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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 16:35-40

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

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My last post was about the conversion and baptism of the purple goods seller Lydia and her household in Philippi. Lydia ‘opened her heart’ to Paul’s words. Lydia was the start of the church in Philippi, and that was the church Paul addressed in his letters to the Philippians.

Acts 16:16-34 is the Year C reading for the Seventh Sunday after Easter. A summary follows, because it provides the context for today’s verses. The four men — Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke (the author of Acts) — were on their way to pray when a slave girl with divination powers approached them. Her owners made a lot of money from her divination:

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul was angry, because she had an evil spirit within her. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

a “spirit of divination.” The literal Greek…I want you to get this, a most fascinating thing…the literal Greek is, she had a spirit, a python. That’s the same as a python snake, the same term…a spirit, a python, or a python spirit. You say, well, what is a python spirit? Well, in Greek mythology…and this is all mythology…in Greek mythology, there’s a place called Pytho, and Pytho was at the foot of Mount Parnassus. Now, at Pytho, there was a dragon. The dragon guarded Pytho…that area…and the dragon’s name was Python. Stay with me. This dragon guarded the oracles of Delphi. Now you may have heard of that. Delphi was a place where oracles were given. Now, you say, what’s an oracle? I’ll give you the definition. The term “oracle,” which is an occult term, means either a place where mediums consult demons or it means the revelation the demons give themselves. So it can refer to the place or the demonic revelation. The oracles at Delphi…Delphi was a place that was a monstrous temple and in this temple were all these medium priestesses and these priestesses were conjuring up demons and giving out information. Now, you say, what about the dragon? Well, supposedly, long ago in Greek mythology, this dragon guarded these oracles. Apollo, who was the third son of Jupiter in mythology, came down and slew the dragon. All of the oracle power of the dragon was then transferred to Apollo and he took on the name Pythias. And so the python idea ties in with Apollo who received the dragon’s power and was able, then, to contact these demon spirits at Delphi. Now, let me say this just so you’ll understand. They believed, the people in this world believed, in that world of that day, they believed that the gods were alive. They believed in Apollo and Jupiter and Venus and Mars and all those people, Cupid and everybody else. Now, they believed that Apollo…that Apollo spoke through the oracles at Delphi. And so the term python means any kind of medium contact with the god Apollo. This girl, then, was one of the thousands of priestesses from Delphi who were called pythons because they were plugged into Apollo whose other name was Pythias. Now, if you’re confused, don’t feel bad; I am, too (laughter). But, nevertheless, people would consult this girl, or these priestesses…and they had temples all over the place. In fact, it got to be a universal kind of worship. They would consult these priestesses and they would then think that Apollo, the god, was giving them the information. Now, we know who it really was, right?…Satan and his demons. Let me give you another footnote that’s just absolutely fascinating. The term “python” then became synonymous with ventriloquist and is used as such. Ventriloquists were called pythons. You say, why. Do you know what a demon-possessed medium is? He is a dummy for a demon ventriloquist. She was nothing but a demonic Charlie McCarthy (laughter)…essentially the same thing…nothing but a mouth through which a demon spoke…and this is the word ventriloquist. In Isaiah 8:19, the Bible says that the people were to watch out for mediums that peep and mutter and the word in the Greek…it’s in Hebrew in the Old Testament, but the Greek translation, they use the word [engastrímythos]which means ventriloquist. They were to watch out for ventriloquist demons who used the voice of humans. You say, then that girl was a dummy and demons talked through her.

When her owners found out Paul had, via divine means, driven the demon out of her, they were furious. They had lost a steady stream of income. So, they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace in Philippi and denounced them. The crowd turned into a mob and magistrates joined in:

22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.

MacArthur says this was no ordinary beating:

Now, the magistrates had a group of guys that were local police. They were called lictors … and they were a kind of policeman. They carried around, for the purpose of punishment in these places where Greek people live, like, a pile of rods wrapped together. They were like birch rods, very hard. And they would wrap them all together. And in the middle they would insert an axe. And the axe was for the purpose of capital punishment when it was needed. On the spot, they could execute. When they didn’t need the axe, they laid the axe aside, take the bundle of rods and just flail people with them. Well, that’s what they decided to do. This was a Roman punishment. Incidentally, Paul got it three times. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,” II Corinthians 11:25…three times. It’s a fantastic thing to even conceive of this kind of a beating. And Paul says in II Corinthians 11:23, he says “in stripes above measure.” There were so many wounds inflicted by this mass of sticks flailing away that you couldn’t count them. No trial, no nothing!

Paul and Silas were then thrown in the inner prison and put in the stocks under constant guard.

Around midnight, the prisoners listened to Paul and Silas sing hymns and pray when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison. The doors opened and the shackles unfastened. The guard was terrified, because if any prisoner escaped, he would be executed. He considered killing himself before that happened:

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

Once the cell was lit again, the guard trembled with fear and fell down in front of Paul and Silas, asking what he must do to be saved:

31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

During the earthquake, the guard had been asleep at home, which MacArthur says would have been next to the prison. He was beside himself in rushing to the prison only to find it in such a state. Then, of course, there were the consequences he would face from the Roman governor if anyone had escaped. The guard had those uncontrollable shakes from extreme fear that take time to dissipate.

Paul and Silas spoke ‘the word of the Lord’ to the guard and his household. The guard washed their wounds — no doubt many — after which, Paul and Silas baptised him and his household:

34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

What an amazing story.

At that point, the church in Philippi had two groups that could then meet: Lydia and her household and the guard and his. God had a plan.

Now on to today’s verses.

When daylight broke, the magistrates sent the police to the jailer saying that Paul and Silas could walk free (verse 35). The jailer relayed the news to Paul (verse 36).

Paul expressed his indignation at the treatment that he and Silas — both Roman citizens — received. That beating was meant for Greeks, non-Romans under Roman rule. Paul stood on principle and told the guard that the police could release him and Silas themselves (verse 37).

MacArthur tells us more:

You see, it was forbidden under Roman law to ever corporeally inflict a wound on a Roman citizen. That was against the law. All a Roman had to do was say, I am a Roman citizen and they couldn’t put one wound on his body. That was the right of Roman citizenship. You know what happened? They had violated Roman law. You say, well, why didn’t Paul say it earlier? God didn’t want him to, because if they hadn’t got beaten, they wouldn’t have got to jail. If they hadn’t got to jail, this whole family wouldn’t have gotten saved. But here, Paul now says, I am a Roman. Now, he says, they threw us in prison, now are they gonna thrust us out so quietly and privately? “Nay, verily”…well, he is really in control…he says, “let them come themselves and fetch us out.” He says, you go tell those boys I got something to say to them.

This is why the magistrates were afraid when the police reported back to them (verse 38). They could have lost their jobs or worse. So, ‘they’ in verse 38 refers to the magistrates, who personally apologised to Paul and Silas before escorting them away with a request to leave Philippi (verse 39).

Before they left the city, they stopped by to meet with Lydia and her fellow converts to encourage them in the faith (verse 40).

MacArthur makes interesting points about this story. One is that Timothy and Luke were not jailed because they fit a Gentile profile. Another is that, when Paul returned to Philippi, the authorities never bothered him again. Another interesting point is this:

Isn’t that beautiful to see Paul care for his flock? And incidentally, he left Luke there to care for them, too.

Acts 17 returns to the third person, meaning that Luke was no longer with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

The establishment of the church in Philippi followed the same fascinating pattern as many of the churches featured in Acts: emotionally moving conversions, demons (although not always), persecution and strengthened faith.

In closing, this is what Matthew Henry had to say about Philippi, with words of encouragement for present-day clergy:

Though the beginnings here were small, the latter end greatly increased; now they laid the foundation of a church at Philippi, which became very eminent, had its bishops and deacons, and people that were more generous to Paul than any other church, as appears by his epistle to the PhilippiansLet not ministers be discouraged, though they see not the fruit of their labours presently; the seed sown seems to be lost under the clods, but it shall come up again in a plentiful harvest in due time.

Next time — Acts 17:16-21

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Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 12:43-45

Return of an Unclean Spirit

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

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Today’s verses immediately followed our Lord’s refusal to give a special sign to the Pharisees, one which they boldly requested in their unbelief.

The parallel passage for today’s reading is Luke 11:24-26, about which I wrote in 2014. I found the commentaries accompanying that passage — also from my two favourites, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur — clearer than theirs for Matthew’s verses. Therefore, if necessary, please read that post for a deeper understanding.

Another helpful resource is the commentary that accompanies a reading on the same theme — 2 Peter 2:10-22 — which I wrote about in 2011.

Jesus’s message in today’s verses was for the Pharisees and the Jewish people. However, Peter gave the same warnings to his converts. Therefore, the context is both historical and contemporary.

In verse 43, Jesus spoke of an exorcised demon — ‘the unclean spirit’ — which then sought a new host. He might have meant the incomplete exorcisms that the Jewish hierarchy performed on the Jews who were thus afflicted. Jesus, on the other hand, permanently rid people of demons and healed their bodies and souls.

The unclean spirit then goes from person to person to see if it can lodge there. That evil spirit finds ‘waterless places’ — good souls in which it cannot settle.

It decides to return to its original host, now reformed and morally clean (verse 44). It brings with it seven other spirits, even more evil (verse 45). All now infest that person, making him (or her) even more sinful and corrupt than before. Think of the saying ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’.

