This week we’re going to do something a little different. Yes, I’m aware that I’ve only done this once and that last week I told you that we’d be going through the gospel of John, but that was before I came across this amazing clip from a John Piper sermon that I really want to share. I came across it while listening to the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, but it’s originally from a sermon he preached on Dec 17, 2000, from Romans 6:22-23 called “The Free Gift of God is Eternal Life.” I’ll put a link on the website if you want to hear the whole thing.
But before we jump into that, I think I should do a bit of an introduction.
One of the troubles with preaching Romans is that you’re almost always jumping into the middle of something. The whole book is constructed as a bunch of well-built, systematic theological teachings, arguments, and connected thoughts that really do need each other to be fully understood. In other words, we need context.
And to make it worse, not only are we jumping into the middle of the Apostle Paul’s teaching – that started, like, all the way back in chapter one – but we’re also taking just a clip out of John Piper’s sermon. So that sort of makes things doubly ripe for trouble.
But I’ll do my best.
In chapter 1 Paul presents the Gospel as the revelation of the Righteousness of God and compares it to the wickedness of man. That leads to chapter 2 and 3 which speaks of how God’s Righteousness leads to a necessary wrath against those sinners… and who are those sinners? Everyone. For All have sinned. That’s the problem. We’re sinners, we can’t save ourselves, we don’t even want to, and we are all destined to stand before a wrathful God who will condemn us to everlasting torment. That’s a real problem.
What’s the solution?
In Chapter 4 we learn about how the man Jesus Christ, the son of God, was perfectly righteous, and died in our place, and that the only way we can be saved is through faith in the risen Jesus Christ. But what about people in the Old Testament before Jesus? Paul answers that too. The answer is still faith.
Then, in chapter 5, we see that that faith naturally leads to a wonderful hope, because our faith in Jesus makes it so that we can stand before God as righteous, clean, holy, perfect in Jesus. Justified by faith, at peace with God through the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just like Adam got us into this mess and condemned humanity to the curse, so Jesus got us out of the mess, and redeemed his people from the curse. And he offers this gift for free.
Then, in chapter 6, Paul hears his detractors cry out: “What do you mean it’s free? Free? That’s madness. Then everyone will just go sin all the time, ask forgiveness, and go to heaven. That’s ridiculous. How can you go to heaven without following the law, being religious, being good, doing good things? Free salvation, this amazing grace, will lead to spiritual anarchy!
Which leads us close to our passage today…
I’ll pick up the reading in Romans 6:15 and we’ll end at Romans 6:23. Remember, the clip from John Piper is only talking about the last couple verses, but now we’ve got some context.
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15–23)
You’ve got to love John Piper’s passion – and his illustrations – and so many quotable quotes!
“Satan is a liar – he even lies about his lies. … Oh how we should hate him. Oh how free you should want to be right now from this slave-master’s clutches on your lives so that you’re not a dupe and a lacky day in and day out like most people seem to be.”John Piper
As far as an application goes I can only share my own personal reflection and how this impacted me.
I think it’s easy to become friends with sin, to think it’s not that big of a deal, to keep a few favourite sins as pets. To make an agreement with the devil that you’ll keep on doing these things that kill your soul – if he’d just leave you alone.
I know that’s been my temptation. My last few years have been pretty brutal. I’ve felt pain and misery in every arena of my life, except my physical body. It’s almost like when God told Satan to do whatever he wanted to Job, but didn’t allow him to touch his body – except I didn’t remain upright and righteous like Job – but I did get miserable and start to complain like job.
And I could feel the compromise setting in where I’d start to think, “Ok, I know God doesn’t want me to do this, or I know God wants me to do this, but I’m exhausted, hurt, sad, afraid, wiped out – and, like Satan did to Jesus in the wilderness – he offered me an easier way. Just bow the knee a little, just compromise a little, just be a little more selfish, succumb to hopelessness, fear of man, the belief that the immediate comfort from sin is better than sitting patiently at God’s feet, that going through all this stress is a good excuse to avoid bible reading, avoid prayer, avoid worship, avoid thanksgiving, avoid other believers.
And, John Piper her reminds me that not only was I believing lies, but I was becoming Satan’s lacky – and I didn’t even know it. I was doing what Paul said in Romans 1:25 that unbelievers do. I was “exchanging the truth of God for a lie and serving the creature – Satan and myself – rather than the Creator who is blessed forever.”
Even today, as I sit here recording this, I’m still struggling with the motivation to do daily readings, study, journal, pray, listen to worship music. I was talking to a friend the other day and told him that I know for a fact that there’s a lot of stuff twisted up inside me, and it’s like I’m too afraid to sit down and let God unravel it – because in doing so, I’m afraid I’ll unravel completely.
But that too is a lie. It’s a lie to believe that coming to God will be worse than not. It’s a lie to believe that letting the Great Physician do some Soul Surgery will be worse than letting the cancer grow inside me. And those lies come straight from the devil himself.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt the same way – or if you do now. Are you believing lies about God, exchanging God’s truth for the lies of the devil, and becoming Satan’s willing slave, lackey, and dupe – instead of letting Jesus be Lord, friend, and saviour?
Ask yourself this – how would you know? Could it be that you are so deceived that you literally don’t know God’s truth from Satan’s lies? That all the excuses piled up in your brain, the ones that seem so good, and right, and reasonable to you – are actually just demonic traps for fools, keeping you from experiencing actual joy, actual freedom, actual peace, actual contentment, actual healing? Could it be that the food Satan keeps feeding you, the table you keep running to, that you think is so helpful and good – is actually poinsoning you and you don’t even know it?
Maybe it’s time to ask God to tell you the truth, to show you the truth, to invite him to shine light in places where you haven’t let him before, and to open your eyes to the spiritual reality in your life. That takes courage, sacrifice, trust – and it takes humility before God, and before other Christian leaders and friends to which God is going to have you confess your sins and get accountability from.
Do you feel that fear welling up inside? Do you feel that anxiety? Do you feel that anger that says that no one can tell you what to do, that you’re fine, and all the myriad excuses for why you shouldn’t be opening your heart, soul, and mind in that way….. that’s the devil trying to make sure you stay his. Don’t let him. And I won’t either.
Ok, just for fun we’re going to start today with a True or False test of some random questions I found around the internet:
- Approximately one-quarter of human bones are in the feet. (True – 52 bones in the feet and 206 in the whole body.)
- In ancient Rome, a special room called a vomitorium was available for diners to purge food in during meals. (False – It was the name for the entranceway to a stadium, nothing more.)
- A slug’s blood is blue-green. (True)
- Sir Paul McCartney’s middle name is James (False – James is his first name, his middle name is actually Paul)
- The Guinness World Record for most fingers and toes at birth is held by an Indian man born with 14 fingers and 20 toes in total. (True)
- The ‘black box’ in an airplane is black. (False – it is orange.)
- Centipedes always have 100 feet. (False)
Truth and Philosophy
I know this sounds like I might be stating the patently obvious, but truth is important. Going a step further I will state something else that seems obvious: believing that truth exists is important. When you look up the definition of “truth”, but first, definition is the one we usually understand: a truth is something that corresponds with facts and reality. It’s accurate and exact.
Most people, if you sat them down over coffee and talked face to face with them, would agree with those statements. Truth is important, believing in truth is important, and truth is something that represents accurate reality. A lot of people still find these things so obvious that they are unnecessary to even state, but there is an ever-growing contingent of people that no longer believe that there is such a thing as truth. From mainstream media to politics to religion, the mere existence of truth is being debated in all circles of our lives.
The problem here is that the concept of truth is a philosophical one. A good scientist wants to conduct his research without bias. A good news reporter wants to tell a story that corresponds to the facts. A good politician wants to make decisions based in reality. A good theologian wants to learn about God without importing their own preconceptions.
But the philosopher’s job is to go deeper, which is why Philosophy is called the mother of all sciences. (Theology is the queen of all sciences by the way.) Where a scientist seeks truth, a philosopher has to ask, “What is truth? Why is truth important? How can we even know truth exists?” Big, huge, complicated concepts that have captured a lot of attention recently and have been used by a lot of people as a way to dismantle seemingly rational arguments from the inside out.
Someone will stand up and say, “I have evidence that this is true and I have a hundred people to back me up.” And for whatever reason, someone else disagrees with them. Maybe they don’t like the implications of the truth, maybe it forces them to change something or give something up that they don’t want to, and so they disagree. Now this person has a choice. They can either try to find more evidence that counters the other person’s claim, and therefore produce a better, more consistent, more realistic truth – or they can dismantle their argument with philosophy.
They’ll say things like, “You may have a hundred people that agree with you, but I have 10,000 that agree with me.” Does the number of people that agree have anything to do with the actual facts? No. Even if get 10,000 people to believe a lie, that doesn’t make it the truth.
Or they’ll say, “Your truth is only true for now. People in the past didn’t believe that, and people in the future won’t believe it either.” People use this one all the time. Historians say… futurists say… but does the opinions of historians or futurists make the truth any less true? No, but it seems persuasive.
Or how about, “That’s true for you, but it’s not true for me, because I have something that negates your truth. My feelings and my perceptions cancel out your truth.” This is a big one too.
When is an Apple an Apple?
Let’s do a scenario for fun:
A science-type-man goes to a science-type-conference and wants a guaranteed win, so he decides to present something simple that everyone can agree on. He lifts up an apple and says: “I present this apple. This apple is red, crunchy, smooth and delicious.”
That seems like something everyone can agree on, but it doesn’t work. Why? Well, let’s ask the question: is what he has said, true?
Well, unfortunately, they’ve already made a mistake. “Delicious” is an opinion – which will be immediately grabbed onto by their detractors. “You can’t tell me what is delicious and what isn’t! Your opinion is biased! How can we believe anything you say if you believe apples are delicious! I don’t like apples! With your obvious bias, how can we believe it’s red or crunchy either!?”
So the man apologizes and tries again. They say, “I’m sorry. You’re right. Ok, this apple is red, crunchy and smooth.” Someone else stands up and says, “I’m colour blind, and so is my whole group of friends. We cannot see red, and therefore it is not only wrong but offensive to say that apple to be red because there are people who are biologically unable to see it that way! Plus, how can you be sure that everyone sees it as red, maybe some people would call it green! Colour is a construct of the human mind!” The colour-blind side starts to grumble loudly so the man tries to explain, “Yes, I know you don’t see it as red, but let me explain how colour works. This isn’t my opinion it’s based on how light waves reflect off of the surface…” And before he even finishes the leader yells, “Oh, this coming from the guy who thought that all apples are delicious! Your conclusions are bunk and your bias against colour-blindness is hateful. ”
Fearing potential for violence he backs off. “Well, at least we can agree that this apple is crunchy and smooth.” Someone else yells, “I have an electron microscope and I have seen what an apple looks like at an atomic level! It’s not smooth! It’s all rough and bumpy! His science is wrong!”
Someone else cries, “And compared to eating rocks or hard candy, that apple is nowhere close to crunchy!”
“Yeah”, someone else says, “I’ve been eating apple fritters at Tim Hortons for years and there’s never been a single crunch!”
The scientist sputters for a moment and says, “Yes, but I’m not talking about apple fritters!” Another person yells, “He hates apple fritters! He hates Tim Hortons! He’s against Canada!” Three-quarters of the room stands up in disgust and walks out on the presentation. Only a small group is left now, and most of them aren’t very happy.
The man lets out a deep sigh saying, “Ok, so, we can’t agree that it’s smooth, or crunchy, or red, or delicious….. then can we simply agree that this is an apple.” A Sunday School teacher in the front says, “It was an apple that tempted Eve in the garden. We shouldn’t be eating apples.” And walks out.
Another says, “Well, that’s your opinion. I was watching a documentary last night and they said that there are over 7500 varieties of apples throughout the world, and some varieties of pears and other fruits that look like apples… did you know that?” The man says, “No, I didn’t.” To which the reply comes, “Well, then how can you possibly even know that’s an apple?” At this point now, he’s not even sure.
That’s a fictional story, but it represents a very real thing happening in our world today. There is a philosophical war against truth, and it all sounds very, very convincing. And there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in it, and so people take it very personally, and that makes it very hard to keep talking about truth because it can offend people. But we cannot simply give up the fight for truth because when we do that, we give up the very foundation of our lives. If we stop believing in truth, then we will have nothing to stand on.
