Allen Jackson - Realms of Authority (Jesus and Politics) - Part 2
Now, how do we understand the opposition? It's as complex as you and I are. There's not a single answer. The best way I know to summarize it from what Scripture invites us towards is to think of the opposition in three ways. The Scripture teaches us that the present world order, not a government or a nation, but there is a spiritual order in this world that stands in opposition to the purposes of God. And then, the Bible says that we have an earthly nature, a fleshly, carnal, Adamic nature that is hardwired to oppose the purposes of God. And then the Bible tells us there's a devil, and he's alive and well on planet earth. Isn't that good news? Again, not to be frightened. You need a plan. You needed an intentional process so that you can overcome the opposition that is presented.
Look at Ephesians chapter 6 and verse 12. It says, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood..." Isn't that good to know? Our struggle may not be against people, but the delivery system, the overwhelming majority of the time, is people. Most of the struggles in our lives have a name. They got an address. They're on Facebook. Come on. But the Bible is reminding us that the real opposition in our lives isn't trying to power up to get people to do what we want them to do, that there's an underlining force. There's something more to the story. Our struggle isn't against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against powers, against the world forces of this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wow. It's a description of a hierarchy of evil, a global initiative.
Now, that makes me smile on one level. You know, we live in the 21st century and we're so impressed with our technological sophistication in the digital age. You can sit at the coffee table or have your evening dessert and turn on the television or get online and you can watch events happening all around the world in real time. It's amazing, isn't it? But long before there was a... we held an imagination of a globalization or multinational whatever, when our lives were described by a few dozen miles, Jesus stood in front of his disciples in the Middle East and he said, "All authority in heaven and earth's been given to me. Now, you go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature".
And you know what that group of fishermen and that kind of rag-tag group of folks, they took Jesus seriously and Christianity became a global initiative long before global was cool. So we shouldn't be surprised when back in the 1st century, Paul's writing and he says to us, "There's a global initiative of evil. It's highly orchestrated, integrated, purposeful. It's not accidental or random". The purpose of evil in the earth is to disrupt the purposes of God. We see all sorts of evidence of that in our day, longer than I wanna start to identify for you, but don't be surprised by it. See, in the west, and particularly in developed countries, and I think especially in America, we want to imagine we're a little too sophisticated to believe in evil. Or maybe you believe in it in some general, nebulous way, but if you start talking about the devil, the demonic forces and unclean spirits, you go, "You know, Pastor, I just don't know if I believe in that stuff".
But number one, Jesus did. And then we'll say, "Well, look and see the...", well, I believe in it but I think it's probably a lot more probable. I think it's a lot more in evidence in the underdeveloped nations. But I've been to those places on the planet, those remote places where there's no electricity. It's like stepping back hundreds of years in time, and it's true, if you go to those places you can often find people whose business card says things like "Witchdoctor," and then they'll believe in things that you would consider antiquated or old-fashioned, but they very much believe in spiritual forces.
But lemme ask you a question. Suppose I gave you the assignment, I gave you the authority to deploy the forces of evil on planet earth, and your objective is the disruption of the purposes of God, suppose you had that authority. Where would you deploy those forces? Would you go look for the most remote places on planet earth, farthest away from technology, the least populated, and say, "That's where I'm gonna put my focus," or would you look for the communication centers, the power structures, the most influential opportunities you could find. I would suggest even further that that, you wouldn't focus on people that are already fully engaged in immorality and ungodliness that have cast off any restraint or imagination of God.
If you really wanna disrupt the purposes of God, where would you begin? With people that had some imagination of God. Some desire to honor him. We'd probably call it the church. Is that fair? It's a biblical idea. I can show you from Scripture. Look in Luke chapter 4. Says, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and he was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he sand worship choruses, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil". Now, Jesus at the Jordan River was baptized, and at his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God said, "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased". And he came away from his baptism into the desert for a time of alone solitude of prayer and fasting, and at the conclusion of that season of a heightened spiritual activity drawing closer to his Father, the devil came to tempt him.
