“He is not here; for he has risen, as he said.”

Easter 2019

The angel said to the women… “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said.” Matthew 28.6

Many assume that because the Resurrection of Christ is a truth revealed from heaven, it cannot be rationally proved. As a result, we have no choice but to take a leap of faith and blindly believe what the church teaches about Christ’s Resurrection… or reject it. Others contend that the Resurrection of Christ is obviously a myth not to be confused with historical fact, but that our faith should be unaffected, since true religion is defined not by the myths we believe but how we live our lives (invoking James 1.27). So, for many people, even for many Christians, the dogma of the Resurrection of Christ doesn’t matter much. Whether we believe God raised Jesus from the dead doesn’t have much to do with how, day by day, we actually practice our faith.

But, in fact, it matters greatly whether the doctrine of Christ’s Resurrection is truth or fiction, because truth always matters. If God did not vindicate Jesus by raising him from the dead, then the Gospel isn’t true and Jesus is not our Savior; because in order to accomplish our redemption the Savior had to fulfill the prophetic scriptures, all of them, including those that call for his Resurrection from the dead (1Cor. 15.3-4). It matters also because Jesus said he would rise again on the third day (Mt.16.21), and he promised to raise up from death all those who believe in him (John 6.40). “I am the resurrection and the life,” he said to Martha, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11.25-26). If he is dead and unable to deliver on that promise, then he made false promises. Men who make false promises are not good guys. They are bad guys. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, and therefore is not able to keep that promise, he was a bad guy and those of us who worship him are worse than fools; we are guilty of idolatry.

Christianity depends on the Resurrection of Christ being true because it depends on Christ being true to this word. He said that he would be killed and then rise from the dead, thereby fulfilling the scriptures that call for his Resurrection from the dead. There are several scriptures that reference Christ’s Resurrection. For the sake of brevity in this sermon, I’ll just touch on two of them:

Isaiah 25.6-9 looks ahead to the day of our redemption and makes a promise that, “He [The Lord] will swallow up death forever.” This means that Savior, when he comes, will make good on that promise; he will not be swallowed up by death, but he will swallow up death and thereby win a victory over our worst enemy. Death is the punishment that God inflicted on the human race because of Adam’s sin. So by swallowing up death forever, the Savior will forever change for the better humanity’s relationship with our Maker. This prophecy does not mention the death and resurrection of Christ specifically but it is a promise that our Savior will face death and “swallow” it, in other words, the Savior will do something definitive to rescue us from death. That’s a big promise. Christians believe that Christ fulfilled it (1Cor.15.54-57).

Jesus, prophesying his Resurrection, said that he would rise on the third day as Jonah did: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,” Jesus said, “so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mat. 12.40).

Jesus, in making that prophecy, called himself “the Son of man.” The church from the day of Pentecost calls Jesus “the Son of God”. But during his lifetime, Jesus called himself “the Son of man.” The Gospels record him applying this title to himself over 80 times. But who is the Son of man? The Son of man is a divine king that the prophet Daniel saw. Daniel said, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7.13-14) The Son of man, is the perfect representative of humankind to God and of God to humankind. In him, divinity and humanity, the immortal and the mortal are perfectly joined. If Jesus was the Son of man, as he said he was, then, although he died on earth, he lives eternally and is one with God. Christians believe that by his Resurrection Jesus proved himself to be the Son of man, the one in whom sinners are fully reconciled to the Holy God, the one whose dominion is universal and whose kingdom is without end (Mt.28.18).

The Gospel is only good news if it’s true and it’s only true if Christ fulfilled these two scriptures that call for his Resurrection to eternal life. The Resurrection of Christ is not peripheral to the gospel. Without the Resurrection of Christ, there is no gospel. As Saint Paul put it: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…[for] if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1Cor.15.14–17). Without the Resurrection of Christ we “are still in our sins” because Jesus may have offered himself to God for our sins, as Isaiah prophesied he would (Is.53 1–12), but the only way we have of knowing that God accepted his sacrifice is if God vindicated him by raising him from the dead. Without his Resurrection all we have in Jesus is a man who died under a curse (Gal.3.13).

