Christianity 201

June 2, 2013

The Intention Behind The Action

Today we pay a return visit to the blog The Rest That Works and writer Scott Daniels. You’re always encouraged to click through to read at source. This piece appeared under the title The Bottom Line.

The more I pray and try to follow God’s guidance the more it becomes apparent how simple the bottom line really is–love. It’s also apparent what usually gets in the way–a critical spirit, toward myself and others. The issue isn’t whether or not there is something that can be criticized. That is often the case. At issue is our approach. Is it of love or not? 

Probably the clearest story from the Bible that highlights this is when the woman (or different women) anointed Jesus with expensive oil. 

In John, Mary anoints Jesus and Judas objects because of the expense (John 12:1-8).

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is at the house is of Simon the Leper when a woman comes in with very expensive ointment, and pours it over his head. The disciples in general complain of the waste because it could have been sold for the poor, but Jesus says it’s in preparation for his burial, and that you will always have the poor with you but not me, and adds that“wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mt. 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9). It’s one of the few times we hear that he is really impressed with what someone has done, and it has everything to do with intent.

In Luke 7 we have a different story with interesting similarities: We’re at the house of Simon the Pharisee. 

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

In all cases, which may or may not have been different women and episodes, Jesus emphasizes the way the women have shown great love. To Jesus, the love and intent behind our actions are just about everythingIn at least one of these cases, expressing the love is worth a year’s wages blown in a single impractical gesture.

Jesus doesn’t say that the poor don’t matter. He also doesn’t ignore sin. But he clearly says that love moving or not moving through us matters most. He’s saying the spirit is the key.

The bottom line is to rest regarding a critical spirit and work with love. The bottom line is Divine Love, not as a theory but as a movement within us that deals with sin by transforming people and situations through love (us included).

More power to you in focusing on the bottom line.

May 23, 2013

Jesus is the New Temple

Jesus A TheographyI am currently working my way very slowly through the book, Jesus: A Theography by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet. The book explores various aspects of Jesus’ ministry and goes beyond the simple ‘womb to tomb’ biography by dealing with the pre-incarnate and post-incarnate Christ. I’m currently about half-way through the book and landed on this section where the authors enumerate the various places where Jesus takes on the role that Israel formerly ascribed to ‘temple.’  This is taken from pages 171-173. I encourage you to visit Bible Gateway or Bible Hub to check out the various references in context.

  • The Jews understood that the temple was the one place on earth where heaven and earth intersected.  It was the extension of the garden of Eden, the playground of angels and humans.  Jesus was God and man.  He was the joining together of God’s dwelling and the dwelling of humans.  Jesus is the reality of Bethel, the “house of God,” which is marked by commerce between the heavens and the earth.  (Recall Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, where angels ascended and descended from heaven to earth, and Jesus’ words to Nathanael in John 1 that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s house.)
  • Jesus identified Himself as the tabernacle of God, the fulfillment of the tabernacle of Moses, where God’s glory rested.  The words of John 1:14, He “dwelt among us”, literally mean He “tabernacled among us.”  In the same text, John went on to say “and we beheld his glory.”
  • In John 2:19, Jesus said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  John then informed us, two verses later, that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.
  • In Matthew 12:6, Jesus announced that he is greater than the physical temple.  The physical temple was a signpost.  Jesus is the reality.
  • In Colossians 2:9, Paul says that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus in bodily form.  In other words, Jesus is the dwelling place of God.
  • In John 20, Jesus breathed into the disciples.  They were now a new creation.  He then gave them the word of proclaiming forgiveness to sinners.  Forgiveness was the rule of the temple in Jerusalem.  The temple afforded forgiveness of sins by the sacrifices that were offered there.  Now Jesus, the real Temple and the real Sacrifice, offered forgiveness.  And those who were part of the Temple, His disciples, declared it as well.
  • In His ministry in Galilee, Jesus was acting and living as though He were the temple itself.  He was fulfilling all of the temple’s functions.  To have your sins forgiven in that day, you had to go to the temple.  Jesus was subverting this system by offering forgiveness Himself.
  • After the temple of His body was destroyed, Jesus rose again on the third day.  Fifty days later, at Pentecost, thousands of Jews were converted to Christ.  They were the “living stones” that were “hewn out of the one Rock,” which is Christ.  In Mark 14:58, one of the witnesses at Jesus’ trial said, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man'”.  These living stones became the building blocks for the house of God.  Jesus, the real Temple, had increased.  Now the church has become the temple of God on earth.
  • In Acts 2, an unusual event occurred on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem.  The Spirit of God fell on 120 disciples of Jesus.  They spoke in tongues, and tongues of fire appeared on their heads.  The real temple of God was being born right in the midst of the old physical temple.  The tongues were the reverse of what happened in Babel.  At Babel sinful men tried to achieve unity by creating a tower to reach the heavens.  God judged their effort and confused them by scrambling their languages.  At Pentecost the Spirit of God united them, they spoke in other tongues, and they understood one another.  The fire on their heads is reminiscent of the fire that fell from heaven on the temple when it was dedicated.  The new temple of God is not built with human hands.
  • The temple was a signpost of a future reality.  It was God’s dwelling place.  It was the place of forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and wholeness.  It was the place of God’s presence on earth.


