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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Set Free from the Power of the Devil
Text:LD 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-02-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 8:1,2,3                                                                                   

Ps 27:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Mark 5:1-20; Romans 6

Ps 98:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 1

Hy 53:1,2,3,4

Hy 64:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, Lord’s Day 1 is part of our confession that is much loved. We cherish the memorable phrases and powerful truths of this first Question and Answer. There’s a poetry to it, a beautiful rhythm and structure—words we love to recite and even sing, “What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Lord’s Day 1 is loaded with meaning, chock-full of comfort, and it’s somehow amazingly comprehensive, touching on so many aspects of our faith: human guilt, God’s grace, and the Christian’s gratitude. It is also Trinitarian: Father, Son and Holy Spirit each have a place. It is thoroughly Scriptural: firmly grounded in the teachings of God’s Word. And it is Christological: focused on our Saviour, even from the very first sentence.

So how then, we wonder, did the devil get in there? There he surfaces, eight lines down: “the power of the devil.” Amidst all the gospel beauty, lurking among the wonderful details of our salvation, is Satan: God’s great adversary, the deceiver, the ancient serpent. Who invited him? Why does he get a place, right on the very first page of the Christian’s “Book of Comfort?”

We’ll hear more about Satan later, in places like Lord’s Day 4. There we confess that our first parents, “at the instigation of the devil,” fell into sin and condemnation. It’s a sad chapter in our story that we have to cover, but here he is already: the devil! So why this fly in the ointment? Why this stain on the Lord’s Day 1 masterpiece?

That’s what we’ll consider today. As we unfold our rich comfort, we want to see the devil’s place in God’s plan. For the fact is, Satan is an important player in the history of this world—even in the story of salvation—from the very beginning. And the fact is, Satan remains a real and present reality in our lives. So if we ignore his presence or downplay his influence, then our only comfort is on shaky ground indeed. Let’s then consider what we confess about the devil—and the One who defeated him!—in Lord’s Day 1,

            Christ has set me free from all the power of the devil:

1)     the devil’s captivating power

2)     the Lord’s redeeming grace   

 

1)      the devil’s captivating power: Catechism students like to ask difficult questions. Sometimes because they genuinely want to learn, and sometimes because they want to get the teacher off-track from the lesson! A sticky question that I’ve faced more than once concerns the origin of the devil: Where did Satan come from? Did God create him? And couldn’t God have destroyed him at the very beginning, and saved us all a whole lot of trouble?

Sometimes our good questions don’t receive good answers—or answers that are fully satisfying. That may be the case here. Because about the origins of the devil, Scripture doesn’t say much. We know Satan is an angel, originally a part of God’s perfect creation. We also know that by the time we get to Genesis 3, this angel is up to no good, disguising himself as a serpent and tempting Eve to disobey the LORD.

And so somewhere between the events of creation and those in Genesis 3, Satan and many angels with him rose up against the LORD God. The New Testament speaks here about a heavenly rebellion, and about Satan being cast out from God’s presence. If you like, you could read about this in Revelation 12.

In his uprising, what was Satan looking for? Why didn’t he want to keep his privileged and God-given position as a holy angel? Again, Scripture doesn’t tell us much, but from a passing reference we learn that Satan’s fatal sin was pride (1 Tim 3:6). It seems the devil wanted more glory and power than God apportioned him, so he arrogantly set himself against the LORD.

This much we know about the devil’s history, his past. And not to dismiss the question entirely, but the more important matter concerns the devil’s present. What’s he doing today? What’s the purpose and goal of his existence right now? And what hasn’t changed at all over the millennia is Satan’s desire to destroy the good things of the LORD. If God will throw him out of heaven, then Satan will do everything he can to wreck God’s plans here on earth!

The Belgic Confession puts this scheme so vividly in Article 12, “The devils and evil spirits are so depraved that they are enemies of God and of all that is good. With all their might, they lie in wait like murderers to ruin the church and all its members, and to destroy everything by their wicked devices.”

That brings us right to another disturbing reality that the Catechism needs to mention, even in this beautiful first Lord’s Day. And that is sin. It’s there, right in line 5. Satan sinned, and now he tries to cause us to sin. Satan rebelled against God, and now he incites us to do the same.

And how powerful his temptations can be! The devil was most cunning when he approached Eve in the Garden, persuading her about the beauty and desirability of the forbidden fruit. Like the most dishonest salesman, Satan made it all sound so good, twisting the truth and deceiving in order to make his case. Eve fell for it, and Adam fell for it, and we their children continue to fall for it every day.

Yet even his very best offers and invitations get us nowhere. It’s not freedom and happiness that Satan gives, but slavery and death. For sin quickly becomes like that binding and oppressive contract you wished you never signed, an agreement that is so hard to break. Jesus says it in John 8, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (v 34).

