GOD ANSWERS DOUBTS-JESUS, IS SATAN REAL?
Dear Christian friends,
Hollywood loves to exploit the evil spirit world. There is a lot of money to be found in scaring people. I am not a movie watcher. If I go to a movie it has to be funny or it has to be a biography or depiction of history… or Sandra Bullock movie. In the early 1970’s I did go see “The Exorcist” which was out of character for my criteria for movies. It was one of the first movies about Devil possession. It was supposed to be based on a true story about a teen who was possessed by a demon. The author of the book on which the movie was based said he had investigated over 3,000 cases of demon-possession that one was a plausible demon-possession. The theater was packed. Curiosity? To be entertained? Some questions answered? Probably all of the above!
After it was over, I remember thinking that the Devil just got some free publicity. When walking back to the car, I saw all kinds of people jumping out from behind cars trying to scare others as if the Devil were ready to possess them.
According to surveys that are done, the Devil has a credibility gap. When religious surveys are done, they usually ask, among other things, if they believe in God and whether they believe in the Devil. God wins hands down always.
I don’t think the Devil minds one bit that not all believe he exists. If a thief enters a home and no one knows he is there, he has free reign. His job is easier. He is free to do his evil unimpeded. Today we continue our series on God Answers Doubts – “Jesus, is Satan Real?”
I have never written a sermon where I gave Satan the center stage, where he was the subject of the sermon. In fact, when I put the theme on the marquee in front of the church, I wondered if this was a good idea at all. Perhaps members and potential visitors might stay away because the subject is so unpleasant. I have had people say they would not come to church again because I mentioned hell and Satan in sermons.
This isn’t a pleasant subject to preach about. I remember years ago when one a Seminary professor researched and wrote a book on the occult (Satanism, witchcraft, the dark things of the spiritual world). He said that his faith was tested in ways he never felt before. Satan didn’t want the truth out there about what a loser he is. I wondered the same about myself. The fact of the matter is that Satan does exist. While the mission of Christ was to fix the destruction he wreaked and did so perfectly, Satan is not deterred. He continues to attack. He loves to do so...on everyone especially Christians.
But people question! People are skeptical! Is Satan real? That by itself is an indication that Satan is successful in his deceit. People who don’t know their Bibles or have no use for the Bible, say that Satan is a superstition the church has sold on its members. The church did this deceit so it can manipulate people with fear in ways that will be useful for them, so they say.
Satan is a joke to many. He is kind of like a pet that you can play around with. A rock singer hollered out, “Who wants to go to hell?” 10,000 teens yelled in unison, “We do!” With braggadocio celebrities have said they want to go to hell because that’s where the party is.
But let’s look at this with seriousness and soberly. To doubt his existence for a moment is to call Jesus a liar. When Jews disputed with Jesus about who he was, Jesus didn’t mince words when he told them who they were, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Satan is real, people, and the father of lies! Jesus made it clear that Satan was the problem in Eden. His strategy was to deceive Adam and Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” But then came to real lie. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When anyone says they don’t believe in the Devil, they are calling Jesus a liar. He gave a history and the consequences and the source of lying. If Jesus lies he is sinner like all of us and no Savior.
Let’s get to this story from Mark. It makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck stand up. A man in the region of the Gerasenes shared his body not with just a demon but demons. The evil spirit inside called himself “Legion.” A legion was composed of about six thousand soldiers. There were 2000 pigs in that herd. Jesus cast those demons into that herd of pigs and they stampeded into their watery grave. What an astounding sight!
What a horrible existence that had to be for the man who was filled with a city of demons. The screams at night; the carving up of his skin; his home a cemetery! He was vile and violent. People tried to protect themselves from him and from himself. Their attempts failed. “For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.” What an awful existence. This was not a psychosis. This was not schizophrenia. He was possessed by demons.
In a different place and a different time I had a very troubling situation that was hard to explain any other way than to say that a demon was the source of problems for a family. I sought advice from different brothers in the ministry. I was amazed to find out that all whom I called had experienced something in their ministries that seemed to prove Satan is very much alive and very evil. I am not going into the salacious details, because in the end we don’t need all kinds of stories when the Bible itself says that he exists in all of his vileness. .