So, before we can give our whole heart and mind to Jesus and believe in his Gospel, we need to know that God raised him from the tomb and that he fulfilled the promises of scripture; that he swallowed up death forever and that he lives eternally as one with God. But how can we know that? Our instinct is to throw up our hands and assume that knowledge of revelation is beyond reason and, therefore, we just have to take it on blind faith that God raised Jesus from the dead and trust the church to tell the truth. But God has endowed human beings with the gift of reason. We cannot be satisfied with blind faith. We need reasons to believe before we can commit. It’s hard enough for people in this modern age, an age that no longer pays any attention to philosophers like Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas, to believe in a transcendent divinity, let alone believe the universe has a Creator who, two thousand years ago, became a man, walked the earth, and was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. For many people, educated in the agnostic prejudices of the secular society, the Gospel of Christ’s death and Resurrection is laughable. So I know that many of you will almost instinctively resist what I’m about to say. I count 10 pieces of evidence that taken together make a compelling case for the Resurrection of Christ being an actual historical event; the most important event in history, in fact. Again, for the sake of brevity in this sermon I’ll just touch on four of them. But these four are enough to make the case. I just ask you to have an open mind, that’s all.

Number One: the empty tomb. Jesus was laid to rest in a tomb on Friday following his death. On Sunday morning his disciples found his tomb empty. His corpse was gone. It was never found. The Jews at the time spread a rumor that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body to make it look like Jesus had risen from the dead (Mt.28.11–15). Apart from a few conspiracy theorists, no one, then or now, not even the most skeptical of the modern Biblical scholars, gives any credence to this rumor. So, why was Jesus’ dead body missing from the tomb?

Two: His disciples had the answer: God raised him from the dead. The reason that Jesus’ disciples gave for preaching Christ’s Resurrection and making it the centerpiece of their new found faith was, they said, that Jesus had appeared to them after death in a human but gloriously divinized body (John 21.26–27). They saw him fully alive, they said, not as Lazarus came alive after being laid in a tomb only later to die again. But they saw Jesus, they said, fully alive and fully human, but also fully God. No longer constrained by time and space, he had entered eternity (Lk.24.36-44). His body was absent from the tomb, they said, because God had raised him up “and of that we are all witnesses,” Saint Peter said (Acts 2.32).

Three: Remarkably, Jesus’ disciples proved to have more faith in him after his death than before. Before he died they were always questioning him and Peter even denied knowing him on the night of his arrest. And yet, after his death, his disciples all faced violent deaths and martyrdom rather than betray their conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead “according to the scriptures,” (1Cor.15.3-4) they said. His death and Resurrection were not random events, they said, but were essential parts of God’s plan for our salvation, a plan they did not understand until Christ, risen from the dead, explained it to them (John 5.39-40; Mt.12.15-21). In other words, the only way to account for the disciples’ faith that God raised Jesus “according to the scriptures,” a faith to which they literally gave their lives, is that Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead and revealed this doctrine to them (Lk.24.44–49). People will endure torture and death for a cause they believe in. The disciples’ saintly behavior and total commitment to the Gospel after Jesus’ death demonstrates that something happened after his death that gave them a greater faith than they had before he died. That something, they said, was his Resurrection (John.20.19-23).

Four: This is the most significant issue for me. Those who witnessed Jesus resurrected said that they had not merely seen his ghost or spirit but they insisted that they had seen him, spoken to him, and eaten with him who had been resurrected body and soul (Lk.24.40; John 21.9–14). Think for a minute what this means. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. God gives a soul to the body at the moment of conception. Only God can unite a soul to a body and thereby make a human person. By insisting that Jesus had been resurrected body and soul, the witnesses were testifying to Jesus’ divinity. He was accused and crucified for blasphemy, for making himself out to be God’s Son, the equal of God (John 5.18), a man deserving of worship: “Believe in God believe also in me…the Father and I are one,” (John 14.1; 10.30) he said. By insisting that God raised Jesus from the tomb body and soul, something only God could do, they were saying that God had vindicated Jesus against the allegations of his accusers and by so doing proved that Jesus had been telling the truth when he declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14.6).