And turning now to a spiritual reality, that’s exactly where Satan wants us – foundationless. We are much easier targets for temptation if we don’t believe in truth, if we cannot state truth, if we do not know the truth. We are much easier to manipulate, to trick, to confuse, and to use for nefarious schemes, if we don’t have the truth within us and have not built our lives on the solid foundation of the truth.
Answering With Truth
Open up to Luke 4:1-13 and let’s read the passage we started studying last week again.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
This is our last sermon in this depression series. Last week we looked at this text from the perspective of learning that, when you are sad, grieving, or truly depressed, Jesus really does know what you are going through. He’s felt what you are feeling and experienced the same weakness. We coupled this with the passage in Hebrews 4:15 which says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” We talked about how Jesus can “sympathize with our weaknesses” and “in every respect has been tempted as we are”, but how did He do it “without sin”?
The answer is complicated, but today I want to talk about one way, which is that He knew and used the truth.
There is Something Greater Going On
I don’t want to go through all the temptations in detail again today, but consider how Jesus answered Satan when he said, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” He was attacking Jesus’ identity, using His hunger against Him, trying to get Him to show some weakness. His statement was a manipulation of the truth. Of course Jesus is the Son of God, and of course, He has power, but Satan stated it as doubtful… “how can you really be sure that apple is an apple?” Satan suggested a course of action to Jesus that was actually doable and would have satiated Jesus’ physical hunger. It almost seemed like a caring plan.
Sure, Jesus was hungry, but there was something greater going on. Jesus knew what Satan was trying to do and answered with truth: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Jesus was quoting part of Deuteronomy 3:8 which says, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
The real truth, the full truth, is that sometimes God leads us into the wilderness, into difficult places, and makes us hungry on purpose because He knows that is the only way we will be humbled enough to turn to Him. So long as we are fed, fat, and happy, we rarely turn our attention towards God or the condition of our souls. And so there are times when God makes us uncomfortable, hungry, longing, desperate, pleading – so that we turn to Him, and so we can know that He is the provider. We need to know that life isn’t about feeding our stomachs, but about feeding our souls, and that requires us coming to God. If we get distracted by pleasures, then we could lose our immortal soul.
Jesus said it this way to his disciples in Mark 8:34-37:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”
Satan will come to you in your depression and whisper all kinds of temptations to you meant to make you hate your time in the desert, to do anything to distract yourself from your hunger, thirst, and discomfort. He wants you to concentrate on your hunger, on your longing for bread, on just removing that bad feeling.
Whereas, Christians, because of God’s Word, have a totally different perspective of suffering. The truth is that the road of hunger, suffering, and the cross is often exactly what we need to walk in order to learn how to humble ourselves and depend on God, how to pray, how to find Jesus.
So when you are grieving, sad, or going through depression, don’t be so short-sighted to only seek out worldly comforts to make the bad feelings go away. Drinking, drugs, entertainment, and more are always at your fingertips and will feed your hunger for a moment – but what if something greater is going on and there is something better for you. What if you are not meant to simply live from distraction to distraction? What if this time is Jesus asking you to take up your cross, follow Him, and find true life?
And for those who are walking with those who are facing depression and sadness, don’t try to fast-forward it or deny it. Don’t stand there and offer them bread when God wants them to wait for what He has prepared for them. Don’t be like Job’s wife and say something like, “Why are you waiting on God? All suffering is bad. Curse God and die and get it over with.” (Job 2:9ish) Maybe this is a long road they must walk so they can be humbled in spirit and learn how to depend on Him and His Word more.
Resolve in your mind to believe the truth that in your suffering, or theirs, that something greater is going on.
There is Something Worse That Can Happen
In the second temptation Satan said, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
Satan here tempts Jesus to give up His mission and not go through all the suffering His life would bring. He offers a “better plan” that fast forwards what God wants to do, but gets rid of the hard parts. The idea here is that the worst thing in the world is suffering and everyone should try to avoid it.
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, which I will read more of here,
“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you—for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.” (vs 13-15)
The idea here is that there is something worse than going through some human suffering. There is something worse than depression. There is something worse than physical and emotional pain. That that is to have God angry at us. Jesus said it this way to his disciples in Matthew 10:28:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus had just given a warning about how bad it was going to get for those who faithfully followed Him. There would be rejection and pain. They would be delivered to courts, flogged in public, even in the synagogues. They would do nothing wrong, but they would still be dragged before governors and kings to face trials and punishments. And all this would be part of God’s plan so they could witness to more and more people about salvation. Jesus tells them to consider how much evil He has and will endure – and know that they will face even more. You think I came to bring peace, but you will know more pain than peace in this world. Even your family will turn against you. (Matthew 10:16-38)
No doubt, fear filled their faces, because they knew what Jesus said always came true. And Jesus’ response to their fear was twofold. Of course, we know He said things like, “God knows what you are going through. He is with you. You will be rewarded…” But along with that He also said, “…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In other words, there are worse things than floggings and rejection. It is far worse to face God’s wrath. Obey Him first.
This is something we don’t talk a lot about, but it’s really important. When you are facing depression, and even when you are not, you will face all kinds of temptations to make it easier despite what God wants to do with your life. Satan will offer all kinds ungodly, unbiblical, unhelpful of ways out of your pain. He will lie to you and tell you that you deserve temporary relief, that God won’t mind, that it doesn’t matter because He’ll just forgive you anyway.
A Christian’s response must be, “That’s a lie. Sin always has a cost. It always echoes farther than I imagine. There is no such thing as a safe sin. Yes, this hurts, but there is something worse than this – I don’t want to face my Father’s wrath against my sin. I don’t want to face the discipline He will have to do to break this temptation. I have committed my life and soul to Him. It was my sins that made Jesus die for me. It was my sins that nailed Jesus to a cross. I don’t want to add more. I will not give up my faith for a moment of relief, especially since the pain will only come back again. No. You’re a liar. The truth is that there is something worse than pain – and that is turning my back on God, His Son, His Spirit, and His Word.”
In the third temptation Satan “took [Jesus] to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Satan quotes the Bible. The Bible is the source of truth. Remember my apple illustration? Satan is an incredible liar and manipulator of truth, which is why we need to listen to the voice of God and know our Bibles. He will tell us the truth so we can combat Satan when He shows up as an angel of light.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15,
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
This world is full of liars, so we must know the truth well, and listen to the one who will always speak the truth to us – and that is the Holy Spirit in prayer.
Jesus here quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, which says in full, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
The command to not test God is all over scripture. It was at Massah that Israel accused Moses, and therefore God, of bringing them out of Egypt just to kill them with thirst. They were ready to kill Moses and then go back to Egypt because they had lost their faith that God would take care of them. This was after all the miracles they had seen in Egypt, after seeing the pillars of fire and cloud lead them around, and after they had literally just been fed by miraculous bread that fell down from heaven. God had already demonstrated His ability to care for them, but now, because they had gotten thirsty, they doubted if God was even real or not. They had lost their faith, so they demanded that Moses prove, once again, that God was real. They demanded of God to prove once again, that He was real. They were testing Him.
This is another temptation for people who are facing difficult times, especially people of faith. While they are feeling God, God’s presence is unquestioned. They say grace at mealtimes, tell people how blessed they are, thank God for parking spaces and all sorts of small kindnesses. They talk about Jesus and pray to Him with ease.
And then suffering comes, depression sets in, grief and sadness take up residence in their heart and home. Now it’s harder to find things to thank God for. They feel hungry, angry, lonely, tired, despondent, attacked, afraid, even suicidal. They turn to their Bible, but it only reads as a list of demands they can’t fulfill and promises that God doesn’t seem to be good for. They can’t find hope, and all their old, favourite verses seem trite and powerless.
And it’s in those times when Satan comes in and gently says, “Maybe God isn’t real. Maybe you made it all up. Maybe it was a phase, a good idea, but really, it was just an emotional high. How can you be sure He’s real, that He’s listening, that He cares what you do.”
This is the Devil’s way of trying to destroy your foundation. “If there is no God, then all of your strength, your hope, and your truth goes out the window. God’s Word is fiction and can’t help or bring light. God’s people are idiots who are believing a lie. God’s Spirit doesn’t exist and you really are alone. There’s no such thing as good or bad, sin or righteousness, heaven or hell – all you have is now and how you feel in this moment. You are foundationless, hopeless, truthless.”
And so you want to get God to do something spectacular to prove Himself. Now, He’s asking you to come to Him humbly, to wait on Him, to trust Him, to listen to Him, to continue to take up your cross and walk faithfully, to endure suffering so you can build character and spiritual strength, to pray to Him in your heart, to be with Him and allow His presence be enough for you, to get quiet enough to listen to His still, small voice…
But that’s not what you want. You want a spectacle. You want a display. You want Him to perform for you, to dance for you, to show off for you. You want to command Him to do as you will. You want to be God and for Him to be your subject. You want Him to be your magic genie, your Santa Clause, your rich uncle… not your God.
And so, I caution you during your time of depression, not to put God to the test. Don’t listen to the voice that tells you God isn’t real and that the only way He could be is if He would do whatever you say. That’s arrogant, idolatrous and demonic. Instead, allow this time of suffering to humble you, to drive you to your knees. Don’t fast forward it. Don’t deny it. Don’t resent it. God is doing something in and through it. He won’t waste it.
He promises that if you will trust Him, He will use your suffering for your good, your churches good, and His glory. But you must trust and believe. I cannot do that for you. No one can. I cannot make you believe, nor can I make you stop fighting God in your Spirit and submit to Him. You must do that. It is you who must put down the sin that has entangled you. It is you who must choose to read, believe, and speak God’s Word when Satan tempts you. It is you who must resist the devil so He will flee from you (James 4:7). It is you who must get quiet and listen to God’s voice, pray to Him, and come to the church for help. It is you who must choose to be honest about your struggles, your weakness, and your temptations. It is you who must choose to drag it into the light. No one can do that for you. God can show you the truth, I can tell you the truth, your friends can tell you the truth, but it is you who must choose to stop believing the lies and embrace the truth. As you do that, you will experience the presence of God. He is there.
We’ve been talking for the past few weeks about Mental Illness and Depression, something that is all too common in our community. We’ve talked about what Depression is, what causes it, and a bit of what it’s like to live with it. Last week we talked about the stigma of depression and how hard it is to be honest with people – even in the church – about what you are going through.
But if there’s one thing I want to make clear today it’s that Jesus knows what you are going through. A couple weeks ago I said that it’s possible that Jesus Himself faced true depression and I want to take a little time today to explain how important that truth is.
In Hebrews 4:14-16 we read this:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Many people who are going through a time of suffering and pain have a hard time praying. They feel like their prayers bounce off the ceiling, that there’s no way that God can understand what they are going through, and if He does, that He doesn’t care. Those are natural feelings that the Bible spends a lot of time arguing against.
The argument in this passage is that when we are in a “time of need”, what we really need is to “receive mercy and find grace to help”. No one would argue that. When we go through hard times, that’s what we want – mercy, grace and help. But where are we encouraged to turn to? “The throne of grace.” What is that? God’s throne. Before that throne stands a High Priest, a mediator, a go-between, between us broken, human sinners and the Perfectly Holy Creator of the Universe.
This is a big deal. We can’t come to God on our own because our sin prevents us. If we saw God, we’d die. We need someone who can talk to God, and who God will listen to. Who is that? Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life, never sinned, and therefore can stand in the presence of God. And so He has promised to be our mediator, our facilitator, between us and God.
But there’s still a problem. How can Jesus know what we’re going through? He’s Jesus, after all! He’s God’s Son, a perfect person from two thousand years ago. How can He relate to what we’re going through? It was the same with the Old Testament priests. They lived a totally different life than the average person, so how could they pray for anyone? They don’t know what we’re going through!
Scripture says, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The teaching here is that Jesus actually knows exactly what we’re going through, has faced that same problem, that same temptation, that same situation, and yet navigated it perfectly. He literally knows how we feel, what thoughts are racing through our heads, and what it’s like to live surrounded by sin while living in this failing, human flesh. He gets it. He knows what it’s like to face what we are facing.
And to illustrate that today, I would like you to turn with me to Luke 4:1-13.
