Forbidden

A number of sources have reported that a number of millennials, even those from church backgrounds, are turning to the occult lately. John Stonestreet, on the Breakpoint broadcast, explained it this way: “The fact is young people aren’t being won by atheism in significant numbers. In fact, by some measures, militant unbelief is dying. Rather, they’re trying to fill that deep spiritual longing they have with a faith that offers self-affirmation and a belief in something beyond our physical world—a spirituality that places no moral demands on its adherents. . . . Ultimately, what they’re searching for is an alternative to God, who, as St. Augustine famously said, made us for Himself. But God does make such moral demands of us, demands that point us to human flourishing—and to Himself, and His love for us that is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.”

With this recent growth in interest in occult among millennials, particularly those from a church and evangelical background, I’m reminded of the statement I myself have made, and which has been echoed by others: this is the most undiscerning generation of professed Christians in a very long time. But unfortunately, many, if not most of them, may never have heard the scriptural teaching and warning on the occult. This lack of discernment may well be due to an appalling lack of knowledge about what the scriptures say about these things. What was common knowledge among professed believers about Satan and his works, and the particular darkness and bondage that come from occult practices, seems to have been left in the past.

Sometimes it seems like those who have been brought up in Christian families are more naïve about the dangers of the occult. I will let Corrie ten Boom stand as an example for others who have been raised in Christian families by godly parents. She was definitely not ignorant of the dangers of the occult. Rather she saw more clearly than perhaps anyone else she worked with at the time the dangers of the occult and the demonic bondage it brought. Her sisters brought her this awareness from their knowledge of the legacy of the ministry of Pastor Blumhardt and this equipped her for ministry in the days ahead.

Here is how it happened: in the days after the defeat of Germany in World War II, Corrie ten Boom often spoke on a certain Old Testament passage to the survivors of the concentration camps and others who survived. Many in Germany and elsewhere in Europe were desperate to know about the fate of lost loved ones, and often they turned to turned to psychics, mediums and spiritists to try to learn about their fates. At that point many fell into bondage to evil spirits from their forays into the occult. A number of times she had to lead them out of the bondage to the darkness to which they had turned. And this was in Germany, the land of liberal theology, where so many theologians and intellectuals led many church people into skepticism about the miracles and the supernatural in the Bible. And here in our day, where we live among a generation that finds entertainment from demons, zombies, vampires and magic we have been too silent about the truth and victory in Jesus and the danger of the spiritual evil in the supernatural. And so many people come into spiritual bondage when they dabble in ignorance or proud defiance of what the God of the Bible has explicitly forbidden to his people.

The key passage, which Corrie ten Boom often spoke on, is in Deuteronomy 18:9-14. What God says to us through this passage is in full accord with the teaching of the scripture on the occult from beginning to end, but this passage spells out what God has explicitly forbidden to his people so there can be no mistake about what he means. Here is what he had to say:

“When you have come into the land which the LORD your God has given you, do not try to learn to do the horrible things that those nations do. Don’t let there be anyone found among you who makes his or her son or daughter ‘pass through’ the fire, or practices fortune telling, magic, divination or sorcery, casts spells, or consults with a medium, or seeks information from or seeks after the dead, because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD. And the peoples who are steeped in these things are the ones whom the LORD your God is dispossessing before your face. You shall be the completely pure nation of the LORD your God. Though these nations which he will dispossess before you practice divination and consult with fortunetellers, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.” (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Dale’s sight translation).

God forbids his people to dabble with magic, fortunetelling and spiritism.  These are all ways of dealing with the supernatural that he forbids to his people. They are part of an unredeemable part of false, pagan religion that cannot be incorporated into living with the God of the Bible or following his Word. The teaching of the Bible is remarkably clear and consistent on all these things from beginning to end. His prohibition is absolute, detailed, applies to all ages. In fact, I believe that the prohibition of these practices is as strong and absolute as the scriptural prohibition of murder.

God’s ban on magic, fortunetelling and spiritism was part of keeping the people of God free from pagan religious practices. The complete and absolute ban defines clearly what the people of God were not to follow from the people of this world. This is what is made clear, starting from verse 9: “When you have come into the land which the LORD your God has given you, do not try to learn to do the horrible things that those nations do.”

