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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version
Lent I - 2/21/10 Is. 58; Ps. 50; 2 Cor. 6:1-10; Mt. 4:1-11
Our Gospel lesson brings us face to face with spiritual warfare in the Bible. Jesus stands face to face with Satan, the arch-criminal of the universe.
Spiritual warfare was rarely a topic of the Old Testament, and the figure of Satan occurs very seldom. The serpent in the Garden of Eden is not called Satan or the Devil, although the Church has always identified the serpent with Satan, as the arch-criminal of the universe.
The history of Satan in Biblical history is worth looking at. It was not until New Testament times, or perhaps shortly before, that spiritual warfare began to be engaged in directly with Satan. We do not read in the Old Testament of anything like spiritual warfare, the people of God, like Jesus, casting out demons, directly confronting the forces of darkness.
The word ‘Satan’ means accuser or enemy. We hear about the "accuser of the brethren" in Revelation 12:10, who "accuses them day and night before our God". Satan is seen as a kind of nasty prosecuting attorney who is out to get everybody. He plays the role of accusing the people of God to undo them in the estimation of God, as the story of Job illustrates.
For most of Old Testament history, Satan did not play much of a role in Hebrew thinking and theology. After the Garden of Eden and the Fall, we hear of Satan in Job. It may be one of the earliest books of the Bible, but that is not certain. Job lived in the Land of Uz, far to the south of Judah and Israel, and was thus not a Hebrew. In any event, the theological argument between Job and his friends is one of the most sophisticated theological discussions in the whole of the Bible. Job is pictured as intellectually no slouch. And it got included in the Hebrew scriptures. Whether it was written as real history or as a parable is also uncertain.
But Satan plays his typical role of accuser, in a rather nasty way trying to show that Job has no spiritual integrity, that Job is good only on the surface, and that if Job is put to a test of loyalty to God, he will not pass the test.
Apart from Job, we hear of Satan only once, when he tempts David to take a census of his people. From there on, nothing until Zechariah, some five or six centuries later after the Exile.
It was during the Exile that the Hebrews began to catch on to the significance of Satan for their thinking. They may have been partially inspired by the Zoroastrian religion in Babylonia which believed in a dualistic God of Light and God of Darkness, sometimes pictured as twins, which battled until a final victory of the good over the evil.
But the Biblical Satan, the dark side, was not, as in Zoroastrianism, a twin to the God of Light who is later defeated, but a creature who had rebelled and wanted to be himself first above all.
The significance of Satan for Hebrew theology was that they no longer had to attribute all events directly to God, but understood that evil forces besides ourselves in the creation caused many of the destructive conditions and events. No longer was every bad circumstance necessarily attributed to God as His judgement on them. Having plausible explanations for the massive evils about us, other than the intentions and actions of God Himself, does make the notion of a loving God more plausible.
Making life easier for God, so to speak, and ourselves, does not prove the reality of a Satanic figure, but nevertheless, the depth, persistence, and intransigence of evil in every age of mankind does seem to require an explanation beyond the simple and obvious fact of human sin and error. There must be more to the story.
And, indeed there is. Jesus was very clear on the
fact of demonic forces and of a Satanic leadership of those forces. Satan was
the counterfeit king of those created beings who had chosen against God, and was
building a counterfeit-kingdom.
But Satan, we sometimes forget, was a creature, not God. Satan is therefore vulnerable in just the same ways that every other creature is vulnerable. Satan requires those two stabilities which we have been investigating for some weeks, first, ontological stability, stability of one’s being and personhood, and secondly, moral stability, a sense of meaning and purpose for life.
But since Satan refused to receive those from God as a gift, as gracefully given, he would have to get them somewhere else. He does it the same way all the rest of us fallen creatures do it, by begging, borrowing, or stealing them from those around oneself. Satan relies upon our own vulnerability to entrap us.
We read in Hebrews 2:14 ff., how Jesus became incarnate, sharing in our flesh and blood... "that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage."
