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Weekly Word

Entries in Fasting (2)

Tuesday
Aug052014

The Powerful Purpose of Christ

Today we are going to look at the passage in Luke 9:37-45.  Jesus, Peter, John and James are coming down the mountain the day after the transfiguration of Jesus, in which his majesty and glory were revealed to the Three.  If you add that situation with all of the other signs and wonders they had seen, the power of Christ was well impressed upon them.  In this passage there is another powerful encounter as Jesus casts a demon out of a boy.  This kind of power can cause people to drool over all the imagination of what you can do.  Whether it is the people of Israel ready to conquer the Romans and remove the wicked leaders in the Sanhedrin or the disciples imagining their positions of power alongside of Jesus, we would not use such power for the same thing Jesus did. 

Yes, Jesus healed people everywhere he went.  But, that wasn’t his main objective.  Jesus physically couldn’t fix all the difficulties in the world limited within a human body.  But even if he did go around healing people and setting them free from evil spirits, it wouldn’t fix the underlying problem: our sin.   Jesus was sent to deal with the root of mankind’s problem.  We are a world that has come under the sway of sin and spiritual death.  Such a problem needs a spiritual answer.  Yet, that answer is counter-intuitive to our worldly thinking.  Even when we accept Christ’s death on the cross, we tend to see it as an example of how bad hatred is and how good love is.  Jesus is merely an example.  However, the testimony of Scripture is that he was paying the price for the sins of mankind.  Jesus had to lay down his powerful life and die on a cross in order to deal with our sin.  This seems like a waste of power to many people.

Jesus Heals A Possessed Boy

In verses 37-42, a large crowd sees Jesus coming down off the mountain and meets him.  Particularly, there is one gentleman who has a demon possessed boy.  He begs Jesus for help and states that his disciples (the nine who did not go up the mountain) couldn’t cast out the demon.

Now in the gospel of Mark chapter 9 we are given a lot more detail than Luke gives.  Let me go through some of those details.  We are told that the boy has been possessed since he was a small child.  The spirit had caused him to become mute and deaf.  The spirit would often seize the boy near fire or water, thus endangering his life.  He would not only seize, but would also foam and gnash his teeth.  It would be easy to scoff at the idea of a demon and look at these descriptions as antiquated relics of ignorance.  Of course medically we do know much more.  However, they had medicine back then as well.  Even today, there are incidents that modern medicine have problem explaining.  They typically get thrown under the banner of “mental disorders.”  Now not all mental issues have to do with demons.  However, there are three main problems that crop up in some mental issues.  The first is that the mention of Jesus or Scripture triggers events of seizure and difficulty in some.  Secondly, they sometimes speak in a different voice cursing Christ, the Bible, and Christians.  Lastly, it can be brought to the end at a vocal command through the power of Jesus.  These things cannot be mere coincidence or cultural.  So this really does seem to be more than just a brain problem.  There is a spirit that is doing this to the child.

The 9 disciples that had stayed behind had been trying to cast out this demon without success.  Now keep in mind that they had previously gone out throughout Israel healing people and casting out demons.  Jesus had given them authority to do so.  There was something wrong in this situation and they didn’t know what it was.  This goes to show that casting out demons is not about knowing the right words or merely being a disciple of Jesus.  Definitely we need to be connected to Christ in a living relationship.  But there is more to it than that.

In verse 41 Jesus brings up the issue of faith and perversion.  It is not addressed to the disciples, but to the generation as a whole.  It seems that this situation is itself a picture of how degraded Israel had become and how plundered by the enemy they were.  Spirits cannot just possess someone.  They can only take hold of someone when they have willfully opened themselves up to them.  This is done through false religions, occult arts, magic, sorcery, fortune tellers or any other such things.  Somewhere someone in this family has been going to spirits for something and it has resulted in a small child being possessed.  What does faith and perversion have to do with this?  God had given Israel perfect laws that would enable them to walk in power before the spirits of this world.  He had warned them of those spiritual traps the enemy used to gain power over people.  Yet, some did not believe the “old, archaic” words of the Bible.  Instead they willfully went their own way seeking power from sources God had told them not to.  On top of this, Israel had not merely sought power from another source, they also had done so while still claiming to be God’s people.  Their lives had become a mixture of things from the Bible and yet things forbidden in the Bible.  To twist God’s ways is to pervert them.  Thus the child bound by a demon and the impotence of the disciples is a small picture of the problem throughout all of Israel. 

Yet, Jesus tells the man, “If you believe all things are possible.”  To which the man replies, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  Here we see the mercy of Christ.  Though it is frustrating that they are in the situation because of their own willfulness and sin, God still has compassion on us and wants to save us.  Jesus points him back to the root problem.  If you will have faith in God all things are possible.  We are being challenged in this ourselves.  We are a generation that is lacking faith in God’s word and in His ways.  We have called our perversions acceptable to God by twisting Scripture to our own ends.  We need to take warning.

