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.

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.

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)

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. 

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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