January 31, 2010
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany Series C
Text Luke 4: 31-37 (ESV)
Jesus Heals a Man with an Unclean Demon
Luke 4:31-37 ESV
And (Jesus) went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, "Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are— the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, "What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!" And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
I think we can all easily agree that God the Father wants us to talk about him, to believe in Him and to trust God the Son as our only savior. Scripture repeatedly supports this position. As an example look to Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Or in Deuteronomy 4:12 “be careful that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” We could spend days reading scripture to support this view. It is only natural for Christians to want to talk about Christ.
Satan and his legions of demons on the other hand want us to forget that they even exist. They would like nothing better than for me to stand here this morning and give you the latest medical information about dopamine, serotonin, or nor-epinephrine receptors in the brain and convince you that this was not a demon that Jesus drove out of the man -- why it was a chemical imbalance that Jesus “tweaked” back to normal.
How ridiculous can you get! The God of the universe says it is a demon yet Satan thinks that I am going to stand here with my copy of the latest scientific theories and call this a chemical imbalance. What a lop sided contest -- The Triune God vs. sinful man aided and abetted by Satan and medical research that most likely will be laughed at in a few years whereas the word of God endures forever. Fast forward to Luke 8:26- 33. This is the story of the demons asking to be transferred to the herd of pigs. Why would Jesus inflict a chemical imbalance on a herd of pigs? These were in-fact demons and today’s lesson is talking about demons not chemicals, not mental illness. The word Demon or Demons occurs 78 times in the New Testament. Mental illness is not mentioned at all. We are talking about Demons -- evil spirits reporting to Satan who would like us to forget that they do exist. Look at what St Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 “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.” Jesus in Matthew 6:13 tells us to pray for deliverance from the evil one.
I think our constant awareness of these dark powers is so important that we should consider adding a line to the creeds saying that we believe Satan and his legions are real and an ever present threat to our walk with Christ.
The good news is that while Christ was crucified, Satan was nailed, -- defeated -- we know his final outcome. However, never underestimate power of a dying enemy -- he is defeated but able to lie and deceive us or to flatter us causing us be self centered and to forget Christ.
Satan wants us to think that there is a secular life and a spiritual life. He wants us to compartmentalize God -- give him an hour or so once a week.
C.S. Lewis once wrote “ There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”
We are in a spiritual struggle -- both God and Satan want to control our lives. The truth is that every person on the face of Planet Earth serves, worships, witnesses to, and supports the work of God or the work of the demonic. These are the only options. This struggle should not upset us, it’s absence should. It’s presence indicates that our faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord is alive and that we are fighting a genuine war against the satanic realm. If we feel no struggle, then we are under Satan’s control.
Saint Augustine, an early fifth century Bishop in North Africa, rightly observed that every single person has a God shaped vacuum in his soul. We can attempt to fill this hole with a host of other things, but ultimately nothing satisfies our hunger for meaning and significance except Jesus and His saving Gospel.
We try to fill this God shaped hole with money, power, pleasure, alcohol, food , gambling, sex, sports cars, sports and an endless list of glittering attractions or should I say distractions that leave us empty -- we still try to find meaning in everything except our maker and His will for our lives. These things, in normal circumstances, can be quite harmless and yet the pursuit of them can become our personal demons. Ask any alcoholic, drug addict, or compulsive gambler, in recovery, if you want additional verification.
Jesus drove out this Demon -- he can drive out our demons. Are we willing? Do we actually want them driven out or do we like our demon infested lives? The master liar - Satan - tells us we deserve to fill our spiritual hole with pleasure -- things -- chemicals -- excitement -- living on the edge. He tells us that when old activities are no longer satisfying -- just up the dose. Take more, use more, party more, drink more, eat more. Without realizing what or how it happens suddenly Satan is totally in control -- we are living exclusively for ourselves, addicted to a substance or behavior, and have no idea why our souls still feel so empty.
These things are progressive -- we start out small and require higher and higher doses to achieve momentary pleasure and ultimately momentary pleasure is replaced with permanent misery.
There is a section in our confirmation materials from Crossways International called The Satanic Smile. The study paraphrases St Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:14. Satan operates as an Angel of light with a pleasant smile on his face. Satan tempts us with “come let me teach you how to live life to the fullest. Why it’s all legal and respectable. You are number one . You owe it to yourself, you deserve this. Enjoy the fruits of your success -- God had nothing to do with it -- it was your hard work. To gain control of people Satan does not need to persuade us to live openly wicked lives. He needs only to persuade us to live useless, self-centered lives. (Matthew 25:14-30) We are not here to live comfortably but usefully to the glory of God in the service of others in all that we do -- daily work, education, family life, leisure activities, use of money and service in the body of Christ - the Church.