So, if it’s true that Jesus was the equal of God and if it is true that there is only one mediator between God and humankind, the man Jesus Christ (1Tim 2.5), then any doctrine of God that omits or denies the divinity of Christ is false. Or, to put it another way, God in Christ has revealed true religion. Christianity is that true religion. The other religions of the world are false (as the Psalmist said, “all the gods of the gentiles are devils” (Ps.96.5). This is very inflammatory and controversial stuff. The Jews did not like being told that they had rejected and crucified the Lord. Pagan cults in ancient Rome did not like being told that they were worshipping false gods. And we know all too well that the world of multicultural politically correct liberalism hates this kind of thing. That is why Christianity provoked so much backlash and suffered persecution in its early days and why, as the world today becomes increasingly more pagan, we’re seeing persecution and slander of those deplorable Christians unlike anything we’ve seen since antiquity.

There would have been nothing controversial about Christianity had Jesus’ disciples just said that they saw his spirit or ghost. No one would have objected to that. A belief in ghosts and spirits was as common then as it is today. The ancient world would have dismissed the Christians with a yawn if all they believed about Jesus was that his spirit survived the grave. Every pantheist in the world believes in something like that. But, by insisting on bodily resurrection, the disciples insisted that Jesus reunited his soul to his body and created life where there was none in the tomb, thereby revealing himself to be not only a man but a man who was also fully God: the Son of man of Daniel’s prophecy whose heavenly kingdom has dominion over all the nations (Mt.28.18).

So why didn’t Jesus’ disciples just take the easy way out and say that they had seen his spirit or ghost? Why didn’t they take the approach that liberal preachers take today and say that, “He lives on in our hearts and we’ll always have the memory of him to inspire us.” If they had stolen the corpse and were creating a hoax, inventing a new religion out of whole cloth, that would have been the way to do it. But they didn’t do that. James and Paul were beheaded. Peter was crucified, Bartholomew was flayed alive. John was boiled in oil. There is only one reason why they would invite such violent controversy and face death to preserve their conviction in Christ’s bodily Resurrection: they were telling the truth about something they witnessed.

The world, for many reasons, may not want to hear that truth. Jesus knew that many wouldn’t (Lk.16.31). But the disciples preached the truth of Christ’s divinity in the face of the controversy it incited because the early church was committed to continuing Christ’s work of salvation. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free”(John 8.32). And that is what salvation is. It is being set free from lies and from half-truths, from superstitions and from sin, set free by the truth to know and love, to worship and serve the one and only true and living God. Who is the true and living God? God is the one who declared through the prophets of Israel that he would redeem the world from sin, and then he came in person to fulfill the scriptures. God keeps his word. He set forth his plan for our salvation in the scriptures, a plan that called for God to become incarnate in a man born of a woman, to suffer rejection, torture, and death at the hands of his own people and then conquer sin and death by his bodily Resurrection from the dead. Truth is stranger than fiction. The Gospel of our salvation is too strange to be fiction.

That is why I believe in the Resurrection of Christ. It is a story no one would invent expecting others simply to believe it. So, we don’t take the Resurrection of Christ on blind faith. We believe in Christ because he has given us many good reasons to do so. We have an empty tomb; we have reliable witnesses who testify to having seen him and even eaten a meal with him after his death; we have disciples who, unexpectedly, have more faith in Jesus after his death than they had in him before; and we have a church that preaches a highly controversial doctrine of bodily Resurrection, a doctrine that led almost all of them to suffer cruel martyrdom rather than deny their faith in Christ’s Resurrection.

Okay, true enough. We can’t prove Christ’s Resurrection with the same kind of certainty that we prove that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. And if that is the only kind of proof you’ll accept, my feeble attempts to persuade you this morning will undoubtedly fail. But all of us know many things are true and certain without that kind of proof. None of us who have been blessed with a good and loving mother can actually scientifically prove her love for us. And yet the faith we have in our mother’s love may be the most important thing to us in life. We can’t prove the love others have for us scientifically but for many reasons we know it’s real and it’s priceless. Likewise, some people may look at a human being and see nothing more than a complex collocation of atoms, a mass of bone, nerves, and sinew that is no more than the sum of its chemical parts. But others look at a human being and see a unique person, a living soul endowed by the Creator, the giver of souls, with natural rights. We can’t prove the existence of persons, souls, or natural rights, but do you really think they don’t exist? The things that count most in life: love, faith, truth, and justice are by their nature transcendent and impalpable and therefore not subject to scientific proof. But their transcendence makes them no less genuine or important realities. The revelation of God in Christ, like your mother’s love or a child’s soul is transcendent truth. The most meaningful things in life always are. And wisdom knows the difference.

