A Divine Verdict Undid the Devil’s Damage

Does the fact that the devil is a roaming around like a roaring lion seeking to devour people bother you? The Bible writer, Paul, makes it abundantly clear in Romans 5:12-19 that “a divine verdict undid the devil’s damage.” March 1, 2020.

“The devil made me do it.” That’s an excuse, a dodge to dump personal responsibility and get out of the line of fire when the blame-bullet is shot from God’s rifle. But we won’t get out of his scoped sights when we think or say or do things we shouldn’t or don’t think or say or do things we should. He’s too good an aim. In reality, both are true. We’re the ones at fault when we fall short of what God expects, and the devil is also behind the scenes nudging us on because his favorite game is standing in God’s courtroom, pointing his bony, accusing finger at us, and hollering, “Go get ’em, God!”

Does the fact that the devil is a roaming around like a roaring lion seeking to devour people bother you? Isn’t it true that the Corona virus, drop in the stock market, the political divide in America, terrorist threats, paying off school loans, getting a higher paying job, finding Mr. or Miss Right, or getting over a lingering cold rank higher on the “concern scale” for you than the devil and his tricks? Isn’t it true that in many ways the devil has become in our minds a harmless cartoon character who sits at a desk next to the gates of Hades asking each entrant, “Smoking or non-smoking?” But I ask you this. Can a corrupt politician or a terrorist or a debt or a flu bug drag you to hell? No! But Satan can. That’s what makes today’s worship so essential. The Bible writer, Paul, makes it abundantly clear in today’s second reading from his letter to the Romans in chapter five that “a divine verdict undid the devil’s damage.”

A verdict following Satan’s defeat

Thirty-five years ago, I was living in blissful ignorance. I sat at my desk and plunked out my sermons on a manual typewriter. But then something happened. The computer. That old typewriter went into the garbage as technology nudged its way into my study. I have to admit that there are great advantages to a computer: email, Internet connections, easy editing, spellcheck. Now I can’t imagine studying and typing without a computer. But it brings problems that an old typewriter did not have, like computer viruses, phishing, and identity theft. I know you know this, but it boggles my mind that there actually are people who spend time designing, creating, and sending email messages which can infect your computer, garble the data, and crash the system. Last Tuesday I received a letter from a company with some of our investments, “We are contacting you about a recent data breach … that may affect the security of your personal information.” Ugh! Wouldn’t it be great to have someone put hackers out of business and undo the effects of viruses?

The devil did a lot of damage. He snuck a virus into the human race when he got Adam and Eve to disobey God. That virus wasn’t just a little boo-boo. It was so damaging that it has been passed genetically to every one of their descendants and continued down through every generation to this day. It was so damaging that everyone infected deserves to crash and burn. We are all related, you know. I don’t care if your skin color is blue, purple, green, pink, or tan. We all come from Adam and Eve. We all have been born with the virus called sin. That’s not like inheriting bad eyesight and saying, “Well, I’ll just get glasses.” It’s even worse than saying, “I inherited a blood disease and will die soon.” It’s a spiritual disease that infects everything we do and causes us to do damage to others. It has no human cure and can drag us to hell.

Too often we downplay it. “If I do something wrong in private, who’s going to know?” “My husband is an emotional clam, but I found a soulmate at work. He shares his deepest secrets and feelings with me and I with him.” “So what if we are living together before marriage. Everybody does that, and we’re saving a lot of money to buy a house.” “So what if I get drunk to numb the pressure from a bad week or to celebrate the end of the semester with my friends. I’ll get over it by Monday.” “What do you mean I’ve been taking the name of the Lord in vain? God! You’re picky! ... Oops!”

But the apostle yanks us back to reality with the shocking statement that we all deserved a “Guilty!” verdict. The sentence is death, not just six feet under the sod in a tree-shaded cemetery, but separation from God’s love and brutalized by his anger ad infinitum. The people from the ancient nation of Israel received a similar shock when they saw their sin reflected back at them from the mirror of God’s demands which he told their leader, Moses, to put into written form. They were like people who didn’t know they had warts and blemishes until they saw their reflection in a mirror for the first time. But guess what? Even before the introduction of a mirror, they still had warts and blemishes. God’s laws through Moses showed the Israelites their sin. But before those laws were in print, humans, of course, were still sinful. Before the law was given, sin was in the world. Now, sin is not charged to one’s account if there is no law, and yet death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those whose sin was not like the transgression of Adam … So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned. You might think that those who lived before the law from Moses was in print or didn’t know about it were less guilty because they hadn’t broken one of God’s printed rules. Yet they still died. They died because Adam’s sin had been transferred to them, and his sin has been transferred to us. The devil has done a lot of damage!

