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Weekly Word

Entries in Fear (11)

Tuesday
Aug062019

Only Believe

Mark 5:35-43.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, August 04, 2019.

In our story today, we have a little girl who has been sick and is on her death-bed.  However, Jesus was headed to her house to heal her.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that, between the crowd pressing in on Jesus and a sick woman being healed by touching him, Jesus does not get to her house soon enough to heal her before she dies.

Do you ever feel like God is taking too long to get around to your situation and your need?  Our story teaches us to trust the Lord Jesus, rather than letting fear drive us into a bitter, hard place where we ridicule those who trust God.

Jesus is going to give us the simple phrase, “Do not fear; only believe.”  This is easier said than done, but it is necessary nonetheless.  This life is filled with things that will stir up fear in our hearts and minds.  May God help us to walk with faith, trusting his heart for us and his power over what ails us.

They receive news about the sick daughter

Just as Jesus is telling the woman who had been healed of her flow of blood that she can go in peace, someone from Jairus’ house arrives and tells him the news about his daughter.  She has died.  They were too late.  You can imagine how such news hit Jairus.  No doubt, his heart sunk and fear rose up within him.  He had risked everything in going to get Jesus and it had failed.  It is a reality in life that certain events can shake us to our core.  Perhaps we need to experience such times.  It is in such times that we can learn just how much God cares about us and has humbled his self in order to save us.  God understands the heart of a father who loses a little daughter or anyone who has lost a loved one to sickness or evil in any form.  He too has experienced the pain of seeing those whom he created to enjoy him forever then falling to the lies of the devil.  Whatever your grief, know this.  God understands and experiences your pain far more than you know.

The person who brought the bad news asks, “Why trouble the teacher any further?”  His counsel is for Jairus to slink away from the group, go home, and bury his daughter.  However, we should ask a different question.  Was Jairus “troubling” Jesus?  Are we a “trouble” to God?  Sure our choices have brought a lot of trouble and pain into the relationship between us and God.  In that sense we are a trouble.  However, God has chosen to go with us through this choice.  He did not abandon us after the fall in the Garden, but pursued us with a love that paid the price for our sins and made a place for us at his side.  We can sometimes let our ideas of God, and “the holy prophet,” create a surreal world where they are too great to be bothered with our puny issues.  Nowhere in Scripture will you find God angry that the lowest people might ask him for the smallest of things.  It is quite the opposite.  Everywhere He calls to us to trust him, believe him, and bring our troubles to him.  It is we in our hurts and pains who develop such odd notions that God shouldn’t be troubled with our troubles.  It is misguided “holy men” who act like that and allow sycophants around them to push others aside.  If one thing can be said about Jesus, it is that he didn’t mind being troubled by the troubles of anyone who simply believed in him.  So, why trouble Jesus any further?  We should “trouble” him because he is the only one who understands our situation and can help us.  That’s why!

Jesus graciously steps in and gives Jairus the words that he needs to hear.  The first part is not to be afraid.  This is a very common phrase in the Bible.  We see it everywhere that God is challenging people to follow him into tough places.  Fear is very powerful in whipping up our imagination, but its worst effect is to neutralize our faith in God.  We don’t have to fear because God is with us.

The second part of what Jesus tells him is to “only believe.”  An old song within the church says it this way.

"Only believe; only believe.

All things are possible; only believe."

With man, so many things are impossible.  Even today within our modern, technologically advanced world, we find ourselves in impossible situations, but with God, all things are possible.  Why would I fear and doubt when I serve the God of the resurrection?  Even fretting and trying to make spiritual sense out of our situation can mislead us.  What I am talking about goes beyond trying to get a healing.  The little girl in this story is going to be healed, but she will go on to grow old and die.  Jesus will not show up then to keep her from dying.  Eventually we must all leave this world.  The question is not why didn’t God heal me, or keep me from growing old.  The question is, “Do I still believe, or have I let fear rob me of my faith in a God who can do anything?”  Jesus tells us not to fear and to simply believe God.  Trust him.

At this point Jesus instructs the crowd not to follow.  We are not told why, but this passage continually emphasizes faith over the top of those who don’t believe.  So, this could be in the interest of shedding the crowd that is filled with those who do not believe.  However, in verse 43, after he has healed the girl, Jesus tells them not to let people know what he has done.  Most likely, Jesus knew that this miraculous resurrection would push up the time schedule for his crucifixion.  So, he seems to be narrowing down the potential pool of witnesses.

They arrive at the house of Jairus

When they get to the house, they are met with a scene of great sorrow.  There is a loud uproar of weeping and wailing because the girl has died.  Perhaps they had been expecting Jesus to show up and heal her, and thus, were caught off guard.  We just don’t know if they were all aware of Jairus’ attempt to get Jesus.  We are told in the story that the little girl is twelve years old.  Watching a young child become sick, grow weak, and then die can be one of the hardest things to endure in this world. 

