Know your enemy–the devil

Some people interpret the devil as a metaphor, a personification of evil who does not literally exist. Others picture him as a cartoon character, an archaic mythical being with an overlay of medieval and modern imaginings. The Bible describes the devil as a fallen angel, created by God to be good, but in rebellion against God, at war with all that belongs to God. He has no personal interest in the people living on the planet Earth; but, because God loves us, the devil tries to hurt God by bringing harm upon us.

God is purely good, but pure evil does not exist. Everything evil is something good that has been twisted, distorted, and changed from its original form and purpose. Even the devil was a good angel when God made him. The Bible does not say much about his rebellion beyond attributing his fall to sinful pride. I speculate that the devil understands power and authority, but he does not understand love and mercy. He sees God’s love and mercy as weaknesses, which is why the devil believes that he can run the universe better than God is running it. He is very clever, but he is also foolish. He cannot accept the reality that he is not equal to God. He is not all-powerful, all-knowing, or present everywhere. He cannot defeat God, but that reality does not stop him from trying.

The devil tempts people to sin. When we have sinned, he remembers our sins and stands ready to accuse us of sinning. His name, Satan, comes from a Persian word, a legal term for the prosecuting attorney in a courtroom. Once a person has sinned, Satan considers that person a partner in evil. Every sin is a sign that the sinner belongs to Satan and not to God. Satan is ready to accuse us in God’s presence of all our sins so he can keep us as his property–not because he cares about us, but because he hates God and wants to grieve God.

On one occasion, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promised to give them to Jesus if Jesus would worship the devil. As laughable as that temptation seems, it was a shrewd offer. Jesus had come into the world to redeem sinners, to reconcile us to God and reclaim us for his Kingdom. His path to our redemption involved suffering and dying on a Roman cross. Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to his goal. Jesus could take charge of all the kingdoms of the world without suffering and without dying. He only had to worship the devil. Had Jesus wanted power and authority, he would have accepted that offer. But Jesus came into the world with love and mercy. It was not enough for him to rule over sinners still unreconciled to God. Jesus refused the devil’s offer and continued his journey toward the cross.

Satan quoted Psalm 91 as he suggested that Jesus jump from the pinnacle of the Temple and be carried by angels. Jesus refused to put God’s promises to the test. Yet Jesus was fulfilling the promise of the Psalm in his refusal–the same Psalm also promises that God’s people will trample the serpent. In the Garden of Eden, Satan had used the form of a serpent to tempt Eve into sinning and joining his rebellion. God responded that Satan was a loser–he would eat dust–and a descendent of Eve would defeat Satan. Jesus would crush the devil’s head, but in the process Satan would bruise his heel. Jesus crushed the devil’s head by his sacrifice on the cross.

Now, when Satan remembers the sins of Christians and accuses us of rebellion, Jesus stands as our defense attorney. He pleads our case before his Father, reminding his Father that our penalty has been paid in full. Satan stamps his little foot and complains, “That’s not fair!” He is correct; God is being unjust by forgetting our sins and receiving us into his Kingdom. In love and mercy, God would rather be unfair to our benefit than give us what we deserve.  Jesus comes like a thief in the night to steal us from the devil. He breaks into the strong man’s house–the world controlled by the devil–and binds Satan so he can take Satan’s property (sinners who have rebelled against God) and bring them home.

When missionaries sent by Jesus rejoiced in the victories they had experienced, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Satan’s fall is not a single event in history; he falls whenever God’s promises are shared and believed. The Word of God binds Satan. His only power is in his words, and when people trust God’s Word, Satan is bound. He is a chained dragon. Satan becomes unbound whenever people set aside the Word of God and fail to believe the promise of redemption. The Bible calls Satan a roaring lion, but he is no more dangerous than the lions in the zoo. So long as we stand where we belong–on the Word of God–Satan cannot get to us. Only when we leave God’s Word and climb into Satan’s territory are we in danger from the devil.

