The Cosmic ConflictErwin W. Lutzer | June 1, 2008
Selected highlights from this sermon
Most people think that the spiritual realm is a friendly place. But it’s actually a place of both good and evil. Jesus and His angels are there, but so are Satan and his demons.
As Pastor Lutzer goes through the “heavenly places” referenced by Paul in the book of Ephesians, he’ll show us that though there is great blessing there, it’s a place of huge conflict—a conflict that touches us here in the physical realm.
But for believers in Christ, we can stand on territory that He’s already conquered.
One hundred million Americans are coming to the conclusion that there is indeed a spiritual realm to the universe. The problem is that many of them simply assume that the spiritual realm is always a friendly place, and that if you open up your life and you connect with this spiritual realm, it will always do you good. What we shall see today is that the spiritual realm is actually a friendly place, but also a very evil place. It is both.
The Scripture says that when we are saved, we are translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. The kingdom of darkness is characterized by lies, lies, lies, lies. In Bunyan’s book entitled The Holy War, he said that that would be the strategy he discusses in there in an imaginary way, the way in which the demons are talking and they say, “Lies, lies, lies, lies.” The kingdom of light is a kingdom of truth, and righteousness and holiness, and absolute purity, and we’re translated from one to the other, but we struggle because we still are in both.
When I speak of the spiritual realm, let me make a couple of comments. First of all, keep in mind that just because it is unseen doesn’t mean that it is unreal. Demons, angels, the body of Jesus Christ that was raised from the dead and taken to heaven exists somewhere, and you and I can’t see it but it is real. Let’s not think that only that which we see has reality.
There’s a story in the Old Testament of Elijah. He was, you remember, sitting at a city at Dothan, and his servant is very afraid because there are some people coming against him, and Elijah says, “Oh, Lord, open up his eyes that he may see,” and the servant’s eyes were opened to the spirit world, and he saw around the horizon all kinds of beings that were coming to rescue them. Those were angels. If you and I could see in our homes, in our churches, and in our office buildings, and if our eyes were opened to the spirit world, in a physical sense, we would be shocked at the amount of buzz that takes place there.
Also we need to keep in mind that this particular battle that we’re going to talk about takes place indeed in the atmosphere, but the atmosphere is huge. We’re not sure exactly where all of this resides, but there is God in the atmosphere, and beyond the atmosphere in the whole universe, and Satan and God still interact, and you and I are part of that interaction. That’s what happens, you see, when the physical world encounters the spiritual world, when the world of light encounters the kingdom of darkness.
Take, for example, Acts 19. Here we have a remarkable story of the kingdom of light encountering the kingdom of darkness, and it alone would be worth a message, but I’m going to only use it to introduce another passage that we’ll get to in a moment.
In Acts 19 Paul is in Ephesus and he enters into the synagogue, and for three months he speaks and he reasons. He actually spent a couple years there in total, but it says in verse 11, “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus, whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” No wonder the next verse says, “Fear came upon them all, and this was known.” I would think so.
Here there were men who said, “Oh, you know Paul is casting out demons in the name of Jesus. We’ll use the name of Jesus too,” and they had no authority over that demon whatsoever. Why? It’s because the name of Jesus isn’t just a name. It’s not a magical formula. You can’t exercise the authority of Jesus unless you are under the authority of Jesus. Only those who are under authority can exercise authority, but they thought, “We’ve got the formula here that will work. Just use the name of Jesus and people will be delivered.” What a surprise they had. By the way, sometimes those who are demon possessed have tremendous human powers. Sometimes it takes a number of police officers just to subdue a small person if he’s demon possessed, and here you have an instance in which there was no deliverance, but under Paul there was.
Here we have the clash of the two kingdoms that I am talking about. You have the kingdom of darkness. You also have the kingdom of light, and you and I, in one way or another, are all involved in what I’m calling the cosmic conflict.
