The Malevolence of the Devil

February 21, 2016 in Bible - NT - 1 Peter, Bible - NT - Colossians, Bible - NT - Mark, Cross of Christ, Meditations, Satan, Temptation, Word of God
Mark 1:12–13 (NKJV)
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
1 Peter 5:8–9 (NKJV)
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.
As Christians, God has called us to fight against three primary enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And since we find ourselves on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, continuing to anticipate our remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it is fitting that we look at the third member of this unholy triumvirate – the devil. Last week we considered the power of our flesh; today, the malevolence of the devil.
The devil was and is a created being, an angelic figure, who rebelled against God in the beginning. He was filled with pride and rebelled against the Good Creator, seeking to exalt himself rather than to exalt His Lawful Lord. In this rebellion other angels took part – and they are the demons whom our fathers worshiped in their idolatry. These demons often possessed hapless victims and drove them toward evil and to this day they feast on human suffering and misery. The devil is their leader and prowls about seeking whom he may devour, endeavoring to swallow us up in his own judgment.
It was against this malevolent being that our Lord Jesus waged war during His 40 days in the wilderness, an event that Lent recalls. Jesus did three things in the wilderness that we must remember.
First, Jesus fought against the devil. The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to enter into the lists. He did not go into the wilderness for an extended vacation but to contend with the Evil One. So we are called to imitate Him in this. We too are to “resist the devil” – are to be sober and vigilant; to be on our guard like good soldiers. Why? Because, like Jesus, we are at war with the devil who would like nothing more than to destroy us.
Second, Jesus fought using the Word of God as His weapon. The Word of God was for Jesus (even as for us) the Sword of the Spirit with which He manfully attacked the perversions of the wicked one. You see only occasionally does Satan show himself in lurid displays like demon possession; more commonly he seduces us through sin, temptation, compromise, and mediocrity. He is content to destroy people from behind the scenes. And he accomplishes this chiefly by undermining the integrity of God’s Word and causing us to doubt God’s reliability and goodness. “Has God really said…?” was not only the question he posed to Eve in the garden but also the question he poses to each of us in the moment of temptation. So what is the solution? How do we fight him? By clinging tenaciously and faithfully to the Word of God even as Jesus did. In Peter’s words, we are to “Resist him, steadfast in the faith…” To Satan’s question, “Hath God really said…?” we are to reply like Jesus, “Thus it is written…”
Finally, we must never forget that Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was but the prelude to the great contest between Jesus and the devil on the cross. The wilderness anticipated the cross even as Lent paves the way for Good Friday and Easter. On the cross, Satan believed he had achieved his greatest victory; in fact, however, it was his ultimate defeat. Paul writes that Jesus has taken away “the handwriting of requirements which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers [Satan and his minions], He made a public spectacle [a laughingstock] of them, triumphing over them in [the cross]” (Col 2:14-15). Hence, though Satan remains a bitter foe, we must never forget that he is a defeated foe. Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.

As we continue anticipating the coming arrival of Good Friday and Easter, therefore, let us (like our Lord Jesus) enter boldly into the lists and fight bravely against the wiles of the devil. And reminded of our call to fight, let us begin by confessing that far too often we have given way to our enemy. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

Homosexuality and the Christian

April 23, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Book Reviews, Homosexuality, Sexuality, Temptation

I finished reading Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse. Yarhouse is Professor of Psychology at Regent University. I appreciated his distinction between attraction, orientation, and identity. Attraction is a base level sexual temptation that certain folks experience more than others for members of the same sex. Orientation is attraction that seems to be persistent. Identity is when someone chooses to label themselves as homosexual. I think that these distinctions are helpful; he is articulating James 1:13-15 but in a way that is at times confusing. James would be willing to acknowledge that certain of our desires are sinful and that these desires move us to practice sin. So sin is more than mere behavior – it reaches to our desires. Yarhouse seems to want to say that our “attractions” are never sinful in themselves; he places the label of sin almost exclusively on our behavior and I’m not convinced that’s biblical. Nevertheless, it is true that being tempted is not the same as sinning – Jesus was tempted and yet without sin. So I’m not completely throwing out his distinctions because I think there is a kernel of truth there. Yarhouse is a psychologist and so speaks for that community; as a pastor I’m much more interested in what Scripture has to say and on that I find him less than fully satisfying. Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay? is more helpful and makes some of the same distinctions.

I appreciated his emphasis on reaching people who struggle with same-sex attraction – and reaching them as “our people.” I think that this is an area where I could certainly grow. At the same time, I simply don’t agree with his approach to some specific cases; for instance, if my child were to choose homosexuality, I would not “respect” that choice. I think that is the wrong framework within which to process the decision. I guess I’ll “respect” him to the extent of holding him accountable for his choice and urging the church to hold him accountable; but I won’t “respect” him in the sense of saying, “I recognize that’s a legitimate choice to make.” May it never be!

So while there were some good an helpful distinctions and the book was very charitable, there are times where I think his allegiance to psychology is more apparent than to Scripture. 