Sometimes Satan is less subtle. The Small Catechism (question #100) Says that the “evil angels are also many and powerful. They hate God and seek to destroy everything that is good, especially faith in Christ.”
They lure is into the dark world of horoscopes, mediums, psychic readers, similar satanic arts, transcendental meditation yoga and ultimately Satan worship .Yes you heard me right -- I said yoga -- it’s origins are the pagan Hindu religion. Remember it is all progressive -- it sneaks up on you.
Sanctification is also progressive. Let’s look at some events in Saint Paul’s life. We first meet him in Acts 7:58 where he is called Saul and he is present at the murder of the first Christian Martyr Saint Stephen. He began to destroy the church. Paul went from house to house and dragged off men and women and put them in prison for believing in Jesus. He continues to breath out murderous threats against the followers of Christ and asked the High Priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus so he could also take any believers found there to the Jerusalem prisons. Talk about being over zealous for the wrong team! On the road to Damascus he has his dramatic conversion experience. After his baptism and instruction from the disciples in Damascus he was publicly preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. He then became the enemy of the Jews and they tried to kill him. He escaped and faced the disciples in Jerusalem whom he had once persecuted. While in Jerusalem he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord. The Jerusalem disciples helped him escape to Tarsus when his life was endangered by the Grecian Jews. In a short time the hunter became the hunted.
Paul laid low for a while in Arabia (Gal. 1:18) until Barnabas found him and his ministry shifted into active mode. I strongly suspect that while he was “0n the Lam” that he intensely studied the scriptures from a whole new perspective -- that is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
From his dramatic conversion experience came a spiritual growth and sanctification process. He learned contentment --His words in Philippians: 4:11-12 exemplify his contentment. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” He instructs us to pray continually, be joyful always, give thanks in all circumstances avoid every kind of evil for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus and he prays for our sanctification. (1Thess 5:16-23) He shows amazing acceptance of every situation that he must endure including his own death ( Phil. 1:19-24)
Paul was not free from the struggle with evil. His words in Romans 7:21-24 verify this. “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And we all know the answer to this question -- Christ was Crucified for Paul’s sins and for our sins.
Paul talks about a thorn in his side - a messenger from Satan --to torment him. He pleaded with God three times for it to be taken away. Once again he accepted God’s will and lets this weakness be his strength -- he shows amazing acceptance of his situation -- he delights in hardship persecution and in difficulties. (2 Cor 12:7-10)
We could spend days studying the life of Paul giving thanks to God for Paul’s conversion and sanctification.
We are saved only by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We are sanctified by God --these are gifts given in God’s Grace -- gifts that we can not earn.
We can however make a decision to use these gifts to the fullest extent humanly possible. We can decide to daily turn our will and our lives over to the care of God and make fuller use of the Holy Spirit to free ourselves from our controlling sinful behaviors of mind and body -- our personal demons. Minds filled with negative thoughts and wrong beliefs generate harmful feelings and actions. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:22-24 “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” He tells us in Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
God himself renews our minds. The Holy Spirit given to us at Baptism working through word and sacrament works in us. As God gives us new minds we anticipate receiving the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.(Galatians 5:22-23) This newness will be a work in progress and will come to completion in the world to come. Trust in God -- He does make powerful changes in the lives of sinful people like us -- like Paul.
Our part in this process is to a have a willingness to co-operate.
We decide to make fuller use of His gift of the Holy Spirit. We decide not to receive the grace of God in Vain (2 Cor. 6:1) but to live by the spirit (Gal 5:16). We decide to make use of the power the Holy Spirit Provides. We decide to put into practice the kind of life the Holy Spirit inspires and enables.
We act on this decision immediately and on a daily basis. We surrender ourselves to God and ask Him to do what we cannot do for ourselves. By the spirit’s power in us we can turn our will and life over to the care of God and his life transforming power. By God’s power we can experience freedom from our demons. There may be setbacks -- we may at times find ourselves doing what we do not want to do. As we daily turn our will and lives over to God a new person can emerge living free from our demons such as --- jealousy, low self esteem, anger, resentment, worry, fear, substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, work problems, power issues, sexual immorality and all harmful mental and physical behaviors.
Note: Most of this section came from Charles T. Knippel “Freedom from Hurtful Behaviors” Pages 33-36
The power belongs to God --- The willingness and the decision to allow this power to sanctify our lives is ours.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
What is your decision?