Now I’d like you to turn to the book of Ephesians. This is a letter that Paul wrote to that church in Ephesus, the church that I just read about a moment ago, and by the way it says that after that people took all of their magical arts and all of the kinds of gadgets that they had to contact the occult world, and they burned them. As a matter of fact, I think it says, if I may look at the text here, “Also many of those who were now believers came confessing and divulging their practices. A number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all and they counted the value of them and found it to be fifty thousand pieces of silver, so the word of the Lord continued to increase and to prevail mightily.” You see, they burned all of the magic that they had used to contact the spirit world, all of that kind of stuff, and it would be interesting to know how much they had in those days.
A number of years ago there was a great movement of the Holy Spirit on our college campuses. I don’t know if you remember that or not, but one of the things that they did during chapel services was that they brought in garbage bags, and the students brought all of their pornography, and occultist and demonic music, and they all threw it in the garbage bags that were later on disposed of. It is amazing what happens when God cleans house and when the kingdom of light reaches the kingdom of darkness. I’m hoping that that will still happen in our generation, even among us.
What I’d like to do now is to take a peek into this spirit world, and we’re going to see that indeed it is a very friendly place. It’s a place where you and I are blessed, but it’s also a place where you and I experience huge conflict. Are you ready for the journey?
In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul, now writing to this church that experienced such a great awakening, writes one of the most blessed letters in all the New Testament. Today what I want us to do is to simply zero in on one phrase that he uses, and this phrase, as it is translated into the English, occurs five times. It’s the phrase, “heavenly places.” I’ve introduced the realm now. It’s the unseen realm. It’s the realm of the spirit world where angels, Satan, and God all exist together. What’s happening up there?
We’ll look at the text in Ephesians 1, and if you are in the habit of underlining in your Bibles, now is the time to underline that phrase as it occurs here five times, and then we’ll see how this relates to the cosmic conflict in which you are involved. Even if you think that you are A.W.O.L., you are in it.
Notice it says in verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (there’s the phrase), even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. "In love he predestined us….”
You know, this is one of the most theologically deep passages of Scripture in the entire Bible, and we cannot do it justice except to revel in it. It’s like swimming in a deep swimming pool, and all that you can do is to enjoy it.
I’m talking now to believers, as Paul is, to the saints, who are at Ephesus, and he says, “First of all, in the heavenly places we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.” Notice that. What are the blessings? Well, that we were chosen before the foundation of the world in Christ. Jesus called your name before God said, “Let there be light.” Before the universe was created God knew you and chose you. That’s what the text tells us.
As we go on we discover we’ve been adopted into God’s family. We’ve been blessed in other ways with the Holy Spirit, and on and on, and he says, “We’re blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” and we have been blessed. It is a done deal. When you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, you automatically receive about twenty different blessings that I should list for you sometime, and it is yours in Christ. It is finished. It comes with a package called Jesus Christ. What a blessed people we are!
You say, “Well Pastor Lutzer, I don’t feel very blessed today.” Well, feelings are sometimes deceptive, aren’t they? We’re blessed with spiritual blessings, not physical blessings. Those will come in the future, but meanwhile we suffer with cancer. My wife yesterday attended the funeral of a young man who died of cancer and left a wife and two small children behind. We don’t get all those physical blessings, but every spiritual blessing is yours in Christ. We don’t even see the fulfillment of that in its completeness, but it’s there already.
I get up at ten minutes to six every Sunday morning. I’ve been doing this for more years than I can count, and I get dressed and have breakfast and then come to the church, but usually around 6:30 I sit and I turn on the television just to see if there has been a terrorist attack or if something has happened in the world that I should know about, and today I scrolled the channels and I noticed that there was a television preacher who was delivering his entire congregation from debt, and they went through a ceremony to deliver themselves from all their debts. Well, God bless them, but I suspect tomorrow the bank will still want their money, but then he ended the program by asking for money. I put out my hand and I said, “I won’t send you any because I deliver you from all debt, my brother.” [laughter]
No, we don’t get all of our physical blessings in this life but every spiritual blessing is already ours to be experienced in this life and the next in Christ. You see, so much of our praying is for things that God has given us in Jesus. If only we could meditate on this, it would help us in the conflict that I am going to introduce you to in a moment.