Jesus ended by saying that it would be the same with the ‘evil generation’ of His time.

Matthew Henry explains the historical significance, which alluded to the destruction of the temple which took place nearly four decades later in 70 AD (emphases mine):

The body of that nation is here represented, First, As an apostate people. After the captivity in Babylon, they began to reform, left their idols, and appeared with some face of religion but they soon corrupted themselves again: though they never relapsed into idolatry, they fell into all manner of impiety and profaneness, grew worse and worse, and added to all the rest of their wickedness a wilful contempt of, and opposition to, Christ and his gospel. Secondly, As a people marked for ruin. A new commission was passing the seals against that hypocritical nation, the people of God’s wrath (like that, Isaiah 10:6), and their destruction by the Romans was likely to be greater than any other, as their sins had been more flagrant: then it was that wrath came upon them to the uttermost, 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16.

Henry then cautions Christians:

Let this be a warning to all nations and churches, to take heed of leaving their first love, of letting fall a good work of reformation begun among them, and returning to that wickedness which they seemed to have forsaken for the last state of such will be worse than the first.

Being a clean-living churchgoer without believing in Christ is likely to lead to eternal condemnation on the last day.

John MacArthur says:

You say, “Why? How is it that it is worse to be moral?” Simply, I think, because the sinful person who is aware of his sinfulness has more vigilance than the moral person who has no such awareness. I think what happens is when a person becomes self-righteous and moral, he then loses the sense of fearfulness about evil, and feels himself beyond the activity of Satan so that Satan can come in en masse, without that individual ever being aware, vigilant, or prepared to deal with it.

You’ll notice in verse 45, it says, “They enter and dwell there,” and the word ‘dwell’ is katoikeo, which means ‘to settle down and be at home.’ They are comfortable there, entrenched; it is the same word used in Ephesians 3:17, when Paul prays that Christ may settle down in your hearts by faith. They come in and find their permanent, settling place in the heart of a moral person. Better the person should have been immoral and face the immorality of his life than to be living under the illusion of morality and be demon-infested.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:15. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte.” In other words, to convert someone to the Pharisaic morality. “And when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Why so? Because the disciple who is discipled into self-righteous legalism is usually more committed to it than his teacher. The person who is new at it is usually more committed to it than the one who has been around a long time and seen all the loopholes. You are already sons of Hell by your morality without Christ and you are making double sons of Hell out of your proselytes. Morality makes a person a son of Hell, and the more you are subscribed to self-righteous morality, the more you intensify your hellish relationship.

I don’t believe, then, that the church’s message is morality in a vacuum without Jesus Christ. I think God has called us to preach the Gospel. Jesus didn’t preach morality; He preached salvation, repentance from sin. I am not interested in making America moral without Christ; all that will do is give them a false sense of security and maybe increase their prospects for damnation. I guess, in some ways, it’s better to be immoral than moral. It is better to be irreligious than religious. I find it much easier to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of sin than to reach someone who is overwhelmed with their sense of righteousness, don’t you?

MacArthur then reminds us who sent our Lord to His death. The immoral people didn’t do it. The notionally holy people who considered themselves above reproach were responsible:

The harlots, thieves, and murderers didn’t do it; the religious people did it. That’s the curse of morality – moral, religious, self-righteous people, confident they are holy in themselves, are utterly deceived into believing that Satan has nothing to do with them, and they have no vigilance or protection, and they can be swarmed by demonic hosts. In the end is in verse 45, and the last state is worse than the first.

Self-righteousness and morality is a curse that ties men up and draws them away from true conviction that can bring salvation. Listen to an illustration from II Peter 2:20. Here, we have a picture of some people who even come to Christianity and listen to Jesus Christ’s message, and they have a head knowledge.

It says, “They have escaped the pollutions of the world.” It doesn’t say they have been cleansed or truly purged, but through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, the standards of the Lord, and the exposure to Christianity, they have escaped the world’s pollutions; they have cleaned up their act and “gotten religion.” They have started living the Christian moral code. But, “They are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

Why? Because you have a greater judgment if you have a greater amount of knowledge. So not only is there an intensification of demonic activity potentiated, but there is definitely an intensification of judgment on that moral person. That is essentially the message of Romans 2. Then He gives a proverb to illustrate it. “‘A dog returns to his own vomit,'” and, “‘A sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'”

The Pharisees were blind to the evil lurking in their hearts and minds.

Legalists and moralists may be susceptible to the same.

In his commentary on Luke 11:24-26, MacArthur said:

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

So to attempt to clean your life up without Christ coming to dwell there is to be exposed to an even greater danger. That statement, “The last state of that man becomes worse than the first,” is very definitive. In the end, being moral is more dangerous than being immoral. There is no benefit in reformation without regeneration. And this is exactly what the Jews did, exactly what they did. And that’s why in verse 29, the next verse, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation.” Well they wouldn’t see it that way at all. They thought they were a righteous generation and that’s why they hated Jesus. They were moral but filthy. They were void of the purifying presence of God. They were damned by morality, damned by religion, damned by reformation.

For my exposition of 2 Peter 2:10-22, I used a sermon from the Revd Gil Rugh. He explained:

There is great danger in moral reformation. We don’t need reformation. We need regeneration. Keep that in mind. The church loses sight of this as it loses its hold on its responsibility to be the pillar and support of the truth. It gets caught up in all kinds of movements of moral reformation to clean up a life. But, do you realize we are making that person more a convert of hell? If I talk to a drunk, I don’t tell him he ought to clean up his life and stop drinking. It would make his relationship with his wife better, it would make his relationship with his children better. It would give him a better job. No. My goal is not to sweep clean the house. Do you realize that before, he was a drunk on his way to hell, and now he is a non-drunk on his way to hell. He is harder to reach now because he’ll go around and give testimonials about how he cleaned up his life.

There is a fine line between clean living and living in a certain way because we truly love the Lord.

May we live a Christian life through grace and faith rather than legalism and self-righteousness.

Next time: Matthew 12:46-50

 

 

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Matthew 9:32-34

Jesus Heals a Man Unable to Speak

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

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Last week’s post discussed Jesus’s healing of the two blind men who followed Him into the house where He was staying in Capernaum.

His healing the deaf mute took place immediately afterward at the end of a very long day which involved raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead and healing the woman who had the 12-year blood flow. Before that, He condemned the pharisaical method of fasting and cured a paralytic. He was surrounded by crowds the whole time that day, except for brief periods: inside Jairus’s house and at Peter’s house when He healed the blind men.

The blind men with fully restored sight no sooner went away (verse 32) than a demon-possessed deaf mute stood before Him. He might have been someone in the crowd and was presented to Him. However, John MacArthur thinks he was a companion of the two blind men:

Now, this would have been one of their friends.  They were blind, he was deaf and dumb; and together they made a whole person …  And they immediately went out, and they got hold of their friend, “possessed with a demon, and they brought him in.”  This is the commitment of the men.  One of their fellow beggars.

He tells us that the word in Greek for the man’s affliction is

koufos.  It is translated in Matthew 11:5 as deaf.  It probably means deaf and dumb.

If one cannot hear, one cannot speak.

Matthew Henry says that the fact that a demon rendered this man deaf and mute illustrates that Satan is no friend of mankind (emphases mine):

His case, which was very sad. He was under the power of the devil in this particular instance, that he was disabled from speaking, Matthew 9:32. See the calamitous state of this world, and how various the afflictions of the afflicted are! We have no sooner dismissed two blind men, but we meet with a dumb man. How thankful should we be to God for our sight and speech! See the malice of Satan against mankind, and in how many ways he shows it.

That said:

Of the two, better a dumb devil than a blaspheming one.

However:

When the devil gets possession of a soul, it is made silent as to any thing that is good [,] dumb in prayers and praises, which the devil is a sworn enemy to.

Therefore, this state of being can be compared in our time to becoming a slave to the devil and sin, where we forsake a close relationship with the Lord for pleasure, greed, depravity and self-sufficiency.

As soon as Jesus cast out the demon, the man — now fully healed — spoke, causing the crowd to marvel (verse 33). They exclaimed that nothing like this had ever occurred in Israel.

Should we then deduce that the crowd converted that day and followed our Lord ever afterward? Only in the sense that they were curious and amazed.

Henry says that the crowd might have recalled Psalm 98:1:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.

However, he makes this observation:

The multitudes marvelled and well they might[,] though few believed, many wondered.

They followed Jesus to see miracles.

MacArthur likens the crowd to today’s cinema goers who go for a thrill and then leave it behind. At the time he preached his sermons on Matthew in the 1970s, The Exorcist was showing on the big screen:

I’m amazed at people today, you know.  They, they may, they go see these movies that scare them to death; scare them out of their wits and just sit there and let themselves be scared into a frenzy, sweat.  Some of them have to run out into the lobby at the scary times.  Why would people line up for blocks to see The Exorcist?  Well, you know, there’s a certain funny fascination about that.  As long as you’re sitting in a soft seat shoving popcorn in your mouth and you can leave when it’s over.  See, you, you don’t want to get in the situation.  You just don’t mind watching somebody else in it.  There’s a certain thing about that.  And I believe there was something of this fascination in these people who were terrorized by Christ, but also astounded and amazed at the supernatural.  But they wanted to make sure it was just at arm’s length; and when it began to crowd their status quo, that was the end of it: They wanted Him dead.

