November 17, 2019
Those of you who follow country music might remember a song that came out in the late seventies by the Charlie Daniel’s Band entitled “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
The song features a fiddling duel between the devil and a boy named Johnny. The stakes were high–Johnny’s soul or the devil’s fiddle of gold.
The ballad went something like this: “Well, the devil went down to Georgia. He was looking for a soul to steal. He was in a bind, and he was way behind, and he was willing to make a deal. Well, the devil came across a young man sawing on a fiddle and playing it hot, and the devil jumped up on a hickory stump and said, “Boy, let me tell you what. I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player too, and if you care to make a dare, I’ll place a bet with you. Now you play pretty good fiddle boy but give the devil his due. I’ll bet this fiddle of gold against your soul that I can play it better than you.”
To which the young man responded, “Well, my name is Johnny, and it might be a sin, but I’ll take your bet, you’re gonna regret that I’m the best that’s ever been.”
So the fiddling duel was on, and when it was over, as the ballad goes, “the devil knew that he’d been beat, so he laid the golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny’s feet.” Johnny issued a challenge for him to come on back if he ever wanted to try it again.
As you can tell, I like that song.
It makes me feel good that Johnny got the better end of a bet with the devil. I like to think that someone has the power to play by the devil’s rules and beat him at his own game. But that’s a dangerous game to play.
Many souls have been lost because people thought they could play by the devil’s rules and come out as winners.
The devil will gladly let you have a golden fiddle if he can have your soul.
I’ve always found it a bit strange to use the word “devil.” It always conjures up strange images in our mind. But it is a word that the Bible uses and so I will use the word in this sermon, along with the word “Satan,” to describe that evil force in this world that is opposed to the ways of God and seeks to undermine all that is good, right, holy, and just.
2 Corinthians 11:14 says that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light.” Evil is almost always enticing, tempting, luring, inviting, seductive, and satisfying, and then, the trap is sprung and you realize you have been played for the fool.
There was once a lark who loved to feed in the meadow in the center of a forest. However, his enemy, the fox, also loved the meadow. Foxes like to eat larks.
One day the fox made an offer to the lark. “If you want to come to the meadow, I promise I won’t bother you. To prove this, I will leave you a grub to eat each day in the meadow. After I leave it, I will leave the meadow.”
The fox did just as he promised. Each day he left a grub for the lark and then went away. The lark came and ate the grub and was very happy.
As this continued day after day, the lark began to get fat from eating so well. The lark didn’t notice; he was just content to eat the tasty grubs the fox provided. As time passed, the lark became so fat that one day, he ate a grub and couldn’t fly away! Suddenly the fox came out of the forest and ate the fat lark.
With the craftiness of a fox, the devil works little by little to capture our thoughts, our attitudes, our speech, our lifestyles, in other words, our very soul.
The temptations we are lured into usually seem harmless enough in the beginning, even beneficiary, but eventually demand a very high price.
So does the fox always gets the lark? No. The devil doesn’t always get our souls, either, thanks to the Lord. The Lord Jesus is working for us. The Bible says that he is a Good Shepherd, seeking to save those who are lost. We are all lost, until we give our souls to Jesus. That’s when we out-fiddle the devil.
However, that doesn’t stop the devil from tempting us.
Jesus taught us how to withstand temptation.
Read Luke (4:1-13)
Before moving to the actual temptations Jesus faced and how he out fiddled the devil, I want to see three things about Jesus and temptation.
First of all, Jesus was tempted throughout his life and ministry. Part of being human is to face temptation.
Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Not even Jesus could resist being tempted.
Avoiding temptation is a good practice but it’s not possible to totally avoid it. We can take some consolation that Jesus was tempted. The writer of Hebrews wrote that “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” Hebrews 4:15 (NIV).
Even though Jesus was divine, he still dealt and struggled with temptations as we do. What separates Jesus from us is that he always made the right choice when tempted.
Second, we should acknowledge that there is an intense spiritual struggle being played out in this world, and the stakes are high. The ultimate outcome of this battle has been determined. Satan’s fate is sealed.
The writer of Revelation states that the devil knows that his time on this earth is short. Enraged, the dragon, or Satan as he is called in Rev. 12, goes about to make war against those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Rev. 12:12,17)
Without bogging ourselves down and dwelling too much on the evil spiritual world, let’s affirm Ephesians 6:12: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Reading the morning paper or listening to the evening news ought to confirm the presence of evil in our world.
We must acknowledge the presence of evil within the world and when it occurs within us, because it is impossible to win a battle if we cannot first name our enemy.
Our enemy isn’t the liberals, the ultra-conservatives, or the person in the other political party. Our enemy is Satan, who wants us to wager our soul for anything we see in this world that we might live our lives for in return.
Third, we need to admit that each of us has gotten fat off Satan’s grubs, and because of our human nature, we are always at risk of the devil’s temptations.
We must admit our bent for yielding to temptation lest we develop a false sense of security like the lark. Our temptations may be different, but we all have them.
Had Jesus been so cocky about being the son of God that he felt he was beyond giving in to his own desires, he would not likely have noticed the devil’s attempts to trap him.
Jesus was aware that he could give in to sin, which is a big reason he did not.