So, how are we "through death... subject to lifelong bondage"? What's the connection? We have a fear of death because of our two lost stabilities. We fear death because we have lost our stability of personhood, and do not know how to be a somebody. We fear becoming nobodies -- the final stage of which is death. And, we fear death because we have lost our moral stability, so we fear the judgement of God. Hell seems to yawn beneath us.
Satan then uses that fear by promising to make all things right, promising to make us somebodies, to "become like God", as he promised Eve in the Garden. We feel hung out over an abyss, and Satan sidles up to us, "Hey, have I got a deal for you! You feel hung out to dry??? Come on over here, and stand on my ground. Solid as the rock of Gibraltar! Just trust me, do as I say, and you'll have all ya want!"
Satan is trying to do just what Jesus was doing with His disciples, drawing them into a deep dependency and obedience to Himself. But Jesus did it -- so that He could lead them to the power of the Holy Spirit to stabilize them as persons, and to lead them to the throne of the Father where they could be forgiven and receive new marching orders, a new purpose for existence. Jesus does not need our worship. The need is on our side. We need to worship Him -- so that He can lead us back to health and wholeness in the life of the Trinity.
Satan has other ideas. He needs our worship -- to make himself feel like a somebody -- just like every other tyrant on earth. They want control over our lives to feed their own empty egos. Or they wither and die.
It was all perfectly symbolized in the pagan sacrifices of animals and persons on their bloody altars. Satan and his crowd are voracious for victims. Satan does not care whether you live or die. He wants you to live only long enough so that he can chew on you for a while -- until you have no more life left. Then he spits you out and looks for another victim, another whom he can convince that he is the way, the truth, and the life.
We think of Satan as the Big, Bad, Arch-Criminal of the universe. We might better think of him as the Big Spoiled Brat of the Universe -- the ultimate self-centered brat. And we ought to treat him just like that. For those who are secure in Christ, Satan is no threat, just another spoiled brat.
In the Garden of Eden, God did not warn Adam of Satan lurking in his Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I used to wonder about that. Why would God not warn Adam and Eve about the obvious and present danger to their very lives?
God did warn Adam. So long as Adam did not eat of the fruit of that tree, Satan was no threat to Adam or Eve. They had received the only commandment they needed. Do not eat of that tree, the tree of rebellion against God. Had they not eaten of that tree, they would have remained totally safe. They would have retained and matured in their ontological and moral stabilities, and become more than a match for Satan.
They would then have eaten instead of the Tree of
Life, which I believe to be the Tree of the Cross, and become capable of taking
the world back from Satan.
Jesus came to do the opposite of what Satan was doing. Satan comes to devour us for his own ego needs -- his two instabilities. Jesus comes to give Himself for us, to resolve our ego needs -- our two instabilities.
Just as the pagan altars show the pagan dependency on
demonic forces, so the altar of God shows the law and grace of God -- the Son of
God offering Himself for our lives, dying even at our hands, so that we can eat
His body and drink His blood -- that is, receive His life, restoring our two
God knows that we too will be drawn into spiritual warfare, and wants to prepare us to face Satan directly. We take our directions from the example of Jesus.
In the Gospel, Jesus meets Satan almost casually. He has been fasting for 40 days and nights, and Satan sidles up to Him and offers, "Let me show you how to be comfortable. You must be hungry. And who will miss a few stones here in this desert of stones? Take a few stones and command them to be bread!"
Satan knows, like the centurion, that Jesus can command anything. But Jesus quotes, it seems, almost matter of factly, from Deuteronomy 8:2-3: "And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.... And He humbled you, and let you hunger and fed you with manna which you did not know...., that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord."
This is the temptation to trust the world's priorities for that which nourishes and sustains us, to put personal comfort ahead of obedience to our God-given purpose, rather than to trust God for that which will sustain us, and to grab for satisfaction.
Yes, God gives us food. But God has more than food in mind for us. He has spiritual maturity, the capacity and determination in any possible circumstance to be obedient to what God has in mind for us. Jesus is saying to Satan that -- until the Father puts it into my hand, it is not mine to take. I will not grab....
