CONTENDING WITH THE ENEMY (2) Luke 5

DETECTING THE ENEMY:  OBVIOUS AND NOT-SO-OBVIOUS

Luke 5:12-16

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 15 Yet the news about him spread all the more so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

GETTING ALL THE INFORMATION

When we read a particular incident like this one in the Gospel of Luke, it is important to notice all of the information given to us. If the story IS the way God’s message is presented, we need to allow all of its information to contribute its part. The story IS the MESSAGE, and the MESSAGE IS the story. The way I get that information is to put each new piece of information on a new line. This way I get to notice everything I am being told and avoid the temptation to focus on some parts at the expense of others. Here is how this story looks as a list of each piece of stand-alone information.

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns,

a man came along

who was covered with leprosy.

When he saw Jesus,

he fell with his face to the ground

and begged him,

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

13 Jesus reached out his hand

and touched the man.

“I am willing,” he said.

“Be clean!”

And immediately the leprosy left him.

14 Then Jesus ordered him,

“Don’t tell anyone,

but go, show yourself to the priest

and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing,

as a testimony to them.”

15 Yet the news about him spread all the more

so that crowds of people came to hear him

and to be healed of their sicknesses.

16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

UNDERSTANDING THE INFORMATION

My most common way of understanding the information is to write it down using my own words. If I don’t understand the meaning of a phrase or a piece of information, I might go and look up a Bible Dictionary, or a Bible Atlas, or the meaning of a word using Young’s or Strong’s Concordance. You will find meanings of specific words there. This information needs to be seen in the light of the particular incident or passage. The context will always give the best basis for choosing which meaning a word might have – or a phrase. Don’t start interpreting or applying yet. We need to get the full download of information first. If you have to read over a number of times in order to notice how each piece of information fits, that’s okay. The idea is to allow the Bible to speak to you, not make it say whatever is most suitable to your own preferences or experience. Think of all the occasions in Christian history where wonderful, sincere people missed what was being said because of their preconceived assumptions and cultural blinkers. The Bible will be revealing the kingdom of God to us, not the best human reasonings. So I’m going to put the information in my own words and not try and figure out what it all means just yet.

  1. This incident happened in one of the towns of Galilee.
  2. A man came to where Jesus was whose whole body had become leprous
  3. The man recognised Jesus.
  4. He fell on the ground with his face to the earth.
  5. He started begging Jesus.
  6. He told Jesus that he was aware that Jesus had the power to heal him
  7. Jesus told the man he wanted to make him well.
  8. Jesus commanded that the leprous man be healed.
  9. Immediately, the leprosy completely left his body.
  10. Jesus gave a particular instruction to the man.
  11. He told him not to tell anyone how the healing had happened.
  12. He instructed him to go and show himself to a priest to confirm his healing.[1]
  13. Along with presenting himself for inspection by the priest, he was to take the sacrifices prescribed by the law of Moses[2]
  14. this act would confirm the validity of his healing. (i.e. a testimony)
  15. Even though Jesus had told him not to tell anyone, the news spread widely – about the fact that it was Jesus who had healed him.
  16. As a result of the spreading of this story, crowds of people came to hear Jesus speak
  17. They came so that Jesus would heal their sicknesses
  18. The crowds became so constant that Jesus had to withdraw from them to remote places to spend time in prayer.

HOW DID THE PRESENCE AND WORK OF THE ENEMY BECOME KNOWN IN THIS SITUATION?

Serving the kingdom of God will, by definition, require us to dispossess incumbent enemy presence. We also need to be able to see a “new creation” happening in place of the old. A quick look at “day in the life of this world” will put beyond any doubt that there is a destructive “will” at work. We come seeking for the “will of God” to be established. Another “kingdom” has taken over. So, our task of seeing “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,”[3] will be seriously contested. It happens in two ways. First of all, there are things which are good in an of themselves but are incomplete. The devil wants to stop the completing process. When a baby is born, he or she is amazing and beautiful, but not complete. Every parent knows that the work of getting from good to complete is a monumental task, yet every decent parent wants the journey to go from good to complete. We are like that as followers of Jesus. We are on a pathway to fullness. The church is the same. It is on a journey to become the fullness of Christ. Apart from that, things happen that destroy the goodness that IS there and bring corruption and destruction. Personalities are scarred, emotions are damaged, physical bodies are ravaged, relationships become destructive – multiply that with the suffering caused by war, famine, poverty and you can get a good picture of the nature of the enemy, based on the fruits of his work. This enemy is at work everywhere, every day. When we start serving Jesus, we are challenging the power that created the mess and wants to make an even bigger mess. Being aware of enemy presence and work is sometimes apparent and at other times, very subtle. We will get an idea of each of these types in this story.

In each of these cases, it is usually not the extreme things we are likely to overlook or fail to notice. It is more likely to be the subtle and culturally respectable destructive forces (e.g. arrogance, covetousness, independence, division, self-indulgence, materialism are a few of many). Many of these come by way of our various cultures and become a form of “collective captivity.” Like the frog in the kettle, we often don’t notice what is going on until the destruction has reached a tipping point.

We see examples of this happening here. The most obvious presence of the enemy’s work in this story is a man who, through no fault of his own, contracted leprosy. This disease has not only affected his body, destroying flesh and numbing nerve endings but has caused massive social isolation – hatred, humiliation and estrangement. You could hardly get a more fitting example of the nature of wickedness. The last part of the story illustrates a very different form of evil presence. It is much more subtle and harder to identify. In fact, I think a lot of people will doubt that it is important at all. We are made aware of this by noticing what happens after the healing. Let’s deal with the first of the two.

HARD-CORE ENEMY PRESENCE                The presence of evil as leprosy.

Leprosy wasn’t the “cancer” of the first century, but there are significant parallels. I worked for a short time in a Bible College set up for people with leprosy in north-eastern Thailand in a town called Khon Ken. It is the only time in my life I have lived amongst lovely people (most of them young) who were infected. Most of them had stumps for fingers and toes. I remember seeing the signs placed over the sink and the stove in the kitchen telling them that it was hot because they could put their hands on a hot stove and it would burn their skin without them knowing. I remember seeing them take notes with a pencil poked under a strap tied around what was left of their hand. Even though they were not shunned quite as forcefully as their counterparts in Galilee in the first century, they were still together at a segregated Bible School. Sickness and disease can only be the work of the devil. The only place where there is none is in the new heaven and the new earth.[4] When God’s will is fully happening, there is no sickness.

We need to point out something significant about this exchange. When this man sees Jesus in the road (or wherever in the town he happened to be), he is ready to declare his faith. He is sure he has a disease. He knows Jesus has the power to heal him. On that basis he falls down in front of Jesus and makes these statements:

  1. I know this sickness is wicked and unfair (a la ‘sinful’ or ‘from the devil) – that’s why I am seeking healing
  2. I know you have power from heaven to destroy the disease and make me well.
  3. What I don’t know is whether you want me to be well.
  4. I am begging you to decide in my favour.

This kind of profession would find ready counterparts no matter what generation or location. The view that sickness should be eradicated is largely universal and not confined to people who believe and follow Jesus. The second statement would be true for most of those who do follow Jesus. The third is still a matter of some conjecture. Those Christians who commonly pray for sick people to be healed (e.g. Pentecostal/Charismatic) have to live with the reality that everyone who gets prayed for doesn’t get healed. The gospel stories have no record of sick people coming to Jesus and/or the early church and NOT being healed. We do have a reference from Paul that Timothy suffered from a recurring illness.[5] Some theories of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ suggest either physical disability or sickness.[6]. The overwhelming posture of the New Testament presupposes sicknesses being healed. There is a strong case for the idea that the healing of sicknesses should be considered as part of the outworking of the covenant of salvation.[7] There is another stream in the Christian church that prays for healing but presumes that God now doesn’t want to make sick people well. There is a third group who assume that it is quite wrong to pray for healing. All three groups have their problems. My own preference is to stick as closely to the expectation created by the New Testament. We then need to live with the fact that there will be occasions where we will do everything we know by way of seeking God’s power to heal, but without satisfaction. We are then left with the opportunity to pray and seek God for the answers rather than allowing our pagan culture to make us satisfied with the power of human medicine (which I also believe in, by the way).

When the man asked Jesus to make a decision, there was no hesitation. Jesus not only answered the healing question but answered the social question as well. He could have just spoken to him from a distance. All of that would have seemed perfectly reasonable to everyone present, especially his disciples. Jesus made sure the man knew the attitude and motive of his heart. He is the incarnate Son. His heart is to fully identify with sick and broken people at the very point of their brokenness. It is a prophetic sign of an event that would mark world history – his death on the cross. There, we see the ultimate expression of incarnate love. Jesus, the one without sin fully embracing total human sinfulness, so that we would have the opportunity to reconnect with God and discover the divine vocation for which we were created. [8]

The point of this part of the story is that Jesus treated the sickness as an enemy. There was to be no appeasement plan, no ‘detente’ and no need for further deliberation. Leprosy was a work of the enemy. Consistent with the nature of wickedness, it had indiscriminately attacked this man and stolen his physical and social well-being. The response of the kingdom of this world was to both exclude and reject him. When someone is shunned or excluded, still say they are being “treated like a leper.” The life source that flowed through Jesus was from the kingdom of God. Not only did he declare his willingness to heal, but he reached out and touched the man. This was as important a part of the healing process as the other. He was able to feel divine esteem and embrace. We have so much homework to do on this matter. The kingdom of this world is quite capable of offering medical solutions entirely devoid of human love and care. It becomes a business, or even worse, an ego trip for doctors. And notice the sequence here: first the touch, then the command. First, love and then power. Love is the only environment for the power of God to work safely. We so easily get side-tracked on the power kick. It is a testimony to the way our humanity gets twisted. Jesus demonstrates that the first and foremost item on the agenda is that this man is to get a full dose of heavenly love; then he deals with the work of the enemy.

The weapons of warfare in operation

We are using this incident as a case study of how weapons of war as deployed by Jesus.  The battle is against the presence and work of a spiritual enemy[9], In Ephesians 6, those weapons are identified as: truth/reality, righteousness, the gospel (of peace), faith, salvation, God’s word and prayer. I don’t want to suggest that this list is exhaustive or that all seven weapons need to be deployed at the same moment to have validity. I have noticed that there are overlaps – i.e. one action might represent more than one weapon.

  1. TRUTH/REALITY Jesus makes known two things that can’t be seen, even though they are both real and present at that time, in that situation: (a)the leprosy is a manifestation of the kingdom of darkness. Its power to remain or resist should be broken and the man’s body restored to full health. (b) God loves this man irrespective of this disease. He is not under judgment but sovereign grace. He is not to be treated as worthless or dangerous. He is to be esteemed and embraced. Both of these are beautiful revelations of truth/reality. Jesus is the only one present who knew these unseen realities. Sadly, almost everything that the people already believed covered or opposed these truths.  When Jesus courageously proclaimed them they created a weapon that the enemy has no power to resist.  All he could do was to restate what people had believed and accepted in the past. The advance of the kingdom of God will always confront a destructive past defending itself against a redemptive future.
  2. RIGHTEOUSNESS: As I have said, these actions overlap. The righteousness here happens when Jesus touches the man and tells him that he wants him to be healed. Those who can only think of righteousness in some quasi-legal sense can miss its most common form, modelled by Jesus every day. He loved people, indiscriminately and redemptively. It didn’t matter who or where or when. They got loved. It didn’t matter what, this love gave them an opportunity to be rescued and restored. It is the intention and motivation that spell out the righteousness of the actions. It is easy to see how this becomes a powerful weapon.  And we know that it is a weapon Satan has no power to resist.
  3. GOSPEL OF PEACE: When you think of the way disease ravaged this man’s life. Think beyond his own plight to his family and the others who loved him. Think of the pain of being socially outcast and judged. This approach by Jesus and the invitation offers peace with God, but also peace on all those other  fronts: peace from suffering, peace with people etc. The enemy of God has no power to stop someone from accepting the gospel invitation, but it has to be proclaimed to be accepted.
  4. FAITH: Jesus exercised faith for the man to be healed. I can recognise a small measure of this kind of faith, but a lot of this is way beyond me. As a weapon here, Jesus challenged the sovereignty of the disease by exercising his own authority as the Son of God.  As we can see, the enemy had no power to resist.
  5. SALVATION: There is no doubt that faith and salvation are linked closely together. As the leper approached, Jesus was moved and motivated out of his unity with the Father. When Jesus responded to the man’s request, his response was entirely drawn from the heart and will of heaven. There was no fear, the man’s condition didn’t intimidate him. The prevailing cultural views and values didn’t influence him one bit. It wasn’t that he consciously did the opposite for the sake of doing the opposite. He did no more or less than tangibly represent the presence of his Father, God. He made the heart and the will of God evident to all. This is how the weapon of salvation deals with the presence of darkness and destruction. It takes away all fear and sets us free to be fully involved in the Family business.
  6. WORD OF GOD: I may be guilty of repetition here, but we know because of many references in the Gospel of John, that Jesus ONLY did what he saw the Father doing. He took no initiative on his own. The Father told him what to say and how to say it.[10] This means that whenever Jesus said anything, it was based on what he heard from his Father. Whenever he did anything it as because he was following the initiative, he saw from his Father. The teaching and actions that followed were the results of revelation, not reason or debate or popular opinion. Satan has answers for all of these. He has no answer to something God says from heaven.
  7. PRAYER: Again, we don’t see Jesus praying at this very moment. We do know that prayer was part of his lifestyle. The importance of times and places for prayer in the life and ministry of Jesus will become even more apparent in the next part of this very story.

SOFT-CORE ENEMY PRESENCE

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (v.14)

This is a great example of how we need to look at all of the information in order to understand the message. Just think of it, a leper has been miraculously healed. His whole life and his future have been restored. If this man had been healed in a meeting where I was the preacher on the day, I’d want to tell the story everywhere. I would do a documentary and interview everyone who knew him, before and after. I would be careful to give the glory to God of course, but at the next meeting of my leadership team, I would want to know how we could get this man’s story on local television. Soon all kinds of new people would be coming to “my church.” If I were the leader of an itinerant healing ministry, it would headline the next five newsletters. I would put video clips on YouTube with links from and to our website. It would be the reason I would ask people to put their names on our mailing list and support the ministry financially. A healed leper would validate and commend everything I stood for – to the glory of God, …………of course.  How easily we confuse what brings glory to God with what validates and promotes us.

But, Jesus ordered the man to tell no one how he was made well, or who had healed him. Why?

We could all have a guess. Opinions on this matter have produced a whole string of theological debates. The topic was called the “Messianic Secret.” A Lutheran theologian called William Wrede.[11]  He started the ball rolling about a century ago. He thought that Jesus deliberately avoided drawing attention to his identity as Messiah because of the prevailing default view. Traditional ideas about the Messiah had him pegged as royalty, coming from King David’s line. They were expecting a military leader of royal blood to gather an army, kick out the Romans and establish Israel as the world power. No one expected him to break cultural traditions, hang out with sinners, upset all the authorities and go to the cross.[12]

My own way of answering the question is to look at all of the information given in the story. It comes from an assumption that these stories were told and passed on as individual units of revelation about Jesus and, as such, were self-contained. That is, the information given as part of the story provided its context and therefore made sense on its own. It is true that the collection of these stories makes up a bigger story, but that doesn’t mean the small story has to wait for the big story in order to have meaning. It carries its message and meaning. This message should be allowed to retain its importance. For example, in western culture, we like to analyse and systematise everything. When we do, the process will often rob stories and exclude pieces of information just because they don’t fit our systemic preferences. Let each story speak for itself, I say.

What we are told in this story is that Jesus gave the man who had been healed from leprosy three clear instructions. First, he was not to tell anyone how he had been healed or who healed him. Second, he was told to follow the instructions in the law of Moses for people with contagious diseases. The priests were the ones to assess whether or not a person was healed and therefore fit to return to mainstream society. Finally, he was to bring the offering that would signify his thanks to God for the fact that he was healed. To get a sharper look at this, we should ask the question as to what would have happened differently if the man had done what Jesus said. He would have arranged to see the priest for an inspection. The priest would have declared him healed and he would have been allowed to return to his home and family. He would also have brought the stipulated offering. The name of Jesus wouldn’t have been mentioned. Life in that village and the surrounding villages would have continued with the joyful exception of one man, who with his family would have enjoyed the rest of his life free from the curse of leprosy. Jesus would have continued to minister to people within the parameters of normal village life – enhanced by the quiet but advancing presence of the kingdom of God.

I know it sounds crazy to people from our culture, but the kingdom of God doesn’t need a celebrity profile to be successful. It needs disciples multiplying disciples and creating quiet waves of kingdom advance: healing, reconciliation, kindness, forgiveness, love etc. I point to the most significant revival since the beginning of Christianity. China has experienced revival for sixty years without depending on a single headline, without legal status and without political favour. The same is true for the other parts of the world where the gospel is exploding: Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Algeria. These are the fastest growing churches. In our society, we get excited when some Christian event receives a fifteen-second mention on the TV news and think that the kingdom will come when two or three more Christians are elected to the Parliament. Within the Christian bubble, we rave about comparatively successful churches, and we tell and re-tell their stories. We love celebrating certain personalities and exalting them to a status that is rarely warranted. As modelled by Jesus, such strategies and values do not represent the kingdom of God – which starts silently like a seed in the ground or yeast in flour but ends up impacting everything in its sphere. We have to wean ourselves off our non-kingdom-of-God substitutes and learn this until they become as irrelevant as they are impotent. Jesus didn’t need to become a superstar. Not in the human sense. He just had to finish the work he came to do. A popularity contest was never part of that agenda, nor was a slick publicity campaign.

The second impact of enemy presence comes in the form of sincere human frailty. Jesus gives three commands. We don’t know whether he kept the second and third – there is no reason to think that he didn’t. We know for sure that he didn’t follow the first; don’t tell anyone. I am aware that this particular version of the story makes the general statement about news spreading. In the parallel account in Mark’s gospel we are told that the man actively disobeyed[13] – I’m sure there was nothing sinister about this. Imagine how excited he was. The social media of the day was very effective even though there was no Twitter or SnapChat. The outcome of this disobedience changed the way Jesus operated. He could no longer travel on the normal roads or simply wander into one town or another. Mark’s version describes it this way, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. The people still came to him from everywhere.”

At the risk of being accused of exaggeration, I think this was as much a strategy of the enemy the more obvious ones. We are told in this passage that crowds of people went to extraordinary lengths to find out where Jesus was and followed him. On one occasion he set off in a boat to spend some time in the company of his disciples for a rest, but the crowds followed him, walking around the edge of the lake. On that day he ended up teaching, healing and feeding more than five-thousand people. Crowds and crowd management became a strategic problem rather than an advantage. You don’t have to think too long to understand how this strategy represents opposing darkness. When someone a celebrity there is always a cost. The fans or supporters have their own agenda – nothing to do with the agenda of the person they have ‘crowned.’ We see this very thing happening in the Gospel of John.[14] Ironically, at the beginning of John 6, they want to make him a king by force. By the end of this story, everyone except the disciples have left him.[15] That’s how crowd mentality works. I think the enemy planned to use “crowd mentality” to drag Jesus into the vortex of popular opinion and popular expectation. It is always self-serving by the way. That’s why it is demonic and dangerous. This is not to say that popularity itself is wrong. Popularity is neutral. What happens as a result of popularity will tell whether or not it becomes an enemy weapon. If we think that popularity is, of itself, a sign of the blessing of God, just have another careful think.

In this particular instance, Jesus wasn’t looking for free publicity, courtesy of the healed leper. He was interested in going to all of the towns and villages in Galilee and Judea to proclaim the kingdom of God. One of the ways unrestrained popularity hindered Jesus was to make it harder for him to connect with God. We don’t need to think too long to see the adversarial intention here. There’s only one person who wants to stop Jesus (and us) from the critical link between ourselves and our heavenly Father – and he seems to be able to do it very effectively, especially in societies like the one we have in Australia. When was the last time all of the private places in a given region were full up with people connecting to God? Jesus’ responsive strategy on this occasion was to spend more time in remote locations where it was difficult for crowds to find him. His relationship to his Father was THAT important.  When instant popularity happened, Jesus reworked his strategy.  He avoided crowds wherever possible and took deliberate steps to find remote and difficult places so that he could spend time in his Father’s exclusive presence.  That made his life more difficult, but it was his weapon against the way the enemy used the disobedience of the healed man.

