Mission Minded: Realistic about the oppression
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Recently, I’ve sent out several similar emails with a statement that basically said, “You are never safer than when you are sitting at Jesus’ feet, hearing from his Word, surrounded by fellow believers.” Well, it seems that the reading for today throws a wrench in that statement and completely shatters that confidence. Because, when Jesus was in Capernaum teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, a man who was possessed by a demon began to cry out against him! Now if a man who was literally sitting at Jesus’ feet in church, listening to his very Word could be possessed by a demon, what does that say about any similar gathering? What does that say about our church and our people as we gather around God’s Word? Are we really safer? Are we safe from Satan’s threats or not?
Today we are going to talk about just that. We are going to see if the statement that I sent out, that you are never safer, really holds up to scrutiny. And we are addressing this because if we are going to be a Mission Minded church with Mission Minded individuals, then we need to be realistic about the opposition. We need to understand what we are working against, exploit weaknesses, and emphasize our strengths.
Let’s take a look at what happened that day. It’s still quite early in Jesus’ ministry, but he was gaining a reputation as a teacher – a Rabbi. He had already called a number of disciples to devote their time to learning from him. And, he had been invited to teach at the synagogue in Capernaum. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mk 1:22). There was a marked difference between Jesus and the other rabbis the people were accustomed to hearing. In other parts of Scripture, it talks about Jesus being able to draw connections between different sections of Scripture. Here, the people marvel at his “authority”. This is saying that Jesus had a deep understanding and strong handle on what the Scriptures say. And, of course he does. He is God. These are the Scriptures that testify about him! So, whereas many of the rabbis of Jesus’ day were so concerned with teaching the people their many man-made laws, and so busy explaining things about the Scriptures that they missed the Scripture’s message, Jesus taught the Scriptures. He understood them, and he was able to open them up to the people. This teaching with authority, then, comes across as having such a clear understanding of the Scriptures that no one doubted that he spoke the truth of God’s Word. Opened them up with new depth.
And the truth is something that Satan and the demons cannot handle. They don’t want the truth proclaimed. So a man, who had been there all along – who was perhaps a regular member of the synagogue – revealed the evil that lurked within. He was possessed by a demon, and the demon cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Mk 1:24). Let this serve as a reminder that we are never free from the threat of Satan. This starts to get at the original question, then. If we are never free from his threats, where are we safest? It seems that this demon possessed man was content to remain silent until the truth of God’s Word was spoken. Perhaps while the rabbis before were so concerned with proclaiming their man-made laws, the demon was content to silently stand by, as long as the people were sidetracked from the Scriptures and the truth about God’s plan of salvation. But once Jesus proclaimed truth, and with authority, the demon tried to stop it by crying out against him – perhaps trying to soil Jesus’ reputation by giving him the testimony of demons. They didn’t want the truth proclaimed. They didn’t want the people to know God’s Word. They cried out in protest against the truth.
But Jesus doesn’t just have authority when it comes to revealing the Scriptures. He has authority over all creation – even over the demons. With just a couple simple phrases, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” (Mk 1:25) the demon had to obey the Lord. “The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek” (Mk 1:26). “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him” (Mk 1:27).
It just goes to show you, brothers and sisters, that you truly are safer when gathered around the truth of God’s Word. Yes, that’s when evil reared its ugly head – but only because it was content with the false teachings the people were hearing. It didn’t want the truth proclaimed. And despite evil rearing its ugly head at the truth, Jesus displayed his power over it. You are Secure in your Savior’s power. You are safe when grounded in his Word.
Now, I want to say just a little more. Don’t underestimate Satan and the demons. He is powerful – much more powerful than you or me. He is cunning – pinpointing where to tempt you and exploiting your weaknesses. He has one goal – that you end up in hell with him. Sometimes he works toward that goal while silently remaining hidden, as he seems to be doing for the most part in our country where the majority of people don’t take him seriously. Other times he works toward that goal by overpowering those who think they can control his powers, as he often does in many cultures that dabble in voodoo and witchcraft. He is a threat to be taken seriously.
