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Resisting the Devil

Here’s a repost from 2010…

Playing around with some thoughts.  Comments welcomed…

Jesus Christ crushed the head of Satan (Gen 3:15); drove out the devil (John 12:31) and disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame and triumphing over them (Col 2:15).

How?

Through dying on a cross.

He didn’t come down from the cross to bust out some ultimate fighting moves on the devil.  It’s not that, as He died, the Spirit went to work on Satan behind the scenes with baseball bats and chains.  The cross wasn’t Christ’s non-violent resistance stunt distracting us while the elect angels went ballistic on the forces of evil.

No, it’s all there on Golgotha.  The all-time decisive cosmic face-off did not involve hordes of spiritual forces doing battle in the heavenlies.  It involved a lonely Man on a lonely hill.  The taunts of the devil rang out from the lips of His enemies: “If you are the Son of God, come down now from the cross.”  The diabolical onslaught did not come through waves of black magic but through the simple appeal to use power and save self.

The greatest ever spiritual battle involved the simple choice of whether this Man would obey His Father or serve Himself.  The height and width and breadth of the battlefield was that single cross.  The one Victor was that Champion strung up on a tree.  Right there this defenceless Man was crushing, driving out, disarming and triumphing over evil once and for all.

What does that tell you about evil?

Well if it was something like an equal and opposite force, then you might expect a heavenly punch-up.  But it’s not.  It’s not a created thing but a perversion.  It’s a parasite, distorting everything good and pulling it down into oblivion.  (See these Mike Reeves talks on evil for more).

And so the Author of Life enters into this matrix of death.  Christ absorbs this evil at its worst and transforms it.  He does this, not by taking it seriously as a legitimate opponent but by entering it in simple obedience to His Father’s will.  As this Man trusts God – even in the jaws of death – He reverses the cycle of self-assertion and self-vindication.  This cycle is the very opposite of God’s own life and therefore the quintessence of evil.  So the Source of good goes to the heart of evil and, by turning the other cheek, overturns the whole thing.

Therefore we get the ultimate Genesis 50:20 moment.  Even what Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.

So, again, evil is not granted an existence alongside God and His creation-redemption agenda.  It is a perversion which is then taken up into the purposes of God and made to serve Him.

Well then.  We stand, clothed in Christ and His victory.  And the evil one, thrashing around in his death-throes, fires some flaming arrows our way – some mixture of temptations and condemnations.  And both James and Peter tell us “resist the devil” (1 Pet 5:9; James 4:7) and James adds the promise “and he will flee from you.”

That’s always seemed to me an extraordinary promise.  Doesn’t it sound a little far fetched to believe that I can send Satan scurrying into the night?  Yet that’s exactly what “fleeing” means – running scared.  And how are we going to make Satan flee from us?  Simply by resisting him.  That just means ‘standing against’ him.  He wants you to indulge a craving, you simply stand against it.  Nothing more, nothing less, just resist.  He wants you to wallow in past sins, you simply stand against it.  And the devil runs for his life!  He has met a Christian – a little Christ – one clothed in the Champion and employing those same tactics.

If that sounds incredible to us, maybe we don’t properly understand Satan or his defeat.  Recently the devil’s been coming at me with some recurring thoughts about myself.  Ordinarily I’d get embroiled in an endless round of indulging the thoughts and then condemning myself for them.  Either way he wins.  I can’t explain exactly why but of late I’ve just known a real freedom to laugh at the temptations – whether I’ve caught myself entertaining them or not.  Whatever.  I’m not called to engage Satan mano e mano.  That battle’s been won.  And I don’t get to nip his temptations in the bud – that’s not an option.  My job’s pretty simple.  Just stand in Christ and refuse to take his temptations seriously.

And maybe to fart at him.

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I first published this a week after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010…

Since the earthquake – more than one million have died worldwide.  150 000 per day.  Every day without fail a Haiti-sized disaster strikes.  This is not to play down the horror of this crisis.  It’s to awaken us to a daily horror that we accept all too readily.  56 million people – that’s almost the whole UK population – return to dust every year.  And I will be one of those statistics.  Sometime this century.  I live on a fault line every bit as treacherous as the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone.  No house could ever be structurally sound enough.  This world will be the death of me.

‘Not one stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down’ said Jesus about the house of God (Mark 13:2).  This was just the start of a top-down judgement.  First the flesh and blood House of God was torn apart on the cross.  Then the brick and mortar house of God in AD70.  One day it will be God’s house – the whole cosmos – that comes crashing down.  The stars from the heavens, the sky torn in two, the moon turned to blood.  It’s scheduled for demolition.

