Monday, December 31, 2007

War of the Worlds (Matthew 8) - Quay Youngblood

December 30, 2007
Sermon by: Quay Youngblood
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Several months ago, Cathy asked me if I believed in demonic possession. Quite frankly, I hadn’t really thought much about it. During the last semester sitting in a class on the Gospels, we spent some time discussing today’s text. Both occurrences left me considering the question more seriously and feel led to this text and this message today.

Demons and devils….things fantasies are made of. We’re inhabitants of a modern world, one that has explained away Biblical stories of people possessed as mental illness, hallucinogenic herbs and epilepsy.

Let me say right now, I am not about to recommend that we start doing exorcisms.

In the early 70’s, one of the big blockbuster movies was “The Exorcist”. The movie stirred a lot of talk about faith and whether the movie was based on a true story as the author claimed. Many of my friends who saw the movie saw correctly that the only way to avoid a confrontation with the devil was through the Jesus. That’s good. But I believe the movie actually did more damage than good because Satan and demons were reduced to sensational images of heads spinning around 360 degrees and spitting pea soup. Those who hadn’t already dismissed demon possession as a fantasy or a product of uneducated first century minds now had even more arguments to support their belief or should I say unbelief.

Before we go down this road any further, let’s look a little further at this morning’s text.

This is still very early in Jesus’ public ministry. The story is also found in Matthew 8 and Luke 8. The man runs out of the tombs to meet Jesus. He is uncontrollable. He cannot be bound or chained and is forced to live his life among the dead. He cries out day and night and cuts himself. At his point it’s easy to see why this may be nothing more than mental illness.

As Jesus approaches, the man runs toward Jesus and falls on his knees and cries out in a loud voice “What do you want with me Jesus, son of the most high God! Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” This is the first place that I believe shows that we are not dealing with simple mental illness. How does someone who is suffering from mental illness recognize Jesus for who he is? This demon recognizes who Jesus is before any of the disciples or other followers of Jesus does.

This is the third particular incident reported in Mark of Jesus having a confrontation with an evil spirit. It also says in many other places that he cast out many demons. In the first chapter of Mark the demon says “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Later in the chapter Jesus “wouldn’t let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” This is long before Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ and long before any other humans recognized Jesus for who He is. This wasn’t mental illness people. That’s an easy answer to explain something we just don’t understand.

There is a very interesting dialogue that follows between Jesus and the demon. The demon’s name is legion “for we are many.” A legion represents at least 6,000 men in the Roman army. Yet the demon speaks of himself in the singular. I think this is another part of the story that shows we can’t understand what goes on at this level.

And he or they beg Jesus not to send them out of the country but to send them into a herd of pigs that was feeding nearby. Here is another remarkable thing in this story that is easily overlooked. “Jesus gave them permission.” In the earlier stories in Mark, people marveled because “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him.” In all three places this story is found, it is surrounded by the story of Jesus calming the sea and healing of a sick woman and raising of a dead woman. Jesus. At the end of the story of the calming of the sea, the disciples marveled “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And in the very next story, even death itself obeys him. Jesus authority extends is over everything thing created either seen or unseen.

So the demons go into the pigs and they immediately go and throw themselves into the sea and are drowned.

They *came to Jesus and *observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened.

Why? You would think now that they would have been relieved. Was it because they were afraid of the owner of the swine? His herd was wiped out. I really don’t know why someone was raising a herd of swine in Israel anyway. Jesus also makes a very subtle statement here: the soul of one man is worth more than any man’s possessions. Nevertheless, some wealthy animal owner was now wiped out and the people of the region may have been very frightened of him.

I think what really frightened them though is the same thing that keeps us from talking about demons and devils. Its something that we can’t see and we don’t want anything to do with what we can’t see or explain or understand. It scares us. Just like the things that went bump in the night when we were small.

You would think that the people would have been ecstatic that Jesus had done this thing, that they would be grateful for Jesus healing this man. But they weren’t.

“And they began to implore Him to leave their region.”

What we are seeing here is a battle, a war if you will, on a plane we can’t see or adequately understand. It’s a battle in the realms above and below the earth. It’s invisible, therefore our 21st century minds don’t want to believe or even think that it goes on.

It’s spoken of throughout the Bible: starting in Genesis in the Garden of Eden. The entire book of Job deals exclusively with the battle between God and Satan. The war is talked about all through the New Testament In our second scripture lesson, Paul warns us of what we are up against:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Peter also recognized the issue in I Peter 5:8

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

In our Sunday school class Duncan Witte has done a marvelous job of setting the political and worldly conditions that brought about “the right time” for Jesus birth. What we don’t know is what was going on the heavenly realms that made it the right time.