Jesus’s miracles were entertainment for the vast majority in the crowd, nothing more.

Another aspect of their fascination was that they expected a temporal Messiah, not a spiritual one.

They were not ready to leave Judaism under the manmade laws of the Pharisees. They were not ready to devote their lives to Jesus. They had what they needed in their lives. He was, sadly, for them, an exciting phenomenon, not the Son of God.

When Jesus became too threatening to the status quo, He had to go:

in Matthew chapter 21, they could make only one conclusion: “And the multitude,” it says, the same multitude that marveled.  That’s a broad word.  The multitude said, “Hosanna to the Son of David:  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.'”  They threw palm branches at His feet.  That’s the marveling multitude: “Isn’t He wonderful?  Oh, He’s the Messiah.”  The next thing you know, they got the word that He was going against the establishment; that He was preaching a message that they didn’t want to hear; that He was a threat to their security, a threat to their life.  But it says in Matthew 27 that the same multitude screamed at Him to be crucified, that Barabbas should be released, and Jesus should be executed.  But that’s how it is with fickle mobs, you see.  Marveling multitudes eventually screamed for His death.  The fickleness of that superficial fascination; it’s like John 6.  They followed Him for the free food, you know?  They really weren’t interested in what He said.  They liked Him at a distance.  They liked Him doing His miracles.  They were fascinated.  There was a certain awe.  Even though there was a certain terror involved, if you could keep it at arm’s length, it was okay.

The Pharisees were spiritually blind and deaf. Therefore, they accused our Lord of being in league with Satan in driving out demons (verse 34). Their reaction was as psychologically and spiritually complex as the crowd’s but for different reasons. They did not like His preaching, even though they should have recognised it, but they were spiritually bereft. They liked their privileged status and feared the crowd might reject their hold on them. They also did not think that Jesus had anything to say to them. They were the foremost among the self-sufficient. Furthermore, Jesus was not among their number. He did not mix in their circles nor did He have their training. He had to be derided, ridiculed and blasphemed then killed.

Ultimately, the Pharisees had to diminish His power among the people. For now, they shamefully lied about the source of His miracles. Henry says:

The Pharisees blasphemed, Matthew 9:34. When they could not gainsay the convincing evidence of these miracles, they fathered them upon the devil, as if they had been wrought by compact and collusion: he casteth out devils (say they) by the prince of the devilsa suggestion horrid beyond expression we shall hear more of it afterwards, and Christ’s answer to it (Matthew 12:25) only observe here, how evil men and seducers wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13), and it is both their sin and their punishment.

In closing, the parallel account of this healing — creative — miracle and Jesus’s response to the Pharisees is in Luke 11:14-23, about which I wrote last year.

Next time: Matthew 11:1

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 8:28-34

Jesus Heals Two Men with Demons

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,[a] two demon-possessed[b] men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

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Last week’s post described the storm on the Sea — lake — of Galilee that struck fear into the disciples. They woke Jesus who ‘rebuked the winds and the sea’ to restore immediate calm. He then asked the disciples why they had so little faith.

Now they have crossed the lake and are in another region, that of the Gadarenes (verse 28). I wrote about Luke’s account of this story in 2013 here and here. Both of those links explain more about the background to this story. Luke’s and Mark’s accounts (Mark 5:1-20 is in the three-year Lectionary) are much longer and record that the man — only one — wanted to become Jesus’s disciple. Jesus told him to go home and tell his friends what happened to him. No doubt he would do better among his own in being a living testament to Jesus’s healing power.

The Wikipedia map at the right shows Gadara and Gerasa. They are inland, but as my posts on Luke’s account explain, thanks to John MacArthur, those were probably the largest towns nearby. In any event, this region was known as the Decapolis, which also included what is now called Kersa. Kersa, MacArthur says, has many lakeside cliffs with tombs. What the Gospels describe is accurate.

Matthew says that there were two demon-possessed men, not one. They had extraordinary strength because of the demons working in them. They had to live away from everyone else, hence the tombs.

The demons spoke when they saw Jesus (verse 29), addressing Him as ‘the Son of God’, asking Him what His business was with them and why He was coming so early. That was a reference to the Second Coming.

Matthew Henry analyses the demons’ words (emphases mine):

Even the devils know, and believe, and confess Christ to be the Son of God, and yet they are devils still, which makes their enmity to Christ so much the more wicked, and indeed a perfect torment to themselves for how can it be otherwise, to oppose one they know to be the Son of God? Note, It is not knowledge, but love, that distinguishes saints from devils

Note, It is possible for me to call Jesus the Son of God, and yet have nothing to do with him. Secondly, It is as true, that the devils desire not to have any thing to do with Christ as a Ruler[;] they hate him, they are filled with enmity against him, they stand in opposition to him, and are in open rebellion against his crown and dignity.

A herd of pigs was feeding nearby (verse 30). How could this be in a Jewish region? Henry surmises:

Probably, lying in the outskirts of the land, there were many Gentiles among them, to whom this herd of swine belonged: or they kept them to be sold, or bartered, to the Romans, with whom they had now great dealings, and who were admirers of swine’s flesh.

He says that as a punishment to the people for breaking the Law in this manner, God allowed demon possession of these two men.

Demons don’t like the thought of dying. They assumed that Jesus would cast them out of the men. So they asked Him to let them continue their existence in the pigs (verse 31). He granted permission, they invaded the pigs and their incredible strength drove the herd into the sea (verse 32).

This should tell us how powerful Satan and his minions are. They bring nothing but destruction and death to souls:

See what an industrious enemy Satan is, and how expeditious he will lose no time in doing mischief …

Note, The possession which the devil gets is for destruction. Thus the devil hurries people to sin, hurries them to that which they have resolved against, and which they know will be shame and grief to them: with what a force doth the evil spirit work in the children of disobedience, when by so many foolish and hurtful lusts they are brought to act in direct contradiction, not only to religion, but to right reason, and their interest in this world!

The herdsmen rushed off to tell the townspeople what had happened to the men, now delivered (verse 33). The townspeople came to meet with Jesus and asked Him to leave (verse 34).

You would think they would be grateful and relieved, but they want nothing to do with Him.

John MacArthur explains:

By the way, this is the first recorded instance of open opposition to the Messiah and it all just mounts from here on.  He exposed them.  They despised him.  He was better than they, greater than they, purer than they, more powerful than they, more holy than they, and they resented that.  And they felt dirty and inadequate in His presence because He was so holy, and they felt impotent

To a believer, rejection of Christ for those reasons is an odd reaction to have. Yet, it is entirely normal. Even God-fearing people in Scripture responded likewise:

We’re right back to Isaiah 6.  “Woe is me.”  Woe, that’s the word of a curse.  Isaiah, the best man in the land, pronounced a curse on himself when he saw God because his unholiness was exposed.  Peter, when He saw Jesus Christ and the majesty of His power, said, “Depart from me for I’m a sinful man, O Lord.”  And last week I told you, when the storm came they were afraid, and when Jesus stilled the storm they were exceedingly afraid.  They were more afraid of the calm than they were of the storm because they knew God was in their boat and they were in awe of God. 

With the Gadarenes:

They saw the supernatural and it panicked them.  They saw One who could control the demons.  They saw One who could control animals.  They saw One who could take the soul of a man and give it back to him as white and pure as the driven snow, and they were scared to death.  They saw God, is what they saw.  I don’t know if they all understood that, but they knew it was supernatural, and men don’t like that.  It makes them uncomfortable: “Give us back our pigs and go away.”  Men can handle pigs; they can’t handle God. The mystery of the supernatural they can’t handle.

In the larger context of the Gospel story, MacArthur says that nearly everyone rejected Christ:

They couldn’t tolerate Jesus because of His perfection.  They couldn’t tolerate Him because of His absolute holiness.  He was so far beyond them that He unmasked them, that He showed the stupidity of their own lives.  That’s why they had to kill Him.  And here it all just begins to build.  They saw Him, they saw the power, they were absolutely panicked in awe of God.  Instead of falling at His feet in worship, they said, “Get out.  Go away.  We don’t want you.”

One would have thought that witnessing His miracles would have had an overwhelming power of conversion on more people. But that wasn’t the case:

… the people who saw the miracles didn’t believe.  They nailed Him to a cross and they’d seen miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.  They still didn’t believe.  That just made them hate Him more and more and more and more.  People think today that if they can just show everybody a pile of miracles everybody will believe.  No, because some people, when exposed in the presence of the awesomeness of holy God, will literally run because they love their darkness. Have you ever picked up a rock and found a whole lot of little bugs under it that have been there for a long time, and as soon as you expose them to the light they just split, try to find a hole?  That’s the way men are.  You expose them to the light of God and they love their darkness.  They’ll go right back into the earth to find it again.  That’s where these were.

Loving darkness is the devil’s work.

May we follow the Light of the World today and always.

Next time: Matthew 9:1-8

John F MacArthurA few weeks ago, one of my readers asked about demon infestation and manifestation in the present day.

This is understandable. So much evil manifests itself from verbal harassment to incest to murder that it is difficult to understand it all.

In recent years, some nominally Christian cultures have independent pastors — often called ‘Apostle’ or ‘Prophet’ — who perform deliverance rituals to rid seriously troubled people of ‘demons’.