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
Before we get into taking this passage apart, I want to talk briefly about the nature of temptation.
If you’ve ever worked with addictions then you’ve probably heard of the acronym H.A.L.T., standing for Hungry, Angry, Lonely & Tired, and is a tool meant to help people recognize when they are at their most vulnerable so they won’t relapse. The Christmas Season is a major problem time for a lot of people with addictions, and is similarly a peak-time for spiritual troubles and temptations.
The first letter stands for Hungry. If you’re pinching pennies but are used to spending, or trying to stop the habits of sugar or alcohol by dieting, then you are going to feel hungry. It’s not just food though. It’s about something within you being drawn towards something. You have a craving, a hunger.
The next letter stands for Angry. If you’ve had some bad experiences over the holidays, or you’re back at work and people around you are grumpy, or you’ve been putting things off and need to catch up and it’s not going well, then you could be feeling angry. When we get angry we are more likely to go to our vices to gain control.
The L stands for Lonely. Maybe you had some wonderful times with your family over the holidays but now they’re gone and you feel lonely. Feeling alone can drive us to do foolish, dangerous things just to distract us from our loneliness.
The next letter stands for Tired. The dark and cold, the freezing rain, shoveling, and all Christmas shopping, planning and preparation, the long hours of partying, and then having to get back to work, can leave a person pretty tired.
And that’s just post-holiday stuff. Many of us have other stresses and issues in our lives that have been going on for a longer time and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of relief in sight. Plus some have pre-existing mental and physical conditions that leave you open to feeling miserable even on good days. There are lots of times that we feel extra hungry, angry, lonely and tired.
When those triggers occur, and it all starts to pile on, we tend to be much more open to falling for temptation. These times are when Satan really likes to turn up the heat. It is during Jesus’ weakest time, during His 40 day fast in the desert, that Satan piled on the temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Do lions take on the biggest and strongest prey? No. They pick off the weak ones because they are easier. As Jesus said to His friends, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
Turn there with me to James 1:14-15 and let’s talk a little about what temptation is and how it leads to sin. It says this: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Breaking this down simply, we read three important things. First, temptation has to do with “enticement” and “desire”. I enjoy fishing and it is absolutely true that you cannot catch all fish with the same bait. Some like worms, some like spoons and spinners, others want it to float at the top of the water or sink to the bottom. You change the bait depending on the fish you want to catch.
Similarly, though temptation is universal (1 Cor 10:13) different people have different desires. Not everyone is tempted towards the same things. When stress or fear or longing or hunger or anger or loneliness – or whatever trigger – comes, we all turn to different things for comfort. Christians are taught to turn to Jesus, and most believers do, but we also often find ourselves turning to other things as well – either instead of or along with, Jesus.
Some turn to material things, using shopping as their comforter, while others turn to alcohol or drugs, coffee, food or sugar. Some turn to wrath, yelling and controlling behaviour as they shout out their injustices and try to take control from God, while others push people away, putting on the headphones, wallowing in their mood, growing more fearful or bitter. Some turn to books, movies or video games, distracting themselves with entertainment, while others turn to pornography and sex for instant distraction and gratification. Some turn to gossip and slander, knocking others down so they can feel better, while others prefer lying about their emotions by pushing the bad feelings down and pretending everything is ok.
We all have these desires within us, and these desires make up our temptations. They are, in a very real sense, our ‘functional saviours’ that replace Jesus as our “go to” for protection, comfort, help, and hope. They don’t work, and often make things worse, but we still go to them.
So that’s the first part, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”. Here’s the thing: These desires aren’t always sinful. Technically, deep down, those desires are universal and given by God to be best fulfilled in Jesus. We don’t want alcohol, food, bitterness, video games or porn –we want to feel safer, happier, comforted, but those sins are a quick fix.
Which brings us to the second part. Next it says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin…”. Having desires isn’t sin. Sin is part of a process. When the desire stops being for the good God has for us and moves to formulating the plan of how to get what God wants us to have without Him, we sin. When plan to and then turn to someone or something other than God – where it is a fantasy in our heads or a chemical in our veins – we are sinning and causing ourselves spiritual damage.
Here’s how it works: Something happens and we are hit with the desire for love, comfort, protection, safety, fulfilment – and then God offers us Himself as the answer. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And we say “No, that takes too long, that’s not how we want to do it, you’re not doing it my way.” And we turn away from Him and come up with a plan for how to get our desire fulfilled without Him. That is sin.
And as it says at the end of the verse, “…and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” When we turn away from the Author of Life and try to find what we want outside of Him and His plan, we are walking the path of death, which is why we feel worse after we have done it. Sure, sinning works for a moment, but when our head clears, and we can hear our God-given conscience again, we feel guilt, shame, fear, dread…. which awakens a desire for peace, comfort, safety, which leads to a new temptation – a new opportunity to turn back to God, or try again with our sin. And the cycle continues.
With that all in mind, let’s turn back to our passage in Luke about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and take it apart a bit so we can see how He really does know what it’s like to walk in our shoes – so to speak.
Sent By His Father
The first thing I want to notice is that Jesus was sent into a time of suffering and temptation by God the Father. If we back up the timeline a bit to what was happening just before the temptation in the wilderness we find ourselves at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. It says in Luke 3:21-22:
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
Fast forward to Luke 4:1-2 and we read:
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.”
After the wonderful, peaceful, riverside moment where the whole Trinity is present, full of loving, affirming words – Jesus was sent into one of the most difficult times of His life. The same story in Mark 1:12 says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” It’s the same word as when Jesus “drove out” the merchants in the temple (Mt 21:12), or when Jesus was forcibly driven out of his home town so they could throw Him off a cliff (Lk 4:29). This was God’s idea, and there was no choice in the matter. WHAM! Sudden suffering.
People with depression know this feeling, as do many of us who have been through difficult times. It comes out of nowhere, unprompted, and unasked for. One day you’re having a good day by the river, and the next you are starving alone in a wilderness, surrounded by darkness, dread, the snarling of wild animals (1:13), and non-stop evil voices. Jesus knows how that feels.
Jesus Was Weak
Next I want you to notice that Jesus was weak. He was in the desert wilderness alone for over a month. He ate nothing and was hungry. He had no special clothing to protect him on cold nights, and nothing to sleep on. The ground was hard, rocky and hilly, the sand blowing in his eyes. Hungry, lonely, tired… for sure. And not for one night, not for a week, but for over a month. And not just natural problems to battle, but also spiritual ones. The word “tempted” indicates that the temptation from Satan was continual, unceasing, night and day. The three temptations were just a final culmination, the last stabs, of Jesus’ terrible time.
Jesus knows what it is like to be weak.
Let’s turn our attention to the attacks. First, we see Satan attack Jesus’ identity and mission. The words of His Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”, may have seemed pretty far away after a few weeks in that demonic wilderness.
And so Satan attacks Jesus’ identity – who Jesus is. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Lk 4:3). Jesus, you are crazy to think you are the Son of God. You’re just a man. You’re not who you say you are. You’re not even who you think you are. You’re a fraud, a fake, a fool. Do something to prove to who you really are. Prove it. Do something to remind you of the good old days when you had everything. Do something so you can feel good, feel important, feel better, feel powerful…
Then the devil used his hunger against Him. God had sent Him there on a mission to combat Satan and Jesus would need all of His spiritual strength. One way humans concentrate on spiritual things is by fasting – removing the distraction of worldly things so we can concentrate on spiritual things. This is what Jesus was doing. Satan knows this and wants it to stop. He says: “Don’t you want something to eat? The road is long and hard and you are hungry. There’s no law against bread. Just this once, just for now, no one will see. Tell your spirit to be quiet and give in to your body’s cravings. It’ll help you. I promise. Since your body wants it, you have a craving, a desire, why not? It’s just a bit of bread. You have the ability to do it, you’re alone, I won’t tell anyone. Actually it’s really Your Father’s fault for putting you in this situation. You deserve bread. You wouldn’t be hungry if it wasn’t for Him and this messed up world. Use your power for yourself. Be selfish.”
Jesus knows what it is like to have your body work against you, to be hungry, to hear a thousand excuses as to why you should tell God to get lost and just give in to the thing that you know will fill the void for a moment.
Attacked His Mission
Next Satan attacks Jesus’ because He’s tired. He attacks His mission.:
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’” Aren’t you tired of this fight? Don’t you wish there was an easier way? Don’t you wish you could just give up? God’s way is too hard, it doesn’t make sense, it is just plain cruel. I’m giving you the easy way, the right way. Why suffer needlessly? I can give you what you want. You don’t have to do all the hard work, Jesus. You don’t have to spend years being attacked, misunderstood, mistreated, and suffering. You don’t have to wander lonely places, gather slow-witted followers just to have them turn on you and leave you to be arrested, falsely accused, and then murdered in the most brutal way humans have ever come up with. Why go through all that? I’ll give you the easy way out. I’ll give you everything you want, all the whole world, for free… just bend your knee a little. Just say that I win and I’ll make you a king under my command. Give up. Say it’s too much. Tell God His way is unfair, too hard, and bow to me.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to just want to quit, to be so exhausted you just want to take the easy way out. He knows what it’s like to wonder about the plan of God and to look at a hard life of discipline, and to have Satan offer an easier alternative.
Attacked His Theology
Next Satan attacks Jesus relationship with God. Verse 9:
“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Satan can quote scripture better than anyone, and knows how to twist it. He can misinterpret God’s Word, spin it to his own ends, and seek to convince people that God has said something He has not and permits something he has forbidden. He is a liar, the father of lies, and lies are his native language (Jn 8:44). This is why we need to work so hard to interpret it correctly, because when we are weak, Satan will throw all kinds of half-truths, mixed up verses, and out of context scripture, to help convince us to do his will instead of God’s. He’ll even use well-meaning, but biblically illiterate Christians, to give you good-sounding advice.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be surrounded by liars who can quote religious language and Bible verses, but who are only trying to lead you away from God.
Attacked His Trust in God
Along with this came the temptation to stop trusting God. He says: “How can you trust a God who would put you through this, Jesus? Maybe He’s left you? Maybe you’re on your own. Look around. You are alone. And look at those people down there. Here you are, the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, and they don’t even know who you are, and you know it’s only going to get worse. They don’t love you – and I don’t think God loves you either. How could He? He sent you to this miserable wilderness alone, with no food, no water, no help, no clothes, no nothing – so that you could take me on! No warning, no help, no nothing. That’s unfair.
I know how hard this is for you. I know how badly you want to quit, even now, and you haven’t even hardly gotten started yet! I’ve got years to hurt you, your family, your friends, your followers, and then I get to turn the whole world against you. I have years left to make your life hell.
It’s not my fault though. I’m just doing my job. It was God who put you here in your weakest state, and then invited me to come and attack you non-stop. He delivered you into my hands! What kind of Father does that? He doesn’t love you.
You know what you should do? You should do something to force Him to prove that He cares. You should do something drastic and dramatic that makes everyone take notice. You should make God prove He loves you, force Him to do something. Make Him fulfill His promises to you. You should try to kill yourself. You should jump off this building and make God catch you. Then everyone will know how much pain you are in. Then, if God really wants to save you, He’ll be forced to intervene or let you die and bring you to heaven – either way you win.”
Jesus knows what it’s like to think like this – and so do many people who go through depression. I’ve been down this road and thought these same things. It’s exhausting.
As much as it pains me to do it, we need to leave it there for this week. Next week I want to look at how Jesus dealt with these temptations, and how He faced the symptoms of depression.
But for this week, I want you to know one thing: Jesus knows how you feel and what it’s like to go through what you are going through. I may not know exactly what you are facing, but Jesus knows every detail, and has been there. He’s lost friends, been betrayed, been hurt, angry, broken, and in physical pain. He’s lived without money or a home, been attacked by enemies, prevented from sleep, and attacked by demonic forces.
My hope for you today is that knowing this will spur you to have new and deeper conversations with Jesus in prayer, knowing He can sympathize with you – that He loves you and has experienced your pain, and is experiencing it even now. He is not a far away God, but one who knows your very heart, and has been touched by it.
Pray to Him as a friend, as a brother, as a kindred spirit, a fellow sufferer, who offers you real help and real hope, because He’s been where you are, has achieved victory over it, and offers to teach you how.
