The devil

Juxtaposition (Mark 1:11-20)

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Life is full of contrasting experiences! One moment we are celebrating something the next we can be plunged into hardship by a phone call or some unexpected trouble.  

In Mark 1:11-12, Jesus has a thoroughly human experience. One moment Jesus is basking in the love and affirmation of Father God, the next He is being sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan – juxtaposition.

You know the feeling, don’t you? Sunday you’re lost in worship, basking in the love of God, or you’ve just had a great time of personal devotion with bible reading prayer and worship and then BAM! 

Someone rear-ends your car in traffic, or something hits the news on the radio that plunges you into despair, or your cell phone buzzes with a message you really didn’t anticipate or need – juxtaposition. 

When this happens, we need to remember that our faith is not feelings. We know the God we were worshipping, delighting in and listening to. We know who has loved us and who had proclaimed that love. Feelings are fickle; they come and go, rise and fall, but our faith is anchored by something greater than feelings.

What anchored Jesus in the midst of this sudden change of atmosphere and experience?  

  1. Jesus knew WHO He was, and Jesus knew WHOSE He was. At His baptism, God the Father had confirmed this in an emphatic way through His words to Jesus (vs11).
  2. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1)
  3. Jesus knew Scripture and quoted it when Satan tempted and tested Him (Luke 4:9-13)

And what will anchor you when your life is thrown a serious curveball? I pray that it will be anchored by the same three things that anchored Jesus in his moment of contrasting circumstances.

Verse 12 reveals another surprising contrast. How can Scripture say that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (see also Matthew 4:1)?  

We prefer to attribute bad or hard things to our own agency or the sinful agency of others or Satan himself. We are happy with language that places God with us in trials or working in trials, yet all synoptic Gospels ascribe Jesus’ guidance to the Holy Spirit!

God doesn’t just work in all things; God is sovereign over all things. God, the Holy Spirit, lead Jesus into this challenging time for the sake of the purposes of God in and through Jesus. Being tempted by Satan and being without food for 40days could not have been easy or pleasant at all for Jesus. And yet it was God Himself who sovereignly lead Jesus into those circumstances.

At present we are facing a world-wide pandemic, economies are shaking, people have lost their jobs in thousands, businesses are struggling, people are sick, and many have lost their lives. There seems to be hardship on every side, and yet one of the keys to thriving in this world-wide crisis is; “knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.” – John Piper

Sometimes I think we want to let God off the hook for our tough life circumstances. We feel it is too conflicting to know that God could have been involved in our circumstances or don’t want God to be blamed for not relieving them. But then you can’t have it both ways! “If we try to rescue God from his sovereignty over suffering, we sacrifice his sovereignty to turn all things for good.” – John Piper

The Gospels report without any apology or embarrassment that God the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into this time of hardship and discomfort and testing by Satan, and God sustained Jesus in it too! Luke records also; “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Luke 4:14). God, the Holy Spirit, never left Jesus from the time of His baptism, strengthening Him through his trial and temptation, and empowering Him in all His ministry (Acts 10:38).

Likewise, God will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5-6)! No matter what you face, no matter what He leads you into for His sovereign purposes, God the Holy Spirit will always be with you to enable and equip you to do God’s will in it all.

So in these times full of juxtaposed experiences, good things and hard things know this – God is sovereign in it all and God loves you and me with an everlasting love.

Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you again today, knowing; “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Magnificient! (Colossians 2:11-15)

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How do you express or explain the wonders of the miracle of our salvation? Paul, in these verses, draws on five distinct word pictures in an attempt to make real to us the wonder of our salvation.

1. Circumcision (vs11)

Male circumcision was the mark of the covenant God had established between Himself and His people (see Genesis 17:10-14). It was the physical sign that this person was set apart for God, was part of God’s people.

Paul takes that whole concept of circumcision and applies it to believers in Jesus. Having believed we are spiritually circumcised, ‘cut off’ from the body of sin (Romans 6:6) that was ‘in-Adam’, and are now correctly described as being ‘in-Christ’ and free from the dominion of sin.

The moment of salvation cuts us off from our old life, our old habits, our old slavery to sin and so we are now free from sin and able to walk in obedience and love for Jesus. We don’t have to try to cut ourselves off from the old life of sin, we have been cut off from it by the finished work of Jesus. His victory is our victory and freedom. We now ought to consider that freedom and victory to be ours and live accordingly (Romans 6:9-11).

