Friday, September 8, 2017

Jesus’ Enemy Contact in John’s Gospel (XVIII)

We will now explore with Jesus how Satan collides with religious people.  

One expects the world to be influenced by Satan; but to hear Satan through the mouth of religious leaders, who should on the lookout for such intrusions, is mind-boggling.  Some of our deepest hurt can come from those who should know better:

But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father.

Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.  Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.  And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. (John 8:40-45)

The leaders, because of their anger and jealousy at Jesus, have given Satan a stronghold.  Their emotional reaction has now transformed into murderous intent.   

This is why anger is so dangerous, for it can lead to murder.  Why?  Once you have given Satan an open door with your anger, he will come in and start building a case against the person you are angry at; soon, with your anger growing, ideas about what you should do to that person also grows.  It may even grow into ending that person’s life.

This is why lust is so dangerous, for it can lead to adultery or any kind of sexual sin.  Lust opens the door to Satan, allowing him to influence your thinking. Such thinking grows into more and more of a focus which transforms into potent desire.  Before long, you are making plans, with Satan providing the itinerary. 
Satan is the “father of lies.”  A stronghold—anger, lust, jealousy, fear, doubt—will allow him in to start weaving the lies into a greater and greater web.  Our emotions and our heart will blind us to who Jesus really is; Satan works with that blindness and the lies will become stronger and stronger, bringing us deeper and deeper into Satan’s way of thinking.  Soon, we have united our wills to his agenda and the results will be devastating. 

These religious leaders, so angry with Jesus, are going to soon unite with the Romans (whom they despise) to kill Him.  Sin makes strange bedfellows, does it not? 

Think of the kid, growing up in an alcoholic home and despising his father, will, because of anger and unforgiveness, someday turn into his father and head down that same road of destruction.

Think of the kid, growing up in a violent home and despising her father for beating her mother, will, because of hurt and a desperate need for love, choose a man who will turn out to be like her father. 

The list goes on and on, because of Satan’s lies to our heart. 

We have the right to be angry, jealous, hurt, bitter, disappointed, and broken because of what has happened to us in our lives.  God doesn’t want us to live in such bondage.  Jesus came to heal and restore us.  But instead of seeking Him, we listen to the lie of You Deserve to Feel This Way!

Then a long list (signed by Satan) of how to live with the pain comes rolling in: drugs, alcohol, abuse, fear, sinful indulgence, alternative lifestyles, unbelief...

The list is endless because Satan tells us the pain will be as well. 

But if we bring our anger, jealousy, hurt, bitterness, disappointment, and brokenness to Jesus, He will heal, restore and give us a new heart, one sensitive to His love and forgiveness.  The choice is ours, despite what Satan and the world says.  Stand on what the Word says:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?  Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.  Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39)

In summary, Jesus encountered evil and spoke the truth and the Word to drive it away.  Despite Satan’s best efforts to appear invincible, he’s not.  The Word of God is the best at rebuking Satan; this sharp Sword reminds the enemy that you are ready and willing to use it for yourself and for others. 

Whatever we do for His Kingdom must be done in the name of Jesus:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe. (Prov. 18:10)


Next:  We will learn how to face our own Jericho!  (Hint:  It's a whole lot easier if we follow God's instructions...)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Finishing Up Jesus' Enemy Contact in Mark & Luke (XVII)

Let's continue our examination of how Jesus encountered evil and how He dealt with Satan:

And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.  (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)… Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.

Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee.

And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him. And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received him: for they were all waiting for him. (Luke 8:27-29 & 37-40)

We met the two demon-possessed men earlier.  Luke decides to focus on just the one (Wycliffe Bible Commentary 220).  Both were healed, but one stayed and shows us vividly how demon oppression works.  The man still had a will for he came to Jesus.  (Wycliffe Bible Commentary 221). If the demons were in complete control, the man would have run away from Jesus as fast as he could, for the demons knew what Jesus could do: drive them out and heal the man. 

Here’s where a definition is useful. In the Greek, the word used to describe what the man in the tombs was afflicted with is “demonization” This means “the presence of an evil personality (a demon) within an individual” (Richards 83).  

