Jesus vs. Demons

Matthew 8

January 8

Jesus has just finished his impressive Sermon on the Mount and many are following him. They hear something different in his teaching and are drawn to him. Now, it’s time for them to see something different! Jesus is not all talk. He shows them the love and power of God which God gave to His Son to put into action to make believers, to convince the people that the Messiah was in their midst. Jesus is incredible to watch. He conquers disease, isolation, paralysis, suffering, fevers, demon possession, storms and the elements. He teaches a better way (add love) and he demonstrates what that looks like, with a healthy dose of God’s power.

Jesus is not scared of the leper who has been ostracized, feared and shunned because of the painful sores on his body and this contagious disease. Rather, he stops, listens, reaches out his hand, touches him, and heals him with compassion and power.

Likewise, he heals the Roman centurion’s servant (without even touching or seeing him) because of the faith of the centurion. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever and she responds by serving him. He heals the sick and demon-possessed and in a mighty way he calms the storm and amazes his disciples.

Those are all great accounts of awesome acts, but today I want to look a little deeper at the last events of Matthew 8 – the healing of two demon-possessed men in the region of the Gadarenes. It is certainly not because I have a wealth of information to share with you about demon-possession. It is indeed one of those Bible topics I know is in there, but still have a lot of questions about. It might be easier to try to ignore it and read right over it – but then I would be missing a chunk of Jesus’ life and power and I don’t want to do that. And I can’t help but feel that if I understand this a little more…there could be something useful for me to learn and put into action myself today.

So, what do we learn about these specific demons from this passage?

They are powerful and violent and have control over people even in a physical manner.

They are smart in spiritual matters. They recognize Jesus as the Son of God! They know that there will be a time coming when Jesus will do battle against them and torture them. (Matthew 8:29)

Despite all the power these demons have displayed over people, and the fear they have instilled in others, they are now in Jesus’ presence (since he was bold enough to go where others wouldn’t). And in Jesus’ presence they are begging him. They realize the Son of God, Jesus, has power over them. They have more than met their match.

And then there are the townspeople’s reaction to Jesus! They hear that Jesus has freed these two men from the demons that controlled them and terrorized their roadways. And they learn that Jesus had sent the demons (as per their request) into a herd of pigs which then rushed down the steep bank and drowned in the water. And their response is to plead with Jesus to leave town, leave them alone. They had grown accustomed to the demon possessed men. It might not be pleasant, but it was what they knew. They were used to their violent ways and were practiced at trying to avoid personal injury; maybe some demons weren’t too bad to have around. After all, the townspeople were still able to raise their pigs and have a decent way of life.

Until Jesus came around. He freed the men and sent the demons packing, but the pigs were lost. The people feared what they did not know. And, they were likely a bit upset about their material loss.

Help me to not grow comfortable in the presence of evil. Help me never be more attached to my material goods than to what is right. Help me to see clearly evil for what it is. And help me see clearly the power of God for what it is. Help me to see the power God has given Jesus over spiritual darkness and demons – then, now and in the future. Help me always choose good over evil, whatever the cost.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1 – What’s the worst storm you have ever been in? How would you react (both that day, and the following month) if Jesus had appeared in the middle of it and calmed the storm with his words? How did the disciples react? Why do you think Jesus calmed this storm but not all storms?

2 – Did reading this chapter make you think of any questions you have for God? Talk to Him about them.

3 – Jesus wasn’t afraid to help the outcasts, touch the lepers, and go where others wouldn’t dare. If Jesus were in your town today where do you think we would find him?

Sin Jenga

Proverbs 28

Proverbs 28 14 NIV Jenga

Proverbs 27 was like an onion, or a parfait because everyone likes parfaits. Proverb 28 however is more like a banana. It is more straightforward in its message. It could rightly be summed up as the destiny of good and evil. It is a series of contrasts between those who do what is right and those who do not.

The author calls out those who are well acquainted with poverty and suffering and yet, given the chance, oppress others suffering in the same ways. This sin is greater than those who have never known hunger and are oppressive. For a poor man to be placed in authority who becomes oppressive utterly destroys the hope of the poor. This is like a game of sin Jenga, stacking one sin upon another and hoping that it does not fall down.

In many facets of life we see sinful people praising sinful ways. They promote sin as something to be desired. Truthfully they have great advertising though. Sin is often that which is most physically pleasurable and is easily obtainable. It often helps people to temporarily forget their troubles and sorrows. Temporary is the key to all of this though. Each way that man chooses to sin is fleeting and temporary. The pleasure ends and emptiness is left. The good times come to a close and the pain returns with a vengeance. They believe that the easy way through life is to not care or get involved. But that ultimately leads to a life of loneliness and sinful ways that leave us numb to the good and the bad.

Another point from this passage is that evil men do not understand, or do not want to understand, the judgement of God. Knowing God makes us accountable to someone other than ourselves. It is painful enough for some to deal with their own conscience. It is as inescapable as our shadow after all. Then you add on the thought of God knowing everything that we do. For some people that is just too much. They can numb themselves of their guilt through drugs, alcohol, and other activities but they can never numb themselves from God’s presence. This is why, for some, it is preferable to give in completely to sin and run from God. It is better for the moment but God’s word tells us that it is better to be with Him. All will eventually stand before Him to be judged. At that time they will realize the futility of their efforts to numb themselves in sin’s embrace.

I mentioned earlier that our conscience is unescapable. It is the conscience of the guilty that cages them with bars of fear. A fear that haunts them night and day. They live in fear of being discovered in their sin. Those who are truly bold in their sin are in fear of being proven wrong in their assertions. They make excuses for actions which no one has challenged or questioned. The righteous however are freed from such fears. They can be bold, not because they are without sin, but because they admit their sins and make attempts to remove them from their lives.

