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Monthly Archives: January 2021

Making the World’s Demons Obey You

 

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

– Mark 1: 25-26

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Did this morning’s Gospel reading grab your attention?

If it didn’t, perhaps you might want to check your pulse!

It seems to me that everything about this scene is striking!

Jesus comes to the Synagogue to worship and He is basically given the honor of being the guest speaker…

He gives a powerful message, and the people are floored (Paulson) by His authority.

All of a sudden, a man with a demon interrupts Him, and cries out “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”

With the exclamation “be silenced!” Jesus commands the demon to leave the man, and it happens instantaneously.

The demon convulses the man’s body and leaves with a loud shriek…

Again: the people are floored by Christ’s authority, except now doubly so (the Greek word this time is a bit different and more emphatic)….

So the word spreads, and more and more begin to ask: “Who is this Jesus?”

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It is all very dramatic, isn’t it?

Seems like our worship services here are perhaps a bit dull, huh?

Well, as I was told growing up, if you want to see things like healings and exorcisms, that kind of thing will generally be found where we find the Kingdom of God gaining ground…

In other words, where the Word of God is really getting a “foothold” for the first time… where a beachhead is being established. That is where you will find God’s fierce soldiers on the front-lines, battling the resistance of the Prince of this World, Satan.

So again, if you want to see healings and exorcisms, you might need to become a missionary…

Around here though, the devil appears a bit quieter and doesn’t “make a scene”… he keeps a bit of a “lower profile…”[i]

The more you think about this, the more it makes sense…

After all, in some ways, the environment that we in the “Western world” created certainly has captured the world’s attention…

And if you are the devil, why not keep our attention on that – and not spiritual and eternal matters?

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So… what do I mean when I say the environment we’ve created has captured the world’s attention?

Well, at least in the Western world, during the last 300 to 400 years – and in our own context, the English speaking lands more generally and America in particular – we have witnessed previously incomprehensible and unimaginable feats of human creativity and control, haven’t we?

And this is largely because of something we call the scientific method.

This really “took off” with the ideas of 17th century men like Francis Bacon, Blaise Pascal, and Isaac Newton….

And here, as things progressed, an interesting thing happened. While the world “nature” had previously basically been a synonym for “creation,” it begin to take on a life of its own.

You see, the word “creation” implies a Creator to be mindful of! – but that is by no means as clear as with the word “Nature”.

In any case, the core idea of science here is that you can really begin to understand how “the natural world” works – and some, therefore, become unsure of why you still need God in the picture at all…

After all, if you, using the scientific method, can pay close attention to how nature works… if you can create accurate physical and mental maps of its most intricate details and doings…

You can harness it, ride it, and take it where you want to go!

Isaac Newton and Kepler discover “laws of nature,” and we then take advantage of these laws and begin to effectively manage the world!

The ocean is not as frightening when it can be mapped and understood…

Thunderstorms are not so threatening when they can be explained by predictable patterns in the weather…

Diseases are not so scary when you can pinpoint the cause and target it with antibiotics and vaxines.

STEM, as it is called – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – makes these things more friendly, in a way…

And I mean, “Behold! Right?!”

We developed microscopes and telescopes!

We discovered the core elements of the natural world and put them into the elegant Periodic Table!

We postulated and then obtained real evidence for the atom…

We created guns, telegraphs, phones, trains, cars, planes, washing machines, atom bombs, and microwaves.

This all culminated – if you believe it! (some don’t today) – with our putting men on the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s…

Or maybe in culminated with the iPhone. Who knows?[ii]

In any case, you get the idea.

The world became ours…

Knowledge is power, you see…

And power is true authority!

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And this feeling that we have – particularly that our elites have – is still there, but it is changing a bit now…

My own vocation of academic librarianship is interesting in this regard.

Some in my profession continue to say reasonable-sounding things like:

“[people] come to libraries seeking information that will help them create knowledge. They do not want misinformation or disinformation; they do not want to be deceived”.

On the other hand, I read others insisting that “power operates through knowledge production”, “knowledge production is […] historically situated and embedded in power relations” and its production “never occurs outside power relations”.

That idea sounds complicated, but maybe it really isn’t. Maybe it’s as simple as what another academic librarian says:

“…it’s not even so much that knowledge is power, but “it’s more reflective of reality to say, ‘Power is knowledge’”.

Power is knowledge.

Cue the great contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty, now deceased:

“Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

“Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

Rorty thought that was a good thing. For many an elite contemporary person then, knowledge and truth aren’t strictly related… knowledge and truth aren’t strictly related They don’t necessarily go together.