It may not be crowds that make it difficult for us. There are more subtle and effective alternatives: we get busy with all kinds of things: at the respectable end of the spectrum are things like family commitments and career demands or sport and other recreational pursuits. At the other ends are things like blobbing in front of a TV screen or downloading a never-ending supply of movies on Netflix. As with all relationship matters, we are not talking about clocking up a set number of hours. If you ask the question, “How much time do you need to spend with your spouse or your kids?” there is no perfect number. It’s not about a number. The answer is, “Enough.” Sometimes more and sometimes not as much depending on what is going on. How much time does it take each week to maintain a close communion with God? The answer is the same: “Enough.” Enough to get answers to your questions. Enough to get wisdom on what to say and do in certain situations. Enough to make sure your life is being transformed by that relationship more than any other. Enough to make sure that the branches are getting their life supply from the vine and nothing else.

Jesus was called by God to go to every town and village to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. To put it another way, he had a series of appointments to keep: he speaks about it in the Gospel of Luke: ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ [16] He had a contract with ordinary people, to proclaim good news, cast out demons and heal sicknesses. After that, he had an appointment with infamy on an old rugged cross in Jerusalem. All the fame, popularity and the so-called “influence” it might presume would only ever hinder and oppose these goals. We have a similar appointment with the stepping stones to the fulfilment of our calling. The most important thing you need to do today will be something that comes from God. The most important resource you need is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The most important task will be making sure someone you otherwise have no obligation to gets something from heaven through you. The schemes of the devil will be at work to try and stop all of these from happening.

 

HOW DOES THIS ILLUSTRATE THE DEPLOYMENT OF THE SEVEN WEAPONS?
  1. TRUTH/REALITY If my observations of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles is correct, the “belt of truth” weapon mentioned in Ephesians 6 is not about sprouting the words of a creed[17], parroting a Bible text or doctrinal statement. Again and again, Jesus proclaims truth in a given situation by declaring things that can’t be seen, even though they are part of redemptive reality. In this story, when the leper is healed, Jesus does this by telling him not to say anything to anyone. As such he is proclaiming a kingdom of God value, namely, the kingdom of God will only be thwarted by the clamour of cheap popularity and the enemy will use it to try and prevent Jesus from carrying out his ministry, in particular, going to the cross. Crowds wanting to make him king by force[18] were only going to impose their own will, not seek the will of God.
  2. RIGHTEOUSNESS When the man who had been healed from leprosy disobeyed Jesus, the news spread like wildfire. Roads that were travelled by a few became filled with crowds craving a vantage point or an audience. Things were out of control. As stated previously, the plan remained unchanged. implementation of that plan just became more difficult. We are told in the text here and the parallel passages that Jesus didn’t become resentful, distracted, angry. He didn’t start complaining or playing the victim. He didn’t go and find the man and berate him. He changed the way he did things. He took harder routes in order to avoid the crowds. He had to go to more remote places to find places of prayer. The righteousness here is an attitude of peace and trust, knowing that regardless of what other people may or may not do, his Father would enable the work to be done regardless. No excuses, no blame shifting, no complaining. Just doing what needs to be done in another way. That is a rare but wonderful expression of righteousness.
  3. GOSPEL He continued to make the proclamation of the gospel his primary calling and task. He found other ways to do it. That’s why he could call on his disciples to understand that anytime was a time for harvest [19]. I so deeply feel this today, even without having all of the answers myself. I hear people talk about certain places as being resistant to the gospel – my own city among them. As such, churches and their members have turned inward or substituted the gospel with social welfare programs. Jesus made no excuses or apologies. With the change in his circumstances brought about by pressing crowds of onlookers and hopefuls, Jesus just did the same things in different ways. I want to find out how to do exactly that.
  4. FAITH When we start out to do something and find that “Plan A” is not going to work, we need to be like Jesus. God was always going to have a “Plan B” and “C” and “D” and “Z” and “ZA” etc. and etc. When the enemy rushes in like a flood, we need the faith to raise our “standard” higher. What we must not do is give up, turn aside, slow down, or go back. Jesus’ trust in his Father’s purpose never wavered. It just found the way for it to be fulfilled. He travelled along obscure tracks instead of the main road and walked five kilometres up winding tracks to find places to pray rather than going down the back yard. He still got to all the towns and villages to preach the gospel and he maintained his needed relationship with his Father. It was faith that made that possible. Disappointment will never be able to see the alternative route, nor will bitterness, nor will complaining – and all the rest. If one door is closed to us God will always have another door that, if we push on it, will open for us to continue serving him till the work is done.
  5. SALVATION Once again, changed and more adverse circumstances will always want to challenge our security and identity. We can feel isolated, feel like we have failed, feel disappointed or want to blame someone as am excuse for NOT continuing to do what God has called us to do.
  6. WORD OF GOD I reckon it is fully consistent with all of these gospel stories to presume the Jesus resolved every problem and challenge by seeking the counsel of his Father, God. I am encouraged by the fact that there is no occasion where God does not speak. Even when the people are totally determined in their disobedience, God still speaks. I have no doubt that Jesus sought his Father’s counsel about the problem with crowds of people wanting to block the plan – the resulting strategy wasn’t just a bright idea from Jesus, it was the revealed wisdom from his Father. We should have the same confidence.
  7. PRAYER And there you have it. All six of the seven weapons will only be identified in a given situation if we pray like Paul advises in Ephesians 6. I call it assault praying: in the Spirit, everywhere all the time, every different kind of prayer, and every request we can think of.

 

[1]         Following the instruction from the laws given to Moses

[2]         see Leviticus 14 for details.

[3]         Words from the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Matthew 6:10

[4]         See Revelation 21

[5]         See 1 Timothy 5:23 “23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”

[6]         See 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

[7]         See Matthew 8:16,17 “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 fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities

and bore our diseases.” Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 53:3 where the prophet is referring to the work of the cross.

[8]         See 2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

[9]         See Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

[10]       See, eg. John 5:19,20 “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all, he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these so that you will be amazed.”

See also John 12:49 “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.”

[11]       This is a quote from the Wikipedia article under the heading “The Messianic Secret.”

Wrede proposed that the author of Mark invented the notion of secrecy to reduce the tension between early Christian beliefs about Jesus being the Messiah, and the non-Messianic nature of his ministry. However, Wrede’s idea of secrecy did not merely rely on the commands of Jesus but also involved the “Markan parable theory” of why Jesus spoke in parables.

[12]       This idea does seem to fit the reference in Matthew 16 where, when Peter answers Jesus’ question as to who he is by saying that he is convinced Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus instructs them no to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (V. 20)

[13]       See Mark 1:45 “Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.”

[14]       See John 6:15 “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

[15]       John 6:66-69 “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

[16]       Luke 13:32

“At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

[17]       There have been a number of creeds developed to summarise core Christian beliefs. The two most universal are the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.

You can find a list of Christian creeds at this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_creeds

[18]       See John 6

[19]       John 4:31-36 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”

CONTENDING WITH THE ENEMY (1) – Luke 5

 

The Gospel of Luke Chapter 5

ONE:     AN UNEXPECTED FISHING TRIP

Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

 

 

ALL THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,

the people were crowding around him

and listening to the word of God.

2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats,

left there by the fishermen,

who were washing their nets.

3 He got into one of the boats,

the one belonging to Simon,

and asked him to put out a little from shore.

Then he sat down

and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking,

he said to Simon,

“Put out into deep water,

and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered,

“Master, we’ve worked hard all night

and haven’t caught anything.

But because you say so,

I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them,

and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this,

he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,

10 and so were James and John,

the sons of Zebedee,

Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon,

“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

 

 

THIS INFORMATION EXPRESSED IN MY OWN WORDS

  1. This incident happened at Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
  2. Jesus was standing beside the edge of the Sea.
  3. People were gathering around him.
  4. He was teaching the word of God.
  5. He saw two boats at the edge of the Sea.
  6. They belonged to fishermen.
  7. The fishermen were washing their nets.
  8. Jesus climbed into one of the boats.
  9. It belonged to Simon.
  10. He asked them to put the boat out from the shore.
  11. He sat in the boat
  12. He taught the people who gathered along the shore from the better vantage point of the boat.
  13. He finished the teaching.
  14. He asked Simon to take the boat to where the water was deeper.
  15. He also asked him to put down the nets to catch some fish.
  16. Simon replied that it was a bad idea. They had tried to catch fish all night and had caught nothing.
  17. He added that out of respect for him (Jesus), he would humour him by letting down the nets.
  18. When they let down the nets, they were filled with fish to the point where the nets were going to break.
  19. They called their partners to come and help them pull in all the fish.
  20. The two boats were so full of fish that they were starting to sink.
  21. When Peter realised what had happened he fell down at Jesus’ knees.
  22. He told Jesus to separate from him because he (Peter) was sinful and Jesus was holy.
  23. He and all of his companions were overwhelmed by the supernatural work they had just witnessed.
  24. James and John were also amazed at what had happened.
  25. Jesus spoke again to Simon.
  26. He told him not to be afraid of the supernatural.
  27. He explained that in the future the same supernatural work would happen but with people, not fish.
  28. The fishermen pulled their boats back to the shore.
  29. They left everything to become followers of Jesus.

 

 


CONTENDING FOR THE KINGDOM RULE OF GOD AGAINST THE DEMONISED KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD

 

 

Jesus modelled the way we should engage in this battle and the gospel records present us with many different situations where the presence of the kingdom of darkness was made known and where Jesus advanced against that kingdom with weapons designed to neutralise the intention of the enemy and establish the rule of the kingdom of God. It is important to identify what WAS a work of the enemy and HOW Jesus engaged – not with flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”[1]

It will become apparent to any reader of the gospels that the presence and work of the enemy took on a great variety of forms. Some would have been considered respectable and honourable. Others were sincere and well-intentioned. My own reading of the description given in Ephesians 6 is that the work of the enemy can be known by any or all of four intentions: to control, to overpower, to obfuscate and to substitute what is good with what is destructive.[2] We know from other parts of the New Testament that, such is the subtlety, the enemy can present as an “angel of light.”[3]

The question is: How did the presence and work of the enemy show up at the lake near Capernaum on this particular day? Before you read my own observations, I would love you to read the passage again. The best way to do it would be to print out a copy of the text and use a highlighter to signify “enemy” presence or work.

Here are the places I would highlight:

  1. “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.’” (5)
  2. “When Simon saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.’” (8)
  3. “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.’” (10)

 

 

  1. THE BATTLE AGAINST PRESUMED KNOWLEDGE BASED ON PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE

 “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.’” (5)  

I am certain you have heard as many sermons on this passage as I have. I am equally certain that you have never heard anyone use this passage to teach about spiritual warfare (which I am calling “Combat Ready”). One of the other Biblical terms associated with spiritual warfare is the idea of “strongholds.” Paul refers to this in 2 Corinthians where he says, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” [4] Ed Silvoso has, perhaps, produced the best definition of a stronghold going around. He says it is “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable situations we know are contrary to the will of God.” [5] As Jesus taught the word of God to people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the presence of the enemy came neither from Roman soldiers nor from religious leaders. It turned up as a series of ideas in the mind of a fisherman who had believed everything he had been taught as a pious Jew. These ideas took a long time to form and were reinforced many times from early childhood. As a result, a kind of mental fortress was built. Inside the fortress were multiple ideas that became strong and never tested. Their power to dominate was completely unnoticed, but dominate they did.

The story rolls along in a peaceful and unhindered fashion at the beginning. Jesus walked beside the lake. People gather around to hear what he had to say. He started to teach them. More people gathered. It was getting harder for people to hear. Peter and Andrew’s boat was nearby and they were packing down for the day, cleaning their nets. For very practical reasons, Jesus asked Peter to allow him to use the boat so that the people could stand along the shore and hear what he was saying. Jesus finally concluded the teaching session.

The next bit creates the kingdom clash, and it is an extremely common human experience. Remember, Jesus is the presence of God’s nature and purpose anywhere. As such he represents the proximity of the kingdom of God. From the very first day of ministry, his message was, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news.”[6]  “Near” is a very important idea when it comes to the coming and presence of the kingdom. “Near” means accessible but not ineluctable. The words of Jesus make it clear: the kingdom of God can only be accessed through repentance and faith. Set aside the old idea that repentance is restricted to “being sorry for our sins.” We know from Esau that we are quite capable of being “sorry” but without any hint of repentance.[7] The best way to think about repentance comes from the two root words used to make the compound word in the original Greek: meta = change, noia = mind; that is, to change your mind or change the way you think about something). So Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of God is near, but it cannot be accessed unless we are willing to change the way we think about certain things. The message of the kingdom will always challenge us to change our ideas and commit to what the message is telling us. There is a choice to be made, and the result will be the outcome of that choice. I know this will not be shared by the people whose view of there sovereignty of God comes from John Calvin – or more so, his amplifying followers. The idea that human choice will always be at the direction of the divine makes a mockery of both divinity and humanity. We can see the exercise of such an option happening in this incident.

Jesus, the rabbi tells the fishermen to go fishing in a place where, under any normal circumstances, there would be no fish, at a time of the day when no one would be fishing. Add to this the fact that they had spent a long and frustrating night fishing in all of the likely places and the right time – but caught nothing. This is a classic clash. You could simplify it to a dispute between human reason(and experience) and revelation, but it probably needs to be understood more broadly. This is a life experience, not an intellectual debate. What happens when God says something that sounds crazy to a mind that has been formed by the thinking of the kingdom of this world (i.e. Satan’s kingdom). Everything inside that mind screams out an aggressive, “Nooooo waaaaay! Since when does a preacher know how to catch fish – and the idea that we could just push out a few yards and fish would come rushing to jump into our net is totally ridiculous.” You might have noticed that the Bible is full of stories like this. Before you start to justify every crazy idea as having presumed godliness, notice that Jesus started this battle by something he said.  The King of the Kingdom was making his royal presence manifest. We should take care to notice the full import of this statement. As Jesus was speaking these words, a flurry of marine activity was stirring beneath the surface of the lake, not far from where the boat had been parked. Even though there was no evidence to the humans involved, the rule of the kingdom was happening below. At this part of the process, Jesus was the only one who had access to this information but not through any of the physical senses, by human reasoning or historical precedent.

The struggle that rises up inside Peter (and no doubt the others as well) is resolved in an interesting way. Hands up those people who think that Peter fully believed they were going to catch fish based on what Jesus had asked them to do? I see no hands. The text provides us with the answer. Peter and his friends were astonished because, even though they were willing to tolerate the suggestion, they were convinced that there would be no fish. It sheds a significant bit of light on the matter of exercising faith. It tells us that faith may not always be a level of conviction that gives us psychological certainty about the ultimate outcome. Faith may well be a simple willingness to obey what Jesus says without any idea of the outcome. In other words, it is a bunch of actions, not mental attitudes. I think it would be correct to say that it is possible to have a full-blown mental assurance about something and be disobedient as much as it is (and was, in this case) possible to be full of doubts about the outcome, but be willing to obey what Jesus has said. Jesus actually told a story about this very issue.[8] He said a father told his two sons to go and work in the field. One said he would go but didn’t. The other said he wouldn’t go, but ended up going. His point was that many of the people listening to him thought that they had the monopoly on God’s favour just because they were Jewish, even leaders within the religious system. But they were not responding to what God had told them to do. In many cases, the people they despised as “sinners” were listening to what God was saying and were embracing the kingdom of God. It is another example of faith being expressed through obedience rather than any particular emotional feeling of assurance.

Just think what might have happened if Peter and the others had said, “No, this is stupid. We’re not going to humour such foolishness and waste our time.” There would be no miracle, no amazement and Peter might have lived the rest of his life as a fisher of fish in Capernaum. It might be easy to dismiss this presence of the enemy as unimportant. For us to talk about this incident as an example of spiritual warfare might seem an overkill. The fact is that it was powerful enough to prevent Peter from becoming the follower of Jesus we all know. It was so at that time and remains as powerful today. No doubt there are a lot of people who stay separated from Jesus because the things they have learned and the ideas and attitudes they developed as they grew up in a secular (demonically ruled) kingdom are believed instead of what Jesus says. I think it is among the most common daily forms of spiritual warfare and one that we need to be aware of, armed for and skilled in fighting against.

  1. THE BATTLE AGAINST FALSE VIEW OF GOD

“When Simon saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.’” (8)

As seemed to be his manner, Peter was the first and only one of the crew to fully embrace his failure. The first sign of the presence of the kingdom of God happened in the words Jesus had spoken. The second, was when they humoured Jesus by going through the motions of casting out the nets and found they were filling with fish. Their immediate reaction was a very fishermen-like one. They hauled in the fish and got their friends to join them. Energised from their all-night-nothing experience, they kept hauling and hauling. They had not seen so many fish. But the next part of the story is also revealing. Peter realised that Jesus was a holy man. He was obviously connected to God and therefore must be regarded as holy – like God is holy.

His actions have a certain irony about them. He was overwhelmed by his own sinfulness. He had regarded the suggestion of Jesus with unconfessed disdain. He probably considered Jesus as a preacher-man who knew nothing about fishing. This became the first occasion where Peter (and the others) saw Jesus exercise kingly rule over a sphere of nature. He was patently ashamed of his sinfulness. It is a testimony to the presence and nature of Jesus as a person that Peter did what he did. He scrambled along the boat to where Jesus was sitting and fell upon Jesus’ knees. The fact that he ran in that direction is of huge importance. The traditional idea of sinfulness was to run and hide from holiness. People thought that God’s holy presence would kill them if they ever experienced it.[9] Somehow, Jesus didn’t radiate that kind of presence. Peter felt sinful but wanted to be close to Jesus at the same time. I would love to see more of us get this message. How easy it is to feel that sin separates us from God. It didn’t stop God from searching for Adam and Eve in the garden. It didn’t prevent God from sending prophets to speak of his love to his people, despite their long-term commitment to be disloyal to him. It never stopped Jesus from hanging out with official card-carrying sinners of many kinds. But when Jesus got to Jesus the traditional view of God kicked in.  If he was sinful, Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with him !  His outburst is filled with irony, Peter tells him to get away from him.

It is true that sins and sinfulness separate us from God, but it is not in the way we have often been taught to think. Those who hold a view similar to the great Jonathan Edwards, expressed so graphically in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”[10], have the idea that a holy God must turn his face from sin. The assumption that it is a mark of his holy-otherness that requires it. The problem is that Jesus never, on any occasion did that – and he witnessed a great deal of sin happening in his thirty-three years of life on this earth. The assumption that God turned his face away from Jesus on the cross[11] is entirely without evidential support in the same way as the idea that God’s holiness shuns sin. It is the exact opposite. God’s holiness sees Jesus WANT to be with sinners (to see them rescued) and the presence of the Love makes sinners want to be with Jesus. We see this on every page of the gospels. It is the devil’s lie that God doesn’t like us when we are sinners. How can the good shepherd leave the presence of ninety-nine righteous ones to go and look for one lost sinner if he is abhorred by the presence of sin. No, he wants to forgive it, cleanse it, transform our hearts and fully restore us to our full vocation as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

Peter thought Jesus would have nothing to do with him because of the dark equation in his mind. It was a demonic stronghold that would have needlessly locked him away from being redeemed, empowered and fully employed in the family business. All of us have had some experience with this dark thought: God is holy; I am sinful; therefore he wants nothing to do with me – not until I stop sinning. Bad idea, because the truth is precisely the opposite. God loves me, even though I am a sinner. He comes seeking me because he loves me. He wants to offer me a way home; the opportunity to be reconciled and the chance to exchange a sin-based lifestyle for a righteous one. What saved Peter was the fact that he didn’t just jump out of the boat and never look at Jesus again. He didn’t go off and sit in the lonely squalor of self-recrimination and shame. He ran and fell on Jesus’ knees. We need to keep learning this lesson. We need to maintain a correct view of what God is like. Jesus makes that known every day, every recorded incident and supremely as he embraces the cross.

