Thursday, August 21, 2014

Get thee behind me, Satan

I trust that we all recognize this as the response from Jesus to Peter when Peter told Jesus that He would not die on the cross. Now we know what happened here. Satan convinced Peter that the messiah would not die but live to rule the world. Peter was not knowingly following Satan. He was deceived.

Paul also speaks of those whom the Devil has deceived. "With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:25-26) It's funny how we always think it's the other guy who is influenced, not us. Why, we would never listen to the Devil. But people don't necessarily consciously yield to the Devil. They are usually unaware that the Devil had anything to do with it.

Paul said something else important about the Devil. He said, "We are not ignorant of his devices." (2 Corinthians 2:11) I think that Christians today are ignorant of Satan's devices, at least some of those devices. How many Christians understand that the Devil has something to do with things like sickness or mental illness?

"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." (Acts 10:38) Everyone whom Jesus healed was oppressed by Satan. Satan had something to do with their condition.

When Jesus healed people, He sometimes cast an evil spirit out of them. " When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill." (Matthew 8:16) The expression "demon-possessed" is not a really good translation. The word 'possessed' is simply not present. The term 'demonized' is more accurate, yet this term means something else in English. To 'demonize' someone means, today, to slander someone as evil. So I think that the term 'oppressed', as in the ESV and in Acts 10:38, is better. A truly demon-possessed person would be like the man who had the legion of demons who were sent into the pigs.

So I think we might want to retire the term 'demon-possessed'. It conjures up all sorts of strange images. Jesus was healing people and while He was healing them He discerned that some had evil spirits oppressing their minds and bodies. I am assuming, of course, that some were mentally ill while most were physically ill. (The NT does not make the modern distinction between the two.) So, along with Acts we have some who are ill, physically or mentally, who have evil spirits oppressing them directly, but Acts clearly shows that all sickness is Satanic oppression. He is behind all of it.

Some people think that the only thing that Satan does is 'possess' people or deceive them or tempt them. But it goes beyond that. Evil spirits seek expression in humans, in their minds and their bodies. They have no physical bodies by which they can express themselves so they try to use us.

I really believe that the Devil not only deceives and tempts us to sin, but that when he succeeds that he can make inroads into our lives. He uses our natural weaknesses against us to gain a foothold. Eventually, demons can oppress us and take us further into bondage as we yield to them. I do not think that alcoholism is a physical illness. I think it's a demon that gets hold of some and puts them in bondage. The same is true of various kinds of addictions. It can be pornography or some other sort of sexual sin. The presence of a demon makes it very difficult to break free.

Now I hope that nobody has jumped to the unjustified conclusion that I think that alcoholics or people with depression are "demon-possessed", whatever that may mean. I have ministered to some with depression and have encouraged them to resist the Devil whenever they get symptoms of depression. I realize that many must take medicine to counter some chemical imbalance that may cause depression. But they must understand that the Devil will try to take advantage of that weakness to bring about an episode of depression. We have to keep our minds continually renewed to the Word so that our thinking does not contribute to depressive tendencies.

Another area of human weakness that the Devil exploits is in the area of sex. The sexual instinct in us is so strong that it is easy for Satan to lead us into bondage. The Bible talks about at least some evil spirits as "unclean spirits". Some of that uncleanness is clearly sexual uncleanness. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness..." (Galatians 5:19) Uncleanness is mentioned alongside adultery and fornication. This is sexual uncleanness like those sex sins mentioned in Leviticus. An unclean spirit can lead people into unclean sexual activities that hold them in bondage. We call these things 'addictions' but they are really spirits holding people in bondage.

Were all the people that Jesus cast the Devil out of "possessed" by some demon? Or were they oppressed by him, perhaps having unwittingly yielded to him. I think it's the latter. There was a young guy in a church I attended some time ago. He gave his heart to the Lord, but soon after got back into drugs. (He thought that he was hiding it from the rest of us in church.) A minister prayed for him at the altar and rebuked the demon that was holding him in bondage. He not only was set free, but he eventually became a pastor. Before that minister did that, I am sure that you would not have convinced him that a demon was oppressing him.

It's important that we don't go extremes in this area and see demons everywhere and in everyone. Yet, at the same time, we do not want to be ignorant of Satan's devices. He seeks whom he may devour. We have all yielded to the Devil at one time or another. We have to learn to resist him. "Resist him, and he will flee from you." We can resist the Devil with God's Word spoken in faith. The best thing, though, is just not yield to him. Just say, no!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Israel - fulfillment of prophecy

Some of you already know that I support the nation of Israel. I do so for two reasons. First, I believe that it owes its existence to the will of God and the fulfillment of prophecy. Second, even if I did not, I would recognize Israel's right to both exist and to rule over territory captured in war. They are a friend of America and of our values. They support civil rights in an area of the world where they are constantly violated. In what country in the Middle East could a person be openly gay besides Israel?

Anyway, I want to focus on the current situation in Israel, specifically the Gaza Strip. Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel every day since 2000. Their rockets are now able to go farther and hit more accurately than before. In the current conflict between Hamas and Israel, Hamas has been firing rockets as far as Tel Aviv, their largest city. The IDF, Israel Defense Force, has developed the Iron Dome, a defensive weapons system that destroys rockets before they hit a target. They only deploy it when the rocket is going toward a populated area since it is very expensive to fire. One Iron Dome missle costs about $100,000 to fire.

