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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:All In or All Out
Text:LD 48 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-11-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 35:1,4                                                                                    

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Isaiah 14:12-21; Ephesians 6:10-20

Ps 2:1,2

Sermon – Lord’s Day 48

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, you’re either with us or against us. Those are hard words. These words say there’s no middle ground, no possibility of being neutral. Either you’re fully committed, or you’re not. With us or against us—it’s challenging, but true. It captures the nature of this life and the world in which we dwell.

Think of what Jesus says in Matthew 12, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (v 30). And again, in Matthew 6, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (v 24).

Now, it wasn’t always this way. For when God created the world, He saw everything that He had made, and it was very good. At that time, there was no evil. There was no alternative lord to serve, no other camp to join.

But by Genesis 3, Satan is tempting Adam and Eve to go against God. For something had happened. There had been rebellion in heaven, and many angels had turned against their Creator. This means war. Two lords now compete for the loyalty and worship of mankind.

Since that time, this world remains divided over two kingdoms. It’s the conflict between God and the devil, the enmity between the one whom Jesus calls “the prince of this world” and the God whom we revere as the King of the universe. It’s the war still being played out in our time and in our hearts, for which we need much strength. Let’s consider it in connection with Lord’s Day 48 and the second petition, “Your Kingdom come.”

Father, give me strength to stand in this war of two worlds:

  1. the evil prince and his kingdom
  2. the good King and his kingdom

 

1) the evil prince and his kingdom: When we talk about Satan, there’s a good number of things we don’t know. I mentioned the rebellion that took place in heaven, sometime after the creation of the world. But we don’t really know when it happened, or what it was like, or how many angels left heaven. That’s because the Bible doesn’t describe this rebellion much at all.

It’s only alluded to in places like 2 Peter 2:4. Listen to what Peter writes, “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment.” Then in his letter, Jude says that certain angels “didn’t keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home” (v 6).

So that’s how we conclude there was a revolt against God led by Satan. Revelation 12 seems to give us a picture of this rebellion too. Though God had created him to serve, Satan wasn’t content with this role.

We wish that we had a bit more colour for the story of Satan’s fall, and some people think that’s what we get in Isaiah 14. Now, we should remember the first meaning of this passage. The context is Isaiah’s prophecy about Babylon. God told Isaiah to prophesy against a variety of evil kings and kingdoms, including the king of Babylon. Though he was a mighty man who mastered the nations around him, this proud king too, is going down to defeat.

Parts of Isaiah 14 can definitely refer to an earthly king like Nebuchadnezzar or someone else. Yet some of the language seems too strong to refer to any merely human ruler. Especially verses 12-14 seem to recall that first rebellion of Satan, long ago. There Isaiah writes, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! (v 12). Referring to the king as a “falling star” sounds a lot like Satan’s fall from glory. In fact, because of Isaiah 14, ‘Lucifer’ has become a name for Satan.

And reading a bit further about the striving of this arrogant king sounds like Satan’s revolt against the LORD. Verses 13-14 could well be an echo of Satan’s proud words: “I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.”

This is what Satan wanted and did not get. And yet it’s striking that he offered the same thing to Adam and Eve, ‘to be like God, knowing good and evil.’ It’s the temptation he used on the king of Babylon, and on so many kings and rulers today: to have God-like powers, powers of life and death, to receive the worship of millions.

And if you think about it, it’s what Satan still offers us. His temptations are so often about grasping the freedom and the glory and the power that belong only to God. Whenever people rise against God, they’re only imitating what the devil himself did first: they’re vainly rebelling against the Lord. I say vainly, for the devil’s rebellion utterly failed. He was cast down, and he lost his position. It is described in Isaiah 14:15, “You shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.” He was cast down and humiliated.

This much we know about the devil’s history, his past. And not to dismiss the question entirely, but the more important matter for us concerns the devil’s present. What’s Satan up to today? What’s the purpose of his existence right now?

Over the millennia what hasn’t changed at all 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 sabatoge God’s plans here on earth! This is how the Belgic Confession describes his scheme so vividly, “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” (Art. 12).

It’s with good reason then, that when the Catechism teaches us to pray for God’s kingdom, it says we should pray like this: “Destroy the works of the devil” (Q&A 123). Because he is working! Even if Satan has lost his rightful position, and lost the battle, he does what many defeated kings and army generals have done over the ages. In a last desperate act, he does everything possible to break down, damage, and weaken the victorious kingdom.

