Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

(Transcribed by machine 04/08/2024)

In the name of Jesus, amen.
Dear saints, who is your enemy?
I want to lean into that today.
In fact, I want to take a couple steps back and we’re working around this gospel text
of Mark chapter 1 where, and really the whole of the chapter 1 where the Lord is laying
out what Jesus is coming to do, the wrongs he’s making right, the ills that he’s fixing,
the problems that he’s solving, the enemies that he’s overcoming.
And he shows us this, especially when he goes into that synagogue in Capernaum, and there’s
a man with an unclean spirit, and Jesus… the demon knows who Jesus is, and Jesus silences
him and sends him away.
It reminds us that the battle that we’re facing and the battle that the Lord is fighting
is not simply against sin or even death, but against the devil himself.
Now, now, the reason I want to think about this, who or what is your enemy, is because
Because if we get this wrong, we get a lot of things wrong.
We can’t read the Bible rightly because when we’re reading the Bible, it just shows up
as that we have enemies that are there.
You read the Psalms and it turns out that we have enemies.
You read the Scripture, we’re faced with all sorts of opposition.
But I think it’s also important, I was thinking about it this week, that it seems like we’re
just really getting ready to ramp up for another election season.
I don’t know if you noticed that yet, the TV and all the media is starting to rant,
and what that means is that everything that you’re consuming now on the media is going
to be trying to convince you to get mad, or at least to get madder than you are.
At who?
Well, depends on who you listen to.
Now, so we need to know who our real enemy is, and part of that is knowing who our enemy
is not.
So, let’s start with that.
Paul writes to the Ephesians when he’s talking about spiritual warfare.
He says these words.
He says, your battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities
and powers of darkness.
In other words, the Christian is not at war with any other person.
With any other person that you could point to and say, well, they’re flesh and blood,
that means that they’re not your enemy.
enemy.
How can they be?
When Jesus became a man, when he took on our flesh and blood, he took on all of human nature.
And when he died, he took on all the sins of the world.
And this is to redeem all people, so that there’s not a single person – this is good
news for us – there’s not a single person that Jesus looks at and says, you are my enemy.
No.
And if Jesus doesn’t do that, if Jesus looks at every single person and sees them as a
person that He died for, a person that He won the forgiveness of sins for, then He does
not authorize us to look at any other person and call them an enemy.
Now, that does not mean that other people might look at us and consider us to be the
enemy.
Fine.
Fine.
But our war is not against flesh and blood.
Who then is our war with?
If the enemy is not a person I can point to or someone I can name, then who is my war
with?
There are, in fact, three enemies that we’re fighting against, and I want to reflect on
this a bit because there’s some wisdom here for our living and our dying in this complexity
that the Scriptures give us.
There are three enemies, and they are these, the world and the flesh and the devil.
Now, it’s important that we confess all three.
Something happens if I just grab one of those, or even two of them, and I say that this is
the enemy.
For example, here’s a way to get it wrong.
We might confess, well, the enemy is the world.
But if we just confess that the enemy is the world, do you see what the problem is?
The world that’s out there, the problems out there, the trouble is over there.
We in church, we here, we’re the righteous and holy ones, obviously.
And the problem is with the other people.
That’s what’s wrong with the world.
If just they would get their act together, if they would fix things up, then everything
would be great.
Now, that’s a problem in the church.
I mean, there’s, you know, we’ve talked about this, I think most people think that we gather
here in church to think about how good we are and how bad they are.
It’s not what, I mean, the first thing we say in church is what?
I’m a poor, miserable sinner.
In other words, we recognize that there’s problems out there, but we also recognize
that there are problems in here.
In fact, the biggest problem is in here.
I’m not just fighting against the world.
world, I’m fighting against my own sinful flesh.
The trouble is not only outside, it’s also and maybe most especially inside.
So that we can’t just grab onto the… say, oh, the world is the problem and ignore the
sinful flesh.
There was an essay contest, I don’t know, this must have been 130 years ago, one of
these when people still wrote essays even after they finished school, and the newspaper
was having an essay contest, and the assignment was, what’s wrong with the world?
world, and people were writing in and answering the question, what’s wrong with the world?
Here’s what I think is wrong with the world, etc. etc. All these people were presenting
their answers.
Well, G.K. Chesterton, this was in the Chesterton times, he wrote in an essay explaining what
he thought was wrong with the world, and I can read it to you. I can tell you what it
said right now. It said this, Dear Madam, I am sincerely G.K. Chesterton. Now, there’s
There’s some real Christian wisdom in that, actually.
Because you see that we are motivated to self-justification.
We’re motivated to try to grab a hold of innocence
for ourself and guilt out there.
Holiness for ourself and sin out there.
Cleanness for ourself, unclean, everything unclean.
We have to recognize that we also are part of the problem.
That the line, remember, of good and evil
runs through the human heart.
world, that we are poor, miserable sinners.
So we don’t just say that we’re at war with the world.
Now, it’s not just the church that has that danger, but there’s also a way that that danger
shows up in the culture on the other side.
I think this is one of the tough things about the times that we’re living in because this
idea that the problem is not in here, but the problem is out there runs rampant throughout
our whole cultural conversation.
I think I’ll try to give you an example.
It was Carl Truman who wrote this book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, who gives
these two parallel stories, the story of Augustine’s pears and Rousseau’s asparagus, remember that?
I think I talked about it one time, I’m just checking to see who was here.
