Swept Clean or Free?

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45

Sometimes I find myself in conversations about ministering to those who are demonized. When I talk about the fact that I’ve cast demons out of a bunch of people, the initial reaction is usually disbelief. After they realize that I am serious and that I have story after story that I can share with them about this reality, disbelief changes to curiosity. While casting out demons fits with everything we see in the Gospels, the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, it can be difficult for our minds to comprehend because of western rationalism and materialism.

Occasionally, the question is asked, “Have you ever cast a demon out of a believer? Someone who is a follower of Jesus?” My answer is always, “I’ve only cast demons out of believers. I would be hesitant to cast a demon out of someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus unless they become one soon afterward.” This is usually fairly shocking to the person who asked the question.

In most people’s mind, the image they have of a demonized person is of someone like the Gerasene demoniac who was fully possessed, chained hand and foot, and living in caves. Or the image they have is like something they’ve seen in a horror movie. But what they don’t understand is that there is a continuum of demonization that moves from simple attachment, to internal occupation, to stronghold, to oppression. And if they don’t have the Holy Spirit, it can become possession.

The danger of casting demons out of a person without the Holy Spirit is what we learn from Jesus in the Matthew 12 passage above. When talking about the demonic, Jesus compares our life to a house. One might be able to cast the demon out of one of the rooms of that person’s house, but if Someone stronger doesn’t move into that room, the demon will just come back with his friends. The condition of the person will be worse than before. Just putting the house in order and sweeping it clean (what we see many people do in counseling) isn’t enough. Our lives will simply become a more orderly place for more demons to occupy and oppress.

One time a pagan woman came to Jesus to ask Him to cast a demon out of her daughter. Initially, Jesus denies her request because she is a Gentile. Jesus goes on to describe the ministry of deliverance–casting out demons–as “the children’s bread“(Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27). In other words, the ministry of casting out demons was always meant as a gift for the people of God.

Casting out demons is a cleansing tool meant to be used mostly in the discipleship process of becoming more like Jesus in holiness and purity. Occasionally, it can also be used in evangelism when combined with the message of salvation. But deliverance ministry was always meant to be for the people of God.

Christians should feel no more ashamed of needing deliverance than a sick person should feel ashamed of going to the doctor. In the earliest traditions of the Church, in the first few hundred years, a person received deliverance prayer immediately after they were baptized. The normal process was: 1) surrender one’s life to Jesus, 2) get baptized in water, 3) invite the Holy Spirit to baptize and fill the new believer, and 4)cast out any demons that are there. Most of the church has lost these last two steps. Based on the ineffectiveness and brokenness of the Church today, I believe we need to recapture #3 and #4 as a normal process for the new believer.

Is there an area of your life you struggle to gain victory? A chronic sin? An addiction or compulsion? Self destructive thoughts or behaviors? A temptation that feels impossible to resist? If so, there’s a good change you need deliverance ministry. God’s gift to His people is deliverance ministry. Never be ashamed to take Jesus up on His offer of true freedom!

Learn from Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus’s yoke of teaching was not a heavy burden. To take on Jesus’s yoke–his way of living in the Kingdom–is not about laboring to perform for God. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. We get to come to Jesus, off-load our shame, guilt and sin, and receive from Him peace, joy, comfort and love. It’s an incredible exchange that we have available to us every day because of the price Jesus paid on the cross.

Many of us have read this passage a number of times and found encouragement and comfort from it. Life in Christ was never meant to be wearisome. If the burden of following Jesus starts to get too heavy, it means we are carrying too much. It means it’s time to take a trip to the cross where we can lay our burdens at Jesus’s feet and allow Him to carry them for us. When we spend time with Jesus we can find rest for the deepest part of our being–our souls.

One thing that is important to notice is that Jesus doesn’t say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn about me…” No, He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Jesus is alive! Jesus rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father. When we read scripture, we don’t just learn about Jesus. We learn from Jesus.

Learning about Jesus is an important first step, but learning about Him is confined to what Jesus did in the past. Learning from Jesus is about imitating Him with our life today. Learning from Jesus is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us now. It is about hearing from Jesus about our lives today. We will never find rest for our souls if we are only learning about Jesus. Rest for our souls comes when we learn from Jesus.