Mark tells us that Jesus commanded the Deaf and mute spirit to come out of the boy.  The boy convulsed greatly and screamed and then suddenly stopped.  The crowd thought the boy was dead.  However, Jesus took the boy by the hand and raised him up and gave him back to his father.  This is a picture of us.  We come to God full of all manner of evil things begging for help.  Though he sets us free, it leaves us in a powerless state like this boy, as if dead.  In his mercy, Jesus takes us by the hand and helps us to get up and walk in the new freedom that he has given us.  Not all have been possessed by demons, but we all have found ourselves helpless and bound to the lies that they have sown throughout our society.  Only Jesus can set us free.

Mark also has the additional information of why the 9 disciples could not cast out the demon.  Jesus told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.”  There are two things that stick out in this answer.  First of all, there are kinds of spirits.  Some are apparently harder to cast out than others.  The disciples had not run into this kind before.  The second issue has to do with prayer and fasting.  We are not given the explanation of what prayer and fasting does to enable casting out “stronger” spirits.  However, the greatest work of prayer is to focus us on God and his work.  If we live our lives mostly focused on material things of this world and rarely on God, we will find that we lack power for certain spiritual things.  Jesus points his disciples to this area.  When he is gone, they are going to need to prayer and fast at greater levels in order to do the work that God has for them.

Christ’s Purpose vs His Power

In verses 43-45 we see an interaction between Jesus and his disciples.  All of the displays of power that Jesus had been doing caused them to expect the exact opposite of what Jesus was going to do.  They expected a confrontation with the Romans and the leaders of Israel in which Jesus takes over.  All of the majestic power of Christ was not headed to this objective.  Rather, He was headed to a cross.  Even today, many reject Christ because his answer to the world seems weak and pitiful to them.  What a colossal waste of power, they think to themselves.  This difficulty in understanding God’s ways has been a timeless problem for mankind.  We don’t just think differently, but our thoughts lead in the exact opposite direction.  The bible tells us that even the foolishness of God is far higher than the greatest wisdom of man.  In Luke Jesus says, “let these words sink down into your ears…”  A surface understanding alone will not work.  Jesus was to be betrayed and killed; get it through your head.  If we follow Jesus in a superficial way and ignore all the tough things that he says, we will not get far.  The closer Jesus got to the cross the fewer people who gathered around him, until he was all alone.  Jesus is the Rejected One.  No matter how popular he is in a moment in time, we will all be tested in the long run.  You will be forced to choose.  Whom are you following?  Are you following Jesus or the wise and great of this world?  This is the question that is constantly put before those who wish to follow Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to pick up your own cross expecting to die along with him.  Let these words sink into your ears.

Powerful Purpose of Christ Audio

Tuesday
Nov192013

When The New Becomes The Old

Today we are going to look at Luke 5:33-39.  Here the subject of prayer and fasting comes up.  But, rather than looking at the mechanics of how to do them, the issue is the Why and When of prayer and fasting.

The Question of the People

The question that is brought to Jesus starts with an observation.  The people had observed that prayer and fasting was a big part of the Pharisees and their disciples.  It was also a big deal with John the Baptist and his disciples.  Yet, the disciples of Jesus were not seen fasting and praying all the time.  Why?

Now let’s remind ourselves what biblical fasting is and what it is not.  There was only one fast that was commanded in the law and that was on the Day of Atonement.  All other fasts were voluntary, either as an individual or as a nation.  Even prayer is more assumed or expected rather than commanded.  So prayer and fasting are generally specific to a time of need.  Over time, the people of Israel had added public, memorial fasts to commemorate difficult times.  Things like the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple became times of national remembrance.  It would be similar to the United States declaring 9-11 as a day of fasting and prayer for our nation.  So why weren’t the disciples seen fasting on all these expected fasts?

Now we need to also remind ourselves of how the prophets corrected Israel on its many fasts.  Isaiah in chapter 58 took the nation to task.  Fasts had become a ritual in which they expected God to be impressed that they went without food and yet, on the same day, they would break his commands.  Fasting was never about impressing God with our ability to go without food.  Also, Jesus himself had taught in Matthew 6 that they shouldn’t pray in order to be seen by men, but rather to pray in order to be seen by God.  He also warned them to not use empty repetitious phrases.  So we would expect that his disciples would pray more in private than in public.  Also in regard to fasting, Jesus had taught that they should not make themselves look like they were fasting (in order that men may notice).  So it would make sense that their times of fasting would go unnoticed.  Jesus made it clear that God was not enamored with the ritual of prayer and fasting.  He was enamored with the heart that truly sought Him over the top of the things of this world.

Thus fasting has always been the mourning of a person who seeks God in prayer because of a difficult need or situation.  It is the cry of a person to God asking for mercy and help.  We want Him more than our daily food.  The situation is so devastating that we have no appetite.  We only want help from God.  Yet, this is not what is going on with the disciples.  They are not such good students of Jesus that they are never seen praying and fasting.  No, the answer was simpler.