Knowledge is “knowledge” [in quotes]…

Whatever words and skills that you pick up – and that you can employ — to get the job you and others want done done – that is ultimately what is important.

Do you see how the role of things like facts (“facts” in quotes) diminishes here?

What is important, when it comes to knowledge, is that there are only other persons who exercise power over their circumstances, their worlds, and who trust each other or not.

We might say this is knowledge as conceivable, useful, trust.

Do you see why I am bringing this up?

People who have this view–even unconsciously–are definitely going to struggle with the Apostle Paul’s idea of “the pattern of sound teaching [or words]”

Why? Because the meaning of words changes and can change. Because all things, after all, evolve.

Radical transformation – not necessarily understood in a Christian sense – is what life is all about!

Now, suddenly, Nature is definitely not creation but fluid beyond our wildest dreams… it is our chaos to control…

And you see? Even human nature is fluid…. Authors from the past die and we move on, radically reinterpreting their words for our era.

All while Silicon Valley big-shots continue to practice the Enlightenment science, they also begin to imagine that things like “Artificial Intelligence” might present the key to actual immortality…

For the world, if there is a movement of the Spirit… it is about changing what has been considered “natural” and changing the future – not any kind of history and “tradition”!

This, they think, is where the true authority lies.

The true power.

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But what are the Scriptures if not the absolute core of the tradition that has been passed on to us…?

God’s own words…truth….knowledge… handed off to us… like the baton in a relay race…

We’ve got a bit a responsibility here… a bit of a mission and charge here… don’t we?

Pass on that baton!

And so – in the midst of all our fun and shiny gadgets as well as our success in making nature obey us – we look at those Scriptures again and we see…

Shrieking demons?

Really?

I mean come on…

Not very scientific, to say the least!

And in our day: “Not very authoritative!”

Respectable.

No, we don’t see him much here, but the reason Satan lies low is because, really, when it comes to the West in general, he thinks he has us right where he wants us…

And not only because we are distracted and drunk with our shiny gadgets that control the world…

I recently read some very interesting things from a man who used to be a bit of a rogue, a player, but has converted to Christianity. Here’s what he said about demons

He said,

“Secular people think being under heavy demonic influence looks like something out of a Hollywood movie. You develop a guttural croak, stick out your tongue at inappropriate moments, and even develop a limp that signifies you are not well. Or you’ll do things that are obviously evil, such as punch little children in the face and torture backyard animals. The reality is far more subtle. Demons can be in total control over your life, directing your every move, and you will still be deceived that you’re a ‘good person’ who is in charge. The word demon may not even enter your mind.

You’re under demonic influence if you commit evil deeds yet are unable to recognize them as evil…”

Do you see what is happening here? He is not talking about being possessed bodily by a demon.

He is not even talking about being oppressed by a demon, where a demon devotes specific attention to a Christian by using past dalliances with the Occult (by a Ouiji Board, for example) as an avenue to accuse them of past sins such that they can live without any certainty of their salvation in Jesus Christ…

He is just talking about the devil knowing full well our own natural desire to sin.

And he then goes on to make some very thought-provoking observations:

“The typical Western city of today is the most effective environment to encourage sin. It is able to generate immoral behaviors so effectively that the task of corrupting your soul becomes one of demonic auto-pilot.

….I suspect that there are not many demons residing in the major cities. The evil you may feel while in one may not come from the presence of demons but the mass quantity of people who have chosen evil. The city is actually a platform for evil, one that Satan has constructed and optimized over hundreds of years to lower the barrier for you to commit severe sins. To engage in pride or fornication within a modern city involves no debate or consternation—they’re so normalized that you are looked at as an oddball if you decide against them. You don’t have Instagram? You’re anti-social. You don’t want to hook up after a night of drinking? You’re sexually inadequate. Your friends and acquaintances play the role of the demons by tempting you to sin, and they do that work for free….”[iii]

So, in other words, this man is saying that the demons don’t bother us because we already act like we are God, that is, in control of the world.

And how so? Precisely because the best and brightest have really engineered the world in order to satisfy their desire for sin all the more.

Whatever you might think of that explanation of why cities exist, I don’t think we go too far if we assert that we modern Americans particularly – and not just city-dwellers! – are addicted to sin in its’ many forms…

So when the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther says: “Oh, that I could only pray in the way that my puppy stares at meat!”

… we have a hard time identifying with his sentiment.

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I think this man, the former rogue who is now a Christian, is right.

