Reading Time: 11 minutes

Dancing with the devil

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

You may know that Miller Cunningham, our Pastor of Worship, drives a pickup truck. I read in this week’s Dallas Morning News that it’s a good thing our church isn’t located in Frisco. They have a city ordinance prohibiting all trucks from parking overnight in the street or driveway, charging $50 per violation. If we start charging Miller for parking in front of the church, we could make some serious money.

That’s not the only strange news in the news.

I read that the Dallas City Council is considering a variety of ways to close the budget deficit. One idea is to rent idle police patrol cars to businesses which would park them in front of their stores to thwart thieves, at least the really dumb ones. Perhaps we should put police lights on Miller’s pickup to protect the church.

I learned that laparoscopic surgeons who played video games were 27 percent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 percent fewer errors than nongamers. Next time you’re having a procedure, ask whether or not the surgeon is good at Guitar Hero. If the surgeon hasn’t heard of the game, keep looking.

And I learned that singer Phil Collins divorced his third wife, agreeing to pay her $46.76 million. His second wife got $34 million; his three divorces have cost him a total of $84 million. Marrying Phil Collins is now a Fortune 500 business.

We live in a strange and troubled world. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan; suicide bombings continue in Iraq; now Russia is on the world stage with its military action in Georgia. We are arming Poland, and Russia threatens reprisals. Pakistan’s leadership is in chaos. Not to mention the continued turmoil regarding Palestine, or government repression in China.

Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow such a world? Why would he allow you to face the struggles and pain you face today? This morning we’ll explore Satan’s role in current events and in your life and problems. What we discover may lead you to a victory you’ll win in no other way.

Explore the parable

Our story begins: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field” (v. 24). Jesus is standing in the fields of Galilee, near the Sea of Galilee, surrounded by farms and farmers who illustrate precisely his parable. One may have been sowing seed at this very moment, so that Jesus pointed to him as he told the story.

Unfortunately, an enemy did what enemies often did and still do in the Middle East: “while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away” (v. 25). This crime was so common that the Romans had laws punishing those who committed it.

The “weeds” to which Jesus referred are called “bearded darnel.” They are poisonous to humans, causing dizziness and sickness. But it is impossible to detect them until the harvest time comes: “when the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared” (v. 26).

In the meantime, the owner must simply let the weeds grow. The enemy “sowed weeds among the wheat”—literally “over” or “throughout” the wheat. If the man pulled up the weeds, he would pull up the wheat as well (v. 29). But when the harvest comes, the weeds will be burned and the wheat gathered into the barn (v. 39).

Now, what does the story mean to us?

Who is the “man”? “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man” (v. 37), Jesus’ favorite self-designation. He tells us that the “field” is the world, while the good seed signifies “the sons of the kingdom” (v. 38a).

Who is the enemy? “The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil” (vs. 38b-39). Satan and his demons prefer to work under cover of darkness, while people are not watching or preparing for their attack. We cannot keep our enemy from sowing his seeds in our field, no matter how diligent we might be.

Satan sows his weeds throughout the field, all over the world. We are naïve if we do not expect his attacks. Satan “entered Judas, one of the Twelve” (Luke 22:3); he “filled” Ananias’ heart and caused him to lie to the early church (Acts 5:3). Wherever God plants his seed, Satan plants his weeds.

But God has the last word. He knows the weeds from the wheat. He will burn up the former and shelter the latter.

Revelation 19:20: “The two of them [the beast and the false prophet] were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”

Revelation 21:8: “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Malachi 4:1-2: “‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.'”

Do battle with the enemy

So we know that Satan is right now sowing his “weeds” among the “wheat” of God’s people and Kingdom. What is the relevance of Jesus’ story to events occurring around us? To your temptations and troubles? What should we do about Satan today?

First, admit his reality. I was shocked to read a recent Barna survey which discovered that only 34 percent of Baptists believe Satan is a real, literal being. Their research included all Baptists, not just Southern Baptists, but is still frightening. It is actually higher than the general public, according to recent surveys. Most people see Satan as a mythological or symbolic figure, a cartoon character in red tights gripping a pitchfork or a leftover from Puritan days.

