Relevant Passages: Matthew 11:29 (rest); 7:1-5 (judging); 7:21-27 (rock); 13:3-23 (sower); 28:20
Leading Question: How does knowing that Satan is after us affect us in our daily living?
The official study guide for this week’s lesson focuses on issues of daily living as illustrated by selected texts from Matthew’s Gospel. Two of them are admonitions: “Come unto me and rest (11:29) and “Do not judge” (7:1-5); two of them are stories: building on the rock (7:21-27) and the sower (13:3-23); one is an affirmation: “I am with you always” (28:20).
Of these five passages, the “evil one” is explicitly mentioned only in one; in the parable of the sower the evil one snatches away the seed that falls on the path (13:19). In all the other passages, the Gospel writer no doubt assumes that the reader knows about Satan, but does not mention him. That represents quite a switch from the Old Testament perspective as seen in Job, where only the author and the reader “know” about Satan. Job and his friends operate with the apparent assumption that everything comes from God.
Question: Does knowing about Satan – the New Testament perspective and ours – help us determine the respective roles of the demonic and the providential in any given situation?
Note: Two C. S. Lewis quotes and one from George MacDonald can help us in this connection:
First, Lewis on the apparent godforsakenness of our world, a quotation from Screwtape Letters:
He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 39
Second, Lewis on the seeming absence of God in our most difficult situations:
It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”
Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle. – C. S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 10-11
Third, MacDonald on God’s use of bad things, even our sins:
It is so true, as the Book says, that all things work together for our good, even our sins and vices. He takes our sins on himself, and while he drives them out of us with a whip of scorpions, he will yet make them work his good ends. He defeats our sins, makes them prisoners, forces them into the service of good, and chains them like galley slaves to the rowing benches of the gospel ship. He makes them work toward salvation for us. – George MacDonald, “The Bloodhound,” The Curate’s Awakening (Bethany, 1985), 200
On that same theme Ellen White’s comment is perceptive:
There is not a blessing which God bestows upon man, nor a trial which he permits to befall him, but Satan both can and will seize upon it to tempt, to harass and destroy the soul, if we give him the least advantage. – Patriarchs and Prophets, 421 (1890)
Questions: How do each of the passages selected for this week’s lesson help us live faithfully in light of the cosmic conflict? Which works best: admonition, story, or affirmation?
Rest: “Come unto me and rest (11:29)
Judging: “Do not judge” (7:1-5)
The Rock: “The wise man built his house on the rock” (7:21-27)
The Sower: “The evil one comes…” (13:3-23)’ cf. “An enemy hath done this” (13:24-30)
Christ’s presence: “I am with you always” (28:20)