When an Evil Spirit Leaves a Person

Posted by on July 25, 2010 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

Matthew 12:43-45
“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

Luke 11:24-26
“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”

  • Here is a parable taken from the realm of spirits. The references to spirits and their activities would be understood by the hearers. Unfortunately, it is lost on scientific, modernists like us
  • The point of this parable is not to give insights into the operations and habits of unclean spirits and demon possession. No more so than farming parables give us insight into agriculture nor do business parables lay out sound economic advice. The world/symbols referenced are connections to teach us about the kingdom and the work of God.

Can we understand a little about unclean spirits?

  1. Like termites, mold and disease, we don’t have to understand spirits to be rid of them and the harm they can do.
  2. Spirits are weak in “arid places” – Jesus was tempted in the desert.
    In a story well known to the hearers of Matthew and Luke, a particularly nasty demon was defeated in Egypt. Let’s take a look at this.
Tobit was a righteous Israelite who lived during the time of the Assyrian invasion. He did what was right, but suffered for it. He prayed for God to bring him death. He had a son named Tobias who becomes our hero.

Over in Media (i.e., Medes and Persians) there was a girl named Sarah. Sarah was also praying for death. She had been married seven times and each time her husband was killed before the consummation. Why? She was tormented by an unclean spirit named Asmodeus who killed any man who wanted Sarah. She was unhappy and praying for death.

God sends the angel Raphael to help these people. He appears as a mentor to Tobias. He and Tobias set off on a journey to Media and along the way, Tobias catches a special fish. Raphael gives him advice on the fish.

Tobias falls in love with Sarah and marries her. He weakens the demon and drives it off to Egypt where Raphael captures it.By placing a fish’s heart and liver on red-hot cinders, Tobias produces a smoky vapor that causes the demon to flee to Egypt, where Raphael binds him (viii. 2, 3).

Tobias and Sarah marry and Tobit’s eyesight is cured. Raphael is revealed and they live happily ever after.

Back to the Parable:
In both parable versions, this text is found: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23)

In Matthew, the context is the rejection of Jesus by those who claim to be righteous. They witness the obvious power of God’s spirit to cast out evil and disease and they attribute it to the power of Satan. Jesus is surprised at how illogical this conclusion is. (“I don’t care what the Bible says …”)
Jesus charges the hearers (this generation) with being empty houses. They have cast out the evil and put everything into order, but the house is empty. The demon they cast out will return and bring others. It would be better if they remained demon possessed because at least they would have an excuse.

  • “This generation” may know how to resist evil, but they do not know how to embrace good.
  • They are an empty house! And they are going to end up worse than they started

In Luke, the context is similar. There is an additional story about robbing the house of a strong man. You have to get someone bigger to rob the strong man and take his possessions.

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
We need power on the inside – the good spirit – in addition to cleanliness and order on the outside.

What does it mean?

  • It isn’t enough to simply “cast out evil” or to oppose sin.
  • We can do this, but it is no good if we refuse to be filled with the good spirit (The Holy Spirit). [Ephesians 5:18]
  • We need the help of the “stronger man.”

Once I Was

Posted by on under Sermons

We have received a letter that we all need to hear. It’s a very personal message. So I want to ask you to give your attention to what it says. The messenger is here with the letter … I would like him to read it to us. By the way, the letter is from one of God’s messengers, one of his apostles – an evangelist called Paul from Tarsus. Now let’s give our attention to the messenger as he shares what Paul has written to us …

Dramatic reading of Galatians 1:13-2:21 by Shane Bocksnick.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be in that Galatian assembly when these words were spoken for the first time? After all, that’s how God’s word got started – living words spoken to people in an active assembly. Sometimes, in our experience that favors reading, we forget the impact that these words have had.

It is of course just a part of the whole text of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Did you notice how personal the message was? That’s not an accident. Paul intends for this to be personal and if he could have been there in person one more time he would have told his story just like he did in the letter.