Do you remember that story of that little boy in Washington saying to a police officer, “Can I buy the Washington Monument?” The police officer said, “Well, how much money do you have?” Do you remember when we were kids we pulled out our pockets to reveal the last little bit of lint? Well that’s what the boy did, and he counted thirty-seven cents, and the police officer said to him, “There are two things you should know, young man. Number one, you can’t buy the Washington Monument for thirty-seven cents, and secondly, you should know that if you are an American citizen, you already own it.” My friend today, if you are a citizen of heaven, be surprised at what you own. In the heavenlies you’ve been blessed.
Well, we must hurry on. Secondly, it is a place of great power. Notice that Paul said that God raised Jesus up and it is there, and in Ephesians 1:19 Paul said, “…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in (there’s the phrase) the heavenly places (the ascension of Jesus).” Now some people ridicule the ascension of Jesus. They say that if you go up from Jerusalem, that’s actually down if you are in Australia or New Zealand. So where did Jesus go to? The correct answer to that is we don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter, because it is not a matter of travel. It is a matter of His triumph. It isn’t a matter of the miles that He has, but the might with which He was raised in this heavenly realm. His physical body is in the spiritual realm and we don’t know where it is, but He was able to appear to Paul on the way to Damascus, and He has appeared to people on the battlefield. We don’t know where that is, because that’s a different dimension, but it has everything to do with the absolute authority of Jesus over all things.
Does Jesus Christ rule today? Yes, He has delegated rule to His people of the world, but there is a sense in which still nothing happens without His approval, but He is waiting, the Bible says, until every enemy is put under His feet, and isn’t He ever patient? He is waiting.
When you go to Florence, Italy, and you see all of the art, and you see Michelangelo’s David and all of the other wonderful things there in the architecture and the culture of Florence, don’t miss the spot which I could show you, where there is a plaque on the sidewalk where people are walking that says, “It is here where Savannah Rolla was burned to death.” He was one of the early reformers and he was preaching the Gospel there in Florence and got into deep trouble and then did some foolish things (that’s a separate story), and ultimately was burned. I always remember what he said before he died. He said these words: “He who believes that Christ rules above need never fear what happens below.” Wow! There’s a man martyred for the faith. If you believe in the ascension of Jesus above every principality, above every power, showing His absolute total triumph in the heavenlies (in that supernatural realm, that spiritual realm), that’s where Jesus is, and that’s what happened there.
Well, we must hurry on. Third, it is also a place of honor. Now here’s the shock. You say, “Pastor Lutzer, I came to Moody Church to be encouraged today.” I’m going to encourage you right now. The Word of God is going to do the encouraging. It says in Ephesians 2:4, speaking of us now, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, he made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Jesus Christ.” I just told you Jesus was there, and now I’m telling you that you are there. When Jesus ascended, He in effect took us with Him, not physically, of course, because there is a great difference between where Jesus is and the city of Chicago, but we are in Him. We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. There’s a metaphysical connection between us and Jesus that is so strong that we can already say that just as Jesus was raised, so we also have been raised, and we are seated there also above the principalities and powers and every name that is named, because we are sitting there with Jesus, and by the way, Jesus is seated. Old Testament priests never sat down. Why? It was because their work was never done. Jesus, the Bible says, when He finished all things (completed all things) He sat down, and said, “It’s all been done; I’ve disarmed all principalities and powers and I made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it,” and so we are there with Jesus in heaven.