February 9, 2013

The One Who Will Judge is Non-Judgmental

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

~Apostles Creed  (see also a musical adaptation)

This week we went to an event that featured Steve Geyer, who was billed as a comedian, but really shared his heart for over two hours in a much more pastoral sense.

In one section he spoke about the surprising and unexpected things that take place in the earthly ministry of Jesus; things where the events and people and situations get turned on their heads, including the time Jesus is anointed with perfume by an uninvited guest to a party.

Three gospels carry this story. Mark  (chapter 14) who is usually much more concise gives us more than Matthew

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

Luke 7 is considered to be a different story that took place at a different time, but is a similar story that includes a parable that Jesus teaches:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As Steve Geyer referred briefly to this story he said,

“The One who will judge the earth is non-judgmental.”

That phrase really hit me. Here we see another example of the contrast between “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” (itself not a fully accurate rendering of the earthly ministry of Jesus) and the one who sits at God’s right hand from where “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Mercy contrasted with justice. God’s love versus God’s judgment.

John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Jesus pours out love and compassion to so many in the gospel narratives, but just as a parent gently loves a child, so also does a parent not hesitate to bring rebuke, correction and discipline. (See this link for an interesting parallel between that and the work of the scriptures in our lives.) God’s justice must be satisfied, and yet, as I ponder Steve’s statement, I see even there a justice that is tempered by mercy and grace.

Even though today’s story may not be exactly in all four gospels, I did a check to see what teachings/stories are found in all four gospels:

  • Feeding the 5,000
  • Identification of the betrayer at the Last Supper
  • Jesus prays in Gethsemane
  • Peter’s denials
  • various elements of the death and resurrection

Scriptures quoted today are NIV; all underlinings in the creed and Bible verses added.

September 5, 2012

Jesus Said More Than The Lord’s Prayer

NIV Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Today we have a guest post from Clark Bunch who blogs at The Master’s Table and was gracious enough to write this just for us!