Because it was written, the message retains its impact when we hear it like we just did. This message to the Galatians is a message for all of God’s people then and now. We need to pay close attention to what Paul is saying in his personal story and why he wants it heard. Why? Because in his own story he communicates the power of the gospel for all of us. Additionally, we should be concerned that we are making the same mistake as the Galatians when we trade the grace of the gospel for the expectations of others …

Once I Was …

When Paul encountered the revelation of Christ – the good news of Jesus – it made a serious change in his life.

“The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

Once Paul was … [persecutor, destroyer, enemy]
Now Paul is … [proclaimer, living example, apostle to Gentiles]
Once I was … Now I am

  • God called Paul by his grace [God’s grace makes a serious change]
  • God revealed his Son in Paul (in the one who persecuted Christ!)
  • When others recognize this, God is praised [living example] – “They praised God because of me”
  • [Trans.] — Who praises God because of you?

The Importance of The Change (Conversion)

  1. Paul is troubled that spies have infiltrated God’s people. Their objective is to require the Gentiles who have encountered the grace of the gospel to conform to Jewish expectations. In a more subtle way, these “Christians” are doing what Paul was doing – destroying the gospel.
  2. It’s a matter of giving up the freedom of gospel for slavery to rule-keeping and traditions.
  3. Paul will even go so far as to oppose Peter without hesitation – not because it is Peter vs Paul, but because the gospel is at stake.
  4. There is no power of conversion when the expectation of others and legalistic rule-keeping are added to the gospel. “Once we were” – but now we must be.
    1. There’s no powerful change in identity.
    2. There’s no hope of becoming anything more.
    3. There’s no cause for others to praise God because of us
    4. There’s only a checklist and external expectations – an anxious concern over what others think.

The power of the gospel is too often frustrated among us because of our obsession with what others think. For too long we have asked the youngest and newest believers/converts to conform to expectations that some of us aren’t even sure about.

Are we afraid of the freedom that comes from the gospel? The freedom that comes from God’s grace?

That’s the power that changes lives and without it …

  • Faith becomes a matter of appearances and gaining the approval of others
  • Sin is allowed to fester because we do not dare name it. We are dishonest with self and others
  • No one really has a testimony about how God changed our lives. We just have certificates of perfect attendance and reputations of causing no problems.

20“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Good News in the Midst of Bad News

Posted by on July 18, 2010 under Sermons

How can we proclaim the good news when it seems like we are so often surrounded by the misery and ruin of life?


  • It’s unlikely we’ve heard many sermons from this book.
  • We are not even sure about the name. Is this a type of floor covering?
  • Like those late night infomercials for hungry children, we turn away because we are looking for something much lighter and happier to cure our 3 am depression.
  • This book is not familiar to us because it isn’t a happy book of devotionals
  • It isn’t a book of positive affirmations or seven steps to super success
  • The lamentations are the voice of one who stands in the midst of ruin
  • The City of David, God’s city – Jerusalem, is fallen and ruined. The citizens are suffering
  • The once great city is like a grieving widow who has lost her future
  • Her treasures are gone
  • Her children are starving, the children die of thirst – described quite graphically

Why is it like this? It isn’t supposed to be like this – is it?

  • The answer surprises us (maybe another reason we avoid this text): The LORD did it!
  • He allowed her enemies to invade
  • He rejected his sanctuary
  • He has removed her leaders
  • He has shamed Jerusalem before other nations
  • Is God supposed to be like this?

Why did God do this? Does he really do it or is it just circumstances?

  • There are times when bad things happen to good people and it isn’t fair to attribute that to the LORD
  • We may rightly ask why but we cannot always hold God responsible
  • But in the case of Jerusalem here, God was acting out of justice (Lamentations 4) – Not a petty anger or retribution, but divine justice
  • 4:13 – The prophets and priests shed the blood of innocents. Jerusalem sinned.
  • God acted in justice because of the innocents

God’s Justice is not a principle that tames God and makes him “play fair.”

