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. 

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