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August 13, 2023
We’re at War – Part 2
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Time:
Ephesians 6: 10 - 13

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This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.

More From This Series

Transcript

Take your Bible and turn to Ephesians chapter six. We’re in a three-part sermon on Ephesians 6:10-13, a message I called We Are at War. Now, if you want an eyeline for the book of Ephesians, I give you it a couple of weeks ago and I’ll give you it again this morning. In chapters one, two, and three, we have the Christian’s wealth. In those chapters, we learn all that we have in Christ and in union with him. And then in chapters four, five, and part of chapter six, we have the Christian’s walk, how you and I are to behave in the light of our blessings. If you and I are in union with Jesus Christ like a brunch is in union with a vine, fruit will be produced. And we looked at several ways in which the Christian life will work itself out in our life.
And now, in Ephesians 6:6-18, we’re looking at the Christian’s warfare. The Christian life is a struggle. It’s a blessing beyond imagination, but it’s a struggle. It’s a fight because we’re not in heaven, we’re on earth, and we’re behind enemy lines. And so we’re coming back to look at this passage or begin to look at this passage. In fact, if you want another way to look at the book of Ephesians, some of the old writers, Watchman Nee included, said, “This is a book that talks about different postures.” Chapters one, two, and three were sitting, right? Seated with Christ, enjoying all the benefits of what he has achieved in his death, barely in resurrection, his ascension, and what’s yet to come at his second coming. Then in chapters four, five, and part of six, we are walking, we’re living out our faith in Jesus Christ. And then in chapter 6:10-18, we’re standing. It’s going to require us to dig in and live a life of courage for Jesus Christ in a world that hates him. And someday we’ll welcome the antichrist himself. This is not friendly territory to you and to me.
So we’re going to sit and we’re going to walk, but we’re going to have to stand and that’s where we’re at. Follow along, Ephesians 6:10-13, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principality. It’s against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day having done all to stand.”
If Winston Churchill, the wartime British prime minister, was here, he might pose a question this morning to you, “Have you any enemies? And Winston Churchill would like you to answer in the affirmative, “Yes, I have enemies,” because Winston Churchill would say this, “If you have enemies, that’s good because it means that you have stood up for something sometime in your life.” I actually like that. I think Churchill is onto something. To take sides on an issue, to commit yourself to a cause will always involve you being on the wrong side of those on the opposite side. There’s no avoiding that. The man who stands for nothing is a nothing man. Churchill argues that to have enemies is a good thing because it shows that you’re a person of commitment, conviction, and courage because you’ve stood up for something at some time and you’ve won for yourself some enemies.
Remember Jesus warned us, you never want to be at a place in life where everybody speaks well about you. In fact, Churchill was a man who stood up to Hitler and the Nazis. He called the British people in the fears of a possible German invasion in 1940 to fight in the [inaudible 00:04:30], to fight on the streets, to fight on the hills, and to never surrender. In fact, Winston Churchill told his own family in June of 1940 that if Britain was to be invaded, they were to go down in their own deaths and take a German with them. In fact, the story is told that when he shared that in his house in 1940, “You can take a dead German with you,” his daughter-in-law, Pamela, said to Winston, “But Papa, I don’t know how to shoot a gun and I haven’t got a gun.” To which Winston Churchill replied, “Well, then go into the kitchen and get yourself a carving knife. Take a dead German with you. You’re going to go down, go down, standing up.”
Now, I like Churchill’s perspective, and he reminds us of the inescapable reality of making enemies in life if you’re going to stand for something. And it fits nicely into the context of our text because Paul’s telling us to stand, and Paul’s telling us if we stand for Jesus Christ, we’re going to face some enemies. Here, the Christian is reminded that this world is not a playground, but a battleground. Here, the Christian is reminded that the church is opposed by unseen spiritual forces bent on her destruction. Here, the Christian is reminded that they must stand for Christ in this evil day, this evil age. And in doing so, they are sure to take incoming fire from the devil and his demons, the rulers of the darkness of this present age. Here, the Christian is reminded that Christianity is a struggle and life is a war zone.
Now, if I was a Southern Baptist, I’d ask you, “Has anybody want to give a witness to that?” Because that’s a reality. If you’re standing for Christ, if you’re a dedicated disciple for Jesus, you can be sure that your life will be a struggle and a war zone. Know it or not, like it or not, you and I are in a war. Hence, the title of my sermon, We’re at War. We need to begin living as if we are in a battle for our lives because that’s in fact the key. We’re in the battle for our spiritual lives. And yet many of us are not conscious of that or we don’t live in the reality of that.