The Bug Zapper
Have you ever sat outside next to a bug zapper? My parents have one. It’s a little gadget that hangs from the roof of their patio and glows. And the light that emits from it attracts bugs… and when they get close… ZAP!
I know exactly how those little bugs feel, because a couple of days ago, during that big thunder storm on Thursday, I was hit by lightning. I was sitting at my computer, in my basement – which is next to the window on my driveway – and all of a sudden, ZAP! I got absolutely fried. It killed my car, my computer, and scared the heck out of me. I walked upstairs shaking and texted my wife. A neighbour took us to the hospital and I was checked out, so I’m fine now… but it’s something I’m never going to forget!
Those bugs though… you’ve got to wonder about what’s going through their little brains. I didn’t know I was about to get zapped, but that little bug has some time to think about it. It’s flying along, minding its own business, when it sees this light and thinks, “Hey, that’s cool! I’m going to go check that out!”And the closer he gets to the light, the more he hears ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! He notices that the air is filled with the smell of burning bugs. You’d think the little bug would start to wonder what’s going on. But the light is so pretty that he keeps moving forward. And as he gets closer, the ZAPS get louder. He looks down and sees hundreds of bugs lying around, dead, and sizzling. There’s his Aunt Mildred and Uncle Lou… and they’re whole body is smoking.
You’d think that at this point he would stop and think, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea. Maybe this light isn’t as great as I think it is. Maybe this pile of fried bugs should tell me something about this light.” But nope. And ZAP goes the bug.
We’re Not That Dumb, Right?
Bug’s are so dumb. I mean, humans are so much smarter, aren’t we? It’s not like we would ever do something like that. Can you imagine a human being flying mindlessly into the same trap that so many others have been destroyed by? No way! We’re so much smarter! We’d look at that light, we’d hear the warnings, we’d see the carnage it was causing… and there’s no way we’d just keep going… would we?
Honestly, I’m not sure we can think ourselves much more intelligent than the bug sometimes. We live in a world where people are constantly getting zapped, over and over, in the exact same way.
Pastors and politicians are getting zapped for all the same reasons. Business leaders keep getting zapped and ruining their lives, their families and the people that work for them. Famous athletes and celebrities go flying into the same light over and over… ZAP! Stay at home and working moms get zapped every day! Plumbers, carpenters, evangelists, school teachers, computer techs… ZAP, ZAP, ZAP! All of them flying into for the same foolish light.
“Hey look, drugs or alcohol! That seems like a good idea! I’ll be the exception to every other person whose life has been destroyed by it.”
“Hey look, money! I’m sure my life will be super-great if I’m at work all the time, or spending it all the time, or hoarding it in great piles!”
“Hey look, porn! I’m sure I can keep it a secret, and that it won’t affect my present and future relationships, or my future / current wife, or my kids, or my job.”
“Hey look, anger, or guilt, or unforgiveness, or jealousy! I’m sure that if I hold this inside of me it won’t consume and destroy me, or make me like so many others that live with bitterness all their lives. I’m different!”
ZAP, ZAP, ZAP!
Satan’s Favourite Weapon
We talked a lot last week about the Biblical understanding of Satan and Demons. We learned a bit about their back-story, how people perceive them today, and what they are really like. The Bible is crystal clear that we have an enemy who is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than us, and who has been lying and manipulating people for thousands of years. He devotes time, energy, resources and all the forces of hell to destroying you, me, our family, our friends, our church, our town and our country.
The final point was about working in God’s power to “Go on the Offensive” against Satan’s plans. I talked about the Armor of God and how each piece represents a way that we can combat all that Satan and his demons want to do in this world. And though we talked about a lot of ways he works, today, I want to talk a bit about Satan’s favourite weapon against us – temptation.
Secure in Jesus but Oppressed by Satan
If you know Jesus as your Saviour today then Satan can’t touch your soul. You are absolutely secure in Jesus. Think of John 10:27-30 where Jesus talks about a Christian’s relationship to Him as their Good Shepherd,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? You can see Jesus flexing His muscles a bit here, and talking about the kind of power that He has over His enemies.
But even though a Christian’s salvation is secure, that doesn’t mean you are off the hook from being affected by Satan. Remember last week when I said “demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them.” We talked about a lot of ways Satan attacks us – by inflicting physical and mental illness, or by being the voice in a person’s head that is constantly accusing and heaping ungodly guilt, fear and shame on them. But Satan’s favourite tactic isn’t something so obvious as trying to harm us physically or even emotionally. His favourite thing to do is to use temptation so we will destroy ourselves. If he can get us to do that then his work is a lot easier.
You Are a Target
If you are a believer, then, to some degree, you are a target of Satan. He hates your guts and though He knows He can’t touch your soul, he wants to destroy your joy in God and minimize any damage you can do to his kingdom.
Satan doesn’t want you to be a good mom or dad, brother or sister, aunt or uncle or grandparent. He wants to ruin your influence among your friends and family, wreck your confidence in God, shut you up, shut you down, and keep you from fighting against to him.
He doesn’t want you passing along your faith to people who are lost and without hope. He doesn’t want you being a peacemaker in all of the relationships that he’s destroying. He doesn’t want you setting up barriers to keep people from sinning. He doesn’t want you to study the scriptures and teaching the truth to people because he doesn’t anyone to see through his lies. He doesn’t want you to show that it is a wonderful thing to live in simplicity and humility because he’s trying to hard to convince people that this world is all about pride and indulgence. He doesn’t want you to be a person of prayer, living in the power of God, because then you will be a real threat to him.
And so, every time you oppose him: by committing yourself to daily bible reading and prayer, giving generously, teaching the truth, sharing your faith, serving others, asking or seeking forgiveness, attending church, or any other way you grow in Christ, the big red bulls-eye on your back gets bigger, and Satan wants to eliminate you. That’s why those things seem so difficult. He has limited resources. He doesn’t want to have to fight you. So if he can get you to quit doing things that fight against him, then you are no longer a threat. But he doesn’t usually work against you in the way you might think he would.
Sure, he’ll use fear, threats and false promises to try to stop you. He’ll put thoughts in your mind like:
“You’re going to look weird, so don’t take this religion thing to seriously.”
“That church is going to let you down, so keep them at a distance.”
“That addiction is no big deal. Everyone has their vice. Don’t worry about it.”
Or “If you give up that sin, I’m going to make your life miserable – so just keep doing that and I’ll leave you alone.”
Satan will threaten and lie, but for many believers that won’t work – so for most of us, he has another, more preferred weapon – temptation.
Jesus calls Satan the “father of lies” and says that “lies are his native language” (John 8:44). Now, even though Satan’s does have great strength, his preferred method of harming humans is not physical. His preferred methods are much subtler and far more underhanded. Once he can get people to buy into his lies, he doesn’t need to expend a lot of physical energy, because they be more than willing and able to destroy themselves.
All Satan does is give us a little push in the wrong direction, and we take over from there. This little push is called “temptation” and the Bible says that these temptations find their roots in the desires of our heart (James 1:14-15). The demons watch us, get to know how we tick, and then designed a way to present something to us that is very desirable (something we want to have – like pleasure, security, meaning, distraction, wealth, fame), but ensure that the pursuit of that desire will ultimately lead to our destruction and/or the destruction of others. Sometimes the desires are good things – like the desire for love, or happiness, fulfilment or companionship. God invented pleasure, even sexual pleasure and the wonderful feeling we get from eating tasty foods, but the demons are experts in helping us fulfil our desires in a way that ruins us, rather than builds us up.
I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately and his method is a lot like fishing. He dangles the bait, and it looks good so we bite, but just as my intention isn’t to feed the fish something wonderful, but to fool them into thinking it’s something wonderful so I can drag them to shore and eat them, Satan’s intention is never to bring pleasure, but to drag us away from life and lead us to death. He doesn’t want us to experience companionship, he wants to break up relationships. He doesn’t want to give us pleasure, but steal our joy. He doesn’t want to fulfil the deepest desires of our hearts, but to create crippling addiction and teach us to worship created things rather than the creator God. He’ll do anything to make us ineffective in our home, work and ministry. He wants us to be broken, hopeless and unproductive.
That’s why we are told in 1 Peter 5:8 to
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
He’s not trying to get us where we are strongest, but where we are weakest. He’s not our friend, though he pretends to be: he’s the devourer.
How to Win with a Losing Team
How does this work? Let me give you an illustration:
Imagine a football game, and you’re the coach. You’ve been doing okay in the standings, but you’re about to come against the best team in the league and they are better than you in every way. Their team is stronger, faster, hungrier and more skilled than yours. Their coach is smarter and has way more plays in his book than you do. Their quarterback is the greatest player to ever play the game – He’s never missed a single throw and only been sacked once – and somehow even on that play he ended up scoring more points than any other QB ever!
So knowing all that, how are you going to beat them? You’re not going to be able to get new players, and no matter how much you practice, you’re never going to be good enough to even make a dent in them. You will never beat them on the field. What’s the solution? Keep them off the field.
Do everything you can to make sure they never make it to game day. Now obviously the guard at their door won’t let you in if you’re standing there with a baseball bat, waiting to break their knees. So what do you do?
Use pleasure. Donate a nice, big TV with all the channels and new computers with super-fast internet to their dressing room and to every player’s home. Send them boxes of all their favourite snacks. Send them links to shows they should watch and sites they need to visit. Tell them they’re missing out. Tell them to watch the sports channels all day, because that’s just like practice. Then, even if they make it to the game, they’ll be so they are out of shape that they won’t be able to play.
Then start sending e-mails and making phone calls about the playbook. Start arguments about how to interpret the plays. Remind them that there some players don’t get to be on the field as much as others. Ask who the best player is and who needs more practice… and then let the team argue it out. Get them to fight about the playbook instead of practising the skills within it.
Talk to the defensive-lineman and ask him them why he’s are not the quarterback. Isn’t he good enough? Doesn’t the coach trust him? Why should the QB get all the glory? When’s his turn to shine? Make sure each player spends more time complaining about their positions on the field than practicing what they are supposed to be doing.
Tell the star players that they need to be more humble and stop trying so hard. Or remind them of that time they made that huge mistake, that everyone remembers, and that no matter what they’ve done since, they are really nothing, worthless, guilty, unloved, unappreciated, powerless and broken. They shouldn’t even come out to the game – they shouldn’t even try.
Then have the cheerleaders for your team knock on some doors, send some texts, and “accidentally bump into” whoever is left standing, distract them with all manner of sexual invitations, promises and compromise. Destroy their hearts, ruin their marriages, ruin their reputations, and make them love your cheerleaders so much that they don’t even want to play anymore.
Satan can’t take you off the team. He can’t take away your salvation. But, if he can keep you off the field, or keep you fat, stupid, distracted, self-absorbed, and addicted, then at least he doesn’t have to worry about you playing against him. That’s how temptation works. He gives you that little push, based on the desires of your heart, promising pleasure and fulfilment – but granting only pain and destruction.
The last thing he wants you to be is focused on God, reading the playbook and Powerful on the field. The last thing he wants you to do is learn how to pray, read your bible and serve your church. If he can stop your prayer life, bible study and keep you out of church, then he can put a kink in the hose of your life and stop your connection to God. The water’s there, but it’s not getting to you.
A Christian that doesn’t pray is like a body without a heart to pump blood through the veins… dead. A Christian that doesn’t love scripture is like a body that without a brain to guide it’s functions. A Christian that doesn’t attend and serve a church, is like a body that is missing it’s hands and feet. And Satan will use every manner of temptation to kill your spiritual life.
If he can convince you not work within God’s plan for your life and keep working in your own strength and not God’s, then you become a limited threat to his kingdom. If he can distract you into believing that amassing stuff, building yourself up, or experiencing pleasure is what life is all about, then he wins!
The Truth About Temptations
But Satan’s greatest weakness is the truth. Truth is to Satan what kryptonite is to Superman. If you look through the smoke-screen that Satan throws up when he tempts you, and see the truth, it dismantles his whole plan. So let’s finish off today with the truth behind temptation so you can see what’s really going on there. And we’ll start off at 1 Corinthians 10:6-13.
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 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.”
