Demon possession: Mark 5

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Today’s reading: Mark 4-5.

“Can people really be possessed by demons?”

When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Mark 5:2-13

I have no personal experience with demon possession, but the gospels are full of accounts of Jesus freeing people from demons. In its modern, scientific bias our society tends to write off these episodes as undiagnosed mental health disorders. We would be wiser to accept the gospel accounts at face value. For 2,000 years the power of the kingdom of God, unleashed by Jesus, has spread throughout the world restraining the activity of demons in historically Christian nations. Missionaries in the undeveloped world still report encounters with demon possession, attributing it to the worship of idols and the use of occult materials. The Bible associates idol worship with the worship of demons (Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, I Cor. 10:20).

We need to keep some caveats in mind. The Gospels didn’t blame every illness on demons. Jesus healed physical diseases as well as illnesses caused by evil spirits. Mental health disorders and demon possession are not the same thing. None of the Gospel accounts seem to describe depression or anxiety, the most common mental health disorders, as characteristic of evil spirits, but demon possession may cause mental or physical symptoms. Typical signs in the Bible include:

  • unnatural strength
  • self-harming behavior
  • physical impairments including inability to speak, blindness, and seizures
  • supernatural knowledge, including acknowledgement of Jesus as the son of God
  • immediate healing when demons are expelled

Demon possession is not a threat to believers. As in the example given by Jesus in Luke 11, our house has been cleaned and filled with the Holy Spirit, not left empty for demons to come and fill. Our chief battles are spiritual, however. Paul reminds us that we struggle with demonic forces rather than flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). Though not mastered by evil spirits, we still face satanic influences and temptations.

The most important lesson is that Jesus is Lord over evil spirits. He enters the strong man’s (Satan’s) house and binds him and overpowers any evil influence (Mat. 12). Jesus said this was another proof that the kingdom of God had come on earth.

Image by James Vaughn on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

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The kingdom of God: Mark 1

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Today’s reading: Mark 1-3.

“Are we living in the kingdom of God?”

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15

The kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven was prominent in Jesus’ teaching. He illustrated it with many stories, but he never defined it. That can make it difficult to understand. G. E. Ladd said that we usually think of a kingdom as the realm or land that is ruled, or as the people who are governed. In Biblical terms, however, a kingdom is the rule and sovereignty of the king. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). It is the power he exercises and the glory he receives. It operates in a realm – heaven or earth – but exceeds that realm. It rules over and through its subjects but it is not those subjects. Therefore Ladd says, “The Kingdom of God is His kingship, His rule, His authority.” Ladd did an excellent job of outlining some of the key points of the kingdom as taught by Jesus:

This theme of the coming of the Kingdom of God was central in His mission. His teaching was designed to show men how they might enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5:20; 7:21). His mighty works were intended to prove that the Kingdom of God had come upon them (Matt. 12:28). His parables illustrated to His disciples the truth about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 1 3: 11). And when He taught His followers to pray, at the heart of their petition were the words, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). On the eve of His death, He assured His disciples that He would yet share with them the happiness and the fellowship of the Kingdom (Luke 22:22-30). And He promised that He would appear again on the earth in glory to bring the blessedness of the Kingdom to those for whom it was prepared (Matt. 25:31, 34). G. E. Ladd

The kingdom has both present and future components. Referring to its present realities, the Bible says, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). God has “delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is !’ or, ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’ ” (Luke 17:20-21).

But there are also future realities yet to be realized. “Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, 0 blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ ” (Matt. 25:34).  On that future day there “will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 1:11). Now the kingdom is limited. Then it will be universal.

The kingdom came to this physical world through the ministry of Jesus Christ. It continues to work through the power of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 4:20). Only those who repent and are born again may enter it. Righteousness, peace, and joy characterize its members. They pray, “thy kingdom come,” asking God to rule in their world, their church, and their lives just as he rules in heaven. They are also asking God to bring that day when his kingdom is fully realized in the new heaven and new Earth.

So the Kingdom has come through the Son invading the world. As Messiah we confess that he rules. The Kingdom’s coming now means the defeat of Satan, the forgiveness of God, and the indwelling enablement of the Spirit. And yet, the Kingdom comes one day through the returning Son of Man to vindicate the saints and render God just and His promises true. Then Satan and evil will be removed. Even so, come Lord Jesus. But in the meantime, give us the strength through your enablement to be light to show what the kingdom is and is like. You have pulled the future into the present. Let us illumine the future in an incarnated way through your present rule in our lives. Darrell L. Bock, Looking Into the Future: Evangelical Studies in Eschatology

Fundamentally, as we have seen, the Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign reign; but God’s reign expresses itself in different stages through redemptive history. Therefore, men may enter into the realm of God’s reign in its several stages of manifestation and experience the blessings of His reign in differing degrees. God’s Kingdom is the realm of the Age to Come, popularly called heaven; then we shall realize the blessings of His Kingdom (reign) in the perfection of their fullness. But the Kingdom is here now. There is a realm of spiritual blessing into which we may enter today and enjoy in part but in reality the blessings of God’s Kingdom (reign). G. E. Ladd

“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”  Frederick Buechner

Image, Kingdom of Heaven by Frank Bramley

Thankful; even in death he gave life. Matthew 27

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Today’s reading: Matthew 27-28.