Yet, when Jesus arrives he asks why they are making such a commotion.  Even for those who know God, death is something to weep over, especially for any young person.  However, their weeping has gone into something beyond the grief and sorrow of the righteous.  As believers in God, we grieve over the fact that we will not have them in our life anymore, but we also know that this life is not all that there will be.  There is no reason for hysterical wailing and plunging into despair for the believer.

On top of this question, Jesus adds the statement that she is not dead, but sleeping.  What is Jesus actually trying to say?  I don’t thing Jesus is trying to make a literal point that they are wrong about her death and that she is actually only sleeping.  Sleep was often used as a euphemism for death, and just as we can envision a person waking from sleep, so a person can “wake” from death.  It is not the same thing, but it is a picture of what can be.  He is not trying to create a doctrine that souls actually sleep after a person dies.  Rather, he is reminding them of the biblical truth about what happens to people when they die or sleep.  They go into the grave, which Daniel had prophesied in Daniel chapter 12 that “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.”  Jesus is merely going to “wake” her up from the grave. 

The wailing appears to stop at this point and it is replaced with ridicule and scorn against Jesus.  We can imagine a kind of bitter venom that we humans vent when we think another person is mocking our pain.  They clearly do not get what Jesus is saying, or do not believe that he can do anything about the girl’s death, and so they become angry at his words.

Jesus responds by restricting who goes into the room where the little girl is laying.  We are told that Jairus and his wife, the three disciples (Peter, James and John), and Jesus are the only ones who go into the room where the dead girl was.  Again, this seems to be partly about removing those who don’t believe and are caught up in the throes of unbelief.  Remember, unbelief is not a neutral absence of faith.  It is positively something that goes in the opposite direction of faith.  It produces such things as: anger, venting, raging, ridicule, scorn, persecution, and many other things.

If you are praying for God to do something in your life, you should not only challenge yourself to believe, but you will also need to get away from those who feed unbelief and its fruit into your heart and mind.  I am not saying cut off the relationship, but rather go in the direction of faith without them.  In this passage, Jesus gets alone with those that will believe and the girl who needs a miracle.

The healing scene is quite tender.  Jesus takes the girl’s hand and simply commands her to rise up.  Mark lets us know that Jesus was actually speaking Aramaic, which was the local language for the time.  There is good evidence that Jesus may have spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  He would use one or the other depending on the context.  Here he is speaking to fellow Jews and so uses Aramaic.  “Talitha” means that you are addressing a little girl.  “Cumi” is a simple command to rise.

The power of the command of Christ does not come from him raising his voice loudly.  His simple command is enough to bring the girl back from the dead, back to life.  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 tells us, For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  Praise God, he will raise all the dead in the future.  It has been humorously stated that, when Jesus resurrected Lazarus, it was important that he said “Lazarus, come forth.”  Otherwise, everyone would have come out of the grave!  Clearly, this is tongue in cheek, but it states the truth.  Jesus has the power to raise the dead, in fact, all the dead.  Here he restores the girl to a mortal life, but the day is coming when all the righteous will be raised with immortal bodies and eternal life. 

This is the power of Christ and the promise of God.  He cares about us.  We are to him like little children who have contracted a deadly disease called sin.  He will heal us; he will restore us; and he will make us fully whole again, if we will only believe!

Only Believe audio

Tuesday
Mar122019

Touching the Untouchable

Mark 1:40-45.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 10, 2019.

Today’s passage deals with a man who has leprosy.  In the Bible leprosy can be connected to a similar disease today called Hansen’s Disease.  However, it is clear that the Bible uses this term for far more than what would be considered Hansen’s Disease.  It was more of an umbrella term that was used to describe a range of skin problems, and even molds and mildew on stone or wood.  The man in our story appears to have a skin problem.  How bad his case is and how long he has had it we do not know.  This much we do know.  In the ancient world, the only answer for leprosy was a miracle.  Short of a miracle, a person was doomed to a life of being ostracized from society.  Lepers had to live outside and away from the dwelling places of the uninfected and they had to warn people if they approached.

This in and of itself would be bad enough, but then we must add the human element.  Humans added to the difficulty of lepers by showing little to no compassion.  Self-preservation was the order of the day and it was often laced with a derogatory hostility.  They were often seen as deserving of a punishment from God.  It is true that the Bible records some situations where a person who was rebelling against God came down with leprosy as a punishment.  However, this does not mean that every case is the result of judgment.  In general sin is in the world because humanity is fallen.  It is a result of the general sinful condition of mankind.  Though God can direct disease as a primary force, He typically allows proximity, DNA, and chance take its course.  Though we may wish God would protect everyone, or at least children and the helpless, etc., He has a plan to make us like Him.  If we are protected from the results of our fallen nature then we will never grow to become like Him.  The first reaction of Christians to disease should be the same compassion that we see in Jesus in this passage and the attempt to do for them what we can, both physically and spiritually.

