In my previous sermon on Healing, I noted that, cumulatively, there are nearly 1,000 references to processes involving cleansing and healing and that, as such, healing is the major theme running through the Bible. It was, of course, the reason Jesus came on earth – to heal us from sin. Not surprisingly, therefore, references in the Bible to evil, the curse and the devil are as pervasive and as numerous as those concerned with healing. Indeed, throughout the Bible we are confronted with an arrogant, anti-God force of great cunning and power; a conglomeration of evil embodied in individuals, dominions and principalities. Evil tempted David, bewildered King Saul, tormented Job, led Israel astray, confronted Jesus, used Judas, dominated Saul until his conversion. It flourished in darkness and in tyranny and caused misery and suffering.
Max Lucado in his book Unshakeable Hope notes that we are in a war that had been raging since the beginning of time. St Paul in Ephesians chapter 6, verses 12 -16 warned that our fight is against the “spiritual forces of evil” which have infiltrated “authorities”; a fight “against the powers of this dark world.” Towards the end of this discussion I will return to Paul’s reference to the threat posed by authorities.
So when did the force of evil originate? The Bible traces Satan’s activities to a moment of rebellion that occurred sometime between the creation of the universe and the appearance of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Somewhere between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3, the angel Lucifer attempted a coup against God and was cast out of heaven. In Luke, chapter 10, verse 18 Jesus referred to Satan’s eviction from Heaven with the words “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
The prophet Ezekiel conveyed God’s words on that subject as follows: “You were anointed as a guardian cherub…you were on the holy mount of God….till wickedness was found in you…..So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God and expelled you ….[and] threw you to the earth” (28: 14-18). Isaiah gives us another angle on the fall of Lucifer when he describes Lucifer’s evil intentions: “You said in your heart ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will make myself like the Most High,’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit,” (14: 13-15). Lucifer had become proud. He wanted to be worshipped that is why God rid heaven of him. And it is the reason God detests the sin of pride. “I hate pride and arrogance,” says the Lord in Proverbs 8: 13. “He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” (Proverbs: 3:34). David in Psalm 36, verse 11, recognised the danger of pride when he wrote “May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.”
In seeking to separate Adam and Eve from God – just as he is committed to separating us from God, Satan used deceit to cause the first human sin when, in the form of the serpent, he persuaded Eve that no harm would come to her if she ate the fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Outraged, God cursed the serpent along with Adam and Eve. Since that time, the time of the original sin, human life has been cursed. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life,” said the Lord (Gen 3: 17). The word ‘curse’ in its various grammatical forms appears nearly 200 times in the Bible and is associated with wrongdoing, suffering and the loss of righteousness. It is what mars our relationship with God. But God tempered the threat of a curse with that of a blessing. In Deuteronomy chapter 11 verses 26 to 29 he said: “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord; the curse if you disobey and turn from the way I command you.”
In Deuteronomy, Moses recited a list of curses that profaned God: the hands of the man who crafted an idol for worship; he who dishonours his parents; who interferes with his neighbour’s property; who leads the blind astray; who withholds justice; who indulges in incest; who accepts a bribe to kill someone; who fails to uphold God’s law (27:15-26). Isaiah gives a blunt take on the extent of the curse: “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt,” (24:5-6). Fortunately, through the suffering and death of Jesus, a new covenant was established. As Paul tells us in Galatians chapter 3, verse 13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us, for it is written [Deut 21:23] ‘anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.’”
Our fallen world
In that we live in a fallen world, we are susceptible to the curse 24/7. Sin is the consequence of the influence and power of evil. St Peter in his first letter, chapter 5, verse 8 tells us to be “alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” David in Psalm 10 lamented how “the weak are caught in the schemes [the devil] devises…he lies in wait to catch the helpless….drags them off in his net” (verses 2 and 9). Proverbs in chapter 2, lines 13 to 14, warns of “those who walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil.” The presence and pervasiveness of evil is such that the prayer Jesus gave us, namely, the Our Father, contains the line “deliver us from evil.”
Jude, the brother of Jesus, like Peter, warned of false teachers infiltrating the ranks of Christians and promoting sinfulness. “They are godless men who change the grace of our God into license for immorality.” For them and their evil ways, Jude wrote, the “blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (4; 13).
Darkness is synonymous with punishment, suffering and the absence of divine influence. God punished Pharaoh and the Egyptians by imposing a plague of darkness on them while the Israelites had light in the places where they lived (Ex 10: 22-23). Psalm 107 refers to the liberation of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt with the words: “He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom,” (line 14). Job’s despair at his painful sores caused him to liken his condition to a sense of the darkness of abandonment when God’s care is withdrawn (3: 3-7).
Darkness covered the land during the time Jesus was on the cross. His anguished cry as to why he was forsaken expressed the unfathomable depths into which he was plunged in bearing the load of our sins. As he said to his captors when he was arrested: “This is your hour when darkness reigns” (Lk 22:53). Jesus succumbed to the darkness of betrayal, slander, falsehood and agony in order for us to experience the light of salvation which he delivered by his death. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1: 13-14).
Diabolos is the Greek word for devil. From it the English word diabolical is derived, meaning devilish or wicked. Despite the preponderance of evil influences in our fallen world, Max Lucado points out that modern research indicates that 35% of Christians are not sure what to believe about Satan. Some regard Satan merely as a symbol of evil. This, of course, is great news for Satan because as long as he is either misunderstood or not taken seriously, he is free to work his evil. To regard Satan as a contrived bogeyman, amounts to paying tribute to his deception. As Lucado asks: “If you can’t diagnose the source of your ills, how can you fight them?”
