Rev. Stephen Baldwin
NT: 1 Peter 3.18-19, Luke 10.10, Luke 4.1-13
This spring, I’m coaching a baseball team of 5-8 year olds. It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of drama.
So the other day we had a game. This one little kid just can’t pay attention. He’s always digging in the dirt or pulling up grass or running off the field to tell someone a joke. I keep telling him to stand up, pay attention, get ready. All the time. Stand up, pay attention, get ready.
Well, he’s out there in the field, might as well be on another planet, when the ball gets hit right to him. By some miracle, which surely came directly by the hand of God, he turned and saw the ball. He stopped the ball. He put the ball in his glove. And he was standing right in front of the runner coming towards him with the ball in his hand ready to tag him and get an out…that boy’s face lit up like a Christmas tree…and he suddenly chucked that ball way out into the outfield where no one could get it!
I said, “Buddy, why’d you throw the ball away? You did a great job, and all you had to do was tag that runner.”
He looked at me with a straight face and said, “The devil made me do it.”
That age-old excuse made famous by Flip Wilson. Anytime you do something you know you shouldn’t do, just blame it on the devil.
Why’d you say that bad word? The devil made me do it!
Why’d you buy that fancy truck? The devil made me do it!
Why’d you leave the dirty dishes out all night? The devil made me do it!
Let’s talk about the devil. If you were thinking about sleeping through the sermon today, I bet that woke you up, amen? The Presbyterians are talking about the devil at church today. What is the world coming to?
Contrary to popular opinion, Presbyterians have had a lot to say to and about the devil over the years. John Calvin, the father of Presbyterian, theologian extraordinaire, wrote extensively about the devil. I mean books upon books upon books.
Fortunately for you, Presbyterians believe in sending their ministers to seminary so I’m going to summarize what he taught about the devil instead of reading it all to you!
The devil is not a guy with horns and a pitchfork. The devil is not the big bad guy who stands opposite God with equal bad powers to match God’s good power. We’re not talking about yin and yang, two opposing forces of equal power.
That’s because we believe God is sovereign. Which means God is in control. Which means nothing and no one can match God’s power. Not even the devil.
At the same time, evil exists in the world. Doesn’t it? We’ve seen it. History is littered with it. The holocaust. The crusades. War. Genocide. What’s going on right now in Ukraine and Sudan.
But evil doesn’t just exist in those obvious ways. It is usually much more discreet. It is a temptation. A temptation to look the other way. A temptation to take a shortcut. A temptation to be silent. A temptation to get revenge. A temptation to take what isn’t really yours. Evil usually comes as a subtle temptation.
And now we are getting to the heart of who the devil is–the tempter, the deceiver, the accuser.
Think about the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. What power did the devil have? The power of temptation. He offered Jesus money, power, and land. He offered to give him anything he wanted, if he only would bow down and worship. Jesus refused. We would all like to think we’d do the same, but we are not as strong as Jesus.
We face temptation everyday. In small moments, in small decisions, in small matters. We make concessions. This won’t hurt anyone, we tell ourselves. Just this once, we say. And before we know it, we aren’t even questioning the temptation anymore. We have let it consume us, and the devil has won.
Why in the world am I talking so much about the devil in church today? Because he’s still out there hustlin’ everyday. Talkin’ a big game. Offerin’ temptations. Dishin’ out deceit. It happens so often, we sometimes don’t even recognize it.
What will we do about it? Scripture gives us several pieces of advice.
One, expect the devil to knock on your door. Jesus told his disciples it would happen to them. He is telling us it will happen to us. “The thief will come only to steal and kill and destroy,” he says in John 10.10.
Two, God will allow it to happen. Who sent Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? The Holy Spirit did that. When we find ourselves in bad situations, we want God to swoop in and rescue us. But that’s not how life works. God will be with us every single step of the way, and sometimes it will be our responsibility to step up and fight a battle.
Three, the battles are all that remains. Because the war is over. Good and evil are not embroiled in a cosmic battle with an outcome that remains unknown. Evil is not powerful enough to hang with God. That’s what God accomplished with Jesus on the cross. Jesus went to hell, so we don’t have to.
Think about that. We say it everytime we say the Apostle’s Creed, but I’m not sure we pay much attention to it.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead…”
He descended into hell. Tradition tells us this is what happened between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Saturday, Jesus went to hell…and came back…so we wouldn’t have to.
In the process of living you will sometimes feel as if you’re not just at the gates of hell but in the very center of its fiery pit. I’m happy for you if you haven’t been there yet, but you will get there.
Hell is when you’re a one-trick pony and everybody knows your game. Hell is when your body won’t allow you to do what you used to. Hell is when your mind screams with emotions, and your mouth never lets the words come out.
You know what hell is. People have told you to go there, and you have even bought them tickets! You know what hell is. Hell is when disease dictates your life. Hell is when people tell you that you have potential you can’t ever seem to reach. Hell is when you can’t help people in trouble because of troublesome people.
You’ve been through hell; you’ve probably even been to hell. The Good News is that when Jesus went, he paid for your ticket out of town. You may find yourself in hell, but you don’t have to stay. If you are in Christ, you can go to hell and come back.
This is good news. The temptations of the tempter hold no power over us. The deceit of the devil has no dominion over us. Jesus is the gate. He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Thanks to be our sovereign God, all-powerful thorough all the universe. Amen.