Richards continues:

"This does not means or imply that a demonized person is controlled by an evil presence.  He or she typically might not even be aware of the demon or demons.  It says simply that from a position within the human personality the demon has a unique opportunity to influence an individual’s thoughts, emotions and choices.  This is different from the sporadic attacks of demons on an individual from the outside—attacks that need to be repelled, but that can generally be dispatched without great effort once they are recognized." (83)

So, unlike the man who sat in the synagogue every Sabbath and then reacted when Jesus walked in, this guy was clearly (to everyone around him and to himself) overtaken with a demon and more than one as it turned out.  But he still had a will.  He wasn’t a puppet only capable to doing what he was told.  So, he approaches Jesus (his choice) and then screams at Jesus (the demons’ choice). 

A terrible imbalance exists in the life of someone who is being oppressed.  The man cuts himself and hangs out with the dead.  He is clearly being tormented; but he approaches Jesus, sensing something different about this Man.  The man senses that Jesus is not here to chain him up or throw stones at him. 

That is what we need to understand.  A person under the influence of a demon has not checked his or her will at the door.  This person can still think, reason and react.  Jesus spoke to the demon directly, just as He did when Peter was Satan’s mouthpiece.
Satan drives those whom he influences out into the spiritual wilderness, where addictions and distractions keep the person in bondage.  The bondage itself is not the end; the person’s destruction and death is Satan’s goal.  So, the longer in the wilderness, the greater chance that Satan will succeed in his plan for the person.

That’s when we speak truth into the life of a person.  We speak the truth of Satan’s agenda without condemning the person, but lovingly telling them where their lives are going to end up. 
Then we speak Truth into their lives:  Truth is Jesus Christ and His way leads to life and life abundantly.

This man’s restoration was not initially celebrated by the townsfolk.  You would think that losing some pigs was not as important compared to this man who was now in “his right mind” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary 221).

Family and friends can be an impediment to a new believer achieving recovery and freedom in Jesus Christ.  It is critical that we mentor someone who has walked away from Satan’s influence.  We must teach and encourage this person to keep leaning into Jesus with prayer and time in His Word.  This is what keeps us pressing on:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  (Phil. 3:12-14 NIV)

The man wanted to follow Jesus.  Jesus wanted him to be active now in his faith.  As the man shared his story with each person he met, this would reinforce his new life.  It would remind him of God’s grace and love in his restoration.  He would be under no delusions that he had somehow handled his former life on his own. Equally, his new life was only sustainable with God’s power. He would have to rely on God every moment of every day. 

The results?  The people received Jesus positively the next time He came around.  This man was a walking testimony to Jesus, His ministry and His love.   

We cannot recover from demonic oppression on our own.  It takes walking with Jesus every day.  We need to stay connected to the family of God.  Our new life is tender and takes time to grow.

Next up, we will walk with Jesus as He encounters evil in the Gospel of John.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jesus' Enemy Contact in Mark & Luke (XVI)

Satan sometimes hides in plain sight. He may even use the guy sitting next to you in church. 

Hollywood has portrayed satanic influence as being so shockingly weird and abnormal that you can’t miss it.  This has been such a disservice to the discussion of spiritual warfare.  Satan oppressing someone can be as subtle as the silent growth of cancer inside the body. 

We will start in Mark with our next encounter: 

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit 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!

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.  The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” (Mark 1:21-28 NIV)

Isn’t it interesting that this man sat in the synagogue, Sabbath after Sabbath, and no one seemed to notice he was oppressed demonically?  Or were the people too afraid to say anything?  Or did they sense something was wrong, but felt powerless to do or say anything?

As you grow in the knowledge of Him, you will become more sensitive to Satan’s influence over someone.  This person may come to your church Sunday after Sunday, and you sense something malevolent is going on.  So, what to do?  Pray!  Then, pray again:  pray for that person.  Pray as to what you should do.  Pray for the leadership of the church for their discernment.  Pray about what to say and what not to say. 

The saddest part about demonically influenced people is the underlying emptiness in them.  They may love the Lord, but because they haven’t surrender all the areas in their life, Satan has a stronghold that he exploits regularly.  Prayer is the answer.  Prayer is always the answer.

Next encounter: 

Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:11-12 NIV)

Interesting how the demons immediately understood who Jesus was. 

The Pharisees caught on early who Jesus claimed to be. 

The High Priest, at Jesus’ trial before the Jewish high court, demonstrated that he fully understood the claim Jesus was making about Himself, that of being God’s own Son.

