Allen Jackson - Call To Action
This weekend I wanna focus particularly on some activities, some things we can do, so that we're not just accumulating facts and gathering information, that we begin to become practitioners, that there is some fruit that comes from our newfound information. That's our target. Let's start in James chapter 2. It's very near the top of your outline. James is the in-your-face book of the New Testament. James just tells you like it is. If you're a little blue, don't read James. He will bust you up. He said, "Someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do".
James is saying faith in theory alone is no faith at all, that faith is expressed in behavior. And if you have no behavior, you have no faith. Then he uses a rather poignant illustration. He said, "You believe that there is one God. Good"! Now I meet people quite often and they say, "Pastor, I have decided I believe in God". I mean, as if they have crossed an enormous intellectual gulf. They have determined there is a God. And that's an important decision. If you've never made it, I would encourage you towards it. But then James says, "Good for you. The demons believe that". He said if you have decided that you believe there is a God, you are at least as intellectually adept as a demon. I told you he was straightforward.
See, what he's saying is that the belief in God should be reflected in our behaviors, our activities, and our actions. So we talk about spiritual things. I'm not just helping you gather a set of facts or ideas to theorize about, but my prayer is that it will impact our behaviors, how we act, how we practice our faith, how we interact for one another, and what that looks like. This weekend, I wanna look at two particular arenas; deliverance, spiritual freedoms, and physical healing, and the spiritual forces that impact those particular areas of our lives. They're not the only areas where spiritual things influence us, but it's a good beginning point for our discussion this weekend. We'll start in Mark chapter 1 in verse 23. Jesus is in a synagogue in Capernaum.
It says, "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.' Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of the man". This is an intriguing little, it's at the very beginning of Mark's gospel. This is chapter 1. Jesus is in a synagogue, he is with the covenant people of God, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God's chosen people. He's not in the midst of the pagans, the ungodly, the Gentiles. God's chosen people in a synagogue. He's not in a bar, a strip club. He's not gambling. He's not doing something immoral. He is in a synagogue on the Sabbath with God's people, and there is a man present who is troubled by an unclean spirit.
Now I find it interesting that the unclean spirit knows who Jesus is. This is Mark chapter 1. Jesus hasn't completed the recruitment of his disciples yet. There have been no public miracles yet, there have been no healings, no raising people from the dead. Jesus is still an unknown quantity for the most part. The rabbi in the synagogue doesn't know who Jesus is. In fact, if you gathered all the people at this point in the story who knew who Jesus was into a room, you could use a small room and it wouldn't be crowded. Mary knows, Joseph knows, maybe his siblings know, and that's pretty much the list. But in this particular interaction, the spirit says, "I know who you are".
Do you have room in your imagination? The idea that there are spiritual forces arrayed around you that have insight and understanding about our world that you don't have. That's clearly the case in this scenario. So when we talk about spiritual awareness, it's not that we're always the smartest or the most informed; it's understanding what's happening in the world around us. Look at the next passage you have. It gives us the basis for our imagination of freedom. In Colossians chapter 2, this year we've been focused on leading our lives through the cross and what that means. In Colossians 2, it says, "Having disarmed the powers and authority, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross".
When I say to you, God's power is present to bring freedom to your life from any unclean, unholy, inappropriate spiritual influence, it's not because you're cute, or because you're particularly educated, or your IQ, or your height, or your weight, or the shape of your eye. It's because of who we are in Christ. It's because of the victory Jesus won for us on that cross outside of Jerusalem. It's not because we've joined the right church or we read the right translation. Now, clearly, the implication of Scripture is that there are spiritual forces at work in the world whose objective is to diminish or hinder your quality of life physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritual forces that would diminish you.
Now, the typical response in church world is, "Well, Pastor, I just don't know if I believe that". And that's certainly in a response that you could choose, but it seems to imply that by refusing to believe something, you negate the truth of it. And that is inappropriate. Refusal to believe it does not make it less true. The more appropriate response is to determine whether or not that actually is rooted in something that is true. If Jesus believed in it, may I suggest perhaps we should. You know, one approach you say, well, in the time when the New Testament was written, people talked more about spiritual things. They were less sophisticated, less educated, so they believed in spiritual things. That would work if you're willing to call Jesus limited. But I don't believe Jesus was limited.
