Wednesday, 28 April 2010

First Bind the Strong Man

These words come from Jesus. They establish an important priority if you are going to plunder a house or a city. You have to deal with the one who defends it first.

Let’s look at the passage it comes from:

Then one was brought to Him who was demonized, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard t hey said “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Every Kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. And if satan casts out satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Or else how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first bonds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Matt 12.22-30.

The whole passage sits at a turning point in Jesus ministry. The persecution and rejection of the religious leaders is reaching its zenith. From Chapter thirteen onwards Jesus will only teach in parables, explaining His meaning to those who are hungry to know more; Matt 13.10-18.

In the healing of this demonised man, we see a contrast between the reaction of the people and that of the Pharisees. The demonization in this case had physical symptoms. The man was deaf and mute. I use the word demonized rather than demon-possessed intentionally. The word possessed is not present in the Greek. It implies ownership and control. This may be true in extreme circumstances with unbelievers but not with believers. Paul teaches that, “You are not your own; for you were bought at a price” 1Cor 6.19-20. However, even believers can open the door to demonic influence, 1Cor 10.20-22; 11.27-31.

Demonization means to have a spirit; an unclean spirit. It is a word that covers a whole spectrum of demonic influence from oppression to infestation. The Gadarean demoniac is an example of the extreme end of the spectrum of infestation. Peter telling Jesus not to go to the cross is at the other end; Matt 16.21-23. But this is not the main focus of the account. In this short passage Matthew is less concerned about the man and his healing as he is about the reaction it provoked.

For the multitudes it evoked amazement. They began to ask, “Could this be the Son of David?” This is a clear reference to Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne, the King of Israel, the Messiah. Such a statement incensed the Pharisees and they are quick to attribute Jesus power over demons to, “Beelzebub (satan) the ruler of the demons”. The possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah is not even in their frame of reference. They are in fact attributing the work of the Spirit to satan. This was the blasphemy Jesus goes on to speak of in Matt 12.31-37.

One healing took place but two reactions emerged; the same event but different perceptions. And in this case it is the poor, uneducated multitudes that see the obvious, “Could this be the Messiah?” They are least asking the right questions! But the Pharisees are hostile to Jesus. They are already plotting how to destroy Him, Matt 12.14. Now they try to discredit Him. But Jesus goes on the attack to expose their faulty thinking. He uses simple logic to begin with, employing three examples, a Kingdom, a city and a house.

Life teaches us that if a Kingdom, city or house is divided it cannot stand. The internal conflict causes it to fall apart. Without unity of purpose there can be no building or extending. The outcome of division is ‘desolation’. So their accusation that Jesus is being empowered by the devil is inconsistent with the outcome – the man was set free! This is not the devil’s goal. He comes, “to steal, to kill and to destroy....” John 10.10.

The second point He makes is the question about other exorcists. Those authorised by the Pharisees to perform deliverance. They would judge the Pharisees concerning this verdict.

Now Jesus comes to the real issue. The Kingdom of God has come in the presence of Jesus. He moves in a new authority, Kingdom authority. This authority is encountered in the Holy Spirit. The unclean spirit has to leave because the Holy Spirit is present and His power is released through the command of Jesus. This harks back to creation itself when the Holy Spirit was present, hovering over the face of the waters, waiting for the command of God. And when God spoke the Spirit moved and creation took place.

We have something similar in this text. The Holy Spirit was with Jesus as the ‘Anointed One’, waiting for His command to set the captives free. Every time Jesus healed someone He was releasing the creative power of the Spirit. It was a demonstration of the Kingdom, the rule of God. God’s rule had come and every other rule must give way.

Finally we come to our key text. Thieves often plunder houses at night when the owner is asleep, hoping not to disturb them, Matt 24.43. But there is another way. Tie them up first! This is what the word bind means. When someone is tied up their power to fight back becomes ineffectual. Their home can be plundered. This word in the Greek means to take by force.

In the context of this passage Jesus has come to ‘bind the strong man’. For too long the devil has been stealing from God’s people. They have been plundered of things like; health –physically and mentally, finances, destiny and calling. Jesus is the good shepherd who has come to bring life, John 10.10. He does so by binding the devil.