An Untouchable approaches Jesus

The event begins in verse 40 and happens somewhere outside of a city because none is mentioned and lepers were very limited in where they could go.  In Matthew this same story is recorded right after the sermon on the mount, which happens near Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives.  Therefore, it is likely that Jesus is outside Jerusalem, but we cannot know for sure.

People who had contracted leprosy were supposed to keep their distance and shout “Unclean! Unclean!” as a warning to people.  However, this man knows the reputation of Jesus as a healer and breaks protocol.

He kneels down and implores Jesus to heal him.  Now, kneeling for a person with leprosy can be a dangerous thing.  These diseases typically are caused by bacteria that attack the nerve endings and work their way to the core of the central nervous system.  The lack of feeling is as much responsible for their wounds as any cellular deterioration.  Yet, this is a desperate man.  He pleads with Jesus for help. 

If leprosy symbolizes sin then we should recognize that this man’s knowledge of his own condition, his own helplessness, and just who could help him, is symbolic of the answer to sin.  Only God could help this man wracked by the ravages of a disease.  Only Jesus had given him the hope that something could be done about his condition.  The same is true for us and our own sinful condition.  Without Jesus, we are at the mercy of sin and our selfish flesh.  They drive a wedge between us and the relationships in our lives, making us numb to life, and eventually destroying all hope.  We cannot approach Jesus with proud demands, but if we approach in brokenness and humility, we will find Him gracious and willing to help us.

Let’s analyze the statement the man makes.  First, he states the conditional, “If you are willing.”  This is enlightening.  He knows that God can heal him, but up to this point it hasn’t happened.  When he hears about Jesus, he has hope again, but still doesn’t know if Jesus is anymore willing to heal him.  There are some today who answer this question by saying Jesus is always willing.  If you are sick and come to Jesus, you should always get healed.  If not, then there is something wrong with you not Jesus.  Let’s lay this larger issue aside for a second and recognize in this moment how critical that question is to an individual.  It is often the result of countless hours of beating yourself up with the hopelessness of your situation and the idea that God doesn’t care about you.  Jesus was probably the first time that this man felt any hope that it could happen, but it hinges on the willingness of Jesus.

The second part of his statement is this.  “You can make me clean.”  It states an unwavering belief (faith) that Jesus had the power to heal him.  Of this, he seems to have no doubt.  Now, we have no indication that Jesus has healed other lepers up to this point.  He is the first recorded in the gospels.  However, it is possible because of all the blanket statements that say that Jesus healed all who were brought to him (at a particular instance).  Regardless, he believes.

The word clean is used because biblically the person with leprosy was declared “unclean.”  This was a ceremonial declaration that they could not participate in any temple rituals, whether to offer sacrifice or whatever.  Also, those who were ritually clean could not touch them at risk of becoming ritually impure themselves (note: mere touch could only cause temporary uncleanness, but contracting the disease would create a permanent uncleanness without healing).  So, the use of the term has two meanings.  The man could not be declared clean by the priests unless he was first healed from the disease.  He wants Jesus to heal him so that he can then be declared clean. Once he is clean, he can take his part in the heritage of Israel and go to the temple for worship and sacrifice.  It would open the door of access for him. 

The same is true for us today.  Without Christ, we are still in our sins and shut out from God’s heavenly temple.  Only Jesus can clean us from our sins.  However, even more than that, only Jesus can restore us to a position in which we can participate in the heritage that God has for His people today, that heritage that will take us into eternity, and the new heavens and the new earth.  Christ has not come just to rid us of the bad, but also to restore us to that good thing that we have been missing in our life.  Fellowship with God the Father and the Power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to image the Father to this broken and lost world.

Jesus responds to him

So, let’s look at the response of Jesus to such an approach.  Does Jesus respond with fear and calling for the stoning of such brazen audacity and wanton disregard for scriptural protocol?  I am not exaggerating, because historically certain rabbis have gone on record of responding with such reactions towards those with leprosy.  Of course, Jesus does no such thing.  Verses 41-42 show us a powerful scene of compassion.  We must be careful of brushing over such moments in the Scripture too quickly.  We are told that Jesus is moved with compassion.  The word for compassion speaks of a very deep emotion that comes from the guts.  We often have compassion on people, but typically it is for those who are very close to us, or the compassion is not very deeply felt.  Here is a man who has no connection to Jesus other than to be a fellow Israelite.  Yet, Jesus is moved with deep emotion for this man and his condition.