The outcome in Capernaum:

Round Two: Kingdom of God 2 v. Kingdom of Darkness 0

  1. THE BATTLE AGAINST FALSE ASSUMPTIONS RE: FOLLOWING JESUS

 “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.’” (10)

Isn’t it interesting that Peter’s first problem was with what he thought he knew? He knew about kingdom-of-this-world-fishing, but not kingdom of God fishing. Then his problem was with what he thought he knew about God’s attitude toward sin. He was overwhelmed with his sense of sin but had been entirely failed by the religious system to understand that it was his sin that Jesus wanted to deal with, not turn away from. Those two things settled, Peter now faces a third problem. Yet another assumption gets in the way. Now that his sin has been openly confessed, the assumption is that he would never be qualified to follow and serve Jesus. If he has proven to have doubts and fears, then it only follows that he is destined to put out the chairs, make the tea and do the washing up in the work of the kingdom. Being a sinner can make us afraid and fear can disqualify us from freely and fully serving God – it will deal with us unless we deal with it.

This is a tricky little assumption. It often hides deep down. The enemy who wants us to disregard the amazing grace and power of God will have us notice all kinds of things that might disqualify us. I am constantly amazed at the reasons people (including myself) offer for NOT embracing the call and commission of God. We are so prone to exalt our human personality type, our complacency and set of personally installed preferences. These days we are prone to limit the call of God to those things that we have natural passion for. Why don’t we think about what God has passion for and then ask him to make our passions like his;  instead of begging him to leave us within the limits of our own comfort zone?

There is no crossover of skills and talents between fishing for fish and fishing for people. The metaphor is good, but it is still just a metaphor. Peter’s old job neither qualified nor disqualified him from following Jesus. His failure to understand the realm of Jesus kingly rule (over fish in the sea) didn’t disqualify him either. The only thing that would disqualify him would be fear – more precisely, fear about following. The idea of a fisherman becoming the disciple of a rabbi was unheard of. In fact, it was odious. Fishermen were locked somewhere near the bottom rung of Jewish society, especially Galileans. The fact that Jesus invited four of them to join him that day is a massive statement about the way kingdom of God values differ from the kingdom of this world. Peter had no qualifications to start with. Responding to Jesus’ suggestion about going fishing with such (human professional) arrogance would presume to kill any future relationship. We know from the information in the text that the whole incident had caused him to be afraid. If this incident had been a job interview for a three year full-time discipleship course, I don’ think Peter would have rated his chances. He blew it on every count – except the one that mattered.

At the end of all that, Jesus just told him to set aside his fear and offered him a job fishing for people. If I can be permitted to steal a phrase from one of the other accounts of this incident, Jesus says: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”[12] As then, so now, it is not failure that disqualifies any more than it is our professional skills/experience (or natural ability) that qualify us for a job serving in the kingdom of God. It is our willingness to set aside fear and just follow Jesus. It is the determination to follow that qualifies us. If you look at the experiences recorded in the gospels, it is obvious. The disciples often didn’t get it. They usually made suggestions that were entirely off the mark. When told that he would suffer and be killed numerous times they simply refused to accept it. What they did was keep following. When the final shock happened and Jesus’ was taken meekly by the temple guards, then tortured, then nailed to a cross, even though they were totally overwhelmed, they stuck together. That was what qualified them. It was also what qualified them on the day of Pentecost.

It remains the sole essential qualification. They believed he was the Messiah and they kept following him. It seems to me that we have invented a whole range of qualifications that aren’t established by Jesus in the gospels. With these qualifications, we wrongly elevate some and falsely demote others. What we should be mindful of today is simply whether we are following Jesus, the Messiah. What we should be helping others to do today is to follow Jesus, the Messiah. No more, no less.

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

The spiritual battle demonstrated in this incident on the lake is one we need to recognise and engage with. It is a battle that goes on inside our hearts and minds. There are things we have accepted based on our human experience that, if allowed to rule, will lock us out of a journey with Jesus to see miracles happening. He taught a fisherman how to fish according to the principles of the kingdom of God – i.e. you can catch fish where there are no signs of any fish[13] as long as Jesus tells you when and where. Jesus needs to teach parents how to parent, judges how to judge, leaders how to lead and so on. We need to set aside normal expectations in favour of what Jesus says. It is a battle, but we need to use the weapons of warfare that are not carnal but are able to pull down these very common strongholds in our minds and hearts.

We have to identify ideas that exist that paint a wrong picture of God’s nature and purpose. Jesus is the full revelation of the nature and purpose of the Father. Any image of God that is not represented by Jesus needs to be set aside. We need to view God through the lens of Jesus, his only begotten Son. There are a lot of mistruths around, and we need to fight against them, first of all in our own hearts and then as we make Him known to others. There is an important set of reasons for this. Just look at what would have happened if Peter’s view of God and sin had prevailed. Peter would have slinked off into a lonely corner of Capernaum full of shame, failure and regret. He would have assumed that God no longer liked him because he was a sinner and would have tried hard to absolve his own guilt by doing things to try and earn God’s favour once again. All of those thoughts, feelings and ideas would have controlled, overpowered, obfuscated and destroyed his world – just as Paul talked about in Ephesians 6. Jesus spoke truth to Peter. His love overlooked the arrogance and ignorance of his behaviour. He preached the gospel by offering Peter the opportunity of following. The fish that filled the boats were tangible expressions of his faith. This faith arose from a secure relationship with his Father. This relationship was imbued with his Father’s words and his Father’s presence sustained by prayer. All of the weapons described by Paul are activated here – and the kingdom of God wins, the human people who were formerly influence by the devil win –  and the devil loses his grip and the battle.

Finally, we need to fight against impoverished human attitudes about qualification. The war is between the grace and power of God and with the way he accepts and qualifies people. Greek culture, like most of western civilisation, places so much emphasis on academic training, human ability and experience. The apostle, Paul had to contend with fine looking, fine sounding teachers who came to the church, not to help people become more devoted to Jesus but to gather followers for themselves. They did it by using sophisticated presentations and fine sounding words. For a contemporary illustration, go and watch one or two TED talks. I am not suggesting these are unworthy; I’m just pointing out that TED presentations are the epitome of western sophistication. They are designed to appeal to contemporary young mindsets. Short, visual, entertaining. In most cases, the content is superb as well. My point here is not to criticise the method, but to point out that the mode is set up to give paying customers a consistent feel-good experience. To compare presentations based on the TED criteria says very little about the substance of the content and even less about the spiritual dynamic. Qualification to work in the kingdom of God operates by a different dynamic. It depends on the quality of our relationship with Jesus. It depends on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It could  happen through a TED-style presentation, but it will also happen with none of the TED elements.

I think we are prone to fall foul of this idea. We are so clever that we can offer people presentations of such excellence that the excellence itself is assumed to be the conduit that carries the presence of God. Of course, it can – but it doesn’t automatically do so. Often our comparisons relate to human tools and human ability, not anointing and Holy Spirit presence. We know from the Corinthian letters that, Paul didn’t measure up to the standards of people who were claiming to be superior apostles. In reminding them that the issue was measured according to a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ”[14], he was saying the same thing as Jesus did to Peter and the other fishermen at the lake. We need to continue to fight this battle, for our own sake as well as for the sake of our fellow believers. There is so much arrogance, status-seeking and ego parading going on among Christian leaders. It comes from darkness, not light. It produces darkness and locks people away from Jesus.

On this day, in his own boat on his own lake Peter had his first lesson in kingdom of God qualifications: listen to Jesus, trust and obey Jesus and keep following Jesus – and Jesus will make us competent fishers of people. And no part of the “lake” will be devoid of fish to catch. To mix the metaphors, the fields will be white for harvest. Our lack of simple following has produced empty nets and barns. This is a battle that Jesus wants to help us to win.

[1]         See Ephesians 6:12

[2]         See reference above

[3]         See 2 Corinthians 11:12-15 And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

[4]         2 Corinthians 10:4-6

[5]         “That None Should Perish” Ed Silvoso, Regal 1995

[6]         See Mark 1:16

[7]         See Hebrews 12:14-17 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

[8]         Matthew 21:28-32 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterwards change your minds and believe him.”

[9]         The Old Testament is full of examples of this idea. Moses certainly thought he would die, as did Jacob before him.

[10]       This sermon can be downloaded from links such as this one

https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=etas

[11]       See Matthew 27:46

[12]       Matthew 4:18-20 “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.”

[13] My own fishing experiences have never proved this. In fact, I can’t even catch fish when everyone else around me is catching plenty.

[14]       See 2 Corinthians 11

LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD Look Further, Get Over Yourself, Scorn the Crap and Finish the Job

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12

 

 

ALL THE STAND-ALONE PIECES OF INFORMATION

  1. Therefore – this is what we need to do in order to live lives worthy of the faith commitment of the former generations of God’s people.
  2. Theirs is a testimony of people who looked beyond present circumstances to the fulfilment of God’s promised intention.
  3. We should get rid of everything that has the power to hinder the work of God.
  4. We should get rid of everything that can cause us to fall.
  5. We need to live as if we are running in a race – training, effort, focus, energy, objectives.
  6. We should live the life that God has called us to, not one we have selected.
  7. The race we should run should be the one that focuses on following, serving, worshipping, becoming like Jesus and the one that he began and left for us to complete.
  8. Jesus is the pioneer of our faith – he is the one who showed us what a life of faith looks like.
  9. Jesus is the only one who can provide us with the end game for faith – what it will look like when the purpose has been completed.
  10. Here is an example of this faith:
  11. Jesus “ran his race” by seeing what was beyond the current circumstances and by thinking of the joy that would come from what he accomplished.
  12. Jesus resolved to endure the suffering involved in fulfilling his task rather than becoming focused on it or resenting its injustice.
  13. When called to do things that met with the disapproval or shame of those around him he treated that shame with disdain because it arose from compromised traditional or religious value systems rather than an awareness of redemptive love.
  14. When his work on earth was completed, Jesus was restored to a place of honour beside his Father.
  15. In our own experience of serving God by exercising faith, we need to take encouragement from the modelling provided by Jesus.
  16. We should not be surprised that serving the purposes of God will be opposed – we are following the example and experience of Jesus.
  17. When we realise that these things are part of normal expectation for a servant of God, we will be less inclined to lose heart when we get worn out because of the battle.

 

THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,

 

Here is yet another example of the need to get the context in order to discover the meaning. In recent years I have become much more sensitised to the idea of keeping all the parts of a story together in order to make sense of individual parts. The information we are going to be reading in this chapter (remember, there wasn’t a chapter division when it was first written) depends entirely upon what we learn in Chapter 11. Many of the people who comment on this verse liken the sixteen-plus heroes of faith to spectators sitting in the grandstand watching a game and egging the team on to victory. The idea of them being “witnesses” suggests they are witnessing what is going on NOW. I don’t happen to agree. The life experiences of these heroes of faith are ones that testify to what it looks like when you commit to trusting what God wants you to do NOW, that makes sense of what will happen ultimately.  We are called to live the present in the light of a future that yet to be revealed.

The heroes of faith were prepared to act with certainty about what was going to happen even if it seemed impossible, unlikely or even foolish. Noah built an ark, Abraham and Sarah kept trying for a baby, Moses led people to the edge of the sea – and so on.  Regardless of their various challenges, they were plugging into a story that had started before their time and would be completed long after they were gone. That story was their story. Their lives bore testimony to the present being shaped by the future.

I love discovering history, especially Christian history. There are so many people whose faith was so courageous and strong.  They started when there was nothing but ended up seeing amazing change – and a legacy that continues to this day.  I would gladly spend my life for such a reward.  But the other story from the pages of history tells us that God’s people have been stubborn, compromised, protective of power, wealth and status.  They have “freeze framed” little epochs of experience and then built buildings, institutions and attitudes to protect and defend them.  We end up with tribalized religious relics, buildings and systems that are lifeless.

The author of Hebrews is not quoting the big names to develop a fan club for old heroes. He wants his readers to live out their own chapter of the story fully. The heroes were looking forward to the fulfilment. That fulfilment had begun with the coming of Jesus. They trusted God for it, rejoiced in it and suffered for it. They spent their lives serving it – and IT was happening as the author of Hebrews was writing. The beginning of this fulfilment phase was marked by signs, wonders and miracles. It had also involved disappointment, suffering and hardship. The only thing for us to do is to make sure their faithfulness was not in vain. Listen to the profound statement underlying the testimonies of the faith-heroes:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39,40)  The last phrase is the key: “only together with us.” If we now fully live according to the revelation that came in Jesus Christ, their faith and faithfulness will be justified and realised. We must ensure their sacrifice was not in vain. We won’t do that simply by religiously memorialising their exploits. Let me illustrate.

One of the sheds at my grandparent’s farm houses an old “A” model Ford (1927-1932). My pop had driven it in the 1930’s and then kept it in working order after he purchased a later model. It was a great old car, and he used to take us for a ride in it and mostly let us have a go at driving. It was rough, cold and very lumpy to drive but to young teenage boys, it may as well have been a “Porsche”.  We had so much fun.  Now, in 2018, I drive a different car.  It is comfortable, smooth and a million times more sophisticated. But the car I drive is a descendant of the Model A. You could think of the Model A Ford as an auto-version “hero of the faith.” As much as the Model A Ford was a stand-out and as much as we might like to go to a museum and have a look, it is now nothing more than a valued piece of history. No one wants to drive one to work today for a good reason. As it happens, my wife and I arrived home tonight from a 1700 km. trip. We wouldn’t be sitting in the warmth of our home in Canberra right now if we had chosen to drive the Model A. We would have had a week of bumping and grinding along at 60-70 kph., freezing or boiling, and suffering spinal damage from the rough suspension. We would have had breakdowns and flat tyres to fix.  I don’t suggest that my present vehicle is the fulfilment of Henry Ford’s marque. I am saying that Henry’s ingenuity and enterprise paved the way. What he accomplished foreshadowed what we have just experienced. I am grateful for what he did but even more thankful for what some Korean team of designers and engineers have produced. The point I am making is that the writer here is asking us to honour what the previous generations of faith-filled people accomplished. If they had a hundred reasons to do what they did, then we have a thousand. If they died looking forward to what we have in Christ, then we should be all the more eager to make sure that they didn’t do what they did in vain. They saw the shadow. We know the reality. We get to drive the ultimate model. There are no more models to come. Jesus and the kingdom represent the fullness.

All of the faith-heroes lived for a single underlying purpose – to bear testimony to what would happen when Jesus came. Their faith looks forward to him (see Luke 24). Their faithfulness is fulfilled through him. We who live on the other side of the empty cross and empty tomb need to embrace our faith journey with even greater assurance and confidence. We must face the challenges and hardship with even greater determination. We get the chance to see the end of a chapter in the great story of God’s purpose. We should pay tribute to its profound significance.  We should undergird every aspiration that comes from trusting Jesus and sharpen the focus of every promise God has made. There are no grandstands in the work of the kingdom of God – as much as we have tried to invent them and allow people to sit in them. There is only a playing field. And the generations of people have an opportunity to BE a part of God’s great story: his intention to create a new heaven and a new earth through the agency of transformed Jesus-followers. The contemporaries need to take careful note from their forebears – choosing to live in the light of the long view back as well as the long view forward.

 

 Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I was never a promising athlete in my teenage years, but my best performances were always in the longer races – mile, two-mile and cross-country. When my modest talents were recognised, the school athletic coach took me under his wing, and a training program began. He told me that I was a heart-runner. I just took off from the start and ran as hard as I could for as long as I needed. More often than not I was run down by other competitors in the last few hundred yards. My natural way was to only think about the moment. He began to teach me what I had to do to apply myself to the moment by viewing it from the finish line. There was a lot more thinking to do, more tactics to learn and a whole lot more discipline.

The culture of my society puts a lot of emphasis at the moment. It can persuade us to do things in a moment of time that will destroy everything good in the future. It will magnify the emotions and present circumstances to the point where they are the only things that are important. Our jails are full of the victims of this reality. Our homes and lifestyles are impoverished by foolish financial decisions made as if there is no future to be concerned about. We think we are smart enough to do things in the present and avoid their inevitable consequences. We convince ourselves that there is a “morning after” pill for every form of wanton self-indulgence.

Here is the alternative. Live the ‘moments’ of your life with the end game in mind. Look through the present and see if it lines up with the future. Allow the past to warn or encourage the present but allow only the future to shape it. We do this as people created in the image of God, designed to fulfil his loving purpose.  The more we become aware of this the more we see the things that are around us that hinder and cause trouble. They are easier to identify when viewed from this posture. Just imagine a runner picking up a large rock intending to carry it while he/she ran a race. Everyone will see that it is going to hinder them from getting to the line in the quickest time. They should notice that other runners are not picking up rocks. Everything about the race environment screams at them to drop the rock. Their clothing, their precise preparation for the start and the track ahead of them all say – get rid of everything that hinders. Their daily schedule for months or years, their diet and their thoughts are all shaped by one aim – getting to the finish line faster. The rock in their hands is a glaring inconsistency. Or, what if they were to wear long flowing robes that hang loosely on the ground. They will similarly shout out the probability that they will trip and fall. Regardless of personal preference, they choose clothing that will help them accomplish their purpose: light, close fitting and minimal.

It is essential to understand “weights” and “sin” in this light. My earliest Christian experience was in a church that loved Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” If you haven’t read it, you should Google it and see how much of it you can get through without giving up. The idea of sin presumed there was common in previous times: God hated sin and it seemed to most of us that he didn’t much like sinners. The people he loved were those who didn’t smoke, drink alcohol or swear. The motivation for getting rid of sin was to avoid God’s anger. We were told that even if we were mostly good, we were still bad in God’s eyes. This legalistic idea of holiness was severe and pervasive. It portrayed a God whose normal attitude was one of anger but would turn off that anger if we kept mentioning the name of Jesus.

The metaphor of athletics is almost the exact opposite. If we were “born to run” and God is the coach, then his advice to let go of the rock is not an expression of anger but loving wisdom. The Coach provides insights and motivation that enable us to fulfil our divine vocation to run the best race.

The call to follow Jesus is not a metaphor. Jesus is the quintessential child of God. His life and legacy provide us with the motivation, and the modelling of a life fully lived as a faithful son or daughter of a heavenly Father. His work and therefore ours models the challenges and responsibilities involved in the “family business.” There would be immense value in reading through one or more of the gospels to notice the way Jesus challenged the demonically compromised religious system of his day, as well as the equally demonic Roman system of governance. He demonstrated how it is possible to test their legitimacy without needing their permission or favour. The key to understanding this is to see how his commitment to making the kingdom of God known happened in any of the recorded incidents. He didn’t favour a particular theological or political view. He just lived and proclaimed the kingdom of God. He did that on the first day and was still doing it on the last. As such he is both the pioneer of a new order and what he started he will finish as we become the tangible implementers of that same kingdom. Sadly, so many who begin by following Jesus’ example soon find that the journey is too steep and difficult. They end up compromising the values and ways of the kingdom of God in favour of this world’s kingdom – as we are warned in the parable Jesus told about the sower and the soils (Matthew 13). As a long time pastor and Christian counsellor, I am always surprised at people’s willingness to see God’s wisdom as arbitrary and undesirable – while they are often willing to see this world’s wisdom as more reasonable and preferable? Why? The Creator has lovingly made known to us the principles by which we were designed to live. The fact is that our stubborn independence has so marred us that we are capable of regarding holiness as undesirable – and sin as preferable.  We keep picking up rocks to carry down the track.

Here is my simple suggestion: as you live your live week by week and find yourself needing answers to questions about attitude and behaviour, write your question on a card, place it in front of you and read at least one of the gospels looking for wisdom from the example offered there by Jesus. No matter how difficult it may seem, seek to implement the answer because it is the alternative that most aligns with the example set by Jesus.