When we allow Jesus to teach us and guide us today, in the present moment, when we learn from Jesus, we’ll find that He will lead us beside quiet waters as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

Overcoming Unbelief

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Matthew 11:2-6

Remember that John the Baptist was one of the first people to announce that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 3; John 3:22-36). John was the one who baptized Jesus in water, saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him, and heard the voice of the Father speak words of love and identity over Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). John the Baptist is the one who saw Jesus and declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!“(John 1:29).

But we also know that John the Baptist was persecuted by Herod the tetrarch because John spoke out against Herod’s unlawful marriage to Herodias–his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3-12). John was stuck in prison and probably expecting his impending death. John was having a moment where he was struggling to believe in the calling on his own life and the truth about who Jesus was. Even after all that John the Baptist had seen and heard from the Lord, his difficult circumstances were causing him to wonder if Jesus really was the one they were all waiting for. Doubt can creep in like that!

Has anyone ever been there?

Notice Jesus’s response. He doesn’t launch into a theological argument proving that He is the Messiah. Instead, Jesus lists the miracles that He had been doing on a daily basis. The best evidence of Jesus being the Messiah, the Savior of the world, was the miracles. They not only fulfilled prophecy about His life but demonstrated the tangible reality of the Kingdom of God on earth.

So why did Jesus conclude with, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me?”

I believe Jesus knew that John, and many others, had different expectations of how things would turn out. John didn’t expect, as the Elijah-figure preparing the way for the Lord, that he would spend his final days in prison. He didn’t expect his life to end by execution. And many others didn’t expect the Messiah to go to the cross.

We are witnessing here the same juxtaposition that we experience in our own lives. Jesus is opening the eyes of the blind, causing the lame to walk, cleansing those with leprosy, opening the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news to the poor. And yet He’s not miraculously getting John out of prison. He’s not miraculously sending angels to bust John out of prison, saving him from execution (which we know He can and will do at times according to Acts 12 & 16).

This is the tension of the Kingdom of God growing side-by-side with the kingdom of darkness (Matthew 13:30). This tension can cause many to “stumble on account of (Jesus)“. As followers of Jesus we have to live in this tension while living in this broken world. The Kingdom of God is breaking out all over the world but so is the kingdom of darkness. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We have to keep our eyes focused on what He IS doing and not get sucked into focusing on what we think He should be doing.

I also think this passage in Matthew 11 points to the necessity of signs, wonders, miracles, healings, deliverance, and prophecy. The operation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) not only strengthens the church, but it also combats unbelief. It helps people know that the Kingdom of God is a tangible reality on the earth and not just a theory, not just a belief, not just a religious principle.

When our faith wavers, sometimes we need to see the power of God on display right in front of us. We need to know that Jesus is still opening the eyes of the blind, causing the lame to walk, cleansing those with leprosy, opening the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news to the poor today!

So many Christians today who do not believe in the miraculous gifts and do not operate in the miraculous gifts are falling away from their faith. In a cultural sea of unbelief and doubt, tangible and experiential evidence of God’s supernatural power is irreplaceable.

Have you seen God do the impossible recently?

Glorified and Ascended Jesus

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Revelation 1:12-18

John was worshiping the Lord on a Sunday and Jesus came to him in powerful way. The lampstands were prophetic imagery representing the seven churches of Asia Minor. Jesus was standing “among the lampstands.” The glorified, ascended Jesus looked magnificent.

John had seen Jesus in a glorified state with Peter and James when Jesus transfigured before them and talked with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-8). John had also seen the resurrected Jesus a few different times–the upper room (John 20:19-22), in Galilee (John 21:7), the ascension (Matthew 28:16-20). But this is the first time John encounters Jesus in His glorified and ascended state.

Yet, John is not the only one to encounter the ascended Jesus in a vision. The apostle Paul had Jesus show up to him a few different times. The first time was during Paul’s own conversion experience (Acts 9:1-9). The second time was when Paul was ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10). The third time was when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11).