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. G.K. Chesterton

I’m thankful for the gift of life. Because I believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I’ve been given eternal life in addition to this temporal life on Earth. As I read the account of Jesus’ death on the cross, I’m amazed at the way that, even in death, he gave life to those around him.

The thief on the cross – He believed in the Savior. Matthew introduced the two thieves on the crosses beside Jesus, but Luke gave the rest of the story. One of the thieves confessed his sin and expressed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Because of his faith, Jesus promised the thief that he would join him in paradise that day.

The Centurion – He worshiped the Lord. Though a hardened military man, he fell down before the Lord when he saw the evidence of creation being shaken by Jesus’ death.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54

Joseph of Arimathea – He loved the Master. Joseph demonstrated his love by the heroic measures he took in providing a tomb for Jesus’s body. It’s not clear when Joseph made the life-changing decision to follow Jesus, but there was no doubt where he stood after Jesus’ death.

Barabbas – He was spared because of the Lamb. I don’t know what happened to Barabbas after he was freed. I do know he escaped a certain death at the hands of the Romans because Jesus took his place. We’ll have to wait until heaven to learn how he used his second chance, but could any man have had a clearer demonstration of the saving power of Jesus’ death on the cross?

The religious leaders taunted Jesus, mocking him for not saving himself. Yet all the while he was continuing to do the miraculous work of saving those around him. This Thanksgiving Day is a perfect time to thank Jesus for dying to save you. If you haven’t accepted his gift, why not do it today? “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Image by J. James Tissot on Flickr, CC by 2.0

He knew, and still pressed on: Matthew 26

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Today’s reading: Matthew 26.

Do you wish you knew your own future? My informal survey of informal surveys shows that most people don’t want to know what’s coming. What struck me as I read through the account of the days before Jesus’ crucifixion is that he knew what he faced and still pressed on. He pressed on despite the pain and betrayal. He pressed on even though he could have taken another path. He pressed on with the utmost courage and compassion.

What proof is there that he knew he faced the cross?

  • He kept telling his disciples what was coming.
  • He turned the Passover feast into a memorial of his own sacrificial death and a sign of the new covenant of grace.
  • Before he was betrayed and arrested, he asked God to change his future, to take this cup from him.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:36-39

  • He pointed out how the Old Testament predicted his suffering and death.

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:53-54

How did he know what he faced?

  • As mentioned above, he knew the prophecies and knew what they predicted.
  • He knew what was in the heart of men.

But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. John 2:24-25

  • God revealed to Jesus what he was doing. I hesitate to say that Jesus was all-knowing. Even the experts debate that point. In some areas he had supernatural knowledge, but he also denied knowing the hour of his second coming, saying only his Father knew when that would happen. He made it clear, however, that he knew what his Father was doing and that he joined him in whatever he was doing.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing…” John 5:19-20

Jesus knew what he was facing as he headed to the cross, yet he did not run away. In fact, the Bible says he set his face like flint to the task. Why? “For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). He looked beyond the short-term pain to his eternal joy, the joy of doing his Father’s will, of glorifying God and himself, and of making a way for sinners to be redeemed. That same eternal joy should be our focus as we live our lives for God.

Image by Kieran Lynam on Flickr, CC by

Are you ready? Matthew 24-25

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Today’s reading: Matthew 24-25.

“How can I be ready for Jesus’ return?”

Many people have made the mistake of trying to set a date for Jesus’ return. Jesus himself said that no man knows that day or hour. Many Christians believe that his return is imminent – that he could return at any time without further preparation. Jesus seems to describe a recognizable series of events that will precede his return, so much so that while we cannot know the day or hour, we should certainly recognize the season.

  1. Birth pangs: false Christs, wars, famine, and earthquakes.
  2. Believers persecuted and hated by all nations; many fall away from the faith.
  3. False prophets and wickedness abound; love between one person and another grows cold.
  4. The gospel is preached to every ethnic group in the entire world.
  5. The world suffers distress and tribulation unequaled since the beginning of time.
  6. Cosmic disturbance: sun and moon darkened, stars fall from the sky, the heavens shaken.
  7. Jesus returns and his angels gather the chosen.

And what are believers supposed to do while waiting for this unknown day? Not worry, but watch and be ready.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:42-44

In order to teach us how to be ready, Jesus tells three stories about the kingdom. Note that these stories are heavy on action and deeds.