Do you believe that God is deeply moved by compassion when He looks at the world and its bondage to sin?  We only need to look at the cross and see the suffering of Jesus in order to know that He is deeply touched by our sin.  He does care.  He hasn’t abandoned you.  Put your trust in Him and He will never fail you.  He won’t do everything you tell Him to do, but He will be faithful to you to the very end.

We also see that Jesus was not afraid to touch the man.  There is great significance in this touch because Jesus did not have to touch him in order to affect a healing.  He is powerful enough to just think it and it will happen.  On top of this a person with leprosy were basically like a dead person.  If you touched a person you would be ritually unclean, and even worse, you could contract the disease.  In the case of a dead person, someone from the family has to bury the body.  However, Jesus didn’t have to touch the leper and yet He does.  Put yourself in the sandals of this man.  No one had touched him for years and here is a powerful prophet touching you in the name of Father God.  It must have been powerful.

Here is a brain bender.  Is Jesus ritually impure when He touches the man?  He would be technically.  However, the guy is made clean by the touch.  So, shouldn’t that disqualify the touch as making Jesus unclean?  Of course, I am treating this a problem for priests who are trying to follow the Law of Moses.  It is clear that when the Holy One, the Clean One of God, touches a person, the impurity of the person does not affect Him, but His purity affects the impurity.  That is how powerful the life of Christ is.  For us as humans, we cannot conquer someone else’s disease with our own health.  We can only hope to fight off the disease that they may have and could still succumb to the disease, no matter how healthy we are.  With Christ, this is not so.  The power of Jesus disintegrates the bacteria in every cell that is ravaging this man.  Jesus shows the true purpose of the purity laws.  They are not about walling us off from each other and from God, but rather about turning our eyes towards and connecting with the only One who can truly make us clean!

The man is instantly healed

Jesus was willing to heal the man, O, happy Day!  How those words must have washed over the man.  We are told that the man is instantly healed, which is saying a lot for a disease that would have been ravaging his whole body.  There would not only be destruction of the invading bacteria, but also reconstruction of destroyed cellular tissue. What a powerful healing.  So, what happens next?

Jesus warns the man not to tell anyone.  Of course, the man is extremely excited.  Why would Jesus give such a command?  Doesn’t this run counter to our duty to tell the whole world about Jesus?  Jesus is trying to minister somewhat under the radar of the religious authorities.  He knows that if He “pokes the bear” too much and too quickly then their attempts to kill Him would begin too soon.  God had a particular timing and purpose for the ministry of Jesus.  It is now clear that He needed to minister for 3 ½ years before He was to be killed.

Of course, today we are not under such a command from Jesus, although people sometimes act as if they are.  Jesus continually told His disciples that His death and resurrection would be the turning point for them to go public, declaring Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world.

Jesus also tells him to go and show himself to the priest as a testimony to them.  This was the requirement of the Law of Moses for anyone cured of leprosy.  They had to present themselves to the priests and go through several protocols that would determine whether they were truly healed or not.  Can you imagine what it must have been like at the temple that day?  Keep in mind that it is highly doubtful that the priests had ever had to perform this ritual.  There was probably a frantic scrambling around of priests trying to figure out what to do.  Yet, all of this was to be a testimony to them.  God was moving and there was a God in Israel who was making lepers clean.  Who had ever heard of such a thing (only a couple of times in the Old Testament)?  It was very rare.  The greatest testimony to the world of the power of Jesus is your own life transformed from sin and cleansed to be like Jesus.  None of us are perfect, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk in truth and righteousness before the world, and yet, also be compassionate and life-giving.  We don’t have to fear anything, even incurable diseases.  Sure, some people reject the testimony, but some are shocked and believe.  Others may tuck it in the back of their mind and it comes to fruit later.  Regardless, may we be a true testimony of Jesus Christ.

Next, we see that the man didn’t listen to Jesus and tells everybody what He did.  Here we see that even a good thing can be a bad thing if it is not exercised in wisdom.  Thus, we must learn to trust the wisdom of Christ and His representatives, the Apostles, rather than our own mind.  He knows better than us.

I said earlier that they are most likely outside of Jerusalem.  Thus, it is most likely the city that He couldn’t openly enter.  The passage tells us that Jesus goes north to minister in the Galilee region again.

Here we have a story about our broken and rotten condition without God meeting the compassion of God in Jesus.  If you are a believer today then I encourage you to remember that you were such a spiritual leper, being ravaged by sin, before you met Jesus.  He had the compassion to touch you!  He loves you.  However, we must also see ourselves in the place of Jesus.  Ask Christ to build such a deep compassion in you for those who are broken around you, whether they deserve their situation or not.  Pray that you may have such an impact upon the lost.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, then I encourage you to search your heart and see your true condition with Jesus.  You are being ravaged by a spiritual disease of sin that has deeply infected you to the core.  It will isolate you from everyone that you love, and destroy your life one cell at a time, until you are completely destroyed.  However, Jesus loves you and wants to touch you too.  If you will only fall down before Him and ask for His healing touch.  Lord, Jesus heal me of all my sin and make me clean that I may take my place in the heritage that belongs to God’s people, instead of being shut out and excluded.

