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What Demons Say About Jesus Christ

What Demons Say About Jesus Christ

It is common to hear various non-biblical statements about the person and work of Jesus Christ. For example, “Jesus was just a man, not God” or “Jesus is only a teacher or prophet” or “Jesus’ death was unfortunate, but didn’t accomplish anything.” Jesus claimed that he was God and that he came to seek and save the lost by conquering Satan, hell, death, evil, and sin. A few of his followers got that, but all of the demons that speak in the Gospels seem to understand this…and they shudder (James 2:19).

What Do Demons Think of Jesus?

It is interesting to see what the enemies of Jesus Christ, the demons, thought and said about him. It’s generally not a good rule of thumb to get your theology from demons, but in this case it is fascinating because what they say repeats what the rest of the Bible proclaims about who Jesus Christ is and what his life, death, and resurrection mean for us. The demons in the Gospels have better teachings about Jesus than some preachers with their weak doctrines of Christ!

    “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”—Matthew 8:29
    “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.”—Mark 1:24, Luke 4:34
    “You are the Son of God.”—Mark 3:11
    “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.—Luke 4:41
    “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”—Luke 8:28, Mark 5:7

What Demons Reveal About Jesus’ Authority

Prior to the demons’ beliefs about Jesus is his command over them. In each of the passages, the demons are not even permitted to voice their beliefs without the permission of Jesus, the sovereign God. When they are permitted to speak, they acknowledge his cultural identity, his divinity, and his power over their each and every move. They acknowledge him as Lord, Son of God, the Holy One of God—and they shudder before him. The demons know that Jesus has come to earth from heaven to judge them (Rev 19:15), destroy the kingdom of darkness (Gen 3:15, Rom 16:20), disarm the demonic order (Col 2:15), and set captives free from sin and death (Rom 6:23, Rom 8:2). Calling him “Son of God” is a clear declaration of Jesus’ divinity (Matt 26:63-64; John 5:17ff; 10:33-36), and the phrase “Holy One of God” is never used to describe anyone but God (Jeremiah 50:29; Isaiah 30:11). Who is holy but God alone (1 Sam. 2:2)?

God Uses the Weak

God Uses the Weak

God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).

When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 1:27 because the religious couldn’t accept a defeated Savior, and philosophers couldn’t believe in a God who would take on frail flesh and die. Paul honed the point later by repeating what God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Basking in this promise, Paul declared: “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

The Inverted Way of Jesus

Jesus’ life and shameful death informed Paul’s thinking. Jesus spent lots of his time with the lost and the least. He talked about the last becoming first and the first becoming last. He embraced the meek and the broken—the humble ones who felt swamped with heavy burdens. He died alone, bitterly forsaken by all.

This is Jesus’ upside-down approach to our world. It is the way of his grace. We live in a world where the biggest, best, and brightest succeed and the littlest, last, and least get trampled. But Jesus disrupts and interrupts our power-fetish and our lust for significance, polishing our reputations and annihilating other people for our success. The ways of our world are interrupted by the inverted way of Jesus. Because of this, Christianity has from its beginning prized weakness and rebuffed strength. In his book on leadership lessons from 1 Corinthians, D.A. Carson writes: “God has not arranged things so that the foolishness of the gospel saves those of us with an IQ above 130. Where would that leave the rest of us? Nor does the foolishness of what is preached transform the young, the beautiful, the extroverts, the educated, the healthy, the wealthy, the upright. Where would that leave the old, the ugly, the illiterate, the introverts, the poor, the sick, and the perverse?”

Despair of Your Ability

This leaves us in despair. But it can be “gospel despair” if it leads to trusting in Christ and not in ourselves. Martin Luther writes: “It is certain the man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” This means that we are not operating out of self-sufficiency, but out of total dependency on Christ and in need of being empowered by the Spirit. So, let’s boast in our weakness instead of displaying our self-righteousness and strength. This is obviously folly and nonsense to the world, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

The Problem of Love

The Problem of Love

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I have been studying these verses recently and thinking about the command to love one another and how that can actually happen.

  • Romans 13:9—The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
  • Galatians 5:15—The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • John 14:34-35—Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
  • 1 John 3:11,16—This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

The problem is that a command doesn’t generate the ability to fulfill the command. People can tell you over and over again to love each other, but telling you to do something doesn’t make it possible for you to accomplish it.