Likewise, Paul warns us in Romans 6, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you… obey it in its lusts” (v 12). Take note of the words he uses. Sin can sometimes “reign” over us; in our lives, sin can become lord and master. And when sin offers, when it invites and commands, we “obey,” says Paul—we obey its lusts. That’s not just referring to the lust forbidden in the seventh commandment, but all kinds of lust: the lust in our heart for other gods, the lust for wealth, the lust for status and recognition by other people, the lust for whatever we don’t have and want for ourselves.

Sin orders, and so often we submit. That’s the power it has—the power Satan has. In fact, you could well replace almost every reference to “sin” in Romans 6 with a reference to “Satan.” Verse 12: “Do not let Satan reign in your mortal body.” Or verse 13: “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to Satan.” Somehow that sounds a lot worse, doesn’t it? To think that we would offer our lives to serve the devil, that we’d we become obedient tools in the hand of God’s Adversary! But isn’t that what sin is? Isn’t it all Satanic? The apostle John says, “He who sins is of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

For Paul, talk of slavery to sin (or Satan) isn’t theoretical or abstract. Just one chapter later in Romans, he describes how sin has effectively trapped him, how he can’t not sin, and how evil is ever-present (v 23). We hear his desperate cry, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v 24). Yes, who will deliver me from Satan?

It was real for Paul and for us: Satan has a captivating power! He attracts us, deceives us, and then ensnares us. We see this cruel slavery so strikingly portrayed in Mark 5. There Jesus meets a man with “an unclean spirit”—indeed, who has many unclean spirits—a man thoroughly in the possession of the devil.

And it’s hard to imagine a more miserable man. He lived among rotting corpses, dwelling in the wilderness caves and tombs. He was a danger to himself and a danger to others, but no one could bind him, for he could break iron shackles and chains. “And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (v 5). He might’ve been unchained, but this man was a slave, completely under the power of the devil.

Is that us? Does Satan have the same kind of grip on us as on that wretched man in Mark 5? We could discuss whether there’s such a thing as demon possession still today. Missionaries working in areas of South America or Asia, places where there’s a culture of witchcraft, will often speak about encountering people who are totally and visibly in the grip of Satanic power.

Maybe that’s far from here. We’re decent and respectable folk—nothing like our friend Legion, possessed and ruined. But look past the good exterior, Scripture says, and you see captivity. Even if you’ve been transformed by the Holy Spirit, Satan will try to keep us in bondage. He’ll always try hinder us from coming to God and enjoying life in Christ.

For this remains true: sin is slavery. It’s slavery, because so often we can’t keep ourselves from sinning, and we struggle to break sinful habits. And it’s not just about being addicted to crystal meth or nicotine or alcohol. Whenever we let a certain sin into our life or our thinking, the danger is real that it’ll be hard not to keep going with it! A committed gossiper finds it hard to change her ways and talk about something else. A man who looks at porn every night will struggle to break free. A lifelong laziness about your devotions is very difficult to change. It might not look like it, but we’re enslaved.

This is how the Romans used to live, writes Paul, “You presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness” (v 19). That downward cycle is very real. The sin in our life has a way of generating more. It’s often through the little sins that Satan gains an entrance into our lives, until he’s got us trapped.

And here’s the real misery: sin isn’t that pleasant! Sure, it is at first. For a while, we enjoy the pleasures of drunkenness. Adultery certainly offers something nice. There’s a kind of pleasure in being cruel to other people. Greed for more money or status can keep us going for a while. But soon, we find it’s all so empty.

Paul asks us plainly: “What fruit did you have… in the things of which you are now ashamed?” (v 21). What did sin bring you? Did you really feel better once you do it? Did that pleasure last more than a moment? Didn’t Satan just force you to come crawling back for more the very next day? He did. No, sin is of no benefit—rather, the opposite! “The end of those things is death” (v 21). That’s where all unchecked and unresisted sin will bring us. Like Legion, we’ll soon come to dwell among the dead.

Think again of Satan as a lord, a master who commands us. If we’re in his service, if we’re his “employees,” then what will he pay us? How does the devil reward those who do his will? Verse 23 is the terrible statement of accounts payable, “The wages of sin is death.” Beloved, we need to hear these things. The Catechism has to mention the devil, because the Catechism has to be realistic: we need setting free! We must recognize just how present the devil is in this world, and just how large he can loom in our own lives.

If there’s anyone that threatens our only comfort, it is Satan! His lies and temptations are all designed for this purpose, to draw us away from the LORD, to ruin the work of Christ. So he’ll try to make us reject the commands of God’s Word, and doubt the promises of God’s grace. He’ll bring his accusations and try to enslave us. So who can set us free?

 

2)     the Lord’s redeeming grace: The devil gets a dishonourable mention in Lord’s Day 1, but he’s far from being the main character. There’s no question who stands at the heart of our confession: “my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” It is He who “has fully paid for all my sins,” and He who “has set me free from all the power of the devil.”

He has freed us. Satan’s most determined efforts could not prevent Jesus from being born, and could not stop Jesus from going to the cross. Neither could Satan keep Jesus in the grave, for He soon rose in triumph. For the LORD of life and light will never let death and darkness overcome his glory!