We who believe in Jesus and worship Jesus by the Spirit are God’s chosen people now, God’s circumcised ones (Philippians 3:3).

2. Baptism (vs12)

Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:3-6 both teach that when we believe in Jesus and are baptised as believers, we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection!

The symbol of baptism in water isn’t just a symbol, but somehow spiritually we are united with Jesus through baptism.

Our going under the water represents our unification with Jesus and His death, and our dying to sin and our old self so that the ‘body of sin might be brought to nothing’ (Romans 6:6).

Our coming up from the water represents our unification with Jesus in His resurrection and our being raised to new life through faith in Jesus (Colossians 2:12-13 & Romans 6:8-11).

Jesus’ death & resurrection remind us of our death to the old life of sin, satan’s control and fear of death and our new life (Colossians 2:13) and hope and freedom that was obtained for us by Jesus on the cross.

[Application point]: If you have not yet been baptised in water as a believer, note how the Apostle Paul has a high view of baptism as having not just symbolic but spiritual significance. I urge you to speak to your pastor about getting baptised in water if you have believed in Jesus.

3. A Record of Debt Notice (vs14)

The third word picture Paul uses is what was known as a ‘cheirographon’ in the Greco-Roman world of the day. This was a legal written note of indebtedness that someone would be given if they had a debt that was as yet unpaid.

Paul uses this metaphor to make clear that when we put our faith in Jesus the legal and moral debt that we owed to God, the debt we carried around with us as a ‘cheirographon’ – that debt was set aside in full.

We were duty-bound to pay that debt, but God set it aside when Jesus stepped in our place and said in effect; ‘I’ll pay for that in full!’ on the cross. When Jesus cried out on the cross in the moment of His death; ‘it is finished!’ (John 19:30) we can understand this to mean that He had paid the price for our freedom from debt in full. And because the price was paid in full, the debt is set aside (Colossians 2:14), the ‘cheirographon’ is annulled, and we are free! No more debt before a Holy God, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!

4. Crucifixion (vs14)

But what did God do with the ‘cheirographon’? In the time of Jesus and Paul, when someone was crucified, a note would be nailed to the cross to tell everyone what they were guilty of, being executed for.

We know that Pilate had a note nailed to Jesus’ cross that read; “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37). This is ironic since this was both the charge against Jesus – that He claimed to be God, and also the truth about Jesus that He was God! This note above Jesus’ head as He is dying for us on the cross reminds Paul of the ‘cheirographon’ that God was setting aside through Jesus’ dying in our place for our sin.

Paul then says, God took that ‘cheirographon’ and nailed it to the cross, this is how God could set aside our debt, Jesus paid for it on the cross in full!

5. Victory! (vs14-15)

The death and resurrection of Jesus was the most glorious victory. In Jesus’ time when a military victory had been won, the defeated king or military officials and their soldiers would be paraded in humiliation and defeat behind the victorious king in a victory parade.

This is the picture in mind for Paul when thinking of the cross of Christ and its impact on our lives as believers. The devil and his devilish host have been utterly triumphed over by Jesus death & resurrection; they have been humiliated and defeated, put to shame openly by Jesus’ magnificent once and for all victory!

What good news this is for us who have believed in Jesus. We are on the winning side for eternity; the battle is won, we know how the story ends. His victory is our victory. So live in the good of His victory and never cower in defeat before satan, sin or death.

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Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

 

The Unseen War

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I had to go to the mall the other day. I went to collect something and was amazed at how many people were there just carrying on with life as normal.

People everywhere acting as if nothing was happening – as if there wasn’t an unseen virus lurking which there is at present with COVID-19.

People were eating at restaurants, having a baby shower celebration, shopping. There were a few people taking precautions with masks and gloves, but they were in the minority. To see such precautions in a mall would normally have been strange; however, even this attire has become our new norm as we carry on with everyday things.

It occurred to me that this is what we are sometimes like concerning the spiritual battles taking place around us. We can’t see our enemy, and we don’t see the battles going on. So we carry on as if they aren’t happening.

It says in Ephesians 6:12 that our fight as Christians is not against flesh and blood enemies, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world.

Whether you believe the COVID-19 virus exists or not is irrelevant. Similarly, whether you believe the unseen spiritual world exists or not is irrelevant. Whether we believe or not, the spread of the virus continues. Whether we believe or not the battle continues.

However, we have been forced as a country to change our daily routines because of this real and unseen threat to our lives and those around us.