Interesting how Jesus’ enemies got it so easily, and yet the ones He came to save did not.  How sad:

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Luke 7:20-23 NIV)

Jesus’ ministry is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2.  He is telling John and his followers that the ministry is validated by the works He is doing.  John’s question is legitimate, and Jesus does not mind the inquiry. 

The Kingdom of God is not filled with sickness, demons, death or poverty.  Jesus established that in His ministry.  Now, in His name, we are working for this Kingdom where He is Lord.  We are trying to put the prince of this world out of a job.  We do it, like our Lord, one person at a time. 

The glorious Day is coming where a new heaven and new earth will be created and Jesus’ Kingdom will reign supreme.  But until that Day, we keep working. 

Again, think of D-Day.  The Allied forces had to take one beach, one village, one region, one country at a time until the Nazis were utterly defeated.  Even in this imperfect world, the Allies realized that the only way to remove Nazism was to conquer it completely.  That took a long time, many lives and lots of blood, sweat and tears. 

We are in a war.  We must take one beach, one village, one region, one country at a time until the world has heard of Him.  Slow, yes.  Rewarding?  Yes.  Hard?  You betcha.  We follow Him and His orders, for we are empowered with His Spirit.  We fight in the knowledge that He has won, despite the lies coming from the other side.

The next encounter comes through a parable of the sower: 

This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. (Luke 8:11-12 NIV)

Trust me when I tell you: As soon as you hear the Word, here come the birds.  Either going to church or leaving church (or both!) you will get into an argument with your spouse/your kids/the neighbor, get distracted, run out of gas…all sorts of annoying things to prevent the Word from taking root and bringing forth fruit in your life. 

So, what to do?  Keep sowing.  Keep praying.  Satan is not all-powerful:

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.  We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6)

Keep fighting the good fight, soldier.  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Contact With The Enemy: Matthew's Gospel (XV)

Our next encounter is: 

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”  But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.  Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:22-37 NIV)

Here is another opportunity for Satan to snarl at Jesus.  This time, Jesus takes the Pharisees (and Satan) head-on.  He demolishes their logic and then reminds them that their words are eternally dangerous. The people are at least open to Jesus being the “Son of David.”  But when the Pharisees hear their question, they are furious.  Anger and jealousy are open doors for Satan and he jeers at Jesus through the leaders.  

One aspect of Jesus’ mission is to “bind the strong man.”  We can derived a quick profile of Satan from these verses:  Satan is strong, but he can be bound; he is not invincible. The strong man has possessions, us, but they can be “carried off;” we can be redeemed.  His house is here on earth, but he can be “plundered;” he can and will be conquered.

Jesus cares enough about the Pharisees to warn them of their serious transgression of attributing the things of God to Satan. His words are a warning to us as well:  What we store up in our heart will play out in the things we say and do.  Good fruit comes from good trees.  Good words and kind deeds come from a heart so enriched with Jesus’ love and mercy that it can’t help it. Jesus doesn’t excuse the Pharisees’ words.  He takes a no-nonsense approach with Satan and with them.  Whatever you store up will tumble out.  Words matter and show the state of our heart.  Nourish your heart with the good things of God: prayer and time in His Word.  Then when Satan comes a-calling, you will see him for what he is:  a liar and a deceiver who uses your fear, doubt and anger to incite you to attack others and likewise, for them to attack you. 

Next encounter: 

"When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.'  When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."  (Matt. 12:43-45 NIV)

Satan loves a clean (serving God based on my works), orderly (pride driven) but empty (no love) house. The context here is the leaders have asked Jesus for a sign.  He says that like Jonah, he will be confined in the earth for three days, but will emerge victorious. (Matt. 12:40).  That is the greatest sign of all: the Son of Man conquering death itself. Jesus will not perform a sign on demand.  He made that clear to Satan when He refused to jump from the Temple at Satan’s suggestion in the wilderness.  But even with the change of tone in the leaders (they are no longer accusing Him of being in league with Satan) they still have impure motives.  They may look clean and put in order.  In other words, they look spiritually respectable, but they are empty, for they have no love.

