Allen Jackson - Heaven and Earth - Part 1
The Bible is a book that describes spiritual conflict from the opening chapters of Genesis to the concluding chapters of the Book of Revelation, but there are some unique features as we approach the end of the age and we're trying to pay a bit of attention to that. In this session the theme is a bit more about heaven and earth because what happens in the heavenly realms, what happens in the spiritual realm has a tremendous impact on what's happening in the earth.
If you only understand your life, if you only understand current events from the basis of social economic patterns or conflicts between nation states, you know, you have an incomplete perspective. I'm not saying that those aren't factors, I'm not saying that they aren't powerful and real, I'm suggesting to you that as Christ followers, we begin with the premise that spiritual forces shape our world first and foremost. The Bible talks about God directing the course of nations that he raises up leaders and he puts them down. And I think for far too long now, the church has been far more secular in understanding of world events and we've imagined that our role, you know, was expressed, our spiritual role was expressed primarily in a ballot box or in a political campaign and I think you should participate in the processes I'm not opposed to that, but your spiritual life shapes those things long before you vote or you select candidates and the candidates that rise up and those who don't.
The church as intercessors, the church as a spiritual force in the world is a difference maker. God will give us leaders that will bring his best to us or he will give us leaders who bring his punishment to us. We're reading historical books right now in our daily Bible reading and you're getting a front row seat of all of that. And you shouldn't imagine that that stopped in antiquity or that when Jesus came God stopped being interested in the behavior of his people, the corporate behavior of his people. We spent decades with a primary focus on personal salvation and I believe in that, but we have almost no discussion around the corporate behavior of the people of God. And God has an expectation of us in community, you know, in the midst of all the COVID drama.
A lot of words you could pick for that blank, aren't there? In the midst of all of that you know I heard multiple ministers say, you know, it is not necessary for us to be together. Well, "Contraire mon ami". There is a very much a biblical assignment for the community of faith. And a big part of that is who we are as intercessors and the role we play. If we don't like the leadership we have in the world in which we live, a great deal of that responsibility falls at the doorstep of the church. And I'm gonna continue to say that because I think we have struggled with that. And we've struggled with that because we've lived in a place where the fabric of our culture for a long time had been predominantly knit together from a biblical worldview that's changing very rapidly.
And with that change so is the stability, so is the security and the safety, so is any sense of equality before the law, so are things like freedom of speech, all of those things emerge from a biblical worldview and the further we step away from a biblical worldview, the further we will live from those realities that have shaped our lives many of us. Then the church is gonna have to have the courage to say Jesus is unique and he brings something unique to human lives. He's a transformational force. We're not just providing polite Bible studies. You know, the theater of the absurd continues to have releases. Week after week it's staggering what's happening in our world, it's unsettling.
You know, the premier release this week was the indictment, the fourth indictment of a former president. And just a little bit of casual awareness of that says, "Well, this has never happened before". And if you just arrived yesterday and you had no context into which you're hearing it, it would be very unsettling but if you've been awake at all, we've actually, this is like a rocky sequel, we've seen the previous 16 versions. And when we watched the first one there was some surprise element but by the last one we knew what was gonna happen. I mean, I remember the 2016 election, I mean long before we got to the inauguration the reporting was overwhelming that our election had been hacked by the Russians and the leaders were illegitimate. And it gave most of us pause, it was unacceptable.
We had two and a half years of investigations, and special counsels, and hearings, and we heard some of our most robust leaders standing and swearing that they had irrefutable evidence and yada yada yada. And after more than two years and millions of dollars, there was no substance there. And then what was shocking is there were no apologies. There's no attempt to restore damage cause, no one was held accountable for the egregious lies that had been told. So now we're a few years later and they're still rolling out with gasps and tremendous energy accusations while we lose more and more confidence in the justice system that doesn't seem to be equally applied.
Folks I'm here to tell you the solution's not coming from Washington. The next election is not going to fix this. How many elections do we have to have? How many congressional inquiries do we have to watch? How many sound bites do we have to sit through while somebody performs for their constituents? Before we understand nothing changes. Until the people of God change, we are going to be further and further removed from equal justice before the law. Because justice comes from God. The perversion and politicization of justice has been bypassed, I would suggest even more by the perversion and politicization of science. It's just male and female are not fluid categories. I mean, they're just not.
Now I know we don't have the courage to say that in very many places, the scientific community tries to prefer to be confused but it's really not confusing. Church, this is our season. So when we're talking about spiritual warfare, I'm talking to you about more than a polite Bible study and being able to spell the 12 tribes of Israel in their original language. I'm an advocate for learning, but I'm an advocate for the practice of our faith even more. I have come to the realization that simply hearing the truth of God's Word does not result in transformation. We can sit in churches and hear it. We have to choose to believe and act upon the truth.