Can you imagine how the disciples would have viewed the temple after Mark 13?  For the next 40 years they would visit the temple (e.g. Acts 2:46) but they would never again be taken in by its ‘massive stones’ and ‘magnificent buildings (Mark 13:1).  They knew it was about to be shaken to its foundations.

We know that earth and heaven will be shaken (Heb 12:27-28).  And in the meantime, we see portents.  Earthquakes (Mark 13:8).  This is the world that we know.  Tsunamis destroy, volcanoes erupt, plagues devour, cyclones flatten, wildfires rage and the very earth upon which we stand quakes.

But here’s a surprise.  Jesus doesn’t call these ‘death-throes’.  He calls them ‘birth-pains’. (Mark 13:8)  Because the demolition to which we are heading is, in fact, a palingenesia – the renewal of all things. (Matt 19:28)  This top-down judgement is for the sake of a top-down resurrection.

We’re heading towards ‘the end’ – the goal of all things (Mark 13:7,13); summer (v27); the cloud of His presence (v26); gathering (v27) and the power and glory of the Son of Man (v26).  We’re heading for a new heavens and new earth – a kingdom that ‘cannot be shaken’ (Heb 12:28).

May this earthquake awaken true compassion in us – (here are some places to give money).  May the Body of Christ speak boldly of the Redeemer from all evil (Genesis 48:16) and demonstrate His suffering love in the midst.

But may we also reconsider our own precarious position.  This ground is not solid.  Not right now anyway.  It will be shaken and it groans under the weight of sin and curse.  It will rise up to strike me down and swallow me whole.  Yet so often I marvel at the ‘massive stones’ and’ magnificent buildings’ of ‘this present evil age.’  I cosy up in the demolition site.

May we wake again to the reality of a whole world under judgement.  May seeing these deaths re-ignite our hatred of death.  Every day the tragedy of Haiti is repeated the world over.  But mostly we try to ignore that the last enemy is swallowing everything we love!  Let us wake up and snort with indignation at the grave the way Jesus did (John 11:33-38).

And then, through the lens of His resurrection may we look to the most audacious hope – a new Haiti, secure, prosperous, radiant, gathered under the wings of the Son of Man, every tear wiped away by the Father Himself.

The non-Christian can hope for nothing greater than ‘safer’ buildings on the same old fault line.  And as they labour admirably for this, many will ask why God does not seem to be cooperating with their desire to pretty up the demolition site.  They plan to build some lovely houses on this sand and they imagine God to be standing in the way of their saving purposes.  Of course it’s the other way around.  And of course it’s we who have a small view of redemption.

The Lord has a salvation so audacious He can call earthquakes ‘birth-pains’.  (As can Paul – Rom 8:22).  Certainly they are birth-pains.  But they are birth-pains.  Jesus has a redemption so all-embracing that it will include even these evils.  It won’t simply side-step Haiti, or make the best of a bad situation, it will (somehow!) lift Haiti through this calamity and birth something more glorious out of the pain.

We know this because Jesus began the cosmic shake-down with His own destruction.  And He was perfected through this suffering (Heb 2:10).  His death (Matt 27:54) and His resurrection (Matt 28:2) were attended by earthquakes – they were the original earth-shattering events.  And through this death and resurrection was birthed a new creation reality beyond death and decay (1 Cor 15:54-57).  Where the Head has gone, we will follow, and the whole creation with us.  And as Christ bears and exalts the wounds of His own suffering into eternity, somehow the evils of this last week will also be caught up into resurrection glory.

I don’t pretend to know how and I don’t pretend that this answers our grief or our questions.  It’s the answer of faith and not sight.  But, unlike the answer according to ‘sight’, this answer takes us deeper into the tragedy – we all face this fate (Luke 13:4-5!).  And it points us much higher to its redemption.

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My sermon on Mark 13 from last year

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The myth of the ‘delay of the parousia’ has largely grown up in the modern world to fill the vacuum left when scholars insisted that the resurrection didn’t happen. For the early Christians, God’s new world – the world where God’s writ runs – had already begun, and they were living in it by the power of the Spirit.  (NT Wright, here)

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This is the third of a three part article by Rich Owen,
minister at City Evangelical Church, Leeds.

 

In the first post, we saw how the creation was a magnificent preach. It’s pinnacle moment was in the creation of a uniquely vivid image and witness to the Divine Life, Man and Woman. A loving community of persons, ordered, relational, loving and *echad* in union.

