The Text itself: Mark 1:9-13 (niv)

‘At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him’

  1. My big brother Nige is an atheist. He believes that in the same way we see people’s faces in patterns and objects all around us (it’s called pareidolia by the way), and just as we imagine human traits and characteristics in things that are not human (anthropomorphism), the terms ‘God’ and the ‘devil’ are just our way of putting substance on Good and Evil. He believes that the similarities in what we call them prove it. He doesn’t realise that this argument might, perhaps, work if the whole of humanity spoke English and had done throughout all of history, but that it doesn’t work in most other languages (French, for example: dieu/bon and diable/mauvais), it certainly doesn’t work in the languages the Bible was written in.
  2. When we did children’s and youth work we used to play parachute games with the children. One of the games they really loved to play is called ‘cat and mouse’, two or three young children get under the outspread chute (they are the mice), and one of them gets on top (he is the cat). The rest of the kids space themselves around the chute and ripple it. The job of the cat is to catch the mice underneath. It sounds easy, but since the parachute is being rippled, and the mice are trying not to be caught, often the cat has great difficulty in even seeing where the mice are, let alone catching them!

Do you see the connection? This morning, we are considering the temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’ encounter with the devil is frequently dismissed by the irreligious and the atheist as a hallucination brought on by extreme hunger. This is playing straight into the devil’s hands: if you don’t believe that he exists, you cannot resist him. He is rippling the chute and hiding his true identity. If we are to resist the devil, we have to learn to recognise him, understand his tactics and know how to resist them.

Most people will accept that there is evil in the world. Looking back at the injustices and evils in history and having lived through recent years it would be almost impossible to deny its existence. However, people have a vast range of understanding about what they see as ‘evil’, so something one person sees as evil would not be regarded as evil by another, or even by that same person in a different context (Lucy Letby, the nurse who killed babies in a maternity ward wouldn’t have even been arrested if she’d been involved in the abortion industry for example).

Some would say that the presence of evil proves that God doesn’t exist, others say that on the contrary, evil is not possible without the existence of God. I am not going to unpack the apologetic of the problem of evil today, but today’s message does talk about Satan, and the temptations he put before Jesus. We can all identify with the experience of temptation, so today I am going to talk generally about the devil, the tactics he uses to tempt us and how we can resist them.

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is reported by Matthew and Luke as well as Mark. In fact, Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus is the least detailed of the three. He simply says that in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan and angels attended him. He doesn’t give us any details of that temptation. So in order to find that out, we must go to parallel accounts fill in some of the blanks. You will find the parallel accounts in Matthew 4:1-11, and Luke 4:1-13. They give us the following extra information:

  1. Jesus had fasted for the 40 days and was hungry.
  2. Jesus was confronted with three temptations, and both Matthew and Luke tell us what they were:
    a). Turn stones into bread.
    b). Throw yourself down and the angels will save you.
    c). Worship me and I will give you these kingdoms.
  3. Satan used the Scriptures as he tempted Jesus.
  4. Jesus used the Scriptures as He resisted them.

I am going to make 3 points this morning around the importance of how we best fight the battle we are engaged in:

  1. recognise the existence of Satan.
  2. understand his tactics.
  3. stand your ground.

Recognise Satan

As I said at the start, many people will accept the existence of evil. They also believe they have the right to declare some actions and some attitudes as ‘evil’. They may disagree on which actions and attitudes are evil and which are not, but the existence of evil itself is not often denied. However, when we talk about Satan, Lucifer, the devil, there is much less agreement.

Nowadays, many people don’t believe in the devil. People are often happy to believe evil exists as a ‘force’, but don’t (or won’t) believe in a personal being who embodies evil. In other words, they believe in the existence of evil, but not the devil. They will ridicule people who DO believe that the devil exists and will often caricature Him in a ridiculous way which makes him unbelievable. Look at the ridiculous costumes people wear at halloween (do we REALLY believe the devil is red with horns, a trident and a pointy tail?)

There are a number of names and descriptions of the devil in the Bible and sometimes we’re not sure which to use. We will call him ‘the enemy’, Satan, Lucifer, the devil, the prince of this world, the prince of the air, the serpent, the evil one, the prince of darkness, all of which have their roots in Scripture. Some people call him ‘old nick’ which is not Biblical and as far as I can tell dates from the 17th century, but I have no idea WHY they call him old nick!

BUT What we call him is much less significant than understanding what he is like. For the purpose of this morning I will try to simply refer to him as ‘the devil’ unless I am reading out a Scripture which uses a different term.

We first encounter the devil in the garden of Eden. Genesis 3 describes his encounter with Adam and Eve where he tempted them to eat of the forbidden fruit. We all know how that turned out. The last mention of the devil is found in Revelation 20:10 which describes him being thrown in the lake of burning sulphur and tormented day and night for ever and ever.

