Sermon for the Twelve Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 16)

Text: Ephesians 6:12,13
We are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. So put on God's armour now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy's attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground

Taking Satan seriously

How do you picture Satan? When you think of the devil, do you think of him with horns, a goatee beard, a devilish grin, a pointed tail, a pitch fork and bright red? I think that the devil would be quite happy being portrayed in this way. He would be easy to pick out in a crowd and so easy to avoid. There would be no chance of the devil sneaking up and catching us unprepared.

Someone once wrote this about Satan, "If I were an artist illustrating the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil, I would draw Satan as a very pleasant-looking person Ö so nice that it would be difficult to tell which was Satan and which was Jesus in the picture". This person is saying that the devil comes in disguise. He doesnít stand out in the crowd and introduce a temptation with fanfare so that there is no doubt that Satan has entered the room. When he tempts, he does it in such a way that you donít even know youíre being tempted.

But hey, wait a minute! We are living in the 21st century. All this talk about the devil and demons was all right for the people back in Jesus time and even people in 15th & 16th centuries, but we have come along way since those times.

But itís clear from what Paul says to us today that he believes the devil is no joking matter. He tells us to be constantly alert. Stand ready to fight. He tells us that we need to buckle up each morning, and even when we prepare for bed, we should to keep our shield and weapons close at hand.

To put a modern slant on what he writes using the protection that our police force uses, he tells us, "Put on all the protective equipment God provides. Stand tough, having buckled on truth like your armoured belt, and protect yourself with the bullet proof vest of righteousness. Wear the sturdy boots of the gospel of peace, and carry the anti-riot shield of faith to ward off dangerous missiles. Donít forget to protect your head with the safety helmet of salvation. And always have available your best weapon-- the word of God supplied by the Spirit.

As we consider Paulís warnings about being ready for Satanís attacks is it possible that a bit of conspiracy paranoia has begun to influence Paul?
He certainly felt the full force of everything evil as he carried out his work as an apostle so did he imagine a spiritual mugger lurking in every dark shadow?
Did he spend of his life looking over his shoulder fearful of something horrible taking him by surprise?
Paul had certainly felt the power of evil as he faced some pretty harsh opposition to his message about salvation through Jesus and we can understand if Paul is over reacting when he says (and I read from "The Message"),
"Stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels" (Eph 6:11,12 The Message).

No, Paul hasnít become paranoid and weird. Really in spite of the suffering and attacks by Satan he has experienced, Paul is really very relaxed and contented. There is no paranoia in him at all.

Paul has been likened to a cat. When a cat stretches out in the sunshine, or on a rug in front of a fire or heater, you wonít find anything more relaxed. Yet if a danger suddenly threatens, the same contented purring cat suddenly becomes a hissing, claws bared, fur standing on end, ready to deal with any threat kind of cat. A cat is an expert at both complete relaxation and readiness for any threat.

Paul had plenty to say about the peace which came to him through Christ. He was arrested, flogged, jailed, banned from some cities, mugged by robbers, beaten up or stoned by mobs, shipwrecked, marooned on an island and yet he didnít get rattled. Paul was calm in whatever awkward situation he found himself.

Knowing Christís love and the peace that only Jesus can give enabled him to say, "Anywhere at any time, I am content. Ö I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me" (Philippians 4:12,13).
"Nothing on earth or in the heavens can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).

Paul was writing from prison. He had reason to panic. The battle was real. But like a cat he knew what it meant to be relaxed in the love of Christ and he knew that the danger of evil was never far away.

When Paul warns us about the constant spiritual dangers we face, and asks us to be always ready and on stand-by for an attack, he is not being a panic artist. This cool cat is as level-headed as they come. He knows the hazards of being loyal to our Lord. He knows that as long as we draw breath in this world we are never safe from possible attack.

Such spiritual assaults can take the form of criticism and abuse, or constant sniping. Or we can be attacked by a whole mob of temptations. Pressures and temptations are all around us, and some rise up like traitors from within us.

It goes without saying that Jesus took Satan and evil seriously.