Armour of God
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians exhorts us “put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (6: 11). He describes that armour as the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword which is the word of God (6:14-18).
Prayer, worship and scripture are the weapons to use in order to defend ourselves against the deception and snares of the fallen world. Jesus cited scripture when he was tempted by Satan in the desert. When Jesus quoted Deuteronomy (6:13) to Satan – “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” – the devil quit because he is highly allergic to the truth.
The fact that the devil was bold enough to confront Jesus should be a salutary lesson for us. Given our human weakness, we are infinitely more vulnerable to Satan’s treachery and evil intent. For what we lack is God’s incorruptible, impenetrable aura of holiness. We can all aspire to a state of holiness but only the Trinity – the Holy Trinity – possesses timeless holiness. “Holiness adorns your house for endless days,” as Psalm 93 states (line 5). That is what places God above and beyond the domain of the fallen. The repetition of the words “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in one of the worship songs serves to emphasise the awe in which we behold God’s sanctuary of holiness. As Paul stated in the first letter to Timothy (3:16): “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great.”
Although we do not possess godliness and are not worthy of it, John provides us with a measure of assurance. “The spirit who is in you, is more powerful than the spirit in those who belong to the world” (1 Jn: 4: 4). To put that in perspective, Jesus reminds us that if we belonged to the world, it would love us as its own. But since we do not belong to the world that is why it hates us. In pointing out that the world hated him first, Jesus was referring to the war Satan has been waging against God since the beginning of time (Jn 15:18- 19). It is a chilling statement because it shows the intensity of the evil that prevails while leaving no doubt as to how vulnerable we are as targets of Satan.
The good news is that Satan is not the arbiter of destiny. His days are numbered. As Revelations tells us in chapter 12, “he is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short” (line 12) and that he is destined to be “thrown into the lake of burning sulphur” where he “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20: 10). The curse was consigned by God to the earth and is limited to it. Satan’s power is only of the world. But while he plunders as freely as men allow, he is up against the spirit of Jesus who dwells within all who welcome him as their saviour. The very word ‘saviour’ means that there is redemption within the fallen world for those who seek it.
Satan’s fury is indicative of his realisation that time is running out for his evil ways. In Luke chapter 21, Jesus provides a detailed outline of how increasing strife and chaos will engulf the earth and how that will be a precursor to the end of Satan. As Jesus stated: “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (line 27).
The range of evil forces
Having sketched an outline of the nature of the fallen world, it seems constructive to focus on aspects of our own times and of times past so as to appreciate the reality of Satan’s war and the menace of the forces of darkness.
Socialism, which in its extreme form is communism, is a major weapon in the hands of Satan. The product of the atheist Karl Marx and his disciple Lenin, it is a godless ideology which bans and persecutes Christianity. Millions of Christians were killed in the twentieth century in Russia, Eastern Europe, China and South East Asia by the forces of communism. Right on our doorstep in Mozambique, the communist atheist Samora Machel massacred thousands of Christian Mozambicans between 1975 and 1986.
Although communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and Russia by 1991, its insidious relative, socialism, is alive and well in most parts of the world. In a nutshell, socialism holds that all authority and command of resources belongs to the socialist state. That means the surrender of freedoms and sovereignty to a single, centralised authority. The European Union is a prime example of such a dispensation which is why many Europeans reject the EU and why 52% of Britons voted to leave the EU.
Socialism is rife in the highest levels of American government where several of the newly elected congress representatives refused to place their hands on a Bible when taking the oath of office. Those same people and their ilk reject certain aspects of the American constitution, disrespect the flag and seek to tear down all forms of sovereignty by having open borders. In the name humanism and welfarism, they seek to destroy the cornerstone of society – the family along with values and time-honoured traditions. They promote abortion and sexual deviation. They oppose school prayer and the display of Christian symbols.
Besides the creeping extent to which centralised authorities are eroding personal freedoms and secularising society – all of which aids and abets Satan’s intentions – we are assailed by rampant materialism and every kind of distraction and addiction which serve to relegate godliness and virtue as human goals.
Tower of Babel cacophony, confusion, contradiction and conflict rules the airwaves. The electronic media and the internet are monopolised by forces which, wittingly and unwittingly, advance agendas that are either anti-Christian or which trivialise or adulterate Christian values. As Psalm 12 states, “the wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured by men” (line 8).
Despite ample proof of the failure of an ideology that is man-centred and not God-centred, new legions of educated ignorant clamour for socialism thanks to its promotion by universities. In a frightening survey done amongst American youth in 2018, the majority favoured a socialist future for the US. Our own country is also in the grip of socialist agenda which promotes bigger, bloated government and excessive regulation in place of free enterprise and private initiative. The intended imposition of a National Health medical scheme, despite being unaffordable and impossible to implement, is a case in point.
It is easy to become demoralised and disillusioned about the ways of the world. In the past 2,000 years, such thoughts have tormented millions who have gone before us as they experienced social misery as a result of invasions, wars, uprisings, revolutions and bloody dictatorships.
The way to endure the fallen world and to survive in it is to understand its nature in the first place. It is God’s creation which Satan seeks to subvert and defile. Confrontation with sin and the forces of darkness is an enduring theme in the Bible. Ironically, yet as Jesus predicted, the more fervent Christians are about their faith, the more Satan subjects them to persecution and pain. It is how he wages war on God and God’s people. But Jesus’ words in proclaiming the Beatitudes should be our comfort and our guide: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5: 11-12).
---------------------Duncan Du Bois © February 2019