 

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The author of Hebrews now gives one example of the following-Jesus principle. He takes it from the most challenging part of Jesus’ work: the cross. We know that even though Jesus was wholly committed to being in Jerusalem and facing the horror of carrying sin to the cross, it was also abhorrent to him. Paul tells us that Jesus, “became sin who knew no sin.” (2 Corinthians 5). No one will ever know how great a cost that involved for him. What we do get to know is the WAY he did it – and that should be sufficient.

  1. He saw the reality BEYOND the current circumstances. What he saw was the opportunity for billions of people created in the image of God being reconciled to a relationship with their Father in heaven. He saw them being transformed with a new heart and a new spirit. Then he saw them picking up the trail of their God-ordained vocation – what they were created to become and to do. This filled him with joy, no matter what the nature of current hardships and challenges. There was indeed no joy in the cross, but there was great joy in what it would accomplish.
  2. He resolved to ENDURE  hardships to bring the work to completion. Enduring means that you don’t stop until it is finished. Enduring assumes that, as there will be a beginning of the work and a series of phases to go through, there will be an end. The end is not created from preference or comfort. It is discovered by doing the things that will see the work completed. If you do that, a day will come when the work IS completed. Until then, the issue is not to enjoy, not to feel comfortable, but to endure.
  3. He resolved to DESPISE the shame. This is a big number. Completion of his work involved quite a few things that brought degrees of shame. There was no shame from his Father, as we well know. The scandal happened because he was challenging the compromised ideas and values of the religious and civil status quo – i.e. the rule of the kingdoms of this world. He broke with religious traditions and expectations. His own family thought he was mentally ill. The religious leaders thought he was demonic. His disciples didn’t understand, and his popularity threatened the Romans. All of this came together at the cross where he was treated as the worst of dangerous criminals. Beaten and mocked, he was made to drag the cross through the streets in sight of everyone and, with seeming impotence he submitted to its death. At every point where shame was ready to point its finger straight at him, he resisted its power by meeting it with scorn. Think of something you utterly despise. One of the things I hate is the sexual abuse of children. I detest it. It violates everything good in favour of what is totally evil.  So think about having that same attitude to falsely based shame. Jesus didn’t just reject it; he actively despised it. It had no power to persuade him, intimidate him or influence him. He totally despised it. Go and read the chapters of the gospel that tell the stories of the events leading up to and including the cross and think of all the reasons why he might have succumbed to the shame. And start to think of what that would look like if you were to experience shame because of something you do to serve Jesus.
  4. He rightfully accepted his place of honour. I don’t think the “right hand of God” is about comparative status. I know a lot of people will only see it that way.  It is better understood as the place of accomplishment. If I ever became so creative that I could paint the most beautiful painting, or write the most beautiful song or the most impressive piece of poetry, it would not be to achieve fame or status and certainly not wealth. Such effort would position me in a place of satisfaction – just to be able to bring joy and beauty to the lives of people who would listen, look or read and receive some huge blessing. It would be a vantage point where one could see the benefits to others and share the joy. That’s what the “right hand of God” is about. It’s not about everyone coming and bowing and scraping and telling me how right I am or even how wonderful I am. The satisfaction of doing something beautiful is never going to be found in accolades or popularity. It is the fact that you have made a contribution that is going to go on forever making people feel good, be encouraged, etc. I guarantee that is what Jesus treasures from the vantage point of the “right hand of God.”

So the long-range perspective, the commitment to endure to completion, the ability to despise the disapproval and the satisfaction of lives being touched were at the heart of Jesus every day of his life on the earth. This was the way he embraced hardship, and it was the reason why the enemy couldn’t sway him from the path. Same for him and the same for us. These are the attitudes and perspectives we need to be filled with and the ones in which we must become accomplished.  In order to be successful, great pianists must become skilled in performing things like Hanon exercises.[1]  Even though they seem dull and boring they make a huge difference.   In the same way, we must become accomplished in each of these four skill areas:  taking the long view, endurance to the end, despising false shame and aiming to complete tasks that leave a valuable legacy to the others.   They may seem hard, unjust and painful at the time, but they will enable us to accomplish purposes that will bring honour to God.  They will qualify us to take our own part in the great story of God’s unfailing plans and purposes.

[1] Charles-Louis Hanon wrote a series of exercises to help piano technique. They are dull and boring to play, but essential for developing speed and finger independence; first published in 1873

WRESTLING AGAINST Paul at Paphos Acts 13:6-12

 

PAUL AT PAPHOS                                                        Acts 13:6-12

They travelled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

ALL THE STAND ALONE INFORMATION

  1. Paul’s team travelled from Salamis in the north to the south.
  2. They preached the gospel in the synagogues.
  3. John Mark was there as a helper.
  4. They finally came to Paphos
  5. At Paphos, they happened to meet with a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus
  6. Bar-Jesus was an attendant to the Roman Proconsul, Sergius Paulus.
  7. Bar-Jesus must have talked with Sergius Paulus about Paul and his message because the proconsul asked to hear Paul’s message.
  8. The proconsul began to respond to Paul as he shared the gospel.
  9. Bar-Jesus disapproved of this and tried to persuade the proconsul to reject what Paul was saying.
  10. Paul confronted Elymas (Bar-Jesus) by looking straight at him.
  11. Paul’s actions were enabled by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in him.
  12. He told Elymas that he was a child of the devil.
  13. He was an enemy of everything that was right.
  14. He was full of deceit and trickery.
  15. He was given over to perverting the right ways of God.
  16. The hand of the Lord was against him.
  17. The sign of this was that he was going to experience temporary blindness such that he would not be able to see the light of the sun.
  18. Immediately a mist of darkness came over him.
  19. He groped around and needed someone to take him by the hand.
  20. The proconsul saw what happened.
  21. He committed to putting his trust in Jesus.
  22. He was amazed at the teaching about Jesus.

WHAT PRECIPITATED THE BATTLE?

The enemy of God’s purpose in the earth is continually ruling, influencing, multiplying darkness and evil. That’s why we need to be always at war – truceless warfare. But in a given situation, like a trip through Cyrus around the year 47-48 AD, there was always going to be a fight. They were invading the synagogues with a message about the Jesus, Israel’s promised Messiah. Their message focused on a different kind of “lord;” not a military/political leader seeking to unseat military power with greater military power but waging warfare against the spiritual powers by dying on a cross.

We know that there had been previous missionary work on Cyprus.[1]Even though the synagogues were a deliberate part of the strategy, something unusual happened in Paphos, where the Roman Governor had his headquarters. They happened to meet a Jewish sorcerer with the dual names of Bar-Jesus (Son of Jesus/Joshua) or Elymas (meaning ‘magician.’). It seems that the magician, like Simon Magus in Samaria,[2] was attracted to Paul’s message. It is probable that it was on the recommendation of Elymas that Paul and Barnabas were invited to share their message with the Roman proconsul for the region.

Paul and Elymas formed some connection before the confrontation described in the text. We might refer to this as a divine appointment. The significance of his relationship with the Roman governor would not have been lost on Paul. We must also assume that Paul was aware of his association with the ‘dark arts.’ Elymas must have told Sergius Paulus about Paul and his message. As a result, the Governor invited Paul to meet with him. There is a strange consistency between this experience and many of those recorded in the gospels. The brazen and almost playful tactics continue until something significant happens. In this case, it was the fact that the Roman official began to take Paul’s message to heart. Then it was ‘battle stations.’

Before we deal with the actual battle that took place, it is important to notice that Paul and Barnabas didn’t show any need to pre-empt what was going to happen. They weren’t afraid or intimidated by anything Elymas was or said up to that point. I can hear some Christian people I know thinking that they should have confronted him before. Didn’t they know he was working for the devil? These are the people who become so preoccupied with what Satan is doing that they lose sight of the what Jesus has done. As we go about our normal daily lives, we don’t go looking for demons or even care much whether they are under a bush or a bed.[3] We live in the covenant state of our salvation. We are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father and servants of Jesus, the king. When that is actively challenged, we need to act. Until it is actively challenged we need to live confidently in the authority, we have in Christ.

Whatever the association between Paul and Elymas, there was no direct opposition until Paul was asked to teach about Jesus in the presence of the Roman governor. If we think about the ‘power encounter’ here, it seems that Elymas’ territory was under threat. Even though he had taken a form of interest in Paul’s ministry, he was far from a genuine seeker. His work as a magician was powered by the dark side. He knew what was going to happen if the governor became a Jesus-follower. His power base and influence would be finished. Notice that it was the proclamation of the gospel that brought on this attack. At that point, he openly resisted Paul’s message by trying to persuade the Roman official not to accept Paul’s message.

When we decide to follow and serve Jesus Christ, there is a shift. We transfer our citizenship from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God. We transfer our loyalty from darkness to light – in Jesus. Right from the beginning of Paul’s new life, this power shift was unmistakable:

‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’[4] When the Roman governor began to listen favourably to Paul, territory that belonged to the enemy was under threat. Like the demons in the presence of Jesus, Elymas knew that the game was up. There was no obvious connection between Paul’s message and the sorcery Elymas had been using to serve the governor; it was self-evident in the heavenly realms. I am not suggesting that Paul or anyone on his team would have had any awareness of this before Elymas opposing the teaching he was giving. But that was the point at which the spiritual landscape became known in the sphere.

It is essential to consider the fact that the proclamation of the gospel turns Elymas from someone showing some form of interest into a direct opponent. If Paul hadn’t proclaimed there gospel to Sergius Paulus, Elymas would almost certainly remained in the neutral corner. Elymas himself wasn’t being drawn by the message. At a point where his influential Roman patron started to connect, Elymas stepped in and tried to thwart the process. Try this story out in your own circumstances, and it will become clear that we hardly ever preach the gospel to anyone. We can be kind, do good deeds, relate to people in a loving way but still not preach the gospel. As a result, all the domains held by the enemy remain operative and hidden. As Paul tells the Ephesians, the gospel is one of the weapons needed to stand against the enemy. If it is not the gospel, there will be no enemy-overcoming power. If it is the gospel, it will lay claim to the territory ruled by the forces of darkness.

HOW PAUL CONFRONTED THE POWERS OF DARKNESS

Not much is left to the imagination on this occasion. This sort of thing happened on other occasions. During his ministry, Jesus spoke directly to the spiritual powers present in the actions and words of people and elements of nature. I have already mentioned Simon Magus.[5] The same response happened in Philippi when a demonised woman fortune teller followed Paul and called out to him. Without making too much of it, it seems that it isn’t easy for demons to stay quiet when the presence of Jesus is there. HIs presence seems to “flush them out into the open.”

The other thing to notice here is that Paul didn’t try to match Elymas’ objections with stronger counter-arguments. This wasn’t a debate. It was a power encounter. I don’t mean to imply that there will be situations where rational argument should not be offered. As servants of Jesus, we need to develop discernment. Unlike the instance where a demonised fortune teller followed Paul and called out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” [6] or Simon Magus who wanted to pay Peter to teach him how to operate in the power of the Spirit, Elymas was trying to persuade Sergius Paulus not to accept what Paul was saying. If I put myself in that situation, I would have been much more likely to match argument for argument than do what Paul did.

From the evidence in the text, there is little doubt as to where the idea came from for Paul to switch into direct confrontation mode. Luke tells us that this was Holy Spirit overflow. The phrase, “filled with the Spirit” has two applications in the New Testament. It refers to the empowering experience as described in Acts 2 when the disciples waited in obedience to Jesus instructions. Even though they had spent three years watching and learning, they needed empowering. Their commitment to Jesus was life-changing in so many ways, but the experience of the Holy Spirit was an even greater internal transformation. The other way the phrase is used, as here, is to describe something that came about as a result of that empowering. This was a Holy Spirit generated action. It required power from heaven, not just a human choice on the earth.

When Paul talks about the weapons of warfare in Ephesians 6 (and 2 Cor. 10) he identifies seven things that have divine power: truth, righteousness, gospel, faith, salvation, God’s word and prayer. Having searched these matters out from the Scriptures, I am convinced that ‘truth’ is not just having correct doctrine, but where things that are real but unseen are made known. In this instance, Paul lists five things about Elymas that are obvious in the spiritual realm but not easily identified in the earthly one:

  1. He told Elymas that he was a child of the devil.
  2. He was an enemy of everything that was right.
  3. He was full of deceit and trickery.
  4. He was perverting the right ways of God.
  5. The hand of the Lord was against him.

That’s a definite mouthful. If Paul were living in my society, Elymas would have hauled him into court for libel – and then some. As a case study of spiritual weapons, this is what I have come to see as the “belt of truth.” It is spoken directly to Elymas, and it is telling the truth about what is going on, but the target is not Elymas. The target is the rulers, authorities, dark powers and spiritual forces who have captured him. Paul wasn’t trying to win an argument against Elymas. He wasn’t trying to convince Sergius Paulus. He was attacking the real enemy. Truth like this, spoken boldly but without malice has divine power to demolish strongholds. As Paul goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 10, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”[7]  There is no doubt that this is a dramatic incident, but we still need to learn the principle.

If Paul’s pronouncement against Elymas was an example of the spiritual weapon of truth, the other weapons could be summarised as follows:

Righteousness: Paul’s motive was to take steps that would allow the Roman governor to hear the gospel and to show Elymas (and to the governor)what was happening; i.e. an encounter between the powers of darkness and the loving purpose of God, not just an academic debate between two opinions.

Gospel of peace: The full demonstration of God’s power and the teaching Paul gave proclaimed the gospel – and the governor became a believer.

Faith: Paul’s faith is evident when he confronted Elymas in the court of the Roman governor, not only did he expose what was hidden, but he enacted the intervention of God, making him temporarily blind.

Salvation: Paul had the assurance of his relationship with God and carried the authority of a son of God in keeping with his sense of belonging to God’s family by the gift of God in Jesus Christ, not by his achievements as a religious zealot.

Word of God: Paul knew the Scriptures of course. In fact, all of these ways of speaking originate in the Old Testament. My hypothesis concerning this weapon concludes that it is not only a knowledge of what the Bible says but also what God might have to say by the Holy Spirit in a given situation.

Prayer: Again, there is no evidence in the text that tells us that Paul fell on his knees at that precise moment. It would be reasonable to assume from all we know about Paul that he and his companions were constantly in prayer.

THE OUTCOME OF THE BATTLE

As Paul wielded these weapons, powered from heaven, against rulers, authorities, dark powers and spiritual forces two things happened. Elymas was given an opportunity to reflect on what Paul had said as he sat in a world of temporary darkness. His arguments lost credibility with the Roman governor. He was no longer useful and his attempt to dissuade the governor from believing failed. No matter how long he might have served Sergius Paulus and no matter how valuable he might have been his power source had been exposed and identified. The advance of the kingdom is definitely bad for some businesses – e.g. sorcery.

The second outcome was that Rome’s chief representative on the island became a believer. Lack of other information will preclude us from saying what influence this would have had on the cause of the gospel throughout the island of Crete. As I said, there is no way of measuring the impact.  Only a thorough sceptic would suggest otherwise.  All we know is that Paul was able to use weapons that have divine power to demolish strongholds and a few of them were destroyed that day. The New Testament tells us is that Barnabas and Mark went back there at the time of the start of the second missionary journey[8]. The only other reference to Cyprian believers is a man who lived in Caesarea called Mnason. During Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, he stayed in Mnason’s home. He is described as “an early disciple.” But Christian history records the Christian church flourishing for more than a thousand years. Paul and Barnabas didn’t start that journey, but their ministry indeed laid the foundations.

 

WHAT WOULD THIS LOOK LIKE IN MY OWN MINISTRY SPHERE?

I would like to be able to give you three examples of how this kind of thing has happened in my own life. I can’t think of a single direct parallel. There have been some occasions where I have confronted threatening circumstances by calling on the authority of Jesus. A man pulled a butcher’s knife out of his coat one night as I came upon him on my way home. I told him to put the knife away in Jesus name. I had to say it three or four times, slowly. I had to do the same thing one night when a gang of young boys from the neighbouring suburb of Sydney wanted to pick a fight with some boys from my suburb. Neither case happened as a result of preaching the gospel – just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Two things challenge me here. The first is the realisation that we need to find ways to proclaim the gospel to deal with what the enemy is doing undercover. It scares me to think how often this might happen. I live in a society where most Christian people hardly ever preach the gospel. We have been intimidated by secular pressure to be almost ashamed of it. I hear Paul telling the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes.”[9]. We need to re-discover what Paul was talking about. I can also hear Paul saying that the gospel smells like the fragrance of life to some people but to others, the stench of death.[10] We are often too fearful of the latter and therefore never get to experience the former. The bottom line is that I need to get more practice at preaching the gospel everywhere to everyone. That’s what Jesus told us to do, so we need to hear and obey with faith.

The second issue here is the redemptive nature of this. Like so many occasions in the gospels, everyone got the chance to see what was going on and to respond. Paul didn’t hate Elymas. He just helped him come to terms with the full reality of the situation. I am certain Elymas would have had lots of opportunities to consider the message during the temporary darkness. Nor should we miss the massive sense of authority here. In my understanding of the spiritual arsenal, it is the helmet of salvation that represents the authority we have in Christ. We are full grown sons and daughters of our Father’s household. Jesus showed us how to live as a mature Son of his Father. Here is another example. Both the sense of God’s authority and power, as well as the faith to take a stand as Paul did, are goals to pursue. In our intellectual and rational world, this is not an easy space to get to – but get to it we must.

[1]         See Acts 11:19,20. Barnabas was from Cyprus, so this missionary enterprise was to his home region. Ironically, the first Jewish followers of Jesus to consistently fulfil his Commission to preach the gospel to all nations (i.e. Gentiles as well as Jews) came from Cyprus and Cyrene, not Jerusalem and Judea. Clearly, there were followers of Jesus there, but there is no mention of Paul, Barnabas and Mark visiting churches.

[2]         See Acts 8:13-24

[3]         When the activity of demons and the subject of spiritual warfare was first raised in the early years of the Charismatic Renewal – the early 1970’s – some people got so wound up about it that they could hardly enter a room without feeling the need to ‘bind’ every ‘spirit’ that might happen to be there. The sad assumption was that the devil was given more authority and opportunity than he deserved. So we used to talk about these unwarranted extremes as people who “saw demons under every bush and bed.”

[4]         See Acts 26:16-18

[5]         See Acts 8

[6]         See Acts 16:17

[7]         See 2 Corinthians 10:5

[8]         See Acts 15:39

[9]         See Romans 1:16

[10]       See 2 Corinthians 2:16

WRESTLING AGAINST Battling Popular Opinion Luke 4.6

Luke 4:42-44

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him, and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

ALL THE STAND-ALONE PIECES OF INFORMATION

  1. This incident happened in Capernaum very early in the morning, as the sun was coming up.
  2. Jesus went to be alone in a quiet place to pray.
  3. The people of the town went looking for him.
  4. When they found him, they wanted him to stay with them so badly that they tried to stop him from leaving.
  5. In response to them, Jesus told them that he had a primary responsibility to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to all of the other towns as well as theirs.
  6. He explained that this was part of his calling from God –  the reason he was sent.
  7. He then went around the towns of Judea preaching in the synagogues.

HOW DID THE PRESENCE OF THE ENEMY BECOME KNOWN?

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him, and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.

In the last section of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul urges his readers to make sure they are combat ready. He identifies the real enemy as spiritual, not physical. He goes on two identify seven weapons that would bring the strength and power of God to bear so that the (spiritual) enemy would be defeated, and God’s kingdom would come. Paul describes the contest as a wrestling match and identifies the enemy in the following way: “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”[1]

As complex and mysterious as this sounds, a tangible encounter with the real enemy could be quite simple and seem relatively harmless or unimportant. The incident here in a lonely place outside of Capernaum early in the morning is a good example. Jesus got up early and went out to a place where he could be on his own (in order to pray). People from the town must have come to Peter’s house expecting to see him. When they couldn’t find him, they went looking (as did the disciples if we use information from other accounts). They probably felt they were on a roll. They had been amazed when they saw a demon cut and run during the synagogue service. Peter’s mother-in-law was instantly healed from a fever. A whole bunch of sick and demonised people had come after sunset and had been healed. They wanted these kinds of things to continue, and the presence of Jesus was the key. When they found him, the only subject on the agenda was the unanimous wish for him to stay in Capernaum. The phrase describing their action is quite strong: “they tried to keep him from leaving.”

