Satan

God’s Mercy In Trials

 

Testing is Normal and Necessary

The Bible indicates that a normal part of life as a Christian is testing. This does not refer to testing in the sense of pass or fail. It is a kind of testing that has as its purpose revelation. The revelation not so much of the Word of God, but of our hearts.

God tested Adam in the garden, calling out to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). God tested Abraham when he was commanded to take his son, Isaac, up to the mountain and offer him there as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-2; cf Hebrews 11:17). God tested Israel for 40 years in the desert (Deuteronomy 8:1-4) not so that God would find out, but so that they would find out! Moving forward into the New Testament we see that the Father even tested His Only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by means of 40 days of fasting and aloneness while being tempted to sin by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

The writer of Hebrews exhorts us:

Hebrews 12:4–8

A Father’s Discipline

4  You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;

5  and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;

6  For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,

And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

7  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

8  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

 

One such son was Simon Peter. This man, named “Rock” by the Lord Himself (John 1:42), would go on to become the pillar of the church, alongside James, the Lord’s brother (James 1:1), and John (Galatians 1:9; 2:2, 6). But, Peter needed to be tested first. Why? Because, as he was, he was not fit for ministry. His life was filled with pride, sectarianism, and spiritual short-sightedness. However, God had chosen this man to become a foundation-stone to their group, the apostles (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:19-20). He had the highest service toward God, and therefore had the furthest to go as it relates to testing. Since he would be used of the Lord to such a degree, the Lord needed to expose his own heart to him in the deepest way.

The Test

Simon was brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew (John 1:40-42). Once Simon saw Christ, and Christ saw him, the Lord prophesied that he would have his name changed to “rock.” That would be a description of this man. But, right now, he was simply same-old Simon. As the Lord’s ministry wore on, with tremendous power and conflict, this man, Simon, didn’t seem to change much. However, that was not the point of the Lord’s ministry. Although the Lord would have expected these men to change, He knew what was in their hearts (John 2:23-25). No one needed to tell Him what was going on in their minds at any time. However, Simon did not know what was in his heart. And that ignorance would keep him away from effective service to Christ. If the Lord is going to call you to service, He must first reveal you. And since He already knows our hearts, He only needs to reveal our hearts to us! The years of preparation for service, the laying of seeds of teaching and example, as it were, did not sprout during the Lord’s ministry. It would almost seem that nothing took root. However, the watering of testing, pressure, needed to be applied first before the condition of the soil and seed could be made evident. The moment of water applied to the soil and seed came in the courtyard where Simon and the Lord Himself was being tested respectively. 

Our Lord is arrested, betrayed by the Satan-filled betrayer, Judas. Judas, already having it in his heart to do evil, is led by Satan to betray Jesus to the Jews and the Romans. In doing so, it would seem that the hopes of the kingdom are destroyed. The three years of following, watching, learning, practicing, ministry with Jesus now dashed. Peter is told to bear a sword (Luke 22:35-38). He attempts to use the sword to fight for Jesus at His arrest (Luke 22:49-51). Jesus rebukes him, because he was apparently operating outside of the will of the Father (v. 42). Peter did not see that, as he did not see much of a spiritual nature (see Matthew 16:21-23). Peter, along with the rest of the disciples, flee the scene.

Peter is now in the courtyard, warming himself by the fire (Luke 22:54-62). He is asked three different times by three different people if he was with Jesus. He denies that he even knows the Man. The last time, defending his own hypocritical innocence against the accusation that he was with Jesus, he does so with vehement curses (Matthew 26:74). Peter, horrified by the accompanying shame of having been with the Jesus who is, as he speaks, being tried and beaten, denies that he was ever an acquaintance of the Lord’s. At the end of the last denial Jesus, being within viewing distance to Peter, turns and looks Simon in the eyes without a word. He didn’t have to speak-he already had.

At the end of the final meal that the Lord would eat on this unredeemed earth, having eaten it with the disciples, Peter assured Jesus that even if everyone else would fall away from the Lord, there would be no possibility of him falling away and denying Him (Matthew 26:31-35). Simon was willing to die with Him. However, when it came down to it, the Scriptures were true-Jesus would be denied three times by this self-confident man. What happened? How could Peter have done this? Sure, Peter was self-assured. Sure, Peter had no idea what he was in for. Sure, Peter was ashamed of Jesus Christ, when push came to shove. But what was really going on behind the scenes?

Behind the Scenes

Luke tells us the behind the scenes scenario of this event, a devastating, but necessary one, in the life of this leader. He needed to be humbled. He needed to deny himself, not Christ. He needed to see his own weakness, and the Lord’s mercy. And that he did.

Satan, the arch-enemy of Jesus Christ, is a murderer (John 8:44). He cannot help himself, nor does he want to. According to the Lord, Satan has demanded from God, and has obtained, permission to sift Peter like one would separate wheat and the chaff. Peter would be devastated by Satan’s ravages, and God has granted permission to Satan for that very purpose. Thus, we understand that Satan is a target for Peter. This makes sense, since Peter would become the rock, or pillar, of the church in Jerusalem and beyond.