Jesus Said More Than the Lord’s Prayer
Sometimes as Christians we get this odd idea that the more involved we are in ministry, or the closer to God we feel, the less we need to pray.  Rather than argue against this premise, let’s take a look at the Gospels and once again consider what Jesus would do.  In this case we don’t have to guess, there is plenty of material on the prayer life of Jesus.
1. Jesus prayed early in the morning.  In Mark 1:35 Jesus went out to pray “while it was still dark,” in other words before first light.  He made prayer his first priority, before doing anything else.  There’s an old saying about praying when all else fails.  Jesus prayed before trying anything else.  He began each day by connecting with God his father.  
2. Jesus prayed before important events.  In this same passage (Mark 1:35-39) Jesus spends time in prayer before beginning his ministry in Galilee.  He spent time in prayer and fasting before beginning his public ministry, and we will say more about his prayer in Gethsemane in a moment; that was the night before his trial and crucifixion.  Before major events that marked a change in his ministry, Jesus spent extra time and energy in prayer.  Before calling the Twelve (Luke 6:12) he prayed all night.  
3. Jesus taught his disciples to pray.  The Gospels record the public ministry of Jesus, in which he preached to the multitudes, and also private teachings with a much smaller audience.  Sometimes it’s just the 12 apostles and sometimes he is with a much smaller group than the throng of followers.  His disciples asked him to teach them to pray, and he gave them what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer.  I prefer Model Prayer or Disciples’ Prayer to calling it the Lord’s Prayer.  
The model he gave them was a teaching tool.  He kept it simple to illustrate the important parts one should include in prayer, but that is not the prayer Jesus said each time he prayed. The High Priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17) is how Jesus himself prays, especially in his “new role” as our High Priest and advocate with the Father.  
4. Jesus prayed ’till it hurt.  We’ve already mentioned Jesus praying at Gethsemane before his arrest and false trial.  This story is recorded in all of the Gospels, but Luke makes an interesting note in 22:44.  Luke, described by the Apostle Paul as his beloved physician, says that Jesus prayed until “his sweat became as great drops of blood.”  It is possible during times of great physical duress for one’s capillaries to break under the skin and for blood to escape, probably mixed with sweat, through the skin.  Rather than debate if he was bleeding, don’t miss this point: Jesus was not only praying he broke a sweat.  “Now I lay be down to sleep” is not going to do that to a person.  Jesus never taught lessons until he sweat drops of blood; he never healed the sick, raised the dead, preached sermons, walked on water, feed the crowds nor anything else until he sweat blood.  The only time we see this in the Gospels is while he was praying.  
The notion that the closer we get to God the less time we need to spend in prayer is misguided.  Jesus was the Son of God, the very incarnation of God robed in flesh, and he made prayer a priority each day.  No one has ever been closer to God the Father than Jesus himself.  There are many more accounts of Jesus praying than those listed above, but let me leave you with this one: Jesus prayed on the cross.  Even while Roman soldiers drove nails into his hands, and the Jewish leaders watched and mocked, he prayed for those crucifying him.  “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus was literally dying; what’s our excuse not to pray? 
~Clark Bunch
The purpose of The Master’s Table is to promote the centrality of Christ in the scriptures. In the Last Supper, Jesus is in the center. In our lives, churches, Bible study, witnessing, blogging, etc. Jesus Christ should be at the center.

Image:  Purchase today’s image as an unframed print at Cross Into Your Life.

April 17, 2012

Jesus: After the Order of Melchizedek

Today I thought we’d really go deep with what is the first of two posts by author Andrew Perrimen at his blog post on the nature of the incarnate Christ.  Don’t fret if you can’t absorb this all at once in the first reading; simply get an overview of what the author is discussing and your exposure to this type of examination will register over time.  It’s a good introduction to the issues that arise when people try to get too much doctrine out of an isolated text.

One of the arguments put forward by those who wish to find the divinity of Jesus under every stone is that as a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17) Jesus must have been both God and man. This is a misunderstanding of the argument in Hebrews, and I want to set out briefly why I think this is the case. There is a lot more in the discussion that I would like to pick up on, particularly cherylu’s helpful contribution, but there’s an Eagles concert to go to tonight at the Dubai Rugby Sevens ground, and we’re off camping in the desert south of the Liwa Oasis tomorrow. From the ridiculous to the sublime.

1. Nowhere in the Bible is a priest identified with God. It’s not part of the job description. In fact, it’s part of the job description that a priest should be thoroughly human (Heb. 5:1-3).

2. Jesus qualifies for priesthood by virtue of his suffering on behalf of his “brothers”, that is, on behalf of suffering Israel (there is no reference to the nations in this argument). When it is said that it was necessary for him to “become like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 1:17), the point is not that he had to become human but that he had to suffer (2:18); he was tested in just the same way that the recipients of the letter had been tested—that is, by persecution—but without sin, without disobedience, without backsliding (Heb. 4:15). Jesus was “designated” a high priest by God because he “learned obedience through what he suffered” and was “made perfect” (Heb. 5:8-10). That makes no sense at all if Jesus, as some sort of eternal high priest, was already God.

2. Jesus becomes a priest through the power of the resurrection, by the power of an “endless life” (Heb. 7:16). He was appointed as high priest (Heb. 5:5). He was not a high priest before his death and resurrection, so no claims can be made on the basis of this analogy regarding his preexistence. That Jesus would live forever is part of the argument; that he had already lived forever is not. As a human priest after the order of Melchizedek, raised from the dead, Jesus has gone ahead as a “forerunner” on behalf of those who will also suffer and be vindicated for his sake (6:19-20).

3. The reference to Psalm 110:4 indicates that the point of the argument is that Israel’s eschatological king, from the line of Judah, was also legitimately a high priest who could make propitiation for the sins of the people, following the failure of the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:11). The Jewish polemical background is obvious. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, who predated the Levitical priesthood, and who set the precedent for the new conjunction of the two human roles in Jesus. John Doyle also has some good comments on the significance of Melchizedek in the argument of Hebrews. Divinity doesn’t come into it.