The old bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle, 100 years ago said this, “The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict, fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go to a round of formal religious services once or twice a week or every other week. But the great spiritual warfare, the watchings, the strugglings, the agonies, the anxieties, the battles, the contests, they appear to know nothing at all about them.” Well, I hope that’s not true of you. I hope you’re standing for Jesus because you’ll make some enemies, but that’s good, that’s proper, that’s what Paul expects.
Now, we looked at the text in its context. I’m not going to rehearse that material that we looked at in our last time together, although I was refreshed in my thinking. I think this is interesting. Here we are towards the end of our study in Ephesians and Paul’s introducing another image of the Christian. This time, it’s a soldier. You and I are called to be soldiers. And if you study the book of Ephesians, you’re going to find that there are several images of you and me that Paul presents. In chapter one, he addresses the sins that are in Ephesus. You realize you’re a saint. That means you’re separated to God, dedicated to the things that he’s dedicated to, and you’re separated from all the nonsense and lawlessness that marks this world around us. You’re not only a saint in Ephesians, you’re a stone. In chapter two, he talks about how the church is like a building, an edifice, a temple, a habitation indwelled by the Holy Spirit for the worship of God.
And like Peter says, you and I are all living stones in the edifice. You’re part of this church. And how God is constructing it and building it, you’re part of its ability to grow. We’re not only saints and stones, we’re sons and daughters. In chapter one and elsewhere in this letter, he talks about the fact that you and I have been adopted into God’s family. We’re now part of his tribe and we’re his forever. It’s a wonderful thing to be a child of God. We’re also stewards of the gifts that he gives us. Ephesians four talks about these gifts that the risen and enthroned Christ gives to his church and we’re to be good stewards of those gifts and build the body and reach the world.
Chapter five and verse one and two, “Therefore, be imitators of God dear children, walk in love as Christ also loved you and has given himself you an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” You and I are to be like Christ in offering ourselves as a sacrifice to God, making ourselves available to Him. And then here in chapter six, we’re soldiers, saints, stones, sons, stewards, sacrifices. I don’t know how you identify yourself or what your self-image is, but as a Christian, you take your identity from Christ primarily and in Christ you’re all of these things, and that should define who you are and direct what you do.
So let’s come and begin to pick up where we left off. There were four things we wanted to say from verses 10 through 13, the exhortation, finally, the enemy, the devil, the engagement, be strong and put on the whole armor of God, and the era. You realize it’s the evil day? That’s where you’re at within redemptive history. Now, we looked at the exhortation. I’m not going to reheat that dinner other than to say that we notice that the word finally as I have it in my text can also mean for the remaining time or henceforth. And so the implication is that from now until Jesus comes again, you and I are at war. The flesh is at war with the spirit and the world is at war with the church and Satan is at war with God, and we’re in the crosshairs of that conflict.
From now until Jesus comes, the church will have to battle to remain unspotted from the world. And you and I are being reminded if that’s a proper understanding for the remaining time henceforth, that implies that Satan takes no holidays, he never calls a truce, and the Christian life is no picnic. If you have studied the conflict in Northern Ireland where I came from and lived it, it has been called by some the long war. The conflict between the Irish Republicans and the British forces lasted some 30 years, from 68 to 98. It was the longest conflict that British forces have ever had to engage in. It was a 30-year campaign by the IRA to save Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. And thankfully, they didn’t succeed because the will of a majority in Northern Ireland wishes to remain British.
The long war, but it’s not the long war. I’ll tell you what the long war is, the one we’re talking about because it started back in Genesis 3:15 when God judged Satan, the serpent, and said that you know what? He’s going to put enmity, antagonism between the serpent’s offspring and Eve’s offspring or his offspring, and there’s going to come someone through the seed of Eve, the Messiah, who will bruise the head of Satan and Satan will bruise his heel. And that’s as far back as Genesis 3:15. As Ian Hamilton says in his commentary in Ephesians, “The entire Bible is an exposition of that divinely instituted antagonism and yet many Christians have little awareness of the spiritual warfare they’re engaged in. It’s wonderfully true that our Lord Jesus having disarmed principalities and powers be it a public spectacle of them tramping over them. Satan is a defeated foe, but he is still troublesome, he’s still vindictive. And we need to know our enemy and how to stand against him.”
You and I are involved in a long war that’s been going on from the beginning of history and will not conclude until Jesus comes. Therefore, for the remaining time, be strong in the Lord and put on the whole armor of God. Then we looked at the enemy. The enemy we face is not a flesh and blood enemy. We face Satan and his hoards of demons. Look at chapter six, verse 11, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” There’s your enemy right there subscribe before you, and alongside him, according to verse 12, you have the rulers of the darkness of this age, which is a reference to fallen angels, demons that are at war with the people of God and the will of God. You scroll down to verse 16, the devil is called the wicked one. That’s our enemy.