Now, that's stunning to me. I know it's in the Bible, but that is really stunning stuff to me. Now, last week we read in Luke's gospel when Jesus began his public ministry in Capernaum, he began in the synagogue, and there was a man there who Luke says was demonized, and the spirit cried out of the man, "I know who you are, Jesus of Nazareth. You're the Son of the Most High God. Have you come here to torment us"? Remember that? IF that demon in Capernaum knew who Jesus was, I promise you Satan knew who he was. He knows precisely who he is, and yet he has come to do his best to disrupt God's purposes in his life.
Now, if that is true in Jesus's life, may I submit to you it's a possibility that there'd be some force of darkness that would try to disrupt God's purposes for you and me, that you'd be most naïve or at least biblically unaware to not acknowledge that. I don't want you to live in fear of darkness. I want you to be far more familiar with the Holy Spirit than anything unholy. But if we're gonna pray effectively, we have to understand the realms of authority that we're dealing with. We gotta have the courage to be honest. The church has been guilty of looking at the verses we like and ignoring the rest for far too long. Satan goes on to tempt Jesus in some remarkable ways. He says, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread". Jesus is hungry. He's tired. He's weary. He's exhausted. And Satan says, "If you are the Son of God..."
He knew very well who he was. He knew the circumstances of his birth. He knew the promises from the prophets. "If you are the Son of God..." See, when I read that, it's hopeful to me, 'cause I've got some tapes that go off in my head. You ever get tired or weary or up against something that you don't know how to navigate and there's a line that goes off in your head? In mine, it's somethin' like this, "Do you really believe this stuff? Do you really believe it? What are you really basing your life on? Maybe you better step back a little bit. You sure are acting weird lately. You really believe all this God stuff? You really believe the Bible's inspired? You think it's authoritative? You think there's some body in the heavens that's gonna help? You really believe that stuff"?
Those tapes ever go off in your head? They go off in Pastor's head. They went off in Jesus's head. And Jesus's response was to tell the devil what God said about it. You need the Word of God tucked in your heart. I'll tell you that little ten minute investment a day will give you an authority to change the outcome of your life. Don't miss it. "If you're the Son of God". Then it says he took him up to a high place and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and said "If you'll just worship me, I'll give them to you". And before we're done with the Jesus story, the Bible says of him that God gave him a name that's above every name, that the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and earth and under the earth. But before he got to that place, he had a tough path to walk, didn't he?
I don't think anybody would argue that the Jesus story is an easy story. Rejected. Suffering. Difficulty. Abandoned. Tough path. But the outcome of it, the faithfulness of God is worthwhile. Agreed? There'll be another individual to whom Satan will make that offer that if you'll worship me, I'll give you authority over the kingdoms of the world. We're introduced to him more fully in the Book of Revelation. He's called the antichrist, the false Christ. He'll take that bargain and he will lead the world in worshiping evil. Oh, he'll be an attractive, intelligent... the antichrist isn't gonna have horns and a pitchfork and a tail. Be a very appealing individual. He'll look like the literal savior of the world. He'll have the answers to the greatest, most vexing problems humanity faces. But when his true character is revealed and the bargain that he struck begins to be exposed, he'll be the most violent, hate-filled, the Bible describes him as a beast. I believe it.
Now, there's one other disruptive influence, and I gotta touch it just briefly, but it's too important to not take a moment with. And then the Scripture describes it as our sinful nature. There's a whole host of words used in the New Testament. Our sinful nature, our carnal nature, our Adamic nature, our earthly nature. It's the part of us that we inherit as human beings, and it is hardwired towards ungodly. I don't have to be coached in being selfish. Now, I've had to have some classes in ethics, but I've never had to be coached in being selfish. Is that fair? I may be weird, but I don't think I'm that weird. Look in Galatians 5 and verse 17. It says, "The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit", Capital S, so it's the Holy Spirit. "And the Spirit what's contrary to the sinful nature. They're in conflict with each other, so that you don't do what you want". Amen to that.
"But if you're led by the Spirit, you are not under the law". So then, it's identifying, and he's writing this to a church. There's a conflict that we have a tendency to do what we know is ungodly. There's a battle. There's an internal struggle within us. And then for some further clarification, he says, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before". It's been a repetitive warning to a group of believers. It's not a one-time thing. It's not some sort of a spiritual diet. Said, "I warn you, I've warned you before, if you live like this you will not inherit the kingdom of God".
