Sermon transcript, 1 March 2015
Don’t lose the war by Fr. Dana
Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 16:5-11, Romans 8:31-38, Mark 8:31-38
Read Revelation 12:7-12. The Church is at war; it has always been at war, whether the world is at peace or not. Our enemy is Satan, the accuser, the father of lies (John 8:44), the one who comes only to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). The good news is, he cannot win: he is already defeated; therefore the only thing that he can do is to convince us to give up the fight.
You don’t lose until you quit
You don’t lose until you quit. Satan fights a war of attrition. Attrition is a wearing down by friction, a reducing in number, size or strength. In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:31-38), Satan tries it against Jesus. Jesus was telling His disciples that He “must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31) That did not meet Peter’s idea of victory, so he took Jesus aside: “Jesus, what are you saying? That’s crazy, that’s not God!” Jesus returns the rebuke: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33) Satan was tempting Jesus through Peter to do it His own way.
Fortunately it didn’t work. It didn’t work when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert; it didn’t work in the Old Testament with Abraham. There are some famous Christian scholars who get everything else right but get this story wrong. They say, “Abraham’s so stupid; he should have known God’s not like that – God would never ask that!” Wrong – God asked that of Himself. “You were willing to give up your firstborn and only son, the son of the promise, the son that you didn’t believe I could give you, but I did, and I promised I’d make you the father of many nations, and now I asked you to kill him, to sacrifice him on the altar, and you were willing to do that.” Abraham was not fatalistic. I can’t imagine as a father doing what Abraham did. Isaac said, “Dad, there’s the wood, there’s the fire – where’s the lamb?” “Son, you’re the lamb.” No – he says, “God will provide for Himself the lamb…” (Genesis 22:8). He didn’t know how God was going to do it – maybe he would sacrifice Isaac and God would raise him up – he didn’t know; he just knew God was going to do it. And so Satan’s lie to try to get Abraham to quit didn’t work.
When Satan wears us down
There are times when Satan’s lie does work. Samson fell in love with Delilah, a Philistine, and her friends said, “Find out the secret of his strength”, and so three times she asks him. The first time he says, “If you bind me with seven fresh bowstrings…” She tries and it doesn’t work. “If you bind me with new ropes…” It doesn’t work. Samson is denser than granite. She asks him again – “if you bind seven locks of my hair together…” She does it, and it doesn’t work. Samson is so blinded – or maybe it was just God’s purpose… She asks him again, and he tells her. Guess what happened – she did it, and he was as weak as a kitten! Satan wore him down, through a woman. Do not take this as a permanent pattern – it goes both ways: men are not immune to being used this way, and women are not immune to believing them. The point is, Satan works that way, and sometimes he succeeds. Fortunately with Samson, God got revenge in the end. (Judges 16:4-30)
My previous Bishop, Mike Davidson, describes this dream (I don’t remember whose dream it was): “I was being harassed by an ugly old man of very small stature. I grabbed him and began to throw him around with very little effort. Then I wanted to see what his facial features were, and was shocked to realise he was wearing many layers of masks. I removed one after another, never exhausting the supply. It seemed I was literally well able to manhandle this little guy, but after some time I began to tire and only realised the object of this little altercation was to wear me out and to use up my time and take my focus from more important issues facing me.” Ask yourself, “How much time do I spend wrestling this little guy and trying to take masks off? How much time in my life do I waste battling ineffectively with the enemy over something that’s not important?” This never-ending battle will wear us out, just as it wore down Samson.
Satan wears us down in many ways – hopefully not through a “significant other”, but in many ways. He can wear us down through relational conflicts: conflicts with people, with our children, with other church members… Oh! That never happens, does it? We never get upset with other church members, do we? …people at work, other drivers (have I hit a nerve yet?) He wears us down through the stress and pressure of life – remember last week all those little oatmeal flakes, all those things that come after us and stay after us and won’t let us go… And he wears us down through sin. How mighty and full of faith are you after doing something that you knew was wrong?
Live the Word of God
How do we fight? We fight the way Jesus did while He was in the desert for forty days. You might say that was basic training. What did He do? He used the Word of God: He didn’t just quote it – it’s not that if you just quote the Scripture, Satan will leave: Satan quoted Scripture to Him! – that’s a good start, but it’s not enough; you have to live it.
- For example, in relational conflicts, how do we fight that? Matthew 18:15-17: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” No – wait a minute! I’m sure it says, “Go and tell everybody you know what he did to you.” That’s not fighting – that’s giving in; that’s making the fight bigger than it is, and a whole lot harder to resolve. “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” This is the first step every time. It tells you what to do if that doesn’t work; but that’s the start.
- What about fighting against stress and pressure? Matthew 11:28-29: Buck up, dude! Deal with it, get over it! No – Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Rest is not laziness, because the next sentence is, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” There are other places where Jesus talks about yoke; it’s a wooden beam with usually two harnesses and, in this context, two oxen. If you had a new ox you always put the new, young ox in with the oldest and wisest. The oldest ox is slow, but he’s methodical, and he’s stronger, and he never quits; the youngest ox has all the energy but no focus. Jesus says, “Get in the yoke with Me: I’ll calm you down, and we’ll learn to pull together.” That’s where the peace is; there may be a time of sleep, but it doesn’t last forever.