We read this in 1John 3.8b “For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil”. Now the plunderer can be plundered. Now the devil must surrender what he has taken. Jesus has come to help us take back our rightful inheritance. Under the rule of God we can use Kingdom authority against the enemy and see people healed and set free. God’s kingdom is a liberating encounter.

In Matt 16 and Matt 18 Jesus mentions the church, the only two times in all the gospels. In both occasions he speaks of our need to ‘bind’ and ‘loose’ or ‘tie up’ and ‘untie’, Matt 16.19; 18.18. The church is given the ‘keys of the Kingdom’. We have an authority to exercise on behalf of those who are bound. And Jesus tells us heaven will agree with our decisions when they are made in submission to His desires.

The church exists to tie things up and let things go. Sometimes those decisions will be easy. Sick people need healing, that’s easy. Disciplining people requires more wisdom and a process that ensures justice. That’s what Matt 18.15-20 is all about. Even here a judgement must eventually be made. Binding must take place that may mean excluding an unrepentant brother from fellowship. Ouch. That has to hurt. But the issues at stake are huge.

An unwillingness to accept when we have hurt someone and take ownership of this by saying sorry is a sign of deep-rooted pride. It will spread like cancer if untreated. The call to forgive stands. But so does the call to repent and take ownership for offences we have caused. To do so is to admit we are fallible and is a sign of humility. Such a posture allows fellowship to be restored in a meaning full way. Without it there is no real fellowship, no real unity and no real agreement. Such a house will come to desolation.

In Luke 13.11-17 we have the account of a woman who had a spirit of infirmity. Her back was bent over and she couldn’t straighten herself. She is described by Jesus as a ‘daughter of Abraham’. As one of God’s covenant people, all the benefits of the covenant belonged to her. It was part of her inheritance. But she had been robbed of good health by a spirit of infirmity. She too was demonized. And in this record Jesus uses the words bind and loose to describe both action of the devil and His action in setting her free.

When criticised by the ruler of the synagogue for performing this miracle on the Sabbath Jesus is angry. They had missed the whole point of the Sabbath. It was never a limitation on doing good things or showing mercy. Even donkeys were let loose on the Sabbath to enjoy a drink. “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” Luke 13.16. Satan has bound her for 18 years. Jesus wanted them to think hard about this. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t just. It wasn’t Kingdom. She had been tied up for too long. So He untied her!

All of this illustrates the need for the church to move in Kingdom authority; an authority that allows us to bind and loose. They key issue is discerning where things are tied up (bound) that need to be untied (loosed) and where they are untied and need to be tied up. This issue is important in ministry for many of us have grown up in cultures where we have become ‘bound’ in our thinking. We place limits on ourselves and others based on scripts that we have learned early in life.

These scripts are often rooted in the traditions of men, taboos and protocols that we follow without seriously questioning them. They limit us from reaching our full potential. Picasso once said that everyone is born an artist. The trick is remaining an artist as you grow into an adult. Our education system tends to reward the development of certain ways of thinking and learning and penalise other ways. In the process creativity can die and people can become disillusioned.

Children don’t live with these kinds of limits. They see endless possibilities. When my son was six we attended a school fete. I was dressed as Henry V111. The problem was those kinds of costumes is they have no pockets. He duly asked me for money to buy a drink and a sweet. I had nothing to hand but a good friend standing by offered to pay and gave me a five pound note. That was a lot of money to give a six year old. So I gave what I believed where explicit instructions. “Go and buy yourself a drink and a sweet and then bring me the change straight away”. Off he trotted.

Time went by and no sign of my son. Eventually I saw him walking towards me toting three, two litre bottles of Pepsi, Sprite and Fanta under one arm and a whole load of chocolate bars balanced on the other. I was almost lost for words. “What have you done?” Not a very intelligent question when you think about it! I could see what he had done. I’ll never forget his reply. “I did what you said dad, but they didn’t give me any change!” I couldn’t help but laugh.