What information does the Bible give us about him? Some verses:

  1. Isaiah 14:12-15 describes him
    “How you have fallen from heaven,
    morning star, son of the dawn!
    You have been cast down to the earth,
    you who once laid low the nations!”
    You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to the heavens;
    I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;
    I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
    on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
    I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.”
    But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
    to the depths of the pit.

    (The ‘morning star’ in this passage and the next does refer to the devil. in fact KJV/NKJV both translate ‘morning star’ as Lucifer which comes from the latin translation).
  2. Ezekiel 28:12-14 says
    “You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
    for so I ordained you.
    You were on the holy mount of God;
    you walked among the fiery stones.
    You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created
    till wickedness was found in you.
    Through your widespread trade
    you were filled with violence,
    and you sinned.
    So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
    and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
    from among the fiery stones.
    Your heart became proud
    on account of your beauty,
    and you corrupted your wisdom
    because of your splendour.
    So I threw you to the earth;
    I made a spectacle of you before kings.”
  3. The disciples came back from their mission saying ‘even the demons submit to us in your name!’ His response was this: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:17-19). This tells us two things – Satan was thrown down from heaven. AND Jesus was there when it happened! We can also know that we have the resources to overcome the devil if we can appropriate them!
  4. Paul writes to Timothy and tells him that anyone who was to be appointed as a elder “must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).

In a nutshell, if we follow these passages through, we will see that the devil is a created angelic being who wanted to rise above God and who was judged and thrown out of heaven. He is described in Revelation 12:9 as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” He lost his position. The devil was thrown out of heaven, and he became the ruler of this world, the prince of this age.

before we progress I want to make a quick detour into ‘hell’! That is to say, the devil does NOT ‘rule’ in hell. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus describes hell as: “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”. Revelation 20:10 tells us that “the devil, who deceived them (the nations), was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever”. Hell is described as a place of torment for sure, and we can be certain that the devil will be among those enduring it, not dishing it out!

The devil is the very epitome of everything that opposes and stands against God. His desire is always to destroy God and His people, and elevate himself above God. I do not see demons under every rock, or attribute every misfortune directly to the devil, but ultimately everything that is bad and wrong in the world are down to him. Either directly by him or one of his demons, or indirectly as a result of the damaging of creation when he tempted Adam and Eve in the garden.

Recognise tactics

We must understand that as a follower of Jesus, we are targets for the enemy.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

“Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). [as an aside to this point: when we live in unforgiveness, we are being outwitted by the devil!]

In order to fight our enemy, we must understand him. If we understand his tactics, we can recognise his influence in the world around us and resist it.

The first thing to mention is that the devil’s tactics are underhand – if he walked down the street with a trident, horns and a pointed tail, we would recognise him – but he doesn’t, he is happy when we believe all sorts of stuff about him if it distracts us from the spiritual battle we should be engaged in. There are all sorts of wrong beliefs about the devil. These are just some:

  1. That he doesn’t even exist.
  2. That he is not a personal being, but rather is only a force of evil (the ‘dark side’).
  3. He is equal and opposite to God (ying/yang).
  4. He resides in and is the ruler of hell.
  5. He can do whatever he pleases.
  6. Like God He is everywhere and knows everything.

Not one of those beliefs has any origin in scripture. They owe more to Hollywood than to the Bible.

The devil is NOT equal to God. They are NOT two equal but opposite spiritual beings. The Bible warns against all forms of spiritual activity which originate with the devil: divination, witchcraft, spiritism and all sorts of other ungodly practices (In Deuteronomy 18:10, for example). This includes (not so) modern things such as astrology, Fengshui and the like. They are ALL forbidden. Because the source of power behind them is the devil. They may seem harmless at the start, but their source is far from harmless, the devil’s aim is not benevolence, but malice (read John 10:10).

The Bible tells us the devil is a deceiver: 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that he has “blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ”

How? Understand him, recognise his presence by the tactics he uses.

  1. He blinds people: 2 Corinthians 4:4 ‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’. Not only to their own sinfulness, but also he seeks to blind their minds so that they cannot see the light of the gospel. Why else do you think people nowadays are completely oblivious to the evil around them? Alternative lifestyles, abortion, euthanasia, the list of things God deems to be evil is growing and people are simply embracing them. They simply cannot see the peril they are in.
  2. He is a liar and a deceiver: Jesus calls him a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Revelation 20:8 tells us he will “go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth”. But this is something we can’t see. We must understand this particular tactic since without someone else’s help, we will only realise we have been deceived after the fact. In other words, we have to rely on one another. You watch out for and protect me, I do the same for you. One of the key reasons church is so important.
  3. He sows seeds of doubt: The first temptation; the fall was triggered by this scheme ‘did God not say?’ (Genesis 3:1-5). This is also shown in his temptations of Jesus. He quotes Scripture – which is the word of God, to tempt us away from God. Remember that not every time scripture is quoted is there an altruistic motive. I have lost count of the times people have tried to use Scripture and some of the things it says to cause me or others to doubt our faith or God’s goodness or even His existence.
  4. He tempts: Genesis 3:6, Eve was tempted because Satan was there egging her on ‘go on! – It’s ok’. “For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). We are looking today at possibly the most famous temptation of them all.
  5. He accuses, and condemns: Revelation 12:10 calls him the accuser – when you have that feeling of what a rotten toad you are you’ve done it again – it is not Christ condemning you, it is Satan. God does not condemn, sure He convicts, but he doesn’t leave us in a feeling of guilt – He offers a way through – the way of the cross – there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

This enemy, then is powerful, and has quite an armoury at his disposal – but we have the means to defend ourselves.

