There’s nothing like getting to the finish line, is there? Whether we’re running a race or finishing chemo or turning in a final paper – to suddenly have the pressure lifted, know we’ve survived, be able to let down our guard, rest, recharge – it’s a wonderful feeling. So Jesus comes to the end of his trial period, knowing he’s prevailed. Matthew says angels came and waited upon him.
The presence of angels reminds us of the level of cosmic entity we’re dealing with when we talk about the devil. The New Testament is unequivocal about his existence, as was the early church, as are our Episcopal baptismal rites. But the Christian tradition never considered the devil as God’s equal – he is among a sub-order of angelic beings. The devil is described in the Bible as a fallen angel, who turned against God in pride and rebellion; a tempter always seeking to draw humans away from God; the Accuser and the Father of Lies. The label I like best is "The Enemy of Human Nature."
Early Christian thinkers held that evil is the absence of good – evil is what you get where God is not. And the source of evil, in the Christian worldview, is the devil, or Satan. C.S. Lewis once said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” Martin Luther likewise had a strategy, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” (He also said, “The best thing you can do is rap the Devil on the nose at the very start. Act like that man who, whenever his wife began to nag and snap at him, drew out his flute from under his belt and played merrily until she was exhausted and let him alone.” Must have been interesting in the Luther home...)
Because we assert that Christ has overcome the devil, we don’t have to be afraid. Alert and wary, yes, about one who seeks to corrupt and harm us, but not so much that we give him attention we might better direct to God. As with a poisonous snake, you want to avoid its bite, but also know how to deal with its venom. And we have been given the antidote – the love and forgiveness of the Father; the comfort and advocacy of the Holy Spirit; the power of Christ in us.
In prayer today, we might simply thank God for providing us protection from this ancient enemy. If you ever feel threatened, pray your way through Ephesians 6, putting on the full armor of God. It was always God’s fight, not ours, and Jesus has won it. As Luther also wrote, in the great hymn A Mighty Fortress:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us.
That Word is Jesus, the name that frightened demons back to hell. It is the only defense we need, whenever we feel ourselves under spiritual attack. The name of Jesus, who lives in us. He's still winning.