arrows at you as well, but by carrying the shield of faith that has been soaked in the water of your baptism, the arrows will be snuffed out. Only faith in Christ will protect you from the Devil temptations and accusations. You can’t rely on your own reason or strength or your own self-control, instead hold up the shield of faith, the faith that trusts in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
There are times in our lives when we will doubt whether we are saved or not. We may look at our lives and wonder how God can love and forgive us. We may look at ourselves and believe that a Christian would never say and do what we say and do. We may think that God hates us because we haven’t loved or served others enough or loved Him enough. In times like these we put on the Helmet of Salvation. The helmet God gives us guards our head and mind. It reminds us to not look at what we think about ourselves, but what God thinks about us. He loves you, He cherishes you, and He has promised that you are saved. Do not doubt that! As Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” This is His solemn oath to you, and He will keep it.
To go into battle weaponless would be very foolish indeed, and just as every good soldier carried a sword, our Lord has given us His sword. It is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. This is what we use to fight back against the Devil. Without the Word of God, you’re fighting a dangerous, overpowering enemy with your bare hands. But when you wield the sword, when you swing it back and forth, when you thrust and parry with the power and promises of the Bible, the Devil will retreat. He hates it when you fight back. He’d rather have you fall on your knees before him, surrendering your soul. But when you speak the Word of God, when you cry out, “The Lord says…”, he will turn and flee. He and his demons will be routed, and set away in agonizing defeat. This is the promise of God! The Devil cannot stand the Word of God, and when we speak it, when we declare it as our faith, the Devil will run off like the coward he is. The armor God gives you is impenetrable and your sword unstoppable, so fear not and strong firm, and God will give you the victory.
At the end of Screwtape Letters, Wormwood is summoned back to hell to be devoured by his uncle because the young man he was tempting died in the war as a Christian. At his death he saw Jesus and entered eternal bliss. You too will see Christ Jesus face to face. Until then don’t ever doubt that for a minute that the Devil is real. He’ll try to steal your hope, your love, your forgiveness, and your trust in God. So put on the armor that Christ has given you, and remember that He who fights for you is so much more powerful than anything the Devil can throw at you. Stand firm in the day of Evil, and by Christ’s mighty power, you will prevail.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen