Second Reformed Church

Sunday, May 02, 2010

"We're Fighting the Devil" Sermon: Acts 13:1-12

“We’re Fighting the Devil”
[Acts 13:1-12]
May 2, 2010 Second Reformed Church

After the death of Herod Agrippa, the Word of God increased and multiplied throughout Jerusalem, Judah, Samaria, and Syria. And Barnabas and Saul left Jerusalem and returned to Antioch in Syria with young John Mark in tow.

Antioch had become the second Jerusalem, and they had many teachers and prophets, including Barnabas and Saul, who we have already heard about, and Simeon, called Niger – who was probably from North Africa, Lucius of Cyrene (in North Africa), and Manaen, who was the foster brother of King Herod Antipas. While they were gathered together in worship – hearing the Word of God read and preached, the Holy Spirit told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a special work, so they prayed for them and laid hands on them and sent them off.

Barnabas and Saul, with their assistant, John Mark, were sent to Seleucia and then to Salamis on the island of Cyprus, which was Barnabas’ home country. (This was the beginning of what we now call Paul’s first missionary journey.) They preached in the synagogues of the Jews all the way across the island to Paphos, and the Jews listened, and many believed.

But when they reach Paphos, they ran into a Jewish false prophet by the name of Bar-Jesus, whose name literally means, “son of Jesus” or “son of Joshua.” (Understand, he was not claiming to be Jesus of Nazareth’s son – “Jesus” was a common name then, like “Bob,” today.) Luke also tells us that he liked to be called Elymas. Now, that is an Arabic term that means, “wizard.” This guy thought of himself as “Merlin, the magnificent,” so-to-speak. And he had a good patron:

When Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark found him, he was in the company of the Roman proconsul of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus. Elymas was the official wizard/prophet for the Roman proconsul. Sergius Paulus was a man who wanted knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and he was willing to pay for it. Whatever Elymas had been saying and doing had impressed Sergius Paulus, so Elymas was in his company and employ. However, Luke tells us, the one thing Elymas kept from Sergius Paulus was the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Why? Why was every religion and philosophy alright for Sergius Paulus to learn about, but Elymas did everything he could to keep him from learning about Christianity? There were two reasons: If Sergius Paulus came to believe in Jesus, Elymas would be out of a job – he would be exposed as the fraud he was, and he wouldn’t be in Sergius Paulus’ employ any more. And the second reason is that Elymas was a Jew, so he would have thought it blasphemous to call Jesus the Savior.

Now, Luke tells us when they met up with Elymas, Saul, who was also called Paul – notice at this point, Saul goes by Paul and he is listed first instead of last – he is now the first among equals in his party – the Holy Spirit filled Paul and Paul looked intently into the eyes of Elymas and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Paul accused Elymas – “You are not a Jew. You are not a son of Abraham. You are not a son of God. You are the son of the devil. You are not seeking truth, teaching wisdom, bringing about righteousness and justice. You are the enemy of righteousness. You are full of deceit and all villainy. You are taking the straight path that the Lord has laid out before humanity and making it as twisted and difficult and ugly as you can for your own gain. And, because you hate God and His Savior.”

Before Elymas could get a word in, Paul continued, “And now, behold the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” And immediately, he was blind. Do we remember a certain zealous Pharisee who God also blinded for a time? Saul. Remember? On the road to Damascus.

We don’t now any more about Elymas – whether he ever came to faith, or whether he got his sight back and continued his deceptive ways. We do know, as Luke records, that the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, believed in Jesus and His Salvation when he saw what had happened to Elymas, because “he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”

I doubt any of us have a false prophet in our employ, but do you check your horoscope? Do you ever go to a palm reader, or a fortune teller, or have the Tarot cards read? Have you ever gone to a seance or played with the Ouija Board for “fun”?

The first thing we need to understand is that there is a devil. There are demons. And they will do whatever they can to get us to turn away from what is perfect and right and just. Peter tells us to “be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brothers throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever” (I Peter 5:8-11, ESV).

The devil, Satan, Lucifer – he wants you and me to disobey God, so he whispers “sweet nothings” in our ears and tells us that “it’s easy,” “a little won’t hurt,” “just one more time.” There are spiritual beings who want to tempt us into sinning against God – and they are good at it!

Now, understand, the devil is not a being with red skin, a pitchfork, and a tail – that was a description that was made up – originally – to make fun of the devil, who the Scripture tells us was the most beautiful of angels. But he disobeyed God, so God threw him out of heaven. And let’s also understand that the devil and his demons do not torture people in Hell – the devil and his demons will be suffering in Hell along with every human being that ends up there. Jesus is the Lord of Hell, not the devil.

And let us remember, second, that every mere human being since Adam and Eve has been born a sinner. Paul writes, “[we] were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3b, ESV). What does that mean, “children of wrath”? Whose wrath was against us? God’s Why? Because we were sinners, following after the devil as his sons and daughters.

So, what can we do to become children of God? Nothing. That’s God’s Work: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not you own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV). As Paul writes, “So then [God’s election] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16, ESV).

And once we are alive in Christ, we understand, thirdly, that we’re fighting the devil. We, as Christians, are fighting against the devil and all that he teaches, his temptation of us, the way he twists the Scripture – we are fighting against everything that is not the clear Truth of our God and Savior Jesus Christ – and God prepares us for battle:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, having done all to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:10-20, ESV).

Paul tells us that Christians are fighting against the devil and his demons, and God provides us with the weapons of our warfare. Paul uses the imagery of a Roman uniform – but it is imagery – he is not telling us that we ought to fight the devil wearing first century Roman battle gear. No, he uses the imagery of the uniform and gear of the Roman soldier to tell us how we are prepared and how we are to fight.

How are we prepared, and how are we to fight? By reading and knowing and living out God’s Word. The Holy Word of God cuts the devil down, shuts his mouth, and refutes his lies. What does our text tell us? “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” And Paul tells us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV). The proconsul did not believe simply because Elymas became blind; he believed because he heard the teaching of the Lord and saw it lived out through the blinding of Elymas. Remember when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, with each temptation the devil brought to Him, Jesus defeated him by quoting the Word of God, by telling him the Word of God, by teaching him the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11).

So, the devil and his demons are real. We are born sinners, following after the devil. But God has chosen a people for Himself and gifted us and prepared us to fight against the devil with the Word of God.

There’s one more thing we need to understand and remember: the devil is already defeated. Jesus conquered the devil through His Resurrection. So we can confidently say:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us for the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, ESV).

Jesus has done the work; the war is won. John writes, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, you men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (I John 2:13-14, ESV).

C. S. Lewis said that the devil tries to get us to dismiss him or to be obsessed with him – it is through those ways that he catches us and leads us into sin. The truth is that he is real, and he is powerful, and we are fighting him with the Word of God. But, ultimately, Jesus has already defeated him, so we have nothing to fear – we are safe in the arms of our Loving Savior.

He is the God Who gave Himself on the cross, leaving us His Word and the Sacraments, and as we heard His Word read and preached and as we receive the bread and the cup, He gives us His Grace to strengthen and enable us to do all that He calls us to do.

So let us pray:
Almighty God, we rejoice to know that though we fight the devil and his temptations in this life, he cannot never be victorious, because You have already defeated him. Help us to turn to Your Word to fight him and glorify You as we turn from temptation and sin. Give us Your Grace and prepare us for battle, confident in the completed Work of Your Son. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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