Satan obtains permission. Unlike Job, Peter at least was told it was about to happen. Yet, Jesus also mentions something more. Jesus said,

Luke 22:31–32

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;

32  but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

“Listen up, Simon, Satan has demanded, and obtained from the Father, permission to sift YOU! You are a target of Satan, Simon.” However, Peter would not be left in that horrible condition. At some point, Peter would turn back. And once being turned back, he is then responsible for strengthening his brothers, i.e. the other apostles. So, Jesus Christ, since He prayed for him, believed that God would answer His prayers and that Peter would be granted repentance and would be useful again for the apostleship.

How did Satan do it? How did Satan sift Simon? He did it through unredeemed people around him. Remember, three people instigated a conversation with Simon at the fire which brought out of Simon’s heart the hidden shame toward Jesus that he was feeling. There were no riots, officers, or clubs. It was only the accusation of the servant-girl and a couple others at the fire. Peter did not know that he was ashamed of Christ. He did not know that he was so distant from the plan of God. But he needed to know.

When Jesus Christ turned and looked at Simon at the crowing of the rooster, Peter realized what he had done. He was devastated. He was destroyed. Consider him sifted. Satan did it. Goal accomplished. He ran out of the courtyard absolutely distraught (Matthew 26:75).

The Result

But wasn’t it gracious of God to show Peter what was in his heart? Sooner or later the shame of Christ that resided there would get in the way of ministry. He needed to have it exposed and led to repentance. And he was.

It was a few days later and Peter and the others were in a boat fishing. They had gone back to fishing assuming that their fishing-for-men days were done. After all, Peter had denied the Lord, the Lord knew it, and there appeared no remedy. I can only imagine how often that scene played itself out in his mind.

The Lord appears on the shore and calls out to the men. No one recognizes Him except John (no doubt by the Lord’s sovereign choice). John exclaims to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7). The ensuing conversation is the power of God. “Simon,” the Lord asked, “Do you love me more than these?” Whether it is a question of loving Him more than the fish and his fishing occupation, or more than the rest of the disciples, it is hard to know. However, Peter’s answer was less confident than his denials a few days earlier. If Simon actually loved Jesus, then he would “Feed [His] sheep.” The Lord asks him a second time, “Simon, do you love Me?” Simon again answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You.” This is very different from what was in his heart a few days ago. If Simon really does, then he would show it by shepherding His lambs. The third time, “Simon, do you love Me?” Simon, apparently irritated, or frustrated, answers, “Yes, Lord, you know all things. You know that I love You!” Again, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus was calling Peter back to love for Him. Maybe, which is probably more accurate, Jesus was continuing to purge Peter’s heart because Peter was still not completely sanctified in his love for Jesus Christ as is evident in his frustration for asking a third time. Besides, the first two times the Lord asked Peter if he “loved” Him, the Lord used the word that refers to a love that is sacrificial and submissive apart from reciprocity. It is a love that reflects God’s love and does not consider the worthiness of the object of love. However, the third time, Jesus seems to even question Simon’s affection for Jesus as He then uses a different word for “love.” One that refers to an affection for something. It is, after all, the fulfillment of the Law to love the Lord your God with all your heart. Again, Peter appears to teeter on the line between complete love and simple self-produced affection for Christ, but no absolute subjection to Him.

Fact of the matter is, our hearts (and minds) are never really capable of being really worthy of serving the Lord. The reality is, we will always need our “feet cleansed” (John 13:1-20). Satan was God’s instrument, with all of his diabolical fury, for the cleansing of this self-confident, and loveless apostle. With Peter learning his lesson, and by the ministry of the Spirit of God in this man, he is now able to be a strengthener to the others. How do I know? Simply read Acts 1-15.

Jude-The Epistle of the Search and Rescue

 

The activity of Satan  in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is significant. The real heart and mind of Satan is revealed in his efforts to destroy Christ, whether by murder, or by deception and trickery, or by temptation. From the beginning of Satan’s fall to now, Satan has feverishly attempted to thwart God’s work, receive His worship, and ravage God’s people. He is busy. He is active. He is real. Yet, he is limited and under God’s omnipotent authority.

What is Satan doing now? Because Satan’s attempt to destroy God’s work by destroying His Son was turned on its head, Satan has now begun to hear the ticking of the clock. The time for his judgment is nearer than ever before. He has known since Genesis 3:15 that he would be ultimately destroyed by another Ruler, One who would deliver the crushing blow to Satan and all his works and inaugurate His kingdom. He now knows that Jesus Christ has been handed the kingdom of God by the Father, and the time is coming for Him to come and claim His realm. Satan will have no room in that kingdom. Satan knows that. Thus, now, he is doing what Satan does best-he destroys by deception. He will continue until the Lord banishes him.