Satan is not a force, he’s an entity. Satan is not a symbol for evil, he’s an evil person. He’s described as the wicked one. In Matthew 6:13, Jesus teaches us to pray that God would deliver us from the evil one. He’s a person. If you want a little bit of a bio on him, he was a created nonphysical finite being whose original purpose was to serve God and glorify Him as a cherub. The cherub was a special group of angels, almost like stormtroopers, the elite. Satan is called the cherub in Ezekiel 28:14. And one of the things that cherubim did was they were a class of angels tasked with guarding the holiness of God. You see that when man falls and Adam and Eve are pushed out of the garden. It says in Genesis 3:24 that God posted cherubim with flaming swords, the north, the south and the east, and the west of Eden. How interesting!
So the devil is a created being, an non-physical finite being who once was a cherub, who was once one of the chief gatekeepers of heaven and the holiness of God, but he betrayed that glorious calling. He rose up in bold fierce pride against God causing a rebellion in heaven. You can read about that in Isaiah 14:12-16. That’s why we’re told in 1 Timothy 3:6 not to pick a novice, a young Christian for Christian leadership lest he fall into the sin of the devil, which was pride and arrogance. According to Revelation 12:4, he took a third of the angels of heaven with him in the fall. So here’s the point. The devil is the original sinner. And our assumption is this, when he fell, he fell shortly after the seventh day of creation because God pronounced that all of creation was good. Evil hadn’t entered into the world. And so Satan falls and then he tries to cause Adam and Eve to fall. They take the beat and they fall and sin enters the world and death thereby. That’s our enemy.
Briefly speaking, here’s the point. We’ll pick it up here in Ephesians six, Satan is a fallen angel and he wishes for you to fall. That’s why we’re told to stand, don’t fall. Satan seeks to beguile, tempt, seduce, hinder, oppose, wound, and deceive. As David Jeremiah says in his book on spiritual warfare, “There are no edifying verbs associated with Satan.” It’s a good little statement. So here we have our enemy. And Paul wants us to be aware of him, right? The first rule of war is what? Know your enemy. That’s why the British General Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery always had a photograph of the German commander Rommel in his caravan wherever he went across North Africa because that’s the enemy he was up against. He needed to know Rommel, his instincts, his tactics.
Anytime I went out on patrol with the RUC in North Belfast during the troubles in Northern Ireland, we always got a briefing. We arrived at the station, we went into our locker room, we put on our uniform, got our body armor, our weapons, our radios. We went into the briefing room, and the sergeant would give us the latest intel on any IRA activity in the area. Was there a known terrorist that we had cited in the area? Was there any activity that caused us to wonder if there was an imminent threat or an attack just around the corner? And so we got these briefings that helped us to know the enemy and what we were going to face out on the street.
And Paul in Ephesians 6:10-13 has given us a briefing, here’s who the enemy is, here’s what he does, here’s how he operates. Now, we started to look at this under several headings, his territory, his titles, his tactics, and his team. Now, we covered his territory last week. Again, I’ll just underscore, fundamentally, his field of operation is this world. Paul is addressing the scenes in Ephesus, in Asia, in modern day Turkey, and he’s reminding them that their enemy is the devil, the wicked one, their enemy is not flesh and blood characters. That’s to the foreground, but the real enemy is to the background. And he’s trying to disrupt God’s redemptive history, right? Genesis 3:15. He can’t overthrow God. He’s not sovereign, God is. So the next best thing he can do is to disrupt and destroy God’s work through Christ in the world and he sets about doing that.
He’s got a special hatred, by the way, for Israel and the church. He’s got a special hatred for the Jew and the Christian. Why would I say that? Because the Messiah was to come through Israel and he has come through Israel. And sadly, at this present time, Israel has rejected her Messiah, but Christ has come through Israel and the church that has come into existence at Pentecost preaches him both to the Jew and the Gentile. And if Satan is trying to disrupt God’s redemptive work centered on the Messiah upon the Christ, upon the one who will come and bruise his head, then he’s focused on Israel and the church.
Now, before I leave that thought, I touched on this, but I want to come back to it for a moment. We are reminded that our enemy is not flesh and blood. Now, we will deal with flesh and blood enemies, but we’ve got to understand they’re simply Satan stooges. In my book Take Cover, I talk about this and I would remind us, our foe from below is the one who sponsors sin in all its forms across the world. He’s the god of this world, right? 2 Corinthians 4:4, and the world lies under his sway, 1 John 5:19.
