Sermon preached on July 3, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
When we were young my brother and I would occasionally get into trouble. We would get punished for it by our parents. We would get spanked. My brother and I loved it when our dad wasn't home and our mother spanked us. We could fake her out and pretend it was really hurting when in fact it wasn't. After a few weak blows she would think we had enough and that would be the end of it. It was nothing. We'd laugh and giggle afterwards because it hadn't hurt us at all.
But it was quite a different story with our father. We couldn't fake him out. If there was anyone we needed to fake out it was him—but we couldn't. I can still remember the excruciating pain. We used to get it on the bottom and sometimes it would be so painful I'd put my hand there to stop the pain. But that wouldn't help because then my hand would just get whacked and would hurt. It was horrible.
With temptation it can be the same. There are some temptations that are easy to withstand. They're not very troubling or strong. You can easily overcome them. But other temptations are almost unbelievable in their horror and power. They are dark, powerful, troubling. They are horrible to undergo. These are the tests that come from Satan.
One of the great truths we see from our text is that
Satan sometimes tests Christians.
Our text says, (Revelation 2:10)
"Do not be afraid of what
you are about to suffer.
I tell you, the devil will put
some of you in prison to test you,
and you will suffer persecution for ten days.
Be faithful, even to the point of death,
and I will give you the crown of life."
The devil was going to test some of the Christians in Smyrna. He was going to put them in jail. It's implied that he was even going to try to have some of them killed. Satan was behind the attacks on the Christians in Smyrna. Satan tests Christians. We see this truth in many places in Scripture. In Job 1:11 Satan said to God about Job,
"stretch out your hand
and strike everything he has,
and he will surely curse you to your face."
God allowed the devil to tempt Job. God said to the devil, (Job 1:12)
"Very well, then,
everything he has is in your hands,
but on the man himself do not lay a finger."
When Job stood the first test, Satan wanted to test Job again. He said to God, (Job 2:4–5)
"A man will give all he has for his own life.
But stretch out your hand
and strike his flesh and bones,
and he will surely curse you to your face."
God allowed Satan to test Job with sickness. Job was covered with sores from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.
Satan also tested Peter. In Luke 22:31–32 Jesus said to Peter,
Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.
But I have prayed for you, Simon,
that your faith may not fail."
Satan attacked Peter and tested him when Jesus was arrested. Peter was overcome with fear and denied Jesus three times. Satan wanted Peter's faith to fail.
You who are Christians must realize that at some times you may have to deal with a test from the evil one. He hates us and wants to test us. He hopes that in that testing we will fail and depart from the faith. We must be prepared for his testing.
Of course not every temptation is from the devil. Satan is not omnipresent. Only God is present everywhere at the same time. Wherever you go, whatever situation you find yourself in, you can know assuredly that God is there with you. (Psalm 139) But that is not the case with Satan. He is not present everywhere at the same time. He can only be at one place at one time. He is limited by time and space.
This is an important distinction that we should take note of. I have heard some Christians refer to ordinary everyday temptations as if they were from Satan. Their remarks remind me of the comedian Flip Wilson and his constant refrain after giving in to temptation,
"The devil made me do it."
These Christians don't give in to temptation but they refer to almost every temptation they face as if it was from Satan. But that's just not so. Sometimes we are tempted by our old nature. James 1:14 says,
"but each one is tempted when,
by his own evil desire,
he is dragged away and enticed."
Sometimes we can be tempted by other people. Proverbs 1:10–14 says,
"My son, if sinners entice you,
do not give in to them.
If they say, 'Come along with us;
let's lie in wait for someone's blood,
let's waylay some harmless soul;
let's swallow them alive,
like the grave, and whole,
like those who go down to the pit;
we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot with us,
and we will share a common purse…'"
Those temptations can be weak or strong but the devil is not behind the majority of those temptations—other people are. What we should understand about those temptations, even the ones that are strong—is that they pale in comparison to the temptations that come from Satan.
In 1 Peter 5 Peter referred to him as a 'roaring lion'. A lion is a ferocious animal. Do you think it was for nothing that in the Lord's Prayer Jesus told His disciples to pray?( Matthew 6:13)
"And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."
Jesus was referring to the devil there. Satan's temptations are not like the temptations that come from men. As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12,
"For 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."
This is not to deny that Satan's tests can come to us through other men—but there is a difference between when men tempt us on their own and when Satan is behind their attacks.
The testings that come from the devil are particularly horrendous and dark, and exceedingly powerful.
To be tempted by the devil is a very unsettling experience. Jesus told Peter that Satan wanted to, 'sift' him as wheat. Satan wanted to put Peter to the ultimate test—to reveal that Peter was chaff. The process of sifting is one that suggests great upheaval, a tearing apart—it's implies a very traumatic experience.
I've read many, many biographies of Christians and it's clear to me that some of them went through life without ever being tempted directly by Satan. They faced temptations, yes, but not of a great and dark kind. My belief is that God spared them from ever being tempted by Satan directly.
