The Devil in Song
From "Devil in Blue Jeans," to "The Devil went Down to Georgia," to "Devil With the Blue Dress," the church isn't the only one that mentions the Devil in song. Sometimes these secular songs are more right than wrong in describing the problem. But for answers to the Devil problem you'll need a song from within the church. So today we'll turn to two songs one outside and one inside the church.
First the song from outside the church. The Rolling Stones 1968 song "Sympathy for the Devil" is right. It sees the Devil problem accurately. The Devil has been around a long time. He goes all the way back to Eden. He slithered into Paradise and tempted Eve to fall. He boldly strode into Job's life and tempted him to despair. The Devil is the one who incited David to take a census of Israel which brought a plague on Israel that killed 70,000. The Devil entered into Judas so that he would betray his Lord and Savior.
The Rolling Stones are right. The Devil is behind revolutions and assassinations. He is the spirit of doubt, despair, hopelessness. The Devil knows not just you but your parents, your grandparents, and your great, great grandparents all the way back to Adam and Eve. Think what that means? Parents of adult children can pretty well predict based on the younger years how their child will react later. Grandparents have an even bigger picture. Now zoom out to seeing a person's whole family tree.
The Stones are right; the Devil has been around a long, long year, and he is pleased to meet you. Repent of the idea of an impersonal Devil, a generic evil along the lines of the black cloud in Lost or the Dark Side in Star Wars. The Bible pictures a personal Devil who knows all about Job as soon as the Lord mentions his name. In Zechariah 3 the Devil is at hand to personally accuse the high priest before the Lord. And Revelation 12 brings it right down to our time. When the Devil can't devour Christ and can't find the Holy Christian Church hidden by God in the world, verse 17 says that he became furious with the Church "and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring." That would be you dear Christian.
Yes, the Devil has been around a long, long time, and he is pleased to meet you, "but," in the words of the Rolling Stones, "what's puzzling you is the nature of my [his] game." Jesus warns in John 8 that he is the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. First he lied to Eve about eating the forbidden fruit and then later he moved Cain to murder Able. He took the same path with Judas. First Judas lies about his concern for the poor and his duties as treasurer, and then he betrays Jesus into the hands of the very group that Jesus had said would murder Him.
This being, this beast who is older than the hills themselves knows you very well. He can get inside your head; he can push you buttons. He will take your legitimate need for food, for love, for company, for health, for wealth, for happiness and present you a dozen illegitimate ways to meet it. In the midst of need, he will whisper, "Is this anyway for your heavenly Father to treat a son or daughter? Would you treat your child so poorly?" And rest assured, the Devil always knows an easier way to what you want. He has the audacity to say he could give Jesus the kingdoms of the world. Jesus didn't have to go to hell to get them. Jesus didn't have to bear their griefs or carry their sorrows. Jesus didn't have to be forsaken by God in their place. The Devil presented Jesus an "easy" way of saving us which in reality would've have damned us.
He also presents an "easy" way for you to be sure of your salvation. The Rolling Stones capture this in the line where the Devil says that he made sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate. Nobody knows for sure what happened to Pilate salvation wise, but we do know that he thought he could make himself innocent of the blood of Jesus simply by washing his hands. Likewise the Devil tempts you to believe you can deal with your sins by trying harder, promising not to do them again, or by making excuses for them. And as long as you're on this road, your fate is also sealed.
But the nature of the Devil's game is more complex than that. He tempts you to force God's hand. Look at all the great and precious promises the Lord makes to His people. If you really are a child of God, what won't a father do for His child? Dare God to do big things for you; take that leap of faith based on His own Word or aren't you really a believer? See how the Devil makes you feel guilty for not testing God! How clever he is.
The Rolling Stones song accurately show us what we're up against, but that's it. We must turn to a song within the church for a solution, and what better song about the Devil then "A Mighty Fortress?"
Luther starts right where the Rolling Stones have left us. He says of the Devil at the end of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2, "On earth is not his equal./ With might of ours can naught be done,/ Soon were our loss effected." Luther doesn't encourage us to sally forth and slay the Serpent of old. He doesn't admonish us to take up the Word of God and do battle with the Devil. Perfect Eve tried doing that. The Devil asked her what God had said about the forbidden tree, and she answered him correctly, but her quoting Scripture didn't stop the Devil from planting lust for what God had forbidden and distrust of God Himself. So she ended up being stabbed with another Word of God: "In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
With might of ours nothing can be done against the Devil; you probably get that, but get this too: With might of God's nothing can be done against the Devil either.not if we're to be saved. God is omnipotent. He could crush the Devil as easily as we do a bug. But not only didn't God crush him, He didn't even stop him from coming into His presence. In Job, Zechariah, and Revelation the Devil has access to God to spout his accusations against us. What stopped God from throwing him out on his ear? God's own promise and our sins. God promised that in the day Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree they would die. They ate; they didn't die. So their sin and God's Word gave the Devil authority to stand before God night and day demanding He do to sinners what He had promised. "They sinned; they're guilty; you must punish them." No amount of power could muzzle these accusations because the Devil was absolutely right.
What's the answer according to "A Mighty Fortress?" "Jesus Christ. Of Sabaoth Lord." He takes the field in our place, and though He is Lord of Sabaoth, that is of angelic hosts, He doesn't fight using them. No, indeed He refuses to call them to His aid at His moment of deepest need in Gethsemane when the hour was given over to the powers of darkness. The weapons Jesus uses to defeat the Devil are active obedience and passive suffering.
You see His active obedience in the Gospel. Where perfect Adam and Eve quickly became disobedient in a paradise surrounded by food, the perfect Man Jesus didn't disobey though He was in a desert without food. Though the Devil presented things to lust after, things to fear, and pride to go before a fall, fall He did not. But Jesus didn't overcome any of these temptations by using divine power. Divinity didn't have to overcome the Devil; humanity did. So Jesus silenced the Devil not with Divine Power but God's Word. He parried each temptation with Scripture.
Here's where you can go wrong in a hurry. You can and should quote Scripture in the face of temptation but that is not where your victory comes from. It's true Luther sings, "One little word can fell him," but that Word is a He. The next lines are, "The Word they still shall let remain/ Nor any thanks have for it; He's by our side." Your victory over the Devil and his temptations is not in what you do with Scripture but in what Jesus did with it. God credits the perfect obedience of Jesus to your account.
That's Jesus' active obedience; we need that because no matter how hard we try we'll never keep God's laws perfectly, but we need more than this. We also need Jesus' passive suffering. The Devil rightly demanded the punishment of all sinful men. Rather than do that God put all the sins of all mankind on His only beloved, perfect Son and punished them unmercifully, hellishly, and completely there. Jesus is treated as if He did stuff His face with bread from stones, as if He did fall down and worship the Devil, as if He did test the Lord His God. For all the times you give into lust, to fear, to pride, to unbelief, misbelief, or other great shame and vice, Jesus bled, cried, and sweated till they were all paid for.
The kingdom of God remains yours in Jesus. Jesus covers you in Holy Baptism. Jesus is in your ears in Holy Absolution. And Jesus is in your body and blood by means of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Search as he may, the Devil can't find in Jesus one unkept law or commandment that still needs doing by you before you can go to heaven. Search as he may, the Devil can't find one of your sins, one of your failings, one of your falls in Jesus. They have all been covered, carried away, forgiven by the blood of Jesus that cleanses you from all sins. The Devil has nothing to accuse you of or with. Poor Devil.
No, a frustrated and defeated Devil isn't someone to be sympathized with but it is something to sing about. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Lent (20100221); Luke 4: 1-13