Then we saw how Satan moved in to destroy that witness. His plan to seize power was to break this image. Corrupt the Doctrine of God and it all falls down into his greedy hands.

So today we will reflect on this:  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devils work.

Jesus is the dazzling, glorious and eternal image of the Invisible God. He is the Lord, the Living Word, the eternal expression of the Father, the Anointed One. So how does he pulverise Satan’s head?

The Angel of the Lord who ascends and descends in heaven’s fire, the Living Rock upon whom and in whom all creation holds together, this time descends as baby.

He sums up the human race into himself, assuming, owning, taking responsibility for humanity’s sinful self-love. He came from the Father’s side and became incarnate of the virgin Mary, fully divine, fully human so that as an Adam, He could live a human life from beginning to end in total devotion to his Father and in totally ecstatic (that is, out from Himself) love, a love for the poisoned race of Adam.

Satan even presented him with his master plan. Do what Adam did. Take your lead from another, one who is not your head… me. Take my lead and serve yourself. Become like me, a needy monad. A power hungry, glory seeking parasite and give yourself what YOU want.

But He destroyed the Devils work. He continued to love, He continued to do his Father’s will. He continued to pour himself out even to death, delighting even in that moment in his Father and with joy in His great heart as He considered His eternal inheritance! A Bride. A new Eve!

He wasn’t going to betray who He is. After His resurrection, He carried on. At His Father’s command, He breathed out His Spirit onto the old Adam so that it could be joined to the new. The loving Two sent out the Third. And they gave out the Third. The Living God went forth and multiplied!

The Father gives us the Son. The Son gives us the Father. The Father and the Son give us the Spirit and the Spirit gives us to the Father, in the Son.

He set His love upon the unlovely, so that the unlovely could be made lovely in Him.

So lets draw some points for rumination:

  • The Trinity is the gospel. God’s triune life is good news for a monadic, image-of-Satan world.
  • The life of God is love – other centred, generously giving love
  • Satan wants you to believe God is not loving, and not Triune. That’s all.

So perhaps you might want to ruminate in the following direction. Knowing is not enough. Live it:

  • Are you Trinitarian?  I don’t mean in theory, but in practice. Do you read, preach and speak as a Trinitarian? Reading the OT as a Trinitarian will minister to your soul and give such freshness and light to your study as you never had before. Remember – God didn’t suddenly declare his Trinitarian nature 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. He declared it when He spoke in Genesis 1.
  • Do you give yourself in love to others? If you are married do you serve, love and cherish, *know* and delight in your spouse?  Whether married or not, do you give yourself to those who are not like you – in church and where you live and work? Do you go out of yourself, seeking to beatify and serve the really nasty people? The “chavs”, the office weirdo? Do you do the unglamorous jobs at church *because* there is no glory for *you* – putting the chairs out, washing the cups, cleaning the loos?

Know and live the Trinitarian life. Image Him – be who you ARE.

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This is the second of a three part article by Rich Owen,
minister at City Evangelical Church, Leeds.

 

Since their arrival, what has humanity only ever experienced from God? Love! Generous, outward focused, other centred, creative love

Their great commission – “from your oneness you must create, love, cherish send out more and look after it, look after all this garden. Do you best for it so that all of the life you give and the love you have is like mine for you. You are my image. Just don’t eat from that tree over there, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

And so Satan makes his move on Eve and Adam. Not Adam and Eve, Eve and Adam. This is part of Satan’s plan to corrupt the image, to pervert the world’s view of God away from how He really is.

Jesus says that He does His Father’s will. Not the other way round. The Father wills, the Son does.  The Father speaks out his Word. The Word is from the Father’s side. Not the other way round. In other words, the Father is the head of the Son.

And so Satan’s plan to corrupt the image begins. He is so crafty, so skilled at this. There are so many layers of evil to this terrible moment in history. Can he get the image of the Son to command the image of the Father? Can he trick Eve into being the head of Adam?

The insipid corruption of God’s image and witness is looming. Headship and order were being threatened. But it’s not happened yet. This isn’t the seat of corruption, just a fruit which comes later.

Here is the seat of corruption. Eve sees that this fruit is *desirable* for gaining wisdom. There is a *desire* which rises in her which is not for Adam and not for the Lord God. The desire was to gain wisdom for herself.

A new love, a new desire had entered. It was a perverted love… an inverted love. It went against the flow. It was not outward but inward. It was unnatural and ungodly. The corruption began. Satan was achieving what he set out to do. He sparked in Eve an new love, a wicked invader.