But other Christians have, at one or two times in their lives, a horrific experience that was an exceedingly great trial for them. For example, Brownlow North was a great Scottish evangelist in the 1800's. God used his preaching and ministry to save many people. He was converted at age 45. North tells of an experience, shortly after that, where he was sorely tempted to deny the very being of God. K. Moody-Stuart writes, (Brownlow North, His Life and Work, p. 28)
"During these long dark months he was often sorely tempted to deny the very being of God, and to find relief in atheism from the accusations of conscience and the weary struggles of his soul towards the light for which he was vainly, as it seemed to him, groping."
The thought that there was no God so persistently pressed itself upon him even when on his knees in prayer, that,
"he felt as if Satan were at his elbow, constantly whispering, 'There is no God, there is no God.' He would then have to rise from his knees and walk up and down the little gravel path in his back garden in Elgin for hours, repeating the words, 'God is, there is a God,' until, once more able to realize His existence, return to his devotions."
It was often repeated and over the space of some months, it was an almost debilitating ordeal for him. He would be going about his daily business when, before he was aware of it, his faith in the existence of God would again fail and he would be
'plunged into a sea of doubt and distress'.
Yet, after it was over,
"it left his foot planted on a rock which never trembled beneath him, and gave him a manly, almost a titanic grasp of the truth of the being of God, which added vivid color and character to all his lifelong preaching."
(From Brownlow North, by K. Moody-Stuart. p 28)
Satan's attacks are great, dark and ferocious. Remember how it was with Job? One messenger came to him telling him that his servants had been killed and his oxen and donkeys taken. Remember the phrase the writer uses repeatedly in that section,
"While he was still speaking…"
Satan's testing of Job were like hammer blows that got worse and worse. The final hammer blow dealt with Job's children all being killed while they were partying. Job had been concerned about the spiritual well-being of his children and each morning he would offer a burnt offering for each of them. As he said in verse 5,
"Perhaps my children have sinned
and cursed God in their hearts."
Job's children perished in the middle of partying. It seems that Job's fears might have been realized. Perhaps his children not only died physically—but their souls had been lost as well.
Not only that, but Satan used Job's wife and through her urged him to curse God. Not only that, but Satan used Job's four friends. What miserable comforters they were to Job! They told him that he was a great sinner.
At points Job was at his wits end. Shortly after his sufferings started Job cursed the day of his birth. (Job 3:1) He said, (Job 3:11–13)
"Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest…"
Satan's attack on Peter was similar. It had Peter going from a bold confession of Jesus, (Matthew 26:33)
"Even if all fall away on account of you,
I never will."
To denying him three times on that dark night. The power of Satan that was there—to have Peter go from such boldness and love of Christ—to such fear and denial.
Satan's attacks are dark, powerful,
What then does this mean for us?
First of all, it means that you should be praying to be delivered from the evil one.
God told the Christians at Smyrna that they were going to be tested by the devil. They could not avoid the great trial. But maybe you can. I already mentioned a petition from the Lord's Prayer,
"And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."
Are you praying that every day? Do you realize what a blessing it is not to be tempted by Satan? Pray that God would deliver you from it. That's one of the very best things you can do.
Secondly we should recognize that
Jesus often grows His church through persecution—we are to seek Jesus' glory in persecution and attempt to be good witnesses for him.
God is in control. The church at Smyrna had a great work to do for Jesus. They were called to be a witness to those who were persecuting them—either to save them or to render them inexcusable.
We should understand that many of those who persecute us are mere pawns of Satan. We must not hate them or be bitter against them.
That they are pawns of Satan is clear from many passages. 2 Timothy 2:25–26 talks about a Christian minister and says,
"Those who oppose him he must gently instruct,
in the hope that God will grant them
repentance leading them to a knowledge
of the truth,
and that they will come to their senses
and escape from the trap of the devil,
who has taken them captive to do his will."
The devil takes certain people captive to do his will. They are his pawns. As the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:4,
"The god of this age
has blinded the minds of unbelievers,
so that they cannot see
the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
who is the image of God."
In the Parable of the Sower Jesus spoke about the seed that fell along the path. He said, (Luke 8:12)
"Those along the path
are the ones who hear,
and then the devil comes
and takes away the word from their hearts,
so that they may not believe and be saved."
Satan blinds them, snatches the word from them, takes them away from the truth of the gospel.
This means that we should not be bitter with or hate those who persecute us. Rather we are to be praying for them and asking God to save them. We are to be asking God to forgive their sins against us. We are to be like Stephen, who, as he was being stoned, said, (Acts 7:60)
"Lord, do not hold this sin against them."
We are to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, who said about the soldiers who were nailing Him to the cross, (Luke 23:34)
"Father, forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing."
We are to have the attitude that Peter spoke about in 1 Peter 2:20–25,
"But how is it to your credit
if you receive a beating
for doing wrong and endure it?
But if you suffer for doing good
and you endure it,
this is commendable before God.
To this you were called,
because Christ suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps.
'He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.'
