Jesus was just beginning his ministry here on earth. He was in the fishing town of Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had just called four fishermen – Andrew and Peter, James and John – to be his first disciples.
The very next Sabbath, they went together to the synagogue – to church. The custom in those days was that if a visiting rabbi was in town, he would be asked to teach. So during one of the seven Scripture readings, Jesus was handed a scroll. He was asked to read and comment on it. As he did, the people were amazed because he taught with such authority.
Just then, however, a demon-possessed man cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
Immediately Jesus scowled. “Be quiet!” he said sternly, “Come out of him!” The man shook violently. The spirit came out of him with a blood curdling shriek. The people sat stunned. (Mark 1:21-28)
Every time I read that story, one detail jumps of the page. Did you catch it?
The devil went to church that day in Capernaum.
Sometimes we can think the sacred walls of our church will keep the devil and his demons out. But no. The devil goes to church every Sunday.
If you ever have a chance, read C.S. Lewis’ short little book, The Screwtape Letters. It’s the fictional story about one demon instructing another demon how to tempt us. The sections about how to tempt us in church are particularly interesting.
Get them to think about what they have to do later that day. If they realize what you are doing, get them thinking, “I should be paying attention,” because if they are thinking, “I should be paying attention,” they still aren’t paying attention.
Get them looking at the people in church who are “worse” than they are to puff them up with pride. Get them looking at all the “good” people who seem to have their lives together to get them feeling like God couldn’t really love them. Point out all the failings of the preacher and how boring he is. Get them thinking about anything other than God speaking to them in his Word and Sacraments.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist. When we forget the devil goes to church, we leave ourselves open to his tricks and temptations.
Take the Lord’s Prayer for example. I firmly believe that more people sin while praying the Lord’s Prayer than doing just about any other activity on the planet. Think about it. How often do people pray the Lord’s Prayer? Yet how often do we actually think about what we are saying?
When I am watching TV at home, sometimes my wife will try to talk to me. In my guyhood, I often nod and respond without really listening to her or thinking about what I am saying. Let’s just say she doesn’t like that very much.
How do you think God feels? He has given us a perfect prayer. As we speak it, we are conversing with the King of the universe who fills all things – our Savior who suffered our hell in our place so we could live with him in heaven.
Yet so often we aren’t even thinking about what we are saying. We are thinking that pizza would be good for lunch or how that woman’s skirt is too short for church or how those parents should control their child. And the devil smiles.
Remember that next time you go to church. Watch out. Be on your guard. Pay attention. Never forget the devil goes to church.