Let me ask you: when did you last think about the devil, before this sermon? When last did you pray for protection from him, or worry that you might be tempted by him, or think about his role in world events? Why is this? We live in a naturalistic, materialistic culture. We measure things by test tubes and empirical investigation. It’s hard to care much about a being you’ve never seen, or felt, or experienced. Add our revulsion at “fire and brimstone” sermons and puritanical scare tactics, and it’s easy to see why we don’t think much about the devil any more.

Satan, for one, is delighted with such confusion. If your doctor says that you have cancer but you deny the existence of the disease, you’re more likely to die from it. Satan is very real, and he is working right now wherever God is working. Even here. Especially here.

Second, see his work in the world. Jesus warned us: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). In John 8 he added, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (v. 44).

Wherever you find theft, murder, destruction, or lies, you are seeing Satan at work. He probably sowed his weeds at night, so that you could not see him in the field. But when you see the darnel, you know the devil has been there.

You only have to read the news. For instance, Satan is happily at work in the escalating destruction and death in Georgia. Russia says that Georgia provoked the conflict by attacking the capital of South Ossetia. Georgia says that Russia invaded their sovereign territory and is launching a permanent occupation. Some historians are worried that Russia may be testing the resolve of the West, and may extend its reach to Ukraine next and even Poland.

The United States just signed a treaty with Poland allowing us to place defensive missiles there. Russia says that this is an act of aggression. They note that these missiles are only 115 miles from their soil, approximately the distance from Cuba to the U.S., and remind us of the Cuban missile crisis. Will the situation escalate further? Yes, if the enemy has anything to do with it.

Satan is busily sowing weeds in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. He wants discord and destruction in the Middle East, and in your work and school and family. Of course humans cooperate. There is not a devil behind every bush. But when Satan steals and kills and destroys, the fault is not with God. Wherever someone steals and kills and destroys, you know you are seeking the enemy’s handiwork.

Third, expect his attack in your life. He sows weeds especially where God sows wheat. 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan “the god of this age”; John 12:31 describes him as the “prince of this world.” You and I are living in a world dominated by the devil. We are soldiers stationed on enemy soil, living in an occupied country. And Satan knows we’re here.

He lied in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve about the authority of God’s word; expect him to do the same to you. Whenever you hear a voice calling into question the trustworthiness or relevance of Scripture, know that you are hearing from the enemy.

He tempted Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the church about their possessions and offering. Whenever you hear a voice tempting you to lie, to manipulate the truth, to say something that is less than completely honest, to put things in a way which benefits you but is not truthful, know that you are hearing from the enemy.

He prompted Judas to deny and betray Jesus. Whenever you are tempted to be silent about your Lord, to refuse a courageous stand for your Master, know that you are being manipulated by Satan himself.

The closer you are to God, the more of a threat you are to Satan. If you’re thinking that this message is irrelevant to you, guess why.

Last, fight with the power of God. Remember that Satan is a defeated foe. His destiny is the lake of fire. Meanwhile, your Father promises that he will allow no temptation without giving you the strength to defeat it (1 Corinthians 10:13). The moment the enemy appears in your life, stand on that promise. Assume the victory which it guarantees.

So resist him in God’s strength: “Submit yourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Peter exhorts us: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Do it now. It will never be easier to refuse sin than when it first appears in your mind or heart. Don’t fight back with your strength or resolve. Give the temptation or struggle immediately to your Father, and ask him for his power and victory. Then they will be yours.

Never give up. You are in this battle until you go to God or God comes to us. Satan tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and at its end. He will tempt you until you are with the Lord. Every time the temptation strikes or the struggle returns, give it to your God. Discouragement is of the devil. Guilt is of the enemy. But grace is greater than all our sin.

Conclusion

Where has the tempter found you today? Is he sowing weeds of deception and manipulation in your soul? If you’re dancing with the devil, he will eventually want to lead. He will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. Every time.

But victory is yours in the power of God, now and for eternity. Take your temptation to Jesus. Run to him now. Ask for his wisdom, or encouragement, or resolve, or courage, and they will be yours. Then take the advice found on my favorite t-shirt: “The next time Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.”

Why do you need this message today?