Besides, which, having fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah that call for the Savior’s death (Is. 53.2–12), having established the New Covenant for the forgiveness of sins of which Jeremiah spoke (Jer.31.31-34), knowing that the “clean oblation” that Malachi foresaw is offered universally (Mal.1.11), and knowing that John the Baptist called him “the Lamb of God” in answer to Isaac’s age old question (Gen.22.7; John 1.29), is it really inconvincible that he did not seal the deal by rising from the dead, thereby fulfilling all the scriptures pertinent to our salvation? Do you really think he succeeded in fulfilling ninety percent of them, including healing the blind (Is.42.7), but failed to fulfill the last few?

You know the answer to that. Don’t let the secular society psyche you out and cause you to lose your salvation. Keep the faith. Remember Jesus Christ crucified and risen according to the scriptures and believe in him. You are a living soul meant for immortality and Christ is “the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul” (1Pt.2.25). It is the destiny of souls to believe in him. Without him we travel through this world like a ship without cargo. But having him on board who said,“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”(John10.10), makes all the difference between a life that ends in a silent grave and life that never ends. Believe in him. As the Blessed Apostle said, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom.10.9).

Quo Vadis

Lent 3 2019

As I’ve said to you many times, I don’t believe in coincidence. The world is filled with random events and naturally occurring wonders but coincidence is more than that. Coincidence is God’s hand at work orchestrating events to gain our attention, often through a stunning or amusing way. For example, I told someone once that I thought the most beautiful dog I’d ever seen was a long-haired dachshund. Immediately following that discussion, I left the rectory to walk over to Jane’s house for something. I remember it well because as I was walking by the old YMCA someone came walking by me with two long-haired dachshunds! I had only seen a long-haired dachshund once before that and I’ve never seen one since. What? Tell me the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor. I think that was God’s way of reminding me that he is listening to every word we speak.

Through a similar but more solemn coincidence this week, God got my attention. I was up late one night watching an old movie called Quo Vadis. Made in 1951, it was one of those Biblical epics, like The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur or The Robe that were popular with audiences in the ‘50s. By modern standards the movie Quo Vadis is kind of corny and stiff. Many of those old shows have dialogue like a cartoon. Nevertheless, it’s a good movie about a great subject. It tells a true story about the sad plight of Christians living in first century Rome. It shows Paul coming to Rome. It shows Peter preaching to a congregation meeting in the catacombs. And it shows the decadence of the Roman aristocrats, especially the young emperor Nero who wanted to be worshipped. Nero had big plans for Rome. He was going to fill it with temples built to himself. But to do that he had to get many people out of their homes; today we call it eminent domain. So the tyrant set fire to the city, causing massive destruction of property and the deaths of many innocent people. In order to excuse himself, he made scapegoats of the Christians, publicly blaming them for his own crimes. He then began to hunt down and kill the Christians. Many Christians died as a result of the persecution that followed Nero’s fire in the year AD 66. The movie shows them being fed to lions in the Coliseum while the citizens cheered. As hard as it is to imagine such cruelty, ordinary Christians in early Rome suffered extreme torture. The movie doesn’t show this, but there are reports that Nero used some Christians as human torches to light up the patio where he had a dinner party. The Roman pagan elite really did think that Christians, who met in secret and refused to worship the emperor, were deplorable. It became a hate crime in Rome to be a Christian. Christians, in that first generation, suffered prolonged persecution.