I don’t know about you, but for most warm-blooded humans there is something very inviting about being wanted. Popularity or approval from others seems to meet a fundamental need. Remember when teams were being picked at school? We all wanted to be the first one picked and dreaded the idea of being the last. On this occasion, Jesus had suddenly become Capernaum’s most favourite person. And no wonder. Households suffering sickness and disability were unburdened and rejoicing. People living with the demonised were experiencing normality for the very first time. It doesn’t take much to paint a parallel picture in our own world: suddenly our ministry is taking off. People are coming to our building and listening to our sermons. Our church is the talk of the town and the region. It doesn’t take much to move to the idea that we must be doing something right to attract this favour from God. Then comes the talk about publishing a book and building a bigger place where people can keep coming – maybe an indoor stadium to hold the crowds. So there is money to raise and applications to lodge. Yes, a bit of popularity can test out even the most humble of hearts. All of this is normal and natural in societies like the one to which I belong. We have been so well tutored by free-market ideas. If something suddenly gains popularity, the rush is on to capitalise. In 1975, as soon as the movie Jaws recouped its production costs in two weeks, it was inevitable that there would be Jaws II, if not III and IV.

As I said, popularity and riding a wave of support creates as many problems as obscurity or disapproval. My goal here is to gain a better understanding of how the enemy worked to oppose Jesus and what he was doing. It seems logical to me that ANYTHING that had the potential to limit or misdirect Jesus would qualify. The same would be true for us. While someone thrashing around on the floor shouting obscenities and blasphemy is easy to pick as the presence of a demon, other things are harder to pick, and that difficulty creates its own challenge. We could easily think it didn’t matter either way. We will see that Jesus didn’t agree.

But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

As I have demonstrated in the other incidents from Luke 4, one of the helpful ways of looking at the situation is to think what you might have done if you were in Jesus’ position. These people were not malicious or horrible. They were good people wanting what they thought was a good thing. If I had been approached by such people with a request to stay, I could definitely see myself wanting to please them. They weren’t opposing anything. Quite the opposite. They just wanted what had started among them to continue. I could have said something like, “Okay, I’ll stay for another week.” They would have been satisfied with such an answer, and the crowd would have wandered happily back into town. Soon the news of what Jesus had agreed to would be all around town. I can imagine how the story would have been told, “We went and found Jesus. He was going to leave, but when we pressed him to stay, he agreed” (or something of the sort).

In fact, Jesus was not willing to stay. His response was to explain his calling. He made known to them something they couldn’t see. He wasn’t looking for popularity, he was there to finish his Father’s work. It was the same when Jesus he fed the crowd. The people wanted to make him king – but he went off to a mountain by himself. A coronation awaited him, but it was going to happen on a cross and then in a grave, not on the side of a mountain. [2] The kind of king and kingdom they were thinking about was always going to fail. It always had and it always will. People and groups are still trying it out of course, but the result is always the same. Here in the early morning outside of Capernaum, the request was similar. It was based on the same presumptions, and its hopes were built on the same foundation. “We want a king to rule over us – preferably one who will give us what we want and privilege us over everyone else.” Jesus wasn’t going to be persuaded.

The reason for his resolve offers us another universal principle here. The unseen reality was the fact that he knew the will of God and wanted to fulfil it. Jesus articulated it without hesitation. God wanted Jesus to proclaim the message of the kingdom in every town and city in Galilee (and possibly Judea as well). We get this aspect of his calling in a few places. When he sends out the seventy-two, he tells them to go to all the places where he, himself, will come.[3] This is a powerful part of the message from heaven all by itself. I am aware of something quite different happening with people who gain great notoriety as itinerant ministers. They go where the biggest crowds are and sometimes, sadly, where the largest offerings are. It presumes a level of comparative self-importance that is absent in Jesus. At another point in the spectrum, we have people with a message and ministry from heaven who restrict their commitment to what is comfortable and easily accessible. They commit to the few people they know and stay in that small circle according to comfort and convenience BUT NOT CALLING.

One of the things I have discovered about the nature of the kingdom of God is that it has no borders. It is ever expanding, like the universe created by God. So often and so easily we limit God and build a wall around our hearts that ensures no pressure, nothing unknown and what is safe. In the language of this story, we don’t need a crowd of people to come and tell us to stay. We often make the presumption that we are not going anywhere unfamiliar or difficult. We may be fearful of the reaction of our spouse or family members. Jesus faced all of that.  His own family thought he was mentally ill.  But Jesus was motivated by what was inside his heart. It was the heart of his Father – God. Such a heart was not willing to draw a line or create a border till every family on the earth had been blessed with the opportunity to be reconciled with God. In terms of his contemporary circumstances that calling, and therefore his responsibility, is to go to every town and village.

In the opinion of those who interrupted his prayer time, he should stay with them. Some people will have difficulty accepting that it was a demonic idea. The fact remains that if Jesus had responded to their sincere wishes, he would have done so at the cost of obedience to his Father. This was similar to when Jesus announced that he would suffer and be crucified.[4] What Peter thought was a vote of loyal concern turned out to be a taunt from the devil – i.e. trying to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO ENGAGE THE ENEMY?

The effective weapon here, according to Paul’s list in Ephesians 6 is a combination of TRUTH and the WORD OF GOD. It involves others as well, but these two are the easiest to recognise. When the suggestion was made to Jesus, he already knew the answer because he knew what his calling was. Regardless of their sincerity or their rationale, it didn’t line up with his call. Their minds were naturally set in a very small world, the world of Capernaum. Jesus’ world was bigger. The story they were part of was defined by the traditions and lifestyles of their town. The story Jesus belonged to began before the foundation of the world and would end with the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth. They were concerned about their own wellbeing and that of their family and friends. Jesus was concerned about the families of every nation on earth. This reality/truth was alive and strong in Jesus so that his response was immediate and clear. I refer to the other above mentioned weapon: the word of God. Jesus knew his calling was based on what God had said rather than on his preferred natural gifts or on the opinion of a committee. It wasn’t dependent on circumstances or popular opinion. It was the unchanging word of God.

As with all seven of the weapons, this had the power to overrule the subtle attempt of the enemy to divert Jesus from this calling. He had a heart that loved the people of all villages and towns (righteousness). It was a calling based on offering the message of the gospel. It came from a deep trust in God’s ways and purpose (faith). It was borne of intimacy with the Father (salvation). It was nurtured and sustained by prayer. Yes, Jesus had the full armour of God on, and for that, he was combat ready. Could I again risk overstated repetition to point out that none of these “weapons” were ones he had “put on” that morning? Not a single one was resting on a rock where he was praying. All of them were things going on inside and things he had built and developed day by day. Combat ready is a matter of who and what you are before it is something that you do.

Having made that point, I also need to say that all of these weapons came into play as he met with the people from the town. The reality of his call needed to be stated regardless of what the people thought. He spoke to them and then left for Judea. It may have resulted in tension, disagreement or loss of favour at the time. He had to be prepared for that possible outcome. Most of the time it takes courage and strength to stick to your calling and the enemy of God’s purpose will use the subtle pressure of popular opinion to draw us away from it.  We have come to learn about something people are calling “mission drift.” Matt Smethurst [5] make the following observation in response to a very important book by Peter Greer and Chris Horst entitled “Mission Drift,” “Relatively minor decisions, when compounded by time, lead organisations to an entirely different purpose and identity.”

I agree. Mission drift can happen to individuals as easily as it can happen to churches and organisations. I am sure this will be easily recognised as a phenomenon but not as easy to deal with in daily life. When Jesus found his prayer time gate-crashed by a very sincere and well-meaning bunch of people from Capernaum, this was the threat they posed, and it WAS demonic.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

This kind of threat happens all the time. I have been in Christian leadership for a little less than fifty years and can see how many times my insecurity or my desire to be liked by people caused me to cave-in to the pressure of one or more prevailing opinions. It doesn’t mean we need to be stubborn and independent. The wisdom from the story here is to know what your calling is. We need to take time to discover it, nurture and confirm it and then trust it. That process will and should involve others, but it is ultimately up to us. I know how easy it is to be “driven and tossed by the wind”[6] of varying opinions. It is especially true when those opinions come from the people we are married to, related to or obligated to in other legitimate ways. Then there are wider circles of people, e.g. a congregation we lead or people we work with.

What becomes important for us is to make sure we have a clear understanding of what God wants us to do. The old saying, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything” is true of the call of God. If you aren’t shaped and carried by a call of God, you will be liable to accept anything that sounds good. People often treat serving God like a fashion parade. They go after whatever is new or the latest thing they read in a book. They go to conferences often enough to ride on other people’s good stories but never take responsibility for allowing God to shape their own. They shift from church to church and never leave a faith legacy to anyone. They substitute talk about revival for obedience in their day to day living.

I value what God says and spend a significant portion of my time understanding it and road-testing it until I get a sense of what it means in my own circumstances. I have definitely been a person who is susceptible to wanting to please others and have said “Yes” to many things to which I should have said, “No.” As a result, I have avoided some pain I should have caused in the short term instead of what could avoid pain in the longer term. I have been at the beck and call of some people at the expense of being unavailable and disobedient to God. This story is a worthy reminder of the importance of taking the trouble to know the heart and purpose of God – and then to allow that knowledge to shape my priorities and activities. I also think that I should take the time and do the work needed to make sure that those around me are a knowing part of the process. Once again, I stress, this is not about unloading personal responsibility.  It is about how you get to a place where you are willing to take full responsibility for what God has entrusted to you.   The devil will always try to downplay that responsibility to increase the possibility of compromise.

[1]         See Ephesians 6:12

rulers – dominion through hierarchical systems. authorities – influence that has been conferred by a recognised process. powers of darkness – ability to deceive and confuse. destructive forces in spiritual realms – spiritual evil causing destruction.

[2]         See John 6      After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

[3]         See Luke 10 “After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.”

[4]         See Matthew 16:21-23 “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.”

[5]         https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-subtle-danger-of-mission-drift/

[6]         See James 1

WRESTLING AGAINST Sick people brought to Jesus for Healing Luke 4.5

 

At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one; he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak because they knew he was the Messiah.

 Luke 4:40,41

 

 

HOW DID THE WORK AND PRESENCE OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?

At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness,

Much of what was said in the previous story[1] about sickness being a work of the devil applies to this and every other occasion where people were healed and set free from demons. Each story adds something to the basic bottom line: sickness and demonic control need to be lined up in our sights and fired upon until they are completely destroyed. Every biblical image of the new heaven and new earth makes the matter clear. As such, truceless warfare against all forms of sickness and oppression is core business for us.

In this case, the work of the enemy was brought to Jesus by family or friends of sick and demonised people. I assume that it happened after sunset because the day was the Sabbath and sunset was the end of restrictions. As we know from other events in the life of Jesus, healing people was deemed by the religious authorities to be forbidden, so a lot of people were not willing to risk the disapproval of religious police or zealous neighbours.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO ENGAGE THE ENEMY?

‘and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak because they knew he was the Messiah.’

To state the obvious, on this occasion Jesus didn’t rebuke the sicknesses as in the former incident. Instead, he placed his hands on each person brought to him. He didn’t question them or seek to qualify them in any way. If they came, he responded by placing his hands on them.

Responses came in two ways. If a person was sick, the sickness left, and they were immediately healed. If people were demonised, the demons left but not without protest. As we saw in the the synagogue, these demons also tried to cause as much trouble for Jesus as they could. They knew more than most of the humans present. They were being brought into the presence of the Son of God. As such, they were confronted with legitimate Power and rightful authority and knew they were outgunned.

Take your time and allow the sequences of the story to move slowly. Jesus didn’t go looking for demons. His presence and intention flushed them out. The universal principle is that we should measure anointing by the degree to which a person represents the agenda of heaven in any given space. That will be measured, not just by the intention, but also by the outcome. Jesus consistently offered the kingly rule of heaven. That proclamation challenged every illegitimate power that happened to be present. We should similarly focus on what God wants to do rather than whatever the devil may have in mind. Let a commitment to proclaiming the kingdom do its own work in exposing things that signify demonic presence. Anything more than that will only glorify the devil and fail to offer anything of eternal value.

As observed, people came, and Jesus laid hands on each one who had a need. The question that arises is, “Why did he lay his hands on these people rather than rebuking the sicknesses as he had done inside the house earlier in the day?” There is no definitive answer. But the fact, in itself, needs to be carefully noted largely because of what we have seen throughout Christian history. I refer to the fact that the church has tribalized their identity around things like this. Some people would take the previous method of healing used by Jesus and build a denomination around rebuking sicknesses. A different group would become the ‘laying on of hands’ denomination. They would argue with one another and compete for supremacy. Soon they would forget about seeing sick people healed and spend their time grooming their distinctives.

A read of any one or more of the gospels will show that Jesus used many different ways to create what some have referred to as a “point of contact.” It will also show that there were occasions where Jesus engaged with the enemy without any point of contact or even without being physically present with the sick person.[2] In each of these cases, the healing was carried out in response to the faith request from a family member. On this occasion, Jesus did the same thing for everyone who came. One by one he laid his hands on them. The presence of the enemy, in the form of sicknesses, lost his influence and the people became well. There is no mention of anything being said. So we don’t want to be making any hard and fast rules about the process.

I don’t expect anyone to suggest that Jesus’ hands were the weapons. They were the tangible expression of the weapon or the conduit for the weapon. A gun barrel is not a weapon. The weapon is an explosive device called a bullet (or a shell)  inserted into the breach. The barrel is the conduit through which the weapon is transferred to the target. An electric cable has no power of itself. It carries the power from the source to the place where it is needed. The same is true of the ministry happening here.  A good example of this is the occasion recorded in Acts 19 where some Jewish exorcists try to use words they had heard Paul using to drive a demon from a man. Since the words themselves had no power in themselves, the demon responded to their attempt by giving the man superhuman strength, and he beat them up. The words were the conduit of the weapon. The weapon was Paul’s faith in Jesus and the authority flowing from a relationship given to him as part of the gift of salvation.

The text says Jesus laid his hands on everyone. I am assuming it includes the demonised. When such contact was made with demonised people instead of being quietly healed, they began to shout. In these cases, the demons had control of people’s faculties to the point where they could control what they said. The presence of Jesus and his touch carried spiritual firepower. As previously in the Synagogue, Jesus WAS the weapon. That authority flowed from him through his hands. When the demons realised they were outgunned, they tried to intimidate as we witnessed before, but Jesus was in command of the situation and, when they were told to be silent, they stopped. Even though the people were doing the talking, their voices were expressions of demonic presence and intent. Even though Jesus spoke to the people, he was not talking to people, but the demons. This is a significant example of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 6, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”[3]  The people were so demonised that they had lost any power to exercise their own will. Jesus neither blamed them nor asked anything from them. He wrestled with the spiritual powers controlling them. But he did it by talking to the human people involved. This is how the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God co-exist or intersect. We have to learn how to wield these weapons so that we are clear about how to fight.

There is one more observation I would make. I know the people who assume expertise in this area seem to suggest that a demonised person cannot be delivered unless they repent, or acknowledge certain things about their condition. I’m not sure that the outcome is very dependent on what they do or not do. It wasn’t the case with the many people who were set free from demons in the gospel stories. The principle I have drawn is based on one condition and one condition only: that they were willing to be brought to Jesus. I think we could presume that if someone were willing to receive ministry from a person who followed Jesus, we should add no further conditions involving repentance or renunciation or even go delving into their past to find out how the demon got there in the first place. Those issues are not raised in any of the stories. Willingness to come should be enough. Once in the zone, we should be able to exercise authority and faith in the same way as Jesus, and the apostles did. That should be the goal of our faith.

The weapons Jesus used should now be more familiar to us. Paul tells the Ephesian church to “put on the whole armour of God” to prevail against the real enemy. If Jesus is modelling spiritual warfare for us, the presence and work of the enemy were evident as different kinds of sickness and as demonic presence in people’s lives. The fact that those people agreed to be brought to Jesus meant the battle was on. It is a battle of two wills and two conflicting purposes. The purpose of the enemy was to steal, kill and destroy the quality of life of people loved by God and created in his image. The purpose of God, represented by the presence of Jesus was to destroy all the work of the evil one.[4] But the tangible battlefront happens between two people: one representing the purpose of God and the other representing the intention of the prince of darkness. In this case, Jesus engages in the battle by laying his hands on each person. Consider the following as a series of actions that engage the enemy:

Truth – sickness is a work of the enemy that can be defeated by the power of God

Righteousness – every person who came with a need was equally honoured and loved. Jesus met all of their presenting needs.

Gospel – the fact that they experienced the love and power of God provided an opportunity for them to believe in Jesus.

Faith – Jesus was wholly convinced that as he laid his hands on people, they would be healed.

Salvation – even though Jesus never needed the gift of salvation in the way that we do, he did learn sonship and the authority that preceded from oneness with his Father.

Word of God – we know that Jesus never took any initiative of his own. He only did what he “saw” his Father doing.[5] I am aware that when most people see the phrase “word of God” they think Bible. Although God does speak through the words of the Bible, we should not limit it to verses of texts from one or more of the 66 books. We should think of it as “what God has said” about the given situation. In the case in question, we don’t have a record of verbal interaction between Jesus and his Father, but Jesus knew what the Father intended: the people who came should be healed and delivered.

Prayer – again, we don’t have a record of Jesus praying “in-situ.” We do have plenty of evidence that prayer was an essential consistent part of his daily life.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

I have noticed that when I become more aware of a particular battle going on, I definitely go to prayer, often with fasting. If Paul’s words in Ephesians 6 are a summary of the way Jesus and the apostles fought battles, I need to learn to use all of them, not just the ones that seem the more accessible. If I look through the list above, the last two of the seven, the word of God and prayer, are constant activities regardless of the particular battlefront. Jesus didn’t welcome the crowd and tell them he was going off to pray.  He didn’t pull out a scroll or two of Scripture and search for an answer.  We need to be armed with the word of God and prayer in the same way. When we are confronted by the enemy, we need to have a reasonable idea of what is written in the Bible but we also need to ask if God has anything to say by the Spirit that might be specific to the situation. The weapon is to know what God has said:  the Bible made alive by the Spirit or the Spirit checked against what is revealed in the Bible.  These will only have integrity if they happen in the context of constant prayer.

 

The other five weapons all operate in the battle situation. I am challenged by the way these weapons were synonymous with Jesus own presence. They were expressed through his actions as well as his words. I already pointed out that when he moved to place his hands on each person as they were brought to him and as that process repeated, again and again, the actions themselves revealed what was true (real) but could not be known with physical senses. Like the song says, “The natural things speak of the invisible.”[6] Of course, this phenomenon is a core theme of the whole Bible. The Psalms say the same thing: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon.” [7] Take that up a notch in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, and it is no surprise that his actions carry as powerful a message as his words. By moving to lay his hands on each person Jesus was proclaiming unseen truth. God is present and has the desire and power to heal. When Paul talks about truth as a weapon this is what Jesus consistently does: he makes known what is real but cannot be seen. That reality is the presence of redemptive love and power.

The same actions wielded the second weapon. People who are sick or disabled in this society are considered to be under the judgment of God for some or other sin. As such they probably had experienced quiet or not-so-quiet community disapproval. Instead of being made to feel false shame, Jesus honours them by patiently laying hands on each one – until all who came were noticed, touched and healed. This is the weapon of righteousness. It is the manifestation of personalised indiscriminate redemptive love. Do you think everyone who came was the epitome of human niceness? Were they all decent and clean? Were they righteous? I don’t think so. They were people with needs. Such a qualification transcends all social distinctions. The presence of Jesus was the presence of love. Not only does this kind of love never fail, but, as the cross of Jesus showed, hell’s worst was rendered powerless by its presence. I wish we could learn this lesson. I wish this weapon were always the first to be drawn. I wish we were always willing to access its inexhaustible supply in the heart of God. Darkness would lose its power again and again.