Why would Jesus be that generous? Well, look at the text. It says in verse 6, “He raised us up with him…in the heavenly places…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” You know what? This is a huge subject, but let me put this idea into your pure mind today. There are many attributes of God that we would never know about, that would never be on display, were it not for the fact that sin entered into the world. It is because of sin that God has been able to demonstrate His mercy, His grace, and all of the attributes of kindness that we would never understand. We’d never see Him as a redeeming God. That doesn’t justify the sin. It just means that God has the ability to take the worst possible situation and use it to demonstrate His kindness and His grace. But my friend, if you are a believer, positionally you are already in heaven.
I remember the days when I was a Canadian citizen. There was no way then that Canada could keep me out because I was a citizen. Of course, now as an American, they also let me in, by the way. I’ve been up there many times. We have good friendly relationship between us and our neighbor to the north, but you see, one of the reasons that you know you can enter is that you not only have a passport but you also have residency there. When you have residency in heaven, when you die, my friend, there’s not going to be a hassle at the border. There’s not going to be a question of if we should we let this person in. No, I’m in Jesus. I’m already there. It’s just a matter of transferring the relationship, but in Jesus you are seated today in heavenly places, and so it is a place of honor.
Let me say also it is a place of drama. We’ve said it’s a place of blessing, a place of power, and a place of honor. Now it’s a place of great drama. Wow! As I say, I’m glad we don’t see the spirit world personally because we’d be confused by it, but think of what’s happening. Look at what the text says. In Ephesians 3:8 it says, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages (that is, that the Jews and Gentiles are one people) in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” There’s the phrase, and this refers to good angels and evil angels as well. God is demonstrating His wisdom and His might and, as I mentioned, His mercy, and it is on display in the heavenlies.
What makes Satan so angry? I think I know. He is so angry to think that we have a position that is far above what he ever had. He was like the choirmaster in heaven, as I understand it, and then he began to take some glory for himself and didn’t pass it on to Jesus, and so he hung on to that glory and that’s why the fall happened, and that’s why Satan fell. And what really angers him and makes him livid is that we, who in effect, fell with him in Eden, are now going to be exalted to a position that is far beyond what he ever had, and we are such miserable sinners, and God in his kindness and undeserved mercy to us has given us all these things in Jesus Christ, and the devil absolutely hates it. He can’t take it that we should be so privileged, but in the ages to come, notice the Bible says, God displays His wisdom, His love and His grace.
When Paul Gibson retired from Cambridge University as principal, there was a painting that was made of him, and when it was unveiled he paid tribute to the painter. He said, “In days to come people will not say, ‘Who is in that painting?’ People are going to say, ‘Who was that painter?’” Oh, my friend, today, when we get to heaven the issue throughout all of eternity is not going to be, “Who are the redeemed?” The issue is going to be, “Who was their redeemer?” I mean, think of it—to take us from the mud and to make us walk on marble, and to take us from the pit and to put us into the palace, people are going to say, “Who was their redeemer to do all that for undeserving sinners?” It’s a place of drama, and now we get to the bottom line.
Guess what? It’s a place of huge conflict, and for this we turn to Ephesians 6 now, where the Apostle Paul says starting in verse 10, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities.” (different gradations of demonic spirits just like in the angelic realm where you have various strata of angels and responsibilities; that’s the way it is also in the kingdom of darkness with various strategies.) And it says, “against the rulers, against the authorities.” That’s how we fight against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil (there it is) in heavenly places—same words.
It isn’t all friendly, is it? And that’s where the conflict happens. And so we have an enemy out there who has been defeated but he’s on bail, and so what he wants to do is to do all the havoc he can to lead us into sin, to make sin look good to us so that we follow his schemes as far as we are able, and that’s where the conflict is. In these verses I’ve read the Apostle Paul uses the world against five times. Notice he says, “We should be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers, against the spiritual forces.” Have you ever felt as a Christian the “against” part of spiritual conflict and spiritual warfare? If you are honest you’ll say, “Yes, I know what it is to be against, and I know what it is to be assaulted.”