The title of the movie Quo Vadis comes from a legend about Saint Peter. When the persecution began, the Christians in Rome urged Peter flee the city in order to save himself and survive to preach the gospel and establish churches elsewhere. So Peter fled the city. But as he did, the Lord appeared to him in a bright light. Peter recognized Jesus in the light and falling down in adoration asked him in Latin, “Quo Vadis?” Meaning “Where are you going, Lord?” Christ replied to him, “I am coming to Rome to be again crucified.” And Peter asked him, “Lord, will you be crucified again?” And the Lord said to him, “Even so, I again will be crucified.” Peter said to him, “I will return and I will follow you.” And with these words, the Lord vanished from Peter’s sight. Then Peter, coming to himself, understood that it was of his own passion that Christ had spoken. Peter then returned to meet the death that the Lord had assigned him. Peter was crucified in Rome upside down, insisting that he did not deserve to be crucified head up as was the Lord. The place where Peter died is now the site of the high altar in St Peter’s Basilica. The Church of Domine Quo Vadis southeast of Rome was built on the spot where Peter encountered Christ in the divine light.

Quo Vadis is a good movie based on a beautiful legend about Saint Peter and Christ. But I would never have thought to make a sermon of it except that early the very next morning, after seeing that movie late the night before, I turned on “Life is Worth Living,” repeats of Bishop’s Sheen’s TV show from the 1950s. I like his old shows because he was an excellent teacher. His lesson that day was called, can you guess? Quo Vadis. He told Peter’s story and talked about Christians having courage in the face of persecution and keeping the faith in an age that is becoming increasingly pagan and hostile to Christianity. The coincidence of this stunned me. Clearly the Lord was telling me something. I mean, what are the chances that you’d see the movie Quo Vadis one night at midnight and then follow it up with a lecture first thing the next morning? I had never heard the story of Quo Vadis before seeing the movie that night. The coincidence took my breath away.

So, the question for me then became, “Lord, what do you want me to say about this?” My first thought was to talk about the persecution of Christians in our world today. The mainstream media, intent on portraying Islam as the religion of peace, buries many persecution stories. But religious news services on the internet report every day horrible atrocities committed against Christians around the world. Islamic armies in Nigeria have butchered 100s of Christians in recent months and destroyed entire villages. Several churches n France have recently been desecrated and one French priest was murdered by Moslem fanatics during a mass in 2016 at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy. Hindu fanatics in India have killed dozens of Christians there. The Chinese Communists are persecuting the churches and driving them underground and torturing leaders. In Libya they found bodies in a mass grave recently of Christians killed by ISIS. On and on it goes.

If this sort of thing happened to us in America, I wonder how many Christians in this country would have the courage to accept death rather than deny Jesus Christ. We don’t know. You can’t know whether you’d keep the faith in the worst circumstances until you’re faced with it. But one thing is sure, Jesus promised his church that the world powers would constantly be against it and that as they rejected and hated Him, so the world would hate and reject His church. When Jesus instituted the church, he also promised Peter that “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Nevertheless, Peter and all the 12 faced violent death. “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me,” Jesus said. Those are hard, hard words. It means that to be a Christian, we must value Jesus Christ even more than our own lives. Anyone can be baptized as an infant and celebrate Christmas and call themselves a Christian. But the message of the New Testament is that you are a Christian in name only unless or until Jesus Christ becomes the most important person in your life. He needs to be more important than your wife or husband; more important than your kids; more important than your job. He died on a cross for us. He expects us to live for Him. He expects us to stand up for Him and for the truth of his gospel even in the face of violent opposition; even if it costs you your career, your fortune, or your life.

So my first thought was to write a sermon on the persecution of Christians. But as the week went on, I realized that the Lord wanted me to talk about something else. He wanted me to talk about the bright light. Many people, when they hear the “Quo Vadis'“ story about Peter, simply don’t believe the part about Christ revealing himself to Peter in a bright light. We live in a very skeptical age. Most people doubt that things like this really happen. So, they say that the story about Peter seeing the Lord in a bright light must be a fiction, a fable, a myth. Even though Jesus said “I am the light of the world” and the Bible tells us that “God dwells in unapproachable light”(1 Tim. 6.16), even though the Bible tells us that Jesus revealed his divine nature to Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor by transfiguring into bright light and even though we have the story told in the Book of Acts of how, after the Resurrection, the Lord appeared to Saint Paul on the Damascus road in a bright light, still people find such stories hard, if not impossible, to believe.