And Ephesians six and those verses remind us to look behind the visible forces assaulting the people of God. There’s an invisible figure who relentlessly stokes the far of animosity against all that is good and all that is godly. When it comes to prostitution, Satan is the real pimp. When it comes to war, Satan is the real antagonist. When it comes to false religions, Satan is the real cult leader. When it comes to crime, he’s the real thief, he’s the real murderer. He was a murderer from the beginning. When it comes to totalitarian governments, he’s the real dictator. When it comes to persecution, he’s the real inquisitor. The real enemy behind our enemies is the devil. We need to go backstage on life and understand there’s an invisible war raging between heaven and hell, and earth is the theater of operations. You see that in Job one and two. It is Satan who blinds the minds of the Islamist, the cultist, the humanist, the abortionist. It’s Satan who takes them captive, right? 2 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Timothy 2:26.
Now, before I leave that, this is a good word from David Roper, a writer I’ve enjoyed over the years. Actually, it’s in a book on Elijah, but it addresses what we’re dealing with. Here’s what he says, “Behind every human power is the part of darkness.” Paul says clearly that our struggle is not against humans, but against spiritual powers that control them. Men and women who embody evil are not the enemy. They are the victims of the enemy taken captive at his will. It does little good to reel and rage against them because the devil has cruelly blinded and deceived. We must rather do battle with the devil rather than those he has deceived.
And then he goes on to make this analogy, “Life is like a Punch and Judy show. When the puppet villain puts in an appearance, we can tongue-lash him, we can throw rocks at him, we can take a club and bash him, but what have we accomplished? The man behind the curtain will simply place another puppet on the stage and begin to pull the strings again. Far better to go behind the scenes and take out the puppeteer.” Keep that in mind as you look at what’s in front of you politically, morally historically. You’re only seeing the puppets. Don’t lose sight of the puppeteer behind the curtain manipulating malignantly all that’s going on.
Let’s look at his titles. We’re getting to know the enemy. This is a Bible briefing on our enemy. We’ve looked at its territory, now its titles. If you want to get to know your enemy, then look at how he’s described or he describes himself, his names, his aliases. That will forewarn us, and to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Look, if you meet someone called Ivan the terrible, you might be being alerted to something about Ivan that you need to know. And so when we look at Satan’s titles, we’re learning stuff about him. Now, this is a study in itself and I’m going to kind of run down these almost as a list. And if you can keep up, good and well. If not, you might have to download the message and go back over this for your own notes. But in Revelation 9:11, he’s called Apollyon. In Matthew 12:24, he’s called Beelzebul. And in Isaiah 14:12, he’s called Lucifer.
And here’s another interesting thing. Revelation 12:10, now we’re getting into the kind of things he does in the light of what he’s described, he’s an accuser of the brethren. He likes to rub your nose into the mud you’ve fallen into and he wants to keep you wallowing in guilt. He’s called the serpent of old, Revelation 12:9. That’s an interesting phrase and I think that’s alertness to the fact. Who is the serpent in Genesis three? It’s Satan, the serpent of old, like a sneaky sly and slimy. He’s called the devil, Revelation 12:9, which means slanderer, diabolos, he’s called our enemy, Matthew 13:25, our adversary, 1 Peter 5:8.
He’s against us, that’s why in Ephesians six, we have six against in three verses because we’re up against it, my friend. Have you noticed that? You’re up against it in the culture, you’re up against it in your family who don’t like your fervor for Jesus Christ, you’re up against it on the campus of your public university. It’s gone crazy and nuts if you think you [inaudible 00:26:44] right and you’re wrong. He’s the wicked one.
He’s the father of lies and a murderer, John 8:44. What does that tell you about him? He loves to deceive and he loves to kill life and he likes to start in the womb. That’s who’s behind the abortion mills. It’s Satan, not George Soros, using him and his money to finance planned parenthood and other agencies that take the life of a little one, defenseless. That’s a work of Satan. He’s a murderer. He’s the ruler of demons. He’s the ruler of the world. And then finally, just one other would be 1 Thessalonians 3:5, he’s the tempter. Now, when you look at his titles and his aliases, you get a sense of his nature and what he’s about to do.