God might indeed redeem cities, but throughout history most of the men who have been instrumental in building cities have been fleeing from God

…even if their desires and designs were not necessarily so unsophisticated, crass and base…

I used to believe that Satan only wanted to get people to not believe in Jesus (perhaps ideally to get them to stop believing and to take their own lives)…

“Satan is more than happy to have really moral societies with ‘respectable’ families and traditions,” I thought – “just as long as they ignore God…”

I don’t think that is true anymore.

Rather, Satan delights to make spaces and places where the law of God is mocked, shunned, and ignored…  

In our Psalm for today we read:

The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever,
enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.

He provided redemption for his people;
he ordained his covenant forever—
holy and awesome is his name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
To him belongs eternal praise.

Satan absolutely hates this!

He doesn’t like that God created His world the way He did!

And that we really can depend on it to run in regular ways and that people too have grooves they are meant to run in…

Why so much hate?

Well, at bottom, he doesn’t like that he is a creature and not the Creator…

Metaphorically speaking, he is not content in his own skin…

Thankless always, He doesn’t like who he is…

Sound familiar?

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Let’s go back to science for a minute.

Is the scientific method wrong in itself? Well, as long as one does not forget God – and thereby also assert that things like invisible demons aren’t “scientific” – I don’t think so.

Science can be used responsibly.

Nevertheless, as useful as the scientific method can be, has the “mask slipped” as they say…  and we are finally seeing what… Who… was really behind the curtain the whole time?

I think many people in power today believe that their science and rationality gives them more or less effective control over the world!

The power is not just in math, chemistry, and physics. I’m talking economic control, political control, cultural control… maybe even religious control…

It’s not that these people think that the world is so chaotic that they can’t get accurate information in the moment.

They think they can… But then, though collective power, they can change also the world…and then change the information that we can get from it….

“Don’t talk to me about limits… much less your unproven ideas of ‘God’s law!’”

You see, they can change what most everything is…

They can change the essences of things…

What is man? What is woman?

Male? Female? Marriage? Family? Children?

What is knowledge? (its no longer justified true belief!)

What is good?

What is evil?

“I can help you with that,” the World’s Spirit says, as I direct you not to the Tradition, the Bible… but to my brew of scientific methods… or should I say Magic?

By which I will harness the world and ride it…

What happens is that, without Jesus Christ, a good desire to manage the world responsibly easily becomes twisted into the desire to dominate it and bend it to one’s desires…

Until, I guess, it breaks.

What an illusion this is!

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    all his precepts are trustworthy.
  They are established for ever and ever,
enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.”

In the end, Satan does not trust in these words…

He does not believe that God’s precepts are trustworthy and established for ever and ever

We however, must, and increasingly believe this more and more…

At the same time, when it comes to this battle, the strength of our faith is ultimately not what needs to be emphasized.

What is more important is what really is, what really exists.

And, with that, Who, among the “gods,” is the One to believe and listen to.

Who is the one lying to us and Who is the one telling us the truth – this is what needs to be emphasized!

In the Bible, after all, we are told that even unbelieving and unfaithful men cast out demons by Jesus’ Name… the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

My friend Pastor Harold Ristau can help us here. He recalls the first time he found himself having to deal with a real-life exorcism and tells us what his thought-process was in the car as he went to challenge the devil for a possessed soul:

 “…I was a mediocre spiritual soldier and an even less competent exorcist. My past exposure to the subject did not prepare me for this!

“Yet there was a profound comfort in my knowledge that a Christian’s power over the unholy Trinity of sin, death, and the devil is not based on the strength of his or her personal faith. Rather, the victory was already founded on God’s concrete, holy and solid Word, embodied in the Christ event. We are assured in the Epistle to the Romans: ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan underneath your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you’ (Rom. 16:20). We have the choice to walk the bridge between man and God – a chasm overcome by the wood of the cross – in confidence or by testing each and every step. While both get us across, one offers a more peaceful trip. But in the end, it is the bridge itself, and not our ability to walk, that preserves us. Even the spiritual hypochondriac makes it across…” (My First Exorcism, 30-31).

Simply put: do you trust that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, given in human flesh, to die on the cross for all your sins?

Good – you know who you are!

Rest in that knowledge – yes, real knowledge and not “fake news” – and build on that!

Demons, you see, show us the opposite: they, again, are not content with who they are.

A father forms.

Demons deform.

They do not respect God’s order…

They too, worship the creation, namely Satan… and not the Creator….

Their view of the creation is twisted, and they attempt to sabotage it in accordance with this twistedness…

And they might feel like they are in control, but ultimately they know that they are not, for the Truth is on our side.

And our opponents, very much so, “can’t handle the truth.”[iv]

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Don’t be deceived.

This world, this fallen world, is not all there is.