Satan is not God’s equal. Hell is a prison, not a kingdom, and Jesus holds the keys to that prison. The victory Jesus won by his death and resurrection is a victory over Satan, a victory Jesus shares with us. The apostle Paul calls us “more than conquerors” because we participate in the victory without having contributed to the battle. Satan does not have the power to take us out of God’s hands. Nothing, not even the devil, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. J.

 

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The Festival of All Saints

The early people of Europe, both Celtic and Germanic, observed a holiday roughly halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. Known by various names, this holiday was inspired by the fact that nights were getting longer, days were getting shorter, and nature was shutting down to prepare for the winter. Dark thoughts inspired images of ghosts, goblins, witches, and other monsters and fearful beings. Christian missionaries working among the Celtic and Germanic people countered with a Christian holiday, the Festival of All Saints. With this festival, Christians remind themselves and others that we do not need to fear ghosts and monsters, that the spirits of believers who have died are safely with Jesus in Paradise, and that the work of Jesus has conquered evil in all its forms.

A message being passed around Facebook claims that the Christian holiday is older, that Christians were celebrating the Festival of All Saints on the first of November long before Halloween became an observance on the thirty-first of October. Technically, this is true, since Christians were using the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire while Celts and Germans were still using a lunar calendar. Only rarely would their annual festival come the night before All Saints’ Day, but the festival of darkness and evil beings was being observed in Europe long before Christians began the Festival of All Saints.

Who was first in marking this time of year does not matter as much as whose observance is more significant. Let the creation of All Saints’ Day be a Christian response to the pagan observances that have become Halloween. The message about all the saints is still more meaningful than any message about ghosts and goblins. All Saints’ Day is a reminder of Easter on the far side of the calendar. Jesus is still risen, and all who trust in him are still rescued from death and the grave and are protected from every kind of evil.

Who, then, is a saint? Every believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a saint. Peter and Paul wrote letters addressed to saints, not addressed to spirits with Christ in Paradise, but addressed to Christians still living on the earth. It is customary on All Saints’ Day to think of those saints who have died and who are waiting for the Day of Resurrection; but for Christians alive on earth, this is our day too. We remember that we are saints, not because of what we have done for Jesus, but because of what Jesus has done for us.

Saints are holy people. Anything that is holy is the property of God. God’s name is holy, because it belongs to him (and Christians pray that God’s name be holy, or hallowed, among us). Times set aside for worship are holy times, because they belong to God. Places where Christians gather for worship are holy, because they belong to God. When Moses stood on holy ground—ground that belonged to God—he was told to remove his shoes so that common everyday dirt would not be tracked onto God’s holy dirt.

Holy people are also meant to be different from other people. Holy people are meant to be reminders of Jesus. We are different from other people because we love God and try to obey his commands. We are different from other people because we love our neighbors and seek to help them for the glory of God. Christians do not always succeed at this business of holiness. If we had to make ourselves holy, we would be total failures. But we do not make ourselves holy. Jesus makes us holy by his life, his death, and his resurrection. Jesus makes us holy through the gifts of his Church. Jesus makes us holy by claiming us as his own people.

What then of Halloween? Christians are free to observe Halloween or not as it suits them, provided they do not offend one another by their celebrations. Christians who want to give out free candy on Halloween are free to do so; those who do not wish to share candy do not have to share. Christian parents can send their children out to receive free candy or can find other things for them to do on that night. For some Christians, Halloween is a grim reminder of the evil from which they have been freed, and they would rather not think about evil at all. For other Christians, Halloween is a time to laugh at evil, our defeated enemy, and to celebrate the freedom we have received through Christ.

Christmas trees and Easter eggs and Halloween jack-o-lanterns might distract some people from the promises of Christ, but they are also fitting reminders of the promises of Christ. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and therefore anything in creation can be used to celebrate his love. Have a blessed Festival of All Saints this weekend, and also a happy Halloween. J.