This Iron Dome system is not perfect, however. One of the soldiers who controls the system around Tel Aviv reports that a rocket was heading straight for Tel Aviv. Two missles were fired to knock it down, but missed. They had no more opportunity to destroy the rocket so they figured it would hit somewhere in Tel Aviv. Suddenly, a strong east wind came and blew the rocket out into the Sea. This wind keeps coming up whenever it is needed.

Not only did many Israelis recognize this as God's protection, but some in Hamas did, too. One Hamas terrorist was quoted as saying that Israel's God was protecting them from their rockets. Now this information does not come from some evangelicals who sometimes get carried away whenever they hear things like this. It came directly from a secular newspaper in Israel and was quoted here by American journalists. Of course, this never made it on the major media in the US. They don't believe that God does anything, much less defend Israel.

I have also heard of reports of God defending Israel in past conflicts, but they are not taken seriously either. They question is, if God is defending Israel, can we deny that the modern nation of Israel is the will of God? And this is apart from any biblical reference to the restoration of the nation of Israel prophesied by the OT prophets. I base on what is happening now. God is defending Israel.

I hear Christians, sometimes, "challenging" those of us who believe that Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. They act as if any wrong action by Israel proves otherwise, but that is beside the point. No nation, especially one under constant existential threat, will always do what is right. Nonetheless, Israel needs and deserves the support of both Christians and America.

The very fact that Israel became a nation again despite unbelievable odds should challenge us to reread the OT prophets regarding the restoration of Israel. Many want to spiritualize those scriptures and apply them somehow to the church. This was understandable in earlier times when the Jews were still scattered and it seemed as if God was only interested in the church. Things are very different now.

Is the modern nation of Israel a historical accident? All admit they were God's people and that from them both Christ and the Hebrew scriptures came. They rejected their messiah and their nation was taken from them. But what about the promises to Israel yet unfulfilled? Are they to be applied in a very broad way to the church? Even if Christians thought this when there was no Israel, why would it be considered so now when the prophecies about Israel seem to have been literally fulfilled within the past several decades?

I do not wish to get into the hermeneutics of Bible prophecy here, but it seems to me that the very fact that Israel is a nation again ought to make us take a fresh look at the promises God made to them in our Old Testament.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Are we descending into ... silliness?

"Are we descending into silliness?" is not a general question, but is specifically aimed at a big problem today in the interpretation of the Bible. I will explain shortly but first I have to set the scene.

I responded to a blog post by a Christian scholar who asked the question, "Are we descending into barbarity?". The post was about the recent account of a man being given a lethal injection who stayed alive for almost two hours and made noises that suggested that he may be suffering. Apparently, there was some experimenting (for lack of a better term) with the drugs. The claim was made that they were trying to actually to make executions less painful. The author did not buy that claim and said that it was 'barbaric'.

To me, this is a specious assertion. The whole purpose of using drugs, instead of other methods, is to minimize suffering not increase it. We have tried different methods of execution and we keep trying to make them more humane. The gas chamber and the electric chair were both invented for this purpose though I would say that we failed with those two things. The simple truth is that there is no pleasant way to kill a healthy person.

One could make the claim, and many have, that a society that has the death penalty is a barbaric society. But if that were the case, then the very foundation of government is 'barbaric'. We see the foundation of government given to Noah after the flood. "Whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." (Gen. 9:6) Before Noah's flood there was anarchy, no government. After the flood, government was instituted to curb human evil. There was far more barbarism before the death penalty than there was after.

Anyway, there is a biblical case to be made for the death penalty especially since God gave it to us both before the Law of Moses was given, and in the Law as well. And, no, we are not under the Law; however, grace does not mean lawlessness. Also, there is a Christian case to be made against the death penalty. Christians are on both sides of the issue here.

The blogger in question, though, did not acknowledge that there was a good case to be made against the death penalty. What he said was that he did not think that the scriptures that support the death penalty were consistent with the teaching of Jesus and were to be rejected or questioned on that account. Here is his response to me: "Jesus is the best and highest revelation of God. I begin with him and place a question mark over anything, even in the Bible, that contradicts what I know of God through Jesus."

That speaks volumes to me. I, too, believe that Jesus is the best revelation of God, but to say that you place a question mark (doubt) over anything you deem 'inconsistent' with that makes you a judge of what God has said in His Word. It really tells me more about you than it does about either the Bible or about Jesus.

Jesus confirmed the inspiration and authority of scripture. "The scripture cannot be broken." When Jesus answered his opponents, he quoted scripture. When Jesus resisted Satan's temptations he quoted scripture. His answer to Satan in one instance was "man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God". He was quoting Moses, but there is more for us here. He was saying that we need the whole Bible and not just what the gospels tell us about Jesus. Of course, the blogger would say that only parts of the Bible are inspired, not the whole thing. The question is how does he know what is and what is not?

The issue of the authority of scripture is much more important than the genuine concern about the death penalty. In fact, I did not respond to how he responded to me. (Others did and that is fine.) I knew that we would simply be talking past each another. I accept the scriptures as the inerrant Word of God and he chooses which part of the Bible he wants to believe and disregards the rest. I am happy that he at least takes the words of Jesus seriously. We all should. But he is dead wrong about putting the words of Jesus above the rest of the Bible. Jesus fulfills God's revelation to man, but that does not mean we can disregard the previous revelation. It means that we can understand it better.

I would also argue that without the previous revelation we would not understand Jesus. Without understanding that murder is worthy of death we would not understand why Jesus had to die in our place. It does not bother me that Christians disagree about the death penalty. Both sides have strong arguments on their side. What bothers me is that we seem to be getting a lot of silliness (it is not scholarship) about Jesus vs. the rest of the Bible. In fact, it is beyond silly, it is heresy.