Now, before we leave that thought of his titles, in my studies this week, I came across a title you won’t find in the Bible, but it’s fascinating, and certainly can be justified from the Bible and it comes from Augustine, the great church theologian and leader. Do you know what he called the devil? The ape of God. See, the devil’s the original sinner, but he’s not very original as a sinner. He just copies God. He’s a corrupt copycat. You say, “Pastor, are you sure?” Yeah, I’m sure. He’s got his own church, Revelation 2:9, the synagogue of Satan. He’s got his own ministers who can turn themselves into angels of light and deceive people with another gospel, 2 Corinthians 11:4-5. He’s got his own theology, right? 1 Timothy 4:1, where Paul warns against the doctrines of demons. He’s got his own throne and he desires people to worship him, Revelation 13:2-4. He preaches and sends out into the world false christs, pseudo gospels, Matthew 24:4-5. Isn’t amazing? He’s the ape of God.
By the way, a little pastoral practical thing when he tempts you, anything he’s offering you is only a pill reflection of what God promises you because he’s just copycatting. God has the original trademark on sex and peace and joy and relationships. Don’t be deceived by this copycat who apes God in all that he does. So that’s his territory, the world. That’s his titles.
For the time that remains, we’re going to look at his tactics and we’re going to pick this up next Sunday morning. Come back to our text, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against,” notice, “… the wiles of the devil.” This is a word that means the scheming of the devil, the methods that he uses against you. You’ve got a similar thought, don’t you? In 2 Corinthians 2:11, where Paul says you are not ignorant of his devices. That’s a Greek word that means his thoughts or his plots, which, by the way, just alerts us to the fact that the devil and the hoards of hell, which are a third of the angels created who are now fallen, which is a large number, right now, they’re scheming and plotting to bring you down, to hurt your family, and to immobilize you as an effective servant of Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul wants you and I to awake to.
And the devil has a multiplicity and a variety of methods that he employs to that end. What does that mean? Well, we just think about what those methods might be. He sifts Christians, doesn’t he? Isn’t that what Peter faced in Luke 22:31-32? But he kind of boasted and Jesus said, “Hold a minute, Peter. You know what? Before the cock crows, you’re going to be in trouble because Satan has desired to have you, to sift you as wheat.” What an image sifting where there’s this violence shaking to separate the wheat from the chaff. And Satan wants to get his hands on Peter, which God gives him permission to do, by the way. Satan can only touch us with God’s permission and Peter’s going to be shaken. It’s almost going to separate him from Christ and separate his faith in Christ from Christ, but Christ has prayed for him.
But Satan likes to sift us, to shake us with all kinds of things. He can fill our hearts with a lie. He can deceive us, especially when we close our Bibles and we spend more time listening to the world than the Word. Acts 5:3-4, we’ve got Ananias and Sapphira who are lying because of Satan to the Holy Spirit, putting on a pretend show. He can tempt us, right? 1 Thessalonians 3:5. He can harass us or hinder us. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that he wanted to come to Thessalonica, but see Satan hindered him. That’s a Greek word that means that a road has been dug up and blockaded for the advancing army. It’s a military term.
And so I want to tell you something. When you take to the path of obedience, when you make a start towards something that will glorify God, Satan’s going to dig the road up in front of you. You’ve probably experienced that. He’s going to make it harder to get there, to achieve that goal, to live that obedience. One other thing among many things he does is deceive. He deceives us or seeks to by promoting false philosophies, 2 Colossians 2:8, through false ministers, 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, that preach false doctrine, 1 Timothy:1. And that’s a good sampling. We’re back to what David Jeremiah talked about that Satan beguiles and hinders and seduces and deceives and hurts, and none of those verbs are edifying.
Now, before I leave this thought, and this is where I’m going to go on a little bit of a rabbit trail, and that led me to realize that part three is coming. Not only what he does, the tactics he uses, but when he employs them. Find this fascinating. See, Satan will pick a weapon, an avenue by which he wants to attack you, and he’ll understand your vulnerabilities and he’ll pick a moment that gives him the greatest opportunity to hurt. You say, “Pastor, is that true?” And I would say yes, and we see it in the temptation of Jesus, and after Jesus fought Satan off by the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and the belt of truth, it says, “And Satan left him for a season.” That’s the old King James, and New King James is season. Satan left him for a more opportune time. If Satan’s left you alone, it’s simply because he’s loading his gun and he’s dialing in his sights to take a shot at you when the opportune moment comes.
And can I talk to you about some of those opportune moments? We’re only going to cover four of them. There’s six of them that I’ve come across. There may be more and we’ll pick this up next Sunday morning. See, whether it’s pilots, whether it’s generals in the military, or whether it’s football coaches, all the good ones have something in common. They have prepared for the worst case scenario. The general has thought about that moment in the battle when things turn in the wrong direction, what ought he to do? The football coach has anticipated a worst case scenario in terms of what the opposing team has brought. We see it with pilots, they’re trained to think ahead and make strategic decisions under pressure.