What will force us to be aware of the war happening in the spiritual realm? Perhaps when the Devil’s attacks get our attention, and we’re forced to bend our knee and come before our Father and ask for his help.

Our Father in his grace, love and kindness towards us has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He has given us his Spirit that lives within us and is our Comforter, our Helper, our Counselor and our Encourager. He has given us weapons to fight in this war. We are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus because we have been saved from the enemies camp, we have the word of our Father that is truth, he fills our hearts with peace, and he even gives us faith to believe in him.

Living as though you’re not in a war does not mean it’s not happening!

So, read your Bible so that you can know the truth and fight off the enemy when he attacks you with lies. Meditate, think about and remind yourself of who you are because Jesus died in your place. Ask God to fill you with faith so that you can believe him and trust him with your life. And speak to him, ask him for help, look to Him as your source of comfort, encouragement and wisdom. Be alert and don’t listen to the enemy when he lies to you about no threat of war, he’s then got you exactly where he wants you, vulnerable and unprotected.

Know Three Things & Do One (1 John 5:19-21)

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The apostle John’s longing has been that those who have believed in Jesus would KNOW that they have eternal life through faith in Jesus (1 John 5:13).

Now he goes on to write of three additional things that Christ Followers know also;

1.We know that we are from God.

So many personal problems begin when this truth is not firmly grasped and held on to by the believer in Jesus. The devil repeatedly tries to undermine the truth that we have been adopted as God’s beloved children through faith in Jesus (see John 1:12, 1 John 3:1).

Assurance, security, peace, acceptance, love, protection, hope for answered prayer…are all rooted in this truth. God being our Father changes everything – it’s a classic case of; ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’! Even better it’s not about who you are but who’s you are!

If you are battling with feelings of fear, anxiety, rejection, or loneliness or feeling under-valued or over-looked or unseen, you need to tap into this truth, again and again, the sons and daughters of God most high need never struggle with questions of this nature.

If God the Father loved you enough to send Jesus to the cross to die in your place for your sin while you were still His enemy, then having already done that, how much more will He not also along with Jesus give you all things? (Romans 8:32). Know these things.

2.the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 

Know also, however, that in this present age post-Christ’s resurrection but before His return the world around us is under the control and influence of the evil one – the devil.

Although the devil has been triumphed over by Jesus on the cross (Colossians 2:14-15), although his days are numbered, and his final destiny is the final judgement of God in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20) – he still has power in this present age. And so the world is full of traps and temptations as the devil tries to derail people from faith, worship and trust in God.

Knowing that you have an ultimately defeated, but real enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) will help you to be sober-minded and alert. Remember that ‘He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’ (1 John 4:4) – so do not live in fear but be alert to his cunning schemes and traps.

3. And know that Jesus is the one true God (vs20) 

The knowledge that we have a real enemy is sandwiched between knowing we are God the Father’s beloved children (vs19) and that we have believed in Jesus Christ the one true God and we ‘know him’ and so we can know we have eternal life with Him.

Don’t give in to doubts and lies from the enemy about who Jesus is – what you have believed is true, and you will be richly rewarded into eternity for holding on to that truth. There is no god besides our God, Jesus Christ!

Armed with the knowledge of these three things, John concludes with something we ought to DO.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (vs21)

Don’t give your trust, your worship or devotion to anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ. But what is an idol? Is it just a statue of sorts?

An idol is anything that we seek to get significance, meaning, identity, belonging, purpose, security, peace or happiness from – someone or something that occupies the place of God in our lives. Mark Dever said; “Idolatry is sin in its purest form: it is trusting something other than God.”

The apostle closes his letter with a warm warning – keep yourselves from idolatry. Worship, serve and love God only!

Befriend God (James 4:6-10)

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A Big Friend Of A Mine

Having urged us not to befriend the world (in the sense of compromising so that we live like the world & or putting our trust in worldly things rather than in God), now James urges us to befriend God.

The God of the Bible is not dispassionate; instead, He is righteously jealous for us, yearning for a relationship with us (vs5). God wants us for Himself; He went to great lengths to send His Son Jesus to die in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be restored to a right relationship with Him, so it is unsurprising to learn that God is jealous for us.

And yet our relationship with God is a strange unequal relationship. He is holy God almighty; we are tiny little people, sinful people. It’s like a friendship where one person always does the giving! They take all the initiative; they are continually blessing their friend, paying for everything, lifting the other friend around, giving, giving, giving. And yet both want the relationship.