The gospel of peace is the third.  I am currently defining the gospel as “an act or word that makes Jesus known in such a way that enables those present to respond by putting their faith in Jesus as the King.” For my money, watching or experiencing supernatural healing happening qualifies as a proclamation of the gospel. Jesus called it the “gospel of the kingdom.”[8] This is well documented in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but especially in the gospel of John.[9]

On this occasion and in every other incident where Jesus was bringing healing and deliverance there were two expressions of faith. People exercised faith by coming and asking OR by being brought by others. That is a strong and important part of the arsenal against the powers of darkness in itself: the faith to come and ask Jesus for help. Jesus also exercised faith. That faith was not visible apart from his actions. In this case, he laid his hands on people. The coming together of those two expressions of faith was enough to overcome the power of the enemy every time. On the part of the people, their coming was the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things that are real but not yet seen.”[10]  On the part of Jesus, every time he reached out to place his hands on people it is clear that fingerprints themselves can’t produce healing. There was a time lapse between the reaching out and the healing becoming manifest. This is the weapon of faith in operation.  The enemy had no power to resist.

The fifth weapon in Paul’s arsenal is called ‘salvation.’ This word refers to many different things in the Bible. My way of understanding it coming from the experience of Jesus and the apostles is to link it to the gift from God that comes when someone believes the gospel. I’m sure I don’t have to labour this point. The more pressing issue is to gain a working understanding of how this represents a weapon against the principalities and powers. My working hypothesis here is the wonderful experience of being reconciled to God. A relationship which was broken by my choice to live independently and to give, my primary loyalty to something or someone else was healed. This healing enabled me to discover my real and eternal identity: as a beloved son of my Father, God.[11] This relationship is not just a nice warm homecoming, like that of the prodigal son,[12] but an empowering to continue the work of Jesus. Jesus told the disciples that all authority had been given to him. They were to go in this authority to make disciples of all nations.[13] As mentioned above, it is this oneness with the Father that gave Jesus his authority. It will be the same with us. Our restored relationship with God carries with it an authority like that of the eldest son in a first-century Jewish household. Paul speaks about this in another way in Romans 8. It is the source of our security, and that security is also the foundation of our authority. I am sorry to say that we often have some idea of the relationship but have not embraced the authority that goes along with it. We need to have a good look at Jesus to gain a greater understanding of how authority is to be exercised by a son or daughter of the living God.

[1], i.e. Luke 4:48,49 It is easy to think of the word “story” as if to refer to fiction. I need to emphasise that it is not the way I use it concerning Biblical narrative. This is an eyewitness account of something that happened in the three-year ministry of Jesus. But the idea of the story is an integral part of exegesis. Almost every part of the Bible is a narrative.  It is either straight narrative or teaching in the context of a narrative.   I contend that the message IS the story and the story IS the message rather than a word, phrase or sentence that can so easily be removed from the context. The best way to understand the meaning of any of these is from the context of the story it is telling.

[2]         See Mark 7:24-30 the daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman; Luke 7:1-10 the son of a Roman Centurion; John 4:46-54 The son of a Capernaum official.

[3]         See Ephesians 6:12

[4]         See First John 3:8 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

[5]         See John 5:19, “So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these so that you will be amazed.”

See also John 5:30; 7:2; 8:29,42; 14:10

[6]         Kevin Prosch was a worship leader in the eighties and nineties and wrote a song called, “God is So Good.”

[7]         Psalm 19:1-4

[8]         See Mark 1:16 “He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!”

[9]         See John 2:11; 4:29,41,53; 7:31; 8:30; 10:42; 11:45; 12:42

Eg. John 2:23 “Now while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, many people believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs he was doing.”

[10]       See Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the sign that the things not seen are true.”  (Bible in Basic English)

[11]       See John 1:12,13 “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

[12]       See Luke 15:11-32

[13]       See Matthew 28:18-20

WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.4 Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Luke 4:38,39

Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

HOW DID THE WORK AND PRESENCE OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?

Physical sickness and disability are so prominent in our society that we sometimes find it hard to think of them as a work of the enemy. The gospel stories seem to categorise sickness in two ways. There are sicknesses, and physical ailments that are the direct result of demonic presence [1]. In such cases, Jesus commanded the incumbent demon to leave. When it left, the people were free from the condition or sickness. The other kinds of sickness were indirectly caused by Satan but not by actual demonic presence. In those many cases, Jesus laid hands on people or commanded healing. Sometimes he did strange things like making mud with spit and putting it on blind eyes. The kingdom of God is to be a kingdom without pain or suffering[2]. Sickness and physical disability result from demonic presence and influence in the world. The adversary, Satan is the instigator and the proliferator of this systemic destruction.

The idea of a disease-free, disability-free society is universal. Since forever, and no matter how primitive, people have fought against disease in every generation. Our hospitals, research laboratories and healthcare facilities are a testament to the ideal. No one thinks otherwise. Like the evil it manifests, sickness remains a virulent enemy. It seems that no matter how many cures we can develop new sicknesses arise to take their place.

Jesus fought a relentless battle against these for the full three years of his ministry. He exercised his kingly authority day after day to defeat all kinds of sickness. On more than one occasion we are told that everyone who came to him was healed. Jesus spoke about the future work that would be done by his followers in this way:

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. [3]

Christian history has seen quite a few spectacular examples of this kind of ministry. As a follower of Jesus who believes the gospel records I fully share the view that sickness is a work of darkness. It is a manifestation of God’s enemy and part of the broken world resulting from sin. It is the testimony of all Scripture. God’s enemy either directly or indirectly causes sickness, and whenever God’s presence and power come to those circumstances, people are healed and made whole. Sickness and disability happen indiscriminately and steal the quality of life that God has planned.

Often when we experience sicknesses, the first question we think about is, “Who to blame?” We can see from the text of the gospels that there was a prevailing view in the Jewish world that sickness and disability was a sign of judgment from God. The incident recorded in the gospel of John about a man born blind [4] is a good example: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.?’ “  Anyone in any age who has suffered serious illness, or a series of illnesses can identify with the sentiment: “What have I done to deserve this?”.  The presence and work of the devil and his minions create the unjust havoc we see everywhere. These many forms of injustice and suffering make known his nature and purpose – indiscriminately destructive of everything that represents the purpose of God. The answer Jesus gave to the disciples should stir us to sustain truce-less warfare: “As long as it is day we must work the works of him who sent me.”  We need to see all sickness and every form of disability as the work of the enemy. Regardless of the immediate outcome, we must pursue healing and wholeness on every occasion. That alone will manifest the presence and will of the God we have come to know through Jesus.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO ENGAGE THE ENEMY?

“So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.”

When he was asked to help, Jesus went to her bedside and spoke to the sickness. The idea of talking to a medical condition seems slightly strange in our kind of world. I say that not to imply that Jesus was acting weird for the sake of it, but to emphasise yet another way in which the “world” of the kingdom of God is different from the “world” that has shaped so much of our thinking and attitudes. To get a feel for this, we need to think our way into Jesus space and mindset. There were three actions here. Two were initiatives taken by Jesus and the third, the outcome – the sickness is forced to pack all of its belongings and vacate the premises immediately.

In the normal world, the expectation would be that with rest, the body would eventually overcome the fever and she would get well. Today, a doctor might prescribe some antibiotics. By the time we finished the course of medicine, the fever would be gone. Jesus did two things. He went to where she was lying and bent over her. As he was leaning over her, he rebuked the fever.

This battle is between Jesus and the fever. As I said, it is a strange idea for us to personalise a sickness, but that’s the way it was in this incident. There is no reference to the presence of an actual demon as was the case in the synagogue. [5] The fever had the power to affect the woman’s body. I have no real understanding of how a person might contract a fever. It seems to be the result of a virus or some form of bacteria. There is little doubt that our lifestyle choices can make us more or less susceptible to sickness. It is also true that even people who live a totally healthy lifestyle can succumb to a fever. What is more to the point here is that Jesus didn’t need to ask any questions. He went straight to her bedside without saying anything to her or anyone else. It is clear that her physical body was a sphere where he had authority. That authority was exercised through the word of command.

On this occasion, Jesus came as close to her as propriety would permit. If the fever possesses adversarial personhood, then Jesus was definitely stepping into the fever’s domain. I don’t think he was doing this for the woman’s sake. It seems clear that she took no active part in the process. The spiritual realm and the physical world co-exist, and it is clear that actions taken in the physical also have application to the spiritual. Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about when he told the disciples about the intended ministry of the church: “Whatever you bind on earth (physical) will be bound in heaven (spiritual) and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.”[6]  The actions of Jesus represented both aggression and authority. I am sure it wasn’t an attempt to bolster his own confidence. He was acting in accordance with kingdom reality. There is something refreshingly earthy about the way spirituality happens in the Bible. Sadly, the impact of western culture has caused us to live too much of our lives in our heads. When Jesus went to where this woman was lying and bent over her, he was engaged in a spiritual act, not just a physical one. The same can be said for laying hands on people when we pray for them, lifting our hands to worship God and many others. They are acts of faith that tangibly express a reality that can’t be seen.

The second thing Jesus did was to REBUKE the sickness. As I have said, this is a little difficult for those of us who have been trained in a system based on rationalistic materialism. The word used in the original language is also used when Jesus spoke to a storm on the lake that was violent enough to make seasoned sailors fear for their lives.[7] It was the same when he spoke to actual demons.[8] This action and others like it help us to see the battle. This disease has a will. It wants to steal health and strength. It wants to make us languish in pain and discomfit. In former generations, thousands and sometimes millions were killed. As Jesus leaned over Peter’s mother-in-law, a different will was on this battlefield. This was the presiding will of God represented by Jesus. Jesus had the prevailing firepower, and the enemy was defeated. Whatever the biological process involved, the fever was broken to the point where she was able to get up and help prepare the meal.

As to the specific weapons used, it should be no surprise that Jesus once again puts on the “whole armour of God” to fight this battle. The truth he proclaimed was to declare that sickness could be dealt with. The message was proclaimed through his actions. Righteousness was expressed through the grace and love shown to her by wanting her to be healed. The gospel was the message that the kingdom of God would come and she could be delivered. Faith was clearly demonstrated by his posture and the fact that he rebuked the fever. Salvation was evident in the fact that he carried authority from his Father based on the oneness of their relationship. The word from his Father was that the woman would be healed and upon this, he based his actions. There is no specific reference to prayer as part of this strategic warfare operation, but we know that Jesus prepared himself for these activities by spending time with his Father in prayer.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

Well, there is no shortage of opportunities for us to engage in this battle. As I said earlier, disease, sickness and disability are all around us. The issue for us will be having a sense of authority to do something about it and bold faith to express that authority. If I am going to be totally honest with myself, I have a high level of confidence and commitment to pray for people who are sick. I am fully convinced that God wants them well. My previous experience makes it hard for me to have the same level of confidence that they will be healed immediately.

I have listened to most of the explanations as to why more people don’t get healed as a result of the faith of Christian people like me. I don’t think there is one that is worthy of the revelation we see in Jesus or the apostles. The best of them are sincere rationalisations based on our level of discomfit with the mystery of the supernatural. The worst of them are nothing short of deistic[9] unbelief. By contrast, the Bible tells story after story of God’s loving involvement in the affairs of the world he loves. The contrary view (and more consistent with the testimony of Scripture) is called ‘theism.’ While the word strictly applies to the idea of a belief in God, it has become used to contrast with deism. It similarly asserts that God is the Creator of the world but that he is actively and constantly involved with its affairs – in particular, in and through ‘his people.’

Every time I get to hear a testimony of someone who was supernaturally healed, I am thrilled and encouraged. I have witnessed God do some amazing things. Each time I think that I will never doubt again. The next time faith is on the line; it’s more like the first time all over again. I still feel more like a first-day apprentice than a qualified tradesman.

Try and ask yourself what it would be like to be ‘Jesus-looking’ in the matter. To do that, we need to return to the incident itself to discover what that might be like. For example, when Jesus went to Peter’s home and was told about his mother-in-law’s condition we don’t get to know the inside story. Obviously, we don’t have a copy of his memoirs to tell us his deepest thoughts but we can know certain things from his actions and reactions. One of the ways of approaching this is to put yourself in his position and see how you might have reacted if you were in his position. I reckon I would definitely feel compassion for her. I could also say with some confidence that I would have offered to pray for her. Like Jesus, I would have gone to her bedside. According to cultural propriety, I would have either sat and prayed or laid put my hand on her head and prayed. I doubt that I would rebuke the fever. Even if I used words that sounded like I had authority I am not sure I would have said them with the certainty that the fever was going to leave her immediately. I have been in enough situations where symptoms of sickness have gone in response to prayer and on each occasion I have been thrilled and grateful – usually after the event.

I think when Jesus heard about Peter’s mother-in-law he approached the matter with certainty. They asked for his help, and he offered it without hesitation. He knew he could help. He went to her bedside.  In keeping with the culture of the kingdom of God, he entered the battle zone by bending over her and fired his weapons of war (which are not humanly derived but are have the power to ‘pull down strongholds’[10]. On this occasion, it was to personalise the fever and command it to leave. I think he did that without any hesitation. This was a sphere where his authority was not in any doubt. Like a good tradesman hammering a nail or a brain surgeon using an arthroscope. He knew what to do. He did it, and the outcome was the proof of his authority and ability.

That’s what I want for myself and for all of us who follow Jesus and deal with human pain and distress. I want to know what to do, to do it with confidence and for the outcome to glorify God by making his will known on earth as it is in heaven. I can only get this from God and I will only get it by continuing to pray with persistence and obey without hesitation.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

As previously mentioned, we have a lot of ground to make up here. The record is unambiguous when it comes to examples of supernatural Christian ministry: the western cultures see much less of it than non-western cultures. It seems we have allowed our day to day experience of faith to devolve into a set of propositions accompanied by some fairly non-supernatural activities. As a way of measuring your own experience, just think how long it has been since someone was supernaturally healed, or delivered from oppression through your ministry.

This incident highlights the different ways to engage in battle against sickness and demonisation. Whether you stand over someone and rebuke the sickness, (less common) or whether you lay hands on people (much more common) you will find that there was always some tangible point at which the enemy was lined up in the sights of faith. We should be less concerned about the particular method and more concerned about the opportunity to engage the enemy in battle. In the Mel Gibson film about William Wallace, called “Brave Heart,” there is a scene where all the Scottish nobles are figuring out how they can profit from a dishonourable truce. William Wallace goes to the same English commanders with one purpose: to “pick a fight.” I need to be clear that it is my job, as a follower of Jesus, to pick fights as Jesus did. He picked fights with sickness, with demons, with empty religious traditions and with the traditional attitudes that alienated the wrong people (sinners, marginalised and poor) and affirmed the wrong people (the self-righteous religious).

In our comfort-driven culture, it seems we are all too prone to avoid these battles as much as possible.  As a result, our spheres of personal responsibility grow smaller, and our faith becomes weaker.  We then rationalise our posture with the idea that our comfort zone is a sign of God’s blessing.  When some form of hardship or difficulty comes our way, we consider it grossly unjust. We need to listen to the words of there apostle, Peter a few hundred times.[11] Our culture has worked hard to convince us that the comfort and self-indulgence are to be equated with the blessing of God to the point where hardship and battles or various kinds are unwarranted intruders. Instead, like Jesus and the apostles, we need to understand that if we were not born for battle, we were definitely born-again for battle. That battle has been raging from the beginning between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. Jesus referred to its violence when he spoke about John the Baptist in Matthew 11, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.”[12]

If we look at the ministry of Jesus, we will see that he definitely picked fights – not with people but with the prince of this world. He wasn’t on a crusade against the devil. He just kept proclaiming and exercising a ministry that declared the presence of the kingdom of God. There were some issues that he didn’t pick a fight with. He didn’t protest outside the temple or the Roman governor’s residence.[13] He didn’t become an advocate for family squabbles over inheritances.[14] This is what we need to do. We need to pick fights with everything that represents the illegitimate authority of the kingdom of this world. We need to do it by proclaiming the genuine kingdom – the kingdom of God – not just proclaiming but offering.

[1]         See  Matthew 12:22-29, Mark 3:22-27, and Luke 11:14-22 The demon’s presence prevented the man from speaking. When this demon was cast out, he could speak.

See also Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, and Luke 9:37-43. The boy’s epilepsy was caused by the presence of a demon.

See also Luke 13:10-17. A woman was bent over (we might presume it was some form of scoliosis) because of the presence of a demon.

[2]         See Rev. 21:4

[3]         See John 14:12-14

[4]         John 9:1,2  “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

[5]         See comments on the previous incident: Luke 4:31-37

[6]         See Matt. 16:18-20  “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

[7]         Luke 8:24  “The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.”

[8]         See Matthew 17:18  “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.”

[9]         Deism was a philosophical response from the period of the Enlightenment (late 1600’s to early 1800’s) to the issue of “transcendence.” At its core is the idea that even though God is ascribed as the Creator of the world, he does not have any direct involvement with it. Everything that happens in the world can be explained by scientific and rationalistic principles.

[10]       See 2 Corinthians 10:4 “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

[11]       See First Peter 4:12-19 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

[12]       See Matthew 11:12

[13]       See John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

[14]       See Luke 12:13,14 “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.3 Jesus at the Synagogue in Capernaum

 

Luke 4:31-37

Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath, he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching because his words had authority. In the synagogue, there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! 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!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power, he gives orders to impure spirits, and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

HOW DID THE WORK AND PRESENCE OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?

It is not difficult to identify the enemy in the synagogue in Capernaum. While Jesus was teaching a man in the congregation started speaking on behalf of the demon within him. It was the man who was doing the yelling, but it wasn’t the man who was making up the words. I know this is a bit hard for a lot of western cultured people to relate to, but lots of other cultures would be more familiar it. The society of the New Testament knew all about it. People knew when their relatives and friends were demon possessed. They brought them to Jesus for the demons to be cast out. At the time of Jesus Jewish exorcists were known to manipulate demons with apparent success,[1]But the demonstration of kingly power by Jesus was something they had never seen.

At the outset, let’s just notice what happened. I want us to be reminded that we are not reading a theological manual or a set of propositions. We are gaining an understanding of the kingdom of God through an event that happened to Jesus. The message is the story, and the story is the message. Any truth we discover will come as we observe it in its context. The context here is an incident in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Jesus had returned to Capernaum from Nazareth. He had made it his operations base. He had called disciples there, taught there and performed miracles there. In contrast to Nazareth, his teaching in the Capernaum synagogue was welcomed and acknowledged. The people listening knew that it was different from what they had come to expect over the years. The leaders who usually taught there would do what we see a lot of speakers doing today. Their impact comes from their accumulated knowledge. They quote all kinds of authorities they have researched and read. Their presentations are based on human oratory and human learning. None of that is wrong in itself. What made Jesus’ teaching different was the presence of God’s authority as he spoke. Today we might call that “anointing.” It was a combination of being what you are teaching and the Holy Spirit who works within the hearts of the hearers, affirming what is being said. We might also describe this as the ‘tangible presence’ of God. It happened when Jesus preached and taught.

As the room was becoming more engaged with the presence of the Spirit of the Lord, one man in the congregation was experiencing something quite different. Without delving too far into speculation, we could assume that he was becoming more and more uncomfortable or aggravated. The reason was that his life had been occupied by one or more demons. Whether the man was a visitor to the meeting or a regular we can’t know. What we do know was that his demonised condition was not obvious until he began to speak. It might be interesting to contemplate the idea that he could well have been a regular member. In that case, he would have sat through other synagogue services without being threatened by anything that was happening.

Today was different. It seems that the authority of Jesus’ presence provoked the demon into making his presence known. It was intimidating and directly threatened the legitimacy of the demon’s occupation within the man. I think we can deduce what was going on from the character of the outburst:

“Go away.”

“What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us, Jesus of Nazareth?”