1. You Are Not Alone In Temptation
Paul gives us a huge list of things that the Israelite fell into and it reminds us that Satan hasn’t changed his play book much. They had a pillar of fire and smoke ever before them to remind them of the presence of God. Moses spoke directly to God and then passed along the messages to the people. They were constantly seeing amazing miracles. And they still fell into idolatry, sexual sin, grumbling, and fear. They were fed by manna from heaven in the mornings, and drank rock from a stone, and then worried that God had abandoned them.
One of the big things we need to get over is thinking that we are the only ones facing temptation. It drives us into secrecy and keep us from strengthening our relationships with God and one another. As long as we believe that we’re the only ones who have to deal with it, and that to admit it would bring shame and ostracism, then we will feel alone and be battling Satan by ourselves – which can’t work. We need to share our temptations and sins with one another because it drags it from darkness into the light, and takes a huge amount of the power away from Satan.
We need God’s help and others. Verse 12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The Israelites were very sure of themselves, to the point of pride, surrounded by God’s presence – and they fell over and over. We need God’s assistance through prayer and the truth of His word, but we also need the help of our Christian brothers and sisters to overcome temptation.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” You are not the only person who is tempted to drinks too much. You’re not the only person who has a desire to look at porn. You’re not the only person who struggles with pride. You’re not the only person who has anger issues. You’re not the only person who has been addicted to something. You’re not the only person who has cheated. And if we work together, as brothers and sisters, dragging those temptations sins into the light, then we will be stronger against them.
2. Being Tempted is Not a Sin
Verse 13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.”. Everyone is tempted. Adam was tempted, Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:2, Heb 4:15), I am tempted, and so are you. But temptation is not sin. Sin is committed when a person gives in to temptation. Don’t be shocked or surprised that you have shortcomings, failures, and predilections toward some sins. Everyone has them. Satan and the demons want you to believe that being tempted is sin because then, if you feel tempted, you think you may as well go all-the-way, because you’ve already sinned anyway. That’s not true. And if you get this confused, thinking that feeling tempted is the same as sin, you will always feel guilty, shameful, weak and defeated. And that will keep you from God and others. Being tempted is not a sin. Everyone faces temptation, every day. And people have overcome this temptation many times – and can help you.
3. Temptation Isn’t Complicated
The verse says that these temptations are “common to man”. Satan wants you to think that you are a special case, that no one will understand, that you’re the only one, and that getting out from under the temptation is going to be super complicated.
But 1 John 2:16 says that there are only 3 kinds of sins, and therefore only three kinds of temptations.
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Let me read that same verse from the New Living Translation:
“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”
There’s your three categories, and all our sins fit into one of them. You are either going to be tempted through “physical pleasure”, or tempted to amass piles of all you see, or to place yourself over God in pride and boasting in all you have and can do. That’s really it.
For Adam and Eve it was all three. They saw the fruit was good to eat, and wanted to physically experience it’s taste. They were jealous that God had something they wanted – knowledge of good and evil. And they pridefully wanted to be god’s themselves.
Same with the temptations of Christ. They were to eat bread and satisfy his physical hunger, show everyone how great He was by dive off of the temple mount and not get hurt, and turning away from God’s plan by bowing His knee to Satan so He could have all the kingdoms of the world. Same three things.
Knowing this allows you to realize that Satan doesn’t have a lot of tricks – He just uses them very effectively. It allows you to open your heart to God because you can know that Jesus was tempted in the same way. It allows you to know you can be forgiven because you’re sin isn’t special. It’s not the worst one. It’s just one version of the same thing that everyone goes though. It might feel big, scary, and complicated to you, but the truth is that Jesus went through it and defeated it, many other Christians have been through it and defeated it, and by leaning on Jesus and His church, you can defeat it too.
4. There’s Always a Way Out
The next lie Satan wants you to believe is that you are trapped. Say you believe the rest of what I’ve said. That you’re not alone, that temptation isn’t a sin, and that it’s no different than anything many other people are going through. That doesn’t mean that temptation isn’t going to come. And when it does, Satan wants you to think that you’re cornered, with no other option than to follow through. Your body will want to, your mind will dwell on it, you’re heart will fail, and it will feel like you have absolutely no choice but to fall for that temptation and sin. Satan wants you to think that it’s inevitable. You’ll fall. Every time.
But as verse 13 says,
“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.”
God knows what you are capable of withstanding by His grace, and in His power – which is a lot! God’s promise is that He will always keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. You’re sin is never inevitable. There is no temptation that has not been approved by God and that is not designed to help grow you in character, love, hope and spiritual strength. He promises to use all these temptations to grow you into a stronger Christian, and will never make the task too strong.
We can never say, “I couldn’t help myself. I was overpowered. I couldn’t resist anymore.” God knows what we can handle and will never tempt us beyond what we can take. He might take us to the edge – but only because he wants us to push our boundaries and grow stronger. And He’ll always give you a “way out”.
Sometimes the “way out” is very obvious, even to a thick-headed guy like me. Here’s how it works: You’re being tempted to sin, and you start to mull it over in your mind, and consider your excuses, and just want to quit fighting… and the phone rings, or the internet and e-mail shuts down, or someone comes to the door, or your roommate or kid or spouse suddenly comes in, or you suddenly really have to go to the bathroom. You get interrupted somehow, and there seems to be a hurdle between you and committing that sin. That’s God going, “HEY!!! WALK AWAY!!! HERE’S THE WAY OUT!!!” I’m sure you’ve experienced this too.
Sometimes the “way out” takes more effort. Maybe it means admitting the problem to your pastor or a friend and asking them to walk along side you for a while. Those people are a provision from God. Maybe your “way out” is getting into a program that teaches you some skills about how to kick the problem.
And maybe your “way out” is just practising some common sense like if you struggle with overeating, you shouldn’t have cupboards full of treats. Or if you struggle with anger, you shouldn’t be stimulating yourself with coffee and sugar. Or if you struggle with porn you need to turn off the computer, leave the laptop at work, get a porn blocker or a program that e-mails all of the sites you visit to your mother. Or if you struggle with pride, maybe you shouldn’t put yourself in places where people are going to stroke you.
Maybe your “way out” is exercising the mind God has given you to practice some wisdom. Figure out where you are when you feel the most tempted. Who are you with and what are the circumstances? Are you usually in the same time, same place, doing the same thing? What day of the week are you most likely to fall? If you’re greatest temptation comes when you are in a certain place on Friday nights – then find somewhere else to be in Friday nights. If you struggle with a certain person putting pressure on you – find someone else to be around.
Satan wants you to think you’re trapped, but God promises to give you a way out. This is where we pray:
“Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil, because I’m surrounded by it right now. I haven’t fallen yet, but I feel like I will. Help me be like Joseph who ran away from Potiphor’s wife, and live like 2 Timothy 2:22 says, ‘[Fleeing] the evil desires of youth, and pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.’ Father I want a pure heart, and I need your help right now. Deliver me from the evil one who wants to ruin me, my heart, my life, my family, my church, my credibility, my spiritual strength, my mission and my joy.”
And God will always, always answer that prayer. Keep the Armor of God on and keep battling Satan, but always remember: He is defeated and he is a liar.
Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” says, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” That’s a great quote and it’s hugely applicable to the Christian life. One could almost summarize the path of discipleship using almost those words. Being a Christian means getting to know Jesus, ourselves, and our enemy – and the Bible teaches us about all of those.
The primary message of the Bible, from Cover to Cover, is about Jesus – hopefully you know that by now. The secondary message of the Bible is the story of humanity – or getting to know ourselves. And, perhaps the tertiary message of the bible is the story of the spiritual realm, how angels and demons work. Everything in scripture revolves in those three spheres, and in all the stories we watch as those spheres cross over each other, revealing something about all three of them.
God wants us to know Him, and so He’s revealed Himself in many ways – through Jesus, creation, scripture, circumstances and other people. But God also wants us to know ourselves – and so He uses those same mediums to help us learn about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. And, God wants us to know that it’s not just Him and us, but there is another realm – the spiritual realm – where things occur that affect us every day. And it is our responsibility to not only believe that, but to live accordingly.
In today’s scripture we find those three areas – Jesus, Humanity, and the Spiritual Realm – overlapping and intersecting, and teaching us a lot about all three.
“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mark 5:1-20)
There are so many things we can learn from this episode in Jesus’ life, but before we take apart what is happening here specifically, I want to take the time to talk about that third realm – the spiritual realm – and specifically, Satan and his demons.
A Romantic View of Satan
There only seem to be three ways that people in North America seem to think about Satan and demons. The first is the Biblical worldview, not held by most people, and we will talk about what that is in a minute. Second is the opposite view, the atheist worldview, again not held by most people, that Satan and demons don’t exist at all. The third view, which we can call the “Romantic view”.
I use the word, Romantic, in the sense of the definition that they have an “idealized view of reality”. In the same way that love-struck people idealize their sweetheart – that they have perfect skin, a perfect attitude, could never do anything wrong, and that they will be wonderful for all time, without exception, ever – many people in our culture paint Satan with a personalized, romanticized interpretation, not in keeping with reality.
The average person, when asked what the devil looks like will picture him as a little red guy, with horns and a pitchfork, that sits on your shoulder, giving you bad advice. Or, they picture some huge, terrifying, winged, red-skinned giant, wreathed in flames. Or, if you’ve watched some movies, they will picture a handsome man in a business suit, or a seductress in a red dress, who promises will give people all the power and pleasure they could ever ask for, if they would only sign on the dotted line and forfeit their souls.
And to complicate matters, we now have characters in our favourite movies and TV shows which are “anti-heroes”. They aren’t the classic white hatted, good-guy who saves the town, but instead, wear the black hat of the bad-guy, are associated with evil. Some are even demons. These anti-heroes, more and more, are the lead character and person we end up cheering for! We are encouraged to cheer for the outcast demon who just wants back into heaven, the bank robber who is outwitting the police just so he can be left alone, the car thief who just wants to get back home, the adulteress who just married the wrong guy, the serial killer who is just struggling his own form of with addiction, or the manipulative businessman or shady cop who breaks the rules, drinks like a fish, and can’t keep his family together – but gets the job done. Examples include Severus Snape, Spawn, Ghostrider, Hellboy, Constantine and of course the most famous anti-hero, Batman.
Each of these pictures, though accurate in a small way, are only a caricature of who Satan really is. Yes, he is a tempter, but he’s not small or cute. Yes, he is terrifying, but he is also a spirit, so we don’t know what he looks like. Yes, he is seductive and full of lies, but he does not have power over souls. Yes, he is ruthless, but he’s also under God’s authority. And though entertaining and interesting, these anti-heroes cloud our judgement and help us practice making excuses for why bad people do bad things, and how, deep down, even Satan has a back-story that can excuse everything he’s doing.
We must be absolutely clear that Satan and demons are not just misunderstood anti-heroes. They are not just bad guys doing bad things with the excuse of trying to accomplish something positive – at least from their perspective. No, we must not be clouded in this – they are evil and are the source of evil in this world.
Evil is Real
A Christian must believe that evil isn’t just an idea, but is a real, tangible, experientially substantive force in this world. When Jesus spoke about evil and Satan, He spoke of them not as ideas to be overcome, but actual persons and forces in this world. He cast real demons out of people. He spoke to them, rebuked them, ordered them around.
If you don’t believe in hell, demons, evil, Satan or the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms, then much of the Christian faith, the message of the Gospel, the reason for prayer, and a huge portion of scripture, simply won’t make any sense to you. A Christian with a Biblical Worldview believes that evil is real, Satan is real, demons are real, and hell is real.
A Biblical Understanding of Demons
Let’s talk about that and go through a little of what the Bible says about Satan and Demons.
Let’s start with the backstory of where Satan and demons come. Unfortunately, though much ink has been spilled on the matter, we really don’t know much about how demons came about. We know that they existed before the creation of the world because Satan was there and ready in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). What happened before that is a bit of a mystery, but if we tie together a few passages from the Old and New Testaments we can get a bit of a picture.
The first passage is from Luke 10:17-18 which is when Jesus is getting a report back from the 72 disciples he sent out to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. It says,
“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” Jesus is likely saying here, “Yeah, Satan is defeated. I was the one who knocked him out of heaven in the first place!”
Now, let’s tie that to a passage in Revelation 12:3-4, which gives us a bit more information about what was going on in the spiritual realm as God was preparing the world for Salvation.
