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.”

WRESTLING AGAINST LUKE 4.1 Part 2

 

 

Jesus and the devil direct    Part 2

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6, And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Luke 4:5-8

HOW WAS THE PRESENCE AND WORK OF THE ENEMY IDENTIFIED?

Once again, those of us who have been impacted by western culture with its hunger for analysis will find this story frustrating for the detail that is not provided. I would love to know HOW Jesus was led to the top of a high mountain. More than that, I would like to go to that mountain to see what Jesus saw. If I was from a different age and personality type I might want to build a monument there – or three. As usual, these issues crowd in and make it harder for us to see what we ARE told.

Spiritual experience is, by definition, subjective. You can describe it, but it is not as easy to provide a way for anyone else to gain an objective appraisal. When Paul was describing one experience in his own life he talked about it like this:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 2 Corinthians 12:1,2

Being “caught up to the third heaven” is not something we can measure or analyse. Those of us who trust Paul and what he wrote, would accept what he said even though most of us would not have had any similar experience. The point is that Paul didn’t know whether it was a physical or metaphysical experience. He didn’t know if his physical body was transported to the third heaven or not. The important thing for us to note is that the reality of his encounter with God wasn’t predicated on it. The same could be said for most supernatural experiences.

So, it matters very little whether Jesus and the devil physically left the wilderness and were transported to the top of Mt. Everest or whether he saw it in a vision without leaving his spot in the wilderness. What matters was the fact that he was being offered an alternative means of fulfilling what was, in fact, his divine calling. No need to trudge the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea. No need to be opposed by the religious leaders and misunderstood by his own followers. It could happen with one simple “adjustment”: worship the devil.

Consider for a moment what the devil was appealing to in Jesus. Regardless of the fact that it was Jesus and he was special, the targeted areas of vulnerability were very common. The first targeted his identity as the Son of God using personal needs (i.e. hunger). The second targeted personal ambition by offering a soft core alternative to his God-ordained purpose. I am aware that many people will assume that the devil showed up wearing a red suit and holding a pitchfork. When the text says, “the devil led him…”  we are left in no doubt as to who was there. I am certain that was not the case. As I have already mentioned, I think it matters little what was going on physically or metaphysically. The fact was that Jesus was shown the kingdoms of the world and told that they would be given to him. I am sure he would have known the words of Psalm 2 that referred to his calling and destiny: “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”[1]  It is possible, maybe even likely, that the “vision” of the nations turned up in his consciousness with some sense of legitimacy. If he was about to embark on a process that would culminate in his coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords, such a vision could have been seen in that light.

The presence was made known in the next statement: “And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”  The first sign of iniquity will be found in the idea that the rule of the nations” is about ’authority and splendour.’ That has nothing to do with the heart attitude of the Creator. There is no sense in which authority for its own sake has anything to do with God’s nature. God’s heart is for love and relationship. Where did you see Jesus walking around banging his own drum and beating people over the head with the idea that he was God and King? The power and authority manifest by Jesus was power under, not power over. And the glory sought by Jesus was the glory of the cross – giving people a shot at experiencing the righteousness of God that comes as a gift.[2] Once again, the devil got Jesus totally wrong. Jesus had been born in moral controversy, raised in obscurity and was now on his own in the wilds of Judea. Hardly a pathway to earthly status and splendour. The second giveaway was to be found in the idea that this dominion could be traded for the sake of personal interest. Just consider what that might look like if it were thought to come from God – trading off people and their well being as if it were a bargaining chip???? Then, the final statement was the total giveaway. The cost of this trade to Jesus would be to transfer his primary loyalty, love and commitment. Once again, this is a very common ploy of the enemy, and he has played that card well. I agree with N.T. Wright when he classifies sin as idolatry. We offer what belongs to God alone to other things: self, career, money, power, gratification, lust and so on. In that sense, we have all listened to this empty promise from Satan that we can gain some sort of status and pleasure by giving what belongs to God to someone or something else.

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

As the presence of the enemy was made known, Jesus was once more able to counter-attack using a quote from Deuteronomy. As previously noted, my own conclusion here is that Jesus was not just sprouting Bible words, but making something known that the devil hadn’t realised. In Paul’s list of weapons, this is the one referred to as “truth.” His righteousness here is seen in the simple fact that he didn’t rise up with indignation. He simply explained what he was not interested in the deal the devil was offering. I’ve seen some people deal with the devil by splashing their own ego and pride over everyone and everything. Jesus simply used a Bible reference to make clear to the devil that he was only going to be worshipping God.

