Why Evil Is Unoriginal

Text: Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

In case you don't already know this, the Devil is unoriginal. That is to say; the Devil is rather uninteresting and predictable; he does not have the ability to create but can only imitate and copy.  

And so, it should not come as a great surprise to us that the Devil does not war against Christians by making a creative alternative kingdom to the Kingdom of God. In other words, the kingdom of darkness is not an equal and opposite independent kingdom to the Kingdom of God. If it were, well… we Christians would be giving the Devil way too much created for the Devil can never create anything good, beautiful, or true.  

If you are a bit confused, let me unpack this more. 

Consider evil. Evil is not the opposite of goodness. But instead, evil is the perversion of goodness. Sin is like a disease; it is the corruption of good.  

And so, for the Devil to promote evil, all he has to do is throw a wrench into the works of God. The Devil does not have to create a good, beautiful, and true alternative but can come along and mess up the goodness of God by perversion and the twisting of the good. 

For example, consider the 4th Commandment; it is about the gift of authority. It is about those in authority using their power to protect the vulnerable and keep good order. However, all the Devil has to do to mess this up is tempt those in authority to use their power for themselves, and with a flip of a switch, a tyrant is born. 

Let us also consider the 6th Commandment; the 6th is about marriage and the gift of sex. However, all the Devil has to do is dislodge the gift of sex from marriage and place it within adultery, pornography, and prostitution, and then sex becomes perverted and corrupted.  

And so, things like authority and sex are not bad. They are gifts from God. However, the Devil makes them bad when he perverts them – dislodging them from their proper and godly use.  

And so, with all of this stated, it is easy to discern that all the temptations from the Devil in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew are full of hot air. The Devil tempted Jesus with riches, pride, and power when Jesus already had unlimited power and when Jesus was already the Creator of all things. 

So, while the Devil does control the forces and the wealth of the earth to a certain extent when you really think about it, the Devil's propositions are naively awkward when made toward the Son of God. Again, the Devil is unoriginal, he cannot create but only can pervert and twist.  

But if that is the case, why is it that we are so easily deceived by the Devil's temptations and trickery? The answer is quite simple. It is because we do not listen to the Word of God.  

Dear friends, the Devil doesn't have to do a whole lot of work on us humans. All he has to do is try to obstruct the Word of God from our ears and then appeal to our sinful old Adam. When we are separated from the Word of God, and when the Devil has us alone with our sinful old Adam, we are easy prey. 

Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul, in our epistle reading from 2 Corinthians, stresses the fact that he and Timothy made sure not to put any obstacle in anyone's way.  They did not want to pull a play from the Devil’s playbook. In other words, Paul and Timothy conducted themselves in a way that gave no occasion for Christians to stumble and not receive the Gospel. Paul and Timothy knew that the power of the Church was not their charisma, power, or influence. They knew that the power of the Church was not a particular program, great music, or a great marketing strategy. They knew that the Church stood upon the power of the Gospel, and so they did everything possible not to throw a wrench into the works of God.

Dear friends, when the Gospel is given free rein, the Church is at its finest. Remember that famous quote from Martin Luther?  

"While I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”[1]

Indeed, the power of the Reformation was not Luther; it was not the Princes, it was not German resiliency… no, it was the Word. The Reformers preached the Word, taught the Word, and wrote the Word. They were constrained by no man and no force. And thus, the Word did everything, and the Reformers did nothing. 

So, what does all of this mean? 

Baptized Saints, be careful - the Devil is going to work against this Church by attempting to ruin what we already have. Since He cannot create any viable alternatives to this Christian faith, his tactics will be to twist and pervert the gifts of the Word and Sacraments that we already have here at St. Paul's Lutheran.  

Secondly, Baptized Saints, mark this - the Devil will use everything possible to try and make sure that we do not listen to the Word of God. Like a squeaky wheel on a grocery cart, the Devil will do everything possible to distract you and me from the main thing – the Gospel. He will do everything possible to create obstacles, stumbling blocks, and distractions so that we do not listen to the Word. Bluntly stated, beware of taking yourself, others, and the inner workings of St. Paul's more seriously than the Gospel. St. Paul's Lutheran is just a small church in a small little city in a small and tiny North Dakota. St. Paul's is here today and may be gone tomorrow – but NOT the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Do not let your ears be tickled by false gospels. Do not be distracted by devilish myths, silly skirmishes, and little projects! Keep the main thing, the main thing – ears must be open to the Gospel. 

Thirdly, Baptized Saints know this - while the Devil always seeks to devour and destroy your faith, he works double time when you are far from the Word or when you hear the Word in vain. Like bird picking seeds off a well-worn path, when you hear the Gospel and don't take it in – when it just remains on the surface, the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of your ears. And then, the Evil One amplifies the voice of your old Adam.  

And finally, Baptized Saint, straighten up and hear this - when the Devil attacks, do not try to figure out everything on your own. But instead, listen to the Word. In fact, you can preach the Word to the unoriginal Devil with defiance. For example, "…when the Devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: '[Good try; however, unoriginal again.] O Devil, I [freely] admit that I deserve death and hell; what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!'" [2]  And if you get tired of preaching to the Devil, well… with steadfast and bold faith, you can always mock the Devil. Take a cue from Martin Luther; he once said, 

"When the Devil comes at night to worry me, this is what I say to him: Devil, I have to sleep now. That is God's Commandment, for us to work by day and sleep at night. If [the Devil] keeps on nagging me and trots out my sins, then I answer: Sweet Devil, I know the whole list. But I have done even more sin which is not on your list. Write there also that I have [manure on] my breeches. Hang it around your neck and wipe your mouth on it [and take everything up with Christ]. Then, if he won't cease to accuse me of sins, I say in contempt: 'Holy Satan, pray for me,' [and then I go to bed]." [3]

And so, what else can we say? You live by the power of the Gospel – that is for you. Rest is what you have been given while resisting the Devil and His unoriginal ways. And lean not on your own understanding but anchor yourself in the Word of God that is constantly given to you.  

You belong to Christ, not twisted darkness. You have His Word of truth, not the Devil's perverted lies. You are baptized into the Lord's Kingdom – beat it, Devil, be gone.   

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther (LW: 51:71).

[2] Martin Luther, Tappert, 87. Brackets added.

[3] Martin Luther: Table Talk 1569 (WA, Tr 2:131–32). Brackets added. 

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