Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned — sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass.
For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
A man died and went to hell. The first day there in Hell, Satan decided he would make hell very hard for the man so he set him to work digging ditches with a shovel all day.
At the end of the day, when Satan came to see the man, the man was whistling and enjoying his work.
Satan asked the man: “Hey why are you so happy?”
The man replied: Well I grew up on a farm in Canada and there was lots of hard manual labour so I kind of feel right at home.
Satan thought: “hmmm, that didn’t work. I know what. I’ll fix him. I’ll make it supper hot when he is working tomorrow.”
The next day as the man was digging ditches Satan made hell superhot all day.
When Satan came back at the end of the day, the man was singing away and happy.
“Hey, why are you so happy?” Satan queried.
“Well I grew up in Canada and sometimes it seemed like there was six months of winter, so I am really pleased when we get some nice hot weather.
“mmmm” Satan thought to himself “ I’ll fix him, so the next day Satan made hell so cold is was like the North Pole in the middle of winter.
He came back at the end of the day and the man was literally jumping up and down, with ecstasy.
“Why are you so happy? Inquired Satan.
The man replied. Well since Hell is frozen over, it must mean that the Toronto Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup.
When I say Satan, I think that everyone has a different idea in their head as to what that might mean.
Some think of a person in a red suit with a pitchfork who presides over hell.
Some think that Satan is a fallen angel gone bad.
Some remember Satan as the one who tempted Jesus. Some think of Satan as mythological.
Some think of Satan as a real person who is a ruler of demons.
Some think that Satan is a metaphor for evil.
Or some think Satan is the personification for evil.
Some think of Satan as the dark side of one’s own mind.
And the truth.
Well it is hard to know.
What I do know is that fictionalized versions of Satan are ubiquitous. Everywhere, and that there are many understandings of Satan, certainly some not found in scripture.
The first use of the word “Satan” is the bible is found in the book of Numbers where a prophet by the name of Balaam is on his way to maybe pronounce curses on Israel, when an angel of the Lord appears to his donkey and blocks the way.
The angel appears as a satan, which means opponent, or adversary, or accuser, or stumbling block.
The donkey sees the angel and turns away, whereupon Balaam starts to beat the donkey. And then the donkey turns to Balaam and speaks saying: “Why do you treat me this way. Have a not been a good donkey?”
And then Balaam’s eyes are opened to the Satan, the angel with a fiery sword, who says that he would have killed Balaam except the donkey saved him.
The most major story with Satan in it in the Old Testament is in the book of Job where God is pictured as an Eastern King with a court and his retinue is all there, and Satan appears in the heavenly court, not as a demon, or ruler of hell, but as a kind of crown prosecutor pointing the finger at Job, saying that Job only loves God because he is rich and has a lot of money and is blessed with a big family.
You see the figure of Satan never really gains much traction in the Old Testament because the Jews believed in one God. Therefore, there was no great big evil figure, because there was only one God. Jews rejected the dualism of other religions where there was a good god and a bad god.
However, Satan appears in the New Testament. Some scholars think that because the Jews spent a lot of time in Persian during the exile, and that after the exile they were under the influence of Persia, that during this few hundred years they were influenced by Persian Religion or Zoroastrianism or the like, and its belief in magic and demons and they had a god of evil, darkness and ignorance.
Satan does appear in the New Testament. There is no mention of Satan being a fallen angel, but some Christians surmised since there was only one God and God created all things and they were good, the only way for Satan to come into existence is that he is something good that God has created, gone bad. So, the only other thing than humans is angels. He must therefore be a fallen angel.
Satan is mentioned in a few of Jesus parables.
The book of Revelation mentions Satan and yet the book of Revelation is written in a kind of code. It is full of metaphors and allusions and wild imagery. I think of lot of scholars would understand the author think that the Roman Empire is the beast and that Satan is a kind of supernatural ruler of Rome and the cause of all the evil in the world. In Revelation far from being the Ruler of Hell, Satan is cast into the lake of fire and evil is done away with.
So, I am not going to stand up in front of you today and tell you what to definitively belief about Satan. I am not here to question your metaphysical or philosophical understanding of who Satan is…
You might think he is mythological, or metaphorical, or physical realm, or a part of your psyche…
but I am here to tell you that you know him. I’ll call him a him, even though I don’t think for me Satan has a gender.
And you have known Satan for a while.
You maybe first heard his voice when he told you to take something that wasn’t yours.
Or when he encouraged you to use violence to get what you wanted, or to intimidate another child, or to humiliate another.
Or when he gave the words to lie to your parents to avoid shame or trouble or embarrassment or punishment…
Sometime he was the words in your own heads. Sometimes he was the words of your peers who pressured you to go along to get along, to join with the group in excluding someone or gossiping about someone, about lying about someone, or even threatening someone.
And sometimes he was the voice in your own head that turned on you, that said you were no good, that you were worthless, or good-for-nothing, or beyond forgiveness, or beyond church or God or anything…
And he never left you. Even as an adult, even as church member, even as a session or board member, or even as a minister…
He whispered about what you could get away with in income taxes, and who might be receptive to a little harmless flirting, and how to tell the truth but not the whole truth…
He gave you the whole range of tools for manipulation from lying, to crying, to acting offended, to begging, pleading, forcing, threatening, to the silent treatment, or full on shouting or swearing.
You see him on the news in those who think because they are rich movie producers or actors or comedians, or politicians or presidents that they can use women for their own ends without much consequence…
We have harboured him in our churches when we thought we could take the Indian out of the Indians, and we so hurt our aboriginal brothers and sisters…
Or when we destroyed other cultures countries or religions or dominated them or exploited them using the name of Christ as our justification.
