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!

Excerpted from S.T.A.N.D. Spiritually Trained And Not Defeated: Our Position in Christ, Our Mission in Christ A Handbook on Spiritual Warfare.  Buy it on Amazon.

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