I believe he came to show us the Father, to help us to learn to lead triumphant lives. And Jesus believed that spiritual forces influence us. Other people say, "Well, you know, I just don't like to think about all that negative stuff. I wanna talk about a good God who loves me and wants to bless me and bring good things to me". I appreciate that. I like to focus on the good myself. There's an analogy that I think is helpful. Many of us are U.S. citizens, either by birth or by choice of immigration. And there are certain rights and privileges that come with U.S. citizenship, isn't that a good thing? You know, not everybody in the world has access to those same rights and privileges that you do. If you're a citizen there's some unique things that brings to your life. We're struggling a little bit with that notion these days, but for 225 years or so, that idea has pretty much shaped our nation.
If you're a U.S. citizen, you get a little blue passport. If you choose, when you travel, it gives you certain rights and privileges to enter and exit foreign countries. But simply by virtue of your citizenship as a United States citizen, there are people on planet earth this morning that would like to destroy you. That's the truth. I know it's not politically correct and we don't like to talk about it much, but the reality is that is a fact. And it's not because of something you've done to them. It wasn't like your child did something to their child on the playground, and they're gonna get even, or you passed them on I-24 and you gestured in a less than encouraging way and they're holding a grudge. Never seen you, never been in the same space with you, simply because of who you are and the nation you're aligned with, their intent is to destroy you.
Well, in a similar way, when you become a part of the kingdom of God. Then you don't become a part of the kingdom of God by joining the right church, by finding the right label or a particular style of worship. Participation in the kingdom of God is centered in a person, his name is Jesus of Nazareth. And to participate, you believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed Son of God. But you don't stop there; you choose to make Jesus Lord of your life. That's a personal decision about authority in your life. And then you serve him as King. The Bible describes that. If you make that set of choices, it says something dramatic, supernatural happens to you. You become a new creation. That you are birthed into the kingdom of God with all the rights and privileges that come with citizenship in the kingdom of God.
All the authority of the redemptive work of Jesus is made available to you. The same Spirit that brought Jesus to life again out of that tomb, is at work on your behalf today. It's a remarkable thing. It's more than just about your eternity. It changes everything about your life in time as well. But when you become a participant in the kingdom of God, you inherit an adversary. He opposes the purposes of God in the earth. And when you align yourself with the purposes of God, he opposes you.
You say, "I don't like that". I get it. I don't really like it either, but it's the truth. And so it's important to know what that verse in Colossians says that Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities. He triumphed over them by the cross. We are not here without power or authority, but we need to understand the authority we have been given in Jesus. Look in Mark chapter 9, Jesus' ministry has gone forward. It says there was a man who said, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and he becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not".
Now, this young child, this boy is mute. He can't speak. And along with that, he has these seizure-like episodes. And the implication is that it's caused by a spiritual influence, not a physiological one. Now, do I believe that everybody that has seizure-like activity, the cause of that is spiritual? No, the Bible doesn't say that. But it does say that in this particular instance. Any more than the Bible says you can feed as many people you want to if you just find a piece of fish and a little bread. Did it happen? It happened, but we're not told that that's the solution every time you're hungry. But in this case, there's a spirit that is influencing the physical behavior and activity of this young man and the disciples couldn't do anything about it.
So now the father has Jesus' attention. And Jesus says, "O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me". Who's Jesus chastising? I don't think he's chastising the father. The father's desperate, he's doing anything he can to get his son help. He's come to the disciples now he's pushing on to Jesus. I think Jesus is looking at the disciples going, "Are you really that dull"? In fact, on multiple occasions in the gospel, Jesus says it in just those words, "Are you really that slow"? And the answer would be? Yeah.
I don't think Jesus recruited from the slow group. I think he was inviting the disciples into an awareness of life that was beyond anything they had experienced. They'd never seen anything like this before. It's a really steep learning curve for them. And time and time again you see them struggling to understand, to keep up to... so it makes me understand that I'm probably not gonna get this fully the first time I bump into it. That it's an awareness that comes to us. It's a revelation, it's something that God will walk us towards. We want to give up the notion that we have mastered being people of faith. We wanna freely acknowledge that we are learners, that God is shaping us, that sometimes we'll confront circumstances and we'll seem pretty slow. But I don't wanna stay there. I wanna keep growing, don't you?