He could have been guided by his stomach, as was Esau. He could have been guided by his eyes, as was Achan. He could have been led by his ego, as was Samson.
He was aware of what tempted him, and it allowed him to make the right choices.
If you are not aware of your weaker moments, be assured that devil is aware of them and will use them against you. He will prepare a snare and watch you get caught up in it.
Before Cain gave in to the temptation to kill Able, God said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Even after God made Cain aware of his weak moment, Cain would not accept it or believe it. He was too arrogant and prideful to admit to himself where the temptations were in his life. He was very jealous of his brother and that jealously led him to kill his brother.
Jesus mastered temptation. He recognized temptation and made the appropriate responses to it. He realized all the devil’s ploys, but gave into none of them. Jesus out-fiddled the devil by playing his own tune, which was a tune of righteousness.
Righteousness is making God’s choice, the right choice, which leads to peace, joy, wholeness, and prosperity.
After 40 days without food, it would have been most pleasurable to eat some bread he could have made from stones. That seems very logical. The devil’s enticement seemed harmless enough. Jesus was tempted by the devil to use his power to do this. But this temptation was about how Jesus was to use his power in the future. Would he use it for selfish and materialistic purposes? Jesus sought to use his power for a higher good than just his personal pleasure. Jesus was not against pleasure but he was not going to be mastered by it.
He refused to allow the pursuit of pleasure to be the focal point of his divine powers. Only when it could be manifested for a higher good, such as the miracle of feeding the five thousand, did Jesus make such a choice.
Next the devil offered to give Jesus authority over all the world if he would bow down and worship him.
The devil promised to bow out of this world for just one opportunity to be acknowledged by Jesus as a god. He wanted Jesus to choose a destructive means to achieve and accomplish a good end. It was a tempting offer.
The devil was tempting him to accomplish in one act what it took him Jesus three years and a cross to accomplish. However, such a move would have violated God’s plan, God’s law, and God’s purpose. For Jesus, the end could not justify the means. Besides that, the devil is a liar.
2 Corinthians 2:11 says that lest Satan get an advantage of us, we are not to be ignorant of his devices. One of Satan’s methods is to get us to focus only on the end result and not how we get there. The end does not justify the means.
After the devil realized that Jesus was making use of Scripture in guiding his decision making, the devil decided to use a bit of Scripture himself.
On his final temptation, he tried to get Jesus to prove his power by throwing himself down from the temple, allowing his angels to catch him. The devil used verses from Psalm 91 as his scriptural rational. Wow! Talking about masquerading as a angel of light. Just because someone quotes scripture to you doesn’t make that person righteous.
Jesus responded with some scripture of his own, refusing to accept Satan’s interpretation.
This final temptation is a reminder that Satan will appeal to us at our highest level of integrity and will use the most sacred of our religious beliefs as a rationale for sin. It did not work with Jesus, but it often works with us.
The church is in trouble today because so many have misused authority, power, and have mistreated others in the name of Jesus.
Henri Nowen wrote: “The most insidious, divisive, and destructive power is the power exercised in the service of God. I am overwhelmed by the number of people who have been wounded by religion…God looks at us and weeps because, whenever we use power to gain a sense of self, we separate ourselves from God and each other. Our lives then become ‘diabolic’ in the literal meaning of that word: “divisive.”
It must have been a great temptation for Jesus to take his power to the height of the temple and make a glorious display of his divinity. As he hung from the cross, the temptation must have been even greater to come down and silence the jeers of those in the crowd. However, he had made the decision in a desert at the beginning of his ministry not to use his power in such a way.
Jesus chose God’s way. He chose to disarm the prince of darkness through a life which resisted temptation at every point. In doing so, he out-fiddled the devil. He played a tune that had never been played.
That tune was played three days after his death when the stone of the tomb rolled back from his tomb, and an angel told some women that their Lord was not there but that he had risen from the dead.
That was the day that the devil knew that he was beat. However, he’s not so kind as to admit defeat and leave us alone.
He’s still loose in this world and he’s still coming to Georgia looking for some souls to steal. But yours doesn’t have to be one of them.
I want you to be aware of the temptations that the evil one lays before you.
Paul says that Satan is “the god of this age who has blinded the minds of unbelievers” 2 Corinthians 4:4.
But he does not have to blind you.
I can say this will all certainty. The devil is busy and at work and is placing temptations before you. That’s one way you can know that evil is real. If you give in to these temptations, it’s going to mean trouble for you. You may have pleasure briefly but you are going to end up suffering and paying a price for giving in to your temptation.
You can know that God is real because the Apostle Paul said that God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above that which we are able; but just as Satan tempts us God also makes a way for us to escape. (I Cor. 10:13)
Perhaps more important than that, those times when we have yielded to temptation, Jesus tells us that if we will confess those times to him, he is faithful and just and will forgive us. His death on the cross covers those sins. His grace is greater than the condemnation that the evil one wants to cast upon us. (1 John 1:9)
Your soul belongs to God. The questions is, “Have you given it to him?” If not, will you pray for God to accept your life, to save from your poor choices, and to forgive you for yielding to the temptations of Satan, who wants to claim you for himself?
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