The image was now self loving, self obsessed and so she threw off her role, gave the fruit to Adam and he too acceded. An ungodly love lead to an ungodly action. The corruption was complete.

Eve, and her husband after her, set their desires and affections onto something which was entirely outside this created order and image. Sin had entered and ravaged the great image and witness to the loving, creating and ordered community of Three Divine Persons.

As soon as their love went in instead of out, they felt shame. They hid from the Word of Lord.

Just meditate on the shattering moment. They hid from the Word of the Lord.

The world now had a witness which was self loving, not other loving, a witness which has no concern for order and headship – in other words, an independent monadic witness. The world now had a witness which went solitary and which removed itself from The Divine Life. Satan introduced unitarianism to the world.

And the consequences flowed.

Adam *blamed* Eve. Prior to this Adam only ever *knew* Eve. He loved, nurtured, served, lead and rejoiced in Eve knowing her intimately through sexual union. But now he blamed her. He *accused* her.  He now bore the image of an accuser, not of the Living God.  Adam on his own looked like Satan now.

This is the great crime of the fall. A massive corruption of the Doctrine of God. A Satanic collapse.

So do we see what it is that Satan does?

He leads people to loves and desires which are inward in focus.  He wants to draw your affections away from the Triune God and to self satisfaction, self gratification. Self love. He wants you to think of yourself as an island – solitary and your own source of order.

Why? Because he hates God.

Satan wants to corrupt your view of God. That is all. Once he does that, he has you. You are now his child, you bear his image, you live his life.

More tomorrow…

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Just playing around with some thoughts.  Comments welcomed…

Jesus Christ crushed the head of Satan (Gen 3:15); drove out the devil (John 12:31) and disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame and triumphing over them (Col 2:15).

How?

Through dying on a cross.

He didn’t come down from the cross to bust out some ultimate fighting moves on the devil.  It’s not that, as He died, the Spirit went to work on Satan behind the scenes with baseball bats and chains.  The cross wasn’t Christ’s non-violent resistance stunt distracting us while the elect angels went ballistic on the forces of evil.

No, it’s all there on Golgotha.  The all-time decisive cosmic face-off did not involve hordes of spiritual forces doing battle in the heavenlies.  It involved a lonely Man on a lonely hill.  The taunts of the devil rang out from the lips of His enemies: “If you are the Son of God, come down now from the cross.”  The diabolical onslaught did not come through waves of black magic but through the simple appeal to use power and save self.

The greatest ever spiritual battle involved the simple choice of whether this Man would obey His Father or serve Himself.  The height and width and breadth of the battlefield was that single cross.  The one Victor was that Champion strung up on a tree.  Right there this defenceless Man was crushing, driving out, disarming and triumphing over evil once and for all.

What does that tell you about evil?

Well if it was something like an equal and opposite force, then you might expect a heavenly punch-up.  But it’s not.  It’s not a created thing but a perversion.  It’s a parasite, distorting everything good and pulling it down into oblivion.  (See these recent Mike Reeves talks on evil for more).

And so the Author of Life enters into this matrix of death.  Christ absorbs this evil at its worst and transforms it.  He does this, not by taking it seriously as a legitimate opponent but by entering it in simple obedience to His Father’s will.  As this Man trusts God – even in the jaws of death – He reverses the cycle of self-assertion and self-vindication.  This cycle is the very opposite of God’s own life and therefore the quintessence of evil.  So the Source of good goes to the heart of evil and, by turning the other cheek, overturns the whole thing.

Therefore we get the ultimate Genesis 50:20 moment.  Even what Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.

So, again, evil is not granted an existence alongside God and His creation-redemption agenda.  It is a perversion which is then taken up into the purposes of God and made to serve Him.

Well then.  We stand, clothed in Christ and His victory.  And the evil one, thrashing around in his death-throes, fires some flaming arrows our way – some mixture of temptations and condemnations.  And both James and Peter tell us “resist the devil” (1 Pet 5:9; James 4:7) and James adds the promise “and he will flee from you.”

That’s always seemed to me an extraordinary promise.  Doesn’t it sound a little far fetched to believe that I can send Satan scurrying into the night?  Yet that’s exactly what “fleeing” means – running scared.  And how are we going to make Satan flee from us?  Simply by resisting him.  That just means ‘standing against’ him.  He wants you to indulge a craving, you simply stand against it.  Nothing more, nothing less, just resist.  He wants you to wallow in past sins, you simply stand against it.  And the devil runs for his life!  He has met a Christian – a little Christ – one clothed in the Champion and employing those same tactics.