But, as you take him seriously, also don’t underestimate your God who fights for you! He is even more powerful and has all authority even over Satan and the demons. He is even more wise, knowing how to strengthen you and how to turn even evil into good. He has one goal, that you remain his and join him in heaven for all eternity. Jesus displayed his power over Satan here in this reading. But his ultimate victory, sealing Satan’s fate (and your fate), happened at the cross. It was there, that Satan thought he had finally done away with the so-called Savior. Yet it was there that Jesus displayed his superior wisdom and power. It was God’s plan all along to send his Son to die for the sins of the whole world – enduring God’s wrath for all sin on the cross – for your sin, and for mine. It was God’s plan all along to destroy death by dying himself and rising from the dead. By his death, you are free from sin and the hold that Satan has on you. By his resurrection, you are free from the bonds of eternal death in hell. You are God’s, secure in your Savior’s power, and not even Satan can harm you.
He can’t harm you. He can’t take away your salvation, unless you let him. But he does continue to tirelessly try. In the coming months, I see one potential threat that he may try to exploit. As we continue our mission of daughtering a new congregation in the Waco area, he may try to use this as an opportunity to divide us when we ought to be united in spreading the joy of salvation! Phrases like, “We are losing members” or “us” and “them” can cause real harm. We aren’t losing members. God’s Kingdom is not getting smaller. We are sending members to the nearby harvest fields to continue God’s Mission of saving souls. We are creating a new outpost of the Gospel that God will use to reach the lost. There’s no “us” and “them”. Not at this point. There’s “our work here” and “our work there,” and God will bless it all. I understand there are challenging times ahead. I know the concerns. And Satan will try to use those to divide us. Be aware of that. Be aware of the fact that he might try to use you or me to create that division. But we have someone with authority working for us! He has authority over how many people are in the pews. He has authority over the financials. He gives authority to the work we do. And he already knows how this will all turn out. So, let’s be faithful with the opportunity he has given us. Let’s rely on his power to turn our hearts when we are the ones creating divisions – accepting correction from those around us. And let him take care of the outcome, trusting in our Savior’s power.
There’s always room to grow in this. We know that we are Secure in our Savior’s power, but we can still be strengthened in that trust from the Word. The Old Testament believers did not have the 20/20 hindsight that we have today. They trusted in the promises of God, the Promised Messiah who would bring salvation, but they did not know exactly how and when these promises would be fulfilled. Some prophecies speak of the Messiah as a suffering servant, while others call him a king who would rule victoriously forever. How could he be both? Well, we see by studying the Scriptures that through his suffering he demonstrated his authority – getting down in the trenches with his people to bring them up. Though he died, he rose victorious over it.
Cling to these victories of your Savior. Let them be your armor against the threats of Satan as he tries to terrify you with displays of power or tries to divide you with his cunning. The reading from Ephesians reminds us of where our strength is. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Eph 6:12-13). Whatever powers of evil there may be, Paul warns, protect against them by putting on God’s own armor. His truth buckled around your waist. His righteousness covering your heart. The readiness of the Gospel as shoes on your feet. His salvation as your helmet. With all of this, faith in him – his victory – will be your shield. And his Word, through which his Spirit works – will be your sword.
There are many things we have yet to face in our future that we don’t know the outcome of. In fact, for that reason, some cultures describe moving through time as walking backward through it. Your past, in front of you, you can see clearly. Your future, behind you, is yet unknown. But by studying the Scriptures and understanding how God has defeated evil and preserves his people, we can be confident that he will continue to do so for us. By studying our own walk through life and seeing the victories God has given us, we can move confidently into the future!
He’s blessed us: with the security of his victory, with his Word to make us strong. We’ve seen a recent victory of his with new people joining – even during a pandemic! News like this spreads quickly. News like this builds confidence! Brothers and sisters, we are in a good place. Poised to grow this church and be builders in God’s Kingdom. Each one of us has a place in that – whether it be praying for the work to be done and the challenges ahead, encouraging one another and building one another up even as Satan tries to divide us. Even now you can prepare what you might say when given the opportunity to share the reason for the hope that you have! We are in this together as a Mission Minded church. And although we are to be realistic about our opposition, let’s also be realistic about the one who is backing us. We are secure in his power and strengthened as we gather around his Word.