Yet, formal, long-established denominations are careful about using exorcism except in very rare circumstances, if ever.

When I wrote about Luke 4:33-37 in June 2013, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘Jesus’s Authority over Demons, Part 3’.

In that sermon, MacArthur cites the various examples of demons in the Bible manifesting themselves. It is interesting that most did so during Jesus’s time on earth, fewer before or since in that Exorcist type of way. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Back in Genesis chapter 6 we find the first occasion of demons manifest. They were working before that, Satan and his forces, but we see them manifest in Genesis chapter 6 because it says in the first few verses that the sons of God, which is a term to describe these demons when they were originally created as angels, they can be called sons of God, angels are so called in Scripture, sons not in the sense of being born like people are born, but sons in the sense of being created by God, these sons of God in the case of Genesis 6 who are now fallen demons cohabitated with the daughters of men. That is to say, demons entered male bodies prior to the Flood, cohabitated with women for the specific purpose of producing what I suppose they felt would be a supremely wicked offspring. A bizarre kind of activity they engaged in.

It is also discussed in Jude 6 which comments on Genesis 6, and 2 Peter chapter 2 where it says angels left their normal habitation and came down and went after strange flesh, that is demons possessing male bodies cohabitating with women to produce what they assumed would be particularly wicked offspring. Demons then indwelt bodies of men in Genesis 6 for specific purpose, that’s the first thing that’s anything like demon possession. It’s not…it’s not the full range of demon possession which seems to be a sort of permanent indwelling for the purpose of control and torment, but it does indicate in Genesis 6 that demons can move into people and accomplish their bizarre intentions.

He adds:

We never see demon possession in the rest of the Old Testament. It isn’t to say that demons don’t move into people, they do but they prefer to be hidden there. After all, the New Testament tells us in 2 Corinthians that they are disguised as angels of light. They would rather operate in a clandestine subtle way …

But it wasn’t rare during the time of Jesus. Jesus was so powerful, His message was so powerful, His person was so powerful that when He came into the world and He began to preach the gospel and He began to come to people with the message of His Kingdom, demons in sheer terror began to expose themselves, I believe, involuntarily out of sheer trauma.

As for our era, MacArthur says:

you can go through your whole lifetime and never see a demon manifestation through a person. As I told you, in my whole lifetime and I’ve been pretty much at the cutting edge, at the front edge of the battle for the gospel, I’ve only perhaps three times actually engaged in verbalization with a demon speaking through a person. They don’t like to do that. They don’t like to manifest themselves. So demon…demon manifestation in a possessed person is a very rare phenomen[on].

That said, yes, demons do work through people. Matthew Henry used different words in the 17th century — the devil or an unclean spirit — more in line with how I was brought up to understand evil. I remain sceptical of using the word ‘demon’ too often except in discussing the New Testament; it is all too easy for us to feed on today’s Christian sensationalism about deliverance and labelling people as demon-possessed.

Back now to MacArthur who tells us where today’s subtle unclean spirits dwell:

They are disguised as angels of light. They are disguised as ministers of righteousness. They don’t want to manifest who they really are …

They would rather operate in a person who is teaching in a liberal seminary. They would rather be a Methodist…they would be in a Methodist pastor who advocates homosexuality. They can get a lot more done subtly. It appears to be high church, it appears to be sophisticated, it appears to be even elitist in terms of its academics. But these people who are the ‘human instruments’ of these disguised demons sound the same as Satan. If you listen to them, these liberal people, they tell you you can’t believe the Bible. Isn’t that what Satan said in the Garden, you can’t believe God, He’s not trustworthy? They tell you the God of the Bible is not good. Isn’t that what Satan implied? God isn’t good, if He was good He wouldn’t tell you you couldn’t eat of that good tree over there. You can’t trust God. You can’t believe God. God isn’t going to look out for your best.

When we see or read of evil, we rightly see it for what it is. Think of the crime stories in the papers or, tragically, those who have suffered violent abuse first-hand. There is no question that Satan and his minions are at work in those circumstances, including those incidents which are church-related and done in the name of Christ or the Bible.

As MacArthur explains of the aforementioned apostate preachers:

Whether they are actually indwelt by demons or not, we can’t know unless there would be some point at which that manifestation occurred. But it’s not usual that they would manifest themselves.

Therefore, it is important to not focus as much on demon possession as it is to pray that God’s grace continues to overcome Satan in this world — in both the civil and ecclesiastical arenas.

And recall what MacArthur said about the empty soul of the moralistic convert from last week’s exposition of Luke 11:24-26:

Cleaned up but empty. And if the living God is not present there, you have a disaster ...

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

Bible read me 2Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 11:24-26

Return of an Unclean Spirit

 24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

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Today’s reading relates to superficial morality, present in Jesus’s day and in ours. 

Jesus’s words here are important for anyone who has ever been harmed by moralistic churches or families.

In last week’s post, some of the Judeans — influenced by the self-righteous Jewish hierarchy — accused our Lord of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul, or Satan.

Matthew’s account, also in that post, carries Jesus’s warning about the divine condemnation of anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit.

What followed were Christ’s words about His true followers, those who display grace-filled fruits of faith (Matthew 12:33-37):

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

These words went over the heads of the scribes and Pharisees confronting Him. Instead of examining their own thoughts and conduct, they turned to Jesus and asked Him for ‘a sign’. Jesus responded by calling them an ‘evil and adulterous generation’ (Matthew 12:39).

Following His rebuke, He then said (Matthew 12:43-45, emphases mine):

Return of an Unclean Spirit

 43“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

When the early Church was being established, St Peter wrote similarly to his converts (2 Peter 2:20):

20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

Now on to Luke’s verses. In verse 24, Jesus referred to the demons which had been temporarily exorcised by certain Jewish priests who performed this function in His era. He was also referring, John MacArthur says, to those who converted under John the Baptist and had fallen back into sin. That was not John the Baptist’s fault but the result of the convert placing more trust in morality than grace-filled faith. The result was a moralistic hypocrite, no different to the Jewish priests condemning Jesus.

Matthew Henry explains the phenomenon of false conversion:

(1.) The condition of a formal hypocrite, his bright side and his dark side. His heart still remains the devil’s house he calls it his own, and he retains his interest in it and yet, [1.] The unclean spirit is gone out. He was not driven out by the power of converting grace there was none of that violence which the kingdom of heaven suffers but he went out, withdrew for a time, so that the man seemed not to be under the power of Satan as formerly, nor so followed with his temptations. Satan is gone, or has turned himself into an angel of light. [2.] The house is swept from common pollutions, by a forced confession of sin, as Pharaoh’s–a feigned contrition for it, as Ahab’s,–and a partial reformation, as Herod’s. There are those that have escaped the pollutions of the world, and yet are still under the power of the god of this world, 2 Peter 2:20. The house is swept, but it is not washed and Christ hath said, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me the house must be washed, or it is none of his. Sweeping takes off only the loose dirt, while the sin that besets the sinner, the beloved sin, is untouched. It is swept from the filth that lies open to the eye of the world, but it is not searched and ransacked for secret filthiness, Matthew 23:25. It is swept, but the leprosy is in the wall, and will be till something more be done. [3.] The house is garnished with common gifts and graces. It is not furnished with any true grace, but garnished with the pictures of all graces. Simon Magus was garnished with faith, Balaam with good desires, Herod with a respect for John, the Pharisees with many external performances. It is garnished, but it is like a potsherd covered with silver dross, it is all paint and varnish, not real, not lasting. The house is garnished, but the property is not altered it was never surrendered to Christ, nor inhabited by the Spirit. Let us therefore take heed of resting in that which a man may have and yet come short.

This is what Jesus means by the expelled demons seeking refreshment and a new home (verse 24).

He went on to explain that the returning demon finds a clean, tidy soul trying to be morally correct (verse 25). Consequently, the demon invites more evil spirits there, worse than he (verse 26). This multiplication of evil spirits puts the inhabited soul in a worse state than before he temporarily repented.

Recall the well-known maxim, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. This is its spiritual equivalent.

John MacArthur explains what a clean but empty dwelling means:

That’s the problem. Cleaned up but empty. And if the living God is not present there, you have a disaster. Listen to 2 Peter 2:20, “If after people have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” people who get some idea about Christ, some idea about the gospel and they’re attracted to it and they want to clean their lives up so they escape certain defilements. “But if after that they are entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” And Peter has to be echoing what Jesus said. If you just try to clean your life up, maybe even in the name of Jesus, but it’s empty in there, you’re going to go right back, get entangled again, be overcome and end up in a worse condition. And then Peter says this amazing statement. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than having known it turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. He says they’re like dogs returning to their vomit and pigs returning to the mire.

MacArthur cautions us against adopting an extreme morality not in keeping with the New Covenant, i.e. ‘If you don’t do this [e.g. refrain from alcohol and eating pork], you’ll rot in hell’. Or pointing a finger at others, telling them decisively that we’re saved and they’re not. He warns:

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

He adds:

So to attempt to clean your life up without Christ coming to dwell there is to be exposed to an even greater danger. That statement, “The last state of that man becomes worse than the first,” is very definitive. In the end, being moral is more dangerous than being immoral. There is no benefit in reformation without regeneration. And this is exactly what the Jews did, exactly what they did. And that’s why in verse 29, the next verse, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation.” Well they wouldn’t see it that way at all. They thought they were a righteous generation and that’s why they hated Jesus. They were moral but filthy. They were void of the purifying presence of God. They were damned by morality, damned by religion, damned by reformation.

