Evaluating Evil: Spiritual Warfare
Rev. Sandy Johnson
January 17, 2016
Last week we began our series on evil and learned that evil can be described as something morally wrong which is accompanied by suffering or misfortune. It can also be described as immorality or wickedness specifically in relationship to a supernatural force. So evil can be both internal and external: it can be a side of ourselves that we attempt to control and an external force that attempts to lead us astray. Last week we learned that we have the choice to follow God’s way or man’s way. God’s way leading to eternal life and man’s way which leads to evil and death.
We may not all agree on what we call evil: Satan, devil, Lucifer, the beast, adversary, antichrist, father of lies or enemy; but I think we can all agree that evil exists in the world. We may not agree if it’s an active force or a passive force, but it does exists. Some of us here today will not want to think about evil lurking, hoping to distract us, an active and heinous spirit in the world that influences us, lures us away, doing everything in its power to take us away from God. I would argue that evil is anything that stands in the way of our fulfilling our promises to God, to be faithful disciples, to choose God’s way over man’s way. So regardless of what we call it, or what it looks like, how active or passive it is, we can rest assured that evil exists. We’ve seen it.
Certainly we don’t teach much about the devil or evil and it isn’t a topic often spoken of from the pulpit in our churches. I’m not sure if this is because we are uncomfortable talking about it, sort of like how we avoid sermons on money; or is it widely known and accepted and is hardly worth mentioning? The United Methodist Book of Discipline says that we are all inclined to evil, it is our very nature and only through Christ can we overcome evil and be acceptable in God’s eyes. I find the topic fascinating and one worth the time discussing and demystifying, so that we can each be stronger in our faith and better equipped when evil comes knocking. And it will come knocking.
We shift focus this week to an actual account of spiritual warfare. The scripture lesson today tells of Jesus being tempted by the devil. Following Jesus’ baptism he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” With God’s permission then, “the Spirit led him,” Jesus was brought face to face with the devil himself. The devil began with deception and questioned whether Jesus was even the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God” was how he began. This questioning of Jesus’ identity was an attempt to bring Jesus to a point of justifying or defending himself. How easy would it have been to jump on that? “IF? IF I am the Son of God. Do you know who I am? Do you know who you are talking to???” Pride is an ugly part of evil.
Then the devil strikes with a basic human need, tempting the hungry Jesus with food. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus fights him off with scripture and the devil comes at him a second time. This time using Jesus’ own approach, the devil quotes scripture to get at Jesus. After all if scripture says it, it must be ok, right? Wrong. Motive comes into play. The devil was attempting to lure Jesus into testing God and used scripture to do it. Jesus battles back with scripture of his own, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” I imagine both are sweating by this time. Remember, Jesus was fully human at this point and was fighting the devil as a human would. Although the devil attempts to get him to use his power and authority inappropriately, Jesus holds fast to his call and his purpose.
In the last attempt, the devil shows him the entire world and tells him to worship him and he will give him authority over all. What the devil failed to realize was that Jesus already had authority over all the earth. How he exerted his authority was what was being offered. Jesus would have none of the self-absorbed or prideful motives of the devil and rebukes him. “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”The devil leaves, scene over and Jesus is tended to by the angels who were sent to wait on him. Three times the devil tempted Jesus. Three times Jesus responded with scripture, wielding it like a sword, cutting down the devil’s temptations like butter.
On the surface we can read this scripture as a recipe on how to fight evil, how to protect ourselves from demonic attack. Scripture is the tool we are called to use. Our job is to know it, to practice it and to be well versed enough to use it the way Jesus did. This scripture also may cause us to stop and ask ourselves, does spiritual warfare exist in our modern world or is it only found in scripture?
I believe we have all been subject at one time or another, to what is called spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is an active engagement with evil and requires us to fight the urge to follow a path we know we shouldn’t. Spiritual warfare could be an all-out attack similar to Jesus tempting. Or it could be when someone first feels drawn into the faith; often they are derailed. I have seen in our own congregation, when people move forward in their faith and then get side swiped with fear and anxiety about their budding faith. I have seen people step forward and then turn and run away. The battle is fierce and it is real.
There are also minor skirmishes that creep up. Sometimes the battle sneaks in quietly, in the form of whispers we hear in our mind, that draws us away. I fall prey when it comes to healthy eating. I know what I should be eating and how much I should be exercising, but I listen to the quiet voice that undermines my attempts to be in the best physical shape. Just one cookie won’t hurt. I can put off exercising until tomorrow. I’m tired. I should rest. I’m not sure that is of God. I mean, if the evil one can distract me from being in the best health, in the end he wins. I’ll be unable to continue serving God in the local church.
Or what about the time when we are tempted to cheat on our taxes. I mean, no one will know! Why not? Everybody does it! That, my friends, is not of God. We are lured into all kinds of sin and suffering when we listen to the negative urgings of evil, and we know better. We know what is of God, but the justifications and temptations of evil speak to us down deep. We do deserve more, we do work hard, and we are justified in our righteous indignation. The problem is that we must always test the messages we are receiving against the teachings of Christ. Is what is being offered or promoted in our minds something that will honor God? Will it bring glory to the kingdom or only ourselves? Is it supported by scripture?
