Michael Youssef - Until Christ Returns - Part 3
People even in the church have divergent views on Satan, and his operations, and his schemes, and even his existence. C.S. Lewis summarizes division in people's mind about Satan. He said: "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall into about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They," the devils, "themselves are equally pleased with both errors," well said. The Bible clearly teaches that Satan and his minions, demons or devils, that third of the angelic being that was thrown out of heaven, they are real, they are very real, that this present world is a battlefield where unseen and powerful forces operate.
While Satan himself is not an omnipresent, but our God is. He's only present through his minions, his demons that are scattered everywhere. While Satan and his minions have power, our God's power is far greater than Satan's. And here are some biblical teachings about Satan and the demons. Number one, from Job chapter 1 and Luke 4, it tells us that Satan is a person. In Ephesians 6:11 and 2 Corinthians 2:11, we know that he is forever scheming against God's people. In Matthew chapter 4, verse 6, we know that he has a thorough knowledge of the Scripture, the Word of God. In Revelation 12, we know that he controls his followers. In 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 26, he decides things. And in Ephesians 6, he wages war against the faithful. And in 1 Thessalonians, which we are gonna be looking at in a moment, he tempts the believers to distrust the Lord Jesus Christ. Above all, he is the source and the author of all evil in the world.
In this particular passage, the Apostle Paul speaks twice about satanic activities, about satanic action. In chapter 2, verse 18, he talks about Satan hindering his plans from coming to the Thessalonians. And then again in chapter 3, verse 5, he talks about Satan tempting the believers and deceives them. Now, let me remind you, Paul's purpose for writing this epistle to the Thessalonians is for them to learn to live in the light of the Second Coming of Christ. Now, some people can get so bogged down on the end times that they forget how to live for Christ, how to walk with Christ, how to serve Christ, how to sacrifice for Christ. But the most important thing to remember is this: our victory over Satan and temptation is not a power encounter. It is truth encounter. For the power of the Word of God is what exposes Satan, exposes his schemes, exposes his lies.
And here in chapter 2, verses 17 all the way to 3:13, turn with me, please, in your Bibles, and here the Apostle Paul not only gives an explanation of his absence and he gives an explanation as to why he could not get back to them, but he used this as a great opportunity to show us satanic activities that is working against the believers. And we're gonna see that in a minute. Satan and false accusers used Paul's inability to return to Thessalonica to create havoc, to create mischief in the church. This really gives us an insight into how Satan works to create mischief between husbands and wives, between family members, between believers, and even, yes, in churches.
Don't miss this. This is important. Satan specializes not only in creating mischief and misunderstanding, but he specializes in building up imaginary false case in our minds with no evidence whatsoever. For example, when somebody does not show up when they're supposed to show up, and then you don't know why they did not show up, and all the stuff that goes through your head, and you build an imaginary reasons and cases and, "Why?" and, "What happened"? and, "Who?" and, "Who said what?" and, "Who said where?" "Who did what?" And you build this big case in your head and your imagination runs wild when you have no evidence or understanding of what really happened. Teenagers breaking their curfew is a great time for prayer. Instead of let my imagination run, "What's happened?" and, "Who went where?" I would commit them to the Lord. Or if someone is supposed to do something, and for some reason, that thing was not done, and you keep wondering in your head, and you build up a big case of, "Why this was not done?" or, "Who, what happened?" "Who did what?" and, "Who did where?" and, "What happened"?
Begin imagination of all sorts of reasons in your mind. Pray, and that's really what Paul was doing at that time. His imagination was running wild. "What is happening to them? What is happening to them? Are they really being misled by Satan"? And he started praying. He said, "I pray day and night". You see, in Paul's case, Satan was really working on both ends. I mean, he was working hard on both ends. In verse 18 of chapter 2, he's thwarted Paul's plan for returning to the Thessalonians. At the same time, Satan was using these wicked people, these critics of the Apostle Paul, who are not only trying to undermine Paul's integrity, but they're really trying to undermine the gospel's integrity. And he gets them going around, accusing Paul falsely. They did this by building up a case against Paul, and against his true love for the Thessalonians. "He doesn't really love you".
But here's what I wanna tell you. Do not underestimate Satan's schemes and how he uses people who are weak-minded individuals. The Bible tells us again and again and again and again and again that he is a schemer. In fact, the Apostle Paul said, "Of his schemes," or, "of his devices," or, "of his tricks," you can translate it either way, "we are not ignorant". Paul got to know that miserable rascal, that he was able to see his schemes from a distance. Vance Havner, a great preacher from yesteryear, said: "Satan is not fighting churches, he's joining them". He does more harm by sowing tares than by pulling up wheat. He accomplishes more by imitating than by opposition. But here's the truth about Paul's dilemma, that Satan used to create mischief and havoc and division in the church of Thessalonica.