- How do we fight sin? Matthew 5:23-24. This is the converse of Matthew 18:15-17: your brother didn’t do anything to you – you did something to him. We do this in some sense in Confession before the Eucharist: we give an opportunity to confess our sins. It’s not quite going and dealing with it, but hopefully the Holy Spirit will prick your heart to go and deal with it. Confess before offering and before receiving the Eucharist. In that confession, in order to be reconciled to your brother, repentance must be real. If you say “I’m sorry” but you don’t change your behaviour, it doesn’t mean anything – and they know it. That’s why when John the Baptist saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for Baptism, he said, “Welcome; God bless you.” No – he said, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…” (Matthew 3:7-8) If you repent, do something different – don’t repeat. That doesn’t mean that if you commit the same sin twice you’re going to hell; with all of us it’s a process. If we’re yoked with Christ, God is pulling us along, and we learn, and sometimes we make the same mistake twice, but we don’t say we’re sorry and have no intention of changing.
You must take the offensive
Notice something in common with all these actions: they’re all something that you need to do. They’re not, “God, fix me; I’m waiting here until You do.” The reason is that no one can win a war, a football game or even a cricket match, by playing only defence – you can’t: you must take the offensive. If you play only defence, you are Samson: you are ripe for picking, because Satan will keep hammering at you and wearing you down until you quit or you lose. I say again, Satan cannot win; and yet will all know people who are losing the fight every day. Satan can’t win, but we can lose. They aren’t losing their salvation necessarily, but they are becoming casualties of war: their injuries make them give up. Even though God has already won the war, still there are thousands and thousands of casualties: through sin, through selfishness, through unwillingness to admit that they need help…
Now there’s a “guy thing”: “I’m strong, I’m a man of God, I don’t need anybody, I’ve got it all together. Now would you like some help? No, I don’t have an answer for that; I can’t help you.” That’s false: if we can’t admit that we need help, we’re already losing. Read Isaiah 5:13-15. Hell is bigger than it really is, the mouth of hell is huge – but it’s not: it’s Satan trying to convince you. Pomp is pride: “I’m clean, I’m good: see these nice garments?” If you’re proud of who you are, and you don’t need anything else, you’re heading towards the mouth of hell. That’s not meant to scare you – it’s a warning: don’t do that! Each one who is proud will be humbled: you’ll find out what your state really is.
Satan is literally trying to wear out the people of God: he’s putting some to sleep with a lack of love; he’s making some comatose with a lack of concern for the lost and the broken; he’s infecting some with selfishness and greed: looking out for their own pleasure rather than God’s will and plan… and the problem is, they’re fighting Satan’s war. When you fight an enemy, don’t let them choose the time and the place: they will set up an ambush; they will set up the battlefield to their advantage. Satan does this: don’t sit and wait for him to attack. He will: you won’t have to wait long; but don’t do that, because you give him the advantage. Don’t fight Satan’s war – fight God’s war. Don’t fight defence all the time – take the fight to him: through prayer and fasting. That’s what Lent’s about: have I been lax, have I been sitting around letting life go as it flows? It’s a time to look: maybe I’m not fighting. Take the fight to him through prayer and fasting: for yourself, for your spouse, for your children, for your parents, for your family, for your church, for your nation…
You’ve probably heard many times the admonition, “Put on the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:11), and that’s right: “the belt of truth… the breastplate of righteousness… the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of peace… the shield of faith… the helmet of salvation… and the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:14-17) – and that’s all you’re quoted. What’s the next verse? “…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…” (Ephesians 6:18) Once you’ve got all the armour on, OK, you’re dressed, but you’re not fighting yet. You don’t fight until you start praying: actively praying against the enemy, not waiting for him to attack and then, “O God, save me! O God, help me!” – you’re playing defence. You do have to play defence, because he will swing at you anyway; but if that’s all you do, you will lose, you will become tired: “I’ve been hit a thousand times!” Maybe you’ve heard the old Chinese saying, “Death by a thousand cuts”; it doesn’t take a stab through the heart. Have you ever had a paper cut? It hurts: for three days, because at the end of your finger it takes a long time to heal.
Pray always; take the battle to him. “God, show me what Satan is doing in my life. Where has he invaded Your territory, that I haven’t noticed? Show me how to fight him, show me what I need to do.” Maybe it’s fasting, maybe it’s doing something different, maybe it’s not watching this, maybe it’s not turning on that channel, maybe it’s not drinking this, maybe it’s not going to these places… whatever it is. “Show me how to fight; help me take the battle to him.” Then we’ll start making him tired; he won’t be able to call all the shots. He’s a little more powerful than we are, but he’s not more powerful than He is. If we fight in our own strength, we’ll lose; but if we fight in His strength – if we’re yoked with Him: wherever He goes, I go, whatever He does, I do – we won’t lose – we will win. And that’s important to know when you look outside, and you look in the newspapers, and you look on the internet, and you think, “What the hell is going on in this world? What are people thinking? Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” They don’t know what to do. This is how you take the battle to Satan: prayer.
Prayer is not just talking to God. Being yoked to Jesus is not, “Faster, faster, shall we go over here?” That’s not prayer: prayer is listening as well as talking; it’s obeying as well as requesting; it’s receiving forgiveness and comfort from Him for our wounds, for our sins; it’s receiving encouragement and strength from Him, that we can go on, that we don’t have to quit, that there is a future; receiving instructions and counsel from Him. That is fighting the battle.
Know the Scripture, be able to quote it, or otherwise know where to find it – that’s great; but live it. If you only know it and you don’t live it, you’re not fighting. May it not be so of us.