That is the key here. Satan loves an empty soul.  Even a good person—someone whose house looks in order to us—is in danger of Satan using and filling.  Nature hates a vacuum, and so does the spiritual world.  Our souls are containers, either filled with God or the deceiver.   I know this sounds harsh.  How could a good person who does not commit any egregious sins be serving Satan?  Jesus is condemning the unbelief of His generation in the surrounding verses.  They are asking for a sign, which seems to be harmless enough.  But it is still unbelief.  A sign, not their love, will supposedly enable them to follow Jesus.  That is what makes unbelief so dangerous:  If we don’t accept and serve Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we default to the world and its values.  Satan is the “prince of this world.” So whether we know it or not, our empty soul will be filled.  We will serve either Jesus or Satan. A soul that serves God with pride-filled works and no love results in emptiness.  A soul that ignores God results in emptiness. 

We choose Who or who will fill our soul.  Jesus, in previous verses, says we are either with Him or against Him.  Again, we choose:  either unbelief or belief. Satan cheers us on towards unbelief and emptiness.  Why?  So he can gain entry and influence our lives. 

Our next encounter is: 

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy       on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” 

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.  Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt. 17:14-21 NIV)

Jesus wants us to be ready to act on our belief in Him.  Acting on our belief is another word for faith.  Remember the armor and specifically the Shield of Faith?  Satan puts on a grand show through this poor boy:  falling into fire or water would terrify anyone.  The screams alone would send shivers down anyone’s spine.  And that is precisely the point:  Satan wants to appear utterly invincible.  The disciples bought that lie this time.  Their fear along with being stunned by such a display caused them to recoil.  Satan then capitalized on their fear and encouraged them to see themselves as powerless. 
With their Shield of Faith down, here came the dart of You Can’t Do This!  It worked.  That’s why Jesus had to remind them once again of the power of having faith in Him.  Satan’s tactic of seeming to be more powerful than Jesus is a favorite of his; Jesus reminded His disciples that Satan is a liar. 
If Satan condemns your faith as powerless, guess what?  It’s a lie!  Faith in Jesus is the most powerful force in the universe, not Satan, despite his displays to the contrary.  

Our next encounter comes in the form of a parable: 

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matt. 25:40-6 NIV)

Spiritual warfare is not always an encounter with overt evil.  Spiritual warfare is also about how you are going to serve the One you love.  Loving Christ without serving others is like “unsalty” salt.  It is utterly useless: "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out." (Luke 14:34-35) 

The ones who need Christ the most are the ones whom the world quickly passes by.  All the folks mentioned here in this parable—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner—have a steady satanic whisper in their ears:  God doesn’t care about you.  That whisper is a lie.  We are to prove that by how we treat and care for others in Jesus’ name.  The Kingdom of God is marked by our compassion and love for one another: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."  (John 13:34-5)

In fact, love is the only law in the Kingdom of God: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."  (Gal. 6:2)

We will continue to survey Jesus’ encounters with the enemy next time in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Contact With The Enemy: Matthew's Gospel (Part XIV)

Our next encounter in Matthew is:  

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” (Matt. 9:32-34 NIV)

Don’t you just hear Satan laughing in the remarks of the Pharisees?  Remember how Satan waits to attack Jesus “until the next opportunity came”? Here is one of the many opportunities where Satan uses human beings as mouthpieces to snarl at and mock Jesus. So, here’s something to think about:  Satan uses others to get to you. Jesus was down range of Satan using others to attack Him on many occasions and it will be no different with you. The Pharisees here are being completely illogical (Why would Satan destroy his own works?) and in grave peril (attributing to Satan what God is doing is the “unpardonable sin”) so it makes no sense from a human perspective. 

But in the spiritual realm, it fits.  Anytime Satan can demean, belittle, question, cast doubt, or sabotage you and your calling with another person’s mouth, he’ll do it.  Pride, anger, envy, fear in the other person is the perfect open door that Satan comes through and uses to his advantage.  Let’s look at one time where Satan used one of Jesus’ closest followers: 

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt. 16:21-23 NIV)

 Peter was well-intentioned with Jesus.  Who wouldn’t want to dissuade your best Friend from pursuing such a horrible end?  But Peter missed the part about Jesus being raised to life, and the fear of His death opened up a door for Satan to enter and insinuate that Jesus did not need to go to the cross to fulfill His mission.  But Jesus had clearly stated, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

Let’s examine another follower whom Satan used:

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:1-6 NIV)

There’s that word “opportunity” again.  This time, Satan did not use fear but doubt in the heart of Judas to get what he wanted: Jesus arrested and killed. Judas has begun to doubt Jesus’ mission. Jesus had not used His mighty power to destroy the Roman oppression of Israel; all Judas saw was Jesus using His power to raise the dead, heal the sick and drive out demons. 