  • This is a serious thing: We cannot dress up in our Sunday finery and talk about fair is fair
  • It isn’t an academic or theological dilemma that we discuss without some relationship to the problem
  • It isn’t about how God treats others – It is about God making us walk righteously
  • We speak of our expectations of God – what about his expectations of us?

The LORD has torn down the stronghold of Jerusalem and humiliated her kings and priests because of his justice (his righteousness and holiness)

  • A God without justice is not a good God. Such a God ignores the cries of the innocent and the oppressed. He does not demand righteousness for those who are wronged
  • Such a God is not fair and trustworthy

But what about the one who stands in the midst of the ruins caused by God’s wrath? Is God’s justice and wrath the last word? (See 3:19-36)

  • The song: The Steadfast Love of the Lord
  • God is just but also merciful and loving – He does not have to switch of mercy to be just
  • We tend to run in one extreme or another. God is balanced
  • His compassion does not end. And so we are not consumed [See 3:32-33 – Not willingly]
  • Every morning is a new opportunity to experience God’s faithfulness
    • Even if we’ve sinned
    • Even if we are suffering
    • Even if we are among ruin

If the voice of Lamentations can say this about God’s love in the midst of ruin, how much more can we say it in the shadow of the cross?

  • The cross is a statement of God’s justice
  • It shouts loudly and plainly against the injustices in this world – for the cross is the ultimate injustice.
  • God puts our unrighteousness on display – that we in our arrogance and self-righteousness would create a system that would crucify the innocent one for the sake of our own interests.
  • The cross rouses us from our illusions that everything is okay. It stands in the way of our attempts to whitewash the ruin that sin makes of our lives and our world
  • The cross is the ultimate antidote to the poison of “spin control” and euphemisms.
  • Are we opposed to a cross because it doesn’t fit our idea of a nicely groomed Sunday morning?

Our response to the cross should be Lamentations 3:39-40

  1. Sin: The cross calls us to repent – that is, to change
  2. Sin is actually growth: The moment we can name it, the healing begins
  3. The worst things are not the last things in Christ
    1. The worst things will end one day, but the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases

True happiness comes to us when we look to the cross and in that story (death, burial, resurrection) we encounter the justice, love, and mercy of God.

  • That we could experience healing even as we feel the pain of sin is good news
  • That God’s love and mercy wins out is good news (it is good and it is news)

God’s Kingdom

Posted by on July 4, 2010 under Bulletin Articles

Expectations can destructively hide reality. When Jesus discussed God’s kingdom, he discussed God’s rule over people who subjected themselves to God. In Jesus’ ministry, he spoke primarily to the Jewish people who were (and had been for generations) certain they had God’s rule all figured out. They were so confident in their expectations that Jesus had difficulty in introducing them to reality.

Note first that Jesus spoke in terms of a kingdom. A kingdom was the common form of rule in Jesus’ time-no one asked, “What is a kingdom?” God was in charge and provided the guidance. Followers of God’s guidance were His subjects. God’s kingdom worked when God was in charge and provided the guidance – and the subjects submitted to His guidance. Primarily a kingdom was not about the people who followed the guidance, but about the ruler who gave the guidance. People in a democracy do not think like this!

Note second that Jesus challenged their concepts of God’s rule. More was involved than being descendants of Abraham. Subjects provided God with proper soil for His seed. They were helpful wheat, not weeds that threatened the wheat. His subjects would be a small people that expanded dramatically by a slow but effective process of contagion-who they were made what they said powerful! Some became subjects through accidental discovery, and some through intentional search. Subjects were in charge of following, and angels were in charge of sorting. Those who listened to Jesus should concern themselves with following God! Subjects in God’s kingdom had a definite responsibility, but it was NOT determined by their genealogy or seeking to control other people!

Being in God’s kingdom is not determined by who our parents or grandparents were or what they did; nor is it determined by our control over others. It is determined by one thing: following God’s guidance. Only God through Jesus is the divine gift to humanity.

Are you deceived by your expectations? Do you follow God or depend on who you are?