Do You Know How The Devil Works Against You?

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The British theologian, CS Lewis, once said that we commit two errors regarding the devil. First, we disbelieve in the existence of the devil.  Second, we have an unhealthy and excessive interest in him.

Now, what Lewis is trying to point out is that both of these are unhealthy and frankly dangerous because the devil loves both a materialist and a magician. 

You see, if a whole society believes that the devil does not exist, well… the devil is given free rein.  He can do whatever he wants whenever he wants, and he will never be on anybody’s radar.  Oh, how the devil loves materialists! 

And if a whole society has an excessive and unhealthy interest in the demonic, the devil delights in this too!  The reason being, those who play with darkness are fools.  They are fools because they often treat the devil as if he is some timid little angel that needs attention, kind of like a lost puppy dog. 

Dear friends, the devil exists, and he is not a pushover. But instead, he is an enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. [1]

So considering all of this, how might we understand the devil and his evil cohorts?  Well, 1) we know he exists, 2) he is not small potatoes, and 3) he plays dress-up.  Yes, you heard that correctly, the devil plays dress-up.  The devil is a crossdresser because he dresses up as a beautiful angel of light, even though he is darkness.[2] He makes evil look good and good look evil.  He covers naked evil in attractive garments while tossing mud at goodness, and he does so with trickery, slyness, and covertness. 

With that said, we see the devil at work in our reading from the gospel of Matthew.  And as already briefly hinted at, we have this tendency to think about the devil as labeling himself, ‘spicy and dangerous,’ while wearing a red cape.  However, the devil does not approach Jesus with blatant fire, bloodshed, anarchy, and chaos. But instead, the devil comes to Jesus with subtle doubt.

You and I must realize that right before our reading in Matthew chapter four, that God the Father said in chapter three,

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

And then three verses later the devil asks Jesus,

“If you are the Son of God…” 

Do you see how that works?

The devil does not tell Jesus that He is not the Son of God but challenges Jesus to prove it. “If you are the Son of God, prove it!” 

Baptized Saints, when the devil attacks you, it typically comes in the form of doubt, questions, and uncertainties.  The devil does not go and outright deny the claims of God’s Word but tries to erode assurance, truth, and reality.  For example, the devil whispers into your mind:

“The pastor said you were forgiven of your sins in absolution, but are you really forgiven of all of your sins?  After all, Jesus didn’t say those words, did he?  It was just a man dressed up in a robe, and we all know that a mere man cannot forgive sins.”

“Is Jesus truly present in with and under the bread and the wine for your forgiveness? Maybe you better get to work and try to show and prove you really are forgiven so that you are worthy of that altar.”

“Church is for sinners, but maybe your sin is too bad for the church.  Maybe it is too bad for the pastor to absolve.  Hmm, maybe you better not go to church.”

Please keep in mind that the devil not only attacks your assurance by instilling doubt, but he also creates doubt when it comes to sin as well. He whispers:

“In church the pastor said something about sexual ethics but isn’t the church a bit old-fashion and behind the times? It is the twenty-first-century after all!”

“The 10 Commandments clearly say that murder is wrong; however, isn’t there more than just one way to interpret the Bible? Maybe murder in certain contexts really isn’t sin.” 

To the point; the devil desires to make you doubt God’s law so that you are enticed into the darkness of sin.  The devil also desires to strip you of assurance through instilling doubt.    Bluntly stated; a church that doubts sin and doubts assurance has no real joy but is subtly seduced into the darkness of the devil. 

Now, if the devil doesn’t use doubt, he has another tactic against you - he actually twists and distorts Scripture itself.

Dear friends, please do not be deceived by believing that the Scriptures are somehow off-limits to the devil. Do not be so naïve to believe that the devil is scared of using the Bible.  In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the devil himself quoting the Bible to Jesus according to the devil’s own purpose.  In other words, the devil certainly quoted the Bible to Jesus, but he did so by omitting a significant portion of it.  Again this is how the devil masquerades as light. He takes God’s Word (which is good) and twists it for his purpose. 

