What Paul Harvey Didn't Say
Over the decades there has been a variety of songs that were spoken rather than sung. They were popular at the time. The latest one I know of is the down to earth advice song of 1997, "The Sunscreen Song", before that there was patriotic 1973 song "The Americans". And before that there was Paul Harvey's 1965 spoken-word song "If I were the Devil". He wasn't; me neither, but he does exist.
What Paul Harvey didn't say was that the most basic lie the Devil pushes is that he doesn't exist. Such a profound thinker as C.S. Lewis could succumb to this. He says, "No reference to the Devil or devils is included in any Christian Creeds, and it is quite possible to be a Christian without believing in them" (God in the Dock, 56). O there is evil in the world, evil people, evil acts, evil thoughts, evil words, but no personal devil. The Devil, Satan, Lucifer is something out of folklore, mythology, legend. Uneducated people believe in the person of the Devil. Goethe makes up the Devil for Faust to sell his soul to and Charlie Daniels comes up with the Devil going down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal from thin air. Likewise, Mitch Ryder can sing of the Devil having a blue dress on, while 15 years later Terri Gibb can sing about the Devil having blue eyes and blue jeans. But there's absolutely no truth behind any of these songs. "Go back to sleep; it's a dream; just a dream."
Yes, the Devil is nothing but something adults put in kids' heads to scare them into better behavior. The Devil takes his place right beside the Boogieman to keep children in their beds at night and the witch in Hansel and Gretel to keep them out of the woods. The Devil is as make believe as the Wicked Witch of the East, Captain Hook, and things that go bump in the night, as real as a good scare and that's about it. Why then for over 50 years do people persist with the Rolling Stones to have "Sympathy for the Devil"? Why then does even unbelief pause knowingly before the lyrics where the Devil says: "I've been around for a long, long year"?
Paul Harvey didn't tell you that Devil pushed the lie that he wasn't real; he did tell you that he is at work in every wicked, debased, degenerate thing in society. And he told you in that 1965 piece that Satan is pretty much unstoppable. Although C.S. Lewis said it wasn't necessary to believe in the devil, he wrote a book about devils and their tempting called The Screwtape Letters. There he points out that their main mission is not getting you to do this or that evil but to "distract men's minds from who He [Jesus] is and what He did" (125). Focus too much on the Devil and God becomes blurry and Satan unstoppable.
When the Devil becomes unstoppable, God becomes less than omnipotent, and Satan becomes His equal. He's gets all the qualities of God. He knows all things, can do all things, and is present everywhere. This is the stuff of horror movies where the arch evil in the end isn't defeated after all. The camera pans to the place he met his doom and the Evil One is not there any longer. This is the Ying and Yang of Chinese philosophy. The dualism of Eastern religions and the ancient Christian heresy Gnosticism. This is the Force of Star Wars locked in battle with the Dark Side. This struggle is sometimes thought of as between good and evil, spirit and matter, mind and body, God and Devil, but two things remain constant: they are equal and they are eternal.
"Please ignore me or please focus on me," says Satan. Among Christians it's the latter temptation that dominates. The Ecumenical Creeds do not mention the Devil or devils but we do in our Lutheran Confessions. We warn about using Satanic arts under the Second Commandment, and in the Explanation to the Third Petition we speak of "every evil plan and purpose of the devil" who with the world and our fallen natures "do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come." But our intent is not to get you to focus more on the Devil. No Luther says in a prayer: "'Let us not ascribe it to the devil or wicked people if something goes against our will, but only to Your divine will, which ordains all such things for our will's hinderance and to greater blessedness in your kingdom.'" And he advises: "'In all suffering and temptation the person should first of all run to God and to recognize and accept it as if it were sent from God whether it comes from the devil or from people'" (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 49-50, fn. 50).
You learn a lot about the Devil from songs, from movies, from TV; some of it, without intending to, is Scriptural. Most of it won't be, and the most prominent lie being told will be that you can defeat the Devil. In the 1936 story The Devil and Daniel Webster the famous lawyer successfully wins a case against the Devil enforcing a soul-selling contract. The fiddle player of Charlie Daniels' fame outplays the Devil. And our text is the most famous case of all. Jesus defeated the Devil using Scripture so can you. Here's a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran sermon title on our text from 1982, "Learn of Jesus How to Defeat the Power of Satan" (Sermon Studies, C, 127).