I don’t think things have changed, only our mindset. Living in a scientific age makes us think we can explain everything in some sort of logical way, we can fix it mind set. So how are we doing?

“Hannah Montana Essay Winner a Fake’
“23 Killed in Suicide Bomb Attack in Iraq”
“Chaos, Violence Erupt in Pakistan”
“Police Work 5th Slaying in 6 Days”
“Cops Outline Gruesome Slaying”

And that’s just from one day’s paper. I don’t think mental illness covers it. And I don’t think we see entirely what’s going on. Ok, I am going to say it: any so called religion that tells people to strap explosives to themselves and kill innocent people does not come from God!

Ok, so the world has a problem with demons and devils but what does all of this mean for you and me? Are we possessed by demons? Probably not, but what is true is that everyday we face demons in our lives. They come in the form of greed, selfishness, hate, anger, little white lies. They show themselves when we casually take the Lord’s name in vain. In Galatians, it is described as the fruits of the flesh.

It’s also the spirit that tells us not to speak up when we have a chance to talk to someone about Jesus. Paul told Timothy that that is the spirit of timidity. “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” If God didn’t give us the spirit of timidity, then the spirit had to come from somewhere else. It’s the same spirit that tells us we aren’t good enough for God. It’s the same spirit that drags up memories of past sins even though Jesus has forgiven us and erased those sins. It’s the same spirit that traps us into thinking once we have committed a sin there is no need trying to resist the temptation to do it again.

Warfare at this level confuses me. One minute I hear Jesus saying you are forgiven and calling me his beloved child and the next minute I hear the demons saying I am not worthy and can never be so why try. Instead of clinging to the promises of God I, like those town people would prefer that Jesus fight this war somewhere else. But in calmer moments I thank God He has taken up the battle on my behalf.

What a way to put a downer on the Christmas spirit! What a message to hear to start the new year! We have demons that have been around thousands of years, too crafty for us and full of all trickery and deceit, trying to destroy us. Where does that leave us?

I’ll tell you where it leaves us….right where we need to be. Jump back up to verse 6:

”Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;

It leaves us falling at the feet of Jesus just like the possessed man in the story. There is no one but Jesus that can wage war on this plane. There is no one but Jesus who wages war with our best interest at heart. And there was no one but Jesus that thinks there is no price to great that should be paid for our very souls!!!!

The stakes are much higher than anything we know. The battle rages on in a place we can’t see. It is like trying to box a great fighter with a blind fold on. We have to have someone fight the battle who can really see what’s going on and has skills superior to the foe!

The good news is this: the outcome of this war is already known. It’s a fixed fight. Let me use a World War II analogy if I may. When the allies landed at Normandy on D-Day, Adolph Hitler knew that he had met foe he wasn’t going to be able to conquer. When Jesus emerged from 40 days in the wilderness, the devil knew that he had met one who wouldn’t submit.

At the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler knew it was only a matter of time before he would be defeated and the war would be over. At the cross, Satan knew that it’s only a matter of time before he would be defeated and this war was over.

Between the Battle of the Bulge and the end of the war, Hitler stepped up his efforts to exterminate the Jews, his enemies and those he felt were inferior. He called up armies of 12, 13 and 14 year olds and armies of elderly people to train for battle. In other words, he used every desperate measure he could to stave off the inevitable.

In these days we live in we are between the Battle of the Bulge, the Cross, and the final battle to end the war. Our foe is desperate and trying every trick he knows. He is constantly stepping up his efforts to try and avoid what he already knows is the inevitable. And just like many tried to do with Hitler, the worst thing we can do is ignore the enemy.

Paul tells us “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” You heard a list of that armor read earlier and I would invite you to go back and re-read it. In the book of James we read “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you. Trust God to fight the battle for us. Don’t try to overcome the evil one on our own. Admit we have no hope of winning the war if we don’t follow the leader. Depend totally on Jesus and don’t ask him to leave when you need him most.

If you want to see how it ends read the nineteenth chapter of Revelation.

Maybe you still don’t believe in devils and demons but I do; not the kind that spits pea soup and turns its head in a circle, but the kind that encourages me to do things that are displeasing to God, better known as sin. I thank God that He has taken up the battle on my behalf. My prayer for the New Year is that I trust Him more and me less.

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