Because of who we are, because of our frailty and our failings, for us to stay in relationship with God needs God to be continuously gracious towards us. And that’s precisely what He is and does; God gives more grace, all the time (vs6), God lavishes grace on us. He can handle our need of grace, is even drawn to our need of grace, but is offended by self-reliant pride.

So surrender and receive His loving disposition towards you. Tuck into His care and protection, thank Him for and receive His grace. As you do, you’ll become closer and closer to God, which will enable you to resist your enemy.

I think of the tiny weedy Grade 8 at High School who looks like they belong in Grade 6 still because the testosterone hasn’t kicked in yet. They are vulnerable to bullying by the thugs of the school, a target for abuse and taunting. But they have this massive gentle giant of a Grade 12, the Head Prefect of the school. And he wants to be their friend; if only they would stick close with him, the resident school thug won’t risk coming close because they know the Head Prefect will defend his little friend and they know he is in authority at the school and so can’t compete. That small Grade 8 just needs to say; ‘I need help’ and the Head Prefect will rush to his side to help, and the thug won’t dare come close.

If we would just humble ourselves and call out to God, He will rush to our sides. And with God by our side, who can be against us and succeed (Romans 8:31-32)? We have a promise here, that if we draw near to God, if we stay tucked into our relationship with Him, near Him – then the devil will flee from us, will leave us alone because God is greater and more powerful than him.

So, every day. Draw near to God, reach out to God in prayer and worship, knowing He will respond and come near to You because He loves you and is jealous for you. And with God by your side, you won’t have to fear anything or anyone (read Romans 8:31-39).

Meaning-Makers (John 9:1-41)

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We are meaning-makers.  We want to know, love to know, try to know – why?  We look for cause and effect, we are inquisitive.  Now this is mostly good, but it can get us into trouble too!  As we all too often from our limited finite human perspective reach the wrong conclusions!

The man in John 9 was born blind.  The meaning-makers wanted to know why?  Who’s fault was this? Was he blind because God was punishing him or punishing his parents in some way?  Sound familiar?

As a pastor, I often encounter people who have had something hard happen to them and often the big questions are something like; ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Why has God done this to me or allowed this to happen?’

Jesus answered their question with an emphatic “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)  This will not always be the reason for sickness or suffering, but it was the reason given by Jesus in this instance.  ‘This man is blind SO THAT I can show God’s power over sickness and suffering’ – Jesus essentially said.

Jesus’ answer wasn’t one of the potential causes they had thought of.  And maybe there is a hint there for us: we often will not know.  And so the trite little answers like those of the people surrounding this blind man, are often just unhelpful as they don’t help us to know the ‘why’.  It’s tough for ‘meaning-makers’ but it is true, we will not always know or be able to answer the ‘why’ questions fully.  However there is a grid that might be helpful:

The 3 possible sources of pain/hurt/suffering:

In my experience and from Scripture, I believe that one can understand there being three potential sources for pain/hurt/suffering:

1. Our own sinful actions

One of the sources of pain and hardship in our lives is in fact ourselves, our own actions.  We do at times bring pain upon ourselves!  We make bad mistakes, we have character flaws, we make bad/ungodly/unwise decisions and do sometimes suffer the natural consequences thereof.

So many of the pastoral issues we end up dealing with as a church leadership are the result of ungodly decision-making and the mess that inevitably follows.  But, think about this for a moment.  This is the one source of pain and suffering/hardship over which we have some control.  There is not a lot you can control in your life, but you can seek to grow in godly wisdom and it will have a direct positive impact on your life.  

2. The Age we live in

Much of what is hard in our lives can simply be put down to this BIG category in which a number of sub-categories or sources of pain fit.  This age we live in post-Fall & pre-Jesus’ Second Coming:

    • Is an age in which we have a very real enemy who can bring suffering (Job is an example) 
    • Is an age in which the systems of this world are impacted by sin and so cause inequality, poverty, oppression, injustice
    • Is an age in which the natural world itself is impacted by sin and so there are things like erosion, pollution, natural disasters…
    • Is an age in which our bodies are decaying (death, sickness is part of the curse), and so in this age we are struck down by sickness & disease battling scourges like cancer and HIV…
    • Is an age in which the sinful actions of others impact us; hijacking, robbery, relational hurt, rape, abuse… 

3. God’s loving Fathering of us  

Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches that part of the plan of our loving Heavenly Father is to produce holiness & Christlike character in us and to use us to fulfill His good purposes on the earth and to ultimately bless us in eternity.  Sometimes, God is at work in the trial or the pain in order to accomplish something in us or through us.  The John 9 man is an example of this potential source of trials, as Jesus Himself declared that to be the reason for his suffering up to that point.