Judas may have thought to himself:  Fine use of your power there Jesus, but what about using it against those Romans?  They are the greater evil!  Use Your mighty power to conquer them!  The crowds are always clamoring for your attention.  You need to turn your attention to the Romans and their abuses.  I would love to see you wipe their arrogant smiles right off their faces once and for all.

Satan entered Judas, perhaps deceiving Judas into thinking that he could force Jesus’ hand.  Judas may have reasoned that when He was finally handed over to the Romans, Jesus would demonstrate all of His power to benefit the oppressed Jewish people.  Jesus would free Himself from His captors and then free His fellow Jews.  This, as we know, did not happen. Jesus’ mission was to impart a new heart, not a new government.  Judas’ remorse over what he did drove him to suicide.  His guilt and shame were just too much when he found out Jesus was not going to deliver the Jews from the Romans, but had delivered Himself to be crucified. Satan laughed many times in those final days, as Judas was swinging in the trees and Jesus bled on that cross. 

On that Sunday morning, however, the laughter stopped. 
Satan can use friends, family, disgruntled strangers and anyone to go after you.  Most of the time, the person doesn’t even know he or she is being used by Satan to get to you. But your reaction should be the same: Pray for wisdom as to where those hurtful words or actions are coming from. Remember Satan’s endgame: to destroy you and anyone he can along the way.  He will use any means necessary. Reclaim your heritage as a child of God and move forward.  Then, PRAY:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36 NIV)

Prayer softens your heart, opens you up to God’s healing and consoling presence, and allows you to have compassion on those who have hurt you.  Besides, Satan hates it when we show mercy and see others as ourselves.  

We all need prayer, a Savior and infinite patience with one another.

We will continue looking in Matthew as to how Jesus dealt with the enemy in upcoming blogs. May His Word comfort, guide and direct you!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Contact With the Enemy: Matthew's Gospel (Part XIII)

We want a good overview of Jesus’ methods of handling Satan. Jesus’ ministry was characterized very early on with healing on a physical as well as a spiritual level:

News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24 NIV)

The reason for this is simple. The portion of Scripture He reads in the synagogue to inaugurate His ministry is from Isaiah 61:1-2:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the
He has sent me to proclaim
    freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year
of the
    Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21 NIV)

So, you can see that disease and demonic oppression are incompatible with the Kingdom of God.  He went out and fulfilled His calling to take back souls from Satan’s domain.  We must not just focus on Satan’s demons or evil influences.  We must see the larger picture of why evil is so pervasive on earth.  We must realize that all suffering and evil comes from the Fall: 

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Rom. 8:19-22 NIV)

So, in bringing the hope of Jesus Christ to this world, we are moving against Satan by our message and our actions. Satan’s influence is great, but we serve Jesus, Who is greater:

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Let's look in Matthew for how Jesus encountered and dwelt with evil:  

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”  (Matt. 8:16-17 NIV)

Sickness and demon possession shatters faith in God.  Jesus came to speak against the lie that sickness and demon possession are punishments from God for sins.  No.  They are part of a fallen world and Jesus came to set the world right, by dying for the sins of the world.  If sickness and possession were punishments from God, why would Jesus seek to undo God’s sentence upon an individual by healing or casting out the demon?  Jesus came to show God’s true purpose: God was eagerly seeking to reconcile with His children:

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19 NLT)

Suffering was never a part of God’s original design, for He had pronounced His creation “good.”  Adam and Eve disrupted that.  Satan then corrupted that. One comment here: God may use illness to teach us.  But He doesn’t use it to punish us.  Our life experiences with all the suffering, pain, and challenges, are ultimately for our edification: 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. (Is. 61:3 NLT)

Not everything that happens to us is good, but only He can bring forth beauty when all the world sees is ashes.  Sometimes, in the midst of our suffering, Satan will pester us to keep asking:  Why is this happening to me?  A far better question, one that brings us to sit at Jesus’ feet and listening for His response is: How, Lord, do I get through this?  Fill me afresh, and strengthen me anew for the days ahead.  And, if on this side of heaven, You tell why this has happened, I will trust You for the outcome.  If You do not disclose the “why,” I still have You and will still trust You for the outcome.  What may I learn from this so I am stronger in You?  Let me pursue the “how” instead of the “why.”