You say, "Michael, how do you know this? It's not in the epistle". Yes, I have great imagination. No, no, no, turn to Acts chapter 17, the first ten verses, it tells you the whole story. When Paul was forced out of town, the angry mob, they were really out to get him and they were out for blood. They came in into a house of a prominent citizen who happened to be a believer by the name of Jason, and they came in looking for Paul. I mean, they were really looking for Paul. And when they found out that Paul was not in that house, they dragged Jason into the police station. And there, they insisted that Jason and other believers basically put up all of their possessions as collateral, as bond, that would ensure that Paul would never come back or would ever cause trouble again.
You see Paul's dilemma now? Can you see his dilemma? Can't you? You see how he was torn? He wanted to go back, and Satan using all of this, but he was worried about his friends, Jason and the others gonna lose all of their possessions. Aw, you see, Satan doesn't care about the truth. He really does not care about the truth. He is the father of all lie. Here's the truth. The truth is, Paul did not want to leave the Thessalonians. He really didn't. He desperately wanted to come back to them and spend time instructing them in the Word of God, spend time in teaching them, but he couldn't because he wanted to protect those precious brothers there in Thessalonica. Paul loved them so dearly that he felt like he was being torn, literally. The word means that somebody been torn from our midst by death. It's a powerful word.
Verses 17 an 18: "When we were torn away from you for a short time, out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. But Satan stopped us". People speculated as to what the reason really why, what stopped Paul from coming, what is that hindrance, what it was like. Some have said this was probably the threats by the leaders of the synagogue. Others have said maybe that's the thorn in the flesh that he talks about as a messenger of Satan that stopped him from going. Perhaps his deepest concern for Jason and the other believers and the loss of their possessions they put up as a bond and a collateral. He just doesn't want to cause any more trouble. Imagine that everything worked out fine. There was no satanic opposition and no thwarting of Paul's plan and no satanic attack.
None of that happened. For one thing, we would not have this epistle today, 2,000 years later, to learn from it. Often, what Satan intends for evil, God turns it for good in his glory and for the good of his children. And in chapter 2, verses 19 and 20, Paul gives them the evidence of his longing to come back and see them. Far from what his critics have been saying, "Out of sight is out of mind". No, out of sight is not out of mind for the Apostle Paul. In fact, the Apostle Paul lived every waking moment in the light of Christ's return. And that explains how and why he lived the way he lived. And he said to them, he said, "You, among others, are the source of joy and glory and my crown in heaven. How can I not love you"? Because in heaven, the fruit of your labor, the fruit of your labor and the fruit of my labor, that's gonna be our glory. That's gonna be our crown. That's gonna be our joy in heaven. And he was living for that day.
Can I testify to you? The bulk of my day is focused on one future event. It's that first moment I see the Lord Jesus face to face. God knows all of how I failed. God knows how I fall and how I stumble. God knows my frailties and my failures. God knows my lack of judgment at times. God knows of my unrighteous anger at times. God knows of my shortcomings. But I can testify to you that these do not occupy the center stage of my life. Pleasing the Lord, obeying the Lord faithfully is what occupies the center stage in my life. My overall motive for living, my overall motive for serving, my overall motive for giving is that moment when I see Jesus face to face.
Paul goes on in chapter 3 to prove to the Thessalonians some of his sacrifices that he made out of love for them. True love always sacrifices. True love gives itself away. True love is a selfless commitment for the sake of others. True love never thinks, "What is it in it for me"? but, "How is Jesus gonna be glorified"? And when Paul could not stand it any longer, of not knowing what's happening to them, what's going on... remember, there was no texting, and there was no cell phones, and there were no technology. He was just sitting there in Athens, worrying sick over them, not knowing had Satan managed to succeeded in misleading them, what is happening to them in their progress for Christian in their spiritual walk. And then he made a costly sacrifice of sending Timothy to them.
I know, some of you say, "Well, what's the big deal about that? I mean, how big a sacrifice is this for him to just send Timothy there"? You've got to understand, Paul was spending lonely nights and lonely days in a miserable city whose idolatry troubled him so deeply. This time of waiting for Timothy, as I told you, he was sitting there, probably connecting dots. His imagination was running wild. He was praying for them day and night. And that time of waiting for Timothy to come back proved to be so painful to the Apostle Paul. You remember from Acts 17, you go down from those first ten verses, you go down to verse 16 on, and there you see how Paul was so oppressed, how he was provoked by the prevailing idolatry in Athens. And to make it all worse, he was all alone. And yet, Paul chose loneliness rather than suspense and worry.