Untouchables audio

Tuesday
Feb262019

The Power of Jesus

Mark 1:21-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 24, 2019.

Having introduced us to Jesus, Mark goes on to give evidence of the powerful things that Jesus did while he ministered on this earth.  This is important because we need to recognize that, though Jesus was smart and spoke in a way that amazed people, the biblical authors highlighted his power over his talk.  Paul references the effect of this reality in 1 Corinthians 4:20, when he says, “The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” (NIV) 

If we only have fine sounding words to offer people then we might as well hang up our hat now.  At some point, they will come to realize that they need real power.  Yes, knowledge is power, but not all knowledge can set you free from the bondage of sin and hurts that so easily entangles us.  Even knowing the Scriptures is not enough to break the bondage of sin.  We must have a living relationship with Jesus, who alone has power to break every fetter!

Jesus teaches in Capernaum

Jesus focuses his ministry in the northern part of Israel for several reasons.  The more he ministered in Jerusalem the quicker the authorities would want to kill Him, and God had a particular timing about all of this.  Another reason is that it was symbolic of God’s care and heart for those who need help.    Jerusalem represented the best of Israel in the natural.  All the political and religious leaders were there.  Compared to Jerusalem, Capernaum represented the country bumpkins.  Jerusalem represented riches and knowledge, whereas Capernaum was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee and would not have the greatest teachers in the land.  Those who know they are poor are quicker to receive than those who think they already have everything.

So Jesus goes into the synagogue of Capernaum on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was the day of rest, which corresponds to Friday evening to Saturday evening.  The people of Israel had developed the habit of gathering in buildings in order to worship God, to hear the Word of God read and to have it explained.  The concept of a synagogue developed at some point after Israel’s exile into Babylon and subsequent return to the land.  Before this time, their religious life was mainly at the Temple, where they worshipped God and offered sacrifices.  With the temple destroyed in 586 B.C., they had to wrestle with continuing to worship.  Thus the concept of synagogues that focused on teaching was born.  In fact, early Jewish Christians called their gatherings synagogues as well.  However, the term “Church,” that had been used by Jesus, later became the main word to describe Christian gatherings.  So this is much like a Jewish Church service in its function. 

The fact that the leaders of the synagogue let Jesus teach says something.  He was not a rabbi who had learned under the rabbis of the day.  Normally this would preclude him from being able to teach.  Yet, the prophet, John the Baptist, had gone on record that Jesus was God’s anointed one, the Messiah.  Thus the talk had preceded Christ and the people were eager to hear from Him. 

We are told that the people were astonished because he taught “as one with authority.”  It may be easy to read into these words that Jesus was cocky and arrogant.  However, the emphasis is the contrast between how Jesus taught and how the scribes taught (who were men trained in the religion of Israel).  The scribes normally taught by referring to different views of the great rabbis from the past and the present.  They basically were relaying what others had said and those great rabbis often disagreed with each other.  Though we do not have a text of this teaching, it is safe to say that Jesus did not quote any authorities to substantiate his interpretation of the text.  Jesus is “acting as if” He is the authority on the subject.  Of course, that is because He actually is.  Knowing who Jesus is, we can recognize that He is the most qualified man of all history who could give authoritative understanding on what passages of the Bible meant and what God intended us to understand from it.

Today, we need to be careful that we do not make either of two mistakes.  One, we can forget that we have received authoritative understanding on what passages of the Bible meant and why the Law of Moses was given.  These were given by the true author of the Bible, God Himself, and those who He personally trained.  Two, we can use the authority of Jesus in order to teach things that He and His apostles did not teach.  Confidence is not good if it is placed in the wrong thing, but when it is placed upon the right thing, or right person, then it is a good thing.  We can confidently proclaim the teachings of Christ and His Apostles, but we should never become arrogant and take to ourselves a confidence that sees the authority of Jesus as something that has been handed down to us.  Jesus is still the authority.  Paul Himself said in Galatians 1:8 that even if the apostles were to teach a gospel that was other than what was originally given, they should be considered cursed by God and rejected.   We must never forget this truth.

Jesus casts out an unclean spirit

At some point in the teaching of Jesus a man with an unclean spirit cries out and interrupts the meeting.  It doesn’t seem that he had been brought to the meeting in order to be delivered, but it is possible.  Sometimes a person who is demon possessed may retain their faculties most of the time.  Depending on the situation these demons will “manifest” or show their presence from time to time.  The Gadarene demoniac seems to have been under constant “manifestation.”  He was never in his right mind and people could not interact with his human psyche.  Whereas others have demonstrated varying amounts of self control with times in which the spirit takes control, or manifests.