This world is passing away, it is disintegrating, dissolving, devolving…

The veil that separates the visible and the invisible will be stripped away, and the O so glorious new heavens and earth will come!

Jesus Christ, the Victor over sin, death, and the devil… the “Prince of [this] World,” has seen to that!

And so, I think it is fitting to end with one more story from Pastor Ristau…

He tells us about the aftermath of his first exorcism, after he cast a demon out of a woman named Debby.

“The Christian struggle is occasionally interrupted with moment of jubilation. When I left Debby’s place, I was on an emotional and spiritual ‘high.’ The whole afternoon was an adrenaline rush, I bashfully admit. Like an athlete flaunting a newly gained prize, I felt on top of the world. As seventy-two joyful disciples conveyed to the Lord, ‘Even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ (Luke 10:17), I now shared in that satisfying sensation. Astonished at the majesty of God, I too was utterly amazed at the power of God’s Word in achieving its goals. I had always believed, but now I saw. As doubting Thomas was told, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed’ (John 20:29). Only the weak in faith require a miracle. I am not ashamed to admit that I fall under that category. But still, such a glimpse into His might is an uncommon occurrence; an invitation to place one’s hand into the side of the Lord is not to be shunned. Miracles are gifts, not rewards. Still Jesus warns that He has given ‘authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (Luke 10:19-20) since much of life can be characterized by suffering. The greatest miracles are unseen.

Meanwhile, what ascends descends. This one plummeted with a crash. The giddy excitement quickly spiraled down into utter exhaustion. I just wanted to sleep. That day I felt as I would years later, when as a military chaplain and parachutist, I would tumble out of airplanes using out-dated WWWII training equipment: while beginning on a high, hitting the ground hurts. The impact is severe. Every bone ached and every nerve shook. But despite the pain, it was worth it.”

It is worth it.

Know God is by your side always.

You have the Truth. Real knowledge – and hence real Authority – on your side.

So seek spiritual victories in this world!

For Satan, and all those who follow in his train, will bow before you.

You might not cast out demons with one word like Jesus, but you too will see victories like Pastor Ristau did…

And he, you, and me will see even greater victories – and feel even greater elation – as well.

…For our Lord is coming again!

Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

 

Notes:

[i] As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when it comes to the devil’s work in America today, I think a former student of mine had it right when he said:

“When considering the impact public demonic displays would have, it would be counter-productive to keeping our minds off of religion.”

[ii] And, of course, more so then ever today, with our increasingly interconnected world, complete with devices that “talk to each other…” and constantly take in data…

Many of us were even really impressed with the iPhone… even as some experts told us the accumulation of scientific knowledge which had made it possible was actually slowing down…

[iii] Fuller quote: “The typical Western city of today is the most effective environment to encourage sin. It is able to generate immoral behaviors so effectively that the task of corrupting your soul becomes one of demonic auto-pilot.

If the opportunity to commit evil is all around you, and you have already chosen for that evil, why do demons need to get involved? Demons must labor to influence you to choose wrong, but if you voluntarily place yourself in an evil environment with the purpose of satisfying a wish list of sinful desires, you make their job effortless. A good example is someone who moves from a small, traditional town to a city like New York or Los Angeles. A man or woman uprooted themselves and went to the big city because they desire to gorge themselves on money, sex, and fame. When a hungry child is in a candy store, do you need to convince him to eat candy? He simply dives in until he gets sick, and during that time of eating, he needs no convincing from a being or external force to keep going until his belly is full of sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

I suspect that there are not many demons residing in the major cities. The evil you may feel while in one may not come from the presence of demons but the mass quantity of people who have chosen evil. The city is actually a platform for evil, one that Satan has constructed and optimized over hundreds of years to lower the barrier for you to commit severe sins. To engage in pride or fornication within a modern city involves no debate or consternation—they’re so normalized that you are looked at as an oddball if you decide against them. You don’t have Instagram? You’re anti-social. You don’t want to hook up after a night of drinking? You’re sexually inadequate. Your friends and acquaintances play the role of the demons by tempting you to sin, and they do that work for free….”