Here is a very small sampling of Satan’s work in the church:

1. He is deceiving the church’s minds by introducing another gospel and thus clouding their sincere devotion to Jesus Christ – "But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ." -2 Corinthians 11:3
2. He tempts believers to immorality – "Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." 1 Corinthians 7:5.
3. He hinders the spread of the gospel – "For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us." 1 Thessalonians 2:18.
4. However, his greatest activity is the work of infiltration. He is the master of infiltrating error into truth. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” 1 Corinthians 11:13-14

It is that last point that most concerns Jude. It is the fact that certain false teachers have infiltrated the church and have begun to introduce destructive heresies leading to lasciviousness and licentious living. Whereas the bride of Christ is to be pure and holy, Satan has as his target and goal to make her defiled and profane. And we know that he appears to be successful in our day as we see church after church adopt a profoundly worldly behavior that makes the beautiful bride of Christ violated and impure. We see, often, the influence of Satan by the lives of the leadership of the church. They exude impropriety and filthy living. They glory in their shame, and they call the church to follow their fables. These are men who are denying the lordship of Jesus Christ, who is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15), calling their denial “grace".” They refuse to call Him Master and bow their stubborn knees in order to acknowledge His right to rule over them. They are confined in their condition as rebellious subjects and will be treated as such when the Lord returns. Instead of bearing the image and likeness of a righteous God, who is orderly and beautiful, they bear the image and likeness of a world that is on the broad way to destruction. And what is their motive? What motivates these false leaders, whom God has not sent? Money. They seek the gain that comes from declaring themselves God’s man. And their victims are lulled into their scheme because they are, by-and-large, unsuspecting.


This is the tone of Jude. This little letter is polemical and contentious. It is a call to arms and is meant to stir the church to action and teach her how to maintain her post, until the Lord returns. Instead of being a soft and unsuspecting assembly of the redeemed, the church is to wise as a serpent and militant in her defense of the truth about her Husband. She is to be jealous for His glory and the good of His name. She is to contend for the truth, defend the gospel, and expose those who lead the church away from simple devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Peter wrote to us that in the last days, which began when Christ died and rose again and ascended to the Father, there would be false teachers just as there were false prophets among Israel. Israel was warned that there would be those who would enter into the life of the nation and introduce themselves as God’s spokesman. How would they know? What should they do with men like that? Moses told Israel very clearly how to identify these scam-artists and how to deal with them.

Israel is on the plains of Moab and they are poised to enter the land promised to them by God through the promise and covenant made to Abraham. It is the second generation of Israelites, and in order to keep the Law of their God preeminent, Moses expounds the Law to this new generation (Deuteronomy 1:5). Within that Law, he warns Israel about the false prophets.

        1      “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,
         2      and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’
         3      you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  Dt 13:1–3.

 

This is a very interesting thing for Moses to say. In short, Moses is teaching that there will be men who will come and perform signs and wonders which may well come true. And, if that prophet, by virtue of his tricks, entices you to adhere to a God other than the One revealed in Moses’ teaching, then that prophet is to be rejected and his words are to be ignored. In our day, we see a supposed miracle or hear stories of great crusades of miracles happening in another country, and we think surely God is in that. And yet, when you listen to the teaching of these men (and women) you quickly realize that their description of God simply does not square with Scripture. Thus, signs and wonders are subject to Scripture.

Even if that prophet is a dear family member, or your beloved spouse, they are to be rejected and identified for all to see. What would be their punishment? Death. Like a cancer that is removed from the body with radical surgery, so this man or woman should also be removed. The issue is separation. Thus, we are not to kill false teachers in the church, otherwise we might pull up the wheat with the tares (Matthew 13:24-20). Better to let the Lord deal with that at the final judgment.


In the church, we also have those who say they are from God and yet their teaching and their lives simply do not conform to sound doctrine and godliness. This is not difficult to comprehend. They preach another Jesus and another gospel. Notice I did not say, “They do not preach Jesus.” I said, “They preach another Jesus.” That is, they preach what they imagine in their minds and call that “Jesus.” They ascribe Christian language to their own thoughts, and we think that they are okay. There would be no deception if a man would deny the deity of Christ. However, to redefine deity is the goal. To flatly deny that Jesus Christ is Lord is clearly heresy. But, to redefine His lordship is the method of Satan. To deny the gospel is easy to spot. However, to use gospel terms and give it a different meaning is the modus operandi of teachers God has not sent. Paul warned Timothy in this way, “

   3      If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,
         4      he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,
         5      and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. 1 Timothy 6:3-5

Did you notice that Paul said that a true teacher teaches sound words? And what are those sound words? Sound words are the teachings of Jesus Christ. A pastor is to teach the words of Jesus Christ. It is true that the epistles are built on the foundation of the words of Jesus Christ. The epistles are a collection of expositions of truth from Christ. Thus, we do not make up our own doctrines, and we do not detract from these sound words either. Those who do are conceited and ignorant. Their minds are argumentative, morbid, and full of mischief. They generate envy, fighting, and promote profanity, and evil suspicions. They indulge the flesh and train others to do so as well, making them twice the “son of hell” as they are (Matthew 23:15).

But, we have the Word of God. This is why we must study it. This is why we must know it. This is why we must proclaim it. This is why we must suffer for it. For the glory of Jesus Christ, the safety of the saints, and the promotion of the kingdom of God, we must maintain sound words in the church, and thus rescue the unsuspecting from false teachers.

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