Remember the occasion when a naked wild man came rushing toward Jesus and his disciples. He lived liked an animal in the nearby burial caves in a cemetery. We are told demons had taken over his life. He became uncontrollable and dangerous.

As the wild man rushed downhill from the tombs, eyes crazed, screaming at the top of his lungs, it must have been a frightening sight for the disciples. The demons recognised Jesus. They were afraid; they knew that Jesusí had the power to send them back from where they came from. Jesus demonstrates his power by simply asking, "What is your name?" The demons were in control of the wild man but Jesus was in control of them. He commands them to come out of the man and enter a nearby herd of pigs.

When the local people from the town come out to see what was going on they were shocked at what they saw. This once wild man was "sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind" (Luke 5:35).

In fact, the gospel writers see Jesusí ministry as a confrontation with Satan and evil. A woman who has been ill for 12 years and seen every doctor for a cure, a child who dies from sickness, disciples at the mercy of a violent storm, a man paralysed all his life, a boy who has uncontrollable fits were unable to do anything to make their situation better. There was only one who was more powerful than the evil that was affecting them and that was Jesus.

Iím especially glad that Jesus has all power and authority when it comes to Satan. Iím especially glad simply because Satan is far more powerful than we are.

Satan blinds us. We might have heard the same message from the Bible over and over, but Satan tempts us to trivialise what God is saying to us.
We interpret what is said in such a way so as to let ourselves off the hook;
we refuse to believe that God is speaking to us and is calling us to obedience.

Satan wants to control us,
to possess us,
to lead us astray by telling us that wrong is right, that the truth is a lie, that God does not love us,
to influence us to make choices that fly in the face of God's will for us,
Satan loves bitterness, hatred, violence, arguments;
he loves dividing people and especially dividing families and the church.
He can enter the hearts of people and cause so much harm. Drunkenness, drug abuse, greed, road rage, vulgar language, racial prejudice, abusiveness, despair, sexual promiscuity; Iím sure you get the picture.

The apostle Peter reminds us that Satan is not to be underestimated. "Be alert, be on watch!" he says, "Your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him" (1 Peter 5:8,9).

I know itís not fashionable to talk about Satan as if he is a real person. We make jokes about the devil and donít take too seriously talk about the power that Satan has over people but that doesnít remove the fact that right now, here in our own culture there is battle going on. Just look at the news reports and you will see what a grip he has on our society. You donít have to be a genius to work out that a battle for the mind and soul is always going on here. There is big stuff happening like rapes, murders, bombings, and the young and the innocent are victims. But there is also the Ďhiddení stuff going on in peopleís lives that slowly and subversively draw them away from God's ways. The problem is that people have left Jesus out of their lives or sidelined Jesus and so Satan walks right on in.

And letís not simply say, "Itís not my fault. I was led astray". Thatís what Adam said about Eve when he chose to disobey God. That argument didnít work for Adam and it doesnít work for us today. Satan tempts but itís our choice to disobey God. As I said, Iím glad that Jesus is more powerful than Satan and that Jesus has broken the hold that Satan has over us.

James says, "So then, submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you" (4:7). We need a power that is far greater than any power we have in ourselves. We need the power of Christ on our side if we are going to resist the devil.

As Jesus faced the cross, he said, "Now is the time for the ruler of this world to be overthrown" (John 12:30).
The power of Satan was shattered on the cross, shattered by the invincible power of God's love for each of us.
We have been given the weapons we need to overcome Satanís attacks,
God's Word of promise and love,
forgiveness and the might of God on our side,
peace, faith and hope that come from Jesus himself,
prayer and the Holy Spirit.
Satan will tempt us and we will give in but through Jesusí death and resurrection we are forgiven and free. The victory is ours. The battle has been won.

Earlier I likened a Christian to a cat - ever so relaxed but always ready to spring to the defence. In the grace of God we can relax, feel secure, assured of our place in the heart of God and in the family of God, confident because our loving Lord will always be watching over us. At the same with the strength that comes from having Christ on our side, be ready to stand up to the devilís tricks.

Paul states, "We have complete victory through him who loved us!" (Romans 8:37).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd August 2009

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