Lack of Love

Doug Coupland writes about this “problem of love” in his book Life After God: “Now here is my secret—that I need God, that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving, I need God to help me be kind, as I no longer seem to be capable of kindness, I need God to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.” To add to the problem, when Jesus and Paul make love the fulfillment of the law it really points out our failure. Summing up the law in the command to love just consolidates our failures to one big failure: our lack of love. The gospel has something to say about this “problem of love”: God has loved us in a way that has given us life. The atoning death of Jesus provides the means by which we enter a relationship in which love is received and expressed. With that as the context of the commands to love, the commands are viewed not as the “ought” of compulsion but the “transformation” of internal constraint. To those who encountered the source of love, the commandment to love can be read with hope and joy, because love is not alien to our experience.

An Abundance of Love

God’s love for us transforms us. The more we bask in God’s affection, the more the reality of God’s acceptance of us seeps into our hearts, the more we might love others as ourselves. This seems to be the logic behind Jesus’ statement: love one another as God has loved you. We have been given an overabundance—a surplus—of love. And out of that love, we can love others out of the overflow of God’s affection for us. Our inability to love others (our failure to keep God’s perfect law) can point us to the God who accomplished perfect love, self-denial, and self-sacrifice. The command can be a moment to encounter God’s love for us and for God to enable us to participate in his love for others.

God Condescends

God Condescends

A Miracle

In John 6, Jesus performs a miracle of multiplying loaves of bread and fish to feed over 5,000 people. This passage has been used to make the point that Jesus had to wait for the boy to offer his food before Jesus would do his part. When applied to our spiritual lives it looks like this: “God is really into you, but he wants you to be really into him first and he wants you to make the first move and show him that you are serious and all about his glory. And after you respond, God will look upon you with favor and good pleasure. God may even ‘use you’.” This is not true. We do not have this miracle recorded for the purpose of trying to convince you to try harder to get God’s attention. When Jesus’ first century audience sees this miracle they corner him and ask: “What do your works mean? Come on! Tell us what you’ve come to do. We want to know. We’d like you to be our king. We have an agenda for you.”

Bread of Heaven

Jesus reminds them about the bread or manna in the desert with Moses and says: “It wasn’t Moses who gave you bread in the desert. It was my father who brought the bread from heaven. And now it is the father who is giving you the true bread from heaven. That would be me! I am the bread of life. I am the true life that has come down from heaven.” He claims to be the one who can truly give the life of God and says “If you do not have me you do not have life.” The life of God was poured out in his life. The bread came down from heaven; we didn’t climb up to God. In Jesus’ words about being the bread of life, claiming that he is the life of God on earth, we are looking at the very heart of Christianity—that we are not spiritual, but that we have a desperate spiritual need. We cannot climb the ladder to God through some technique. Rather, Christianity teaches our alienation from God until it is remedied by Christ. God came near to us in Christ, so Christ could take care of that which separates us from God and then bring us near to God.

God’s Condescension

To understand this is to get at the heart of what Jesus is about. We do not inherently have “spiritual life.” Christ was our spiritual life for us on our behalf. In being the bread of life, Jesus disarms us of our self-reliant spiritual efforts. As a result, we have a problem. We do not naturally on our own come near to God. He must come near to us. So a relationship with God is based on God’s condescension to us in Jesus being the bread of life from heaven. It is not that we have risen to spiritual heights, but that the bread of heaven has come down to us. Thankfully, it’s not all about us.

Follow Your Heart?

Follow Your Heart?

The Human Heart

The popular mantra, “follow your heart,” assumes that we have inherent goodness deep inside us that we just need to express to others. John Keats wrote: “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affection and the truth of imagination.” This is a modern version of the “Care Bear Stare” used to overcome “Dark Heart”—make sure to watch this video; you will not regret it.

 

 

Actually, Jesus has some bad news regarding what comes out of the human heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, false testimony, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Matt 15:17-20; Mark 7:20-22). He concludes, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). In Galatians 5:17-21, Paul follows Jesus’ lead and tells us that inherent within us is sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

The Fruit of the Spirit

After Paul makes his list of sinful desires, he follows it with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The fruit of the Spirit is not inherent in us but worked into us by the Holy Spirit. The natural human heart produces one kind of desires, and the Spirit produces another kind by giving us a new heart. And they are opposed to one another. Thorn bushes do not produce oranges. Weeds do not produce apples. And the human heart does not naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Misconceptions

Unfortunately, some Christians treat the fruit of the Spirit like a new Law—expectations that we must strive to attain by our own effort. This is not Paul’s point. The fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit, not us. This is a message of great hope, not pessimistic resignation. The fruit of the Spirit is what we can ask and hope that God does to us. The fruit of the Spirit is hope for the work of God in us; not duty. The fruit of the Spirit is anticipation of what God may do to us; not moral expectation with the threat of punishment. The fruit of the Spirit is God killing parts of us to transform them—cutting in order to heal, destroying for the purpose of rebuilding. The fruit is not our dedication to our pious intentions. If it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), then why do we begin with the Spirit but really try to attain our goals by human effort (Galatians 3:3)?