Once again, if you think about this as a weapon, it was hardly something that you pick up and brandish. It wasn’t like that at all. The weapon was Jesus worshipping and serving his heavenly Father for there last thirty years as he grew and worked in his earthly father’s carpentry business. He didn’t turn anything on that day for special effect. He just explained that his primary worship settled. I just wish it was as much a resolved issue for us as it was for Jesus. You can see that this merely ongoing commitment was the weapon. His lifestyle pattern was the weapon. It wasn’t armour that he put on and then took off. Every time he followed after his Father’s will and every time he stood among the worshippers at some local synagogue he was stating his primary loyalty. It was the most settled thing about his life, and it needs to be so for us. When we commit to maintaining our worship and commitment to God through prayer, community, service, ministry worship, being in the Word of God – we are sharpening a weapon that will have the power to rebuff the advances of the enemy in a single word of testimony.

THE OUTCOME

For the second time, the enemy totally gave up on the issue. We all know there was one more issue coming, but it is important to realise that the devil had no counter-attack for what Jesus said. Would that we were engaged in an unchallenged lifestyle of worship and service to God. Just as Jesus only had to make one statement that described the genuine posture of his lifestyle, we could do the same. What was being suggested would be immediately and fully recognised as a ploy of Satan and we would be fully equipped to deal with it. As with Jesus, Satan’s suggestion would have no power.

HOW MIGHT THE ENEMY SHOW UP IN MY LIFE IN A SIMILAR WAY?

Without simply repeating what has been said earlier, I have come to realise that these kinds of attacks from the enemy are common to almost everyone. If you can just set aside their idea of a bloke in a red suit appearing in there Judaean wilderness and remember that the devil’s craft is deception, it won’t be hard to identify attacks like this. The challenge to keep God as the one an only god in your life is a constant challenge. The challenge to avoid the soft options the world throws up to us to accomplish a purpose in life is the same. Even if we don’t hear words like “if you worship me it will be yours”  we just have to have a worship stocktake every so often to see what the things are that are shaping our attitudes, priorities, decisions and actions. The shift of primary loyalty (i.e. worship) is often subtle. It will only be detected when we do an audit of our priorities: which things get the first and best of our attention? What things do we spend out money on? What do we give there first and best of our time to? Questions like these need to be asked and answered candidly. Alternatively, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am a servant and worshipper of God above everything else!” See if you believe what you have said. Where is the evidence? The devil will always be coming at us convincing us we don’t have time for things that used to declare our passion for following God. In the church in my home country it is entirely possible to maintain a reputation for being a committed follower of Jesus, but do almost nothing to be successfully convicted of it by the evidence. Comparing yourself to others won’t give you a reliable reading. And if there isn’t enough evidence from the last twenty-four hours to convict you of being a worshipper of God, then I would say the enemy is winning the battle.

[1]         See Psalm 2:8

[2]         See 2 Corinthians 5:21

WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.1 Part 1

 

Introduction

For quite a few years now there has been a volume of teaching under the subject of spiritual warfare.  It seems that it was one of the subjects that was packaged up with others through the charismatic renewal of the 1970s and 80s.  For a while there we were anticipating that demons were waiting to get us.  It seems we always fall foul of the problem raised by C.S. Lewis. We either put too much emphasis on him or deny his existence altogether.[1] I have been guilty on both counts during my journeying as a servant of Jesus.

As a result of a prophetic word spoken to me a few months ago, I have been re-discovering what it means to be “battle ready.”  That interest has taken me back to Ephesians 6 and 2 Corinthians 10 among other places in the New Testament.  Instead of trying to identify the work of the enemy by interposing cultural assumptions or variant meanings of Greek words, I have made the assumption that Jesus was fighting battles with these forces on most days.  What follows is the first in a series of observations from the incidents recorded in two chapters in the Gospel of Luke.

I am keen to allow these “case studies” to give us a better look at the ways in which enemy presence and work became apparent.  Then I want to notice what Jesus did to overcome the enemy and finally, to see the result.  This will give us a better definition of what Paul talks about when he says, “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.” (Ephesians 6:12).  He previously refers to the same entities in 2 Corinthians 10, “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 pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).  By far the best place for us to gain insight into how these battles are engaged and won will be to look at the ministry of Jesus first and then the ministry of the apostles.