This is the mothering temptation, to grab good and nurturing things in ways that hinder our spiritual maturing. We want to pamper ourselves. That is why we fast, not because food is bad, but because there can be circumstances when we must deny ourselves food in order to serve God, and we must trust that God will supply those necessities in His own way. We must let go and let God. Jesus would end His fasting when the Father said so, not when His flesh said so.
And then the second temptation up on the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem: "If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time thou dash They foot against a stone"
Again Jesus quotes from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:16: "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God..."
Don't push the Hand of God, do not try to make God do something for you by putting God in a hard spot, like endangering your own life.
This is the temptation to "be somebody" in the eyes of other people, to demonstrate one's importance. "Look what I can do!" God will make us into somebodies without our forcing His Hand to keep us safe. We become a somebody by obedience, not by brazenness.
This might be called the childhood temptation -- as we struggle to be a somebody, pushing the hand of our parents, showing ourselves off, pushing their hand to save us from the consequences of our own stupidity.
And the third temptation up on the mountain top where Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. It is like, in The Lord of the Rings, the mountain in Mordor from which Sauron, the wicked king, surveys all the kingdoms of the world.
Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3, that if he wants to see the Kingdom of God, he must be born again, born from above, born into the family of God. He must become a child of God. But Satan knows that Jesus wants the kingdoms of the earth back from Satan. So Satan offers an easy way, no crucifixion! Satan does not want to see the Kingdom of God, and wants at any price to subvert the King of kings and Lord of lords, by seducing Him, yes, to seek control of those wicked and rebellious earthly kingdoms -- just do it Satan's way!
This might be called the fathering temptation (or the
political temptation), the temptation to be the Sovereign, the King of kings --
Satan's way (the United Nation's way). It is the way we pursue when we do not
see the true King or His kingdom. We settle for second best, and failure.
In each kind of temptation, Satan draws us from God and makes us dependent upon himself rather than God. Jesus replies point us to the mothering temptation, the childing temptation, and the fathering temptation -- because we are made in the Image of God, male and female, fathering and mothering, to become children of God, not children of the world, the flesh, or the devil. We are to be born again into the family of God -- so that we can see and live in the Kingdom of God. Satan wants to abort that, and keep us children of the world where we are vulnerable to him, and can be fodder for his cannibal appetite.
The spiritual war against Satan
requires that we learn the responses of Jesus, and put them to work in our
lives. We must first be born again into the family of God where we have moved
our dependency and our obedience wholly to God Himself and are thus becoming
totally His child, no longer children of the world. We
reenter that Garden of Eden where we are no longer subject to the seductive powers of Satan. We can no longer be seduced into his pleasure-seeking, and we are no longer seduced into obedience to his will. Who needs the tinsel when we have the substance?
As we settle into the life of the Kingdom with God
and one another, we move beyond temptation, to where the temptations of the
world, the flesh, and the devil no longer have any interest for us because our
basic needs are already fully met. We are no longer broken people wandering in a
desert of confusion. We know who we are and where we are going. As in Eden,
Satan becomes a toothless and clawless tiger.
The culture war all about us is fundamentally a spiritual war. If we do not fight it at that level, it cannot be won. Politics, the military, economics, and morality cannot be put into their proper order until our worship is in its proper order. Until we are born again, we will see only the broken and hurtful kingdoms of this world, never the fullness, stability, and peace of the Kingdom of God. We will worship at the many altars of Satan -- or at the altar of God. We will accept Jesus' sacrifice for us, or we will continue to sacrifice each other.
That means that the secular UN, and the secular politics of the nations are our enemy, not our friend. Friendship with the world is still enmity with God. That means that, yes, we must continue to support Godly policies in the face of unGodly policies -- be pro-life rather than pro-death. But at the same time we must aim chiefly to win souls to Christ. Only so can the population understand the Godly policies and why they are always better than those of the world, the flesh, or the devil.
And to make sense of our need for salvation, we must
teach the world about those two stabilities -- and about Jesus, who alone can
Father in heaven, make us the kind of people who know you so well that you spill out of us, that we talk about you with grace and ease in public, and draw people into Your presence. In Jesus Name. Amen
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