It is he who makes us point fingers and accuse and judge and create divisions between us and others.
He is the one who give you a theology that is always right and the other is always wrong.
It is he that tells you that you are better than others or worse than others, and that it matters.
I don’t know how Satan exists and all the forms he takes, what I know is that he exists.
There are some who say that he was the very first snake who walked and talked and told Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Maybe he was.
What we know from that story is that before eating the fruit Adam and Eve, all they knew was God. Everything they knew was in relation to their relationship with God. They didn’t know right and wrong, because they didn’t need to know right and wrong.
So, when they disobeyed, they became the standard by which they judged things.
Instead of letting God be the standard, they became their own gods, their own standard…
And we are in solidarity with them, in that we have this incessant need to judge everything good or bad, but our own standards.
Sadly enough, some of the ones who do the most judging use the bible, but it is still their own standard that they use. The bible is just their excuse. They rationalize their judgement of others by saying “It’s what the bible says.”
However, Jesus makes it clear we are not to judge.
Satan is the champion of judging, or pointing fingers, or accusing, or taking offense, of screening others out, of high standards, and clearly demarked sides, and boundaries and fences and walls and blockades and anything that keeps humans fighting and separated emotionally, verbally, physically or relationally.
Because he keeps us judging. That is good. That is bad. She is good. She is bad. He is good and he is bad. Satan’s genius is that he tells us that we know absolutely what is right and wrong, who is good and bad, and that we are right and the other is wrong and our enemy.
But surely you know about any helping profession from counselling, to teaching to health care. We provide care to all regardless, and do not judge.
That is the way it was and is with Jesus. His love, his ministry was and is for all. And maybe that is the way we should be. We resolve not to do any harm but to do good and help and heal and forgive and love everyone. No judgement.
Let God be the judge. Not us.
And maybe it is Jesus who makes it possible for us to go back to the Garden of Eden before we ate of the fruit and set ourselves up as the judges of right and wrong, good and bad.
Maybe Jesus takes down the walls of judgement and division because instead of judging who is in and out, who is right and wrong, our goal is not judgement but simply to know Christ and make Christ known.
Our goal is not morality and ethics. Our goal is Christ. As Paul would write: “I know nothing except Christ crucified.”
So how do we avoid temptation Harry if we are not in the habit of judging and knowing good and evil.
And I guess I would say talk to Jesus. Talk to God. Even Jesus talked about the demonic one time by saying it needs a lot of prayer.
And so today I invite you not to avoid the wilderness, nor to avoid temptation, nor even to avoid Satan…
Today I invite you to join Jesus in the wilderness, to take him with you on your journey, on your struggle to be whole and human…
Jesus entered the wilderness and was tempted to turn stone into bread….
Join with Jesus in your struggle to determine the difference between what you need and what you want…
…and find that you need more than bread to survive… you need love
Jesus entered the wilderness and was tempted to throw himself down from the temple so that everyone would see a miracle and idolize him.
Join with Jesus in your struggle for identity, about who you are and how you should live, and find that you do not need status or fame or adulation to be the child of God you are, or to love and be loved.
Jesus entered the wilderness and tempted to worship Satan so he could have the kingdoms of the world.
Join with Jesus in your struggle about the appropriate use of power…
And find that you do not need the power to control others, but the power to serve others and serve God.
The way to handle temptation you see is to talk about it. To share what you feel and think and what your urges are and play out the whole story.
Talk to God. Tell God about what you want to do and what you feel like doing.
Tell your best friend. Tell your minister. Tell your counsellor.
Hey, if you feel strongly towards someone else’s spouse, just tell your own spouse, and I guarantee that will help quell your urge for infidelity.
For when you bring your darkness to the light, when you expose Satan to Jesus, Jesus wins.
When you keep your wilderness secret, hidden, unexposed… it grows, it manipulates, it possesses, it overwhelms, it attacks, it hurts, it lies, it manipulates you…
So today I invite you into the wilderness with Jesus. Talk about sin. Talk about evil. Talk about about injustice. Have a conversation with Satan, and tell that liar and manipulator that you follow Jesus.
Today we are going to talk to that voice in our heads and those urges in our body, and to injustice and uncontrolled power within us, and we are going to converse with injustice and inequity and uncontrolled power within our community our society, our culture and our world.
Not because we have all the answers. Not because we are right, but because we know Christ. We know of his sacrifice on the cross to serve people, love people, forgive people and reconcile people.
There was a case of 2 people in a church who hated each other. Two women who were both members and who both active and both joined the WMS.
It was a big church so the women didn’t have to run into each other too often but one day the WMS handed out slips of paper with names on it. The person on your slip of paper was to be your prayer partner, and of course you know what is coming.
The two women who hated each other got each other’s names for prayer partners.
They each left muttering ‘”hell will freeze over before I pray for that woman.”
One of them told her husband, a fine Christian man. He asked: “You hate her?”
“I hate her”
She gave reasons. There was one particular event that had happened.
He said: “Well I guess the whole Christian life boils down to this. If you are not a Christian for this then maybe you aren’t a Christian.”
And he encouraged her to talk to this other woman.
So grudgingly she did.
And she found out that she was wrong. That the event that had happened had not happened that way. It was gossip that had reinterpreted the actual event.
And there were painful moments of saying “sorry” or forgiveness and a happy moment of reconciliation.
And a year later the families were good friends.
It was a case of Satan whispering that they were right and the other was wrong. It was a case of Satan stretching the truth with gossip and innuendo.
And how easy we all are to fall to that temptation.
But the answer is not to be right, but to be Christian and follow Christ even into the hell of bad relationships and love and forgive and reconcile.