Let's change arenas for a couple of minutes and talk just a little bit about healing. In Luke chapter 5, Jesus has an interaction with a person who has a problem. It says, "While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy". Luke is a physician. And when you read the Gospel of Luke on many occasions, you'll note that he writes with the eye of a diagnostician. If I'd been writing that, I'd probably said Jesus encountered a man who was a leper. But Luke says that Jesus met a man who was covered with leprosy. It's an incurable skin disease. It means he's a social outcast. He couldn't come to a public meeting like this. He couldn't go to the marketplace. He couldn't go to the movie theater.
If he goes into the place where there's gonna be other people, he has to identify himself as a leper, so there's no unintended casual contact. It's a very isolating life. He becomes quite literally an untouchable. And Jesus interact, he meets this man. He says, "When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and he begged him. 'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. If you are willing, you can make me clean.' And Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man, and he said, 'I'm willing. Be clean.'" It is a very insightful interaction. This man who is an outcast, he's an untouchable. Quite literally, he falls in the dust at Jesus' feet and says, "If you are willing, you could make me clean again".
This is an event that this man has initiated. Jesus didn't come to this man. This isn't at the end of a worship service. He has intruded, but there's no rebuke, there's no rebuff. See, I think sometimes we imagine that when we come to God, we're in intrusion that it's inappropriate. But this man has said "Lord, if you will," and it's the response that fascinates me. Before Jesus says anything, we're limited. Luke kept notes about like a doctor what he was required to make. But before he spoke to the man, it says he reached out his hand and touched him. Nobody touches that man. That whole man's existence is predicated on nobody touching him inadvertently.
In my imagination, at least when Jesus reached out to touch him, he was looking him in his eye. 'Cause when Jesus reached out to touch him, the man knew Jesus was responding. And Jesus said, "I'm willing; you be clean". And he answered a question that resounds to us over two millennia. 'Cause when you're in a problem, what's the physical problem? What are the root questions you've got? Well, God, whatever your will is. I believe God's will is that you be well. He could have looked at that man and said, "You know, you've lived a pretty wicked life". 'Cause I'm sure there were things in that man's life that didn't honor God, just like there are things been in my life and your life. He could have justified it with misbehaviors in that man's part, but he didn't do that. The man said, "If you're willing, I can be well". And Jesus said, "I'm willing; be well".
I believe God wants us well. Now, we have to acknowledge we're not always well. I'm not, you are not. But I also believe Jesus wants me to live at peace. He said that. He said, "My peace I give to you, not a peace as the world gives". He wants us to be at peace, and I need to confess to you, there has been at least one day in my life when I was not at peace. I actually, if I remember correctly, there was actually one night I worried. Now I don't believe that was God's best for me. He's made provision for me to be at peace, but I have forfeited that and had to come back to that place with peace. And I believe the same is true with being well. And it's a complex issue, in fact, discussion. Their overly simplistic answers aren't always helpful, but understanding the baselines are.
People say to me, "Well' do you believe in prayer or medicine"? Yes. Absolutely. I believe we have the finest healthcare system in the world. It grieves me to hear it criticized. We have medicine available to us. We have those who will care for us available to us. I have to go many places in the world where those things don't exist. It may cost more than we would like. We may have to wait longer than we would like. But those are delivery issues, folks. We are blessed. But it's not an either or discussion. "Do you believe in going to the doctor"? Absolutely. But I pray before I go. But I pray before I go to the mechanic with my car. But I think we confuse this. I have confused this.
When I was getting ready to graduate from college a couple semesters before I had changed my whole life direction, changed my career path and just said to the Lord I would serve him. And I was full of all the confidence that comes with a young man that would do that. And I was in an accident and half of my face was crushed. Bones were broken. I lost the feeling in half of my face. They took me to the hospital, the doctors did the examination and the surgeon came in and said, "We need to do surgery today". And I said, "No, I'm a Christian; I believe God will heal me". And I checked myself out of the hospital. Arrogant is the word you're searching for.