I was thinking about the “Quo Vadis” story and what I would say about it when I went to visit Josephine (a member of our church from Liberia, and a good friend of Bishop Hart). Her mother is dying and I went to take her communion and to pray with them. As we sat around the kitchen table, Josephine reminded me of a wonderful miracle that happened to her son Jonathan—a miracle much like what happened to Peter as he was fleeing Rome or Paul on his way to Damascus. Some of you may remember when Jonathan was 12; he suffered a life threatening attack of tachycardia. His heart began racing and nothing would slow it down. Josephine called me and I raced downtown to Johns Hopkins to join them. The doctors wanted to operate. But John would not allow it. He kept saying that “God will heal me.” So, we prayed. Then Josephine and I went out in the hall to talk in private. Jonathan later said that while we were in the hall, the Lord came to him in a bright light. He said he was afraid but then the Lord handed him a glass of milk to drink. He drank it and then the light vanished. After that, John’s heart rate was normal. They sent him home and told him never to play sports again. He said, “The Lord healed me. I’m fine” and he went on to play football on the varsity team in high school. John is grown up now. He’s in LA on a business trip. But the next time he’s in church, would anyone here wish to tell that boy that he didn’t meet the Lord that day and see the light of Christ? Little boys make up stories all the time, but they seldom get cured of cardiac issues while they tell them. To this day John attributes prayer to saving his life. His faith is a rock.

So through a series of coincidences the Lord gave me a message this week to deliver to you. Don’t ever doubt the real presence of the Lord in our lives. Only a few people will ever be blessed to receive a personal revelation of God as Peter, Paul, and Jonathan—our favorite acolyte—did. You and I will probably never see that bright light. But all of us are blessed by God every day. The Lord is with each one of us each step of the way. “I am with you always even to the end of the age,” Jesus promised his church. Everything the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ is true. Pray to him, he said. “Ask anything in my name and I will do it,” he said. “If you have faith so much as a mustard seed you can say to a mountain move and it will move”. Keep the faith and learn to pray and learn to love to pray. The more you pray, really pray from the heart, the more you’ll see what the saints have always known, that no matter what happens we have nothing to fear. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” is not just a line of sweet poetry. It’s the truth. Blessings abound for those who dare to believe the gospel and live that truth.

The Devil and His Hatred of Christ’s Church

1 Lent 2019

Every year on the first Sunday in Lent we read the story of Jesus’s spiritual battle with the devil in the wilderness, and every year, after hearing this story, many in the congregation yawn and say to themselves, “That’s just a legend. No one really believes in the devil, do they?”

You know me well enough by now to know that I believe in the devil. To which many say, “Well, sure, you’re the preacher, you kind of have to believe in the devil or at least say you do.” But no, I don’t have to believe in the devil or say I do. Many clergy in this country today, Protestant and Catholic alike are educated “open-minded” liberals who not only don’t believe in the devil, but don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ ,or in the unique divinity of Jesus, or in the divine institution of the church. One man, who identified himself as a Presbyterian, explained it to me this way: “I go to church,” he said, “but I’m not religious.” The spirit of the modern age respects religion but denies divine revelation. In other words, we live in an age of agnostic unbelief, an age in which a majority of people say that they believe in God but who at the same time do not actually believe in the supernatural. If that sounds contradictory and confusing, it is. People today are very confused about religion. They aren’t sure who or what to believe. The confusion that characterizes the spiritual life of the American people has not happened by accident but by design. The work of the devil is to confuse people, and by confusing them make them vulnerable to doubt just enough that when it comes to making a decision for Christ they will hesitate and instead of saying, “Yes, I’m all in 100 percent for Christ” they will say,” I don’t know, I’m not sure.”

We can be sure of the existence of the devil for two solid reasons. One is that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, who knew Satan before the creation of the world, taught his disciples that the world is in the grip of the devil. He called the devil “the father of lies” (Jn. 8.44). Since the Son of God, by virtue of his divine nature, cannot lie and always tells the truth (“I am the truth” he said [Jn. 14.6]), we can trust Jesus implicitly without doubt when he warns us that “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Pt. 5.8). But he also encourages us when he says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and God will draw near to you” (James 4.7-8.) If you say that you believe in Christ but don’t believe in the devil you make him out to be a liar.