Knowing the potential source of the pain, should inform our best response to that pain.  If it’s self-imposed then stop it, repent and change.  If it’s the age we live in, you might need to pray more for God’s guidance as to how best to respond.  If it’s potentially your loving Father at work in some way, you need to ask Him to help you know how best to respond or what to do or pray.

The John 9 man gets healed miraculously and his previous disability becomes his powerful testimony to the rulers opposing Jesus!

Free at last! [Mark 1:21-28, Mark 5:1-20 & Luke 13:10-13]

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Three passages, three encounters that Jesus had with three different people who all had different struggles with the demonic realm.  The constant is Jesus Himself and that the result of each of the people struggling under some demonic influence or another, was that they were instantly freed by Jesus!

 There are two equal and opposite errors we tend to make regarding the demonic:

  1. We give the devil and his demonic minions too much focus, fascination and airtime 
  2. Or we effectively deny the existence of the devil and demonic influence

May we always be way more focused on Jesus and His glorious victory on the cross, focussed on His resurrection and the resultant victory in which He defeated sin, Satan and death and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:13-15)!  You and I as believers have no need to remain in fear, we ought not remain in a state of being influenced by or even bound by demonic forces since Jesus is our Lord.

On the other hand, to deny or to ignore the reality of the existence of Satan and the demonic realm and its ability to influence believers is to foolishly ignore clear warnings and exhortations of Scripture and to potentially allow the enemy to keep impacting you or those you love.  

These three encounters in the Gospels are so helpful as they are all so different.  Because of this, together they help us to have a balanced understanding of the whole range of types & degrees of demonic influence (‘demon possessed’ is an unhelpful translation in the NIV Bible translation as it indicates total control and has no room for degrees of influence) that is evidenced in Scripture.

The Mark 1 man (subtle under the radar influence): It seems likely that this man was influenced by the demonic to a limited degree.  I say this because he was there in synagogue seemingly unbeknown to those around him, seemingly behaving himself in socially accepted ways, until he suddenly cried out because of Jesus’ presence!  He had a demonic presence influencing him but it was undetected until the man came into close proximity with Jesus.  There are lots of things we don’t know about how this influence worked itself out in his life, did he battle with fear, depression, a destructively low-self esteem, panic attacks…….?  We don’t know, but he is helpful to us in that Scripture is clear that he had some form of demonic influence in his life – and so his example helps us to see that some demonic influence could be ‘under the radar’ because it doesn’t appear too bad, or isn’t too socially obvious.  Are there maybe things we just accept as ‘normal’ or ‘this is who I am’ but in fact it is an area in which we as believers are just not free?  The great news is that one encounter with Jesus and this man was delivered and set free from that influence.

The Mark 5 man (overt control and intense demonic influence): This man probably fits your prior notion of what a person with a demonic influence would present like.  This is an extreme case of demonic influence, even a destructive one – the great news though is that one encounter with Jesus and this man is set free and left ‘clothed and in his right mind’ (Mark 5:15) – what a contrast to the description of him just moments sooner!  No demonic influence is beyond Jesus’ instant transformation.

The Luke 13 woman (sickness attributed to demonic influence):  Jesus healed many people of sickness and most times it was not attributed to demonic influence, it was just sickness as a result of the impact of the fall on all of humanity.  However, in Luke 13, Luke (a medical doctor) recorded very specifically that this woman’s ailment had its source as being spiritual not medical, “And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” (Luke 13:11)  Jesus Himself said; “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  In our secular society and in the minds of many believers in the church today – her symptoms would not have been even considered as having a potential spiritual source!  But that is exactly what Jesus and what Scripture attributed her symptoms too a demonic influence.  The great news is that Jesus loosed the hold that this demonic influence had held over her body for these many years in an instant feeing her from her disability and the bondage brought from Satan (Luke 13:16).

Never be looking for a demon under every bush, never get fascinated with the demonic – be enamoured and amazed and secure because of Jesus.  But also never underestimate or deny the ability for demonic influence and the spiritual realm at work in lives, in minds, in bodies.  Know however that regardless of what influence their might be – we have been given all of Jesus’ authority to set people fee (Matthew 28:18-20) just like Jesus did.