Now, here's our reality. That entire list, and it's just a subset, but that list of things is not fully expressed in all of us. It's improbable that any one of us would feel significant weaknesses or vulnerabilities over that entire list. But I have a feeling if you read that list, and particularly if you expand, there's three or four points on there, if you could be honest, you'd say, you know, those points are pretty consistent temptations for me. An expression of that old carnal nature. Jesus said, "If anyone would be my disciple, you have to take up your cross daily and follow me". The cross is a place of execution.
We've had a bit of a mistaken idea that to be a Christ follower means you recite a prayer one time and then you're kinda done with your God business. To let the purposes of God emerge in your life, we have to on a daily basis say no to that soulish part of ourself. You can identify it. It chirps up in our life with "I will," "I want," "I think," and I appreciate all those abilities and there are times and places for them, but they're not gonna dominate my life. I want God's will and God's thoughts and God's purposes to predominate in my life. And that takes some intentionality.
Now, here's what I've discovered. If you give yourself the freedom, the luxury, if you take the license of giving expression to your carnal self, you don't put any boundaries around your emotions, you don't put any godly boundaries around your thoughts, around your behaviors, if you indulge your selfish, sinful carnal nature, it starts out harmlessly enough, but you will find you gain spiritual support for that ungodliness. In the same way the Holy Spirit will help you, if you indulge in ungodliness, an unholy spirit will help you.
Now you need to know how to distinguish between the Holy Spirit and an unholy spirit. It's important. And it will become increasingly more important. It's not, there's a couple of very simple tells. The Holy Spirit, God created you with a will, and God will not violate it. God will never dominate you, manipulate you, or intimidate you. God extends to you an invitation. My Bible says that it's God's will that everyone would come to the knowledge of salvation, that Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost.
May I ask you a question? Will there be anybody in hell? Yes, there will. Not God's intent. It wasn't his original design. The people that will populate that place have chosen to go there. Perhaps more specifically, they've chosen to reject God. The Bible says in Romans chapter 1 that all people are without excuse, that God reveals himself to every human being. God will not violate your will and drag you to heaven against your will. You have to choose godliness. The new birth is a choice you make to accept Jesus Christ by faith as the Son of God, and make him Lord in your life. It's not about joining a church. The Holy Spirit will never violate your will. You don't have to be afraid of that. He won't make you give away all your money, he won't make you roll in the floor and bark like a dog, swing on a rope, he will not violate your will. Isn't that good to know?
In all of my experience as a Christ follower, and I've been one for a while now, and all the people I've interacted with, I have yet in my own experience or to interact with anybody else that said to me, "You know, Pastor, something has happened to me. I just, every day, get up and it's as if purity has exploded in me. Something has happened to me. I am more patient today than I was yesterday. I'm a lot more patient than I was two weeks ago. I've gotten to the point I'm so patient, I just look for traffic jams and sit in them. It's just like somethin' holy has grabbed me and I have no control over it. I can't stop it. What do you think"? Never happened in me, and I'm yet to meet anybody for whom that's their testimony, because God won't violate your will. You have to choose to accept his invitations.
Now, there's freedom in that. On the other end of the spectrum, an unholy spirit. You unwittingly, without intention, create an opportunity for them to occupy a space. And I have experience and I have dealt with dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of people that have said to me, "There's a behavior in place in my life", or a thought or an attitude or a practice or a habit, "and as much as I recognize it's destructive, I feel powerless to stop it. I recognize it's destroying my health, it's broken up my family, it's cost me everything I have, but I don't seem to be able to stop it". That is the way you can distinguish between something that's holy and something that's unholy. It's the reason we'll never out-think evil. We won't out-organize evil. We won't out-work evil or out-manipulate evil. If it attempts to dominate you, control you, or manipulate you, it's unclean. I don't care what label it wears. We need a power greater than evil to give us the victory.