What was the source of worry for Paul? What is your source of worry? What is your source of anxiety? At least Paul tells us his. The source of his worry, verse 5: "Lest Satan tempts the believers in the times of their suffering and leads them astray". If I have seen it once, I have seen it many times. Listen to me, some believers, when they go through the fiery furnace of life, some believers, when they go through the tough times, the waiting times, and the trying times, they are tempted by Satan to think that God doesn't love them, that God has abandoned them, that God doesn't care about them, that God doesn't care about their circumstances, that God is not hearing or answering their prayers. And as a result, they develop in their hearts what I call, "A cold love toward the Lord".
Some of you may have that now. They may go through the Christian motion, and they try to put up a good front, but in reality, they have that cold love toward the Lord, even if it's of their own making. And that is Paul's source of worry, that they will develop a cold love toward the Lord in the times of trial. Verse 7 of chapter 3, you see Paul again refers to the type of temptation by the devil, this misleading of believers by the devil. So that's why you can imagine the depths of his joy, the depths of his happiness, the depths of his excitement when Timothy comes back and reports to him, verses 6 all the way to 10, that in the middle of their affliction, that in the middle of their distress, that in the middle of their persecution, that in the middle of the pressure, that in the middle of their trials, they're still standing strong in the Lord, that they are standing firm for the Lord, that they have great love for the Lord and for Paul.
Verse 10, Paul bursts into this unspeakable joy, and saying, "Now I know that my prayers have been answered. Now I see them with my physical eyes, there I could not before". Listen, it's just because you have not seen those answers with your eyes and experiential, it doesn't mean that God is not answering them. In fact, that should not make us doubt the Lord, that he's hearing you, that he's answering you in his time, in his way. He's doing it. In fact, when Daniel prayed, the Bible said, "God answered his prayer right away, but he did not get that answer for a few weeks". And that, of course, gives the great Apostle Paul great motivation to pray for them even more.
Look at verses 11 to 13. To Paul, there was no greater motivation for holiness, for righteousness, and for godly living than the expectations of that great day. If that great day scare you, the chances are that you're not saved. If that day excites you and fills you, listen, I know some believers, they want the return of the Lord only if they got a mortgage due, a balloon payment or something, or they got some crisis. And then, when the problem is solved, they wanna go on with it. No, no, no, this is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment life. And that motivated living in holiness, living in righteousness, living it for Christ, a godly life because of that day. Let me ask you this: does the thought of the return of Christ make you throw yourself on him to live in total obedience?
When you decide to live in total obedience and surrender to the Lord, Satan will kick a fuss. But don't be surprised. That's just what he does. Because, beloved, I wanna tell you, it's a matter of time before he is thrown into the lake of fire, and we will be glorified with Jesus in heaven. It's just a matter of time. And I was thinking about Satan's fury, how Satan is misleading so many churches and so many church leaders, and I see all this happening, this havoc, and it somehow, for me at least in my lifetime, there's a speed, there's intensity, there's more fury of his activities than I have seen in at least my lifetime.
And I was thinking about his furious work and the way he's working, misleading and misguiding people, even those who ought to know better, and I thought of a story that I read years ago about a missionary to the bushes of Australia out in the Northern Territory. He's been away from his home for a few days. And when he came into the house and he opened the door, there was a huge python right there in his house. He slowly but surely walked back to his truck and he brought his .45, and again, very slowly walked back to the house. And with meticulous precision, he aimed at the head of the snake. At that moment, the snake became mortally wounded, but not dead.
So he immediately ran back outside the house, and he stayed outside. And as he stood outside, you could hear the noise of what's going on inside the house. I mean, there was a ruckus going on inside the house. And finally, when the noise stopped, he crept back into the house. He opened the door. And there, the snake was dead. But the house looked like it's being hit by a cyclone. All of the furniture, everything was just devastated. And I couldn't help but think that on the cross of Calvary, the Lord Jesus Christ hit Satan right in the head. And now, he is wounded, but not yet dead. He is thrashing about, trying to deceive even God's people. But soon, and very soon, he will be thrown into the lake of fire, where his fury will be ending and his scheming will be no more. And you and I and all of us who love the Lord Jesus will be celebrating in heaven in glory with crowns and with joy.