Our Selfish Christ
Job 2:1-2, I Peter 5:6-11
The old rabbis used to have a saying. It went like this: “Every child born into the world has a message to deliver.” I believe that’s true. It’s true for you. It’s true for me. And while I may not be sure what message you were born to deliver—that’s a matter between you and God—I am absolutely certain of the message I was born to deliver. It’s the message that Jesus Christ can and will make all the difference in your life and in mine and in our world.
Of course, I must tell you that if you buy into that proposition, you will open yourself up to the attack of evil in your experience. You see, the more we follow after Jesus Christ in life, the more the devil seeks to dissuade us. As long as we remain neutral in our faith and inactive in our discipleship, the devil will leave us alone. But the very moment we begin to move in the flow and the power of Jesus Christ in our lives, Satan begins to pursue us, as Peter puts it, “like a roaring lion, prowling about seeking to devour us.” That’s the truth I want us to confront today, and I want to build my message to you one piece at a time. Let’s begin here…
A long time ago, the devil got himself behind the proposition which declares that he, the devil, doesn’t really exist. Vance Havner put it this way: “If God is the great ‘I Am,’ then the devil is the great ‘I am not.’ Satan is never happier than when people deny his existence.” And a lot of sophisticated, educated, self-sufficient, well-meaning people have voted in favor of that proposition. They argue that the devil is nothing more than a childish attempt to name those little bad impulses that are tucked away down inside all of us. They argue that Satan is simply a caricature left over from the darkness and ignorance of the Middle Ages. They declare that the devil doesn’t really exist. But frankly, I think the poet was much closer to the truth when he wrote:
The devil has been voted out,
And now, of course, he’s gone,
But simple people want to know,
Who’s carrying his business on?
I mean, someone is carrying his business on, wouldn’t you agree? I am a reasonably intelligent man. Surely you are not going to try to persuade me that the pervasive and intractable evil we see in the world around us is due to some bad little impulses down inside of us. Come on now…
Do you want to know how Jesus voted on the proposition of whether or not the devil exists? Read it for yourself in John 8. He says: “The devil was a murderer from the beginning and he has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” That’s how Jesus votes. What about you?
I recall the experience of Thomas Carlyle, who on one occasion took Ralph Waldo Emerson on a walk through some of the worst slums in London. After they finished the walk, Carlyle turned to Emerson and said: “Now, you tell me that you don’t believe the devil exists.” Good point. Of course if that is still not enough for you, then follow me through the course of my daily work, looking over my shoulder as I read the last note from a suicide victim or as I struggle with someone captured by drugs or alcohol or as I visit in prison one who has taken the life of another or as I try to put back the pieces of a broken home. Then you tell me that the devil does not exist, that evil is not personal, that it is not organized and persistent in this world.
Or tell Jesus He was wrong when He said to Peter: “Beware, Peter, for the devil will sift you like wheat.” And tell Peter, in that moment when the devil did sift him like wheat, in that moment when against every fiber of good sense and moral strength within him, he denied three times that he even knew the Son of God—yes, tell Peter there is no devil.
C. S. Lewis, who perhaps explained to us better than anyone else the nature of evil writes in his little masterpiece, Screwtape Letters, “This is the counsel of every little devil to other devil, ‘If the faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in the mind of a human being, suggest to him the picture of someone in red tights with a pitchfork, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that, therefore, he can’t believe in the devil.'”
You see, the Devil wants us to believe that he doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for that lie from one whom Jesus called “The father of lies.” Jesus said: “Satan is.” That’s good enough for me.
So Satan is…
And Satan is alive…
In the Book of Job, Chapter 2, there is that tense moment when God confronts Satan directly, and God says: “Where have you come from?”Satan replies: “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Bible teaches us again and again that the devil is alive and busy. He is hard at work in every day and in every way. We have a saying: “Go to the devil!” It is an unnecessary command, the devil is quite willing to come to us.
The movie “The Killing Fields” was much acclaimed, but it was a tough movie to watch. It was a true story of a young Cambodian newspaper reporter who was captured by the dreaded Khmer Rouge terrorists who were wreaking such horror and bloodshed. The plot of the movie revolved around what that young Cambodian had to endure at the hands of such overpowering evil. It was not a movie for the squeamish. The things he was forced to see and to endure defy the imagination. Finally, he managed to escape but his flight was marked by equally repugnant horrors. Having survived the rigors of the jungle while being chased by his captors, he finally steps out into a clearing and looks down. To his utter amazement, he sees below him the Cambodian border and beyond it a refugee camp. Above the camp there flies a flag, and on the flag is a cross. At that point the music builds and the light returns to the weary man’s face. He is free—free at last—from the evil which sought to destroy and devour him.