The Fullness of Deity

August 10, 2014 in Bible - NT - Colossians, King Jesus, Meditations, Temptation, Trinity
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Colossians 2:6-10
One temptation that routinely faces us is to substitute our own religious ideas for the Word of God. Today we will see that Satan strives to persuade us to abandon God’s Word so that he can unmoor us. Without God’s Word we’re like a boat adrift, left to try and find some substitute meaning and purpose to life. So Paul warns us to beware lest we be cheated by such trifles, expressions of human tradition and not divine truth.
Paul informs us that the reason these various substitutes are vanity is because they are not connected to Christ in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Jesus was God Himself in human flesh. So the reason it is folly to reject Christ is because when He spoke, God spoke; when He acted, God acted; when He wept, God wept; when He thundered, God thundered. Our Lord Jesus Christ was the full embodiment of the deity and so we can know that the things he spoke, thought, and did were infallible revelations of God’s person and will. No clearer revelation was or is possible.
The apostles, therefore, reserve some of their most severe denunciations for those who preach a “false Christ” – a Christ other than the one who lived and breathed and spoke in human history. Jesus really was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, baptized in the Jordan, ministered in Galilee, died on Golgotha, raised in a garden near Jerusalem, and ascended from a mountain near Bethany. So it is to this Jesus we cling – the Jesus who was and is God Himself clothed in human flesh.
If Jesus is not God then the things he revealed are no more solid and sure than the teachings of Plato or Aristotle or Hume or Sartre. If Jesus is not God, then we are left with the mere opinions and traditions of men. But glory be to God, the Jesus of history was and is fully God and fully man. He is fully capable of revealing the Father to us and fully capable of identifying with us – because He bears in His one person the two natures – divine and human.
Hence, it is no coincidence that of all the differences between non-Christian religions and pseudo-Christian movements like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the one thing they hold in common is a rejection of the full deity of our Lord Jesus. This is the center point of Satan’s attack – obscure the Person of Jesus. But Paul tells us quite plainly today – in Him all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.

And so, knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ was indeed God Himself clothed in human flesh, let us confess that rather than pay attention to His Word as we ought, we frequently resort to the opinions and traditions of men that can bring only vanity and emptiness. Let us kneel and confess our failure to listen to our Lord.

Sennacherib, Satan, and the Nature of Temptation

March 23, 2009 in Bible - OT - 2 Kings, Meditations, Temptation

“31 Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive groves and honey, that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.”
2 Kings 18:31-32

In the text before us today, Sennacherib’s messenger tries to get the citizens of Jerusalem to open the gates of the city by making grandiose promises to the people. For several years now Sennacherib had been laying waste the countryside around Jerusalem and was now laying siege to the holy city itself. The people were understandably frightened. They had no illusions as to their doom – they would be torn from their homes, sent into a foreign land, likely seeing Jerusalem never again. But Sennacherib knew that with such a clear understanding of their future, the citizens would never open the gates. And so he makes them grand promises. You’ve got my intentions all mixed up, Sennacherib declares. I’m really bringing joy and harmony your way. The future under my rule is bright. I’m going to let you stay in your homes for a while and then, when the time is right, I’m going to escort you to another home – just like the one you’ve got, with plenty of land, plenty of food, plenty of drink.

To us the offer of the king of Assyria should seem patently absurd – that is, if we know anything about the Assyrians. Their brutality was legendary. Masters of the most current military technology and ignorant of all ethical restraint, they not infrequently slaughtered entire cities and repopulated them with inhabitants from other lands. Listen as one of their kings boasts of his exploits:

“Many [of the defeated] I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar [pile] of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts [stakes] round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire, the city I destroyed, I devastated, I burned it with fire and consumed it.” [As quoted in Don Nardo, The Assyrian Empire, pp. 12,13.]

This is what the inhabitants of Jerusalem could in reality anticipate. But this blunt description is what you provide after the victory is won – in the mean time, Sennacherib knew, promise them the world.

The offer which Sennacherib makes contrasts vividly with the reality which was lying in wait and teaches us valuable lessons about the nature of temptation. All temptation gets its force from twisting the facts and making it appear that satisfaction and joy lie where they in fact do not. Satan is no fool. And like Sennacherib he knows that no one will submit ahead of time to one who promises them raw sewage for supper and dead cat for dessert. And so he couches his temptations in the most plausible of disguises. Whether it is Eve beholding the fruit which is good to make one wise or the children of Israel longing for the leeks and onions they enjoyed in Egypt, the nature of temptation is always the same. Satan endeavors to make it look attractive. He wants to be the one who defines the good life – the life that makes one truly happy.

But note that he has no interest in our happiness – just like Sennacherib had no intention of making the life of the Judahites as pleasant as he promised. Like the pagan gods of antiquity, the demons who owed their origin to his machinations, Satan is selfish and consuming – promising the good life but bringing destruction to all those who succumb to his wiles.

And so, this morning as we enter into the presence of our thrice holy God, let us come confessing the many ways in which our community believes the lies of the evil one. But let us not stop there. What lies do you come believing? What lies have you believed this week? Whom have you allowed to define the good life? Have you listened to the one who promises happiness but ultimately gives grief or have you listened to our Heavenly Father who knows what will truly bring us joy and gladness and who has created us that we might find our joy in Him? Let us kneel and confess these things to Him.