  • How do you conjure love when you hate your ex? Or the person who slanders you? Or your self-absorbed friend?
  • How do you make yourself joyful when you are paralyzed by fear and insecurities?
  • How do you summon peace when you are flooded by worries about your past, or present, or future?
  • How do you make yourself patient when your anxiety wakes you up at night or you can feel the anxiety in your body?
  • How do you invoke kindness when there are so many people who act like your enemy?
  • How do you strive for gentleness when you know that the meek are treated like doormats?
  • How do you stir-up goodness when badness erupts so naturally and feels more immediately fulfilling?
  • How do you enact self-control when your desire for quick pleasure is so out of control?

Transformation

Left on our own, we cannot do any of these because the fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit, not our action plan for managing sin and achieving holiness (read Luther’s Bondage of the Will). What we need is not assistance by the Holy Spirit mixed with our spiritual effort. We need the Spirit to transform us. We need the Spirit to give us a new heart with new desires and affections: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of faith and repentance, not spiritual self-determination. The fruit of the Spirit is the hope that God may do what he promises to do: to restore that which has been destroyed, to be faithful when you are faithless, and to show up in your weakness with his strength.

Yom Kippur: The Day

Yom Kippur: The Day

Today Jews around the world are celebrating Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is considered the holiest and most solemn day of the year in modern Jewish practice. What relevance does this Jewish celebration have for Christians? Biblically, quite a lot.

Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement, which is the climax of the Old Testament sacrificial system and is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. It was a day of great bloodshed and a day on which the gravity of humanity’s sin could be seen visibly. Because of its importance, it eventually became referred to simply as “the Day.”

The Center of the Pentateuch

The primary section in Scripture concerning the Day of Atonement appears in Leviticus 16-17. This passage functions as the center of the book of Leviticus, which is itself the center of the Pentateuch. This day speaks of the Lord’s gracious concern both to deal fully with his people’s sin and to make them fully aware that they stand before him, accepted and covered in respect of all iniquity, transgression, and sin (Lev 16:21).

On this day, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of Israel in order to avert the holy wrath of God for the sins of the past year and to remove their sin and its stain from them. Two healthy goats without defect were chosen. They were therefore fit to represent sinless perfection.

Two Images of the Atonement

The first goat was a propitiating sin offering. The high priest slaughtered this goat, which acted as a substitute for the sinners who deserved a violently bloody death for their many sins.

Then the high priest, acting as the representative and mediator between the sinful people and their holy God, would take the second goat and lay his hands on the animal while confessing the sins of the people. This goat, called the scapegoat, would then be sent away to die in the wilderness away from the sinners, symbolically expiating or removing the sins of the people by taking them away.

The sacrifices of the Day were designed to pay for both sin’s penalty and sin’s presence in Israel. The shedding of blood and the sending off of the scapegoat were meant to appease God’s wrath against sin and to cleanse the nation, the priesthood, and even the sanctuary itself from the taint of sin (Lev 16:30).

The Lamb of God

The Day of Atonement was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and our great High Priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. These great images of the priest, slaughter, and scapegoat are all given by God to help us more fully comprehend Jesus’ bloody sacrifice for us on the cross.

Jesus’ fulfillment of the Day of Atonement is why we are forgiven for and cleansed from our sins. To preach anything else is to proclaim a “different gospel,” which is no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-7). Spurgeon drives this point home: “Many pretend to keep the atonement, and yet they tear the bowels out of it. They profess to believe in the gospel, but it is a gospel without the blood of the atonement; and a bloodless gospel is a lifeless gospel, a dead gospel, and a damning gospel” (Sermon 1667).

Jesus’ fulfillment of the Day of Atonement is why we are forgiven for and cleansed from our sins.

Jesus Christ fulfills and accomplishes forever what the two goats symbolized. The Old Testament sacrifice of animals has been replaced by the perfect sacrifice of Christ (Heb 9:26, 10:5-10; 1 John 2:1-2 and 4:9-10). Christ paid sin’s penalty (Rom 3:25-26 and 6:23; Gal 3:13). He redeemed us (Eph 1:7), paying the price that sets us free (1 Cor 6:20; Gal 5:1). He turned away God’s wrath (Rom 3:25) and reconciled believers to God (Eph 2:16) so we can be forgiven for our sins and cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

 

Paul’s Downward Trajectory

Paul’s Downward Trajectory

Paul refers to himself numerous times as worth “imitating” when it comes to spiritual growth and maturity (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; Phil. 3:17, 4:19; 1 Thess. 1:6; and 2 Thess. 3:7, 9). What do we see when we look to Paul as an example? He makes three significant statements about himself throughout his years in ministry that are helpful insights into his view of spiritual growth.

