Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Hazard of Getting Your Own Way

Somewhere in my reading list is Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” (perhaps I will read it sooner than later). This short work is supposed to be the definitive book on war and has been studied for centuries. I will be bringing a treatment of the book at this time; rather, I would like to concentrate on a passage in Matthew’s gospel that is very helpful for followers of Christ who face opposing viewpoints that amount to a different kind of warfare altogether. This is not the kind of warfare that constitutes the arm-wrestling of ideas, and the best debater wins. Instead, this is the kind of warfare that battles for clear thinking on the foundation of truth.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has been doing ministry in Galilee with Simon and others. Having already faced opposition at home, a multitude of people were following Jesus despite His withdrawal following the Sabbath controversy (He healed a lame man and people were seeking to kill Him for breaking the Sabbath and for saying He was equal with God). The Sermon on the Mount followed the appointing of the twelve, and His fame grew despite His continuous preaching on repentance. Now the Jewish leaders begin to make blasphemous accusations concerning Jesus, and they start by bring Him a demon-oppressed man who was also blind and mute (Matthew 12:22).

Jesus immediately heals the man, which brought two reactions. First, the people were amazed: “can this be the son of David?” (12:23). Second, the Pharisees shrugged off the miracle saying, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that this man casts out demons.” (12:24) They were not interested in the man or the fact that Jesus was able to do the works He did per se. They were consumed with being contrary to Jesus. This kind of thing still happens today.

A number of years ago my wife was working as a nurse’s assistant in a nursing home. Late one night she and another assistant fell into a deep conversation on spiritual matters: the lady asking deep, “heart-felt” questions, and my wife answering to the best of her ability from scripture. If I remember right, there may have been a brief period of prayer together as this woman sought out the Lord. The next couple of days, my wife was seriously reprimanded by a superior regarding accusations for some ridiculous activities that never happened, that were all lies (such as refusing to work and throwing herself down on a couch in a crying tantrum, etc). My darling wife was moved to the most difficult section of the home permanently. Guess the source of the accusations?

The reaction of Jesus to the action of the scribes and Pharisees is quite interesting. First, He defends, then He opposes them by showing them the absurdity of their argument: a divided kingdom, city, or house cannot stand. “If Satan is behind this exorcism, then he is using his authority to undermine his own dominion, a patently absurd situation . . . . Being the adversary of God and man, he would never work to restore a man from the debilitating effects of demon possession.” (Howell, Don. The Passion of the Servant: A Journey to the Cross. Eugene: Resource, 2009.

The opponents can’t get a word in edgewise, because Jesus is still talking. “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” (Matthew 12:27) The Pharisees themselves had to answer for their own experience, for exorcism (as such) was a money-making business. Think about it: even pagans acknowledge the existence of demons, some they call “good” and others, “bad.” There were professionals in Jesus’ day who were in the business of selling spiritual “protection” through prayers and other religious paraphernalia –perhaps not too much unlike many of our religion stores today . . .

This is all part of the deception of demons. They pretend to leave, only to come back again—and hell-bound people “play the game” while the devils laugh. Shortly after this whole incident, Jesus describes what happens to a spirit that leaves a man (for whatever reason): it is restless then returns with seven more “and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation” (Matthew 12:44-45).

It is easy to help those who want help, and I imagine the demon-oppressed man wanted to be delivered; however, the Pharisees were just as blind, deaf and oppressed. They did not want help. There are two kinds of people: those who want help and those who don’t. Much like the woman who made life difficult for my wife—she wanted information to use against my wife—she was not interested in being helped. The Lord Jesus said this generation is evil and overly demonically oppressed. We should not be surprised, but forewarned.

Jesus does something quite intriguing: He does not stay on the defensive, but now takes the offense. “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28) Satan would have man think that all men are under his control. Jesus said, “I’m a man” then defeated Satan with the authority that is all His in the power of the Holy Spirit. Note: Satan has not surrendered, but the Holy Spirit is still active today. Jesus actually gives an option that holds out hope to his opponents, if only they will acknowledge the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:30-31)

And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32) If anyone denies the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit, that one will never repent. Honest doubts and questions will be forgiven when a person repents, but if one is not under conviction and being taught by the Spirit, he will not come to God.

When we face opposition, we can ask questions that can help shed light on bad thinking:
“What do you mean when you say . . .” and “How did you come to that conclusion?” are rational ways we can help people think through their opposition; but for those who will not relent, insisting on keeping their ground (no matter how irrational it is), “have it your way” is the most horrible thing a sinner can hear. All we can say is, “have a nice judgment day!”

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