This little boy had no conception of proportion, moderation or any of the other social moderators that were in my head. I should have been explicit; one drink and one chocolate bar. But I wasn’t. So he spent it all. There is something about this story, (which is absolutely true), I love. No wonder that Jesus told us to become like children if we want to enter the Kingdom of God. There are creative possibilities we see as children that we lose as adults. Our thinking becomes bound, limited, bordered. We develop what psychologists call learned helplessness.

Jesus stepped into a world that had been ruled by sin for so long people had forgotten what living under God’s reign could be like. Even the religious leaders of His day proffered a religion that didn’t heal people or set them free. It was powerless. Jesus showed us another way. He lived with a different mindset. Instead of speaking to people as they were He began to speak to them as He saw them, in their potential. And when they believed Him, they became what He saw.

Nathanial, the man who had a pure spirit would see things, an open heaven over Jesus. Simon the fisherman would become Peter, the rock, a great leader. Zaccheaus the tax collector and extortioner would become a philanthropist and righteous man. Each would become loosed from their past in order to be bound to their futures. I find it interesting that Paul uses this language when he spoke to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.22. “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem.....” Paul felt ‘bound in the spirit’. What a fascinating phrase. To follow Jesus is to be bound to Him; bound to His destiny, bound to His promises, bound to His nature.

This is part of our calling as a church. It isn’t just about casting our demons or healing people. It’s that and more. It’s plundering the enemies goods – totally. It’s releasing people from darkness into light as they come to faith in Jesus. It’s taking everything back that belongs to us as God’s people. It’s daring to use the authority Jesus has been given and now shares with us – His church.

Col 2.15 tells us that at the cross Jesus 'disarmed principalities and powers'. Their weapons have been taken. But we can re-arm them if we believe their lies. We can re-arm them if we don’t live in the truth. We can stay bound if we don’t follow Jesus into the fullness of all that He has for the church. My prayer for us is that we learn the art of using our Kingdom authority to bind and loose and so fully step into our destiny as the people of God. What has the devil taken from you that you need to reclaim? I suggest you go do some plundering – in Jesus name.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Jesus First Word on Easter Morning

First words and last words are always significant. Dying people don’t tend to waste their words talking about trivia. They usually get straight to the point. Time is precious. First words are also significant. We took great delight the first time each of our children began to speak. The first words of Jesus publicly are ‘repent’, Matt 4.17. People needed to change their thinking. But they are not His first words after the resurrection!

In scripture there is a great deal of emphasis on the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus; for the resurrection is the inauguration of God’s new creation. Unlike the old creation which began with the making of the heavens and the earth culminating in the creation of man the new creation takes a reverse order Gen 1.

Jesus stands as the head of a new humanity. Those who trust him receive the Spirit which is the deposit and guarantee of the full inheritance – a resurrection body like His. And Paul tells us that creation groans, waiting for that day to take place, for it too signifies the release of creation itself into the glorious liberty of the children of God. In the new creation it is the cosmos that is the last thing to be put right and brought into order, Rom 8.18-23.

Given these facts what do you suppose would be the first words of Jesus to the women who came to see Him on that first Sunday morning? The women come to the tomb to anoint His body. They are shocked to find an angel sitting on top of the huge stone that had been rolled over the grave entrance days earlier. This heavenly creature is glorious; shining as bright as lightening. It must have been an intimidating sight. He invites them to examine the empty tomb and instructs them to go quickly to Galilee to tell Jesus’ disciples to expect Him.

On the way they meet Jesus. They are full of joy and fear. Joy, at the news that He is risen and fear, at the awesome encounter with the angel. This mixture of emotions is not difficult to understand. Anyone who been on a roller coaster ride feels a mixture of joy and fear. Bungee jumpers know the same mixture of emotions. That’s how these women felt. As they journeyed to find the other disciples they met Jesus. What would be His first words to these women? Matt 28.9 tells us. Jesus greets them with one word – rejoice!

Now some Bibles translate this word ‘Greetings’. This doesn’t do justice to the Greek word Chairo (see Strong’s G5463). In the NT it is translated ‘rejoice’ 42 times, ‘be glad’ 14 times and joy 5 times. Only in a total of 8 times is it translated as ‘hail’ or ‘greetings’. Yet even the old fashioned word hail carried a sense of a joyful greeting. The overwhelming use of the word meant to rejoice exceedingly and be glad. Imagine that. The first time they see Jesus after the Cross and He says one word – rejoice.

