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The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier: “Overcoming the Devil I”

March 2, 2018

From the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier of Providence REC in Texas, here is an excellent Lenten sermon that speaks the truth about the subject of wrestling with the devil:

1st in Lent , February 18, 2018

This past Wednesday we began our forty days Church fast in preparation for the celebration of Holy Week. In our sermon, we observed how for us to overcome our spiritual enemies it is essential that we keep the word of God at all times as the center of our inner life, which the Scripture calls our heart, including our mind, our soul, and our spiritual strength.
Christ is the Word of God incarnate and through the preaching of the Gospel, as we hear, receive, understand and apply it, the Word of God grows in us making us more and more like Christ as faithful members of his kingdom, and leads us to bring the fruit of the Spirit which is also a witness to Christ before the world. And so the Word of God continues to grow from one generation to the next.
But there are three main obstacles which hinder the growth of the Word of God in us and around us. The first and primary one of these three enemies, which is at the root of all the others, is the devil.
In our Gospel lesson, we heard the devil’s frontal attack against the Lord at the beginning of his ministry. After being anointed, at his baptism, with the Holy Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove and after hearing the voice of the Father identifying him as the beloved Son of God, in whom He was well pleased, the Spirit then led Jesus to the desert, to be tempted of the devil.
We tend to underrate the importance of what happened at the Lord’s baptism, There, God the Father himself, directly and publicly announced and ratified to the world the identity of his Son. We may not mediate often on the implications of this but the devil clearly understood the importance of this declaration, and made it the subject of his first two temptations.
The devil knew that the day he dreaded had finally come; That long ago promised “seed of the woman”, the one who would defeat him, was now upon the Earth, therefore the devil took his first opportunity to tempt him to make him fall from fulfilling his mission as he had done with the first Adam. To accomplish that object the only thing Satan needed to achieve was to tempt Jesus to deviate from perfect obedience to the Father.
But what the devil did not know is that Jesus came into the world, God became a man, with the express purpose of overcoming him, undoing the damage caused by the first Adam’s disobedience, in order to liberate the world from the bondage of the curse caused by the devil’s temptation; that through his victory on the Cross, through faith in Jesus as Son of God, Saviour and Lord, he would make it possible for each and every Son of Adam to overcome the devil also.
Now, please observe that the claims of the Gospel and Scripture concerning all this are historical claims based upon actual facts, not mythical or empty religious symbolism. God is real, Christ is really the Son of God who became man, Adam really disobeyed God and that is how sin and death came into the world. The devil is also real, and hates and wants to destroy us.
Scripture reveals that we have a spiritual adversary who hates us because he is jealous that God has chosen the human race for his service after he and his angels were expelled from the blessings of heaven.
He therefore conspired to defeat God’s purpose of blessing humanity, knowing that if the Head of humanity fell through disobedience the whole of humanity would fall with him under a curse and therefore the Devil would become ruler upon this fallen world enslaving humanity, just as he had become the prince of the fallen angels in the spiritual world.
But notice that from the beginning the power of the devil resides in perverting the good. The devil has no positive or creative power. The devil cannot love, he cannot enjoy anything good. He cannot give life. He can only offer counterfeits.
His power is the power of imitation, the power of make-believe, the power of unlawful persuasion, the power of lies, the power of death. He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning.(John 8:44) Because just as truth, life, and obedience are essential and interdependent in God, so lies, disobedience and death are what defines the enemy of God.
His primary tool for leading us away from God is temptation. Temptation is a trial of our obedience and fidelity to God. The devil uses lies to make us deviate from trusting and obeying the Word of God.
The Word of God is life, what God says can be trusted, and must be obeyed, unconditionally. The devil knows this, and he also knows that such faith and obedience is essential to all faithful servants of God, because God is holy, and in heaven, all things always follow eagerly and without hindrance the command of his word.
So, when the devil learned that God had spoken giving a commandment to Adam and Eve, not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the devil knew what to aim for through his lies.
So he deceived Eve, telling her that it was ok to disobey God, that she would not die, but would become more like God instead.
A small lie led to a small act of disobedience, which led to the enslavement of the human race.
The Devil came to Jesus with the same objective and the same tactic; test Jesus to see if he would deviate from perfectly trusting and obeying the Word of God.