You see, faith is only expressed in behavior. As long as it remains a theory it isn't really biblical faith, real faith is expressed in behavior just as the lack of faith is evidenced by our behaviors. You don't have to tell me where you lack faith, it's evident, because the behavior's not there. And you can assert what you believe all day long but if you don't have the corresponding behavior to go with it, the lack of faith is shouting at us far more loudly than the words you're using. Please don't sit and imagine that you have the privilege of ruling on the correctness of God's Word.
We've kind of developed an atmosphere amongst those of us who are tenured religious folks that we will listen to the Word of God when it's taught, or explained, or read, or presented and then we decide, kinda like Olympic judges, what we will accept or reject or believe or not believe. My counsel would be yield to God, choose to be obedient. Don't wait for a complete understanding to become a practitioner. We all understand that's not a useful model. If doctors never practiced medicine until they understood everything we would have no doctors. We all learn in the midst of taking the information we have and then begin to give expression to that. And the church has got to begin to do that.
Now the word that's most frequently used is demons in the New Testament but I wanna expand that a little bit. Demons, unclean spirits, evil spirits, they're all interchangeable terms. Depending on the translation you prefer or that you're reading at the moment, you may hear it referred to in a different way, but they're all synonymous. Demonic behavior is pretty consistent. They're tormentors. If I had to look for one word, I think their role is to torment. It's a harassment. So if you identify something in your life that is tormenting and a consistent harassment, it's not a great leap to imagine there's a spiritual component to that.
There are demons and spiritual forces which impact the cities. Some demonic activity is personal. It's directed at individuals, and individual lives, and individual behavior. But again, the Bible is clear, there is demonic activity and there are spiritual forces of wickedness which impact cities, regions, nations, races of people. And again, this is not some theoretical something in which I'm encouraging you to dally a little bit because you're intrigued. I'm telling you, if we don't take our place and hold our line, we are surrendering our world to unclean spiritual forces. And in our arrogance and our pride, we've preferred not to think about it. We prefer to point at the date of our new birth and show a picture of our baptismal service, and our string of Sunday school attendance pens.
And I'm grateful for all of the above but that doesn't mean that we've taken our place. Citizenship comes with responsibility. It's true in a nation and it's true in the kingdom of God. And I believe we'll give an account. We'll start with Jesus's ministry. That's generally a good place to begin if we're trying to understand a biblical theme.
In Mark chapter 1 says, "They went into Capernaum". When Jesus began his public ministry, he moved from Nazareth. Nazareth is a tiny little village tucked away in the hills of Galilee. In Jesus's day, maybe 1500 people. And he moved to Capernaum, which was a city on the northern end of the sea of Galilee located on a major Roman road. Capernaum is seated on the adjacent to the largest fresh water source in the entire region. So he moves strategically to a place where there would be an enormous amount of traffic and a very diverse group of people. It's a Jewish fishing village so it's not an elaborate place but it's a very well situated location if you wanted to influence or communicate a message across a broad group of people.
"They went to Capernaum: and immediately on the Sabbath, He entered the synagogue and he began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching: for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes". He wasn't just giving them theory, he was speaking with the authority of someone who was a practitioner. "And just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit: and he cried out saying, 'What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God!' And Jesus rebuked him, saying, 'Be quiet and come out of him!' And throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed so that they debated among themselves. 'What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him?' Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding districts of Galilee".
More than his healing ministry even. More than his teaching or ideas about scripture, it was the authority he demonstrated over unclean spirits that captivated the people who came to see and experience the ministry of Jesus. There's some simple observations from that passage. It's not complicated, the language is not complex. It's a scene you can imagine with just a limited imagination, but there's a demonized man present in the synagogue. Are you okay? Which means he's a religious man, a faithful person, a man of the covenant. It's Sabbath and he's in the synagogue and yet he is tormented by an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit in this narrative had insight that the people in the synagogue did not including the Rabbi.
This is Mark chapter, there's been no declaration of who Jesus is yet, he's just beginning his public ministry. There aren't great crowds gathering but the demon in the man understands who Jesus is and he understands his authority. Are you prepared to live in a world where there are spiritual forces that have insight and understanding that exceeds your own spiritual insight and understanding? If you are, it will create in you a desire to cooperate more completely with the Holy Spirit. We've had this rather arrogant imagination. We could out think evil, or out organize evil, or out experience evil. Those spirits have more experience than you do. This unclean spirit is antagonistic to Jesus, it's disruptive. The unclean spirit torments the man.