When they hurled their insults at him,
he did not retaliate;
when he suffered, he made no threats.
Instead, he entrusted himself
to him who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins
in his body on the tree,
so that we might die to sins
and live for righteousness;
by his wounds you have been healed.
For you were like sheep going astray,
but now you have returned
to the Shepherd and Overseer
of your souls."
Or as Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48,
"You have heard that it was said,
'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you: Love your enemies bless those who curse you,
do good to those who hate you,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love those who love you,
what reward will you get?
Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
And if you greet only your brothers,
what are you doing more than others?
Do not even pagans do that?
Be perfect, therefore,
as your heavenly Father is perfect."
If you ever get thrown into jail because of your faithfulness to Jesus, your job is not to hate the people who put you there. Quite the contrary, you are to see them as people who have been blinded by Satan, who are led by him to do his will. You are to see that as one of the greatest tragedies ever. Men and women were created to serve Jesus and bring Him glory. Satan has usurped Jesus place. They are serving Satan. Your desire should not be to see them perish forever with Satan, but for God to open their eyes so that they will come to the faith.
Remember how Paul was almost killed by the mob in the temple courtyard in Jerusalem in Acts 21? They were dragging him out in order to kill him and it was only the timely intervention of the Roman soldiers that saved him. But even when the Romans intervened, the violence of the crowd was so great that the soldiers had to carry Paul in order to protect him from harm. The crowd was shouting, (Acts 21:36)
"Away with Him!"
How did Paul react to all that? He asked the Roman commander for permission to speak to the crowd. You probably know what he did next—he preached Christ to them! He wanted them to be saved.
Paul knew that at one time in his life he would have been right there with the crowd, demanding the death of anyone who was a Christian teacher. But God had mercy on him and saved him. So Paul wanted God to be merciful to the violent crowd. He wanted them to see the truth of the gospel.
Paul knew that he had previously been a pawn of Satan. He approved when Stephen was stoned to death. Just as God had shown mercy to him, he wanted God to show mercy to others.
Christians, realize that Satan can't stop God's people from being saved. If you are ever arrested for the sake of the gospel you need to be like Paul, like Stephen. One of your greatest concerns should be your Christ-like behavior so that the gospel would continue to spread. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:12–14,
"Now I want you to know, brothers,
that what has happened to me
has really served to advance the gospel.
As a result, it has become clear
throughout the whole palace guard
and to everyone else
that I am in chains for Christ.
Because of my chains,
most of the brothers in the Lord
have been encouraged to speak
the word of God more
courageously and fearlessly."
We are to be praying for those that persecute us.
The third thing this means is that, in preparing for the attacks of Satan,
you need to fortify ourselves against fear.
Fear is very often associated with the testings that come from the devil. That's why the Christians at Smyrna are told here,
"Do not be afraid of what
you are about to suffer."
If you examine Peter's trial and his denials you'll see that fear was a factor in Peter's sin when he was tested by Satan. He wanted to fight for Jesus. But Jesus told him to put his sword away.
I think if you look at the temptations of Jesus, all of them can be seen as related to fear. Satan urged Jesus to turn the stones in to bread. The implication was that the Father had stopped caring for Jesus, that He would perish unless He took matters into His own hand. He show Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and said, "All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me." He was offering Him a way out from the cross and its suffering, from death. Jesus dreaded the cross He had to endure. As He said in Luke 12:50
"But I have a baptism to undergo,
and how distressed I am until it is completed!"
We see it as well in the temptation to throw himself down. Would the Father abandon Him? He knew He was going to be abandoned for awhile. On the cross He gave expression to it, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Thus one of the great antidotes to fear and thus to the temptations of Satan, is to have a great knowledge of Jesus as He's revealed to us in the Scriptures—of His love for us, His work for us, His devotion to us.
We need to know assuredly that He loves us, that He died for us when we were God's enemies (Romans 5:10). We need to know that He is totally committed to us. Peter denied Him three times, yet Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brought Peter back. We need to know that one of the criminals on the cross, who had formerly joined in with the other one in mocking Jesus, came to his senses and asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus said, (Luke 23:43)
"I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise."
We need to take to heart what He said to the woman taken in adultery, (John 8:11)
"neither do I condemn you.
Go now and leave your life of sin."
Jesus loves sinners. He loves us. We need to be assured of that. We need to know that no matter how bad things look, no matter how much Satan accuse us—that God will never leave us, never abandon us, that His love will always be with us. (Romans 8:35f). We need to know that He has defeated Satan, that He has defeated death, (Hebrews 2:14). We need to know that, as God said in Hebrews 13:5-6,
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.'
So we say with confidence,
'The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?'"
We don't have to fear. He will give us the crown of life.
Lastly, if you're not a Christian, you should realize that, right now,
Satan has you.
He has blinded you. You are doing exactly what he wants you to do. You're obliviously to the danger you're in. You're like a frog in a pot of water that is slowly warmed to boiling. Unless you wake up you're going to perish.
Wake up. See the glory of Jesus. Go to Him.