Interestingly, this same week, I had a student who talked about this in the readings for the class I’m teaching:

“In the readings of, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”, by Philip Yancey, I found two stories that stood out to me and had significant meaning as Christian because they describe the way love is supposed to be dished out, with compassion, forgiveness, and understanding. The first story,  involved the girl from a small town who was seduced by the allures of the big city; bright lights, opportunities, and on her own without her parents restrictions. She ends up getting involved with evil characters who are not in her corner, who have lied to her, abused her, and basically threw her away like trash. She eventually remembers who is actually in her corner, who loves her unconditionally, and will always accept her, so she hopes. She returns home to a welcome of endless love, a party for her return, and complete acceptance. This is the parable of the prodigal son, except told in modern times of prostitution and deceit. I like this story because it reminds us that the devil is a liar, and wants our demise (the world/her pimps), and God wants us to return to Him knowing He never lied to us and never forsaken us for anything. He also never rubs our faces in our guilt, He tells us to hush and not speak on the past, but thankful we returned home to safety. It’s man listening to the deceitful talk of the devil telling us how unworthy of love and forgiveness we are that brings in the doubt and the guilt.”

[iv] When recounting his first exorcism, Pastor Harold Ristau said that when a demon tells you its’ real name that is “a sign of submission… defeat.” This is what many exorcists say, evidently. One recalls when Jesus asked the Gerasene demoniac his name. Also, in the ancient world, the idea was that if you knew the name of a spirit, you had power over it. Pastor Ristau told me in an email though that he is no longer convinced that this idea is true.

 

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Two Steps on How to Overcome the World

 

“After me comes the one more powerful than I…”

– Mark 1:7a

 

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I don’t know about you, but power and its significance are on my mind this morning…

Who is this voice crying out in the wilderness, this one who calls himself powerful, or mighty?

…even though he quickly adds that the One coming after him – Jesus Christ – will be even stronger… even mightier than him?

Who is this John the Baptist?

Well, in many ways, he seems to be Jesus’ opposite of sorts, doesn’t he?

We should assume, of course, that both Jesus and John knew well the principal of being “in the world but not of it”.

Nevertheless… while Jesus Christ was in the world eating and drinking – evidently to the point that his opponents thought they could get away with calling him a glutton and a drunkard! – John did no such thing, but lived an odd and austere hermit’s life.

And, as Jesus tells us, “John,” in fact, “came neither eating nor drinking,” and yet those opposing him still  said: “He has a demon.”

And they said this about Jesus as well…

Why?

Precisely because of the message that they preached and lived.

Regardless of the differences between them, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were not the kind of men who brought comfort to certain kinds of people – perhaps even if they wanted to bring comfort – but rather seemed to afflict certain kinds of people… even oppress them… not only with their words, but by their very presence.

On the face of it though, it’s perhaps easier for us to see how John the Baptist – being so different! – might have done this.

For instance, take something as simple as his clothes…

His robe – like the robe of the prophet Elijah before him – was most likely woven from camel’s hair. As such, it had a very course texture much like the garments of many of the most poor

He also had a cheap leather belt, and, interestingly, no sandals are mentioned.

And what of his diet?

Well, Leviticus 11:22 tells us that the Israelites, being God’s special people, were not to eat of the flying insects except for four kinds – all varieties of locusts.

Being abundant in the spring, one could remove their legs and then dry or roast them, perhaps grinding them up, and seasoning them with salt.

The honey would have been the famous wild honey the region was known for…

John literally ate this stuff up… and evidently some pretty large crowds were also eager to pay attention to John…

The commentator R.C.H. Lenski writes some very interesting words about John the Baptist:

“The very appearance of John was… a stern sermon. It was a call to all those who made food and drink, house and raiment their chief concern in life to turn from such vanity and to provide far more essential things. John was a living illustration of how little man really needs here below – something we are prone to forget. In drawing people out into the wilderness after him, John made them share a bit of his own austere life. Men left their mansions, offices, shops, their common round of life and for a time at least gave their thoughts to higher things.”

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John, truly, had a peculiar power to turn people to “higher things”.

He’s out in the wilderness – which is also a sign of the fallen world, under the curse of sin and enmeshed in sin – and he attracted people not by his “power ties” and “power suits,” but with a powerful message.

The first prophet Israel had seen in 400 years, he called the people to repent of their sins, and made the way straight for the One who takes us out of the wilderness of the fallen world… and the wilderness of our own spiritual emptiness and barrenness.

He is saying: this fallen world is not our home!

And what did Jesus say about John?:

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.[i]

So John, according to Jesus too, is somehow great and mighty on earth… powerful.

And yet, again, as we heard this morning, John says, here on earth, that Jesus Christ is even mightier than him…[ii]

Hence the comment he makes about being unworthy to remove Jesus’ sandals…

Now “Removing a person’s sandals was a lowly task appropriate only for a slave…”[iii] Actually, this was a task that was even lower than a Hebrew slave’s job…. (France, 70).

We like to say today how Jesus Christ was a servant-leader – and to do so certainly makes some sense.

At the same time, what is John really saying here?