Is this the teaching of Scripture? Perfect Adam and Eve lost to the Devil in Paradise. Eve correctly responded to the Devil's query, "Has God really said," with what God had said. God's Word is indeed a sharp two-edged sword, but Eve ended up stabbed with it. Job boldly stands upon God's revealed Word against Satan, his wife, his "friends' until he responds to the Devil's accusation of sin with proof that he is a good man which means he justified himself. Jesus tells Peter that Satan desires to sift him as wheat, but Peter thinks he can war and win against the Devil. He fails miserably and ends up crying his eyes out. Luther didn't take our text as a "how to" manual. He said rather, "Do not argue at all with the devil and his temptations or accusations and arguments, nor by the example of Christ, refute them. Just keep silent altogether; turn away and hold him in contempt. For no one conquers the devil by arguing with him, since he is incomparably more clever than all of us" (LW, 10, 182).
Lutherans who've sung their whole life that there is no one on earth who is equal to the Devil, that deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight, that with might of ours nothing can be done, should know better. We are no match for Satan in wit, in Scripture knowledge, not even in holiness. Satan acts holier than thou to perfection. So what's the answer to the one who according to Hebrews 2 keeps us in bondage by our fear of death which he ratchets up to a fever pitch by pointing to God's Laws, our breaking of them and our needing to be punished for them?
Our text is the answer. It's Good News; no it's Great News. The Holy Spirit doesn't just tell you that for 40 days Jesus was tempted in all the ways you are, and that those temptations ended. No, He says that Jesus "completed them", "finished them", "accomplished them", "made an end of them." God the Son completed every temptation of the Devil as a man. He suffers Himself to be tempted literally "under" the Devil. It's like in science fiction when the higher, nobler alien can't stand the sight, sound, or smell of the inferior being but suffers it anyway. Jesus faced every satanic art of the Devil and defeated every one of his lies with God's revealed truth. So much so does the Man Jesus win that when Satan enters Judas in the upper room Jesus can assure the disciples, "The prince of this world comes but in Me he has nothing." In me, the Devil has got a lot: he's got unbelief, misbelief, and other great shame and vice. He has idolatry, worry, greed, and a variety of lusts to put Howard Johnson's 31 flavors to shame. But in Jesus nada. Even a pagan governor declares Jesus' innocent multiple times.
Of course, more than the requirements of the Law that I can't keep needed to be met. What about all those penalties? We sing in amazement, "What curses doth the Law denounce against the man that fails but once" (TLH, 289, 3)! Curses! Did you hear that? Curses! From God Almighty not some witch, gypsy, or sorcerer. Curses! Not the made up ones of the Masonic Lodge, but curses pronounced by God Himself against the person who sins but once. David says that his sins are more than the number of hairs on his head (Ps. 40:12). Go home and read Psalm 88; the most depressing Psalm in Scripture. The only one that doesn't end back in the faith. Read how God's "wrath lies heavily" on the Psalmist. How God has overwhelmed Him with all His waves of judgment, doubt, and curses. No wonder the Psalmist says, "Thy burning anger has passed over Me; Thy terrors have destroyed Me."
And when you read, see all the pronouns capitalized. God's wrath laid heavily against the Man Jesus. All of the curses of God came down on His flesh and blood to pay for your sins. Jesus wasn't carrying His own sins to the cross but the sins of the world. He was cursed on the tree of the cross not for His guilt, His worry, His lust for He had done, but for yours. And Jesus bore all that pain, damning, and dying till His holy precious blood put out the flames of God's wrath; satisfied God's righteous anger and the Law's holy requirements. Jesus bought back your soul from sin, from death, and the Devil by satisfying the Laws of God that we break and so the Devil could no longer point to know a broken law or penalty not paid. The prison of death, damnation, of constant fear and guilt is flung wide open.
Peter, who knows a thing or two about resisting the Devi, warns that the Devil walks about seeking someone to devour. He says to resist him not in your strong faith, your certain believing, but "in the faith". The faith is this: that Jesus defeated the old evil foe in your place. Because this is the truth, from earliest times the way into the holy Christian Church started with the question: "Do you, then (based on your Baptism) renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?" Christians answer, "I do", not because they can but because Jesus did. No song or pundit on the radio could tell you that, let alone cause you to believe or say it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (20190310); Luke 4: 1-13