We get a somewhat detailed description of what the glorified, ascended Jesus looks like. He was glowing white all over. His eyes were like blazing fire. All of John’s descriptors give us an image of glowing and fiery bright light. His voice thundered as the double-edged sword came out of His mouth–prophetic symbolism for the word of God (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17).

In the presence of such power and majesty John drops to the ground as if he is dead. I believe that this would be true of all of us. Our physical bodies can’t handle that kind of proximity with the Alpha and Omega. Yet, with one touch from Jesus’s hand, John is strengthened. And Jesus reminds us all that He is not dead but alive for ever and ever! One of His names is the Living One!

Why Jesus Appeared

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 

1 John 3:8

We get from John one of Jesus’s primary mission statements. Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work. But what did that include?

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

Matthew 4:23-24

Destroying the devil’s work looked like four main things: 1) teaching about the Kingdom of God, 2) preaching the gospel, 3) healing every disease and sickness and 4) casting out demons/deliverance.

Jesus summarizes this mission in the synagogue in Nazareth by reading a prophesy about Himself from Isaiah 61.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free…

Luke 4:16-18

We see here that destroying the devil’s work includes the same things–preaching/teaching, physical healing, and deliverance. If these were the main components of Jesus’s mission, and Jesus then passes His mission to the Church when He ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, then this mission is now ours.

One of the primary missions of the Church is to destroy the devil’s work. We are to do as Jesus did. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you“(John 20:21). Jesus said that we who believe in Him “will do the works (He has) been doing,” and that we “will do even greater things than these” because He was going to the Father (John 14:12).

We are called to: 1) teach about the Kingdom of God, 2) preach the gospel, 3) heal every disease and sickness, and 4) cast out demons. And Jesus told us that the way we would accomplish this mission was to “go and make disciples of all nations” and teach them “to obey everything” that He taught the original disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).

Most churches in America are only doing one or two of these, which is why the devil’s work in the world is not being destroyed. Instead, where the church doesn’t take up the full mission of Jesus, the devil’s work in the world runs rampant and creates chaos and unbelief. We were called to more than this!

Eternal Intercession

but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Hebrews 7:24-25

Jesus is alive. He is at the right hand of God the Father interceding for us. While the enemy hurls accusation after accusation at us, Jesus declares what is true about us. Paul said it to the Romans this way:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Romans 8:32-34

Have you ever had a friend tell you that they are praying for you? And not just in the casual way. But you know this friend is truly interceding for you night and day. It is humbling. Praying is one of the most loving acts that we can do for one another.

What these passages of scripture are saying is even better than that! Jesus Himself is interceding for us. He is advocating for us before the Father. He is representing us to the Father. He is our eternal high priest that goes into the Most Holy Place. He is our sacrificial offering, our bread of presence, our light from the lamp stands. He is our scapegoat and our spotless lamb.

This is why Paul can declare with confidence:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31, 37-39

A Gospel of Prepositions

The gospel is all about prepositions not just propositions. Notice how Paul says it in Galatians 3:26-27, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

Not only is Christ in us through the Holy Spirit, but we are in Christ through faith. As followers of Jesus we were baptized into Christ and invited to be baptized in or with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). This is the command not only to receive the Spirit (John 20:22) but also to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

So not only does He reside on the inside making us Temples of the Holy Spirit, but we are also clothed with Christ on the outside. We no longer wear the blemished rags of our past sin but wear white robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and celebratory garments of praise (Isaiah 61:3).

So are we in Christ or is He in us? Yes! Is the Holy Spirit in us or are we in the Spirit? Yes! Jesus said, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” (John 15:4). And in Jesus’s prayer for all future disciples, He takes it a step further and reveals how believers have now been brought into the divine Godhead:
“Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:21-23).

Paul expands on this idea in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…”(Ephesians 2:4-6). We were dead in sin but are now alive with Christ. So the way God sees us is seated with Christ even as Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Not only is Christ in us, and we are in Him; not only are we clothed with Christ, but we are also seated with Him in the heavenly realms. So we don’t just look forward to moving from earth to heaven, but we live, right now, from heaven to earth.