My friends, please hear me. The Devil is working to turn this world into nothing more than one great “killing field.” The battle which is going on in our world is the battle between good and evil and all of the ugliness that we see in the world is nothing but a manifestation of that fact. The fact that our society permits some people to go hungry and homeless in the midst of this land of staggering affluence—let me call that what it is—the work of the devil! The fact that our society has so twisted God’s gift of sexuality that purveyors of pornography are encouraged and lifestyles that are contrary to God’s will are glamorized—call it what you wish, but it is the work of the devil! The fact that our society makes it hard for those whose skin is black or brown or yellow or red to experience the same opportunities which we whose skin happens to be white enjoy—that’s Satan at work! The fact that our society allows 1 1/2 million lives to be taken each year by abortion necessitated by sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility—well, you can wrap that in the respectable language of rights all you want to, but it is still the work of the devil! There are better ways to solve our problems and to think otherwise, or to teach otherwise, is the work of the devil.
Paul was right when he wrote to the Ephesians: “We wrestle not with flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness.” That’s the conflict in which we are engaged. Make no mistake about it. Satan is. And Satan is alive. He is busy. He is at work in our world.
And Satan is alive…
And Satan is alive, but he is not well!
The devil is not invincible. His death sentence has been pronounced. “His doom is sure.” And that’s precisely what makes the devil so terrible—he knows that he has been defeated. It’s already done. On Calvary, the devil did the worst the devil could do—he murdered God’s only begotten Son. But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead tells us that the worst Satan can do, God can undo. The victory over Satan has been won by God. It belongs to God and it belongs to all those who belong to God.
Mark it down, my beloved, God does not want His people to be afraid of the fearsome evils of this world. In the Bible, there are 365—count them—365 different expressions “Do not be afraid.” 365 times those words appear on the pages of Scripture—one for every day of the year. “Do not be afraid.” Fear is not of God—it is of the Devil. The perfect love of God casts out fear. Why then should we ever be intimidated by the wiles and workings of evil in the world? Our enemy, our adversary, is not omnipotent. Our God is. Therefore, as long as we hold fast to God in Jesus Christ, the devil can never hold fast to us. Listen to what Peter says: “Cast your anxieties upon the Lord for He cares about you. Be sober, be watchful, your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that…the God of all grace who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ will Himself restore, establish and strengthen you.” There it is—the secret…The right man is on our side. Too many Christians today are focused upon the devil. He doesn’t deserve the attention. We ought instead to be focused upon the Christ who is focused upon us.
John Bunyan, in a piece entitled The Holy War, has an imaginary conversation between Jesus and an emissary of the devil. It seems that Jesus and the devil had been engaged in a war for the human soul and Jesus won the war. But then the devil, knowing he had lost the war, seeks to win the peace, so he sends this emissary to negotiate with Jesus. The emissary says to Jesus: “My master, Satan, would like to propose that we now split the human soul. He will take half, and you take half.” Jesus replies: “No, I want it all.” The emissary continues: “Well, my master is reasonable about things and I am certain that he would be satisfied with just a small part of the soul.” Jesus, with a gathering edge to His voice: “No, I want it all!” The emissary quickly continues: “Sire, you drive a hard bargain, but suppose you let my master have just some occasional contact with the soul. Surely that would create no problem.” And Jesus, glowering now with anger, snarled: “No! I want it all!” With that the emissary tried a different tact: “Can it be then that my master could send along some gifts, perhaps even a few letters to the soul?” And Christ—our great, selfish, uncompromising Christ, thunders in reply: “No! No gifts! No Letters! No contact whatever! I want it all! And I want them all!” The emissary of the devil, now cowering before this all-powerful and demanding Christ, quickly grabs his things and prepares to leave. As he does, he says to Jesus: “I shall give my master your answers…or rather your answer.”
The answer is “No!” There is to be no point of contact. There is to be constant and continuing resistance. Our Christ—our great, selfish Christ—wants us all—and He wants all there is of us all. Nothing else will do. He will not be satisfied with just a part of our heart, a part of our commitment, a part of our lives. He wants it all. And He wants us all. And He will not rest until He has us all—and until He has all of us. So give the devil his due in your life—give him Jesus Christ. For when you and I hold fast to Jesus Christ in our lives, then the devil cannot hold fast to us. The victory over evil is ours in Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther, in his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” says the whole thing in a single sentence. Martin Luther, speaking of the devil says, “One little word shall fell him.” And, my friends, the one little word is spelled