The phrase that is used in this passage is “unclean spirit.”  What is an unclean spirit?  Unclean is another way of saying evil or bad.  It is a reference to the spiritual defilement that sin and rebellion against God brings to a being.  Therefore this spirit is sinful and in rebellion against God.  In that sense we could say that the Devil and his angels are also unclean spirits.  This would be true technically, but the phrase never seems to be used of the Devil and his angels (fallen angels).  Much speculation and dogmatic ideas have been put forth from then to now.  However, the Bible seems to equate unclean spirits with evil spirits and demons.  There are different beings within the spirit realm and there are hierarchies within the spirit real as well.  Thus we cannot be completely sure what exact “species” (for lack of a better word) demons or evil spirits are.  They may just be lower level beings that rebelled with the devil and his angels, or they may be something else.  However, we can be confident that the Bible has told us what we need to know.  We do know that demons, or unclean spirits, appear to be restless until they are able to control a human being to some varying degree.  How do they get this control over humans?  They are not “spiritual ticks” that happen to fall on people.  Rather, they are able to get control and influence through the activity of the person who has connected to the spirit through some form of spiritual arts (divination, séance, occult rituals, and basically anything promoted by these spirits to get control).  Christians should not be enticed by t he so called knowledge that spiritists of any sort promise to give to them because these spirits cannot be trusted.  They resist God and hate mankind.

At this point, I should point out that it is easy to make the mistake of seeing all mental problems as demonic, and the opposite mistake of seeing all such problems as only a physical problem of the mind.  Unclean spirits are real, but they are not the only reason why people have ailments.

It is clear from this passage that the unclean spirit is afraid of Jesus.  This is notable because it was not common for demons to show any fear in the presence of people, quite the opposite.  Thus, this is astounding to the people watching.  The spirit is afraid and Jesus is not.  By following the text, we can see some of the fears of the spirit.  First, it wants to be left alone.  If fears that Jesus is going to interfere with its control on this human (and for good reason).  It also asks if Jesus has come “to destroy us.”  Since there is no sense that multiple spirits are involved, this seems to be the same fear that the legion of demons in the Gadarene demoniac.  The unclean, demonic spirits know that there is coming a time when they will be evicted from this earth and put in the Lake of Fire.  Thus, they are afraid of that coming destruction.  Third, it is afraid because it knows exactly who Jesus is.  It refers to Jesus as “The Holy One of God.”  It is a phrase that refers to God’s Anointed One who is beside Him in the heavens, but would come to earth one day. 

At this point, Jesus commands the spirit to be silent and to come out of the man.  We do not want to make a big deal out of the fact that the demon calls Jesus the Holy One of God because the spirit is a tainted witness.  He can’t be trusted either way.  The testimony about Jesus is an important theme in the Gospels.  They emphasize that the Father and the Spirit witnessed or testified that Jesus was the Messiah.  They also emphasize that John the Baptist, the greatest prophet of that time, had testified that Jesus was the Messiah.  Then lastly, we have the testimony of the words that Jesus spoke, the life He lived, and the powerful miracles He did.  Jesus had very strong testimony from far better sources than to let demons give testimony.  Demons are liars and as such, you cannot know when to trust what they say and when it is a lie.  If we believe Jesus is God because a demon says so, then we are on shaky ground.

In the exorcism that occurs we do not see Jesus doing any rituals or reciting a mantra, as were common in those days.  He simply commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  The power of Jesus is not in ritual knowledge and magical arts.  Rather, His power is in the authority of who He is and the position that He holds.  Jesus has a position that is above all beings on earth or in Heaven, save the Father.  Though this spirit had “legally” gained entry to this human, Jesus had come to set the man free.  Thus, one command from Him was enough to send the demon packing.  Even in cases where one has consciously and willingly chosen things that ail them, there is hope that Jesus will set them free.  Many people today are stuck in things that they know they chose, but Jesus has come to offer us freedom.

We are told that the unclean spirit leaves with a convulsion and a cry.  This seems to be one last fit of resistance and protest from the demon at having to leave.  Of course, the real challenge is to remain free of the spirit.  The man’s life needs to change, if he is not to fall prey to another or the same unclean spirit.

The people watching this are amazed at how easily Jesus does this.  They are flabbergasted that he could make an unclean spirit leave with a simple command.  No rabbi had demonstrated such power in all their experience. 

As believers today, Christ has given us power over the enemy as well.  Yet, we must remember the lesson of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19.  They attempted to cast out a demon by saying, “We cast you out by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”  The spirit then responded, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?”  The authority that Jesus gives to us is not some special power that we hold in and of ourselves.  It is always His authority.  By their own testimony, the sons of Sceva did not really know Jesus.  When we really know Jesus and have a relationship with Him, then and only then should we confidently stand in opposition to such unclean spirits when they manifest.