Some of my readers might find MacArthur’s introduction to his sermon surprising, given that he is a conservative Protestant himself. Yet, he prefaced his exposition of Luke’s verses by saying to his congregation:

We have all in our lifetime and certainly in recent years been exposed to a current trend in evangelicalism in America that we could call a trend toward morality. It is not exclusive to evangelicals. The Roman Catholic Church has always upheld morality. The Mormons have upheld morality. There are many other religious groups, cults, that make an issue out of morality. Many years ago there was a moral movement in America known as Moral Rearmament. And then more recent years there was the Moral Majority and now that Moral Majority is sort of been redefined as The Religious Right. And we’ve always heard a lot about the importance of Judeo Christian values and how critical it is to teach morality to our children and to call America back to moral living and moral conduct. There are many evangelical churches that have made a major emphasis on this issue of morality, many evangelicals, as you well know, have become involved in politicking at all levels in order to effect moral change in America through lobbying, through use of money to buy influence here and there, by pressure, politics, by protests and etc., etc.

There is a grave concern about the immorality of our world and about the immorality of our nation. And certainly I agree that morality is better than immorality, that morality has inherent in it a certain sort of human goodness. And obviously I am supportive of what is the divine standard, the moral code that God has revealed on the pages of Scripture in His very clear commandments.

Having said that, however, I want to say something that may surprise you. Morality is more dangerous than immorality. Morality is more dangerous than immorality.

Now that may shock you, it may surprise you. But it shouldn’t … There is a very serious danger in moral reformation without regeneration. There’s a very serious danger in endeavoring to live your life according to Jude[o-]Christian values without salvation. Reformation without transformation puts a person in a very, very dangerous position.

I suppose the greatest illustration that we know anything about in human history is the Pharisees. They were classic moralists down to the minutia. The Apostle Paul being one of them could even say that a…measuring his life against the Law he was blameless. They lived by a complex ethical code. They demanded that life be controlled by moral standards. They demanded this ethical moral behavior be based upon the laws of their own tradition and the hottest hell awaited them. Morality gained them nothing and it cost them everything. It was morality that caused them to reject the Messiah. That’s why Jesus said to them, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” It is the righteous, it is the moral, it is the religious, it is the self-satisfied, self-congratulating, moral people, the people who uphold the traditional values who are resistant to the true diagnosis of their spiritual condition.

So, if you’ve been hurt by church, especially via your families, that damage had nothing to do with Christ or His teachings. You were living and worshipping with modern-day Pharisees.

This is why it is important to follow a moderate course, the way Christ taught. Focus on Him, God’s grace and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Pray for the Trinity’s help and read the New Testament as often as you can. Pray for wisdom and understanding, not morality or compulsory good works. True fruits of faith are sure to follow.

Next time: Luke 11:27-28

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘The Vilification of Jesus’, Parts 1 and 2).

Luke 11:14-23

Jesus and Beelzebul

 14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

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In last week’s passage, Jesus rejoiced regarding His Father’s will (Luke 10:21). Emphases in bold mine below:

21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

The mention of the Holy Spirit is important for reasons we shall soon see below.

Afterward, Jesus related the parable of the Good Samaritan to the young lawyer (Luke 10:25-37). Then He met Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). He also responded to the disciples’ request to be taught how to pray. Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-13).

Today’s episode in Jesus’s ministry followed that prayer and explanation of God’s willingness to bless His people.

Before going into today’s verses from Luke, it is worth noting that Matthew has a similar episode, which John MacArthur points out took place in Galilee. Luke’s takes place in Judea.

This is Matthew 12:22-32; I have highlighted differences in the accounts below. Note Jesus’s warning about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit:

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

How is it, therefore, that these two episodes are so similar if they occurred in different locales? MacArthur explains that the Jewish Sanhedrin spread the opprobrium from Jerusalem to Galilee to Judea about Jesus being in league with the devil:

First they started sowing the idea that He’s demonic… And then they just raised it to the peak and said He is doing what He’s doing not just by any demon but by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. This was the…this was the party line. This was the…conventional wisdom that Jerusalem was sending down and disseminating through the crowd. And the witless people bought it all and parroted back. And here we are in Judea and it doesn’t say anything about scribes being there, it doesn’t say anything about Pharisees, it just says, verse 15, “Some of them said”There they are sowing that same lie. They sowed it in Galilee and it was successful. And now they’re dogging His steps with it in Judea.

Now to Luke’s reading where Jesus cast out a demon which made a man mute (verse 14). When the demon departed, those witnessing this miracle ‘marvelled’ (verse 15). They didn’t deny it happened; they did not call it magic. This is true of all of Jesus’s miracles; no one who saw them disputed them. And their power was clearly sufficient to worry the Jewish hierarchy. These were no magic tricks, as some atheists and pagans have attested through the centuries.

Then the spiteful denunciation began (verse 15). The Gospels mention other times when Jesus faced the same accusation of working in league with the devil, among them Mark 3, John 8 (here and here) and John 10.

Some of those who did not ally Him with the devil asked Him for a sign from heaven (verse 16). That, too, was a form of spite and mockery. The Gospels also contain several references to unbelievers asking for signs, including Matthew 16, Mark 8, John 12 and Matthew 12:38-42:

The Sign of Jonah

 38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

In verses 17 and 18 of today’s verses, Jesus, ‘knowing their thoughts’, pointed out the illogical notion that He was allied with the devil. First, He says that a divided household will fall. Second, He questions the reasoning of their saying that Satan wants to see his own destruction. Therefore, it made no sense for them to accuse Him of working for Beelzebul.

As Matthew Henry explains and paraphrases Jesus’s words:

Note, Obstinate infidelity will never be at a loss for something to say in its own excuse, though ever so frivolous and absurd. Now Christ here returns a full and direct answer to this cavil of theirs …

‘ … Now, if Satan should thus be divided against himself, he would hasten his own overthrow, which you cannot suppose an enemy to do that acts so subtlely for his own establishment, and is so solicitous to have his kingdom stand.’

MacArthur explains the name Beelzebul:

They called Satan Beelzebul, it was a sort of a Jewish twist on an old Canaanitish god meaning the lord of the high place, a term referring to Baal...Baal, the lord of the high place. They corrupted it from lord of the high place to lord of the dung, or lord of the flies as a way to mock that Canaanitish deity. But over the years Beelzebul became … their word for Satan, and so they conclude that He does what He does by the power of the ruler of the demons.

MacArthur points out that in Jesus’s time, the Jewish hierarchy also had exorcists who were largely unsuccessful:

They had their people who purported to be able to cast out demons, who could, of course, not do that in the power of God. They knew the difference. They had never seen anything like it and yet as soon as the crowd begins to marvel, the propagandists blurt out, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” And I don’t know that Jesus even heard because it says in verse 17, “He knew their thoughts.” But He knows what people think and He knows what they say when His ears can’t hear it.

This is why Jesus asked them in whose name the Jewish detractors attempt — and fail — to cast out demons (verse 19).

It is also why He told them that if He works in God’s name, then they are seeing a manifestation of God’s kingdom (verse 20). And who better to manifest that kingdom than our Lord Himself?

Jesus stated that a strong, armed man — alluding to the devil — could defend his house only against weaker attackers. As soon as a stronger being appears — Jesus — his house and possessions are vulnerable (verses 21 and 22). Whenever He banished demons, they left forever.

This is why He says that no one who doubts Him can be on His side (verse 23). Furthermore, anyone who is not on His side ‘scatters’ as if to the four winds — lost forever.

As MacArthur explains:

Blasphemy like they did shows their absolute lack of spirituality. They were so lost and so sinful and so self-righteous and so hard-hearted and so hateful and so determined to reject Him, so blind and so dead that they considered themselves to be the enlightened and the religious and the righteous, they couldn’t even recognize the King of heaven when He stood there and talked to them. They couldn’t see the Kingdom of God when it was right in their midst. The god of this world has blinded their minds so the light of the glorious gospel can’t shine to them. They are the natural men who understand not the things of God.

And so stating the obvious as compared to the impotent Jewish exorcists who deliver nobody and heal no one, Jesus says if I’m doing this on the other hand by the Kingdom of God, or in the Kingdom of God, if I’m demonstrating the finger of God at work, then you are in a serious situation, very serious. They didn’t even entertain the possibility that this might be the King.

As for us, MacArthur warns:

… you are faced with the fact that you are in one or the other of those two groups and there is no third option. There are not spiritual orphans. You are Satan’s or you are Christ’s. It’s always so helpful to see how our Lord with such simple words grasps such profound realities and makes them unmistakably clear to us. And my admonition to you is to take a look at where you are and be sure that you understand the incomparable Christ who was moving with the finger of God and therefore is the King who brought His Kingdom. No one is to be compared to Him. And you only have two options. You either affirm that He is who He says He is, or you cannot say anything other than that He is the ultimate blasphemer because He claimed to be God and He is not. So you are either with Him or you’re left against Him. And He offers to you the same invitation. Wherever your thinking is, think it through again. Understand the irrationality of rejecting Christ. Understand the inconsistency of rejecting Christ against all the evidence, comparing Him to any other religious leader. Understand the lack of spirituality, the spiritual deadness and blindness of rejecting Christ.