He began with a small suggestion, that the Son of God would prove his identity by using his power to calm his hunger, turning stones into bread; placing the needs of the body before trust and obedience to the Word of God.
Jesus answered this and every other temptation responding: “It is written.”
We here learn how to defeat the devil every time he comes with his subtle suggestions to doubt or disobey God’s Word. “It is written,” spoken by Christ, tells us that God has spoken in Holy Scripture and that his word is final.
The truth of the incarnation ratifies the truth of the Scriptures. Jesus said “It is written” and with that, the temptation was over. Because the Word of God is final and absolute and there is nothing that the devil can do against it. In order to overcome the devil, we must keep with Jesus the final authority of the word of God and live accordingly following its teaching, remembering always first, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by feeding upon the inspired Word of God. (Matt. 4:4)
Second, Jesus answered: “You will not put the Lord your God to the test.”
Notice that the root of the first two temptations was to put in doubt what God had said, just like at the beginning,
God said: Do not eat, you will surely die. The devil said: eat, you will not die.
Now, God had said, “this is my Son.” The devil said, “if you are the Son of God,” and then even quoted Scripture against the Word, to use its promises against the will of God. Notice that this is typical of what the devil does to tempt us. He uses something which is good as appointed by God, and then turns it against the will of God, distorting its true purpose and corrupting its true nature. The same thing happens with food, drink, love, desire and everything else, as created by God and used according to his will it is all good, but when abused or distorted even Scripture may be used against the will of God if we pervert its God defined meaning and purpose and substitute it with something different.
But Jesus understood that nothing good could come from doubting what God has said. So, Jesus answered: Thou shall not put the Lord, thy God to the test.(Matt. 4:7) He would not jump, for to do so, as the devil suggested, would dishonor God by using Scripture against Scripture, demanding further proof over what God had already said. When God has spoken no additional proof is needed.
And finally, The devil offered all the glory of all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would bow and worship him. In other words, the devil offered Jesus the opportunity of ruling the world under his command, under the curse, without having to suffer the cross, in exchange for one act of worship.
This is because worship and obedience are expressions of the same thing. We worship whom we respect and obey. We cannot worship God and disobey his word at the same time.
Jesus understood this truth well. He also knew that the glory of a cursed world is temporal and illusory by definition, a mere counterfeit of real glory, and that it is foolishness to place temporal glory over eternal blessing.  So Jesus answered once more quoting Scripture. It is written: You will only worship and bow before God alone.
The devil wants to be honored, trusted and obeyed as if he was God. That is why he actively leads weak human beings to believe his lies calling good evil, and evil good; defying the Word of God so that we may deviate from it one way or another and so remain bound to him.
But Jesus victory teaches us the key to defeat and overcome the devil. Like Jesus, we must keep the Word of God as the primary rule and sustenance of our lives. We must trust the Word of God unconditionally, and we must worship God alone as revealed by Jesus Christ.
The devil cannot do anything against God’s Word, that is why he had to flee from Jesus.
And the same thing is true concerning us:
James says: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
Thanks to the grace of God now, even the weakest and youngest of all human beings can defeat the devil with a simple prayer: “Lord, remember me” (Luke 23:42), “Lord, have mercy upon me”(Luke 18:38), “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark. 9:24). This door is open for us now, because Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He rendered perfect obedience to God and then offered his own life in sacrifice upon the cross, “oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world”, “the righteous for the unrighteous”,(1 Peter 3:18) breaking the curse upon us by taking the curse upon himself, dying on the cross, opening a new way for salvation, the only way, Jesus Christ himself, the Truth, the Life and the Way; the way of life, trust, love and obedience through faith in him, in whom alone we can overcome the kingdom of death, unbelief, disobedience, and hate.
As we begin this new Season of Lent, let us meditate on the Truth God has revealed in his Word and ratified by his incarnation, with all its glorious implications, that inspired by its truth we may overcome all the temptations of the devil remaining faithful to the Word of God, for the honor and glory of our only true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, To whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory now and forevermore. Amen.
Let us Pray
O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thine honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, World without end. Amen.

 

by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin E. Bernier

 

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