“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne…”
This is a picture of what was going on behind the scenes during the creation of the world and the Christmas story. Satan is the “great red dragon” whose “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth” Those “stars” are the demons that were in rebellion with Satan. And we can see that “the dragon” was trying to kill the “male child” who is Jesus.
Now, let’s tie those two passages to Isaiah 14:12-15 which many believe is a picture of the fall of Satan, and which gives us a bit more back story to why Satan was cursed and removed from heaven. It says,
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”
Finally, let’s tie in Ezekiel 28:11-19, which gives us a little different picture of the event:
“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond… 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground…”
Now, there is a lot of speculation going on here, and theologians are divided on this, but this is our classic picture of what happened when Satan fell. Satan was, likely, a great, beautiful, powerful angel, serving God in heaven before the creation of the world. At some point, he took his eyes off God and caught a glimpse of himself – and was taken over by pride. He decided he wanted to be equal to God. And led a rebellion of demons. It didn’t work, and he was cast out of the presence of God.
He became a powerful outcast, and took to tempting God’s new creation with exactly the same thing that got him kicked out of heaven – to become God. He fell from grace, and then wanted us to do the same.
Similarities Between Humanity and Demons
Actually, there seems to be a lot of similarity between demons and humanity.
First, we are both created beings. Certainly demons are powerful, spiritual beings – often depicted as serpents or monsters in scripture – but they are still creations who exist under God’s authority.
Second, demons and humans were given freewill to make choices. From what we read about them in scripture, demons are free to do a lot of different things, but, like us, they are always under God’s dominion. Think of the beginning of the book of Job where God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s family, but is withheld from being allowed to touch Job himself (Job 1). Satan could attack him however he wanted, but it was limited. In the same way, humans can do many, many things, but we are still under the authority, and within the bounds, of what God allows.
And third, both humans and demons rebelled against God because they wanted to be Him. Both of us exercised our freewill and, in our pride, tried to usurp God and be our own gods.
And fourth, we know, from what humanity was like before the Flood, that left to ourselves we will become as corrupt as the demons. Genesis 6:5-6 describes the world like this:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
In verse 11-12 it says,
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”
That’s a great description of a demon – but it’s used to describe humanity! The only difference between us and the demons is that God has given us grace, and has chosen not to give grace to them.
Demons exist with their wills permanently opposed to God’s. They are fallen, without the presence of the Holy Spirit, without conscience, without anything good. They hate everything that God loves. They despise goodness, truth, Jesus, the worship of God, the church, and even the world God created.
And what blows my mind, is that demons are exactly what humans would be if God took away His hand and allowed evil to take over humanity – just as we talked about last week.
So what are Satan and the demons doing now that he has been cast from heaven? 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 tell us that even though they have power, and are a very present, powerful force in the world today, they are also defeated and are awaiting final judgement.
But in the meantime they are doing exactly the same thing that they’ve always done: everything they can to make as many beings as possible rebel against God. They are doing what comes naturally to them as beings who are opposed to God: spreading hate, addiction, fear, pride, and anything else that kills the soul and distracts from God – and especially opposed the work of Jesus Christ.
No one in history dealt with the demonic and spiritual opposition more than Jesus. Satan and his demons did everything they could think of to ruin Jesus’s work, His reputation, and His mission so they could keep salvation from coming to the world. They wanted Jesus to succumb to temptation, so they hit him hard, every day. They wanted to keep Jesus off of the cross so that humanity would be damned forever. Satan wanted the same thing he’s always wanted: to rule the world as a god, and have everyone under his boot.
But, as we talked about last week, Jesus won the battle and destroyed the power of the Satan, death and sin over all humanity for anyone who would believe in Him! And that really ticks Satan off. He’s defeated, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop fighting. The evil forces in the heavenly realms still have a lot of strength, intelligence, and experience messing with humans – and they are going to do it right up until the end. To take as many of us with them as possible.
Some Points on Satan
Satan is not God’s opposite. Satan is not all-knowing, all-seeing and ever-present (Job 1:7). He is a created being under God’s authority. He can only be in one place at a time.
He has a host of demonic allies under his command, and Jesus says that they are working together to do anything they can to accomplish their mission (Matthew 12:22-26). They will inflict or exploit physical and mental illness, tempt with every form of pleasure, accuse and bring every possible allegation possible to a person’s mind so they will be racked with shame and fear, and even oppress and possess them – just like we read about in our passage today.
Demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them. When a demon possesses someone, it means they physically and mentally take over someone’s body and mind – which is a terrifying thought – but it can’t happen to a Christian because God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us, is stronger than any demon, and will never let us go (Luke 11:20-21; 1 Cor 3:16; 1 John 4:3-4; Romans 8:11, 35-39). As 1 John 4:3-4 says, “…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
The Bible says there are only two teams: Satan’s and Jesus. Anyone who is not on Jesus’ team works for Satan’s and can be used by him to further his mission. But that doesn’t mean that demons can’t affect a Christian. They can and will certainly attack them, tempt them, and influence those around them in an attempt to harm, distract and destroy their joy, their witness and their love for God and others.
Going on the Offensive
We are told in many places in scripture that we can “resist” or “oppose” the demonic forces (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9). Resistance isn’t meant to be passive, as though we are locked in a bunker just trying not to get blown up. It means to work against, or try to prevent, to make a stand against what Satan is doing. It means “to exert oneself so as to counteract or defeat” the enemy.
That means that we are not only defended by God, but we can actually go on the offensive with Him. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battles aren’t really with the people around us, but are with demons. It says,
“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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
The Armor of God represents a series of ways that we resist, or work against, or counteract, all the things Satan is doing around us.
It means we have a commitment to telling the truth when we are presented with demonic lies.
It means that we promote righteousness in the face of demonic temptation and sin.
It means we spreading the good news of the peace that comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, opposing the demonic messages of pride, indulgence and hopelessness.
It means having a strong faith, and building up others in faith, even while all of the flaming darts of temptation and accusation come flying from all directions from the evil one.
It means being studious in our minds, pursuing wisdom, and being assured of our salvation by the word of God in the face of demonic doubts, distractions and trickery.
It means having a fierce commitment to the Word of God, which is the sword by which the Holy Spirit destroys demonic strongholds in this world.
And it means we are always in prayer, always connected to God, always depending on Him, keeping alert, persevering, and praying for one another – because we realize that it is by prayer that we work with God to dismantle the plans of Satan. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” (Sun Tzu) It is my prayer that you will know your enemy, and that you will know yourself – but it is my deeper prayer that you will know Jesus Christ. For, if we know Jesus and take up His armour, working out our faith every day, then we will know ourselves and know our enemy – and we will see him defeated over and over.
We will go through hundreds of battles in our lifetime, but through the power of Jesus Christ, and because of His love and commitment for us, we will overcome.
The Same Message
I’ve been reading a lot about men these days. I just finished The Screwtape Letters and The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis, Happy Happy Happy by Phil Robertson, and am half-way though Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield.
Mansfield is a New York Times best selling author who writes about history and biographies. CS Lewis was an academic and intellectual giant who taught at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Phil Robertson, on the other hand, is a redneck from Louisiana and the patriarch on reality show called Duck Dynasty.
And what I found remarkable was that though CS Lewis was writing around the 1950s, and Robertson and Mansfield were writing in 2013, the issues they discuss were remarkably similar. They were worried about men.
Lewis spent a lot of time talking about the consequence of having an educational system that teaches men to deny the universal values that God has placed inside of them (like their courage, conscience and masculinity) in favour of trying to be more relativistic, neutral and contemporary. He calls these men, “Men Without Chests”, meaning men who have no heart, no drive, no passion, no drive, no bravery, and no realization that things have objective value because God created them.
Robertson’s book is what I would call an opinionated autobiography where he tells his own story of how he grew up and came to faith, but also spends a lot of time criticizing the society he has seen rise up around him, especially the men who he sees as “chickified yuppies”.
Mansfield’s book begins with the premise that “The Western World is in a crisis of discarded honor, dubious integrity, and faux manliness.” He then sets out in his book to identify “the virtues, the habits, the disciplines, the duties, the actions of true manhood.”
I didn’t mean to read these four books altogether, nor did I expect to be talking about them on Father’s Day. But, as I was praying about what I should be talking about this Sunday, I came across a couple of verses which, if you get one of the Father’s Day gifts today, you will see printed on your M&M’s.
The first verse comes from Proverbs 14:26 and says
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
The other verse is Joshua 1:9 which says,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Each of those authors I mentioned have their own definition of manhood, and solutions to the problems they present, but these two verses sort of summarize what I would call Biblical manhood. One speaks of leading their family in the fear of the Lord, and the other is about having the courage to trust God and go wherever He leads. That, in a nutshell, is Biblical Manhood. To Courageously Follow God and Lead others.
The problem is that today, the Christian Church is doing neither very well.
Boys in Crisis
In preparation for this sermon I re-watched a TED Talk, and re-read a book by a psychologist and professor at Stanford University named Philip Zimbardo, in which he relates a lot of statistics about what he calls “The Demise of Guys”.
He says, “Guys are flaming out academically, wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women.” They have a “fear of intimacy”, he says. Not because they are “traditionally shy”, but because they are “socially awkward”. When they wander around life “they are like a stranger in a foreign land. They don’t know what to say and they don’t know what to do. Especially one on one, [to the] opposite sex.” He says they now prefer what he calls an, “asynchronistic internet world to the spontaneous action of social relationships.”
What is the cause of this? His answer is two-fold. The first problem is “isolation” and the other is what he calls “arousal addiction”. Essentially, we have a generation of boys who are spending a huge amount of time with, “excessive internet, gaming and porn.” He says that “boys brains are being digitally rewired… for change, excitement and constant arousal.” This makes them “totally out of sync in traditional classes and totally out of sync with romantic relationships which build gradually and subtly.” I would add that it also puts them out of sync with the traditional North American church service, and not only romantic relationships but all relationships — including with God. It’s not happening quickly, in 3D Dolby Surround Sound, and bringing them into a state of profound, physical excitement – so they don’t want it or understand it.
Whose fault is that? I don’t think we can totally blame the boys who grew up this way. They didn’t have much of a choice, did they? So, where can we lay the blame?
I don’t want browbeat anyone, or get into the all of the ways that we have raised up a generation of useless men who have no concept of biblical manhood, but it’s Father’s Day, so I feel as though this is a good time to present the problem and hopefully seek a solution.
In fact, I was asked this week to identify some of the more pressing issues facing church ministry today. I came up with a few of them including poor theology, absent spiritual disciplines, financial debt, and rampant distraction and business, but I also said that one big problem in the church is that we have too few good, strong, godly men. Here’s what I wrote:
“North America is in a crisis of not having enough godly, Christian men. Absent fathers, spiking divorce rates, and the pornification of our society are only a few of the problems that have come from ‘The Demise of Guys’ (as one author called it). We need to equip and inspire our older and young men to be godly, scriptural, Christian men and fathers. If we save the men, we will solve many of the problems facing our families and churches.”
I believe that with all my heart. If we can figure out a way to recapture the spirit of Biblical Manhood – to courageously follow God and lead others – then we can solve a lot of the world’s problems. And there are a lot of ministries that are figuring this out too.
Promise Keeper’s Canada has started something called the Fatherless Project, which is a ministry that encourages godly, Christian Men to get involved in the lives of boys without fathers. Let me throw a few more stats at you.
They say that Canada has over 1.5 million single parent families, and over 80% of them are led by women. That means that there are a huge amount of men fathering children and then taking off, leaving the mother to raise the child alone. Statistically 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. This is a generation raised by single women – the fathers are either useless or gone.
Fatherlessness and a lack of Biblical Manhood isn’t just in the world, it’s a problem in the church too. David Murrow, author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church”, says on his website that in the US, “…women compromise more than 60% of the adults in a typical worship service… [and] some overseas congregations report ten women for every man in attendance…. Men are [statistically] less likely to lead, volunteer and give in the church. They pray less, share their faith less and read their bible less. The men who do go to church seem passive and bored. It’s often impossible to get churchgoing men to do anything other than attend services.” That’s a brutally honest view of the church, and I guarantee that the statistics are even worse in Canada
One article I found in the Vancouver Sun said, “…men have been quietly, but in huge numbers, streaming away from many of North America’s Christian churches…. The typical United Church congregations [in Canada] is 80% female…. [and] two out of three of those filling Catholic pews are female.” Pentecostal, Baptist and Mennonite, congregations aren’t doing as badly, but are mostly full of older, married men. Certainly not young, single men.