Next week’s reading continues the theme of exorcism — the charlatan’s versus Jesus’s.

Next time: Luke 11:24-26

Bible kevinroosecomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 9:37-43

Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit

 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43And all were astonished at the majesty of God.

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Last week’s post discussed what Jesus said prior to taking Peter, James and John to witness the Transfiguration. That entry also elaborates more on the significance of that glorious foretaste of the Kingdom, fulfilling what Jesus said in Luke 9:27.

Before closing on the Transfiguration, in Mark’s account, the three Apostles discuss Elijah’s role as prophet and appearing before them. Jesus explains that Elijah comes first to ‘restore all things’ (Mark 9:12) then says ‘Elijah has come’ (Mark 9:13). John MacArthur believes that Elijah will return again just before Christ’s Second Coming. However, Matthew Henry — whose perspective I share, based on Mark 9:13 — believes that Elijah’s work is finished and he will not precede Jesus on the final day. My post, cited above, explains more.

Today’s passage with the story of the boy with the unclean spirit is in all three Synoptic Gospels and falls in the same chronological order, i.e. just after the Transfiguration.

I’ve highlighted the differences between accounts below when compared with Luke’s.

First, Matthew 17:14-20, where we see the famous mention of faith the size of a mustard seed:

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

 14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20He said to them,  “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Now, Mark 9:14-29, which includes an equally well known verses, ‘All things are possible for one who believes’ and ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’:

Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit

 14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28And when he hadentered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Reading all three accounts adds a fuller picture of what happened.

It is also important to recall that Jesus gave the Apostles His same power to teach and heal: see the first verses of Luke 9. They reported back to him after their initial foray into ministry, Luke 9:10, immediately before the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

On to today’s passage. Verse 37 tells us that this happened once Jesus and the three Apostles returned from the mountain where the Transfiguration occurred. There are two brief points to make here. The first is that it is not impossible that the Transfiguration occurred at night, especially as the Apostles had been sleeping. Matthew Henry analyses it as follows (emphases in bold mine):

… it is said to be on the next day, as they were coming down from the hill, which confirms the conjecture that Christ was transfigured in the night, and, it should seem, though they did not make tabernacles as Peter proposed, yet they found some shelter to repose themselves in all night, for it was not till next day that they came down from the hill, and then he found things in some disorder among his disciples, though not so bad as Moses did when he came down from the mount. When wise and good men are in their beloved retirements, they would do well to consider whether they are not wanted in their public stations.

The second point is that the commotion they see, as Mark records, involves the scribes questioning the nine Apostles who remained at ground level, near Capernaum, as John MacArthur posits. We do not know the details, but it is possible that the scribes were interrogating the Apostles with questions as to their authority and possible accusations of blasphemy.

The boy’s father cries out to be heard (verse 38). He addresses Jesus as ‘Teacher’ (‘Lord’ in Matthew’s account). Regardless of the appellation the man uses, and even if his faith is but the size of a mustard seed, he fully believes that Jesus could heal his son, just as he fully believed that the Apostles could heal him.

Luke’s, incidentally, is the only account to mention ‘only child’. MacArthur observes:

Luke seems to have a certain pathos, a certain tenderness about him because it was he who referred to Jairus’ daughter as his only daughter, and he who referred to the dead son of the widow of Nain as her only son. He is the one who puts “only” in there on three occasions. So in his compassion, Luke expresses what the father expressed that it was not only a horrible thing to have to deal with a child like this, but to realize that this was their only hope for the future.

Then, as now in certain societies, an only son still carries real significance in a family. MacArthur explains:

… to make the need more compelling, he adds, “For he’s my only…my only…” italics adds boy or son. “He’s my only son.” So he brought his only begotten son before God’s only begotten Son. And this was a major issue in Jewish society. To have a son was critical, to pass on the family name, to pass on the heritage, to pass on the rights of primogenitor. This was critical and for a woman not have a son was a terrible stigma. Well this family was blessed by God with a son but look what a horrific situation had come to pass in the son’s life. And this was the only hope for the progeny of the family, the only hope for the perpetuity of the family, the only hope for the future.

The man describes the torment his son is in because of this spirit (verse 39). Matthew records it with the man describing it as epilepsy, however, clearly, more is going on because this spirit or demon wants to destroy the boy either by burning himself fatally or drowning. Luke and Mark describe foaming at the mouth and violent seizures. The boy shrieks and grinds his teeth. The demon renders him mute. What pain and fear this must have engendered in the parents.

The father says that the Apostles were unable to heal the boy (verse 40).

Note the verbs the father uses: ‘beg’ and ‘begged’ in Luke. In Matthew, he pleads, ‘have mercy’. In Mark, ‘have compassion’.

Jesus, exasperated, comments about this ‘faithless and twisted generation’. In a lesser sense He speaks of the people to whom He ministers, but its primary meaning is directed towards the Apostles. They do not have enough faith, even though they have been travelling with Him for quite some time. They also do not yet understand who He is. Jesus asks aloud how long this situation will persist.

The imperative, ‘Bring him to me’, also refers to the Apostles in Mark’s account (Mark 9:20):

And they brought the boy to him.

In Luke’s account, it is addressed to the father, who takes his son to Him.

Mark’s version includes those dramatic verses relating to faith:

22And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

As the boy approaches Jesus, the demon takes over his body once again (verse 42). Jesus rebukes the demon, which leaves immediately.

Jesus then returns the boy — completely healed and restored — to his father. Luke records that the crowd are astonished at this display of God’s divine majesty (verse 43).

Mark’s passage describes Jesus’s rebuke in more detail, including the moment when the boy lies still, like ‘a corpse’, which causes the crowd to think he has died. Jesus then takes the lad by the hand and he stands up, healed.

Both Mark and Matthew’s accounts tell us of the Apostles’ bemusement: ‘Why couldn’t we have done this?’

In Mark’s account, Jesus replies that this sort of demon can be driven out only by prayer.

Matthew’s records a stronger response:

20He said to them,  “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

MacArthur says:

How many times did he say to them, “O you of little faith?” And what was He asking them to believe? Was He asking them to believe that they could by their faith energize a healing? No. He was asking them to believe what He told them, “You have power over all demons, just believe what I told you. If I didn’t tell you that, if I didn’t reveal that, then I wouldn’t expect you to believe it and believing isn’t some power that makes something happen that I haven’t said would happen. Just believe what I told you’ …

they had to learn what we have to learn, folks. If God said it, believe it. And if you don’t believe it and you don’t act on it, it’s a grave disappointment to Him.

And you can think of a lot of them right now. One of them, “My God shall supply all your need.” Now if you don’t believe that for one moment, the Lord’s going to say how long am I going to put up with you? How long do I have to be with you and you still have a distorted view of what I said?

Next time: Luke 9:43b – 45

bible-wornContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

This post and next Saturday’s will explore the story of the Gadarene swine, one which everyone used to know, particularly the line ‘My name is Legion, for we are many’.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘The Maniac Who Became a Missionary’, Part 1 and 2).

Luke 8:26-33

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

 26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

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Last week’s post described Jesus and His disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee for a bit of rest from the crowd. Jesus fell asleep. Meanwhile, the disciples were awake and became alarmed when a tempest caused their boat to fill with water. In panic, they awoke Jesus who calmed the lake and asked them about their faith.

In today’s passage, they have landed in a Gentile area, ‘opposite Galilee’ (verse 26). In Matthew Henry’s time, this was referred to as the ‘country of the Gadarenes’, as per St Matthew’s appellation (Matthew 8:28).

John MacArthur explains why St Matthew might have used ‘Gadarenes’ instead of ‘Gerasenes’, as Sts Luke and Mark do (emphases mine):

There was a town there about six miles due east called Gerasa, or Gergesa, hence the Gerasenes, or the Gergesenes. The modern name is Kersa[?]. There was another town called Gadara which explains why some of the writers refer to it as Gadara. Gadara was further south down the lake and further inland. It wasn’t on the edge of the lake and so it doesn’t provide the right topography to be the place where the pigs ran down the hill into the lake. Gadara, however, was a larger town and gave the name to the region so that Gerasa or Gergesa was a town in the country of the Gadarenes. So all of these terms essentially describe the same area. The focus is on the town of Gergesa or Gerasa because it suits the incident so perfectly. There are around Kersa, modern Kersa in the hillsides many tombs still to this day to be seen and there is a slope that descends to the lake where the pigs could run, tombs being the place where this man was dwelling.

For the record, here are the passages from the other two Synoptic Gospels. I’ve highlighted the differences below. First, Mark 5:1-13:

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

 1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

And Matthew 8:28-32:

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?30Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.

Now to today’s reading. Verse 27 tells us that a man with demons approached Jesus. Matthew is the only one of the three Synoptic Gospels to record two men.

The man ‘who had demons’ is what we would describe today as a ‘maniac’ and ‘out of control’.  He went around naked. Recall that the first thing that Adam and Eve did after disobeying God was to cover their bodies. Therefore, to wander around naked in public is aberrant behaviour. He also did not live in a house but amongst the tombs, driven there by his demons. Satan and his minions love darkness and death.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

clothing and a habitation are two of the necessary supports of this life. Nay, and because man has a natural dread of the habitations of the dead, they forced this man to abide in the tombs, to make him so much the more a terror to himself and to all about him, so that his soul had as much cause as ever any man’s had to be weary of his life, and to choose strangling and death rather.