 

CASE STUDIES FROM THE GOSPEL OF LUKE    CHAPTER 4.1

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’

HOW DID THE WORK OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?

There are some things about this incident that are shrouded in mystery for us, mainly due to the limited amount of information given. The most obvious could be, “In what manner did the devil speak to Jesus ?” Was it through the thoughts in his mind? Was it in human form? Did he just appear out of nowhere? Was his identity immediately recognisable or did he show up as an ordinary man happening to be in the same place as Jesus at the same time? We will never know for sure. I have both a theory and an opinion. My theory is that when the Bible doesn’t give information either we don’t need to know, or we need to find out through our own experience. Empirical evidence seems to be limited as well. I have read on some occasions where a servant of Jesus was confronted by a metaphysical “person” whom they concluded was the devil, but there are nowhere near enough samples to be sure.

It is also possible that the devil didn’t take on bodily form at all. It is possible that Jesus heard the voice of the devil either in audible form or spoken within his own mind. What we do know for sure is that Jesus experienced the presence of the devil. It matters much less how that presence appeared. What mattered was that it was identified by what was said. Jesus was conscious that the devil said some things that challenged his identity and his mission. He was “taken” to specific vantage points and shown certain things. If we spend all our time trying to figure out the physics or metaphysics of it, we will miss the point. The point was that the challenger was identified as the devil and what he said and did was intended to deceive, sow doubt and destroy the plan of God for the whole earth that was being carried by his beloved Son, Jesus. It will become plain as we gain insight from the information we are given that the same presence and intention can happen to most of us in a hundred different ways. The challenge for us is to recognise it for what it is and to use weapons God has provided that results in the devil withdrawing from the battle.

I hope it will not be stretching anything in the text to say that the first way the presence of the devil showed up was in the context of Jesus’ hunger. Forty days without food and we are told he was hungry. I’ve heard some people say that when you fast with the right attitude, you won’t feel hungry. The super-spiritual idealism pushes speculation to an extreme. What rubbish. Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days, and his body was yelling out for his attention. When I first tried fasting, I was ploughing a paddock on my parent’s farm. Round and round and no morning tea. That was followed by no lunch. My body was in full physical rebellion. I was trying to pray, but my mind kept on thinking of what was in the refrigerator back at the house. By mid-afternoon, I was in agony. I disconnected the plough and hit full throttle for home. When I got to the back gate, I leapt off in a single bound and continued leaping till I opened the fridge door and grabbed the first item that was edible. It was the remains of a leg of lamb. I attacked it in cave man style. Having quieted the screaming of my body, I tramped slowly back to the tractor to face the remorse of thinking I had failed God. I was miserable for some days. With the patient and loving encouragement of my spiritual mentor at the time, I was able to recover and serve God again. I knew fasting was in the Bible, but at the time, I just couldn’t figure out how I was going to do it.  Having now done many fasts and some for many days, the food in the fridge doesn’t hold anywhere near as much attraction, but the idea keeps bobbing around.

The devil, an opportunist extraordinaire, saw the hunger and tried to use it to suggest to Jesus that he needed to prove that he really was the Son of God. The suggestion was that Jesus should use his supposed God-given supernatural power to create food. The case was put forward something like this:

“You are very hungry, aren’t you?”

“Don’t you think you should get something to eat right away?”

“If you really were the Son of God you will have the power to turn stones into bread.”

“Have you wondered why God would lead you to come to a place like this and to be hungry like you are. Perhaps you are not really the Son of God after all? “

“If you are the Son of God why should you go hungry like this?“

“Why don’t you put that status and identity to there test right now?”

“You could resolve those doubts right now by calling for a little divine demonstration of power from heaven.”

WHAT DID JESUS DO TO COUNTER-ATTACK?

We know that Jesus responded to the devil’s suggestion by quoting words from Deuteronomy 8. Some people think that the power is vested in the words of Scripture themselves and would presume that to sprout words from the Bible has some power in and of itself. This is clearly not the case. The most immediate example (and one of many) is when the devil quoted Bible words but twisted to suit adversarial causes.