Girls Need Fathers Too
Now, I’ve talked a lot about men and boys, but girls are in crisis too. Girls with absent, or ungodly dads, have huge struggles too (also here). A girl without a good, godly father will struggle with a lack of self-confidence, have self-image and body issues, will feel consistently lonely and vulnerable, and try to seek the love they need from other men who will only want to use her and discard her. They won’t have a role model for what a good man is supposed to look like, so they will hook up with idiots, losers, and abusers – because that’s all they’ve known. Then that boy-in-a-man’s-body will lure her into bed with lies, get her pregnant, and take off on her. That’s how it’s going right now – and the reason is because there is a huge lack of good, godly men.
We have a generation of men – and more and more women and girls too – who grew up (and are growing up) isolated from people and distant from the church. They’ve spent so much time on the internet, playing video games, and watching porn by themselves in their rooms, that they have no idea how to even talk to real people. They have been taught by evolutionists and atheists that their life is meaningless, that they have no future beyond death, and that there are no consequences to their actions.
Only a few weeks ago we watched the culmination of this thinking as Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree, killing six people and them himself. I watched the video he posted and it reads like the endgame of what Satan is driving all young men towards.
Let me quote a little from his video:
“For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me…. I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair.”
This young man has no idea what’s wrong. He’s rich, he’s got the car (he recorded the video sitting in a BMW), he’s a decent-looking guy, and he’s attending a university in California. Every movie he’s ever seen, from Hollywood to internet porn, has conditioned him to believe that women should be throwing themselves at him, but he couldn’t figure out why they weren’t.
Let me quote him a little more:
“And girls, all I ever wanted was to love you, and to be loved by you. I’ve wanted a girlfriend, I’ve wanted sex, I’ve wanted love, affection, adoration. You think I’m unworthy of it. That’s a crime that can never be forgiven. If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you. You denied me a happy life, and in turn, I will deny all of you life. It’s only fair.”
Yes, this guy is clearly a psychopath with some serious problems, but his life and words read like the perfect game plan of what Satan and society is trying to mould men into being. I can hear the voice of the demon:
“If you devote yourself to achieving wealth, power, and being physically attractive, then all that you desire will come to you.
You will be sexually and relationally fulfilled.
You’ve been watching porn since you were 10 and I have taught you that men and women are merely objects.
If you press the right buttons they will do whatever you want – instantly and perfectly.
Women will fall for you, men will obey you. And you will be satisfied.
If they don’t do what you want, then there is something wrong with them.
You should shame them, call them cold, heartless, stupid, and frigid until they give you what you want.
And if you can’t get what you want – take it.
You deserve it.
It’s their fault for making you feel that way, for dressing that way, for enticing you, and not fulfilling your desires.
But if they won’t give it, and you can’t take it – then there must be something wrong with you!
You need more money, more power, better looks. What, you can’t get more?
Then it’s hopeless.
You will never feel fulfilled, you will never get what you so deeply desire – you will never feel love.
And what is the point in living if you cannot feel love.
So go, punish them. And then end your pain.
There’s no consequence anyway.
You’re just evolved scum and to scum you will return.”
This is the record that is playing over and over in the minds of girls and boys, men and women, all over the world –in our homes and our neighbourhood.
“You are an object.
You are an animal.
Fulfill your animal desires.
If you are not powerful or beautiful, you are worthless.
This is all there is.
Seek pleasure and if you cannot get it, take it or kill yourself.”
And the only ones who are going to be able to stand in the way, and shout louder than this voice is us – Christians. And who are the ones who have been given the responsibility to lead their church, lead their families, and stand between the women and children and the flaming-arrows of Satan? Who are the examples, guides, protectors and provider? Christian men. (Ephesians 5:22-25; 2 Timothy 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:58, 16:13; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 Timothy 5:8)
Be Strong and Courageous
So, what is the solution? Society will presents ideas like changing the way schools approach educating boys and telling parents to turn off the computer and send the kid outside to get some exercise and use their imagination. Those are good ideas, but they are not the solution. I believe that the answer to the problem is in the Christian Church. These boys don’t need special education training or an exercise program. They don’t need Ritalin or Adderall to calm them down so they can act more like girls. What these boys need (and girls too) are Good, Christian Fathers. We need to recapture the next generation of boys so they can be good dads.
As I said before, I believe the answer to this epidemic of dying churches, uninspired worship, decrepit evangelism, broken families, aborted babies, lost boys and destroyed girls, is to find a way, as a church to teach, equip and inspire men toward Biblical Manhood.
We need to teach young men (and the lost older ones) how to courageously follow God and lead others in faith. We need to teach them how to pray, study and serve like Jesus did. We need to show them how to lead their families, their church, and their own spirits, in courageous obedience of the Spirit of God. This why I read those verses before.
Proverbs 14:26 says:
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
Those are the words of a father to a son. Not just a biological father, but a spiritual father. One who knows his words will reverberate through generations and to generations of father and families. He implores the fathers of his generation and the ones that come after, to realize that children need a place of “refuge”.
When everything turns dark and scary, and the thunder crashes, and the stranger is knocking at the door – who does the family turn to. Father. He is their refuge. And who does the Father turn to? “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence…” The wife and kids are protected because the man is the protector. And where does the man get that strength? From God.
The other verse, Joshua 1:9, are the words of God to Joshua right before he assumes command of Israel after Moses died. He’s probably scared spitless and needs a pep-talk and a reminder of his responsibilities.
Like all fathers who look at their children, and spiritual fathers who look at the next generation of men: He has a good idea of where he needs, and what he has to do, but he hasn’t taken the first step yet. He knows there are battles before him, and that things are going to be rough for a while. And what are the words of God for him?
Look at Joshua 1:2-9:
“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
God knows the trials ahead. Three times God says, “Be strong and courageous.” And He’ll say it even more times. He knows that Joshua and his big-family are going to have to fight huge battles, be challenged in their faith, and face enemies way too large for them to even consider going against without God’s help. And God knows that the people are going to mess it all up, shrink back when they should charge forward, and will need miraculous provision to see it all happen.
And so, over and over again, God tells Joshua – the new leader of Israel – their human father, to “be strong and courageous”. I love how he says it in verse 6, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” One of my commentaries explains this verse this way, “The need for Joshua to be strong and resolute was acute because he was the instrument for the people to inherit the land. The Hebrew grammatical construction here highlights Joshua himself: if he, of all people, was weak and irresolute, then the cause was in deep trouble.” (Howard, D. M., Jr. (1998). Joshua (Vol. 5, p. 85).)
In the same way, men, we who are biological fathers, adoptive fathers, or spiritual fathers – which covers all of us, by the way – if we, of all people, are weak and irresolute, our church, families and nation is in deep trouble. We know that’s true because we are seeing the fruit of it already.
What We Can Do
So what ought we to do? I realize that the cause looks hopeless, but it is not. Here are a few suggestions for what we can do, as a church, to turn things around.
1. Ladies, Pray for The Men. This first one is for the women. Pray for your men. Your husbands, sons, fathers and grandfathers. Pray that God will send the Holy Spirit to convict them, grow them, change them, strengthen them and turn them into courageous Christian Men who will courageously follow God and lead others. Pray that they will be godly, biblical leaders in your home, your church and your neighbourhoods. Pray that God will send boys and men to this church, and that the men here would take up the challenge to mentor them in the faith.
2. Men, be Good Fathers. Live out your biblical manhood! Be strong and courageous to follow God and lead others.If God has given you sons or daughters, you have a great blessing. Psalm 127:3-5 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” Be thankful for the children you have and see them as a heritage, a reward, and weapons of light in this dark world!
Be a Christian man. Get clean, get pure, get help from God and others. Put down your distractions and sins and “Train up your child in the way he should go…” (Proverbs 22:6). You don’t have long, and this whole world is working against you.
I remind you of the command from the Apostle Paul that your job is not to simply be a harsh tone of discipline, or to exercise authority over your child, but to carefully and lovingly train them. He says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
And I remind you of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:5-6 which speak of how serious God takes the training and raising up of young disciples:
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Take your position as father and spiritual trainer seriously. You will be judged for it in the end.
3. Men, find and care for other’s children (and, may I say, especially boys). I’ve already stated the case for how dangerous the life of a child, boy or girl, is without a father. There are still some children within the walls of our church – and they need the influence of men. Sign up to teach Sunday school, adopt them as friends, speak into their lives on purpose.
And there are other young men who desperately need mentoring. Seek them out, build a relationship with them using whatever tenuous thread you can find. They need you so desperately – whether they want to admit it or not.
But don’t just look inside the church, look outside as well – or maybe especially. Whether it’s Promise Keeper’s Fatherless Project or The Boys and Girls Club or whatever, go and find some men and boys to get into the lives of. Let me say this loud and clear: THEY ARE NOT GOING TO COME TO YOU.
They’ve looked at your religion and see only ridiculous rules and soul-crushing boredom, and want no part of it. They’ve been taught to distrust authority figures, so they don’t want pastors, teachers, parents or mentors to guide them. They seek direction and ultimate meaning from their peers and popular culture, which you know is a terrible idea, but they think it’s the greatest! These young people are just making it up as they go along, guided by foolish peers, internet lies, and demonic temptations – and Satan is having a field day. You must go to them. They will not come to you.
Have you ever had a bad week? I had a tough week this week, and I’m sure that some of you did as well. Holy Week is a tough week for Christians. There’s a lot on the calendar, a lot of emotional ups and downs, and of course there always seems to be a stronger spiritual opposition. Maybe you sensed it too. As you tried to concentrate on God, or enjoy time with your family, things seemed to go wrong. Everything was a bit more tense, a little more difficult, and a little more emotional. I’ve been in a funk all week long, and I’m sure some of you know how I feel. It’s not a sin to have a tough week though. The question is: What to do when we have one?
A Little Perspective
As a Christian I believe that God is in control, that He takes care of all things, knows what He is doing, and that He loves me. I believe that from the core of my being. But during a bad week, that belief gets challenged. When things don’t go my way, other things get in the way, stuff goes from bad to worse, it’s sometimes hard to remember that God is in control. But my faith tells me that God has a plan and that this is part of it.
And then, I pull myself from my navel-gazing and take a look around at the rest of the world and try to put my troubles into perspective.
I read of people in other countries who are fighting for their lives, as their “leader” sends troops to shoot and bomb his own people… while in my country, the elected leaders are arguing about how to make my life better. Countries around the world are literally going bankrupt and millions of people are out of work… and I have an amazing job, surrounded by wonderful people, in the greatest country in the world.
I watch news coverage of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, mudslides, heat-waves and tornadoes…. And I’m complaining because spring hasn’t come quickly enough. There are thousands of people dying every day because they don’t have access to clean water and basic medical supplies… and I have access to clean water at the turn of a tap and universal health care. People around the world are starving to death… and I’m overweight and because I eat too much. And then, I start to think about the problems of abortion, human trafficking, rape, murder, wars, and then I turn on the news and see that this week commemorates the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Bombing… oh yeah… terrorism.
Now, instead of feeling better, I feel worse. Now I’ve compounded my week’s frustration with sadness, confusion, powerlessness and a huge pile of guilt. Instead of this new perspective helping me feel better about how much better off I am, I now feel besieged — overwhelmed by the problems of the world. I don’t know where to even start praying, let alone helping. Who do I pray for first? Who do I help first? What is God doing? Why is there so much evil in the world?
Reactions to Evil
Have you ever felt that way? Ever had a bad week where it all piles up like that? What do you do? Here’s a few ways that people go:
Some people go the way of the ostrich. They bury their heads in the sand and pretend that bad things don’t happen. All negative is in their minds, so they change their minds. Evil is merely a perception, so they change what they’re looking at. They are confronted with something they don’t like and say to themselves, “I don’t want to think about that”.
They’re told that if they don’t change their habits, their health will suffer. A storm is coming and everyone is warned to get prepared and take shelter. A friend does something foolish and is in trouble and needs help. Their solution is to turn on the tv, watch their show, and order a pizza. If they ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away.