Now, we started this discussion with our old carnal, earthly, selfish nature. And the liberty and the license we have to be indulgent. Be aware that when you do that, you create opportunities for momentum from some very unhealthy, unholy places. Don't make that a practice. One last verse and I'm done. Look at Romans 13. It says, "Let's behave properly as in the day, not in carousing or drunkenness or in sexual promiscuity or sensuality, not in strife or jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts". That's the new American Standard. It says, "Make no provision for the flesh". In the NIV it says, "Don't think about how to gratify your sinful nature".
Wow, don't even think about it. Don't raise your hand: how much time and energy do we spend thinkin' 'bout how to get our way? Woo! How much time and energy and effort do we spend thinkin' 'bout how to let God's way emerge in our lives? Well, not so much. 'Cause I'm so busy thinkin' 'bout how to get my way. And we're given this clear invitation. It's a warning, we have a realm of the Spirit of authority we've been given. If we're gonna pray effectively if we're gonna live effectively, we've got to acknowledge the opposition that we have. Quit denying it, quit trying to hide it or excuse it or explain it away. Have the courage to say hey, this is a battle for me. God, help me. We're facing some challenges in our culture that seem almost nonsensical now. And we're havin' a debate about which bathroom to go to. We're acting perplexed by that. We're talkin' 'bout what's written on our birth certificate.
Folks, your birth certificate is not the determiner. God gave you a gender when you came into this place. We're havin' all kinds of struggles, but the reason we're havin' struggles with sexuality is the church in our culture for decades has been pretty soft. We haven't had good boundaries. We practice promiscuity and sensuality. We've taken down the boundaries of Scripture and with a wink and a nod, and we've looked the other way and we've excused it. We've watched marriage be redefined and we've really had very little voice. We've talked more about how to accommodate the people that're trying to redefine it, and tryin' to understand how we arrived at that place. Marriage was God's idea.
I've been involved in hundreds and hundreds of weddings. A marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman in the sight of almighty God. That's what a wedding is. That's what it is in its essence, but don't get heated up about people that see it in the other ways. The way we arrive at that place is we have devalued it for decades. We've let weddings and marriages emerge into something else. It's my lifelong dream for a party. It's princess for a day. It's my precious child having license to do whatever they wanna do 'cause we've dreamt about it since I saw them through the nursery window. I'm not opposed to a party or a princess or a nursery window. But that's not the point of a marriage.
The reason we held wedding ceremonies in churches was it was in deference to the idea that two people were making a covenant with Almighty God. It wasn't because the building was beautiful, or it fit the color theme that was in my heart. And I'm not opposed to colors or beautiful buildings, but because in our hearts within the church we deconstructed the boundaries and we walked away from the principles and we lost our compass points to even be able to, we didn't have the vocabulary to talk about it when somebody said, "We're gonna redefine marriage". You mean we have to have the party someplace else?
We have indulged our selfish, carnal selves. Don't be angry at the ungodly. The power resides in the church. The authority is within us. If we will humble ourselves before God, his authority will come back to his people. Amen? Won't you stand with me. I wanna invite you to say a simple little prayer with me. Just repeat it after me. Everybody can pray the prayer. It won't hurt you. But if you've had that response on the inside of you, this is your day to be free. You don't have to go from this place bound by a habit or a thought. You don't have to have a private life that you pray never sees the light of day. That stuff comes from the pit, and there is power present from Almighty God to set us free. It's the story of the church. It's why the gospel is Good News. It is true, if we will humble ourselves and say God, we're sorry. Let's pray: Just repeat this prayer with me.
Our Heavenly Father, we come today to you in humility to repent of our sins. Forgive us. We have been selfish. I've wanted my way. I've chosen my thoughts and my plans and my pleasure over your purposes for my life. I've been willing to deceive and manipulate. I wanted my way, and I am sorry, and I ask you to forgive me. I thank you for the blood of Jesus that cleanses me and sets me free. I thank you now that you have restored me. That you're making me new. That you have a new path for me and a new future for me, and I renounce any unclean force, any unhealthy thing, any dark spirit that may have influenced my life. In Jesus's name, your power is broken over me. I am free through the blood of Jesus. I am redeemed out of the hand of the devil. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit: redeemed, cleansed, sanctified through the blood of Jesus. I'm a child of the living God. I live for his glory. Jesus is my Lord of all I am and all I have. Amen. Hallelujah. Amen.