In fact, I have a friend here at the church who’s a pilot with United Airlines. He flies the large aircraft, the 787, and he goes pretty regularly to some training. In fact, he has invited me to join him at some point. I’ve not been able to make that happen, but someday I hope to. And he goes to Denver to get into these multimillion dollar simulators to fly the Dreamliners and keep himself up. And when they’re doing that, they give them worst case scenarios. He’ll be flying that plane and then they’ll simulate an engine failure, a catastrophic engine failure or perhaps the loss of avionics or decompression in the aircraft. And so they’re getting them ready for the worst case scenarios so that when that happens, they’re somewhat ready. There will be critical moments in the football game, critical moments in the battlefield, critical moments in flight.
In fact, I remember another pilot friend of mine back in our church in Ohio who was a pilot of the old 747s and he used to say as he flew from Detroit to Japan, he says, “Pastor flying his long hours of tedium interrupted by moments of exhilaration.” And so is life, long hours of tedium interrupted by moments of exhilaration or danger.
What might some of those moments be? Let’s go through three or four of these quickly. See, Satan’s looking for an opportune moment. He’s got devices and scheming, and one of them is this. When we step out and up in obedience, Satan will stand in our way, for sure. That’s a moment he will not let pass. He will not let you dedicate yourself to Jesus Christ easily. He will not allow you to do something big for the kingdom of God easily. Do you see that in the baptism of Jesus? I mean, he doesn’t need to be baptized in the baptism of repentance under John the Baptist, but he does to identify with us in our sin and the baptism of suffering he will face on the cross for our sin. And in that moment, the heaven’s open and what happens? God says, “This is my beloved son, in whom I’m well pleased.” That’s a good moment, isn’t it? Well pleased.
But then immediately, we read in Matthew 4:1, “And then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.” Jesus is beginning his public ministry, he’s beginning those first steps towards the cross and the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, this long war. And Satan doesn’t let that moment go by. I want to tell you this. You step up for God and Satan will step in your way. Don’t be surprised, don’t let it put you off. Persevere.
I know what Garry Ingraham says. He says this, “Spiritual warfare will escalate if you take significant steps towards spiritual growth. Spiritual warfare will escalate if you invade enemy territory such as engaging in evangelism or going on a mission trip. Spiritual warfare will escalate if you seek to oppose Satan and his tactics in public preaching or in your writings or in your communication in a small group. Spiritual warfare will escalate if you repent of a long held sin and make a break with the world system so that you might live vibrantly for Christ. Spiritual warfare will escalate if God is preparing you for a great work for Him.” It’s going to escalate as you move towards obedience and conformity to Christ.
You think about a football game, we’ve mentioned about football coaches. As soon as the game starts, this invariably happens, the other team tries to get at the quarterback and hit him hard and repeatedly early. Why? To put him off his game and not to allow him to get into a rhythm of throwing to his receivers or his tight ends. And I can tell you this. As soon as you and I step up and engage the game for the glory of Christ, Satan’s not going to let you get into a rhythm. He’s going to hit you early and repeatedly anytime you seek the obey.
Number two, not only when we step out and up in obedience, but when we enjoy an elevated moment or gain some victory. You see this in the life of Peter. He had no sooner confessed Christ as the son of God when he became an instrument for Satan to attack Christ. That’s Matthew 16:13-23, right? “Who the man say that I am?” Well, there’s a ton of opinions out there, but Peter says, “I’ll tell you who I say you are. You’re the son of the living God.” And Jesus said, “Peter, you’re right. You got it. Although I want you to know that that was not flesh and blood that revealed that to you, but my father in heaven.” And then Jesus goes on to talk about he is the son of the living God and he has come to give his life a ransom for many. He talks to his disciples in Matthew 16:13-23 about going to Jerusalem and dying.
Peter doesn’t like the sign of that and he says, “Lord, no. Well, I forbid it. That doesn’t fit into my thinking that you have come to bring a political, physical kingdom. You’re the king. Why would the king die before establishing the kingdom?” Now all aside, what does Jesus say? “Get behind me, Satan.” He’s speaking to Peter. Listen to these words by Paul Powell, they’re excellent, “After Samson single-handedly slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, he laid his head on the lap of Delilah and was [inaudible 00:41:14] of his power. When David was at the zenith of his political glory, he fell in love with another man’s wife. Immediately following his baptism after hearing the voice of God from heaven, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted. And, of course, Peter, intoxicated with the wine of his confession, became vulnerable to Satan’s attack and immediately became an instrument.” And the same can be true of you and me.
