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clip_image002.jpg (1472 bytes)How to Whup the Devil:
When Evil Comes Knocking at your Door

a sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-20
by Rev. Thomas Hall

I wanted to arrive this morning in a stunning ancient Roman guard costume. That’s what you’d call "embodying" the sermon. No words would have needed to be spoken-I could have proudly walked down the catwalk of the center aisle displaying the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit.

However, the topic requires a more serious look. As one translation puts it, "This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the devil and all his angels."

In the life that God blesses, followers of Christ must know their enemy, know their equipment, and above all, know their commander. This morning, several truths have emerged through the drama and Bible lesson that I would like us to consider.

First, make no mistake about it, there is an enemy that we must face. Paul describes a hierarchical arrangement of malevolent power at work to undo us. The real enemy is not a pointy-eared devil running around in red leotards, making mischief. As long as we believe that myth, as long as we laugh at the caricature, the real Enemy goes unnoticed.

Have you noticed that though some of us are reluctant to believe in a personal devil, playwrights are quite convinced that something very sinister and very intelligent walks our earth. Let me comment on just two recent films. "The Blair Witch Project" broke all attendance records for a film produced on such a low budget. The film reflected America’s belief that evil is an intelligent being. Loosely based on a real story, three college kids try to track down the legend of the witch that lives in the Blair Forest. These researchers are never seen or heard from again. What was recovered were some articles of clothing and some pieces of film. Enough evidence to suggest that they saw something that instilled unbelievable fear in them. In the movie, this ugly, old hag in never seen, nor presumably do the teens see her, yet the sheer terror of evil around them in the dark woods probably drives them insane.

In "The Storm of the Century," a visitor comes to a little fishing village and almost immediately takes a life. Treated as a murderer, the visitor is incarcerated in a makeshift jail while the village rides out a powerful snowstorm. Yet, the visitor has unusual powers and one by one people of the village are driven to become their worst selves, some taking their own lives, others venting anger and violence. In the end, the village realizes that this visitor is none other than Legion, the evil power that possessed a man back in Jesus’ times. Jesus casts out Legion with a word, and so Stephen King imagines this powerful demon still walking the earth, still tormenting people. In the end, the village realizes that the powers of darkness are infinitely more powerful than they are.

Now place next to those imaginations true words:

For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.

Paul saw an intelligent, powerful network of evil powers seeking to do us harm. Peter also saw Satan as a powerful enemy: "Be careful!" he says, "your great enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for victim to devour." Jesus says nearly the same thing of this malignant power, " The thief comes only to steal, kill, and to destroy, but I have come to give you life in all its fullness."

So, first of all, just know that there is an enemy bent on evil, chaos, destruction out there - much more powerful than we. We will never whup the devil by own ingenuity or strength.

Second, know how the enemy operates. We have a clue as to how evil works on a personal level. The word is "Satan." This term means literally, "the accuser," or "one who accuses." The Bible speaks of Satan as the accuser of brothers and sisters. How does the powers of darkness operate in personal life? A major way is simply to accuse us of our weaknesses. Shaming us for our sins and shortcomings. In the drama this morning, the demons wanted to pull Willie away from God by so shaming him because he struggled with alcohol. They knew that if they could isolate Willie from other Christians and make him feel guilty enough, they would strip him of his faith. There’s a lot of truth to that. Don’t tell me you can make it on your own. That you don’t need church. Even Jesse Ventura wished he hadn’t said that. "The church is full of hypocrites!" True. But the fact that we even show up says that we can’t make it on our own. That we need strength, healing, and encourgement from others and from God. Those kinds of thoughts are exactly what the word, "satan" means, to be accused or to accuse others. Know how the enemy operates.

Third, know God’s victory over the powers of evil. This passage is not about demons. We don’t have a Ying / Yang arrangement here. Satan is not an evil but equal power to God. The Bible tells us that Satan was unseated, undone, ruined, unmasked, vanquished, de-fanged, and completely and forever defeated by Christ. Christ is the first one, the only one ever to look Legion in the face, eyeball to eyeball and to command him to be gone. Every time you say, "Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried; on the third day he rose from the dead," you’re joining 1,000s of Christ’s followers in proclaiming God’s victory over Evil. Sure Satan continues to work but mostly in damage containment. The Scriptures portray him now as trying to distract us from hearing and believing the truth that Evil has been defeated, that Jesus Christ is Lord, that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.

So how do we whup the devil? Paul says, "Be strong with the Lord’s mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil." Using God’s resources is a lot like getting dressed for battle. Don’t be like the Roman Emperor Julian who thought himself invulnerable. His horoscope assured him that he would die of natural causes, that no spear or sword could kill him. So he left for battle without his armor on! He must have thought, why go out there and sweat? That was Julian’s last battle. You can probably guess what was listed in the classifieds the next week: "Complete set of armor-like new, half-price, or best offer."

God provides us with truth, integrity, peace, faith, salvation, God’s Words. That’s all Jesus used when he personally undid all the work of the evil one. Of Jesus it is said in Acts, that Jesus "went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with him."

John Calvin reminds us not to wrack our brains trying to figure out why these qualities-truth, peace, faith, etc.-are connected with the various pieces of armor. Calvin says, "nothing is more idle than the extraordinary pains which some have taken to discover the reason why righteousness is a breastplate instead of a girdle." What is important is that we embody these Christ-like qualities in our life.

Finally, Paul tells us to put on God’s armor. This week I got a box in the mail. "From the U.S. Navy." I looked inside and discovered the clothes my son had worn when he enlisted in the Navy! He now wears the uniform of the Navy! He isn’t allowed to do the business of the Navy in his frayed jeans and tee shirt! (I might add that the Navy attire certainly will be an improvement!) God doesn’t want us to wear our own feeble uniforms and run out there to fight the enemy. If we go out in our own strength, we might as well call ourselves "Julian," the emperor who wore no clothes into battle, and didn’t live to tell about it.

Ever wonder where Paul comes up with this strange analogy of armor? He actually was reading Isaiah 59 where the prophet describes God. But guess what God is wearing? The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness . . . This is God’s uniform! This is the armor that Jesus wore when he defeated Satan!

Now, Paul says, you put it on-on loan from God-and wear God’s truth, integrity, Good News, faith, salvation, and Words.

Special assignment this week: "Operation Coffeebreak." (Please refer to your Ephesians 6 insert.) This week when you are on break-at school, in the office, at home with friends-try wearing God’s armor! When you detect accusations, blaming, discouragement, or despair, jump into action! Bring words of faith, encouragement, Scripture, peace, integrity that will change the scene into one of hope. Mentally put on God’s pieces of armor, pray with each piece in place and then let God do the fighting. For the battle belongs to the Lord! Amen.