He tries to gain his followers and to turn people against the God he hates. That’s what He did when He tempted our first parents to break God’s command. Later he accused the righteous Job, so that Job might reject his Lord. Satan even tried to get Jesus to sin and thereby fail in his mission.

Even now that Christ defeated him at the cross, Satan tries to obstruct the good news of God’s victory. And he’s often successful. Paul writes in 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.” Satan is “the god of this age,” and he loves to blind people. He tries to keep us from receiving the truth of salvation, distracting us with pleasure, troubling us with doubt, keeping our eyes shut with fear.

And Satan has learned that a sure way to drive people away from God is to attack God’s Word. When talking to Eve back in Paradise, it all started with questioning what God commanded, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from this tree?’” When Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness, he again tried to twist the Scriptures for his own advantage: “Didn’t God say that He would protect you if you were in danger? Why not test his promise?”

This is why the Catechism mentions “conspiracies against [God’s] holy Word” (Q&A 123). If Satan can get people to doubt or question (or maybe just be embarrassed about) what God says, then he’s made a great gain in the battle.

We all know about churches that went astray soon after they started questioning the truth of God’s Word. Did God really say that He created the universe in six days? Did God really say that men and women have different roles in marriage and in church? Did God really say that homosexual lifestyles are wrong? That kind of inquiring leads a church down to unfaithfulness.

But think about how the same thing can happen to a person, how it can happen to you and me. Do we accept the full truth of God’s holy Word? And not just on paper (so to speak), but do we live like we accept God’s Word? Or by our actions, we can show that we’re ready to listen to the devil’s conspiring words. Did God really say that I shouldn’t follow my heart? Did God really say that I have to forgive those who sin against me? Did God really say that church is important?

In a sense, Satan’s kingdom doesn’t need much to advance. Satan only needs people to stop reading and trusting and obeying his Word. Satan only needs us to stop giving glory to God. Satan needs Christians to forget who we are, to sit back and conform to the pattern of this world. For remember, there’s no neutral ground. Recall Jesus’s words: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”

Even in secular society, people acknowledge that you can’t really be neutral. In politics and business and relationships, you can’t sit on the fence. You need to commit one way or the other. You can’t dither or hesitate forever. You have to be all-in, or all-out. And so you decide, knowing that your choice has a consequence. What’s not an option is saying that you won’t be on either side.

In this divided world, in this war of two kingdoms, think of what would happen if you tried to be neutral. Because you feared neither side, you would let down your guard—you would fail to watch and pray. You would neglect the spiritual preparations that you should be busy with. And then the enemy shows up at your border, and you have no idea what to do. And he captures you quickly. Staying neutral simply will not work. Instead, we pray (and work) for God’s kingdom to come.

 

2) the good King and his kingdom: There was never any doubt about the outcome of Satan’s rebellion. It failed. And since that time, the good King has been working to restore his good creation. This is why He sent Jesus Christ. Listen to what John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). Jesus came to break the power of the devil. That’s what He did when He died on the cross and rose the third day.

So even as we pray this petition, we are confident. We know the critical battle has already happened! Colossians 1 says that “[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). So today, God is still enthroned on high. Today, the universe He created is still his universe. The good King still governs his people. There are still thousands upon thousands of holy angels who do his will, every day.

God the Lord is King, and He rules us well. Where Satan builds his kingdom on lies, God builds it by his Word of truth. And to this Word, God the King calls us to listen and obey. That’s what we pray: “Rule us by your Word and Spirit that more and more we submit to you” (Q&A 123). This is something that should grow more evident in us, day by day. Already now, it should be clear what side we’re standing on. We are for Christ! We are for doing his will. We want to do life in his way. As we for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

But reflect on how we really need to pray this from the heart. Even though our King is benevolent and good, we still resist his commands. So we pray, “Help us more and more to submit to you.” We pray that God’s rule would penetrate deep into our weekend activities, deep into our quiet thoughts, deep into our savings account and investments. We pray that He would help us in all things to seek first his kingdom!

The good news is that in this war of two worlds, the good King doesn’t leave us unarmed and unprepared. Though our struggle is against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age” (Eph 6:12), we have a great help. Listen to how Paul exhorts us: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might” (v 10). For there is none stronger than your God! He is the King of all created things, visible and invisible.

Paul then describes what we get to wear as the soldiers of the good King. If you’re fighting flesh-and-blood opponents, you need weapons and armour. And when you’re fighting demonic armies from Satan’s realm, you need this—even more so! So “Put on the whole armor of God” (v 11).