3. In Hebrews 7:3 we have this description of Melchizedek:

He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

Melchizedek is a “type” of Jesus here only in one respect: he continues as a priest forever, which is an element in the convergence of the priestly and royal themes. The other statements made are not part of the typology or analogy—clearly not, since Jesus had a mother and a genealogy, in fact, two genealogies. You can’t have a genealogy and be eternal. So the writer is not saying here that Jesus was also without beginning of days. This cannot be used as an argument for the divinity or preexistence of Jesus.

4. The strongest case for the preexistence of Jesus in the New Testament, in my view, is probably to be made on the basis of statements which connect him with the original act of creation (eg. Col. 1:16). The fact that the argument with regard to Melchizedek and the nature of priesthood is exegetically and theologically is flawed does not mean that the case cannot be made on other grounds.

~Andrew Perrimen

Here’s the link to part two

Be sure to also read today’s examination of the subject of short-term mission trips at Thinking Out Loud.

April 12, 2012

The Fig Tree and The Temple

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This appeared originally on April 2nd at the blog of Allan R. Bevere, a United Methodist minister in Akron, Ohio. 

Jesus enters Jerusalem one last time. He will spend the next few days needling the religious authorities to within an inch of their patience. The people come out to greet Jesus as he enters the city. No doubt the people are reminded of another triumphal entry many decades before– the entry of Judas Maccabeus, who had liberated Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple. But Jesus has something else in mind for the Temple. His first stop upon his arrival is the Temple itself, but it is too late in the day, so Jesus leaves for Bethany with his disciples to stay with friends.
The next day, Jesus performs a strange act that will explain his soon-to-be-actions in the Temple. Jesus is hungry, so he approaches a fig tree to pick some of its fruit, even though Jesus knows that its season for the production of fruit has already passed. Nevertheless, he curses the fig tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
He then enters the Temple to do what he had planned to do the night before, but did not because the hustle and bustle of the day had finished. In an act sure to get everybody’s attention, Jesus begins turning over the tables of the money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice, refusing to allow anyone to carry anything through.
Jesus’ anger is two-fold with both concerns related:

The religious leaders have taken the Temple, which God had intended to be a place for all the nations to come and worship, and they had crowded out the Gentiles with their buying and selling. They had turned the Temple into a place of ethnic pride and exclusivity.

 Moreover, in so doing the religious leaders had also turned the Temple, says Jesus quoting Jeremiah, into their own little safety zone, their refuge, feeling that they are safe from God’s judgment. In essence, Jesus accuses them of turning the Temple into the hideout where they, “the James Gang,” divide the loot they have robbed from others.
In this symbolic act, Jesus does not cleanse the Temple; he judges it. The Sadduccees and the Pharisees have so corrupted the Temple, that there is no reforming it. God will judge it, just as Jesus cursed the fig tree. If the tree will not bear fruit in its season, then there will be no season for it at all. God has expected his people, his fig tree, to bear fruit, and they have not; so now the season for producing fruit has passed and there will be no further opportunities.
Such acts continue to raise the authority question in the minds of the religious leaders. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders ask Jesus, “By what authory are you doing these things.” Who gave you authority to do them.”
Of course, there is nothing that Jesus can say that will satisfy them, so he turns the tables on them by asking them a question: “Did John’s baptism come from heaven or from human origin?” They know that no matter how they answer, they have a problem. They did not believe John, but they knew that the people believed him to be a prophet.
Instead of taking a stand they simply respond that they do not know; an amazing admission from people who are supposed to know these things. Jesus responds to them in like fashion. If they will not answer his question, neither will he answer theirs. At this point the religious leaders are probably so embarrassed that they do not press Jesus further. At least in this they are wise.

March 25, 2012

Where Did All The Demons Go?

After some additional discussion both on and off the blog after the post about curses a few weeks ago, here’s a piece from the blog Arminian Today which appeared under the title So Little Said About Demons These Days.

Even a simply survey reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus Christ interacted with demonic forces during His earthly ministry.

In Matthew 4:23-25 we read that Jesus’ ministry was marked first by His healings which included “those oppressed by demons” (v. 24 ESV).

In Matthew 8:16 we read that Jesus again headed those oppressed by demons and thus His healings demonstrated that He was the Messiah according to Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17.