”I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”

Jesus didn’t go into the synagogue to chase a demon. He was there preaching and teaching. In other words, he was engaged in doing the work of the kingdom of God. That might seem very logical to some, but I can remember times when everyone seemed to get so hyped up about demons that they would act like security intelligence officers and “sweep” the room for demons before they did anything else, “just in case.” For that reason, we need to note that even when there WAS a demon in the room, Jesus didn’t focus on it. He simply proclaimed and ministered the kingdom of God. That, in itself, was sufficient to flush out any demonic presence.

The preoccupation with demons is sad because of the unwarranted attention and, at times, the authority it gives to the devil. Even though it is true that the Son of Man appeared to “destroy all the works of the evil one,”[2]He did that by proclaiming the kingdom. The same is true when certain people seem to set themselves up as experts on everything the devil is doing and offer endless critiques of anything that looks like an error.[3] It must always concern us to know that the ministry of Jesus was exactly the opposite. We know him because of what he offered, rather than what he opposed. The reason for this is simple: whenever he was opposed he offered something. He proclaimed the solution rather than describing or bemoaning the problem.

This is an excellent example. When Jesus first entered the synagogue nothing abnormal happened. The demon was present but silent. When he began to preach his authority was felt by everyone in the room. For all except one, it was embraced with approving surprise. They didn’t anticipate the palpable authority in the room. One of those present was affected very differently. The hidden demon became extremely agitated, possibly knowing his tenure was threatened. The level of agitation reached a point where silence was no longer an option.

We don’t have the opportunity to interview the demon involved. If we did, we could get a running commentary on how the situation unfolded. What is more to the point, we don’t fully know why he cried out. Was it an involuntary reaction of fear or was it a strategic counterattack? If it were involuntary, it would be reasonably simple to understand. Extreme fear often precipitates an involuntary outburst.

One of my reasons for thinking it was not involuntary, or not ultimately so, is based on the last of the three statements. The demon accurately publicises Jesus’ true identity: the “holy one of God.” The obvious question is, why the devil would want people to know that. He is the adversary. He is opposed to everything Jesus represents. We have noticed in the previous account of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth how the people intentionally avoided the suggestion that Jesus was the Messiah. Is the devil now working for the Kingdom? I don’t think so. It seems this outburst was an attempt to discredit Jesus. I’m pretty sure when someone screams out such things in the middle of the sermon it is not going to amount to credible testimony. It will only create confusion or aversion just by association.

The presence of Jesus and his preaching filled the room with authority from heaven. The first reaction of the demon was fear and then a quick counter-attack designed to discredit, even though what he was saying was true. We have already seen how the devil uses Scripture. This is similar. In this case, the devil is using truth in such a way that it will be obscured by the confusion.

Jesus exercises direct authority.

This is a good example of the way spiritual wickedness works. The man doing all the yelling is an individual human being with a separate spiritual person attached in some way. Jesus made this quite clear. His command is to the demon, not the man. Firstly to be silent and then to come out of him. The outcome is similarly clear. The demon objected to the idea and threw the man to the ground and then came out. No more manipulation. No more shouting. No more contesting. Just a man, lying on the floor of the synagogue free from this demonic presence and influence. Everyone saw what had happened and they were once again amazed at the exercise of such direct authority. It seems that while the regular exorcists were able to manipulate and do deals to get demons to leave, no one had ever seen a demon go by a simple word of command.

THE WEAPONS USED

One of my memories of growing up on the family farm was the local annual show. Even though I wasn’t all that proficient, I can remember spending a sizeable percentage of my pocket money at the duck-shooting sideshow. They used air rifles with lead pellets, and there would be a few rows of ducks that would spring up and move across the back wall of the tent. It was only when they were at the top of their cycle that you could get a shot. You had to be able to aim at the spot where they would pop up and then try to follow them across till they disappeared. I think this incident tells the same story. The presence of the enemy in the synagogue was not apparent until it reacted to the authority of Jesus as he preached. Once it was out in the open Jesus could respond with direct authority. There was no bargaining and no idea of appeasement or detente. Two words of command, a few parting rattles and it was gone.

Faith is the other weapon here. I think anyone who has ever ministered in the name of Jesus would relate to this experience. When you act or speak as an expression of faith, there is nothing visible to confirm the outcome. There is always a risk factor. Just think of it. The demon cries out. Jesus commands silence. The moment the command is spoken there is no tangible guarantee of what will happen next. Only faith is the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things that are not seen.”[4] Jesus speaks as a tangible “work”[5] of his trust in the Father’s power and purpose. There has been a longstanding debate about the essential nature of faith. One core meaning would be best translated by the English word, “faithfulness” or “loyalty.” Someone would be said to be exercising faith when they remain committed to a relationship or a purpose regardless of how they feel and regardless of what might happen. The other would be the assurance or knowledge that something was certain of happening even if there was no form of tangible evidence. I don’t think the two are opposite at all. Faith begets faithfulness and faithfulness begets faith as far as I am concerned.

On the day when Jesus was preaching in the Capernaum synagogue when the demon began to use the man’s voice to cry out loud, I don’t think there was any doubt in Jesus’ mind that if he uttered a command, the demon would succumb. He knew he had that authority. It is the same as anyone with authority in any area of life. An accomplished musician picks up their instrument, and confidently their fingers move to produce a beautiful sound. A doctor with authority can use the most intricate instruments with authority to perform successful brain surgery. They have faith in their skills and instruments. They know the intricacies of the human body and can navigate with the same faith or confidence. Patients can go in very sick and leave completely well. Jesus was confronted by a man controlled by a demon. He could get rid of the demon and leave the man a bit shaken, but free. Like the Bible says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”[6]  As we know faith is not just some set of propositions to which we give assent. It is something that is known by what happens because it is there. When a demonised man is set free, what we have witnessed is the faith inside of Jesus becoming visible and measurable. Above all things, faith will only be known by what happens. Jesus was in that synagogue with his Father’s authority and knew his Father’s purpose. No one could see it when he entered. They began to experience some of that faith during his preaching. It became more visible as they saw a demon intimidated, silenced and then expulsed at Jesus’ command.

One of the things I love about spiritual weapons is the fact that when they are used, only the devil loses. Only the devil’s world is destroyed. Flesh and blood have the opportunity to be rescued, delivered, transformed or redeemed. They don’t always take the opportunity, but whenever spiritual weapons are used, they get the chance. On this day in the synagogue, one man was set free, and the rest of the congregation had the opportunity to embrace their Messiah/King.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

There are a series of challenges here. Even though I have had some experiences where demons have made their presence known through people I have been involved with, I have very limited understanding of the matter. What we have been witnessing here is an occasion where, as kingdom ministry (in this case preaching) was happening it flushed out a demon that was present. I think I ought to be more aware of the fact that there is a difference between doing the work of the kingdom with authority and doing it without. When we have little or no authority we are like anyone doing anything with no authority: we are more tentative, less expectant and more engaged with human interaction rather than engaging the powers of darkness because we know what we are doing and know how to do it. So I think I need to spend more time considering what I am doing in the name of Jesus and offer that ministry with the confidence that I am going to confront resident dark powers. I think I should become more aware and practice the more so that I become more confident. I need to learn as I go and keep pushing out the boundaries of my comfort zones. I need to learn how the enemy captures people and confront the enemy with more confidence rather than just having endless conversations that challenge nothing much at all.

I think if I focus on FULLY doing kingdom of God work – i.e. what flows from the rule of God and what challenges every other kingdom and what honours the rule and will of the king, I will find myself more and more in situations where the contest is between what I am saying and doing and what the devil has been killing, stealing and destroying. I want to offer people the very best of what the kingdom of God represents as Jesus did. When demons show up, as a result, I want to be able to deal with them directly and effectively. I think it is harder to do than it is to talk about. To be willing to confront the actual presence of a demon IN a person or IN a situation takes a bit of practice. Some people will take this to an extreme and figure there are demons where there aren’t. Others will qualify demonic presence using the language of psychology and want to deal with it by prescribing medicines. That’s why there is a work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to DISCERN what is going on. It must not be a method or a religious practice. It must be a one-by-one discerning so that we know how to respond.

I can only assume that the weapon of salvation, i.e. my covenant relationship with God gives me access to the authority belonging to my Father just like Jesus. I need to continue to embrace that relationship so that I will know God’s authority and be able to exercise it as an expression of his nature and purpose.

[1]         See Luke 11:19 “Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.”

When Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, by the religious leaders, he argued that their accusations could apply in the same way to the Jewish exorcists who practised their ministry with a measure of endorsement from the religious establishment.

See also Josephus, Antiquities 8:47-49 where Josephus talks about exorcists using scents and invoking particular words to see someone freed from demonic influence.

[2]         See First John 3:8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

[3]         One example that comes to mind is the work of Hank Hanegraaff from the Christian Research Institute. Their zeal to expose Christian heresy was so strong we only knew them by what they were opposed to – rather than what they stood for.

[4]         See Hebrews 11:1

[5]         See James 2:

[6]         See First John 5:4

WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.2 Jesus at Nazareth

Luke 4:14-27

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 20 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. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time when the sky was shut for three and a half years, and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

HOW DID THE PRESENCE AND WORK OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?

It is very easy to only think about the last part of the story to answer our question. Jesus made a provocative statement accusing his fellow Nazarenes of errant unbelief by comparing them to the Israelites at the time of Elijah and Elisha. When the whole congregation became furious to the point of wanting to put their hometown “son” to death it is natural to assume the presence of the adversary.  The level of anger going way beyond reasonable is consistent with the nature of wickedness. In fact, wickedness is always trans-rational, indiscriminate and destructive. We also know that it comes from a hierarchical order of spiritual personalities: the devil and the hosts of demons. We should not, however, limit our focus in Nazareth to the end of the story.  We need to see what led to this outburst.

The town that Jesus called home for almost thirty years was totally insignificant according to the records from that time. Researchers have estimated its population to be approximately 200 people. When Nathanael is told by Philip that they have met the Messiah and that he comes from Nazareth, all he can say is, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”[1] When historians provide lists of Galilean towns, Nazareth never gets a mention. How ironic that this town stands out for two reasons:  first, it was the home of the Messiah for all those years.  Second, it was the only town to react violently to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah (apart from Jerusalem of course).

The first visit of Jesus to his hometown was poignant, to say the least.  He had been baptised by John and commissioned by his Father at the Jordan River.  He spent forty days in the wilderness being challenged by the devil.  On his return to Galilee he made Capernaum the operations base for his ministry.  The miracles done there immediately became known throughout the province and beyond.  He also visited other Galilean towns where he also performed miracles and taught in synagogues. By the time he decided to return to his hometown, his reputation as a teacher and miracle worker had arrived ahead of him.

What happened in Nazareth may seem extreme, but it is quite common in Christian experience. We could call it “familial resistance.” Familial, because it happens in families but also because it comes about through over-familiarity. The saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt” refers to the same thing. Having lived in a small country town of around 300 people for the first twenty years of my life, I am well aware of it. Everyone knew everything about everyone. Sometimes they knew a bit more than everything. When you think about the fact that Jesus spent thirty years in the company of 200 people and never once gave any indication that he was the Messiah that, in itself is amazing. He did such a good job of becoming incarnate that no one suspected for a moment that he was anything other than the son of Mary and Joseph. And Mary and Joseph were not notable for anything famous except, perhaps, for the scandal associated Mary’s pregnancy which small town gossip tends to perpetuate.

There is a much bigger back story to Jesus’ visit to Nazareth than any other place he visited.  He was well known there, but not for any of the things for which he became known in every other place.  It was this back story that allowed the enemy to hinder what God wanted them to know.  This identifies a very important aspect of the devil’s work everywhere.  He uses what has become familiar to stop us from seeing the unfamiliar.  He uses the past to rob us of the future.  He uses our long term compromises to blind us from discovering truth.  This story from Nazareth highlights all of these.  The presence and work of the enemy here escalated through a number of identifiable stages.

1. They responded to Divine Presence with Indifference

When Jesus came to Nazareth, he arrived before the Sabbath. We are not told how many days he was there, but it was more than one. Jesus had been performing notable miracles in Capernaum, and the news of it has spread quickly. He had also visited other towns and spoken in their synagogues. In all cases the reception was enthusiastic. But when he came to his own town, the initial impact was …… nothing. Later in the sequence of events, Jesus pointed to the fact that they were waiting for something to happen, but no one came to him for healing. No one asked him any questions or called on him to teach or preach. It was like old times. He was back in town, but nothing more was going on that Mary and Joseph were hosting their otherwise becoming-famous son. Small towns note those things in their weekly newspapers. When I was in Dorrigo (Mid-North Coast NSW) the eight-page Don Dorrigo Gazette used to include about a quarter of a page reporting significant social events: “Rodney and Karen Smith were pleased to receive their eldest son, John, visiting from Brisbane.”  Everyone already knew about it of course, but it still got a mention. When I was growing up in Gunning, I was hardly ever referred to as Brian. I would be introduced as “Terry Medway’s boy.”

When Jesus came home for a visit, the reception was not like Capernaum or other towns and villages of Galilee. There, Jesus’ reputation and a preacher and healer attracted immediate attention. People gathered to hear and brought their sick to be healed. But in Nazareth there was nary a ripple on the social let alone spiritual level. The former status quo rose up to challenge whatever they had heard about from other places. In Nazareth it was a case or, “Joseph and Mary were pleased to receive a visit from their son, Jesus.”  They were wondering about the stories they had heard, but it was kept well under wraps. The social status quo prevailed. Even though Jesus was now performing signs and wonders that should have alerted them, they totally rejected the idea that Jesus presence was Messianic.

I think this kind of enemy work is common to kingdom ministry no matter which part of the world you live and regardless of which century you belong to. In recent years we have begun to hear the term “presence” as referring to God tangibly engaging with people. I have heard people talk about going to a Christian gathering and saying, “God really showed up tonight.” They were referring to the ‘manifest presence of God.’ We all accepted the idea that God was omnipresent. But if someone fell down as they were receiving prayer, we would be told that God did something that could be seen or heard. When Jesus returned to Nazareth his presence was the presence of God. The apostle, John described it in this way,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth……. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”[2]

God showed up in Nazareth. No longer was he travelling incognito. No longer was the incarnation limited to mere human ability and capacity. God said things and did things through his Son. They were things that everyone could see and hear. They were things that required a response.

As far as the people of Nazareth were concerned nothing was going to change. The mould that had taken thirty years to construct in their minds and hearts was just too strong.  But the enemy was using that to push back against what they had heard from Capernaum and other places.  For those days this was definitely the “elephant” in the room.” We have to realise that we often fail to go looking for the presence of God, even though we are told that he dwells within us and will never leave for forsake us. He says he will be with us always. That means we have to discover his presence, not just hold it before us as an empty proposition. We often need to seek him in order to find him. Like the people of Nazareth, we often settle for the words but have no real expectation of the reality.

Remember, we are looking at this incident to see how the enemy made his intentions and presence felt. The truth is that he had been doing a good job at it for a long time in Nazareth. It was always going to be a shock for Jesus to leave home as Joseph and Mary’s boy and come back as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Their conclusion that Jesus was nothing than a small town boy of no special status was demonic. When the evidence came to their ears by way of the stories about him in Capernaum and elsewhere, they were apparently set aside. When Jesus showed up the shutters were up, and the doors were closed. It was, perhaps the only village in Galilee that reacted in this way.  Think about it. There is a special kind of enemy work that uses the familiarity and culture of our close perimeter relationships to block us from seeing the heart and purpose of God.  Jesus was warning us about this when he made statements like this one:  “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”[3]

The people of Nazareth made no response to the fact that Jesus was in their midst.  Like the people of Jerusalem that Jesus wept for, they missed their opportunity.  That this began with a polite silence is no less a sign of the working of demonic purpose than someone lying on the ground frothing at the mouth.  It is the more heinous because of its false air of respectability.

2. Responding To Revelation with Denial

The second manifestation of the enemy occurred when Jesus was given the scroll and chose to read words from one of the fundamental passages in the Scriptures referring to the long-awaited Messiah. As he was reading, I am sure everyone’s heart was being stirred. I have been in congregations that place high-level emphasis on the second coming of Jesus.  Every time it is spoken about excitement stirs because of their heightened anticipation.  It could be any day!   What a day that would be.

 

Just think about that situation and then read what Jesus said to them. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  These words cannot be easily misunderstood. He was telling them that he WAS the Messiah. I don’t have any trouble understanding what he meant by those words, nor do I have any problem accepting the fact that Jesus was the very Messiah promised in those words. Not so, the people in the synagogue at Nazareth. Their lack of understanding shouts at us. In their minds it was unthinkable that Jesus could be that Messiah.  He had lived up the road for all those years and there was nothing to warrant such an idea.

 

Instead of getting upset because he made such a preposterous claim or asking a question as to how this could be, they met this revelation with complete denial.  They talked about his capabilities as an orator. He has just announced that the waiting time for the Messiah to come is over, but all they can talk about was his elegant diction. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, nothing more.

We only have to compare this situation with what happened a long way to the north when Jesus and the disciples visited Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked them to tell him who they thought he was. Peter was quick to respond, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[4] They were looking at the same person but what they saw was totally different. Sadly, their history of seeing and knowing Jesus as a local became a demonic weapon powerful enough to block what Jesus was plainly telling them.

It is important to see that their reaction was not just people having a different viewpoint. There is only one entity committed to stopping people from recognising the Messiah, and that’s the devil. He doesn’t show up as a man in a red suit toting a pitch fork; he shows up by convincing the people of Nazareth that Jesus is nothing more than the son of the local carpenter.  This is a dark presence having a profound impact on the people from Nazareth. It is not a demonic manifestation where someone screaming out obscenities or curses. These people are not demon possessed. They are under demonically inspired bondage. More to the point, this kind of demonic presence is not something that will be resolved by an exorcism. This presence has been building over the years or even decades. It so locks people into a cultural set of expectations that the idea of the Messiah growing up in their midst is wildly preposterous to them. It causes them to immediately disregard what Jesus has just said – and move on quickly.

When people respond to revelation with denial it isn’t because they haven’t heard what was said. They could hear okay. They also knew the language and the meaning of the words. There were no complicated philosophical concepts. “Today” means today. This “Scripture” refers to the Messianic passage from Isaiah he had just read. “Fulfilled in your hearing” meant everyone within earshot in the synagogue. No problems there. The problem was a demonised set of attitudes and previous experiences that caused them to hear but not accept what Jesus had said. They didn’t argue about it either.  They didn’t ask questions.  They just ignored it and changed the subject.

Again, this is a universal experience. Jesus told a parable about the devil coming and stealing the word from heaven that they have received.[5] It was the devil who came and stole, not a person lacking understanding. It was demonic presence, right there. How many sermons have been listened to, Bible portions read and prophetic words given by the Spirit that have had a clear and straightforward meaning only to be met with a demonic wall of resistance. There is no fanfare and no outburst. Just a polite change of subject. We need to be alert to this – both for our own sake and for the sake of those for whom we have responsibility before God.

3. Responding To Conviction with Retaliation

It is easy to see that there is a progression here. Things are heating up in the old hometown synagogue. First Jesus comes to town and people ignore his presence. Then he goes to the synagogue and reads a Messianic portion from the Scriptures and tells them plainly that he is their Messiah. I think Jesus loved these people. In fact, I am certain he did. He knew all of their names and everything about them. If the Messiah had a mission to proclaim and do the works of the kingdom of God he would have definitely had a desire for the two hundred or so people from this backwater village in lower Galilee. There are only a few occasions where Jesus speaks so directly about his identity, and this is one of them. Very often when we engage with people in some way for them to see the goodness and love of God we experience push back and then we just back away. On this occasion, with this group of people, his reaction to the first manifestation of the presence of the enemy was to wait for an opportunity to make a clear statement. What happens when they ignore the counter-attack from Jesus?