When he says the “armour of God,” Paul doesn’t just mean the armour that God supplies, but the armour that God wears! We can read about this in Isaiah 59. That passage tells how Israel was so weak and defenceless against her enemies. But the LORD will fight for his people, and good thing, for He’s a great warrior. Verse 17 says that “The LORD puts on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; He puts on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and is clad with zeal as a cloak.” Almighty God has armour, and now He lends it to us his people. So we’ve got some help in this fight!

Paul describes six different components of the armour of God. The pieces are listed in the order in which a soldier would put them on—starting with a belt and ending with the sword of the Spirit. God has given us essential armour for our the battle of every day.

But it’s not just a museum piece; we’ve got to do something with it: “Put on the armour of God” (v 11). Think of a Roman soldier going into battle without his helmet or his shield or sword, or a soldier today thinking he’d be OK without his bullet-proof vest or machine gun. It’d be the worst kind of folly.

Yet how often don’t we do something similar? We go through another day of facing Satan’s attacks without opening Scripture even once. Or we drift along for an entire week without any thought for the shield of faith or the helmet of salvation. Satan and his spiritual hosts of darkness are everywhere, launching their fiery darts, but we stroll ahead, with empty hands and bare feet and an unguarded heart.

How can you fight against your temper or your pride if you’re not always girded with truth? How can a man expect to resist the onslaught of sexual temptation if he’s not arming himself every day with the Scriptures? How will you fight envy or jealousy if you’re not working hard at being satisfied with Christ? If we don’t seek to strengthen our faith, why are we surprised when we give in to the devil’s temptations?

We’ll never stand firm against the devil if we’re unprepared. So don’t underestimate Satan’s anger, nor the power of those who follow him. Think of all the warnings in Scripture. “Resist the devil” (James 4:7). “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:26). “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion” (1 Pet 5:8). Remember that his one purpose is to destroy the works of God.

Yet we also know Satan’s power simply cannot compare with God’s. I love what John writes in his first letter, “You are from God and have overcome the evil one, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We have God in us, and He is greater—much greater than the one who (right now) dominates the world.

We don’t have to retreat, but we can stand firm. With our weapons, with our God, we have a mighty strength. The Holy Spirit says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Eph 6:13). That’s a great promise, that when we deliberately pray for and use the power of God, we’ll be able to overcome the devil.

For Satan might have a well-defined purpose, but he’s not invincible. He might be intelligent, but he’s not perfectly wise. He might have freedom, but He’s still under Christ’s control. Martin Luther once said, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to the texts of Scripture, is to jeer and ridicule him, for he cannot bear scorn.” And from Psalm 2, we know that God himself laughs at all who stand opposed to him.         

So Satan fears the name of Christ. He fears him more than anyone! So we know that’s the way for us to stand: only when you go to Christ and you pray for his power and Spirit. And that sets the important decision before us once again. Like Joshua said so long ago, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” There’s a need to take a side. Christ’s kingdom comes with an invitation—a command, for He puts a claim on our hearts. And you can’t not decide. A decision not to be devoted to Christ means a decision to reject him. Think again of Jesus’ words, “No one can serve two masters.” So which master is it?

We should realize that we’ve already been enlisted to be on God’s side. By our baptism, God has already chosen each of us for himself. We don’t enter life as spectators, as neutral observers, but we enter on the side of God. This calls us to take up the life to which we’ve been set apart—to answer God’s gracious call. Don’t delay, but believe in Christ with all your heart as Saviour, and serve him joyfully as King.

For we know that the day is coming when God will punish Satan forever. He has already been cast down, and all that remains is to throw him “into the lake of burning sulfur where he will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20:10). This is what the Catechism means when it talks about “the fullness of [God’s] kingdom [coming]” (Q&A 123).

It’s true that even in eternity, the rebellion of the devil can’t be undone. The fall into sin cannot be changed. It’s the tragic reality, that the harmony of the beginning has been lost. Forever there will remain two sides, two kingdoms, two worlds: one of life, and one of death.

But we should also know that there won’t always be two choices, or two roads that we can take. At some point soon, there will no more time. One day soon, the two roads will be closed, and their destinations sealed tight. For this reason Jesus is so urgent: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24).

And it’s clear which master you ought to serve. It’s clear which kingdom is best to work for, which kingdom is worth fighting for. The one kingdom is doomed, while the other is destined for glory. For in Christ, the Lord God has already won. And his people are already more than conquerors through him who loved us!  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 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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