But this is consistent with the whole push of scripture. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”, Phil 4.4. He is emphatic. And he has reason to be so dogmatic. He is writing to the church at Philippi. Of all churches they understood that Paul lived by this principle for it was in that city that he and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Yet in these circumstances they chose to pray and sing hymns to God and the whole jail heard them.

God intervened into this situation by sending an earthquake that caused their chains to fall off and the prison doors to open. They were free. Yet they use the opportunity to witness to the jailor and bring him and his whole household to faith. And that is the point. Paul and Silas were being prophetic. They were rejoicing in the victory of the cross over all the power of the enemy even before they saw a breakthrough in their personal experience, Acts 16.25-34.

Consider the first chapter of Luke which records the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary. They are cousins. An Angel has visited both women. Both will give birth to significant figures. One will be a forerunner of the Messiah, the greatest prophet ever; according to Jesus. The other is Jesus Himself, the Saviour of the world. When Elizabeth is six months pregnant Mary comes to visit her, for she too is pregnant. She ends up staying three months.

It is hard to imagine the incredulity Mary would have been faced with within her own community about being pregnant and claiming there is no natural father. There is simply no point of reference in Biblical history for anyone to turn to and understand this. No one could say, “Yes that happened to Sarah”. For sure there was a divine intervention in the birth of Sarah, just as there was with Elizabeth, but this was different; a pregnant teenager who has never been with man; it beggars belief.

Luke records the encounter in Luke 1.39-47. As soon as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary her unborn son responded with a leap of joy, Luke 1.41,44. Luke wants us to know a number of things. This was not just a foetal response; it was a leap of joy. Unborn babies feel emotions! They are spiritually discerning of their environments and can respond, not with words, but definitely with action. He leapt for joy!

John was responding to the presence of Jesus. There are four people in this story; two women and two unborn men! And it is the unborn children that are impacting the adult women at this point. John leapt for joy at the presence of Jesus. But it doesn’t end there. For Elizabeth is now filled with the Holy Spirit. She is the first person in the gospel to be filled with the Spirit. And as she is filled, John is filled too; fulfilling the words of the angel in Luke 1.15. This isn’t Acts 2 but it does foreshadow of the Acts outpouring.

And so we have the first prophecy recorded by a woman in the New Testament. Elizabeth pronounces three blessings over Mary, Luke 1.42-45. Notice that she did this, “with a loud voice”, Luke 1.42.

1. Blessed are you among women
2. Blessed is the fruit of your womb
3. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord.

The first blessing is directed towards Mary personally. She is blessed among women. It says among and not over. Mary should be honoured for her role in bringing forth and nurturing the Messiah. It was no small task. But she was one among women and should not be worshipped as though she now has some special access to Jesus. Years later in His ministry Jesus would make this clear, even to her. For on one occasion she interrupted a meeting to speak with Him. Listen to Jesus response;
He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother", Matt 12.28-50 NIV.

The second blessing is over Jesus – the fruit of her womb. She pronounces a blessing over this unborn child and acknowledges Him to be her Lord, Luke 1.43. This shows amazing prophetic insight on her part. Unlike her husband, Elizabeth fully embraced what God was doing and has no problem believing that Mary would give birth to the Saviour of the world. She is the first to acknowledge the mystery of the incarnation.

Finally Elizabeth pronounces a blessing over Mary’s faith. It is her faith that connects Mary to her destiny and God’s purpose. That is true for us today too. Unlike Zechariah, Mary believed what the angel told her and embraced the will of God for her life. In doing so she was also embracing the carnal judgments of those in her community. This could well be the reason why she spent three months in the company of her cousin. Elizabeth believed and understood her situation. The first trimester, the most vulnerable period of a woman’s pregnancy, was spent in an atmosphere of faith and encouragement rather than criticism and unbelief!

All of this came from John’s response of joy to the presence of Jesus. The presence of Jesus should evoke joy to those who know and love Him. We are to celebrate and rejoice in His presence and like the story in Luke, it has the power to see people filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesy and built up. The impact was infectious; for Luke then records what has come to be known as the Magnificat. In it Mary declares; “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour....”. Her soul is catching up what her spirit has already done, rejoiced!