Where did Satan come from? Where did his countless evil cohorts come from? God created angels to watch over his creation and to serve those who are the heirs of salvation. God intended that they all serve humanity. Many still do, but many don’t. We don’t know all that happened, but Peter gives a picture: “God did not spare angels when they sinned.” A rebellion took place, and those who rebelled God “sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.”
Satan and his demonic band were originally good angels but they rebelled. That’s hard to understand, isn’t it? If they were part of the creation that God said was “very good,” how could they fall away from God?
Yet all angels were given the same freedom as Adam and Eve. God’s desire was that his creation would be founded on love. Love is the highest good in the universe. Adam and Eve and the angels were given the freedom to love God and one another. But God did not create them to be puppets so their praise was automatic. They also had the choice of not exercising love. That’s exactly what happened. Adam and Eve chose not to love God and disobeyed. Satan and other angels chose not to love God. Martin Luther said their sin boiled down to pride – to love themselves more than God. Luther concluded that from a passage in I Timothy where Paul says that “a pastor must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” Luther concluded that the Devil was guilty of conceit. An interesting conclusion, but then C S Lewis says that pride is the great sin, the sin behind all others.
Satan seems to have a single commandment: “Thou shalt do anything you want.” I have not read the Satanic Bible (yes, there is one). It was written by Anton LeVey who declared himself the High Priest of Satan. He died not that long ago. I am told that the Satanic Bible is not about Satan but about the pleasures of hedonism – doing anything to please self anyway you can.
I read something interesting about St. Augustine and his struggle with Satan. Augustine was a very sexually immoral man for well into this thirties. After he became a Christian, however, he said those sins didn’t bother him as much as stealing some apples that he didn’t really want. The sexual sins came from a physical desire he said, but stealing the apples came from just wanting to rebel against God and hurt someone else.
While there is much to say about Satan, let’s draw a line. God did. God does not permit all that Satan wants to do. He is on a leash. Even though Satan wants to wipe out the church, God promises that the “gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
The Bible says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our enemy is most formidable. We can’t fight him without the Lord. Remember this: While Satan is an enemy of God, he is not the opposite of God. He is bad enough to be the opposite but he’s not big enough to be the opposite. He is not a god. God is greater than he is. God wins.
That’s why we pray to our God, “But deliver us from evil.” There is good reason to translate that passage more literally like this, “But deliver us from the Evil One.” Either way that prayer has been heard. In fact, that prayer was answered long before any of us even learned to pray it. It was answered by Jesus death and resurrection.
On the evening prior to his death Jesus predicted to his disciples what lay just ahead. ”Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” When Jesus was lifted up on the cross the judgment of all people took place. Jesus was guilty of all sin, we were declared not guilty. The mess Satan had created with Adam and Eve and upon every generation since was fixed. God and man were reconciled. Satan was driven out. He invites all to believe it and receive it. Satan is the big loser.
A thief knew it. “Remember me,” he said to Jesus. Jesus did. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” A Roman soldier knew it. The man who had just died was more than just a man. “Surely this man was the Son of God.” Yes, he is bigger than Satan. “It is finished,” Jesus said. The payment is complete. So is Satan.
Let me tell you a story about a pastor who related a story about a woman whom Satan seemed to have in his evil grip. She was paralyzed with a fear of a man whom she said came to her every night whispering, “Stay away from those Christians. You are mine.” Fear literally paralyzed her. Some might wonder if that man she saw was a demon. Was she delusional? Lots of mysteries like this. But then anyone or anything that tries to get between us and Christ and his church is a tool of Satan.
How did the pastor help? He called on God to help. He read Isaiah 43 and let God speak for himself, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine….For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Was she delusional? Was she seeing a demon? I don’t know but one thing I do know is what the Lord says, “You are mine!” not Satan’s.
Is the Devil real? Sure he is! But God is bigger and greater than he is. God says, “You are mine!”