One of the opportune moments that Satan looks for is when we’re elevated, we’re on a spiritual high, where we have achieved something, we’ve crossed a wonderful milestone in our lives. Enjoy that, but know that you’re vulnerable. Don’t let your guard dine, don’t let conceit creep in. Do you know that the highest point in the continental United States is here in California? Do you know that the lowest point in the continental United States is here in California? We have it all in California. So the highest point is what? Mount Whitney, 14,494 feet. The lowest point is Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level. Here’s the amazing thing, but they’re only 88 miles apart between the highest point and the lowest point. It only takes you a few miles to change 15,000 feet in elevation. Can I tell you, man? It only takes a moment for you to go from the heights to the depths spiritually. And Satan loves those moments When we’re exhilarated, we’re on a little bit of a high, we’re having a bit of a party. Soldiers and parties don’t go together.
Here’s a third vulnerable moment. Remember, we’re looking at his tactics, not only what he does, but when he does it. Here’s the third one. When we have just sinned or maybe sinned grievously. And I tell you, that’s a moment for him. And I’ll tell you why. When you and I fall flat in our face, he loves to rub our nose in the mud into which we have fallen. He wants us wallowing in our guilt so that our worship is poor, we’re so discouraged with ourselves, we can hardly pray or read the Bible, and we don’t turn up to church because we think we don’t belong in the company of the saints. My friend, that is good hunting ground for the devil. And I’ll tell you why. Because according to Revelation 12:10 is what? The accuser of the brethren. You fall down, he’ll stand over you with an accusing finger, “Don’t get up. You’re unworthy. You’re out of God’s grace and God’s mercy.”
1 Peter 5:8 tells us he’s the devil. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a Greek word diabolos, slanderer, false accuser. He’ll falsely accuse you and he’ll slander God. He’ll tell you God’s done with you. He’ll tell you there’s no grace, there’s no mercy for you, you have sinned yourself beyond the reach of God’s kindness. That’s the slandering of the character of God. That’s the slandering of the finished work of Christ. Don’t listen to that. Get up. Don’t wallow in your guilt. Yes, acknowledge your guilt. Don’t run from your guilt. Don’t go to therapy to try and get rid of it. Go to the cross to get rid of it and realize that Jesus died to take away the penalty of our sin and the guilt of our sin. And if you’re in Christ and you confess your sin, there’s therefore now no condemnation. Don’t let the devil have you stuck on the past where you become immobilize.
Clinton Arnold who taught at Talbot and Biola for many years said this, “Satan reminds believers of their shortcomings on worthiness and sin. By stimulating feelings of guilty, he hopes to keep Christians from feeling well assured in their relationship to Christ and unworthy of receiving his empowering grace.” My friend, he’s an accuser, but remember, Jesus is an advocate. I’m not asking you to make light of your sin. Have a heavy heart and go with tears in repentance before Christ, but know this. If you confess your sin and agree with God about your sin, God’s faithful and just to forgive you your sin, and listen, hey man, cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
There’s a great story about Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, and Satan comes and attacks him at a low moment. And Luther dreams about this attack and how the devil’s standing at the end of his bed accusing him and reminding him that God can’t use him, “Who’s Martin Luther, the leader of reformation and to change the face of Europe for the gospel?” And the devil has a large scroll and he’s reading every sin that Martin Luther ever committed or thought about or indulged. But when he gets to the end of that one scroll, Luther looks at him and says, “Is that all?” And Satan says, “No, it’s not all,” and he produces another scroll. And he starts reading down that scroll. And when he’s finished, Martin Luther says to him, “Read right to the end, because right at the end it says, “And the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.”
My friend, if the devil is standing over you with some scroll of your past sins and why God can’t use you ever, you remember that the handwriting against you is nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ. In fact, I remember Jack Hayford saying something on the radio about the devil and his accusations that I have never forgotten, and I pass it on for your encouragement. Jack Hayford said, “The next time the devil reminds you of your past, you remind him of his future, which is the lake of fire.”
Let’s get this last one in and we’ll pick it up next Sunday morning. Number four, when we are low physically and sick. If you’re low physically and you’re tired and you’re exhausted, or maybe you’re dealing with an ongoing sickness, be aware that the devil will use that season and that sickness and that suffering in your life and in mine. In fact, when I shared that thought in first service, one of the saints, a lady in our church came and said, “Pastor, Charles Stanley preached a wonderful message once about temptation and being under attack by Satan. And when we face that, he said we need to halt and ask ourselves, “H, are we hungry? A, are we angry? L, are we lonely? And T, are we tired?’ Because that makes us vulnerable.” It’s a good little word, halt. Are you hungry, tired, angry, lonely? Be on your guard. See, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, it was after 40 days of fasting, wasn’t it? Matthew 4:1-2. Satan thought that was an opportune moment.