You don’t want to call Christ a liar because that is the unforgivable sin (Mt.12.22-31). Jesus made his reputation in Galilee initially as an exorcist. Following his example, the Catholic Church has priests who are exorcists, and the stories they tell are terrifying. An exorcist battles with the devil. It’s no joke. Demons sometimes possess a human soul, and when they do only an exorcist can expel them. Jesus performed an exorcism on a man in the synagogue in Capernaum (Mk 1.21-28). He exorcised a legion of demons from a man known as the Geresene demoniac. He drove the demons out of that possessed man and sent them into a herd of pigs which then leaped off a cliff (Lk.8.26-33). He did many other exorcisms openly in public. The Pharisees who witnessed Jesus’s exorcisms, however, did not trust him and said of him derisively, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Mt.12.24).That’s when Jesus asked them, “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself, how then will his kingdom stand?”(Mt.12.26). Jesus not only knew Satan, the devil, but he had divine power over Satan and his whole army of demons. They were—and are—no match for him. Jesus taught a doctrine of the devil and proved it by performing exorcisms.

For those two reasons we can believe the devil exists but you must know this. God and the devil are not equal. Jesus is the Son of God. The devil is a fallen angel. Those creatures we call demons are angels who rebelled against God and were banished from heaven by God. Like all angels and demons, they are endowed with preternatural powers. Angels are stronger than humans but they are not divine; they are, like us, creatures of God subject to God’s judgment. At the time of the creation, when God created human beings in his image, many of the angles fueled by jealously and led by Satan, also called Lucifer or Beelzebub, rebelled against God. As punishment, God banished them to the realm of this earth to live among human beings of whom they are exceedingly jealous. As the story of Job reveals, the demons, under Satan’s direction, tempt, harass, and confuse human beings in an attempt to separate us from God. The devil’s greatest victory came early on in the Garden of Eden when, disguised as a serpent, he seduced Eve and led Adam into sin. This caused a split between God and human beings, making it impossible for human beings to have communion with God, thereby denying them the privilege of eternal life. The history of God and humanity could have ended there, with our permanent exile from God’s presence, with God remaining invisible to us and eternally distant from us. But God would not let his beautiful creation end in tragedy. God revealed the depth of his love for human beings by implementing a plan to redeem us from our sin by the offering of his Son. The Old Testament tells the history of how God announced that plan through the prophets of Israel and set the stage for Christ’s coming. God promised to send a Redeemer to liberate the heirs of Adam and Eve from captivity to the devil, a Savior who would rescue the human race from Satan’s evil grip and restore us to God’s good graces. Jesus Christ is that man. Christ came into the world to save sinners (1Tim.1.15) and to destroy the works of the devil (1Jn.3.8). What is the work of the devil? It is to drive a wedge between human beings, to harden our hearts against Christ and ultimately make us hate his one holy catholic and apostolic church.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking: Fr. String, really? This is the 21st century. You’re talking to us about angels and demons, the Garden of Eden and original sin, and a divine savior coming down from heaven to rescue us from the devil. This is obviously mythology. Come on, you don’t really expect us to buy into all this, do you? We’re educated people living in a modern liberal society. We’re not superstitious, illiterate peasants living in the dark ages. You can’t talk to us like this. It isn’t right.

Ok. You win. I just have one question for you. What do you think Christ meant when he said, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven?” What do you think his disciples meant when they said to him, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke. 10.17–18).

Jesus taught us by word, (and his word is absolute truth), and by the example of exorcism done openly in public, to recognize that angels are as much a part of the created order as we are. He taught us that there are good angels who serve God and assist human beings on the way to salvation, that each of us has a guardian angel, for which we ought to give thanks daily in our prayers. He taught us also that there are legions of rebellious angels called demons who seduce human beings into sin and who conspire by tireless scheming to separate human souls from our Maker.

