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Sunday 25 February 2024 Lent 2

Get thee behind me Satan!

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

By Linda Lambert

Nationally accredited United Reformed Church lay preacher

Context: a small, well-educated congregation in a prosperous area just outside London

Aim: to think about our faith as well as our daily actions

How very biblical ‘Get thee behind me Satan!’ sounds. Words from a time long ago when the world was in so many ways a very different place. And yet, here in the 21st century, for us Christians these words are just as important and meaningful as they have ever been. Oh, we may not envision Satan as this red-coloured figure, with a pointed tail and fork in hand, stalking around trying to trap us and whisk us off to his home in hell. But evil is still very much present in our world today. And evil is an insidious thing. It can appear as full-blown horror, with merciless cruelty and crimes against our fellow human beings, but it can also undermine and attack us and our fellow people here on earth in more subtle ways. Do you close your eyes when you see someone cheating someone else? Do you ignore pleas for help or money when you see the plight of people in other parts of the world? It is so easy to think that these things are other people’s problems and then talk oneself into staying out of their lives.


In the Old Testament, in the Ten Commandments, God gives us all a straightforward list of dos and don’ts for leading a good life, and examples of what believing in God requires of us all. Think of the story of Abraham, in his old age, gathering his family and his possessions and heading off into the unknown at God’s command. It would have been so easy not to follow God’s bidding and yet, follow it he did. The trouble is that in the ensuing centuries, for many, life became more comfortable, and following God’s dictums didn’t seem necessary. It was one thing to follow God’s laws when your life depended on it; but having a relatively safe life, did one really need to be so stringent in following God’s words? As we know, obedience to God’s word over the centuries fell away and God sent Jesus to, dare I say it, shake things up? Well, Jesus did indeed do just that. Christianity ensued and that has helped and guided people down through the ages – in good times and bad. Christianity is still growing in our world, but here in the West our religion is in decline. Life is comparatively comfortable. On the whole, there is enough food for all, war is something that happens in other parts of the world, and do we really need to talk to God about everything we do? That is how so many people rationalise their actions. We have been given a freedom to live our lives as we want – right? No, wrong!


There is an old joke about Satan asking his fellow devils how to convince Christians to give up believing in God. They come up with all sorts of stratagems, most of which Satan dismisses out of hand. Then one suggests that Satan just persuade people that they can put off doing things until another day. Satan likes this idea very much because he knows human nature and, if there is an easy way out of things, people will tend to take it. Do I really need to pray to God each day? Things are going along fine. Do I really need in this day and age to obey everything he says? We humans can make up excuses for doing – or not doing – so many things. And that is what Satan relies on. Human law, human dithering and humans ignoring God’s message – it all works in Satan’s favour.


This all brings us back to Paul’s message to the Romans that our salvation lies with God; and that, in turn, requires us to have faith in him. We must not depend on just good works and leading what might be called ‘a Christian life’ but with our heart and soul we must have faith in God, follow his teachings and love our God. Doing good to our fellow human beings is a positive thing but, when the crunch comes, we must keep firmly in our hearts the thought that our life with God depends on justification by our faith not only by our actions. If we can hold tight to our love of God and our faith in him, then he will be with us always. That is truly the way to be saying, ‘Get thee behind me Satan!’

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