Think about Paul in the subscription of his physical ailment. We don’t know what that thorn in the flesh was, 2 Corinthians 12:7, what might it have been. Could have been an eye problem, which he talks about in Galatians six. Some believe it was malaria, or Paul just picked up some stuff along the way in all of his travels. But whatever it was, it was a messenger of what? Of Satan to buffet him. The word buffet’s a very strong word in the Greek. It’s a boxing word. It means to punch down on someone. And Paul is saying, “I want to tell you. This sickness I’m dealing with, Satan’s using it to punch me down, to pummel me.” Satan can inflict sickness. We see that in the story of Job. But if he doesn’t inflict sickness, he certainly will use the sickness that is part of a fallen world where people are subject to death and he will use it to discourage us, to raise questions about the goodness of God, and even to excuse sin.
Again, I quoted Paul Powell, I’ll quote him again as we head towards a close, “Satan doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves in the world today. The scriptures repeatedly laid the blame for suffering, affliction, and disease at his feet. Job, the great patriarch who lost his family, his health, and his wealth was afflicted, not by God, but by Satan. Jesus described the woman who was crippled by a spinal disorder as one whom Satan had bound. And in his great sermon to Cornelius, Peter describes Jesus as healing all those who were oppressed of the devil.” Satan is our accuser, tempter, deceiver, hinderer, [inaudible 00:50:22].
I just want to make you aware of your vulnerability perhaps as you age and physical weakness sets in, perhaps as you deal with chronic pain, perhaps as you deal with just some kind of flash sickness, that when you’re low physically and emotionally, it can lead to being low spiritually. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, the body is weak, and the devil uses those times. So be careful about your sickness. Submit it to God. Ask for grace to persevere. Don’t doubt his goodness, and certainly don’t use it as an occasion to excuse sin.
Joni Eareckson Tada, you know her story, quadriplegic. She tells us in one of her books, Secret Strength, that because she was paralyzed and confined on a wheelchair, there were days she was tempted to sin because she thought, “You know what? Maybe God will go easy on me given all the suffering I’m going through.” I’ll let her speak, “I was in my late 20s, single, and with every prospect of remaining. So sometimes lust or a bite of fantasizing would seem so inviting, so easy to justify. After all, hadn’t I already given up more than most Christians just by being disabled? Didn’t my wheelchair entitle me for a little slack now and then?” She goes on, “When God allows you to suffer, do you have the tendency to use your trials as an excuse for sinning? Or do you feel that since you’ve given God a little extra lately and taken such abuse, you can have a day off?” That’s a good word.
In fact, if you go to James one, that’s what happens. He talks about trials and he talks about temptations because a trial that’s not handled with the wisdom of God will come a temptation, where you’ll doubt God’s goodness and you’ll excuse your own lax discipline.
I’ll finish with this and we’ll pick up the other two vulnerable moments next Sunday morning. 1984, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who I greatly admired by the way, narrowly escaped with her life after two bombs exploded in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England. She was staying there because the next morning, the conservative party that she belonged to was having its annual conference. But little did she know that the IRA, the Irish Republican terrorist group had left two bombs with timers on them, which ultimately went off and killed five people and injured others. Thatcher, her [inaudible 00:53:13] escaped in a very interesting piece of providence. She was actually up at 2:30 in the morning when this thing went off. She was working on her speech for the next morning. When the bomb went off, it took part of her room away, in fact, the bathroom she’d been in three minutes earlier. She survived. They hated her because she had let the hunger strikers die, and she was very strong in her opposition to Irish Republicanism.
But here’s the interesting thing. The IRA put a notice out the next morning from Dublin. This is what it said, “Today we were unlucky. But remember, we only have to be lucky once. You have to be lucky always.” That’s chilling, isn’t it? It’s true. We missed you this time, Margaret, but you have to be vigilant all the time. We only need one good shot, one good opportunity.
And Paul would remind us of that. Be alert to the wiles, the scheming, and the plotting of the devil, what he does, and when he does it. He will wait for the opportune moment to assassinate you spiritually. So be strong in the Lord, my friends, and make sure each and every day you put on the whole armor of God.
Father, we thank you for our time in the Word, thank you for this Bible briefing on our enemy, his territory, his titles, his tactics. We thank you that we’re not ignorant of who he is and what he does and when he does it. So help us to be sober, be vigilant for our adversary goes about waiting for that moment to devour us. Help us to stay close to you. Help us to stay close to the church. Lord, help us indeed to stand in this evil day having put on the whole armor of God for Jesus’ sake. Amen.