For quite a few years now there has been a volume of teaching under the subject of spiritual warfare. It seems that it was one of the subjects that was packaged up with others through the charismatic renewal of the 1970s and 80s. For a while there we were anticipating that demons were waiting to get us. It seems we always fall foul of the problem raised by C.S. Lewis. We either put too much emphasis on him or deny his existence altogether. I have been guilty on both counts during my journeying as a servant of Jesus.
As a result of a prophetic word spoken to me a few months ago, I have been re-discovering what it means to be “battle ready.” That interest has taken me back to Ephesians 6 and 2 Corinthians 10 among other places in the New Testament. Instead of trying to identify the work of the enemy by interposing cultural assumptions or variant meanings of Greek words, I have made the assumption that Jesus was fighting battles with these forces on most days. What follows is the first in a series of observations from the incidents recorded in two chapters in the Gospel of Luke.
I am keen to allow these “case studies” to give us a better look at the ways in which enemy presence and work became apparent. Then I want to notice what Jesus did to overcome the enemy and finally, to see the result. This will give us a better definition of what Paul talks about when he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12). He previously refers to the same entities in 2 Corinthians 10, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5). By far the best place for us to gain insight into how these battles are engaged and won will be to look at the ministry of Jesus first and then the ministry of the apostles.
CASE STUDIES FROM THE GOSPEL OF LUKE CHAPTER 4.1
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’
HOW DID THE WORK OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?
There are some things about this incident that are shrouded in mystery for us, mainly due to the limited amount of information given. The most obvious could be, “In what manner did the devil speak to Jesus ?” Was it through the thoughts in his mind? Was it in human form? Did he just appear out of nowhere? Was his identity immediately recognisable or did he show up as an ordinary man happening to be in the same place as Jesus at the same time? We will never know for sure. I have both a theory and an opinion. My theory is that when the Bible doesn’t give information either we don’t need to know, or we need to find out through our own experience. Empirical evidence seems to be limited as well. I have read on some occasions where a servant of Jesus was confronted by a metaphysical “person” whom they concluded was the devil, but there are nowhere near enough samples to be sure.
It is also possible that the devil didn’t take on bodily form at all. It is possible that Jesus heard the voice of the devil either in audible form or spoken within his own mind. What we do know for sure is that Jesus experienced the presence of the devil. It matters much less how that presence appeared. What mattered was that it was identified by what was said. Jesus was conscious that the devil said some things that challenged his identity and his mission. He was “taken” to specific vantage points and shown certain things. If we spend all our time trying to figure out the physics or metaphysics of it, we will miss the point. The point was that the challenger was identified as the devil and what he said and did was intended to deceive, sow doubt and destroy the plan of God for the whole earth that was being carried by his beloved Son, Jesus. It will become plain as we gain insight from the information we are given that the same presence and intention can happen to most of us in a hundred different ways. The challenge for us is to recognise it for what it is and to use weapons God has provided that results in the devil withdrawing from the battle.
I hope it will not be stretching anything in the text to say that the first way the presence of the devil showed up was in the context of Jesus’ hunger. Forty days without food and we are told he was hungry. I’ve heard some people say that when you fast with the right attitude, you won’t feel hungry. The super-spiritual idealism pushes speculation to an extreme. What rubbish. Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days, and his body was yelling out for his attention. When I first tried fasting, I was ploughing a paddock on my parent’s farm. Round and round and no morning tea. That was followed by no lunch. My body was in full physical rebellion. I was trying to pray, but my mind kept on thinking of what was in the refrigerator back at the house. By mid-afternoon, I was in agony. I disconnected the plough and hit full throttle for home. When I got to the back gate, I leapt off in a single bound and continued leaping till I opened the fridge door and grabbed the first item that was edible. It was the remains of a leg of lamb. I attacked it in cave man style. Having quieted the screaming of my body, I tramped slowly back to the tractor to face the remorse of thinking I had failed God. I was miserable for some days. With the patient and loving encouragement of my spiritual mentor at the time, I was able to recover and serve God again. I knew fasting was in the Bible, but at the time, I just couldn’t figure out how I was going to do it. Having now done many fasts and some for many days, the food in the fridge doesn’t hold anywhere near as much attraction, but the idea keeps bobbing around.
The devil, an opportunist extraordinaire, saw the hunger and tried to use it to suggest to Jesus that he needed to prove that he really was the Son of God. The suggestion was that Jesus should use his supposed God-given supernatural power to create food. The case was put forward something like this:
“You are very hungry, aren’t you?”
“Don’t you think you should get something to eat right away?”
“If you really were the Son of God you will have the power to turn stones into bread.”
“Have you wondered why God would lead you to come to a place like this and to be hungry like you are. Perhaps you are not really the Son of God after all? “
“If you are the Son of God why should you go hungry like this?“
“Why don’t you put that status and identity to there test right now?”
“You could resolve those doubts right now by calling for a little divine demonstration of power from heaven.”
WHAT DID JESUS DO TO COUNTER-ATTACK?
