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
    poor.
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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