Often what we confess with our mouth is the overflow of what we think and discern in our hearts. Words follow spiritual perception. Mary allowed her soul to magnify God. It was the natural response given all that she and Elizabeth experienced in this brief encounter.

Let’s look at Luke 10. In this passage of scripture Jesus sends out the seventy (seventy two in some versions). He gives them authority to preach and heal, Luke 10.9. What is telling is what happens when they return, Luke 10.17-20. They are excited, boasting, rejoicing in the authority they have experienced over the enemy. Jesus begins by telling them He has seen the power of the enemy broken and goes on to give them more authority. So those who are given authority at the beginning of the chapter are now given more!

But then He says something that is key to success in ministry. He has heard all of their rejoicing and bragging and so begins to redirect their focus. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the demons are subject to you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven”, Luke 10.20. Rejoicing is good when we rejoice in the right things. Jesus is helping the disciples to get their focus on things that don’t change and aren’t affected by situations or circumstances. They are directed away from temporal reality of day to day life to the eternal reality of what is settled in Heaven. That doesn’t change.

If their focus stays on rejoicing over demons, what will happen when they go a week or two without casting out demons? What about the times that require perseverance, like Moses in Egypt? Ten times he made the same request, “Let my people go”. Six times he was refused and three times Pharaoh tried to get him to compromise. Only after the final plague did he see a breakthrough. If we become too focused on our experience then our joy and rejoicing will be conditioned by it. But if we focus on things that are true every day we have breath, then the changes in life cannot rob us of God’s joy.

Every day you can wake up to the knowledge that your name is written in Heaven. This is from the lips of Jesus. It is possible to know you are saved! You don’t have to wait ‘til you die! The first thing the Holy Spirit does according to Rom 8.15-16 is cry out from within, Abba, Father. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are children of God. This is something we can rejoice in daily. It is an unchangeable reality for those who have trusted Christ to be Lord and Saviour.

This is not a Roman census. It is written in Heaven! Seeing people healed and delivered is great. We can rejoice in all the good things God does. But to rejoice over the fact we have power over the enemy makes us conscious of us – our works and him, the enemy. God doesn’t want this. He wants us to rejoice in His greatness and what He has done for us. Listen to Paul again, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”, Phil 4.4 Our rejoicing is in Him, not in our power over the enemy.

In Luke 15 we have three parables told by Jesus of lost things; the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost sons (plural). In each story the emphasis is on the rejoicing and celebration that takes place once the shepherd, the woman and the father recover what has been lost. They are the ones who felt the pain of the loss. They are the ones who felt the joy of seeing them recovered. And their joy was a reflection of Heaven’s joy.

The challenge we face in church life today is to learn to rejoice in what Heaven rejoices in. When church members gossip over a fallen leader they are rejoicing in the wrong thing. David did not rejoice at the death of Saul. Rather he mourned. He was in touch with Heaven’s joy. When Abigail restrained him from murdering her husband Nabal for his stingy treatment of David’s men, David rejoiced at her wisdom and relented. Love always rejoices in the truth, 1Cor 13.6.

Jesus rejoiced at the wisdom of the Father who gave revelation to unschooled fisherman rather than learned Rabbi’s, Luke 10.21. He entered into Heaven’s joy. And so on Easter morning Jesus greets the women from the tomb and says to them, rejoice. Through the resurrection God had inaugurated the new creation. Jesus was proof that the corruption of the old creation was about to pass away. A new day is dawning. The old is making way for the new. To be in Christ is to be part of the new creation even now, 2Cor 5.17.

What will you choose to rejoice in today? What happens if your breakthrough is delayed as it was for Joseph? What if you are persecuted as David was by those who should really be championing you? Will you complain and become bitter? Will you blame God and focus on the temporal? Or by faith will you look up and get a bigger vision of Jesus? No wonder Paul tells us to set our mind on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, Col 3.1-2. For where our hearts are, there our joy is too. Why not show the world your joy is rooted in something bigger than your current situation and rejoice – always, 1Thess 5.18