We know that Jesus responded to the devil’s suggestion by quoting words from Deuteronomy 8. Some people think that the power is vested in the words of Scripture themselves and would presume that to sprout words from the Bible has some power in and of itself. This is clearly not the case. The most immediate example (and one of many) is when the devil quoted Bible words but twisted to suit adversarial causes.
It makes much more sense with the immediate and broader context to conclude that Jesus was using the words of Scripture to declare testimony. The words from Deuteronomy are simple and clear: Man shall not live by bread alone. In the parallel passage from Matthew, ”but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” tell us what Jesus is sharing testimony about. The devil’s presumption about Jesus was totally wrong. He thought that because Jesus was hungry that his focus was on his physical hunger. We know from another place that Jesus had a profound detachment from the things that make people feel okay: namely plenty of food to eat, clothes to wear and a comfortable place to dwell. In John 4 when the disciples return to the well with some food from the town, they couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t interested in tucking in. When they press him to eat, he replies, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.” But the critical point to make is that none of these became a distraction. What was more important to him was hearing what his Father had to say. Rather than doubting his identity as a Son he was actively pursuing his Father – and the devil thought he was only thinking about his next meal!
This matter comes even more sharply into focus in the application of the principle. The challenge is not just to memorise Scripture. The challenge is to become what the Scripture reveals. Deuteronomy 8:3 calls on all of us to know how we were created. We were created to need regular food. If our bodies don’t get appropriately fed, they cry out for what they need. It is a self-preserving warning system called hunger. But there is something else that is even more important than physical food (and water). We are built to live according to what God has spoken. My word for that is revelation. God has told us things that we would never discover by ourselves. And we would never know them apart from a relationship with God where we can know what he has said. Not a book and not someone else’s experience. We are made to hear from God and live according to what we hear. When we don’t, the life we have been given malfunctions. The difference between the two is that my body automatically registers my need for food, but the need to know “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” doesn’t register as readily. It is developed through intentional experience. The metaphor is helpful because when we are functioning as we are designed, the hunger for what God has said will be as real and as active as our need for food. The problem is that this sense has been shut down because we have seem so adept at living independent from God. A lot of things that should be alive are dead and need to be resurrected.
HOW DID THE VICTORY BECOME KNOWN?
When Jesus was confronted by the devil in the wilderness, he had been living for thirty years fully dependent on every word that preceded from the mouth of God. He was hungry for it and was constantly dependent on it. As the days of fasting continued and his body started objecting the objection was noted but never became an issue. He was more hungry to gain revelation from the Father than to turn his attention on seeking food. So when the devil thought he would catch Jesus at a point of vulnerability, he was completely wrong. The victory over rulers, authorities, powers of darkness and spiritual forces in heavenly realms was already guaranteed. What was inside Jesus’ heart WAS the weapon. And the devil’s idea simply had no power.
The weapons identified by Paul in Ephesians 6 can be identified in this situation:
The TRUTH was that he was only hungry for what God had to say.
The RIGHTEOUSNESS was his sincere desire for God.
The GOSPEL was the message that he(and us as well) was designed to live by what God said.
FAITH was his total trust in God’s word as the primary necessity – more than physical food.
SALVATION was the security of his identity as the Son of God.
The WORD OF GOD was the fact that the Spirit had told him to go into the wilderness.
PRAYER is not referenced in this story, but it is not hard to think that Jesus was out there communing with his Father, as we learn from watching him through the gospel stories.
The victory here was that the devil had to think up something else to foil Jesus’ preparation for the three-year ministry he was about to begin. A one-sentence testimony was all it took.
WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE IF I WAS ABLE TO USE THIS SAME WEAPON?
We will see as we move through these incidents from the life of Jesus is the fact that we don’t become armed and dangerous to the devil’s schemes just be sprouting a few religious words. Notice that Jesus didn’t just rebuke the devil and cast him out. On this occasion, Jesus was simply describing what was true about his modus operandi. We will be similarly armed when we develop a lifestyle based on seeking and listening to everything God has said. When that becomes the overriding passion and the foundation, we will be armed. If all we think about is the weather, the degree of inconvenience and a host of other human centred concerns, we will be an easy target for Satan. There are always plenty of things he can do to make sure we have reasons to say, “No” and excuses and preoccupations that block our need to know everything he has said. When we common practice of subjecting what God has said to humans reason, personal preference etc. it will become our “natural posture.” But when we set our hearts to be shaped and moulded by what God has said, then this will also become our “natural posture.” And when the devil shows up and tries to point us toward going after our preferences and comfort zones, we will have the same answer as Jesus and gain the same outcome. Jesus 1 v. Devil 0.
 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. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (originally 1942; this edition: Harper Collins, 1996) ix.
 See John 4:34 He goes on to explain that there is a harvest going on in a place where no Jews would entertain the wildest thought of God doing things: amongst the Samaritans. Didn’t God hate those compromised heretics? Jesus was far too engaged with the harvest that had happened through the Samaritan woman he met there than he was about eating lunch.