The Answer: The Bridegroom And His Friends

In verses 34 and 35 Jesus gives the first of 3 parables or pictures which explain why his disciples weren’t fasting.  In this first parable, Jesus depicts himself as a bridegroom.  Now this is important to remember because Jesus used this image in other parables.  Here the disciples are called the friends of the bridegroom.  Even though the Church is called the bride of Christ, the marriage of the Lamb is not until the end of the age.  The Church is technically engaged to Christ.  So in this story Jesus compares them to his friends before the marriage.  This is clearly a happy time.  It would be the wrong time to act sad and start fasting.  Rather, it is a time to rejoice and feast together.  Israel had waited over a thousand years for the Messiah and here he was.  It would not only be unfitting to mourn and fast, it would be insulting.  Picture it this way.  If you were fasting and praying for a job and you got a call from a prospective employer saying that you are hired, it would be strange for you to continue fasting and praying as if nothing had happened.  You would be excited and scurrying around getting ready for your new job.  You would be happy and throwing a party.  The simple answer is that it isn’t time to fast.  Something wonderful has happened.

Yet, Jesus prophetically said that they day will come when he is taken away from them.  Then they will fast and pray often.  After the cross we see the disciples fasting and praying in the book of Acts.  Also throughout the New Testament letters we see that fasting was part and parcel with the early Church.  Why?  It is because of the fact that they were enduring the tribulations of this world for the sake of Christ and looking to that day when they could be reconnected with him.

The Answer: A New Patch, Old Garment

Jesus switches the analogy to that of an inanimate thing: clothing.  If you had an old garment and needed to fix it, you would not use a patch of new clothing.  Thus the Old Covenant was not just being patched up.  God was doing a new thing.  Even though the Law was old and tattered, it was not morally bad.  It was broken down by the sins and failures of Israel.  Yet, it still had served its purpose of demonstrating God’s righteousness and our sinfulness.  No man could be saved by Law.  The Law is righteous and I am not.  Therefore, I must die.  To simply patch the Law by adding grace would not be a good fix.  Grace is so vastly different that it would end up destroying both the old garment and the new patch.  This theme of bad mixtures runs throughout the Bible.  God warns us that not all mixtures are beneficial.  To mix some grace in with the Law is not God’s answer.  Grace comes in as a whole new set of clothing.  We are not under the law, but by grace we fulfill the righteousness of God.  In fact he says the two wouldn’t even match each other.  The Gospel is a completely different picture and vision than the Law.  They would be like trying to match a chromatic suit with a Hawaiian shirt.  It would look ridiculous even before both are destroyed.  You can’t promote one vision without diminishing the other.  You must choose between the Law (your righteousness) and Grace (the righteousness of Jesus).

The Answer: New Wine, Old Wineskins

The last picture has to do with wine and their containers.  Wine here is representative of the teaching of Jesus and the gospel.  Jesus had come to explain and show the Grace that God had made available to those condemned to die.  This new wine is different from the old wine of the Law that explained that everyone was sinful and disqualified before God.  The wineskin is the people and their response to the wine (teaching) over time.  Israel had the Law poured into them at Mt. Sinai.  Over the years their reaction to it had hardened into ritualized ways of dealing with it.  The Law had run its course and had affected them.  Thus the Law itself was new wine at one time.  The fledgling nation of Israel was also a new wineskin.  However, the Law had fermented and Israel had hardened.  Now it was time for new wine.  But God needed new “unhardened” people to pour it into.  God was unveiling the mystery of Grace that had been hidden and yet hinted at from the beginning.

Notice that both the wines came from God.  In fact Christians today should recognize that the Gospel itself has become “old wine.”  You may think it is blasphemy to say so, but that is because you think of old wine as bad.  Jesus wasn’t saying the old wine was bad, but that it had run its course and had its effect.  This world has heard the gospel for 2,000 years.  I am not saying it is time to stop, but the times of Grace to the nations does have a terminal point in the future.  Christian institutions and denominations have clearly followed a similar pattern as Israel did with the Law.  We have been affected by the Gospel, but in some ways, have been hardened by it.  The coming new wine is that of the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom.  God is doing this in such a way as to preserve the Law and Grace as both righteous, perfect tools in the hand of God.  Jesus did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  We must not bring the Church under the Law of Moses.  But neither must we attack it and declare its precepts unrighteous.

So let me end with these cautions.  The old wineskins always tend to not want the new.  Have you become so hardened to the Word of God that you are no longer useable by God?  Yet on the other hand, all that is new is not of God.  What vintage are you seeking?  In the name of progress and new wine, this world will embrace the antichrist spirit’s ultimate expression in the “Man of Sin.”  Why?  Simply because they hardened themselves to loving the Truth and set themselves up to believing a lie.  Caution!

 

New Becomes Old