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The Darkness From Hell Part 1 - Lenten Vespers

March 14, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross

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THE DARKNESS FROM HELL I. Demons and Ouija boards

In the 19th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul visits the city of Ephesus, where there was a temple of Artemis, a rather ugly goddess, not at all like the beautiful Artemis of Phydias or Praxitiles, or any Athenian sculptor. There were little silver models of this goddess which sold for a good price. There were inscriptions on the idol, mysterious inscriptions, which the priests copied on little pieces of paper called Ephesian writings. People bought them as charms. They knew that we are not completely in control of our situation. The world is populated with spirits, who have minds of their own. The Ephesians didn’t know who they were. We know. They are evil spirits who serve the Prince of Darkness. These are the weakest members of Satan’s syndicate, the demons who are as legion today as they were in the demoniac of Gadara.

Modern society tends to clump all supernatural happenings into a basket they call “superstition.” Some of these things are merely Paganism, the attempt to confront one part of nature with another. We talked about that the second week of Lent. But there is a more serious problem with people who want to play with the spirit world. I say “play with” because these people hardly ever desire to become seriously involved with the powers of hell. They want to amuse themselves with something new and different, not to do anything meaningful. Youngsters who play with ouija boards don’t really want to meet a demon. But just what do you think makes it work? It gets worse. Fortune-tellers make a commercial venture of dwelling on the borderline between nature and supernature. We might conclude that we’re dealing with illusionists. It is true that some people are capable of producing excellent illusions. Sometimes that’s what it is. But not always. Hell is real, the devil is real, don’t let the illusions confuse you.

Not all evil spirits are demons. The demons are the little ones, the weak ones. Next week we’re going to talk about the big ones. But demons are trouble enough, because even they are more powerful than we are. They are invisible, but they leave their mark. Fortune-tellers are one such mark. They want to tell us information that God doesn’t want us to know. Even if we do want to know the next Superlotto number, or the outcome of some existential choice, we certainly don’t want to know the whole future. We may analyze trends to the glory of God, or project our plans in a detailed way. But to know exactly what is going to happen would not only be wrong, it would make us miserable. Consider Saul in I Samuel 28. Do you ever wonder what he really saw when he visited the medium? He asked her to call Samuel from the dead, but did he really see Samuel? He saw something he thought was Samuel, but it did not bless him or help him. It only told him bad news. Demons can disguise themselves as departed relatives, but they are no less evil. You cannot dabble in occult matters without getting involved with hell.

The Ephesian writings were something like that. St. Paul counseled people to get rid of them, to repent and be baptized, to put their faith in Jesus, the Messiah. Now like most Gentiles, the Ephesians probably didn’t know what a Messiah was. But they saw that Paul had authority over demons. When Sceva’s sons thought they could do the same thing, the demons turned on them. The Holy Name is not a magic incantation. His name in Hebrew means “He will deliver.” When we call on Jesus in faith, He delivers us. But we must not use His name as a charm. The darkness from hell tries to bury Jesus under a patchwork of superstition. Some consider the water of Baptism to be magic. Others misunderstand the gift of prophecy so as to predict times and seasons known only to God.

St. Paul’s preaching was very effective. The Ephesians were willing to draw the line, to put what was demonic on the other side of it. They burned the writings. They knew whose side they were on. If you pledge allegiance to Red you do not wave the flag of Green. Jesus has claimed us. We belong to Him. We owe no allegiance to demons and ouija boards.

There is reason to fear these demons. They can dominate humans and animals, as they did the pigs in Gadara. They combine violence with deceit, using strength and subtlety. But Jesus is mightier still. He is more powerful than all the hosts of darkness, and wiser than all the powers of hell. He emptied Himself by becoming mortal, He sacrificed Himself by dying, His power is deeper and stronger than the magic of the darkness. Behold His innocence, His dedication, His submission! It is much easier for us. We might have to follow where He led, but we do so knowing full well that the resurrection awaits after the cross. Meditate on the forgiveness that goes beyond all limits, that transforms you into a disciple, stamps its image on you so powerfully that Judgment Day will not display your sins, only the blood that washed them away. Hell could do nothing to stop that.

When we stand convicted by God’s Law we might think that the Law is on the demons’ side. Not so! The Law only hurts the flesh as it makes us see the vanities for what they are. But it leads us to Him who forgives and restores. Jesus has drawn the line in the sand. He has destroyed the power of hell. The bonfire in Ephesus was the natural working out of heaven’s victory over hell in our history. When any of us has the faith and courage we can cast the demons out by the name of Jesus. Whether we are talking about the spectacular demons who possess the body, or only the more subtle demons who possess the soul, they are all on the losing side. The One who saved us wins. They hate that, but they cannot change it. The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Indeed, it overcame the darkness within, the darkness around, and the darkness from hell. AMEN.