The focus shifts from you to Him.  It is only in Him will you find strength: 

He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.  (Is. 40:29-31 NIV)

He knows all too well our suffering: 

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Heb. 2:18 NLT)

Our next encounter is:

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.  “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”  Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”  He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.  (Matt. 8:28-34 NIV)

The demons are clearly afraid because the Son of God has shown up.  Jesus promised that we, as His followers, will do even greater things than He did:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:12-14 NIV)

Jesus is glorified when we serve Him in His name.  Clearly confronting the Son of God made the demons tremble.  Their leader is a defeated foe by our Leader.  Jesus spoke the word, just as He did in the wilderness.  Satan had to leave then. Satan has to leave now. One warning, however. The passage in Luke that describes Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness ends with a sobering reminder: 

And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.” (Luke 4:13 KJV) 

Another translation says, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (NIV)

Still another, “When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.” (NLT) 

Satan does not let up.  But a spoken word of rebuke, in Jesus’ name, is sufficient to drive him away.  For now.  Satan will be back, but Jesus and His name never loses power:

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.  (Heb. 13:8)

Also, don’t expect people to understand or applaud your efforts.  The people in the town asked Jesus to leave after the pigs went high diving. Matthew recounts two demon-possessed men in the region.  In the parallel verses in Luke 8:26-39, Luke focuses on just one of the two men.  (Wycliffe Bible Commentary 28).  In Luke, we see this man wanting to follows Jesus.  Jesus requests that he stay in the area and let everyone know what happened.  The other man may have run away, along with his testimony to Jesus’ power.  But this man loves and appreciates what the Lord did for him.  This is similar to when Jesus healed the 10 lepers, and only 1 returned to thank Him. 

People will have either gratitude or fear when spiritual warfare takes place.  Don’t fret.  Serve God and seek His wisdom to do what needs to be done.  Do it to please Him and Him alone.  Leave the results to Him.  The war is won; just be faithful to Him in each time you go to battle.

We will continue to examine Jesus' encounters in Matthew in the weeks to come.  Hope you are having a lovely summer!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

S.T.A.N.D. on Following Jesus' Ministry--XII

This passage in Luke is very instructive on what our mission is in Christ.  The context here is Jesus sending out seventy disciples to proclaim Him in the towns He is about to visit.  He tells them of the perils they will face as “lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3), how to approach a town and where to stay.  They are to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is coming near, whether or not they are accepted by the townspeople. 

They go out and soon return, victorious and joyful.  Let’s look at Luke 10:16-24 (NIV):
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
17 The seventy returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 
19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 
20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
22 All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 
24  For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Fast forward to today:  Nothing has really changed.  We draw near to people with the message that Jesus is Savior and Lord.  We may be accepted or rejected.  The message remains truth regardless of its reception.  We are to keep going forward by sharing our faith. 

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

If we talk, let it be not only about Jesus but with the power of Jesus’ own words.  Our message is His message; we are empowered with His Spirit (because we are born again, His Spirit is within us) thus, our words should be His. If the words are accepted, then The Word is accepted—Jesus Himself:   
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." (John 1:1-2 NIV)

If the words are His and are rejected, then so is The Word.  If someone rejects Jesus, it pierces deeply into the heart of the One Who sent Him:  His Father.  So, claiming to love God without loving Jesus is not possible in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus was sent; therefore, we are sent.  We serve Him by going out on His behalf.  We serve His Father by going out on Jesus’ behalf. 

The seventy returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

The disciples return and they are elated.  The hallmark of their success, according to them is, “even the demons submit to us in Your name.” If we are His disciples, we have watched, learned and absorbed all that He is and does.  He commanded the demons to leave; so shall we, in His name.  Not in our power or ability but in His name.  Pure and simple: the name of Jesus is mighty.  Almighty. 
“Even the demons”—Before they left, that was probably the most worrisome aspect of their commission.  Sickness is hard to face because of the suffering of the person and the family involved.  But casting out a demon meant facing the afflicted person and a powerful malevolent force that could just as easily have turned on you. The moment any demon left a person, because Jesus’ name had been proclaimed, meant that the Kingdom of God had arrived in power and could not be stopped. 

Another time, Jesus told His disciples that Peter’s declaration that He was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, meant that hell was no longer all powerful:

He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:15-20)

Who Jesus is determines how we see Satan and his involvement in the world and how we go forward in it. 

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."  