Well, a Master, as much as a servant that he may be, nevertheless has authority over a servant in part because he is, in some sense, mightier, stronger, and greater than the servant.

And this mightiness, this greatness, is connected with the matter of authority. And here the Holy Spirit has a very specific kind of authority is in mind.

It is not necessarily the kind of authority that holds sway in the world – as necessary and even as valid as that kind of authority might often be – but the kind of authority that completely defeats… overpowers… the world.

And here, we might think of the words from the Apostle John – not John the Baptist! – in the book of I John:

“….for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

This same Apostle John also quotes Jesus saying that He wants us to have peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Perhaps, a passage like Ephesians chapter 6 from the Apostle Paul can be of real assistance here:

10 ….be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

But what, you may wonder, is this world that is being overcome, being defeated, by spiritual power?[iv]

Again, it is the Apostle John who tells us that Jesus appeared specifically to “destroy the devil’s work.”

That is why He loved the world as He did, overcoming it.

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So, what are some things we should take away from all of this?

Looking to that quote earlier from R.C.H. Lenski, he mentioned how John the Baptist aimed to usher us to higher things… The Apostle Paul also says “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…”

What does this mean exactly?

It doesn’t mean “being so heavenly minded one is no earthly good.”

It means, first of all, that this world is not all there is.

This world is passing away.

And that means, more specifically, that the “powers of this dark world and… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” that Paul tells us about will ultimately be completely overpowered, even as now the victory is sure.

So, in the end, we don’t war against flesh and blood, but long for its renewal and cleansing – the new heavens and earth.

Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus that spiritual things cannot be understood if we do not comprehend earthly things.

What does this mean?

Well, there are “orders of creation” that it is critical we understand.

The orders of the earthly world — that many in our day try to deny, overcome and overpower – can help us as signs that point us to the higher spiritual realities we have been talking about.

The boy blessed with a good father intuitively grasps the notion of the Heavenly Father, and is ready to perceive the spiritual realities that John the Baptist, Jesus, and others of the Apostles are gesturing us to.

The children who have parents that love one another, are loyal to each other…. Where the wife is prepared to submit to her husband and he willing to die for her… are ready to understand the unique and powerful love shared by Jesus Christ, and His Holy Bride, the church.

And the parents who are ready to receive the joy that each and every new human life brings are made ready to hear the great message of the baby boy in Bethlehem who routes the world….

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The devil and his demons hate – absolutely hate – all of this.

And in our society especially, they are trying to get you there too.

Hate the Gospel. Hate mercy. Hate the blessing of fathers, marriage, and children… Hate even the very notion of male and female.

This, my brethren, is truly the Kingdom of the World in its full bloom!

In its full hatred of God and His creation.

When God says “up,” this hatred says “down”. When he says “live!,” this hatred says “die”. When he says “good,” the hatred says “evil”….

The book of Mark is fascinating in this way. In that book, on page after page, you will see Satan opposing Jesus at every turn. In fact, we see there all kinds of terrifying and grotesque manifestations – even physically! – of the demonic realm.

While this is not complete unfamiliar in our times and place – many know about the classic film The Exorcist, for example – in the Western world, Satan seems to have thought it wise to keep a lower profile…

As a former student of mine once put it “When considering the impact public demonic displays would have, it would be counter-productive to keeping our minds off of religion.”

…Higher Things…

No, the main thing that we should keep in mind about the devils work among us today, in our time and place, has to do with exactly the same kind of stunt he pulled right in the beginning of creation:

“Did God really say?…”

In other words, the power of the lie.

The injecting of doubt into the reliability, power, and authority of God’s word….

So, again, as we saw from the Ephesians 6, even as we know that Jesus Christ has in one sense has already defeated the demonic at the cross and certainly will mop things up in the Last Day, in the meantime, we get the sense from the Apostle Paul that there’s a fight for us to have as well…

And also, when Acts 10:38 notes “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him….”

That should really get our attention today.

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Can we help our neighbors – at least some of them –come out from “under the power of the devil” and his lies?

And should we strive to be powerful in doing this?

Why not?

We heard the Apostle Paul mention the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the blessed feet that bring good news of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the very word of God…

He then, as we heard, also talked about the importance of prayer, which the demon-infested book of Mark covers in a good amount of depth as well….

And here, Mark 9 strikes me as a key chapter in this book…

It mentions the importance of both prayer and being salty.

Let’s look at both of those briefly now…

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First, prayer.

John the Baptist was evidently a prayerful man…

After all, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Prayer is a critical component of spiritual battle. We must realize that while we might not be chosen to be those who encounter demons that physically manifest themselves, Satan is nevertheless having a field day in our culture, as the power of the lie increasingly rules the hearts and minds of men.