Stand your ground

The nature of our enemy is spiritual, Paul tells us that it is ‘in the heavenly realms’ that the battle is won. If we fail to realise this, we have lost before we even start, because we are trying to fight in the wrong place.

Jesus saw that His fight was a spiritual one. Even though the temptation in the wilderness was physical. Three times Satan offered Him something physical, and three times Jesus fought the battle on a spiritual level. We must do likewise. Why? Because Satan is foremost a spiritual being. Job 1:6,7 describes Satan travelling in the Spiritual realms, and Ephesians 2:2 & other passages call him the prince of the power of the air.

Ultimately, our struggle is a Spiritual one. If we want to win the battle we are fighting, it is no good fighting it on a physical plane. We cannot change people’s hearts by laying down laws that will curb behaviour. We must ask the Holy Spirit to change their hearts, because then their behaviour will change as a result! Change your heart, you change your behaviour (Proverbs 4:23 says, “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”.) If we are struggling with a particular problem, then fighting it on a physical level is usually (not surprisingly) ineffective, fight it where you can win the battle-in the spiritual realms.

2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds”.

So, what weapons do we use? We can’t do much better than go to Ephesians 6 and the armour of God.

Ephesians 6:14-17 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Unpacking these two verses is an entire message on its own, so by necessity this is just a whistle-stop look at the armour.

  1. belt of truth. Remembering that the devil is a liar and the father of lies, and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, embedding yourself in truth is always the best policy. Being untruthful (i.e. lying) means we are showing ourselves to be aligned with a different master.
  2. breastplate of righteousness. James says the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. Our righteousness has two facets: 1) our righteousness is found in Christ, and 2) our righteous deeds reveal that. What’s more, 1 Peter 2:12 says that we should live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse us of doing wrong, they will see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. That’s righteous living!
  3. shoes of the gospel. Openly declaring the gospel does two things 1) it declares the goodness of God to those who will hear it. 2) it is a very effective way of resisting the influence of the devil in our own lives. Speaking out our faith will often force us to live out our faith when we might otherwise be tempted not to. (giving up smoking is much more effective if you tell people you don’t smoke! I know, I’ve done both).
  4. shield of faith. Satan spreads doubt. the first temptation was one which planted a seed of doubt about God. He implied that God had some nefarious motive about the tree. Eve believed it rather than having faith that God had her best interests at heart. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. Faith is the weapon we use against the tactic of spreading doubt.
  5. helmet of salvation. One way the devil attacks people is to try to make them question their salvation or doubt their identity in Christ. If he can get you to believe that you are not in Christ, you will live as though you are not. Also, many people believe that faith is something which is irrational, but it is important to note that we have minds and are called to love God with those too (love God with all your … mind). So spiritually speaking, wearing the helmet of salvation means we recognise the mind aspect of our faith, that we take steps to understand our faith and that we guard our minds against the intellectual attacks which we will encounter. Putting on the helmet of salvation will help us understand that our eternal victory is guaranteed and guard us against falling foul of thoughtless actions which would draw us away from God.
  6. sword of the spirit. The word of God is the main weapon Jesus used when he was resisting the temptations in the wilderness. Three times the devil tempted Him, three times he resisted the temptation using Scripture. Hebrews 4:14 says the scripture is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, Paul writes to Timothy that the Scriptures are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is not a coincidence that one of the greatest attacks on Christianity is in the arena of challenging the accuracy and truth of Scripture. Even in Christian circles there are those who would say ‘the Bible doesn’t really mean that’. Ever heard someone say something like ‘I don’t follow the Bible, I follow Jesus’ (how do these people know what Jesus is like?). It is even quite common for people who recognise the importance of Scripture to be criticised for worshipping the Bible and not God. But quoting Scripture IS quoting God himself. The best defence against the devil is God’s word.

Finally we must remember that we don’t have to defeat the devil. All we have to do is resist him. Jesus has ALREADY defeated him!

James 4:7 tells us ‘resist the devil and he will flee from you’, Jesus says to Peter ‘on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). There are several interpretations about what the ‘rock’ is. My money is on it being Peter’s confession that Christ was the ‘Messiah the son of the living God’. 1 John 4:4 teaches us that ‘he that is in us is greater than he that is in the world’. And if that’s not enough to encourage you, Revelation tells us that the devil will not prevail:

Revelation 20:7-10 (NIV)

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

I’ve read to the end of the book – we win!