As you get to this part of the story, Jesus shifted attention from the prophecy of Isaiah to their quiet but stubborn unbelief. He chooses two events showing that God needed to go to a couple of Gentiles to find anyone with faith because the unbelief of his own people was non-existent. In the presence of demonised denial, Jesus refused to back off; such was his heart for the people of his hometown. He exposed their quiet and polite resistance by comparing it to two events recorded in First and Second Kings. A woman from Sidon had faith to believe Elijah, and a Syrian army commander had faith to go to Elisha for healing. This was undoubtedly a fierce conversation, but its purpose was to allow them to see what was happening. They were immune to the loving gesture of their God.

The response seems to have been immediate and extreme. They were angry. They rushed forward and jostled him out of the synagogue to a nearby cliff and intended to throw him to his death. Such a level of opposition would not happen again until Jesus went to Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The people who had become prisoner to a seemingly benign but incredibly stubborn resistance to previous overtures now got totally out of control. This is what happens when we continue to do deals with the devil. His efforts are silent and sombre at first, but lurking beneath is a torrent of violence and aggression. It’s not generated by the people themselves, but spurred and breathed upon by the forces of evil. I doubt that these people knew why they overreacted as they did. Such is the outcome of politely courting and accommodating darkness.

And the response of Jesus? That was quite a feature in itself. Its a bit hard to tell exactly how far they had to jostle him to get to the edge of the cliff. There are a number of different possibilities, according to the archaeologists. The point is that he didn’t resist, perhaps until the last. At that point, the power of God came and enabled him to walk through the middle of them. The last weapon of war used was his faith. If you ask why this was allowed to happen, we can only speculate (which is always a bit dangerous). I guess that he was waiting for them to realise what was going on, perhaps to change their minds, perhaps to realise that what he had said and the stories they had heard was from God. Grace and love are mighty rivers from the heart of God, and they flow in volume until the opportunity for change has evaporated. I love the sentiment of Peter found in his first letter, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”[6]  His capacity for non-retaliation was not the dutiful steeling of his will. It was the overflow of his trust in God the Father.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO CHALLENGE THE WORK OF THE ENEMY?

  1. WORD FROM GOD   When there was no response to his presence in the town as there had been in other places he waited without making any direct counter attack. I am not at all expert in waiting, but it is a weapon. He could have stood on the street corner and shouted to everyone that he was here now as the Messiah, but not; he waited until the gathering in the synagogue. Although it isn’t immediately obvious as representative of one of the seven Ephesian weapons, I think the deliberate waiting was because he was “doing what he saw the Father doing.”[7] In this case, the Father didn’t initiate, so Jesus waited. In Ephesians 6 we call that “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”[8]
  2. TRUTH    When there was no initial response, Jesus waited for the synagogue meeting and either deliberately chose the passage from Isaiah or, as some suggest, by the providence of God it was the lectionary reading for that particular Sabbath. Either way, the one-line sermon was a classic case of the Ephesians weapon of truth. Jesus made known reality that couldn’t be otherwise seen.
  3. FAITH    My way of describing faith is taking an action that shows you are trusting God to do something. We have all heard the famous phrase from the Letter of James: “Faith without works is dead.”[9] When the whole congregation of his hometown rose up in anger and began to push him toward the cliff he allowed it to happen (see above). Then, even though his life was in danger, he didn’t cry for help or begin to berate the crowd for their unwarranted vexations. At a certain point God intervened and, without so much as a retaliatory push or a harsh word, Jesus was able to walk through (not around or away from) the crowd. There would come a time when he would embrace death but, like Aragorn,[10] it was not going to be this day.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

Not every work of the enemy rises suddenly and obviously. The work in Nazareth was a long slow process. Remember, any work that opposes or hinders recognition and response to the presence and work of God will only ever be demonic. There is no neutral territory, persons or circumstances. The religious teachings, lifestyles and expectations had built over the centuries. When Paul describes the presence of the enemy in 2 Corinthians 10, he talks about “strongholds.”[11] Before we start speculating about what a ‘stronghold’ might look like, he provides clarification. He talks about ‘arguments,’ ‘pretensions’ that hinder people from embracing the knowledge of God and then, ‘thoughts.’ I don’t think I will ever be able to forget a definition of strongholds explained to us by Argentinian, Ed Silvoso.[12] He said a stronghold is “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable situations we know are contrary to the will of God.”

If you think about Nazareth or the rest of Galilee and Judea for that matter, it is easy for us to see the mindsets that had developed over the years of traditional religious legalism. When Jesus described the impact of the religious leaders of his day[13]He is describing this very phenomenon. It took a long time. It was based on a progression where human traditions were given more authority than what God had said. In the conservative, small, almost forgotten village of Nazareth, these traditions would have shaped the lifestyle of generations. Their presuppositions would have stood unchallenged. Jesus spent thirty years living in that environment.

We have our own brand of human traditions: Greek philosophies, rampant rationalism from the Enlightenment and then a host of uglies that have taken root as moral values were jettisoned in the sixties and seventies. It isn’t just values themselves. They are the effect. The cause is an underlying intention to reject God and substitute an idol. Different detail but the same old problem.

So the challenge is to maintain an awareness of what comes from God and what is derived from human wisdom that denies God. I would love you to spend half a day of normal life just thinking about the ideas behind what people say and do: news items, workplace, marketplace, family etc. You will be amazed at how subtle the accepted values are those who have nothing to do with what God has lovingly said or graciously intends. They are “arguments, pretensions and thoughts” locked down as strongholds. And they are hard to resist. Some of them intimidate us and cause us to live out our own values and beliefs secretly to avoid being regarded as weird or worse.

Jesus saw and felt these strongholds in Nazareth. When he came back to visit he knew the only loving thing to do was to challenge them. He needed to give them a shot at realising what was going on and therefore the opportunity to embrace what God was doing in their midst. That strategy involved saying nothing at first but then lovingly trying to lift the lid on their polite unbelief. On the surface, it was exactly that. Underneath it was much more sinister – as we have seen. The same hearts who were willing to say nice things about Jesus’ ability as a speaker were, a few minutes later, willing to throw him off a cliff. Such was the ensconced demonic presence.

We are left in no two minds about the outcome of Jesus’ ministry to Nazareth. It appears that no one became a believer or follower that day. Just think about the pressure on Jesus NOT to DO and say what he did and said. He could have had a nice few days at home and say and do nothing. In the synagogue, he could have stopped after the nice comments and said nothing more. We face such pressures every week. If all Jesus was concerned about was hoping his hometown people would think nice things about him, then he could have done so. But Jesus knew the havoc that had been wreaked over the decades and maybe centuries. He was all too aware of there religious bondage that was locking down his family and friends. Even though his mission to Nazareth may have seemed like a failure in some respects, at least the people had been given a clear opportunity to see and respond to the presence of the Messiah. Even though their unbelief became violent, it was out in the open. Nothing is going to happen until the covert work of Satan is uncovered and then resisted. In that sense, it was a success.   This will be the crossroads decision that we will have to make week by week if the strongholds around us are going to be challenged at all.

[1]         gives an insight into the village chosen by God for the beginning of his Son’s life journey. See John 2

[2]         See John 1:14-18

[3] See Matthew 10:34-36  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law —  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”

[4]         See Matthew 16

[5]         See the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13

[6]         First Peter 2:23

[7]         See John 5:19,20 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all, he does.”

[8]         See Ephesians 6:17

[9]         See James 2:26

[10]       Aragorn was a lead character in the Tolkien trilogy, Lord of the Rings: “A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.”

[11]       See 2 Corinthians 10:3-6     For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

[12]       page 155, “That None Should Perish,” Ed Silvoso, Regal Books 1992

[13]       See Matthew 23

WRESTING AGAINST Luke 4.1 Part 3

 

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Luke 4:9-13

HOW WAS THE PRESENCE AND WORK OF THE ENEMY RECOGNISED?
We don’t need to revisit the question as to whether the devil appeared physically or otherwise. Nor whether they physically or spiritually travelled to the temple in Jerusalem (read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t already). The devil is called the “deceiver,” after all. It is safe to assume that the episode was shrouded in deception.  Jesus found himself standing on the highest point of the temple. That, in itself, did not constitute the presence of the devil. It was an amazing building, as noted by some of Jesus’ followers.[1]  The principle to note here is the fact that this intrusion by the devil started out by utilising what might be considered as the very core of religious orthodoxy – i.e. the temple in Jerusalem.

It won’t be a stretch for us to regard the devil as capable of initiating a work by using something as core and as orthodox as the temple, especially Herod’s temple. That, in itself, represents nothing demonic.  It is the next three ideas that identify the presence of the adversary.

Like the first encounter, Jesus is challenged about his identity as the Son of God. Is he really the Son of God? Could there be a trace of doubt in Jesus’ mind? After all, he had been led by the Spirit into this ‘godforsaken’ wilderness. He had been here forty days and had eaten no food. Doesn’t sound too much like the wonderful will of God, does it?  More than that, Jesus had been living as a carpenter in Nazareth for thirty years without any ‘show’ of his divine sonship. The people of that village were pretty much convinced that Jesus had nothing to do with God when he visited and began speaking in the synagogue.[2] There is a touch of irony here about the matter of Jesus’ identity. He had just come from the River Jordan where he had heard his Father’s voice telling him that he was a beloved and pleasing Son. Now he was a long way from the Jordan, and the affirmation he received there was being seriously challenged. I think there would be many people who would testify to the fact that when they had had some strong affirming experience of God, it is common for things to happen immediately afterwards to challenge those experiences. The devil’s schemes don’t seem to change over time.

The second string to this bow suggests that Jesus should put on a demonstration. He should throw himself off the top of the temple and allow everyone in the precinct to see what happens next. In other words, to put his identity on show. This was presented as a valid “test.” We might say, “Let’s test this and see what happens.” In almost every sphere of life, things are tested to validate their quality. The reason they are tested is that it is possible that something is not working properly or that during the process of manufacture or installation something might not be sound. We are all in favour of things being tested. We feel safer as a result. Think about this the next time you sit in an aeroplane. Each plane has been subjected to thousands of tests before flying. Add to that the tests that are updated every millisecond through the gauges and lights that the pilots and engineers keep checking. The reason for these tests is that things can and do go wrong. There is some logic about Jesus “testing” his connection with heaven before he starts on a ministry journey where he is going to be the mediator of all kinds of supernatural power. He is going to proclaim healing before it happens. He is going to teach with crowd-felt authority. He is going to still storms and call dead people back to life. A pre-emptive ‘road test’ would be quite a typical human idea, wouldn’t it?  A human idea perhaps, but one that called into question the faithfulness of God.

The third part of the challenge comes as a misquoted text from the Bible. We all know the devil is familiar with the Biblical text. Perhaps the devil had taken note of the fact that Jesus was using Bible texts to frame his previous testimony. The devil has a shot at it to make the idea sound as if it has Biblical integrity. In a little less than two thousand years of Christian history we have seen enough misquoting to last a thousand times a thousand lifetimes. People have ‘proved’ things, built teaching systems, denominations and reputations on misquoted and misunderstood Bible texts and portions. We have all been in Bible study groups and have marvelled at the differences of opinion possible from the same text or passage. The very fact that texts and references are quoted to ‘prove’ or endorse all kinds of crazy attitudes and actions knows no limit. The reason it happens is that when you quote a text like the devil did on this occasion, it sounds as if it has authority. Look at the example here. Jesus was challenged to prove his Sonship – to himself and to whoever might be around the temple at the time. The Bible verse said that if he jumped off the pinnacle of the temple, some angels would come and stop him from hitting the ground. I think it is plain to see the exegetical logic involved. We need to remember that the devil knew that the Bible verse didn’t mean that. He wanted Jesus to be smashed to death on the stones of the temple court.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO REBUFF THIS ATTACK OF THE ENEMY?

At the risk of being ultra-repetitive, I need to point out again that Jesus was not just parroting words from the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:16 makes an elementary point: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” It refers to what happened to the Israelites at Massah and Meribah.[3] They had no water and complained to Moses that God could not be trusted to fulfil his promise. This quarrelling and complaining were described in the text as “testing” God. They gave the place where it happened two names: Massah, which means “testing” and Meribah, “quarrelling.” When Moses reminded them of these things at the end of the forty-year journey, he was charging them not to repeat what happened.  God had proved trustworthy every day for forty years. He had provided food and water for possibly a million and a half people.  Not bad considering they were wandering in a desert.  The suggestion that God could not be trusted was nonsense at best and a horrible insult at worst.

If Jesus was using Scripture as testimony, he was making known what could not be seen. What heart attitude and experience might he be referring to? To go back to the testing associated with flying, I made the point that these tests are done because of the possibility of human error or mechanical failure. Both of those things are possible, and when 300 people are 35,000 feet above the earth hurtling along at 900 kph, it’s not good when things go wrong. So they have created all kinds of tests to make sure they know that everything is AOK. What if an aeroplane could be built and flown where there was no chance of any malfunction. If that were possible, then you wouldn’t need all the tests.

And that is the very point here. What if God was not capable of failing to keep his promise? What if there was nothing that could separate us from his love? What if he was 100% faithful 24/7? And what if you were utterly convinced that this was so? If God was trustworthy and I was thoroughly convinced of it, THERE IS NO NEED FOR TESTING!!!!

My conclusion is that Jesus had been trusting in the faithfulness of his Father God for the whole of eternity and found that there was no occasion where that trust had failed. Jesus had been raised in Nazareth and had spent thirty years trusting God’s faithfulness and timing. This love/trust relationship had been working for all of that time. It was a total certainty. So when the devil comes to suggest that he should now push a button to test it out, you can see how the devil had misjudged what was inside Jesus.

Once again, the weapon Jesus used was not a Bible reference but a personal declaration of reality/truth. It was the first of Paul’s weapons in Ephesians 6. In quoting these words, Jesus was making known something that couldn’t be seen. We will find that this is consistent with the way Jesus modelled the use of spiritual weapons of war. Again, it is important to notice that the weapon wasn’t something he picked up and fired like a gun. This weapon was something belonging to his intrinsic personhood. He HAD a relationship with God based on total trust. That trust was active and activated every day. Because it was a heart/lifestyle thing, it was easy for him to realise that the suggestion of performing some kind of spiritual sideshow in the temple precinct was demonic. The same is true of the exercise of this weapon. He didn’t need to perform a loud, flamboyant ritual to ‘cast the devil out.’ He just had to tell the devil the truth and move on. It’s a bit like flicking a speck of dust from your coat. No need for drama. No need to stop everything and write a PhD thesis on the nature of the speck. Just flick it off and keep going. In this case, the phrase from a well known Australian advertisement is true: “one flick and they’re (it’s) gone.”[4]

THE OUTCOME

As with the previous two challenges, the devil had no weapons that would stand against this short statement of testimony from Jesus. He didn’t argue any point or raise any new idea. The whole intention simply collapsed. I know these accounts are concise, but the principle is profound. Think about some of the struggles you have experienced or have known about where the struggle seems to go on and on. I am convinced that on some of those occasions the length of the battle is due to other factors. One of those factors could well be that we are not using the right weapons. We are using weapons that Satan is quite capable of handling. This is especially true when we use human weapons: argument, pretension, status, manipulation, intimidation etc. Even though Jesus was hungry and had been forty days in a very remote and dangerous region, the fact that his trust in his Father had been established over time meant that he was fully capable of “flicking away the speck.”

It is also important to notice that on this third occasion where Jesus flicks away the taunt of the enemy he withdraws from that battlefield altogether. He doesn’t surrender. He just goes away and looks for what he would consider a strategic opportunity. I think there are some encouraging issues for us here. Someone once said to me that the devil could not sustain a long-term encounter. It doesn’t mean he gives up overall. It just means he doesn’t have the character strength to keep it up. From our point of view, it means that if we don’t stop resisting, then we will win. I notice that Paul makes this point in Ephesians 6. He talks about “standing.” I think that is a very profound insight into the way we approach battles. Jesus did it here. He didn’t get all charged up and go chasing the devil and focus his attention on the devil and forget about everything else. He merely resisted, and the devil got flicked. Too many people get too interested in everything to do with the devil rather than keeping their focus on serving Jesus and the kingdom.

On this occasion, Jesus didn’t change his tack. He went to the wilderness led by the Spirit. He flicked off the devil’s taunts. If he were a government department in Canberra, he would have invented five new procedure manuals and changed the name of the department a few times on the presumption that if it happened on one occasion, the whole game plan had to be changed. Not so in the kingdom of God. And there was no repeat of this kind of incident anyway. He had the same intention before this incident and the same after it. The attack changed nothing about Jesus’ approach to ministry. It was business as usual. We ought to take advice from this and do likewise.

WHAT WOULD NEED TO HAPPEN FOR ME TO BE ABLE TO USE THIS WEAPON AS JESUS DID?

Once again, we have watched Jesus use a weapon that he couldn’t take off or put down. Nor could he grab it to put on. This weapon had been developing from eternity. I think it is going to be true of all of the weapons. They are not going to be methods or rituals. They are going to be something we develop as part of our being. In this case, it had an attitude to God where there was total trust. For him, it was the same trust in a very different environment. If you read Philippians 2, you will see that Jesus stepped out of his status as God and stepped into humanhood. Instead of relating to his Father from heaven, he was doing it from the posture of human society on earth.But the relationship was the same, and the trust was the same. It wasn’t foolproof. As anyone can see from a read of the gospels, that relationship was maintained as a matter of critical priority.

So Jesus models for us what it means to trust God one hundred percent. When the devil came and suggested there might be a need to check it out and make sure God could still be trusted, there wasn’t room for it. The trust container was already full. No need to test something that is incapable of failing. Think about that for a while. God is totally incapable of failing. He is totally reliable. The challenge for us concerning this weapon is to be building that trust every day. Trust in God is built in the same way we build trust with others. We get to know them and the more we know, the more we trust. The more we trust, the more reason we have to trust.

I need to be building that trust. I need to do that by reading the testimony to God’s faithfulness. There are sixty-six books of it in the Bible, and there are millions of stories people have told about their experiences of trusting God and finding him to be faithful. Then, we can approach the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives by asking the question in any given situation: What would I do in this situation if I knew that God was completely reliable? Then go and do that.

PUT ON THE WEAPONS

I know some people like to follow some form of religious ritual when it comes to spiritual warfare. I hear them say, “We are going to go into spiritual warfare about this.” Others develop the habit of figuratively putting on the weapons mentioned in Ephesians 6 each morning. None of that comes from the modelling of Jesus. Putting on the armour amounted to hearing from God every day, worship and serving God every day and trusting God in every situation. That made him a certain kind of person, not someone who knew how to grab a gun from the cabinet and shoot at someone. When the devil wanted to turn Jesus’ primary attention to food, it just wasn’t something that held any attraction to him because what God said was always more important to him. Similarly, Jesus lived only to worship and serve his Father, God. It was a non-debatable issue and was his desired normal practice. When the devil wanted Jesus to switch to worshipping him, it didn’t ruffle a feather. Jesus had no interest in worshipping anything or anyone else. When the devil tried to get Jesus to doubt his identity and doubt the faithfulness of his Father, again, Jesus wasn’t interested. With three flicks these nasty little specs of evil were discarded like dust from a coat. He didn’t have to put on any weapons. He had been developing these weapons every day of his life. He didn’t ‘go and do’ spiritual warfare at all. He just gave testimony to what was inside of him, and the devil had no comeback. When we do the same, we will be armed in the same way. Neither physical needs nor personal ambition nor the desire to attract attention had any power.

So we need to pursue everything God has said. Don’t just read the Bible. Hear and know what God has said. Don’t just hear it but do it. Continue to pursue all of the other things that God has said. You will be armed in there day of battle. We need to make sure it is God who is the object of our primary loyalty and worship. We have to get to the point where we know what it feels like to belong to God, serve God and honour God. When that primary source reigns in our day to day circumstances, we will again be ready in the day of battle. And we need to grow in our understanding and sense of conviction that God is so totally reliable that we will never need to “test” his faithfulness to us.

[1]         See Mark 13:1 “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

[2]         See later in Luke 4

[3]         See Exodus 17

[4]         Most Australians will remember a well-known jingle for a pest control agent called “Flick.”