The man speaks (verse 28), but it is not his voice. The demons are addressing Jesus through him. Notice that they beg not to be tormented, the only treatment they know or understand. Satan doesn’t bring pleasure, only pain and suffering.

MacArthur describes the phenomenon of demon possession in Jesus’s time:

It’s not a form of mental illness, it is actually a supernatural phenomen[on] in which a living spiritual being, a fallen angel kicked out of heaven because of his rebellion with Satan, who now works for Satan to stop the purposes of God and captivate men’s souls and hold them as much as they can against the influences of the gospel, these beings literally take over a person’s mind and body. They are personal, rational spirits. They talk, they scream, they create all kinds of thought patterns and behavior patterns that are described in the gospel record. It is not a physical disease, although some physical ailments and physical torments were associated with it. It is not even that these people were the worse sinners and therefore they got the most demons because sometimes children were demon possessed, and obviously children are not the worse sinners. But you have a number of accounts in the New Testament where children were controlled by demons to the point where the demons were trying to kill them, such as one boy whom the demon kept throwing into a fire …

So you have that phrase “to have a demon.” You also have that expression of “being demonized,” which is a verb used 13 times, means the same thing. There are two other phrases that are used to describe this condition, “possessing an unclean spirit,” and “being afflicted with unclean spirits.” All demons are unclean spirits. There’s not a clean spirit among the fallen angels. So it simply describes a person under the control of the demon whose own personality has become passive.

There is little precedent for them before or after Jesus’s time on earth, although they will appear again during the future Tribulation, as described in Revelation:

It is a curiosity to me that if you go through the Old Testament you’re not going to find demon-possessed people with the exception of the very unique situation in the sixth chapter of Genesis where the sons of God and cohabitated with the daughters of men, that unique situation where apparently some fallen angels came upon some women, apart from that and those demons, you remember, according to what Peter said and Jude said were put into everlasting chains for doing that but apart from that you don’t have any demon-possessed people in the Old Testament. You have a lying spirit, you have the appearance of a medium in connection with the demon, but you don’t have people manifesting that they’re full of demons. Interestingly enough that after the four gospels, you only have two occasions, Acts 16 and Acts 19, where you have a demon-possessed situation. And it’s never even referred to in the epistles of the New Testament, never referred to. It wasn’t an issue in the churches to which the apostle Paul wrote, or John wrote, or Jude wrote, or Peter wrote or James wrote. But in the life of Christ and in the three years of His ministry there is a manifestation of demon possessions that is unlike anything in all of human history, to be exceeded only by the manifestation of demonic power in the time yet to come called the Great Tribulation, just prior to Christ’s Second Coming. And God Himself will aide that manifestation by opening up the pit of hell and the place of bound demons called the pit, the bottomless pit, the abussos, the abyss and letting it belch out some demons who have been bound there so that there is a greater force of demons in the time of the Tribulation than ever before and they are allowed to run rampant over the earth in ways prior to which they have been restrained.

The demons spoke to Jesus because He had commanded them to leave the man (verse 29). Luke tells us that they were so strong that they gave the man incredible physical power. He could break through chains used to restrain him. The demons also affected his mind such that he was driven to go into the desert. They ruled his mind and his body.

Jesus then asked the name of the demons (verse 30). They answered, ‘Legion’, denoting an army of them. Henry analyses the situation as follows:

… perhaps those that had been long in possession of him, upon some foresight of our Saviour’s coming to make an attack upon them, and finding they could not prevent it by the storm they had raised, sent for recruits, intending this to be a decisive battle, and hoping now to be too hard for him that had cast out so many unclean spirits, and to give him a defeat. They either were, or at least would be thought to be, a legion, formidable as an army with banners …

All demons openly recognise Christ’s omnipotence and sovereignty. Our Lord commands them to be quiet; He does not want their testimony, especially as it might confuse those whom He seeks to save. We see this in Mark 3:7-12 and Luke 4:33-37.

The demons also have a profound fear of Christ and of ending up in the abyss (verse 31). They are spiritual parasites; they need a host to inhabit, preferably a person. But, where He has driven them out of a person, they will happily inhabit an animal, if they cannot find another human. This is what happened here. They begged Jesus’s permission to inhabit the nearby herd of swine (verse 32).

The evil power of this legion of demons was such that they overwhelmed the herd, sending them down the steep coastal bank into the Sea of Galilee, where they drowned.

Two years ago, I compiled various viewpoints on this story in ‘Apologetics Corner: Christians and animals’. Animal rights folk posit that Jesus was guilty of animal cruelty. So, Jesus’s allowing the demon-infected swine to meet their death is a problem, but his ridding a man of demons is a ‘so what?’ proposition? One really has to wonder what goes through some people’s minds at times. May they never meet up with a wild boar. Then again, perhaps they should. They clearly do not understand the animal kingdom.

There’s more to this story — to be continued.

Next time: Luke 8:34-39

St Mark’s Gospel is full of miracles which demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God.

Today’s entry tells us about the impact His miraculous healings of the sick and the infirm had on the people in general — as well as another group of beings.

As this passage has been excluded from the Lectionary for public worship, it comprises part of my ongoing Forbidden Bible Verses series, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 3:7-12

A Great Crowd Follows Jesus

 7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. 9And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

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From the beginning of his Gospel, St Mark shows us Jesus’s divine power over sickness and demons. Whilst He is surrounded by crowds of people wherever He goes, they do not think of Him as anyone other than the greatest healer ever known.  Mark illustrates this by showing that only God the Father, John the Baptist and the demons recognise Jesus for who He is.

From Mark 1 (emphases mine):

6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are— the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.

34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

If you’ve never read Mark’s Gospel, please do: it is pacy as well as being easy to read and understand. Jesus’s divinity is on display throughout.

Last week’s post discussed Jesus’s healing of the man with the withered hand and the episode at the end of Mark 2 where Jesus declared Himself Lord of the Sabbath, much to the fury of the Pharisees, whose anger only increased after He heals the man’s withered hand.

We know about the crowds already, because they were by the Sea of Galilee before Jesus called Levi — St Matthew — to become one of His Twelve Apostles.

Keep in mind that people are swarming our Lord because they are either seeking His healing power or curiosity in watching it. Comparatively few of these people will come to believe that He is the Son of God. We also saw this in John’s Gospel; this post concerning various verses in John 6 explains the crowd’s mentality.

In verses 7 and 8, Mark tells us that the crowd comes from miles around. Some would have had a long journey to reach Jesus. They would have journeyed by mule or on foot and then, perhaps by boat.

John MacArthur explains the geography. Jesus made Capernaum his ‘base’, hence its frequent appearance in the Gospels:

… chapter 3 verse 1, He was in a synagogue in Capernaum. Capernaum is the main city at the top, right at the crown point of the Sea of Galilee, that lake that’s in Galilee where the Jordan River comes in at the top and flows out at the bottom down through the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea, a familiar area of Jesus’ ministry. Israel is divided into two sections, southern section called Judea, northern section called Galilee. Up at the Galilee section up at the north tip of the Sea of Galilee is the city called Capernaum, Jesus’ headquarters during the year plus that He had a ministry in Galilee.

everywhere He went in Galilee and the crowd kept growing, and growing, and growing, and growing. Nothing like it in the history of the world. Nothing certainly like it in the experience of these people. Massive healings happening before their eyes, people being delivered from demons. It was a wonder of wonders, the likes of which no one could ever imagine.

Now understand, this is a period of time in which there is no medical care, there is no real healing by the medical arts. This is a time when people are dominated and obsessed and oppressed and indwelt by demons. This is a horrible time. This is a difficult world, life expectancy is short. There is massive amounts of illness. And the attraction for those who were ill and had friends and family members is just unbelievable. The relief of suffering, the relief of demon-torment was far more interesting to them than Jesus’ theology. So they came. They even came from the capital of Israel from Jerusalem. They came from Idumea. Idumea would be south and east of Judah, way down in the desert south of Jerusalem in Judah. This would be populated by historic Edomites, descendants of Esau as indicated in Genesis 36. And it was also largely populated by Jews and there was a mix of Jews and Edomites, but that area was generally considered as part of Israel. So you had kind of the Jews from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, and then you had the mix of Jew and Gentile from Idumea. Then it says beyond the Jordan which would be east of the Jordan River, east of Galilee running north and south an area called Peraea, also mixed Jew and Gentile under the rule of Herod Antipas.

And then the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, northwest of Galilee to the Mediterranean shore, the old area of the great seafaring world of the Phoenicians. That would be a strictly Gentile area. So the Jewish areas, the mixed Jew and Gentile areas and the Gentile areas also literally giving up masses of people, flooding in and around Capernaum in the region of Galilee, bringing their desperate, demon-possessed and diseased friends and family, drawn by the fame of Jesus.

MacArthur estimates the crowds in the tens of thousands, so imagine a crowd the size of one watching a Red Sox game at Fenway Park in Boston. That’s a lot of people, especially for Jesus’s time. Now imagine the heightened emotion and tension as they try to get as close as they can to Him. It’s a wonderful thing, but it also carries its dangers. Many wanted to touch Him — and rightly so — in order that they might be healed. However, large groups can easily turn into mobs and a limit must be placed on them before they get out of hand.