Now, I didn't wanna spend the weekend in the dorm room, so I checked into a hotel, and I spent the weekend talking to the Lord, 'cause in my heart, I said if I'm gonna serve you, you can fix my face. And if you won't fix my face, I'm not gonna serve you. And by Monday morning, I realized that it wasn't up to me to tell God how to do his job, that if he used a surgeon or whatever means he chose, that was God's business. My assignment was to have enough humility to be faithful to him. So I called the doctor back and said with a great deal more humility, "If I were to check back into the hospital, might you work me into your schedule"? And he was kind enough to help me. And when they did the procedure, they were able to repair the structural damage in the simplest possible way.
And he said, "You know, I don't know if the feeling will ever come back to your face. It could be months". And within a few days, my face was normal again. Yay, God. And I gladly paid the medical bill. What if I pray for someone and nothing happens? Well, what if? You know, I'm not suggesting to you, we have mastered this topic. I have prayed for people to become Christ followers before, hundreds of people, led them in professions of faith. And there are people I have prayed with that to the point they profess faith in Jesus as the Lord of their life, I've seen 180-degree change comes to life. I've seen people that had addiction problems for years. At the point they professed faith in Jesus, those addictions fall away in a moment.
And I've prayed with other people who say the identical prayer and the transformation in their life seems to be incremental, and it takes place over a longer period of time. Why? I don't know. But I'm not gonna stop praying with people to become Christ followers. I've prayed with people and seen some receive answers for healing in the moment. Then I prayed with others and the answers didn't seem to emerge as quickly. I don't know. And I have had to make peace with, I don't know; there's a God, and it's not me, but I'm not withdrawing from the arena.
There was a family in the church some years ago who had a daughter. And unexpectedly her health began to deteriorate. I don't mean over weeks; in a matter of hours, she went from being a normal functioning healthy little girl to significant health problems. They seemed to be neurological, maybe centered in her brain. She was losing motor skills, cognitive skills. She was deteriorating rapidly. They called me. She was already in intensive care at Vanderbilt. And I went to visit at the hospital and I'll never... I arrived and about the time I arrived, a team of physicians, multiple physicians said to the family, "We wanna have a conference with you". And they included me in the conference.
And multiple doctors, they said, "These are the symptoms we see, and these are the tests we have done". And they said, "We don't know what's caused it, and we don't know how to stop it, and we don't know if she will survive or not". And when they got done with all the things they didn't know, they were done, and it was kinda like everybody turned and looked at me. I was the pastor in the room. It was not a comfortable meeting. And the doctors left to resume their tasks, and I did what I knew to do to help the family and stayed a bit. And then I was leaving the hospital. And to be honest, I remember walking down that hallway, I was mad at God. I said, "I don't like to come to the hospital and say I don't know. And if I'm gonna represent you, you're gonna have to step up here. I'm willing to come in your name, but I don't wanna wander around here like the village idiot".
I was not happy. That humility that I regained for a moment back in the day, it had drifted away again. And I got on the elevator, top floor, I was the only one when I got on. And it felt like to me, the elevator stopped at every floor, 'cause every time it stopped, I got more annoyed. I just wanted out. But every time the elevator stops, somebody with a white coat got on. So the time I got to the bottom floor, the elevator was full. There was me and all these white coats. And as I was walking through the lobby headed to the parking lot, it occurred to me that some of the most highly trained professionals in the world with impeccable educations and tremendous intellects and great skills and dedication had just sat in a room and said, "I don't know," as a billable event, no shame, no embarrassment.
There are limits to what our training will do. There are limits to our understanding. The building was populated with those folks, and I'm grateful for every one of them. And I realized I was trying to occupy a place above all the other professional people around me. There are things about the Lord I don't know, but it doesn't keep me from being engaged. You know what professional people call it when they apply their trade? Practice.
And we're gonna pray before we go. You know, it's true that spiritual pressures are mounting in the earth. I think we all feel that, but there's good news in that because pressure is what makes diamonds out of coal. So don't wring your hands in fear at the pressure. There's a kingdom opportunity in that, and God's called us to this time. Let's pray:
Father, thank you that you are moving in the earth and that you have prepared us for just this time. I pray we'll have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive. Thank you for it in Jesus' name, amen.