Only God could undo it. And he did. He sent his Son to defeat the one who created and spread the virus called sin. The apostle states that the obedience of the one man, Jesus, stands in stark contrast to the disobedience of the first man, Adam. And here’s the miracle. Jesus’ obedience has been entered into God’s heavenly court records in place of our disobedience. Because of Jesus we get to hear a “Not guilty!” verdict. The gracious gift is not like Adam’s trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of this one man, it is even more certain that God’s grace, and the gift given by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ, overflowed to the many! And the gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin, for the judgment that followed the one trespass resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the gracious gift that followed many trespasses resulted in a verdict of justification (a verdict of acquittal)… So then, just as one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people, so also one righteous verdict led to life-giving justification for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many became sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will become righteous. The verdict that followed the one sin of Adam was “Guilty!” and it extended to all who inherited Adam’s sin. That is you. That is I. But the verdict following our many sins was “Not guilty!” Because Jesus washed our sins away, Satan can no longer accuse us when we stand in God’s courtroom. A divine verdict, following Satan’s defeat, undid the devil’s damage. Isn’t that amazing?

A verdict forcing Satan’s retreat

Let’s say you owned a business and got into trouble because of some shady business practices. A dear friend bailed you out so that you were able to get a fresh start in another town and did rather well. But a competitor was jealous of your success and tried to ruin you financially, not just by lowering his prices to draw customers away from you but by filing suit against you, taking you to court, and, after digging up all the dirt from your past, waving it under the judge’s nose. A talented attorney came to your rescue and won your case. But the competitor wouldn’t give up. Year after year, he filed an appeal. Was that a nuisance? Was it a hassle? Sure! But as long as you had the judge’s verdict, the decision in your favor, you were able to drive him back and go on with your life.

Because Jesus defeated Satan, the verdict is in. We are on the winning side. Yet, the devil still tries to file his appeals against us. Year after year, month after month, day after day, he tries to pull us down. Maybe you have felt the frustration of recurring temptations. They can be more than a nuisance. But as long as we have the divine verdict, we can drive him back, forcing Satan into retreat. Indeed, if by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through the one man, it is even more certain that those who receive the overflowing grace of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ! If given an inch, Satan will pursue the case further. If we lose track of the court records, the Bible, he can make life miserable. But you know what? Jesus reigns supreme, and his pardon and power allow us to reign as kings and queens. We can say, “No!” to temptation. We can say, “No” to the devil. We can say, “Get behind me, Satan! You cannot control me.” Don’t give Satan an inch. Don’t let him reign. Use the verdict, God’s decision in your favor, to drive him back.

The names have been changed to protect privacy. Sue had a critical nature, and it flashed out in a negative, demeaning comment about anyone and everyone she met. Finally, a friend, almost the only one she had left, told her, “Do you know that your knee-jerk comments are hurting people and really only hurting you? When people hear you talk like that, they don’t want to be around you. Is it any wonder I’m your only friend, and I’m even thinking of letting you stew in your own mean, selfish soup?” Sue was dazed, and at first didn’t know what to do. Then she broke down in tears. Her friend assured her, “It’s possible to change how you speak about others, but first you have to have a new view of yourself. Think of it. Jesus is the Savior for a reason. He gives a ‘Not guilty’ verdict to you.” Sue is still working on it, but she’s come a long way. Why? Because that divine verdict in her favor is forcing Satan’s retreat. Ed wrestled with desires that he thought could only be calmed if he looked at things decent folks would consider inappropriate. But his spouse found out. It almost ended their marriage. Embarrassed, feeling dirty, he had a conversation with his pastor and came clean. He heard what he had heard for many years, but this time it sank in because he knew how much he needed it. “God has pronounced a ‘Not guilty’ verdict over you because of Jesus.” Ed is still working on it one day at a time. But he’s winning more than losing because every day that verdict is forcing Satan’s retreat.

What are you wrestling with? What are you working on? Don’t give up. Don’t hide. Don’t pretend your personal struggle with sin will go away on its own. Meet it head on. Own it. And hear God pronounce, “Not guilty,” over you even though you and I know that when we hear it, we don’t deserve it. Then enter the daily fray with courage because that divine verdict undid the devil’s damage, forcing his retreat.

9-11 changed the way airports handle security. Air travel may be more of a hassle than years ago, but wouldn’t we all agree that we wouldn’t want airports to let down their guard? God does not want us to let down our guard. That’s why he put accounts like those for the first Sunday of Lent in the Bible. “Thank you, Lord, for keeping us alert to Satan’s tricks. And even greater praise, to you, Lord, for giving us the victory in Christ Jesus!” Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on March 1, 2020