More and more these days I’m learning to preach not just teach. Teaching in the church setting is relaying information about the Bible or life. Preaching does what the text is trying to do. Luke’s story in Acts 13 seems to want readers or hearers to see that there is a war going on in the early church for the soul of the church.
I began Sunday, March 9 with the statement, “There’s a war going on between the Holy Spirit and the evil one for the soul of the first church . . . and that war continues today for the soul of our church, for your soul and mine.”
I want us to take God’s role in this war seriously, not the devil or ourselves too seriously. Following David Fleer’s sermon on the same text in Acts 13, I repeated the phrase, “When the Holy Spirit enters the house, the devil slips through the door.” It happens in Luke 4 with Jesus in the temptation, in Acts 5 with a charitable but dishonest couple, in Acts 8 with Simon the Sorcerer, and again in the text of the day when Elymas tried to prevent proconsul Sergius Paulus from believing in Christ. Evil Elymas didn’t just scoff or ignore the situation; he actively tried to prevent the government official from believing in Jesus. So the Holy Spirit through Paul confronts this “son of the devil” and strikes Elymas blind. Sergius Paulus believes.
What does the Holy Spirit, Luke in this text want us to know and do? Remember, there is a battle going on for the soul of the first church for our church’s soul today. When we choose to serve, love, give, have joy, Satan or a “son or daughter of the devil” will attempt to snatch that service, giving, love, or joy away. But the devil is no match for the Holy Spirit! Jesus triumphed over Satan in the wilderness and at the cross when he died for the love of humanity and rose from the grave to conquer death. The devil tempted Ananias and Sapphira but they died and the church grew in spite of the fear instilled in them over that event. The devil worked in Simon the Sorcerer, but he was invited back to hell and to take Simon and his money along with him when Simon asked to buy the power of the Holy Spirit to heal and do wonders and signs.
I’ll never forget the day I was walking on a village path in Uganda with a man I had become friends with, and we had visited a seance or spirit medium ceremony. A particular family had paid a shaman to get in touch with the dead and find out why sickness and death had attacked their home lately. It was a gruesome scene with drunk people rolling in the dirt, and the feeling of the underworld and darkness hung over the trees they sacrificed animals under and poured libations in order to “feed” the dead spirits so they would communicate. This scared the friend I was with as much as me, and as we walked back to the church meeting location, we spoke of this important verse from 1 John 4:4: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” At that moment, my friend took a stick and scratched 1 John 4:4 in his leg so he would not forget. He didn’t have a pen and paper, and he didn’t want to forget the verse to read when he got home. He and we all really need to know and remember this everyday! He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world!
We also watched this incredible video in order to help us emotionally believe what we intellectually are being convicted of: that a war is going on for the soul of the church. Watch this and see what you feel and add that to what you think. God wants your soul, but for whatever reason so does the devil. I’ve never really understood why the devil needs or wants to tempt and persuade people away from God, but we can see this in humanity. The sin nature impacted the devil too, and he has done evil and wants company in his misery. If he can’t have heaven, no one can.
Watch this Lifehouse Drama performed for communion at Hillsong in 2009.
God bless you, and please write me with any questions or comments you might have.