What can we do?

We can cry out:

“Lord, increase our faith!

I trust in you that you forgive my sins! Forever save me!

Please preserve the faith of those I love!

And please give me the grace that I might also serve you more!”

In Mark 9, a man comes to Jesus and begs for Jesus’ help in removing a demon from his child….

He says: “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

Jesus’ rebuke to His disciples is absolutely stinging:

“You unbelieving generation… how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Jesus says “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

The man immediately replies, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Jesus heals the boy Himself and later, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replies, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”[v]

Recognize two things here:

First, when Jesus rebukes His disciples for unbelieving, realize that He is not treating them this way because they are not really his followers but because they are. They trust in Him – have salvation in Him! – but there is much room to grow!

Second, note well the importance of prayer. Devote yourself to it. Remember Anna at the Temple, who we talked about in detail a couple weeks ago!

Aspire to be more like her, like John, and like Jesus!

My generation exclaimed, “Like Mike [Michael Jordan that is], I Wanna Be Like Mike…”

Let’s pray for a re-prioritization of our models here…

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And what is the second key we find mentioned in Mark 9?

It also ends with these interesting words:

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”[vi]

What does this mean?

Well, there was a well-known ancient saying in Jesus’ day that said “the world cannot survive without salt” (Tractate Sopherim XV.8).

Salt was used for many purposes in that world, including flavoring, preservation, fertilizer, and cleansing (Strauss 415).

In sum though, Jesus is encouraging his followers to not lose the characteristics that bring preservation, life, and real peace to the world.[vii]

How so? From the Word of God that comes from the outside and cleanses and purifies us within.

Sometimes this salt of the word of God will burn like fire, the law burning away the dross of our old Adam, and the Gospel bringing healing to us and those who we touch.

This is how we overcome… overpower, the world.

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Brothers and sisters, we are saved by simple trust in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins to bring us to God. Who says “I forgive you” to us again and again…

At the same time though, things like prayer and saltiness are the means that faith in Christ uses to prepare us for real spiritual battle.

These two come about as God increases our faith, and hence, our sheer dependence on Him, our hope expressed in prayer….

In our world, we increasingly feel chaos.

I saw one person say this past week:

“If you’re a common sense person, you probably don’t feel you have a home in this world right now. If you’re a Christian, you know you were never meant to.” (Patricia Heaton).

I could identify with that.

In the ancient world, the ocean was also seen as chaotic, and was greatly feared…

Men who rode the sea knew that it, it’s terrifying depths, it’s great unpredictability, was a heavy, heavy thing… worthy of their utmost respect.

Intense.

And in like fashion, a battle against the demonic might sound utterly pulse-pounding. Sometimes, I think, it is. In the Gospel of Mark we hear much about shrieking demons being cast out. I have a friend, one Pastor Harold Ristau, who could tell you something about that too…

And what of a biblical book like the book of Acts? It is often quite intense, exciting. The church pushing Satan out, winning territory as “the word of the Lord grows….” The Gospel spreading from Jerusalem, to Judea… to Samaria… to the Ends of the Earth!

Power – and authority!

The fiery flames of Pentecost come to mind here… Baptized with the Holy Spirit indeed!

There are no doubt moments for this, where the intense and chaotic powers of the world are confronted head-on with the intense power of God!

And yet, more often than not though, the battle is much more simple, humble… perhaps even seeming quite dull!

Amidst the chaos of the seas around you, God brings you home, burying you in the baptism of simple water, and raising you from the dead with the Lord Jesus Christ…

And says:

You.

Are.

Mine.

So… keeping this matter about power really simple:

Who are you listening to?

Who are you believing?

In whom, ultimately, are you putting your trust?

Making your God?

How can we be synched up with, connected up with, the odd power that John the Baptist had?

How, can we, like him, be willing to be the Messiah’s slaves, to “deflect[] all the attention from himself and direct[] it to Jesus” (Strauss, 67)?

How can we, like Paul, say “when I am weak then he is strong”?

How can we be a part of the non-violent revolution of hearts that features the power of mustard seeds and yeast working slowly through the dough?

To overcome worldliness, the world, Babylon, the [evil] Prince of this world?[viii]

Well, to be strong, to be spiritually powerful, to be prayerful and salty…. first, remember this:

“You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

You are baptized into Jesus Christ, God’s own Son.

And so the same is true about you as well…

Go in peace, and serve your King.

Amen.

 

Notes:

[i] Shortened the immediate above from this:

I started out today by pointing out that John the Baptist himself said that he was mighty.