Praise God that we need not fear any evil spirits no matter what station they hold on the other side.  It is our relationship with the All-Powerful One that protects us and gives us strength.  I pray today that you will not so easily scoff at the power of Jesus as mere tricks in an age when people were ignorant.  If Jesus were too walk into our mental institutions today and with a mere command give someone their sound mind, who would we rely upon to give an accurate description of what happened, Jesus or the psychiatrists who are often unable to do anything with schizophrenia?    Again, I am not saying all mental illness is demonic.  However, I am saying that regardless the problem, whether they need healing or freedom from an unclean spirit, Jesus has the power to set us free!

Power of Jesus Audio

Tuesday
Jan232018

God’s Grace towards the Undeserving

1 Kings 20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 21, 2018.

There are times in our lives when we need something so badly, and yet we feel like we don’t deserve it.  The world often counters this with the trite saying, “Yes, you do deserve this.”   In fact Christians can also fall into this trap of thinking that we deserve things from God.  The truth is that much of life has nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not, and whether for good or for bad.  Today, our passage highlights the grace of God to help Israel in a time that they and their king do not “deserve it,” and yet He gives it. 

I pray that you are not guilty of the depths of rebellion that King Ahab and Israel were in the passage today.  However, I know how the enemy operates.  He gets into our head and uses our failures, of any size, as fodder for talking us out of trusting God (e.g. “You don’t deserve it.”).  Don’t tell yourself that God no longer cares, regardless of how hopeless the situation or our level of “deserving” something.  Instead trust the God who is not seeking to make you pay, but rather is seeking to help you draw nearer to Him.  In our passage today, God is trying to draw the hearts of the people of Israel and King Ahab.  Ahab is an especially bad model of how to respond to God’s grace.  Yet, if you will turn to Him in faith and repentance then you will find Him already at your side, regardless of what you are facing.

God’s grace is given to Israel

In the previous chapter (1 Kings 19) we saw how God had graciously ended the drought that Israel experienced for 3 years.  We also saw that Ahab and Jezebel had not responded in repentance, but rather in doubling down on their sin of Baal worship.  We would expect this chapter to be full of rebukes from God and disaster.  Instead, chapter 20 is filled with the grace of God, grace that they did not deserve.

In the first 6 verses we see that Ben Hadad, the king of Damascus, has surrounded Ahab’s capital city of Samaria.  He is joined by 32 other kings and their armies.  These are vassal kings who rule over walled cities around Damascus.  As was typical in siege campaigns, Ben Hadad gives Ahab the terms of surrender that he will accept, which are “your silver and gold are mine.  Your loveliest wives and children are mine.”  Now Ben Hadad and the armies that are with him represent a very capable and serious threat.  Ahab knows that he is in a bad situation.  So how does he respond?

Ahab very quickly agrees to the terms of surrender.   Why lose everything when he can purchase the lives of his city with his wealth and family?  We could say that Ahab deserves some commendation because of his willingness to sacrifice his things for those of his people, but that might be overly naïve.  Yet, we should also notice that there is no sense of seeking God or Baal for wisdom on what to do.  Ahab only sees the natural element and thus only seeks natural answers.  It is important to recognize that though our life is filled with the natural, there is more to life than the natural.  There is a whole spiritual side to the things that are happening in our lives and the world around us.  A person who understands this will be a person who seeks God and His direction.  When Ben Hadad receives the quick answer from Ahab, he ups the ante by sending back “new and improved terms of surrender.”  Basically he will send his soldiers into Samaria the next day and take everything that is valuable.  They will be pillaged and the city will be left with nothing, while the most skilled will be carted as slaves.  Ahab balks at this and talks to the elders of the city.  Backed into an impossible corner, they decide to fight (which may have been Ben Hadad’s true purpose).  Again, at the human level we can say that this is commendable.  It is better to die free and fighting than to die enslaved and submitting.  And yet, there is still no thought of seeking God’s help.

In verses 11-14 we have a tense exchange between Ahab and Ben Hadad.  In the middle of it, God sends one of His prophets to Ahab.  There is irony in the fact that Ahab has spent years having the prophets of the Lord hunted down and killed.  Here in his own moment of being hunted, God sends one of His prophets to promise him victory.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  When we abandon the ways of god, we often destroy the very things that God wants to use to bless us.  With our own hands we tear apart the very things that we will need down the road.  Yet, God is still gracious to Ahab even though he doesn’t deserve it.