In Matthew 8:28-34 we have Jesus’ first encounter with two demon possessed men.  Here Jesus casts out the demons by allowing them to speak that they wish to be cast into a herd of pigs which He allows and the pigs run off a cliff to their deaths.

In Matthew 9:32-34 Jesus heals a demon possessed man who is unable to speak.

In Matthew 10:8 Jesus tells His disciples to cast out demons.

In Matthew 12:22 Jesus heals a demon possessed man who is blind and mute.

The only insight Jesus gives us to demons is found in Matthew 12:43-45 where He speaks about what a demon spirit does when it is cast out of a person.

In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus heals a Gentile woman’s demon possessed little girl whose mother comes to Jesus and implores Him to come and heal her.  Jesus heals the little girl without being present physically (v. 28).

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus heals a demon possessed boy whom the disciples of Jesus could not heal.  Jesus tells His disciples they could not heal the boy because of their lack of faith (v. 20).

This ends the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew concerning demons but much more could be read from the other three Gospels about our Lord.  Clearly He had a ministry that included dealing with demons and demon possession.

What is amazing is that we don’t see that much on demons these days.  Some have sought answers to this by saying 1) the stories in the Gospels are not true.  2) Demons were in abundance in the life and times of Christ but not so today.  Demons helped God prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of Israel and thus are not needed today to demonstrate His truth since we have the Bible.  3)  Demons do exist but we just don’t talk about them much because we lack faith to deal with them.

My contention is number 3.

I believe in demons.  I have seen only a few times where I thought I was seeing a demon working in a person.  We have all heard the stories such as The Exorcist where the demon causes the person to talk in a different voice and even in foreign languages.  I too have heard those stories though never witnessed them.  I once sat in on a bizarre episode where a girl we knew was struggling with migraine headaches.  Some guy claimed that the headaches were demonic and that a demon was behind the sickness.  He began to have the girl look into his eyes and he said, “I want to speak to the demon in the name of Jesus.”  Supposedly a few demons spoke but I think the girl was making it up.  She continue to struggle with migraines to this day and that has been nearly 20 years.

You see the dilemma that I face is this: I believe in demons but I have seen some strange teachings on demons.  I worked with a lady who claimed that demons were stealing from her cash register.  She honestly believed that if she came up short on her money at our job then a demon had come in, took the money, and was seeking to bring her down.  I watched once as she sought to cast a demon out of her cash register.

Yet I still believe in demons.  Why?  Because of the Bible.  I see in the Gospels and later in the book of Acts the dealings by both the Lord Jesus and the Apostles with demons.  Some believe that with the death of the last Apostle and the cessation of revelatory spiritual gifts, demonic activity likewise has diminished and today we defeat demons not by signs and wonders and healings but with the power of the gospel.  I believe this is a weak argument based on silence and not Scripture.  It is seeking to a build a case from silence of why we in the modern Church do not see demons like they did in Acts.

I am well aware of the stories from Africa and other nations were demons are being interacted with.  I have talked with missionaries to Africa who say that they have seen demonic activity all across Africa but that the Church is confronting those demons with the power of Christ.  I have spoken with brothers from India who tell of temples of Hinduism that are full of demons.  One Indian brother told me that Westerners often get very sick around those temples even if not a Christian because of the level of demonic activity that goes on the inside of those Hindu temples.  I have had Indian brothers tell me about the power of Jesus healing demon possessed people.

So why the lack of demon possession in the United States and the West?  One African brother told me that he believed that demons not show themselves here in the US because of our trust in materialism.  He told me, “Brother, demons are active in the United States but they need not manifest themselves since you trust in riches.  Demons are behind your materialism and they have you trapped.  Why bother exposing themselves when their job is complete.”  This African brother told me that he has demons speak to him in Africa but never in the United States.  He did tell me that he once encountered a demon at a large mall.  He said that the demon possessed man merely walked over to him and growled like a dog at him.

Perhaps this brother is correct.  We trust in our technology here in the West.  You get sick.  You go to the doctor.  We have little trust in the supernatural or in trying to explain events using demons or the spirit world.  Our trust in modern science is such that we seek to explain everything and everything has an explanation.  Demonic activity is not one that you ever hear about.  I have had only one psychiatrist tell me that she often prays for wisdom to discern the demonic (1 Corinthians 12:10).  She said that it is difficult to discern if a demon is behind a person’s behavior or if the person is truly sick.  Either way, she said, she prays for healing and asks Jesus to intervene for His glory.  Wise woman.