The earth is where Satan set up his kingdom after Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  He jets between the unseen spiritual world and our world.  He manifests his ugly presence here by oppressing people and causing chaos.  He incites all kinds of evil and humans are easily recruited to meet his agenda. So, when this new army, “The 70,” comes back, the battle for the planet has begun.  It continues today with us as the army of God.  Satan “fell”—not too dissimilar when we say that D-Day started the fall of Nazi Germany.  A lot had to be done once the Allied troops hit the beaches of France, but the Allied victory was coming. Satan’s fall began when the disciples hit the towns with Jesus’ names on their lips.  A lot had to be done then and a lot still needs to be done today, but our victory is assured. 
I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. We have authority IN HIS NAME.  How do we know that?  Well, we get to “trample on snakes.”  Back to Adam and Eve:  Satan used a snake to seduce our first parents into his way of thinking.  That snake and all those who still try to seduce others into evil will be trampled by those who wield the Name that is above all names.   God proclaimed, after the Fall,  

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel. (Gen. 3:15 NIV)

The Seed, the Word made flesh, is now commissioning us to go out and do in His name what He did to Satan on the cross.  The cross was staked into Satan’s head, crushing him. We walk in the assurance that while he is very angry, Satan is a defeated foe.  Jesus’ power in us seals the deal.
We stand with the new Moses.  Jesus’ death on the cross allows us to go confidently into the Promised Land.  Another name for that Land?  The Kingdom of God.  So, God’s words to the children of Israel take on a prophetic and powerful meaning for us:

He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.  (Deut. 8:15-16 NIV)

Jesus’ commission to us is similar to what He experienced.  He received His commission after His baptism by John.  His Father’s voice spoke lovingly to Him.  Then He was led by the Spirit into the desert.  Maybe you look at your life and wonder why you have gone through the trials you have. Perhaps if you see them as building your character, to make you strong and ready for service, then your life experiences have value.  They are being used for His purpose:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

So, we are stronger soldiers because of what we have gone through:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5 NIV)

Perhaps you are still in the desert, or you are coming out of it.  Just like the children of Israel and their forty year wanderings in the desert, God always provided for them.  They were tested, yes, but never left to fend for themselves.  The same is true for us, no matter where we are on our spiritual journey. Our wilderness humbles us, so we are ready to take the Land when it is time to do so.  We know we can’t do this on our own.  Our desert is to keep our focus on God and His provision. The Land is ours because of Christ. Jesus is our Water of Life.  Jesus is our Bread of Life.  We are provisioned and empowered to do what He calls us to do, whether we are in the desert or occupying the Promised Land.    

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Jesus’ admonition is to humble them and humble us.  The power you have is not for you to wield for personal gain or to feed your pride, but to use solely for the Kingdom.  Yes, you are a mighty soldier, but Jesus wants you to stay humble in the field. Our names are written in the Book of Life in His blood, not in our works. Thus, our celebration is not what we do but Whom we serve.  Jesus gave The 70 a perspective check by reminding them of Heaven—their Headquarters.  We would do well to note that. 

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

We are His little children at the end of the day.  We may be tired, happy, dirt splattered and weary, but we crawl into His lap and look up into His smiling eyes and say, Abba:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (Rom. 8:14-17 NIV)

The greatest thing we gain from serving Jesus is getting to know His Father better each time we place our trust in Him.  The Kingdom of God has a King: that King is our Abba.

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

The disciples were blessed to see the Kingdom with its boots on the ground.  We are blessed as well.  It is knowing Jesus, serving in His mighty power, and knowing how Satan is on his way out that we are able to maintain our perspective:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:7-9 NIV)

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

The Day finally arrived that the prophets and kings had longed for, for the One Who was promised came to do the work of the Father.  He came to save mankind by His sacrifice.  We, too, are able to see the realization of the salvation plan of God. If the Day of salvation finally arrived, with the Old Testament being fulfilled, the Final Day will arrive as well, with Jesus coming in the clouds and the trumpets blasting.  God keeps His promises.  Until then, go out in the power of HIS NAME and tell others, “The Kingdom of God is here, because Jesus is here and greatly desires to live in your heart.”
So, the focus in spiritual warfare should be on Jesus and His mighty name, not worrying about Satan and his power. 

Next Time:  We will examine each case in the Gospels where Satan and Jesus collided and how Jesus handled it.  We should handle our collisions with evil no differently for we are following in our Master’s footsteps. 

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