So here’s the two stories.
Augustine, the great Lutheran, okay I think he was Lutheran but it was before Luther,
The great Christian theologian wrote in his confessions this story about when he was a
teenager and he was hanging out with a bunch of friends and they were wandering around
doing some kind of ruffian stuff, and they were walking along and they saw this garden
with a wall there, and on the other side of the wall was a pear tree, and they jumped
over the wall and they stole the pears.
Now Augustine is reflecting on that incident.
He said, the pears weren’t even that good.
In fact, they weren’t ripe.
And in fact, he had plenty of pears at home.
His home had a nicer garden with nicer pear trees than this tree that they went and stole
the pears from.
And the question is, why did we do it?
What in the world would compel us?
There was no…
We weren’t hungry.
We weren’t needy.
We weren’t…
There was nothing that would actually compel us to do this.
And Augustine says, why?
Why do we do it?
Well, we did it because we’re sinners.
Because our flesh, our sinful flesh is drawn to disobedience.
That there’s a gravity about our fallen nature that is attracted to the wrong thing.
It’s what the theologians call concupiscence.
This desire to do what we’re not supposed to do.
And the law even awakens it, Paul says in Romans, that through the preaching of the
law that desire to do the wrong thing even intensifies.
So why did he steal the pears? Because he has this intrinsic, sinful, thieving nature.
Now compare that to Rousseau, who writes, I don’t know, 1,200 years later, his own confessions
in a way refuting Augustine’s confessions, and he tells a parallel story about when he
was a teenager and a Ruffian, and they were wandering through town, and he was convinced
by his friends to steal some asparagus. Now, I do not know, when I was a kid I was
always trying to figure out a way to get the asparagus like off the plate to the
dog. It would never have occurred to me to steal asparagus, but anyway, just
overlook that craziness. They went and they stole the asparagus and the same
thing, I think he sold the asparagus, he made some money, he didn’t need the money,
he didn’t need to do it, it’s the same kind of thing. He did the thing that was
wrong for no good reason and Rousseau is reflecting on why he did it and he says
well why did I do it because the guys I was with tempted me to do it because the
people I was around pushed me to do it in other words the problem Rousseau says I
was by myself would never have done it it was the society that I was in that
pushed me to do it it was them not me now you see that you see the huge
difference. Where’s the problem? Augustine says the problem is here and Rousseau
says the problem is there. That man, and this is how he went on to argue, that
man is virtually innocent but that society or culture comes and corrupts us
so that the corrupting element is outside of us not inside of us. Now
who’s right? The point is that they both are right. But in what they
assert, but Rousseau especially, is wrong in what he denies. He wants the problem,
if you were to say, what is your enemy? Rousseau would say, the enemy is the
world, not my flesh. That the world is fighting against my pure flesh. And that
idea is basically adopted in our cultural conversation. That if you were
to say, what’s wrong? Where’s my enemy? What’s wrong with the world? It’s never,
Or, well, me, it’s always them or that or those.
It’s always somewhere else.
And we’re motivated to that because if the problem can be outside then I can feel good
about myself.
So we have to know this as this fundamental Christian argument that the problem that we
have is the enemy that we have are the world and our flesh.
But that’s not all. It’s not just two enemies that you have, it’s three. It’s
the world, and your flesh, and the devil. There was a demon there on that Saturday
morning in Capernaum when Jesus went into the synagogue, and I think it’s
quite telling that Jesus first encounters the demons in church, and then
later in the pagan places over in the land of the Gergesenes and all these
other places so that he’s going to encounter them everywhere.
It’s also very telling that when we read through the Bible, you see a couple of times the demons
and the devil show up, but very rarely until Jesus shows up and then they’re swarming all
around them and that this is a reality that we are in the midst of, that we’re fighting
also against the devil and his demons.
And this means, there’s a lot of things that this means and there’s a lot to talk about
in spiritual warfare, but I want to kind of round out, I want to talk about one thing
that is most important.
Do you see, if the problem is just the world and not my flesh, then I think that I can
solve the world’s problems by political action.
If the problem is my flesh and just the flesh, then I think I can solve the problem through
moral improvement or something like that.
If I think the problems are just the world and the flesh, then I can come up with some
sort of scheme to fix them.
But when I confess, when the Bible tells us, when the Lord Jesus shows us that our problem
is also the devil, the fallen angel, the prince of the world who is establishing a kingdom
of darkness, then I know that I cannot solve the problem myself.
You cannot go to the ballot box in November and unelect the devil.
He ignores the election results.
You cannot overcome the devil by your own efforts, by your own plans, by your own endeavors.
You see, when we know that we’re fighting against the world, the flesh, and the devil,
then we know this, that we need, that we must have a hero who will fight for us and
will rescue us.
And that’s exactly what Jesus does.
So we confess these three enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, but we confess against
them one champion.
There are not three solutions or three battles.
there is only one Jesus who overcomes the devil. For this reason the Son of God
was manifest that he might destroy the works of the devil. He overcomes the
world. In fact John says the one who is in you is greater than he who is in the
world and he overcomes your sinful flesh. He forgives you all your sins. We have
three great enemies, but we have one great Savior who rescues us from all of them.
And He’s our confidence, He’s our hope, He’s our wisdom and strength, the Lord Jesus
Christ.
The demons confessed Him, we know who you are, the Holy One of God.
Have you come to destroy us, they say?
And Jesus says, yes.
Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and
minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.