Don’t rely on another’s preparation (parable of the ten virgins). This parable comes from the familiar Jewish wedding tradition. The bride and her party are waiting for the call of the groom to come to the wedding ceremony. Without their oil, the unprepared virgins are in the dark and unable to go to the wedding. Perhaps this refers to the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. In any case, the parable emphasizes that each one must make his own preparation for the kingdom of heaven. You cannot enter based on the salvation of your parents, friends, spouse, or merely by attending church.

Put your resources and abilities to work for the kingdom (parable of the talents). God gives each person their own measure of talents and money; some more and some less. What matters is how we use what we have to further God’s kingdom. Sitting on it to preserve it is the last thing God wants you to do.

Show compassion to the poor and to those in need (parable of the sheep and the goats). At the end of the age, God separates the sheep (the righteous) from the goats (the unrighteous). In this story, compassionate service defines the righteous. Do works alone determine our salvation? No, but Jesus is surely saying that his saved people will demonstrate their salvation by their good works.

Remember, my hearer, that in the day of judgment thy account must be personal; God will not ask you what your church did—he will ask you what you did yourself. Now there is a Sunday-school. If God should try all members of the church in a body, they would each of them say, O Lord, as a body we had an excellent Sunday-school, and had many teachers, and so they would excuse themselves. But no; one by one, all professors must come before him. “What did you do for the Sabbath-school? I gave you a gift for teaching children—what did you do?” “O Lord, there was a Sabbath-school.” That has nothing to do with it? What did you do? You are not to account now for the company with which you were united, but for yourself as an individual. “O,” says one, “there were a number of poor ministers; I was at the Surrey Hall, and so much was done for them.” No; what did you do? You must be held personally responsible for your own wealth, for your own ability. “Well, says one, “I am happy to say there is a great deal more preaching now than there used to be; the churches seem to be roused.” Yes, sir, and you seem to take part of the credit to yourself. Do you preach more than you used to? You are a minister; do you make any greater efforts? Remember, it is not what your brethren are doing, but it is what you do that you will be called to account for at the bar of God; and each one of you will be asked this question, “What hast thou done with thy talent?” Charles Spurgeon

Image by Will Humes on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

A wasted invitation: Matthew 22-23

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Today’s reading: Matthew 22-23.

 “Why would anyone turn down an invitation from God?”

Jesus’ parables imply that his return will follow the pattern of the ancient Jewish weddings.

  • Following the betrothal, the groom goes to prepare a home for his bride ( “I go to prepare a place for you”).
  • The bride doesn’t know when the groom will come, but must watch for him and be prepared (“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come”).
  • The groom doesn’t know when he will go for his bride, but waits on his father’s word (“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only”).
  • When the wedding takes place, there is a great feast for the wedding party and guests (And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb”).

The parable of the wedding banquet comes from the same Jewish tradition. It looks forward to Jesus’ return, but it also looks back to the long history of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness. Jesus uses the parable, an earthly story with a heavenly secret, to describe how God asked his people to the wedding banquet with their Messiah, only to have them ignore his invitation. Even worse, they murdered the messengers sent to invite them. In anger God destroyed their city (Jerusalem).

 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matt. 22:8-10

Most of the Jews in Jesus’ day rejected the invitation to the kingdom, so God opened the doors wide to the Gentiles. The parable pictures that future day when Jesus will be joined to his bride, the church. The Jews, as a nation, are left out for now, though individual Jews have accepted the invitation since the beginning. But God longs for his chosen people to respond as a nation to his invitation. Despite his anger expressed in the seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees, we see his heart of love in Jesus’ words of mourning for Zion:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ “

His cry contains a challenge and a promise. The invitation to the wedding will come again when the nation of Israel accepts their Messiah.

Image by David on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

Gospel smorgasbord – It’s great!

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Today’s reading: Matthew 18-19.

You’ll find a variety of dishes on today’s table, but they all have to do with greatness. Hungry? Let’s grab a plate.

The greatness of children. You can tell Jesus loved children. Do you know why? Because they possessed the key to greatness in the kingdom of heaven. You don’t have to be a child to be great – you just have to be child-like.

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:3

  • Children are humble
  • Children are teachable
  • Children are trusting

The greatness of God’s compassion for the lost. God states his concern for lost sheep over and over. He loves them so much he sent his only son to die for them. Shouldn’t we share the same zeal?

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.” Matt. 18:12-13

The greatness of forgiveness. Apparently there is no room in heaven for a person who refuses to forgive others. Jesus said our forgiveness should be almost limitless.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” Matt. 18:35

The greatness of marriage. Jesus magnified the importance of marriage and had no sympathy for those who tried to legalize divorce. Unfaithfulness was his only reason for divorce. And he was clear about who should be getting married.

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matt. 19:4-6

The greatness of abandonment to Jesus. Many things stand between a man or woman and God. Riches are only one of those things, but a powerful one. Jesus didn’t condemn the possession of riches. He condemned the man whose riches possessed him. We must abandon everything that keeps us from devotion to God.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Matt.  19:29-30

Image by CharlesFred on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0