That would be beyond awkward if not for Jesus's intervention. If we put it in a more contemporary setting, we would probably take the man out of the service and leave him with the spirit. Jesus cast the spirit out of the man and left him in the synagogue. The unclean spirit responds to an authority greater than itself. Look at Matthew 4. A little different context, but it's an important component. Did I put that in your notes? Good, you got the deluxe version. This is right after Jesus baptism. It says, "The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I'll give you,' he said, 'If you'll just bow down and worship me.' Jesus said to him, 'Away from me, Satan! For its written: ' Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'' The devil left him and angels came and attended to him".
It's the temptation of Jesus, it's just one of the episodes. What I wanted you to see was the snapshot. It's one picture, one moment in time where we have in the same scene, Satan himself, Jesus, the identified Son of God because he's just come from his baptism, and God, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and God the Father said, "This is my son with whom I'm well pleased". So we have Satan acknowledged by Jesus, Jesus who's been acknowledged as God's Son by God himself and angels right there in that same snapshot. So if you wanna be kinda just fundamentally biblical, you're gonna have to make room for the devil, the incarnate Son of God and angels involved with human beings if you're gonna be biblical.
"Well pastor, I'm gonna need to study more". Okay. Luke chapter 13. Does anybody remember Luke's day job? I think so too, he was a physician. Traveled with Paul, Paul needed a doctor 'cause he got the love of Jesus beaten out of him most of the places he visited, he needed an attending physician. So Luke's gospel is written with oftentimes it feels to me like the eye of a diagnostician. There's some details there. And in Luke 13 "On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues," that was his pattern. "And a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years".
Again, Luke gives us some insight. The woman has a physical problem and Luke suggests to us that it has a spiritual origin. Is every sickness or disease demonic in its origin? No, the Bible doesn't say that. But it does say that spiritual forces can cause physical problems. Luke believed that, he wrote the narrative. Jesus believes that 'cause he's about to minister to this person. "She was bent over and she couldn't straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her 'Woman, you're set free of your infirmity.' And he put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God".
Why do we lay hands on one another when we pray for one another? We borrow a pattern from scripture. I don't know why we feel better when we can provide a scientific explanation for something the scripture invites us to do. So I've never really felt the need to explain the supernatural in the context of the principles of our physical world. And if you're caught in that I would invite you out of it. I don't think it's awful. I mean, I've read some studies that talk about the difference in how patients heal in a hospital if they receive just a simple touch from a doctor or a caregiver. But to me there's a bit of a slippery slope.
I remember reading an article from a doctor, it was years ago now, but at Vanderbilt medical doctor that explained the David and Goliath story. Said that the reason Goliath was so large was he most likely had a pituitary problem, caused him to grow inordinately large. And that it wouldn't be uncommon for somebody with that kind of a problem to have some sort of a protuberance on their forehead, a bump and that it would be normal if that were the case that the bone structure around the bump would not be as thick as the rest of your skull.
And so that what happened when David confronted this Philistine with the pituitary problem, is that the rock that he cast his way from a sling hit the bump. I'm good with that, I'm all in with that. It makes the story better to me. I'm thinking a little shepherd kid that's been watching his father sheep, sees the largest warrior he's ever seen and he immediately goes, "Pituitary". Right? Not gifted warrior. This dude's got an endocrine problem and I'm about to make him. And he says, "You see that knot on his forehead? I got this". And he charges.
Now if it makes you feel better to have the explanation, you just rock on with your bad self. But I'm good with David and Goliath. How'd I get all the way from a woman with a cripple? Explanations, Jesus put his hands on her and she straightened up. The rest of the story is even more bizarre. "Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, 'There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days.'" For heaven's sakes, don't gather for worship expecting God to do something. "Jesus answered him," this is the fun part.
Christians say, "We should be polite. We should not talk about what's happening in our world. You're being political". No I'm not. Talking about what everybody talks about all week long. Jesus stands up and said, "You're a hypocrite. Don't each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or your donkey from the stall and lead it to give it water"? Don't you take care of your livestock on the Sabbath? Well, yeah. "Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan is kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her".
Jesus understood her problem to have a spiritual origin. She needed set free from something that was harassing her. And he's pushing it right into the face of the people in that place. He's not being polite or kind, there's a tension in that room. His invitation for the next Sabbath is probably not going to be extended. "And when he said this, all of his opponents were humiliated. But the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing". Now for our sake, again, the harassment, the physical limits, the diminishment that come from unclean evil demonic spiritual forces.
We don't have to be afraid of evil but we need to be aware. Jesus demonstrated an authority over unclean spirits, over sickness, over disease, over all the things that challenge our lives. And through his redemptive work, through his death, his burial and his resurrection, he's extended to us that same authority so that we can live triumphant lives in this present age. Now that's good news. I wanna pray with you before we go that the blood of Jesus will bring that victory to your life today. Let's pray:
Father I thank you that in the name of Jesus, you have delivered us out of the hand of the enemy. That through his shed blood, you have made provision for us body, soul and spirit to be made whole. We receive it today in Jesus's name, amen.