Now, he uses the word wrestle. If you were boxing with someone (bad idea in my opinion, but if you were) you could at least run, but not when you wrestle; not when somebody comes and throws his arms around you and starts to throw you down. You can’t run away. We wrestle. Notice this: Behind our physical and relational battles is Satan (and his demonic spirits). I have no doubt that they are assigned to us. That’s why the Bible speaks about familiar spirits. That’s why people want to talk to the dead when someone dies. They’re not talking to the dead. They are talking to a familiar spirit who knew the dead, and we are in constant conflict, and behind that battle there are spiritual forces.
I think of that dear woman. God bless her. I cried out to the Lord for her this week. She sent me a four- or five-page handwritten letter this past week about living with an alcoholic husband with children in the home. I’m going to ask her to seek help most assuredly. In situations like that somebody has to come in. She needs the kind of ministry that we have here at Moody Church for women, but you know, even behind that there are dark spiritual forces that always want to destroy, that always want to tell us lies that the devil wants us to believe.
My friend, that’s what the text says. You don’t just wrestle against flesh and blood when you are having marital problems, and when it seems as if everything is falling apart. It isn’t just a physical, intellectual issue. If your child leaves for college and abandons the faith and she begins to live with her boyfriend or he with his girlfriend, it isn’t just always a matter of intellectual knowledge. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. Oh yes, even if the devil didn’t exist there would be plenty of sin in the world, but he strengthens it. He helps cause obsessions, and by the way, if you are here today and you’ve never received Christ as Savior, you are in a huge battle with him. Jesus gave an example. He said that the sower went forth to sow and he sowed seed all over. It’s really the parable of the soils, isn’t it? Jesus said that the hard ground was where the birds came and they ate the seed. Later on He was interpreting and said, “When the word of God goes forth (catch this) Satan snatches the word of God from their hearts.”
Have you ever met somebody who could be in church, maybe listening to a message like this, and they just don’t get it? They just don’t get it, and they walk out of there, and they’re talking about other things and you think to yourself, “Did they even hear anything?” The answer is, maybe they didn’t. We need to understand that sometimes the Word of God is snatched out of people’s hearts. Those are the words of Jesus. So we don’t just wrestle against flesh and blood. The bottom line is that we must stand on conquered ground. The Apostle Paul says here, “Having done all, stand.”
Now, we’re not asked to conquer territory as such. We’re to stand on territory that has been already been conquered. Jesus won the victory. As I mentioned, Satan is out on bail. He’s allowed to do all kinds of things, but “Lo, his doom is sure,” and today, “One little word can fell him,” and that word is C-H-R-I-S-T. [applause]
That one little word can fell him, so as this series continues we’re going to learn how to do spiritual warfare. We’re going to learn what the Bible has to say about the cosmic conflict, because it isn’t just a problem at work or in your family. It’s beyond that. In a few moments we’re going to be having communion together, for those of us who are here today at The Moody Church, and when we take that bread and when we take the cup, what we are affirming today is that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross (for all of its horror, and though it looked like a colossal cosmic defeat) was an unbelievable victory. It is there that He purchased us. It is there that He redeemed us from Satan’s grip. It is there where He obtained the right to translate us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. It is there that we stand with the word that shall fell him.
Let us pray.
Our Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that You might give us wisdom into the spirit realm, and may we count on all the things that we’ve learned about ourselves in Christ above all principalities and powers. May we count on that, Lord, to wrestle in heavenly places. Teach us to stand. May we know the meaning of those words, and for those who feel hopeless today, we ask, Lord God, that they may stand on Your Word—reading Your word, standing on Your blessed promises.
Now whatever you need to say to God, would you tell Him that right now? If you’ve never received Christ as Savior, why don’t you right now? If the Word has penetrated you, say, “I know I need a savior.” Would you believe on Him right now? Say, “Jesus, I accept You as my very own.”
Hear our prayer, oh Lord God, we ask, in Jesus’ name. Amen.