I have often been frustrated at people who I know from experience are horrible ungodly people yet they prosper far more than I do. You know who I am talking about. They are the ones that seem to have it all and everything always goes their way. Yet they are the most vile, slimy, loathsome examples of humanity. As my faith and understanding of God’s ways increased, I began to understand that they think that they are successful. Others see them as being successful as well, even I did for a time. But what they are building has no foundation. Everything that they gather around them is perishable. They might as well be gathering bread which will rot and mold. Ultimately, they will be clinging to nothing more than fuzzy green clumps of rotted material. That is what they place their hope in. The righteous however place their hope in God. The one who is eternal, imperishable. I like that image a whole lot more than the image of what the wicked will be holding onto.

To be continued…

 

Jeff Ransom

The Dark Side

Proverbs 17

Proverbs 17 4a

Everyone is handsomely dressed and well coiffed. They laugh in each other’s company as they head down the long corridor to the banquet hall where they’ve been invited to a grand dinner. The door slides open and Darth Vader greets his “guests.” Suddenly, Han, Leia, Chewy, and C-3PO realize this was a trap, and they were caught.
For anyone who has not seen Star Wars Episodes 4, 5, and 6 (about 216 times), Darth Vader is the villainous overlord of an oppressive and evil empire. Han, Leia, Chewy, and C-3PO, along with Luke and R2-D2, are the good guys trying to do what’s right and rebel against the regime.
When I read Proverbs 17: 1 (Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it, than a house full of feasting with strife), this scene from Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back immediately comes to my mind (Quite a few other verses bring this scene to mind too… Psalms 23:5 for example). I am certain the Rebel crew would have much preferred some blue milk and tauntaun jerky than a feast with their mortal enemy!
Star Wars is a science fiction epic that has endured for over 40 years in part because, even though it took place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” it is the classic story of good versus evil.   In Episodes 4, 5, and most of 6, Darth is the personification of evil. Proverbs 17: 5, 13, 15, 19, and 20 describe his actions well. He is angry, murderous, destructive…. like blowing up entire planets destructive!
But he didn’t start out that way. He started as a boy named Anakin. (As a nearly life long Star Wars fan, I know Episodes 1, 2, and 3 are almost worthless for so many reasons, but for the sake of argument, please just go with it.) We learn that he was whiny, self absorbed, impulsive, rebellious, but most importantly, fearful. Theses attributes made him ripe for Palipatine, an evil leader with nefarious intentions, to convince Anakin to listen to evil lips (verse 4) and exchange a promise of power for evil deeds (verse 23).
Even though this is just a movie series, it truly speaks to the fact that evil starts somewhere and it’s usually rooted in selfishness and fear. And in the real world, those emotions are rooted in the absence of faith in God through Christ.
Spoiler Alert: Fortunately for Darth, he does see the light side of the force and repents for all he’s done shortly before his death. Great deathbed conversion scene! But we don’t have to have our world, or Death Star, crumble around us before seeing the error of our ways. Seek knowledge now, practice wisdom now, love now (verse 17).
May the word of God be with you.
Maria Knowlton

Wise About What is Good

Romans 16

Romans 16 19.png

Welcome back!  Hopefully yesterday’s question brought about some quality reflection time after reviewing the passages.  I hope today’s thoughts do the same as well!

Thought #1 – Vs. 1-16: Wow!  I’m impressed that Paul remembered so many individuals within the church and took the time to greet them all.  I am very fortunate to be part of a small church, and I LOVE the fact that I know everyone by name there.  But, I don’t feel that I truly know every individual that is in my congregation.  Certainly not well enough to greet personally if I were writing a letter from someplace far away!  We recently lost a very prominent, “behind-the-scenes” member at my church.  I knew him well enough to know the amazing impact he had on our church, but not more than outside of seeing him Sundays and Wednesdays.  His funeral was packed with friends and family members, and it struck me how little I truly knew about this man that I had basically “known” since birth.  This, along with these verses, got me thinking; How well do we really know the people inside of our own church body?  Clearly Paul thought it was important to individually know those within the body, as he even brought up some deeper connections he had with them as a reminder and personal touch.  How awesome do you think those believers felt when Paul called them out in a positive way?  They were probably encouraged, and motivated to keep on doing the good things they were already doing.  My aunt Susan likes to say, “If you see something good in someone, say it!!”  People love positive recognition for things they do.  And generally speaking, they’re not going around asking for it!  I challenge you, along with myself, to seek out those deeper connections within your church so that you are able to call out the good in those around you!

Thought #2 – Vs. 17- 19:  There are some pretty strong words used by Paul here.  He calls out some people and intentionally tells believers to keep away from them because they are not serving Christ.  Excuse my Minnesotan here, but… Ufda.  I would NOT want to be one of those people!!  Despite this slight shock of criticism, I love how Paul finishes his little warning with a praise and a reminder: “Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”   We are to rejoice in our obedience, and in the obedience of other believers.  But we are also told here to be wise about good things, and innocent about evil things.  How can you be wise about the good, and innocent about the evil?  I think first you must recognize the difference.  We can still be innocent about evil things without being naïve to the world.  We can also be very easily pulled into a deeper and unnecessary knowledge of evil if we’re not careful.  We need to know enough to stay away, but not enough to compromise our innocence.  How can you grow your wisdom of good things to increase your obedience?  How are you keeping your innocence of evil while still being aware of what it is?

I hope these questions got you thinking from maybe a new perspective on our texts today!  Tomorrow we get to start the book of John together!

To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!

~Sarah Blanchard

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