In other words, he taught us that if we want to attain salvation, we have to be willing to fight for it. God has fought the battle for us and on the cross God has won the victory. God has given us the victory through Our Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor. 15.51). But for us to share in that victory and for us to reap the rewards of that great battle, we must remain through life faithful to Jesus, completely faithful to Him. That is why he said to all those who would be saved, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” We live our faith in Jesus by living as he did, resisting the devil. And we resist the devil by choosing every day and every step of the way to live for God trusting his word and obeying the teaching of his church. Attaining salvation is not easy. Christ suffered to the point of death on a cross to win our salvation. That’s the encouraging part of the gospel and the reason for our hope. But the gospel also challenges us to follow his example. We only have faith to the extent that we become like Him. And he warned his church from the start that following him would be difficult. When Our Lord said to Peter “On this rock I will build my church,” he praised Peter for receiving through faith the revelation of God and confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the True and only Redeemer of humankind, announced by the prophets and come in the flesh. But then he added this ominous warning that “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mt. 16.16–18). In other words Jesus warned his disciples and the future church that demons will stop at nothing to destroy our faith and to turn us away from Jesus. The church is constantly under attack from demons that wage relentless spiritual warfare against us.

There is no institution in the world more loathed and hated than is Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic church. Why? Because there is no one is in the world more loathed or hated by the demons than Jesus Christ. They hate him because he came into this dark world like a light from God to expose the paganism and idolatry of this world for what it is. The demons had everyone in this word worshipping everything and everyone but God. As the psalmist said, “All the gods of the Gentiles are devils.” (Ps. 95.5 Douy-Rheims). There is only one true and living God and Jesus Christ has made him known. That is why the church is the most hated institution in this world. The church is the visible body of Christ in the world, the assurance of his real presence among us. Before Jesus ascended into heaven he promised his church “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” And on every altar in every church where the sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered and Christ’s body and blood is kept in the tabernacle, Jesus Christ is really present. He is here disguised humbly as bread and wine, but he is nevertheless really present among us in body, blood, and soul. And therein lies our joy because he is our rock and our salvation. The church he founded is the one true religion instituted by God. That is the meaning of redemption. Christ freed us from worshipping false idols to know the one true and living God.

The point of this sermon is a simple one. In this world with devils filled, (as Martin Luther said in that hymn we sang this morning) we have much to fear. But we have nothing to fear as long as we allow Christ’s Holy Spirit to possess us. As long as we keep our baptismal vows and remain loyal to Jesus Christ, allowing him to abide in us and we in him, we have in Him the assurance of salvation and the hope of eternal life. Many people are losing their salvation. The devil is having tremendous success in Europe and America today persuading people that they don’t need Jesus Christ; that his church has been to blame for most of the evils of this world, and that one religion is a good as another. Even the pope is going about now singing the praises of Islam and teaching people it doesn’t matter what religion you are—as long as you’re a good person, it’s all good. My friends, if that were true, Christ would never have had to become incarnate and die on a cross for our sins. When even the Pope is preaching blasphemy and sacrilege, you know the spiritual warfare in the heavenly places is intense. I emphasize to you: pray every day. Ask God to strengthen your faith and the faith of your loved ones. If you wish to see your family and friends in heaven, pray for them daily, fight for them because God knows, even if they don’t, that the demons are fighting against them. That is why Saint Paul admonished the church with urgency to “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood” he said, “but against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph.6.10–12).

The secular socialist onslaught that is rapidly transforming this nation into a Christophobic pagan empire not unlike first-century Rome is systematically poisoning millions of souls against Christ and turning them away from his one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Christ created the church to continue his mission, to save souls from the eternal fires of hell that Jesus said God has prepared for the devil and his allies (Mt. 25.41). This work takes courage; this work takes faith. This work takes prayer. The story of Jesus confronting the devil in the wilderness confronts each of us with this question: Do you have what it takes to be a Christian in this increasingly Christophobic and post-Christian age? When the devil looks you in the eye and asks you, “ “Do you have what it takes? Are you sure? Are you really sure you want to believe in that little Jesus of Nazareth. I nailed him to a cross. I can do worse to you. Why do you want to have me for your enemy, when I could so easily be your friend?” When that day comes and it will, remember that the answer you make to that question will reveal the depth and maturity of your faith.