Ahab quickly pounces on the words of the prophet because he is desperate.  Thus he quizzes the prophet as to how this victory will come about.  The prophet tells Ahab that he is to have the young leaders of the provinces lead the attack (as opposed to his seasoned veterans).  This would not be normal military advice.  But another sign of Ahab’s desperation is the fact that he follows through with the prophet’s instructions.  Throughout Israel’s history God would many times instruct them to do things that didn’t make sense in the natural.  In one battle they were told to put the Levites in the front of the army with musical instruments and praising God.  This is always done in cases when God wants to demonstrate that the battle is not being won by natural means, but by supernatural help from Him.  In life we can get so used to seeing the natural that it becomes the only thing we see.  We can lose sight of God’s supernatural grace all around us every day.  From time to time, God removes those natural barriers so that we can see His grace.  These are always times that are distressing to our natural selves.

In verses 16-22 Israel comes out of Samaria and win a huge victory.  As is common in warfare, soldiers are fickle creatures.  Even though they have superior numbers, the quick success of Israel’s initial attack causes the armies of Ben Hadad to flee.  They all flee back to Damascus with their tails between their legs and being attacked by Israel all the way back.  On the heels of such a great victory, the prophet of the Lord speaks to Ahab again.  Though there is victory, he warns Ahab that Ben Hadad will attack next spring.  It was common for armies to avoid the winter months because cold and mud would hamper the movement of troops and engines of war.  There is a spiritual lesson here for us to remember.  When we stand upon the Word of the Lord and trust His instructions, we can put our spiritual enemy to flight.  The Bible says in James 4:6-7, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  When we stand our ground and continue doing what God has told us to do it puts the devil to flight.  We resist him by trusting God and obeying His word.  Yet, we must realize that even though the devil may flee, he will also regroup and figure out another way to attack us.  Thus victory is no time to get arrogant and cocky.  It is a time to praise God and prepare for future attacks.  We must use the time between spiritual attacks, whether temptations, trials, or doubts, to prepare ourselves for the next wave.  So draw near to God in a relationship of trust and love.  Learn His Word and what He is calling you to do, and be faithful to do it.  Too often we coast in times of ease, and thus set ourselves up for spiritual failure in the future.

In verses 23-28, we see that Ben Hadad returns the next spring (as prophesied).  Only this time his forces take up position near the city of Aphek, which was on a plain across the Jordan.  Several things stick out in this passage.  First, Israel’s army looks like two, little flocks of goats before the Syrians.  In the natural they are in trouble.

Second, we should notice the foolish counsel of the Syrians to Ben Hadad.  They believe they lost because the God of Israel is stronger in the mountains.  If we can only fight them in the plains, then surely our gods will win.  This blasphemy against God (saying untrue things about God) is not well received by God.  He intends to teach everyone a lesson.  You see the God of Israel is not just God of the mountains, but also God of the valleys.  It is one thing for God’s enemies to underestimate Him, but God forbid that His own people should underestimate Him.  In our day and age, it appears that all the earth is turning against God and His Anointed One, Jesus.  We may look like two little flocks of goats before their sheer numbers and power.  However, God is the one who gives the victory.  We must not lose heart, but rather stand in faithfulness to the mission that God has given us.  This chapter goes on to see a great victory given to Israel and prophesied by a prophet of the Lord.  In fact, over 20,000 Syrian soldiers perished when the wall of Aphek collapsed on them.

At the end of such a string of victories that were foretold by the prophets of God, what would you think Ahab would do?  The chapter ends with Ahab still playing up to Ben Hadad, who had been captured.  Ahab makes an alliance with Ben Hadad and sends him back to Damascus.  Ahab does not trust the Lord.  Instead he trusts military alliances, or natural things.  Thus God sends another prophet to rebuke Ahab for his refusal to do what God had decreed: put Ahab to death.

Where is Elijah and Elisha?

This whole chapter begs the question, just where is Elijah and Elisha?  Several possibilities have been conjectured through the years.  Perhaps God has put Elijah on the bench so that he can get his attitude adjusted.  Perhaps God is giving Elijah time to train Elisha before sending him back into the fray.  However, the most likely idea is that God is proving His point to Elijah that He still had 7,000 who hadn’t worshipped Baal.

This chapter emphasizes that God always has others who can serve, and there is a rhyme and reason for why He chooses certain ones to do certain things.  We see at least three different prophets at work in this chapter, and they are all unnamed.  Now God uses each of us differently.  If you are discouraged because you feel like you are the only one and are all alone, then wake up and start leaning on God.  He has others who are working as well.  Everything is not up to you.  We can lose sight of this and forget.  May God help us to learn to listen to Him, to do the work He gives us, and to trust that He can work through others also.  Instead of letting the enemy get inside your head and pillage all that God has given you, choose to stand your ground through repentance, and faithfulness to our Lord, Jesus, alongside other faithful believers.

God's Grace audio