It makes much more sense with the immediate and broader context to conclude that Jesus was using the words of Scripture to declare testimony. The words from Deuteronomy are simple and clear: Man shall not live by bread alone.  In the parallel passage from Matthew[2], ”but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  tell us what Jesus is sharing testimony about. The devil’s presumption about Jesus was totally wrong. He thought that because Jesus was hungry that his focus was on his physical hunger. We know from another place that Jesus had a profound detachment from the things that make people feel okay: namely plenty of food to eat, clothes to wear and a comfortable place to dwell. In John 4 when the disciples return to the well with some food from the town, they couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t  interested in tucking in. When they press him to eat, he replies, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.”[3]  But the critical point to make is that none of these became a distraction. What was more important to him was hearing what his Father had to say. Rather than doubting his identity as a Son he was actively pursuing his Father – and the devil thought he was only thinking about his next meal!

This matter comes even more sharply into focus in the application of the principle. The challenge is not just to memorise Scripture. The challenge is to become what the Scripture reveals. Deuteronomy 8:3 calls on all of us to know how we were created. We were created to need regular food. If our bodies don’t get appropriately fed, they cry out for what they need. It is a self-preserving warning system called hunger. But there is something else that is even more important than physical food (and water). We are built to live according to what God has spoken. My word for that is revelation. God has told us things that we would never discover by ourselves. And we would never know them apart from a relationship with God where we can know what he has said. Not a book and not someone else’s experience. We are made to hear from God and live according to what we hear. When we don’t, the life we have been given malfunctions. The difference between the two is that my body automatically registers my need for food, but the need to know “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  doesn’t register as readily. It is developed through intentional experience. The metaphor is helpful because when we are functioning as we are designed, the hunger for what God has said will be as real and as active as our need for food. The problem is that this sense has been shut down because we have seem so adept at living independent from God. A lot of things that should be alive are dead and need to be resurrected.

HOW DID THE VICTORY BECOME KNOWN?

When Jesus was confronted by the devil in the wilderness, he had been living for thirty years fully dependent on every word that preceded from the mouth of God. He was hungry for it and was constantly dependent on it. As the days of fasting continued and his body started objecting the objection was noted but never became an issue. He was more hungry to gain revelation from the Father than to turn his attention on seeking food. So when the devil thought he would catch Jesus at a point of vulnerability, he was completely wrong. The victory over rulers, authorities, powers of darkness and spiritual forces in heavenly realms was already guaranteed. What was inside Jesus’ heart WAS the weapon. And the devil’s idea simply had no power.

The weapons identified by Paul in Ephesians 6 can be identified in this situation:

 

The TRUTH was that he was only hungry for what God had to say.

The RIGHTEOUSNESS was his sincere desire for God.

The GOSPEL was the message that he(and us as well) was designed to live by what God said.

FAITH was his total trust in God’s word as the primary necessity – more than physical food.

SALVATION was the security of his identity as the Son of God.

The WORD OF GOD was the fact that the Spirit had told him to go into the wilderness.

PRAYER is not referenced in this story, but it is not hard to think that Jesus was out there communing with his Father, as we learn from watching him through the gospel stories.

The victory here was that the devil had to think up something else to foil Jesus’ preparation for the three-year ministry he was about to begin. A one-sentence testimony was all it took.

 

WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE IF I WAS ABLE TO USE THIS SAME WEAPON?

We will see as we move through these incidents from the life of Jesus is the fact that we don’t become armed and dangerous to the devil’s schemes just be sprouting a few religious words. Notice that Jesus didn’t just rebuke the devil and cast him out. On this occasion, Jesus was simply describing what was true about his modus operandi. We will be similarly armed when we develop a lifestyle based on seeking and listening to everything God has said. When that becomes the overriding passion and the foundation, we will be armed. If all we think about is the weather, the degree of inconvenience and a host of other human centred concerns, we will be an easy target for Satan. There are always plenty of things he can do to make sure we have reasons to say, “No” and excuses and preoccupations that block our need to know everything he has said. When we common practice of subjecting what God has said to humans reason, personal preference etc. it will become our “natural posture.” But when we set our hearts to be shaped and moulded by what God has said, then this will also become our “natural posture.” And when the devil shows up and tries to point us toward going after our preferences and comfort zones, we will have the same answer as Jesus and gain the same outcome. Jesus 1 v. Devil 0.

[1] There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.    C.S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters (originally 1942; this edition: Harper Collins, 1996) ix.

 

[2]

[3]         See John 4:34 He goes on to explain that there is a harvest going on in a place where no Jews would entertain the wildest thought of God doing things: amongst the Samaritans. Didn’t God hate those compromised heretics? Jesus was far too engaged with the harvest that had happened through the Samaritan woman he met there than he was about eating lunch.