If that sounds incredible to us, maybe we don’t properly understand Satan or his defeat.  Recently the devil’s been coming at me with some recurring thoughts about myself.  Ordinarily I’d get embroiled in an endless round of indulging the thoughts and then condemning myself for them.  Either way he wins.  I can’t explain exactly why but of late I’ve just known a real freedom to laugh at the temptations – whether I’ve caught myself entertaining them or not.  Whatever.  I’m not called to engage Satan mano e mano.  That battle’s been won.  And I don’t get to nip his temptations in the bud – that’s not an option.  My job’s pretty simple.  Just stand in Christ and refuse to take his temptations seriously.

And maybe to fart at him.

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Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

“We are not unaware of Satan’s schemes” says Paul (2 Cor 2:11).  That’s what the NIV calls them – schemes.  Other translations say “devices” or “designs”, you could call them his “methods” or “plots”.  In the latin Vulgate it’s the word “cogitationes”.  The devil is always thinking – always cogitating – scheming to outwit us.

So what are his schemes?  The context in 2 Corinthians 2 points to one of them – unforgiveness.   Paul wants the congregation to forgive and comfort an unnamed sinner lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (v7).  In this way they will resist the devil’s schemes.  Satan is ever the enemy of grace and the number one champion of conditionality.  He will seek to destroy my vertical relationship with Christ and my horizontal relationship with others through feelings of unforgiveness – first Christ’s for me, then mine for you.

It’s a devastating plot and it works a treat.  But I want to focus on a slightly different strategy  (though it’s very much linked).  What we see in Scripture from the very beginning is a plot to make us serve ourselves.

In the garden, Adam and Eve had everything except the forbidden fruit.  And all it took from Satan were a few words that denied the consequences, impugned God’s character and praised the fruit.  Then…

…the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  (Gen 3:6-7)

They caved in to their appetites, served themselves and fell.  This is plan A for the devil and he rarely has need for any other.

Think of Job.  In chapter 1 Satan can only imagine that Job fears God because of the blessings (v9ff).

9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The way Satan thinks, people only love God because He pays them to do it – through blessings, wealth, health, family etc.  In Satan’s cogitations people only ever serve themselves.  And apart from Christ and those ransomed by Him, he’s right – people do only serve themselves.

In Ephesians 2 Paul speaks of our terrifying enslavement to the devil.  Every human being naturally follows the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2).  And verse 3 describes the essence of this bondage – we “gratify the cravings of our flesh and follow its desires and thoughts.”  Precisely when I say I am “free to do what I want any old time” right there I demonstrate my slavery.  Satan has us by the throat wherever we feed our own selfish desires.

With this in mind consider that famous verse from 1 Peter 5:8

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

If we don’t consider the context in 1 Peter and if we don’t consider Satan’s fundamental ‘scheme’ we’ll minsunderstand this.  We might imagine that people are ‘devoured’ when they fall prey to financial or sexual scandal or some public apostasy.  Those are certainly options for the devil – handy snacks along the way.  But that’s not his staple diet .  His staple diet is self-serving comfort-seekers.  The main way Satan devours people is by giving them an easy life.

In 1 Peter the whole message is that Christians are aliens and strangers, scattered in this passing age as we wait for Christ’s glorious appearing, so don’t be surprised by suffering, hang on because you know your brothers and sisters around the world are suffering with you.  In that context, how will the devil swallow you up?  He’ll give you an easy life.  Once you’ve taken that bait, he’s swallowed you.

Anyway, just a thought.  Let me get back to the wilderness…

Think again about Matthew 4.  The wilderness temptations seem very puzzling on the surface.  After all there is a distinct lack of voodoo dolls, heavy metal music and ancient Indian burial grounds.  And – what a glaring oversight! – lust didn’t make it into Satan’s top 3!

We gravitate towards the Martin Scorcese school of temptation.  If he was in charge of ‘The last temptation of Christ’ then a final fling with Mary would have been the lure.  Surely that would have been a sterner test of Christ’s mettle?  Why on earth does Satan mess around with magical bakery and angelic bungee jumping??  Is this the best he can do?

Yes. Satan knows exactly what he’s doing.

Every man’s battle is selfishness before it’s lust.  And it’s selfishness long after it’s lust.

When we watch the wilderness battle, we are watching the two masters of temptation.  Satan is the master tempter, Christ the Master resister.  We’re all Padwan learners gaping in awe at their struggle.  We have much to learn.  But the learning begins with the realisation that these really are the most devilish temptations of them all – the temptations to serve, feed, protect and save self. In all his scheming, this is Satan’s plan A.

One more post to come…

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