God said it from the beginning. Already in the Garden, He promised that the head of the deceiving serpent would be crushed. Satan’s head—the nerve-centre, with its singular purpose and endless scheming—this head would be crushed, crumpled beyond recognition, destroyed forever by our faithful Saviour.

We get to see this ancient promise fulfilled in a small way in Mark 5. For instead of turning his eyes from this pitiable sight, the wild, demon-possessed man among the tombs, Jesus lets him approach. It was this reason that Christ came, to destroy the works of the devil.

And falling before the Lord, Legion cries out, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God that you do not torment me” (v 7). That’s a cry of terrified recognition—not from the man possessed, but from the one who possessed him. Like we see throughout the four gospels, even the demons know who this is: Jesus, Son of the Most High. They see the hand-writing on the wall, that this Jesus has come with power to destroy them.

And so He did. Simply by speaking, Jesus shows his dominion over all the hosts of darkness, and He casts out these followers of the devil. One little word shall fell him! The demons are sent into a nearby herd of pigs—free for a time, but not long. So, Mark tells us, “the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea” (v 13). Another reminder of what happens to those who remain under the devil’s control: there is no future, but a violent end.

That’s something worth thinking about sometimes. When we’re tempted, or when we’re willingly in the grip of a sinful habit, we should try remember that the devil isn’t a master worth following. Remember that all his offers are a waste of time. All his invitations are a waste of words. And being in his service is a waste of a life.

But those who seek the Lord are set free! There was a new day for that man of Mark 5, for no longer will he live among the dead, no longer ashamed and unclean and out of control. Now he’ll go on his way: restored, renewed, and rejoicing. So for us, who once were totally hopeless and lost. Christ gives us full and complete release, for He’s gained the victory by his death and resurrection. Today we have a new ruler, a new master, for He has set us free from all the power of the devil!

No longer can Satan accuse us in God’s presence. No longer should Satan frighten us with the fear of death. We don’t have to listen to what Satan says or believe his lies. For, the Holy Spirit says in Colossians 1: “God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv 13-14).

Satan was never free to act outside of God’s permission and control. And now, since Christ’s victory, his defeat is even more certain. That should give us a great shot of confidence for our fight against temptation and sin. It’s for this reason that James tells us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). If you’ll fight against the devil, then go to Christ! In our moments of weakness, let’s ask for help from the One who cast out the legion of demons. Go to the One who set you free!

And the time is coming when Satan’s defeat will be confirmed. The demons running into sea in Mark 5 was only a foretaste of the abundant misery which is promised. For at the end of time, John tells us, “The devil will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). Then the judgment of the devil and his followers will be complete.

Beloved, this gives us a new purpose. For if you’ve been set free from captivity, you don’t go crawling back to the prison cell. No, those redeemed by the Lord become something they weren’t before. We become slaves—no longer slaves of sin and Satan, but now slaves of Christ. As Paul writes, “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin [or Satan], but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom 6:13).

For we’ll always be slaves of something, whether good or evil, whether Christ or the devil. The Scripture says that “having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (6:18). This is our new identity—and what a joy! It’s a privilege to serve someone so great, to serve someone so generous, to serve someone so gracious. We have the joyous obligation of serving our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we hear a word like “slave” or “obligation” with suspicion. It sounds like a heavy duty, like we’re being forced to do something. But Christian obligation doesn’t mean we’ve “got to” do this or do that; it means we “get to.” We get to serve. We get to worship. We get to be slaves of Christ! I love how Psalm 116 says we’re “bound yet free”—we are wholly committed to Christ, while we’re also free: free to glorify God in the many different ways that his Word and his Spirit lead us.

So it was for the man from whom many demons were cast out. He came to Christ and wanted to stay with him. But for him Jesus had another purpose; He said, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (v 19). And that’s what the man did. He became a slave of righteousness. He would tell everyone about how Christ had set him free.

That’s our calling too. We’ve been set free from all the power of the devil, set free to be the servants of Christ. What our Lord says, we get to do. What our Lord desires, we get to seek. Instead of making our own rules or being enslaved by our own desires, we learn to confess, “I am not my own. I belong to Christ. I was bought at a price, therefore I will honour him with my body, and my mind, and everything” (cf. 1 Cor 6:20).

So we strive to honour our Lord in all good things. Think about ways you can honour Christ in this new week: in the way you talk to other people; in the way you carry out your daily work and your studies; in the way you choose to relax, and in what you think about. Let us live for Christ, even in the quiet moments of our personal lives. Live for Christ in the midst of your family, honouring your parents, loving and respecting your spouse, nurturing your children. Live for Christ among your neighbors too—like the man set free by Jesus, the man who was told to share the good news with all those around him. May many see and hear how we’ve been set free!

This is our new mission and purpose, and our great comfort. We’re not our own, but we belong fully to our Lord Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all our sins, and He has set us free from all power of the devil. We’re so grateful to Christ! So let us be “heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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