In what way though really?

Truly, even by the world’s standards, he has a kind of power… having the kind of influence over men that he did… though it is no doubt a strange, unfamiliar, peculiar power…

Again, the commentator Lenski points out that while it is significant that John is literally in the wilderness, the prophet Isaiah, in his original prophecy, also used the literal wilderness, or the desert, as a sign for the fallen world, under the curse of sin and enmeshed in sin. 

More specifically, it is identified with worldliness… the city of Babylon… a sign of all that is wrong in the world.

In Isaiah, the wilderness, or desert, is the sign of that which should cause repentance, which will in turn lead into the land of milk and honey… the bloom and abundance of the Messianic Kingdom!

That is why John is there… to lead the way to Jesus, who brings with Him “the abundant life”, or life “to the full”!

In other words, though Babylon be great and grand in the world’s terms, it is not our home but a place that should make us realize we are not home

It is actually a wilderness where people are ultimately lost, full of utter godlessness, emptiness, and barrenness…

Going along with the connection between the wilderness and Babylon and the world, one commentator says it is significant that John is in the wilderness, because “the hearts of the people had become a desert region, and they needed to be rescued.” (Wicke, 14 ; see also Lenski, 27) – and many no doubt sensed that John, this first prophet in 400 years! – could be the one to do it!

As Jesus would put it in the book of Matthew, chapter 11:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet…

One commentator, talking specifically about the prophet Elijah, said the following: “The prophet’s clothing was rough and basic. He had no need of ‘power dressing’ to impress his audience. The message was sufficient” (p. 293).

I think that this is all pretty fascinating, to be sure. John’s kind of power… his power, evidently, to draw people into the wilderness, and, as Lenki says, cause their thoughts to move to “higher things…”. Jesus, in the book of Mathew, would hence go on to say….

11Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

[ii] Footnote: Clearly, John is expecting God’s Messiah to not be Yahweh himself, but another human being. Strauss says “It would be a truism for a human prophet to assert that Yahweh was ‘more powerful’ than himself.” (66)

[iii] “…The [Jewish holy book of the] Talmud says that the disciple of a rabbi[, that is a teacher,] must do for him everything that a slave would do, except removing his shoes (b. Ketub. 96a). John [therefore,] places himself below the level of the Messiah’s slave…” (Strauss, 65).

[iv] Doesn’t John 3:16, for example say that God sent His only Son to save the world precisely because He loved the world?

So does God love the world or does He want it defeated?

The world God wants defeated is the fallen world. When the Bible says that God loved the world by sending His Son Jesus Christ, it has in mind God’s mercy, His love, towards mankind, the crown of His creation which, by sin, through the world into chaos, destruction, and disintegration.

That is Babylon. Where we must struggle not only against our individual sins, but the sins of our communities as well. Where we must try to “go against the flow” of the world and its worldliness

In spite of the presence of sin in the world, the infection of sin in the world, God desired to save mankind and in fact, His whole creation.

And so Jesus Christ came.

As we know from the season, we just celebrated, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield,
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns, cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib His trench, hay-stalks His stakes,
Of shepherds He His muster makes;
And thus, as sure His foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

[v] 1,600 years ago, the church father Jerome even said, quoting Scripture passages like Mark 9:29, that “the more violent devils cannot be overcome except by prayer and fasting.” (ACCS, 118)

Lenski, commenting on Mark 9:29, says: “Matthew’s fuller answer states as the reason [for the failed exorcism] the unbelief of the disciples and adds a promise to faith….”

I also note that Lenski leaves out the fasting part in Matthew 17:21 though (like the NIV and ESV as well) It does seem to only be in the KJV, in that family of manuscripts… (And for more on that kind of thing, see here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/the-critical-text-very-word-of-god-fallible-witness-of-man-both/)

[vi] What does this mean? In the first place, William Lane helps us very much with the part occurring right before this: “Everyone will be salted with fire”. I’ll quote in full:

“…every disciple is to be a sacrifice for God (cf. Rom. 12:1). In the OT the Temple sacrifices had to be accompanied by salt (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24; cf. Ex. 30:35). The salt-sacrifice metaphor is appropriate to a situation of suffering and trial in which the principle of sacrifice cultivated with respect to the individual members of the body is now severely tested. The disciples must be seasoned with salt, like the sacrifice. This will take place through fiery trials (cf. I Peter 1:7; 4:12), through which God will purge away everything contrary to his will…” (p. 349).

[vii] See, e.g. Strauss, 414-415.

[viii] https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Satan-As-The-Prince-Of-This-World

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2021 in Uncategorized