We saw in John’s Gospel how Jesus was conscious of escaping from tense or potentially dangerous situations, because His hour had not yet come. We read this in John 4:3-4, John 4:43-45, John 6:1, John 6:22, John 7:8-9, John 8:59, John 10:39-40 and John 11:54. There were other times when God stayed the hands and minds of His Son’s enemies: John 7:30, John 7:44 and John 8:20.

In Mark 3:9-10, Jesus instructs His disciples to prepare a boat for departure after His many healings that day. He is being pragmatic. Matthew Henry explains:

He spoke to his disciples, who were fishermen, and had fisher-boats at command, that a small ship should constantly wait on him, to carry him from place to place on the same coast; that, when he had despatched the necessary business he had to do in one place, he might easily remove to another, where his presence was requisite, without pressing through the crowds of people that followed him for curiosity. Wise men, as much as they can, decline a crowd.

What abundance of good he did in his retirement. He did not withdraw to be idle, nor did he send back those who rudely crowded after him when he withdrew, but took it kindly, and gave them what they came for; for he never said to any that sought him diligently, Seek ye me in vain.

MacArthur says:

What do you mean a boat? The diminutive is used in the Greek, a little boat, just a little boat. If you look at the last word in verse 9, “would not crowd Him,” it’s a verb there. It’s thlibosin(?), it means to squeeze, it means to crush, it means to press. Jesus was literally afraid that the crowd would crush Him. They were a mob. They were, in one sense, a desperate mob. In that sense they are a wild mob, clamoring to get near Him to be healed. And the little boat, what would that do? He could get in the little boat and be pushed out into the lake, get away from the shore and thus away from the people … Jesus uses common sense here, even though He’s the Son of God and has supernatural power. In spite of His divine power, He does what makes good sense to protect Himself from harm.

So, the popularity of Jesus unmistakable. The general response is that they… come after Him, they want the miracles, never the gospel. And sadly, at the end, He pronounces judgment on them and on their unbelief and many of them are the very people He had healed and delivered.

In verse 11, Mark says that the demons Jesus brought out of people knew who He was. Not only did Jesus heal physical infirmities but mental illness by exorcising demons as well. As far as demons were concerned, all He had to do was command them to come out and they did. Jesus did not need an elaborate prayer ritual, because He has dominion over them. They know it.

The Internet has an increasing amount of information about ‘deliverance’ ministries attempting to bring the demons out of people, including youngsters. It would seem that deliverance is gaining traction today because of disorders such as autism, ADHD and others which not only manifest themselves in asocial or anti-social behaviours but are sometimes exacerbated by prescription drugs designed to treat them combined with recreational drugs. We do not know enough about behaviour modifying drugs let alone what happens to the brain when the user decides to combine them with controlled substances. Brain chemistry could be rewired permanently. Even temporarily, its effects can give cause for serious concern. It would not surprise me, therefore, to find that deliverance ministries promise a cure for these, when, in reality, the damage is permanently done. Regular and sincere prayer — rather than paying a deliverance ministry — may help to mitigate the effects of damaged brain chemistry. It is for this reason that older denominations — Catholic and Protestant — take a dim view of exorcism and deliverance ministries.

Note that when the demons leave someone, the person whose body they inhabited falls to the ground. MacArthur explains:

Whenever He appeared and they saw Him, it says they literally would fall down. The person they were living in would go to the ground. They would literally throw the person down. Prospiptan is the verb and it’s used eight times in the New Testament, every time it means an inferior bowing to a superior. They knew who their Lord was…their sovereign.

It might appear ironic that the people cannot recognise Jesus as the Son of God, yet the demons do. That is because they are fallen angels. Those who read my series on James the Just’s Epistle will recall James 2:19:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

MacArthur unpacks the relationship of the demons to Jesus:

Unclean spirits, another term for demons, agents of Satan, fallen angels. They were everywhere. They were indwelling people. We already met a situation like this in Capernaum, chapter 1 verse 23. There’s a man in the synagogue, Jesus is there on Sabbath teaching. Verse 23, this man is in the synagogue, he has an unclean spirit, he screams. Demons don’t want to blow their cover. They don’t want to be seen as evil and wretched, they want to hide…they want to hide and do their deadly damning work. But when Jesus showed up, they went into panic

They’re terrified of Him and their terror caused them to be unable to keep silent. When Jesus comes into the synagogue, the demon screams in terror and says, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? Is this the time for our destruction? I know who You are, the holy one of God.”

In verse 12, Mark tells us that Jesus commanded the demons not to reveal His identity. Some readers might wonder why. After all, if Jesus drives demons out and they proclaim that He is the Son of God, surely that is testimony which makes His ministry easier. Others will say, ‘Well, the people have already figured out that the noise from the demon in Mark 1 is nearly a proclamation of the same thing (Mark 1:27), why not continue?’

MacArthur gives a twofold explanation about Jesus’s discretion. The first concerns the demons and the second His disciples and those whom He healed:

He didn’t want them affirming who He was because that’s very confusing. Jesus didn’t want people to think demons were His allies, demons were His press agents, demons were His representatives. He wants no promotion from the filthy realm of Satan. It reminds me of Paul in Acts 16 where the demon-possessed girl comes running along and says, “These are the servants of the true high…true…Most High God.” Paul says, “Quiet,” and silenced the demon. Don’t say anything.

And I think that even leaks to His disciples. He doesn’t want them spreading around who He is as the Son of God too wildly because this is liable to foment a kind of reaction that He’s not ready for…it’s not yet time. [Be]cause people would be prone like they were after they were fed free food to try to force Him to take His messianic place. All in God’s good time. Most important thing was that individual people seeing the miracles, understanding this make the conclusion of who He is, accept His message that He came to end Judaism and to bring salvation by faith alone in Him alone and embrace Him as Lord and Savior.

Now for a word on illness, affliction, or, in some translations, ‘plagues’. The word in Greek, commonly spoken in Galilee at the time, is mastigas, which means scourge or whip. Man appears to be hardwired to associate illness with punishment, either brought about by himself or his antecedents. There are times — though not in all cases — when Jesus ordered someone whom He had healed to ‘go and sin no more’. That alludes to an illness which God used as a punishment for serious sin. However, some illness is part of the human condition and is a way in which God demonstrates His sovereignty. Just as the sick and infirm made their way towards Jesus, so our present-day afflictions should also put us in the same direction. Henry says:

Those that were under these scourgings came to Jesus; this is the errand on which sickness is sent, to quicken us to enquire after Christ, and apply ourselves to him as our Physician.

MacArthur explains the greater picture with regard to Judaism, Jesus’s ministry and His healings:

We get an insight back into it back in chapter 2 verses 21 and 22. “No one sows a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, otherwise the patch pulls away from it.” The new from the old and a worse tear results. “No one puts new wine in old wine skins otherwise the wine will burst the skins, the wine is lost, the skins as well. But one puts new wine into fresh wine skins.”

Jesus is saying, “The message I bring can’t be connected to Judaism. You can’t sew them together. It can’t be contained in Judaism. It is completely separate.” And this poses the massive barrier. Jesus never offered Himself as some kind of reformer simply wanting to reform Judaism. He did not come as one who was saying, “You’ve got a lot of things that are wrong in your worship and I’m here to fix them.” He came to abolish Judaism. He came to abrogate it, to nullify it, to bring it to an absolute end. He is the inaugurator of a completely new religion, the New Covenant which would bring about the end of the Old…and I mean not just the end of apostate Judaism as it existed in first century Israel, but the end of Old Testament Judaism …

Jesus ended the Old Testament Covenant era. He ended the shadow era, the Old Covenant shadow religion that always pointed to life and salvation but never provided it because by the means of the Old Covenant, the keeping of the Law, no one could be saved because no one could keep it. The Old Covenant said there was life, there was eternal life but couldn’t provide it … There was life for sinners but not by this system. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 3 Paul calls the Old Covenant a ministry of death. The Old Covenant said God is separate, God is distant. You can’t get near Him

Who is this? Who is this Jesus? None other than the Son of God. The Father states it, the demons know it. The disciples struggled with it. They wonder in chapter 4, who is this man? In chapter 8 they say, “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” Eventually they come to believe He’s the Son of God but the nation never does, never confesses Him and therefore never believes and therefore never receives eternal life.

No, the critics are wrong. Jesus is no mere man with a small sphere of influence. He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the King, the Sovereign, the Savior. The Old Testament religion was a system that emphasized the distance between God and the sinner. Though God was at work in the nation, He was distant. The arrival of Jesus obliterates the distance, obliterates the separation…God comes near. The Law kept us at a distance and frightened us, the smoke and fire and burning. Jesus comes near and welcomes us. You can’t come to God by the Law, it will destroy you. You can only come to God through faith in Christ. That’s why Hebrews 10 says, “Draw near in full assurance of faith.”

All that is written by Mark, all that is written by Matthew, Luke and John is to show you who Jesus is that you might believe and have eternal life.

If you are unfamiliar with Mark’s Gospel, I would encourage you to read and reread the first two chapters this week. Mark’s message is awe-inspiring and unforgettable.

Next time: Mark 3:13-19

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