This is the reason why so many heretics, religious peddlers, and spiritual fanatics manage to have television shows, ministries, and followings – the devil is in their corner.  The devil loves false teachers who twist God’s Word.  He cheers them on when they twist Scripture for they have taken a play out of his playbook.   

So, all of this leads to a big question: if the devil is sly, tricky, subtle, and deceitful, what chance do you and I have against him?  Actually, we have no chance.  Yes, you heard that correctly, by yourself, you do not stand a chance against the devil.

But that is where we must pause and understand - you and I are not by ourselves. You are not alone. 

In the baptismal rite, it states that you were conceived and born sinful and under the power of the devil. That is until Christ claimed you as His own.  In your baptism, there was a hostile takeover.  Christ snatched you from the kingdom of darkness; He exercised the devil from you and made room for the Holy Spirit. And then you were marked with the sign of the holy cross on your head and heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  You were branded with the name of our Triune God so that the devil and his filthy minions would know who you belong to. 

And there is more: the Lord God gave you His Word – His Promises to not only help you know and confess sin but to also know and receive forgiveness.  He gave you His Word that you could have certainty, assurance, and a weapon against demonic tyranny. 

Consider our Gospel once again, when attacked by the devil, Jesus did not function like a materialist and pretend that the devil did not exist.  Jesus also did not show an excessive and unhealthy interest in the devil by arguing or debating him.  Jesus also do not pray in the midst of these temptations. But instead, He spoke to satan by quoting Scripture. Jesus said, “It is written!”  So what this means is that we should do the same when confronted by the evil foe.  You see, the Word captivates us and is our weapon against demonic deception. 

This is why the Bible constantly calls you and me not to remain like prolonged infants - small babies who are an easy mark for the devil.  Baptized Saints, God wants you and me to grow up, not by being independent, but by growing up in our dependence on the truth of God’s Word.  He wants us to stop being spiritually naïve-gullible-irresponsible-children who are easily tossed back and forth from all of the false doctrines, trickery, and deceit of the devil.[3]  The Lord God wants you to have His Word – to be captive by His Word so that you are not dazzled by fancy false rhetoric from the evil one.  The Lord does not want you to be dragged off into endless arguments or to be entangled and empty traditions inspired by darkness.  He does not want you to be taken captive by the empty superstitions and manipulations of the devil himself.[4] And so he calls you and me to grow up into Christ and His Word.  He calls you and me to live our lives by being rooted in Christ and His Word.  We are called to be built up and established in the faith of Jesus and His Word.[5] 

To be specific and extremely practical, this happens as you – namely – come to Christ’s church and come often.  It happens as you come to St. Paul’s not to give your best to God but to receive God’s best for you in His Word and Sacraments. Gifts given to you!

Baptized Saints, please do not overlook this point; as you come to Christ’s church you are given the Word so that the Holy Spirit may increase in you your saving knowledge of Jesus.  You come to hear God’s Word - and hear it often - so that you may be strengthened in the divine truth and remain steadfast.  You come to hear God’s Word so that you may fight the good fight to overcome all the temptations of the devil one.  You come to hear God’s Word so that with assurance you may say,

“Depart from me, O devil.  Go to hell with your doubt and deceit. I am baptized into Christ. In the stead and by the command of Jesus, my pastor absolved me; I am truly forgiven.  Hear this, O devil, I have also feasted upon Christ’s holy body and blood.  Jesus is in my belly; therefore, I have forgiveness in me and for me.  O devil, I do not live by doubt and I will not be swayed, for I am captive and live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  His Word is true, you are not; be gone evil foe.  Depart, be gone, for Christ has spoken and I have heard.  I listen to my Savior’s voice, which is truth.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] See 1 Peter 5:8.
[2] See 2 Corinthians 11:14.
[3] See Ephesians 5-16.
[4] See Colossians 2:8-15.
[5] See Colossians 2:6-7. 

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