To make matters even more difficult, the Epistles speak little to none of demons.  Paul mentions demons in 1 Corinthians 10:21.  Paul mentions Satan in 2 Corinthians 2:11.  He mentions Satan as the god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4:4.  Paul mentions the false god Belial in 2 Corinthians 6:15.  Paul mentions the deception of Satan in 2 Corinthians 11:14.  Paul mentions spiritual forces of evil in Ephesians 6:12.  Paul speaks of the activity of Satan in 2 Thessalonians 2:9.  He mentions deceitful spirits and teaching of demons in 1 Timothy 4:1.  James mentions demons in James 2:19.  Peter mentions spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3:19.  John mentions spirits in 1 John 4:1-3.  Revelation is full of demons and spirits and creatures such as we see in Revelation 9.

Yet that is pretty much it.  Demons rarely appear outside of the Gospels and Acts.  Paul never tells the churches he writes to cast out demons.  Some say that this would have been a given because of the words of Jesus in Mark 16:17.  I believe this another argument from silence.  Yet the same could be said of healing.  Paul never mentions for the church to be praying for healings to take place to draw people to Christ and apart from 1 Corinthians 12, he never speaks of healings.  James mentions healing in James 5:13-16.  So if we believe that the revelatory gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and exorcisms were for the Apostles, then that is your argument for the lack of demonic activity in the modern Church and in the Epistles.

Either way, we know this: Jesus is victorious over demons.  His victory is seen in the cross and in His resurrection.  His victory is seen in the transformation of lives through the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:17).  His victory is seen in the defeat of Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15).  This victory is now experienced through the gospel.  Jesus is able to deliver us from sin and it’s power (Romans 6:1-23).  The Spirit of God delivers us completely from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  God has triumphed over all demons through the cross (Colossians 2:15).  Victory is ours in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).

March 15, 2011

Exegetical Blogging

Bible commentary need not be restricted to pastors and Christian authors.  You can copy and paste text into your blog and insert your own insights.  This piece is from Dreaming Beneath the Spires, the blog of Anita Mathias in Oxford, England where it first appeared under the title, Wealth and the Spiritual Life.

Matthew 19 16-30
The Rich and the Kingdom of God
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

He has the longing for spiritual things that many good people have.

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

For starters, the moral code of basic decency with the addition of Love Your Neighbor as yourself, an obscure directive from Lev 19:18.

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

An idol is something which, in practice, means more to us that God does. Though we may not realize that we love it more, in effect it absorbs our thoughts and our attention more than God does. And how does one deal with this?

Sometimes, surgery, giving it up all together. God may take the idol from us in mercy, or we may give it up.

At other times, we need to constantly repent and surrender the idol to God, and make sure that we are doing it in God’s way. (That, for instance, is what I need to do with my blog.)

Jesus did not ask everyone to sell their possessions and give them to the poor. However, his diagnosis of this young man’s heart was correct, because that was the one thing he could not do.

He could not deal with the resultant transformation of identity if he lost his possessions. He could not part with something he had probably nurtured and brooded over over many hours and years.

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

And this is what happens when we say No to God. We go away sad.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Wealth brings with it a sense of security, prestige, power, an easier life, the respect of men, “friends” some of whom might become real friends, social acceptance, the power to fulfill fantasies, to gratify desire, to affect the lives of your children, family, and friends in positive ways. “Men praise you when you prosper.” Psalm 49:18.

It is not therefore surprising that it could easily become an idol to us, something which takes the place of God in our thoughts.

The general attributes of the rich are the opposite to those of the child, (Matthew 19 13-15) when it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven.

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished

Because wealth was equated with God’s blessing and favour.

and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Even rich men and rich women can be saved!! For “with God, all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

No wonder Jesus loved Peter. He who said what he thought as he thought it. Him with his foot in his mouth.

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

What have you done for the sake of Jesus?
Think about it.
You will receive a hundred times as much, in this life, some of the Gospels, specify. And eternal life.
Receiving a hundred times as much for the little I have done for the love of Christ in this life–that I can testify from personal experience is true!!

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
A repeated theme in the Gospels. Those who are prominent here, may be the least prominent in paradise, and those who are the least prominent here may be the closest to God here, and in paradise.
The day of judgment will bring many surprises.

What is the one thing in your life which might take the place of God? Think about it. What would it take for you to either let it go, or to do it in God’s way?