In the scripture this morning Jesus was tempted by the Devil, not to do something that was bad necessarily, it wasn’t like he was urging him to kill several million Jews. He was luring Jesus to go against God’s plan, he attempted to get Jesus to take his authority now and in a very different way than what God had planned. Sometimes we are tempted to do something good, but if the timing isn’t God’s and if the motives are not pure, it’s wrong.
Jesus fully shared our weakness as humans while he was on this earth. He was tempted and overcame the temptation by using the Word of God as a sword to defeat the temptations offered by Satan. Ephesians 6:11-20 is probably the best scripture about arming ourselves against temptation and evil. Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus:
“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We must arm ourselves with truth, righteousness, peace, faith and the word of God. We do this by coming together as a worshipping congregation each week to be uplifted and challenged in our walk with God. We do this by being involved in a bible study or self-study at home. We do this by reading scripture, not just once in a while, but routinely. We do this by supporting and loving one another in this world and being the hands and feet of Christ for one another. Spiritual warfare is real and not to be ignored. Spiritual warfare is not only an historical event, something that happened years ago but it happens today.
I heard a story about Judson Cornwall, an American Pentecostal preacher who, after WWII, was invited to speak at a renewal conference in post-war Germany. But Cornwall held a deep seated grudge against the Germans and simply threw the invitation into the trash. His wife however found the invitation and put it on his desk again. For days it haunted him as he shuffled it around on his desk until finally the Spirit won and he reluctantly agreed to go.
Arriving in Germany, he his negative feelings were heightened when he realized that the Conference would be held in the former SS headquarters. The former headquarters of Hitler’s elite guard. Just seeing the building aroused all sorts of images and old hatreds in himself. He spent two days before the conference praying and fasting and preparing, but mostly avoiding the Germans. On the first night of the Conference he went down to speak and took umbrage at his translator, a somewhat stereotypical Aryan Ueberfrau, giant, buxom, with blonde hair put up in a bun. He spat out his sermon, so it was no surprise that it was badly delivered and badly received. He returned to his room and decided to go back to America the next day. Full of humiliation and emotion he cried himself to sleep.
In the night, he awoke to demons screaming in his mind; “You don’t belong here! You have no authority here! Go home!” Experienced in spiritual warfare, Cornwall recognized the attack and figured it had to do with the demonic history of the SS in the building, and immediately he rebuked the demons in Jesus name. Three times that night the demonic voices woke him; three times he rebuked them. After the third time he got up and asked God what was happening and why his prayers weren’t sufficient and the demons kept returning. The Lord spoke immediately, funny how he does that! God said, “The demons are tormenting you because you really don’t have any authority here. You have no authority here because you don’t love these people. Your authority to minister is related to your love for those to whom you minister. Now you can go on hating these people, pack up and go home tomorrow or you can let me love them through you.”
Cornwall acknowledged his deep racism and prejudice. Too embarrassed to go home, he confessed his sin and asked God to love through him, the Germans who he loathed. He knew he needed a miracle of grace. Immediately he was overwhelmed by the Spirit of God and filled with Christ’s love for the Germans.
The following morning he couldn’t wait to go down to breakfast with the Germans he had been ignoring. He rushed downstairs to breakfast and greeted and hugged everyone in the food line, including his translator whom he had disrespected just the day before. Immediately she pulled back and barked: “You hate us!” “No, no,” he replied, “that was yesterday, today I love you.”
Judson Cornwall preached that morning and the power of God was on his words. At the end of the sermon there was a huge line of people wanting to speak with him personally, something he usually avoided, but he sensed God wanted him to be attentive to the people individually. One by one, people came and thanked him for helping them to forgive the Americans, whether because they had lost loved ones in combat against them or in the bombing raids. Cornwall saw that pain and resentment cut both ways, but the obedience to the Spirit of Christ heals historic hurts and unites us in the love of God.
We all come under attack from time to time, we must all band together and guard our hearts and minds against attack. Whether evil comes from outside or within, it exists and must be dealt with.
During a “60 Minutes” interview with Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur, the man who testified at the 1960 trial of Adolf Eichmann, Mike Wallace asked Dinur why he cried and then collapsed to the floor at the trial. Dinur explained that his reaction was not what he had anticipated. Although Eichmann personified evil, the encounter made Dinur realize that sin and evil are the natural human condition.
“I was afraid about myself,” Dinur concluded. “I saw that I am capable to do this . . . exactly like he.”
Then Mike Wallace faced the camera and asked: Was Eichmann a monster or “something even more terrifying—was he normal?”
Let us pray. Gracious God, protect us from evil. Guard our hearts and minds, protect us from the demons who live within us and those who attack from without. Enliven us with the Holy Spirit so that our defenses against evil will always be enough. Give us confidence to fight the battle and let us always remember that You are greater than any evil that exists in the world. Give us the courage to hold fast to that truth and to make the choice always and forever to do your will. We ask this in Jesus name. Amen.
 Matthew 4:1
 Matthew 4:3
 Matthew 4:3
 Matthew 4:7
 Matthew 4:10
 Ponsonby, Simon. Loving Mercy. http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-revd-martin-dale-stories-christianlove-81923.asp. Page 22-24.