The least of the Apostles

Early in Paul’s ministry, during his three missionary journeys, he wrote six major epistles: Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans. In one of them, Paul makes a very humble statement about himself—”I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). Paul does not put himself on par with the other apostles, as if he were equal to them. Rather, he calls himself “the least of the apostles.” That’s a decent dose of humility worth noticing.

The least of all the saints

Toward the middle of his ministry, during his first Roman imprisonment, Paul wrote Philippians, Colossian, Philemon, and Ephesians. In Ephesians 3:8, his humility deepens—”I am the very least of all the saints.” Paul goes from “least of the apostles” to “least of all the saints.” What’s happening here?

The foremost sinner

At the end of his ministry and during his second Roman imprisonment, Paul writes Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy. Early in his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim 1:15). Some translations say “chief of sinners.” Paul sounds like a spiritual failure, like he is regressing spiritually, not making spiritual progress.

Paul’s Trajectory

Do you see the trajectory as Paul matures in faith? This is what happens when you boast in Christ alone. Your weakness becomes more evident. You can’t help but make much of Christ and little of self. That is maturity according to Paul—boasting in nothing but Christ’s grace and our weakness.

True Spiritual Growth

Paul isn’t just using self-deprecating hyperbole as a teaching device. Each of the three statements about himself is surrounded by references to the cross (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Eph. 3:7-8; and 1 Tim. 1:15) and grace or mercy (1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 3:2, 7; and 1 Tim. 1:13-14, 16). For him, spiritual growth is realizing how utterly dependent he is on Jesus’ cross and mercy, not arriving at some point where he somehow needs the cross and mercy less. Paul’s view of himself diminishes and his dependence on Jesus’ cross and grace increases. How do you talk about spiritual maturity? Imitating Paul’s example, there should be more talk of the depth and scope of God’s mercy, less talk of self-reliance, and an abiding fixation on Jesus’ cross that secured God’s grace for you.

Missional Pneumatology: The New Era

Missional Pneumatology: The New Era

In Acts 19, we see that Apollos and some Ephesians became followers of John the Baptist and received his baptism. They knew that John pointed beyond himself to Jesus. They probably knew not only of Jesus’ life and ministry, but also about his death and resurrection. D.A. Carson writes: But apparently they knew nothing of Pentecost and what it signified of eschatological transformation. This ignorance could have developed because they (or the people who taught them) left Jerusalem (like tens of thousands of other diaspora Jews) shortly after the Passover feast—that is, they learned of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but not of the coming of the Spirit. (Showing the Spirit) These people were in a salvation history time-warp. They are in the same situation as the believers of Acts 1. They are living in the section of time before the unfolding of salvation history. This is a unique experience because it is rather abnormal to find someone who follows John the Baptist’s teaching of Jesus, accepts Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as true, and is ignorant of Pentecost. The tongues of Acts 19 do not serve as communication of glorious praise as in Acts 2, and they are not to authenticate a new group to the Jerusalem church. Rather, they serve as the attestation to the Ephesian believers themselves of the gift of the Spirit that transfers them as a group from the old era to the one in which they should be living (D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit).

Missional Pneumatology: Showing the Spirit

Missional Pneumatology: Showing the Spirit

Tongues Prove the Spirit to the Jews

In Acts 10, the Spirit falls on Gentiles while Peter is speaking. This experience with the Holy Spirit is attested to by tongues and followed by water baptism. Again, note the lack of a particular sequence. It is no more normative than Acts 2 or Acts 8. The Jewish believers with Peter are shocked that the Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). They probably thought that Gentiles should become Jewish proselytes first. They knew the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles when they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God (Acts 10:46). Therefore, there was nothing to prevent the Gentiles from being baptized as Christians. Acts 10:47 quotes the Jewish believers, “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” Peter uses this incident (Acts 11:15-17) to answer the challenge of the Jerusalem church concerning the necessity for a believer in Jesus to first be a Jewish proselyte.

God Can Make All Things Clean

The reference to Acts 2 is obvious. The same Holy Spirit who had been poured out on Jews had also been poured out on Gentiles. God can make all things clean. The conclusion, embraced by Peter and by the Jerusalem church, was that these Gentiles were fellow believers. Repentance unto life had been granted even to those who had not come under the Mosaic covenant (D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit). The tongues of Acts 10-11 do not serve to communicate God’s glory to nonbelievers. They do, however, serve as authentication to Jewish believers that Gentiles are members of the messianic community apart from the institution of the law of Moses. To be continued.