Some go the way of the lemming and just keep walking. They’re broke and lost, their relationships are falling apart, they’re about to lose their job, the world is in crisis, but they’re “making believe” that it’s not and just keep walking. It doesn’t matter that there’s a cliff at the end, they’re pretending there isn’t. They’ll keep going to the mall, but just use the other credit card. They won’t tell anyone and maybe it’ll work itself out. They know it’s dangerous but they want to live the same life they lived yesterday and act as if everything is ok.
Others go the way of the spider and try to catch as many people in their web as they can. They love to suck people in and spread the drama. If their life is falling apart, then so must everyone else’s around them. If they have that bad week, it becomes all-consuming for them.
They Facebook and tweet about it – usually some passive aggressive attention grabber like these ones I found online:
- “Wow, some things really make you find out who your real friends are…”
- “I’m fed up with the people who like to feed on gossip and like to spread rumour about stuff that isn’t true… stop doing it! You all definitely know who you are.”
- “I should have known better.”
Then they look for other miserable people with similarly miserable stories and eat ashes together. Soon no one else exists unless they are willing to talk about their issues. Every conversation is steered towards them. Every silver lining has a cloud. They infect everyone around them with their dread. They spread the lie that they have been abandoned… no friends, no family, no God, no hope. And beckon others to join their hopelessness. The ironic thing about these folks is that they will talk to everyone about their problems except God.
On the other side of that coin are those who think they are Superman. Something goes wrong, and they are compelled to take up the fight. They join support groups and picket lines, and sponsor a child. They go on a diet and start exercising while changing their spending habits, getting a hair-cut, starting that hobby they’ve wanted to try, and updating their resume so they can get a better job. They ramp up their recycling habits, get politically active, and start a blog to express their opinions and feelings. They write letters and plan a trip overseas to join the protests. All good stuff, but in their mind they’re thinking: if God won’t do save these people, then I will!
And because you asked, I’ll tell you what I do with this kind of week. I do a little of everything. It’s not the end of the world for me, and certainly not the end of my faith, but I spend a little time eating ashes and moping about life… whining to my wife and a few friends that will listen… but I also keep talking to God about it. I also make plans and decisions to try to improve things, but I also remember that I’m not my own saviour. I stick my head in the sand a bit and watch some TV, but not nearly as much as I used to. If there’s one way I lean, it’s toward the lemming – I just keep going. Hopefully as much as an act of faith that God will work things out, rather than an abandonment to my fate (though there’s some of that too).
A Mature Reaction
One thing that’s changed over the years is that when I am confronted with evil, I’ve learned to turn to God. There are still times that I forget, but God has helped me to see that I can have a very tough week, and instead of having it push me away from God, it causes me to press harder into Him.
It’s taken a long time, and a lot of very poor reacting, but when I am confronted by something bad, I’ve learned to understand what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4:11-13 where he says,
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
How? How was Paul able to say that? How is Paul able to “be content”? He’s not sticking his head in the sand and denying his problems. He’s not just moving forward hoping it will all get better. He’s not drawing people into his drama and spreading misery. He’s not trying to save himself in his own strength… he’s “content”! Where does that come from?
Let’s look at another scripture to get a clue about that. Let’s read from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Do you see that? Paul knows that God sent something difficult into his life, on purpose… “a messenger of Satan to harass” him. And he says he knows why. To keep him from becoming conceited. There was a purpose to the evil he was facing every day.
He asked God to get rid of it. Why? Because only God can do that. But God said to him, “Paul, I’ve given you grace… undeserved favour… and it is exactly what you need. It is sufficient for you. I want you to be perfected, Paul. I’m giving you something that will show you my power, that will help you, that will give you greater access to me. My power, for you, is made perfect, in weakness.”
You see, we are not the ones who sustain our spirits. We are not the ones who hold onto God. He is the one who holds on to us. It’s not about us reaching deep down and finding more strength, but all about knowing that God is strong enough. It’s not about us being smart enough to find our way out of bad situations, but about us being humble enough to accept what God is doing and trust Him to guide us through it. It’s not about trying to rally enough willpower to cheer ourselves up – to fake it until we feel it. No, when we are overwhelmed with concerns, needs, fears, pain, anxiety, or hunger, the answer isn’t to look inward, but to lean more heavily on Him.
If you’ve been with God for a long time, then you know what I’m learning what Paul means when he says “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
I don’t have a lot of money… that gives God more room to work miracles of provision.
I don’t have a very good attitude… that means that whatever joy I have comes straight from God.
I don’t feel strong and healthy, and my body fails me… that means that whatever can accomplish, God gets the credit because He has given me strength.
I don’t feel confident in my abilities – in fact, more often than not I feel completely out of my depth… that means that in order for anything good and meaningful to happen, God HAS to show up and work miracles.
“When I am weak, then I am strong”… because when I think I’m strong, I’m actually only working out of my own limited abilities instead of God’s unlimited resources. My weakness and incapacities allow me to have a front seat to see what God is capable of doing, often despite my weakness and failures. That’s a very encouraging thought.
Can We Be Sure?
But how can we be sure that God is going to come through? That He hasn’t forgotten me? That He has our best in mind? How can we be sure that the bad things in our life are gifts of grace and not just God being mean or punishing me? How do I know that God is good?
I think some of you need to hear this today. You need to be reminded of the promises that the Bible makes to you about why you can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, and you feel like junk, like a failure, like a nobody, powerless or dirty, beyond help or hope. You need to be reminded about how we can be sure that God is good, and that He has the best interests of His children at heart – because you don’t feel like that right now.
I want to spend some time going through one more set of verses that remind us who you and I are in the eyes of God. Today is Easter Sunday, which is the last day of a week the church has set aside to commemorate Passion Week. We remembered Palm Sunday, the day when people celebrated Jesus as their coming king – only to turn on Him on Good Friday. We remember the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ, as the most important event in history. And we celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We do that every Sunday morning all year long, but it is appropriate for us to do it in a special way today.
Holy Week reminds us of the love Jesus has for us, how special we are to Him, and how He demonstrated that love in the most powerful way. When you have a bad day, and you start to wonder what God is doing and whether God cares anymore, this is where I want you to go: Romans 8:22-38.
The Source of Hope
These are the words of a suffering servant named Paul. These are the words of someone who has had a very, very bad week. These are words of a prisoner, a cast-away, one who has been beaten, rejected, abused and insulted in the name of Jesus. Who has watched his friends turn their backs on him, seen his faithful servants fall away, and has been living an incredibly difficult life.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (v. 22-23)
See how he frames the problem. Our eyes are seeing nothing but bad stuff. That’s what we’ve been talking about. Creation is groaning in pain. Nations are groaning in pain. Families and individuals, groan in pain. We ourselves, we who know God, we’re groaning because we’re not with Him yet.
We can’t wait for the time when we are free of the mess and sin of our world, free from temptation, and the curse’s effect on our bodies. Free from the wars of this world, and the wars within us.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vs 24-25)
That’s the difference between we who are saved and those who are not. We have hope. Hope that one day, by the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ, we will no longer be groaning, but will be fully redeemed. We do not fully see it yet, but we are waiting for it. It’s hard, but every day we pray, and read our bibles, and hang around other believers, keeping our eyes on the hope that we haven’t seen yet. We know there’s more. It’s hard to remember sometimes, and even harder to see, but we know deep in our hearts that everything that we see around us isn’t all there is. There is far, far, far more to life.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Vs 26-27)
“Likewise”, it says, “the Spirit helps us.” In other words, the Spirit of God Himself is groaning and hoping with us. This is why we need to turn here when we have that bad day, bad week, bad month. God is experiencing our pain with us. And when don’t have the words to speak, He speaks for us. When we are so overwhelmed by evil that we cannot even express our pain, He is praying for us. When we don’t know where to start, what to say, where to turn, who to pray for, when it will end, and we are simply overcome – the Spirit is there with us, praying for us, interceding and helping us. He brings to mind sins to confess, scriptures to give us hope, knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus, reminders of the presence of God, reasons to trust, and words to say.
God knows we don’t know, which is why He gives us His Spirit within us, to pray for us, pray with us, and to help us to trust God. He searches our hearts, cleans out our spiritual trash, organizes our thoughts, will, and emotions, and brings them into accordance with God’s will. That’s His promise to believers. We will not be left alone in pain and confusion, but God Himself will sustain our spirit.
If you’ve learned to turn to God during those times, then you know what happens when we allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us. This isn’t something that can be taught – it has to be experienced. You must stop yourself. Shut your door. Come to God, and just wait on Him. He will always, always come.
Now let’s read verse 28, which many of us know, but too often, which we wrongly apply.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (vs 28)
This ties together what we talked about in Philippians and 2 Corinthians, but it is misapplied by people who are afraid of lamenting, or sadness or pain. The context doesn’t allow us to say that “God is going to make everything all better for you soon.” That’s not what Paul experienced, that’s not what Jesus experienced, and it’s often not what we experience.
And when someone comes up and misquotes this verse, taking it out of context, we want to say, “Really? All these things are for our good? All this pain comes from love? All this mess has a purpose? Really? My loss, my suffering, this messed up world full of suffering is ‘for the good’?”
I’m sure you’ve felt that way too. So, how can we be sure? Because of Easter.
Where Easter Comes In
Let’s read from verse 28 and see that the only way we can believe verse 28 is because of the Easter Story which is told in verses 29-39.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Do you see how the love of God is demonstrated by Him sending His beloved Son to us – to we who are in rebellion, in slavery to sin, idolaters, under His wrath, and who have made ourselves His enemies – for us Jesus came to die.
Because of the work of Jesus Christ, all those who he “foreknew” are saved. You did nothing to earn his love. You were on His heart before you were born. If you are saved today, then you are part of His royal priesthood, His favoured ones, and “he predestined” you (which means He chose you advance) “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”
He works every day to make you more like Jesus. He wants you to be conformed to perfection in every way possible. He wants you to have a Father/Child relationship Him. H wants you to be like Jesus. To live eternally, to serve others, to have a strong character and a beautiful spirit, to suffer well, to be imperishable, free, and righteous.
If you are a believer, then you are one of the called. You are “justified”. You don’t need to earn the right to come before God, because you have already declared to be right by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. And not only are you called, presdestined and justified, but you are also glorified. Every day, God is making you more like Jesus. In your suffering, you are made more like Him. In your obedience, you are more like Him. And soon, you will be perfectly glorified when you enter the eternal presence of the living God.
That’s why Paul those rhetorical questions. If you have a bad week and Satan is whispering in your ear that God hates you, He’s abandoned you, He’s punishing you, you turn here. Paul says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
If you ever doubt God’s love, know that He is so for you, so on your side, that He was willing to trade Jesus for you. What more must He do to demonstrate the depth of His love?
Charles Spurgeon wrote something profoundly encouraging about this and I want to pass it on to you. Close your eyes and listen to this with me as we close:
“This morning let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I will help you.”
“It is but a small thing for Me, your God, to help you. Consider what I have done already.
What, not help you? Why, I bought you with My blood.
What, not help you? I died for you; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less?
Help you! It is the least thing I will ever do for you; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose you. I made the covenant for you. I laid aside My glory and became a man for you; I gave up My life for you; and if I did all this, I will surely help you now.
In helping you, I am giving you what I have bought for you already. If you had need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it you; you require only a little compared with what I am ready to give. ‘It is much for you to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow.’
Help you? ‘Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of your granary asking for help, it would not ruin you to give him a handful of your wheat; and you are nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency. ‘I will help thee.'””
Then he turns his attention to the prayer of our hearts.
“O my soul, is not this enough? Do you need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Do you want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring here your empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Hurry, gather up your wants, and bring them here—your emptiness, your woes, your needs. Behold, this river of God is full for your supply; what else can you desire? Go forth, my soul, in this your might. The Eternal God is your helper!” (From Morning, January 16, updated by Alistair Begg)
It is my deep prayer that your hope is fully and completely rooted in the truth of the Easter season – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? If not, there is little wonder that you feel hopeless and helpless all the time. If you are putting your hope and security elsewhere, they will fail you, if they haven’t already. There is only One who is truly good, gracious and mighty to save. And He is the Lord God – Jesus Christ. I plead with you to come fully to Him, to ask His forgiveness for your sin, to make Him your Lord, and then to come to Him with your every need.