So God’s prohibition on magic, fortunetelling and spiritism was part of his command to the people of Israel not to learn the religious practices of the Canaanites. God had given the people of Israel the land of Canaan, and the reason that the prohibition appears in this context is that magic, fortunetelling and spiritism were an intrinsic part of the religious practices of the various Canaanite people. God knew that the the danger was that as the people of Israel took over the land of Canaan, that they might decide to try to learn about the gods of Canaan and how to worship them, since, in ancient world, gods were widely regarded as tied to the lands of their peoples. It would have been a natural desire from the conventional wisdom of their time, to try to learn about the Canaanite gods when they took over the land of the Canaanite people. But  the God of the Bible gives very strong prohibition against their detestable ways – what could be translated as abominations or as horrible practices. It’s not easy to convey the strength of this word to modern audiences, except to say that God utterly hated these practices.

This command was part of the general commands throughout the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, to avoid copying the ways of the Canaanites, and especially in the matter of worship. Even among the particularly corrupting ways of worship in the ancient world, the Canaanites were notoriously depraved. Throughout the ancient world, there was often no real theoretical or practical distinction between religion and magic, and often their gods were magicians as well, such as Ea and Hecate. These ways  of magic incorporated into idolatrous worship were spread throughout the ancient world. Moses and Aaron had already encountered them when they faced the magicians of Pharaoh. They were further  introduced by Jezebel in the northern kingdom of Israel many years later and were part of the downward spiral of that kingdom until its ultimate judgment and destruction. These ways of magic and worship were also encountered by the prophet Daniel in Babylon. And so God forbade them from trying to learn about them. This prohibition was made as part God’s expectation of the obedience of Israel to the first and second commandments, to have no other gods before him and not to have any other images of gods based on anything in the created order. 

Perhaps the best statement on the occult nature of ancient and false religions comes from the late New York Times reporter McCandlish Phillips, a convinced evangelical Christian, in his book The Bible, the Supernatural and the Jews: “There is no realm in which Satan is more active than religion. As a spiritual leader, Satan has devised many forms of religion, none of which are able to bring a man into relationship with the living God or to release him from the grip of sin. His religions tend to have certain similarities over the world. They are marked by rote and ritual, repetitions and incantations, idols and altars, images and protecting charms.”

So then, in our world, occult practices are the way that people who do not know the God of the Bible try to satisfy their hunger for the supernatural. Magic and fortune-telling have generally been a part of non-Christian religious practice for thousands of years. Moreover, turning to magic and fortune-telling is a significant departure from orthodox Christianity when it occurs; it is part of corrupt Christianity when it becomes mixed with pagan religions. And generally, it’s a part which is often not mentioned as a part of normal practices of non-Christian religions such as Islam, Buddhism, native American religions, Caribbean religions, and Hinduism as well as the ancient pagan religions and Hinduism. It’s noteworthy that so many adherents of these religions attempt to argue and disagree with Christians through rational arguments but practice deepest superstitions as part of the normal rituals of their religions. 

It’s also a mark of compromise of liberal, mainline churches in the past and present to turn a blind eye to or even to introduce people to these practices – for instance, I first learned about séances from the son of a minister of a mainline church at a church camp. Moreover, many times these are normal practices of atheists and agnostics who try to present rational arguments against the God of the Bible but themselves indulge in and practice the most childish superstitions and become ensnared in ‘the deep things of Satan.’ I don’t think that nearly enough Christian leaders to expose this kind of special pleading from modern atheists: the demand for utter rationalism for Christians but not never directed to themselves and their adherence to these kinds of personal practices and beliefs, when they claim to have spiritual interests but deny the existence of the God of the Bible.

The tendency to become involved in magic, fortunetelling and sorcery, then, is one result of the natural state of unbelief, of spiritual blindness and darkness:

  • “And you were once dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk in the present age of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the children of disobedience . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
  • “But if our gospel is hidden, it is hidden among those who are perishing, among whom the god of this world has blinded the thought processes of those who are in unbelief, lest there burst in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Corinthians 4:3-4 ).

The temptation to start and continue in them is through the desire for supernatural power and knowledge apart from God – the old temptation from the serpent, ‘. . . you shall be like gods/God’ (Genesis 3:5)

Therefore, God’s prohibition of magic, fortunetelling and spiritism was exact and specific. God made it clear about everything that he was not going to allow them to do in this realm. The specific prohibitions are detailed here, but they are also  repeated throughout the scriptures into the New Testament period. There can be no mistake that this prohibition went further than the time period of Moses and Deuteronomy and was not a part of the Old Testament Law that was superseded by the coming of Jesus and the New Testament with salvation by grace and not by works of the Law.

In verses 10-11 God gives his specific prohibitions of the specific forms of divination, magic and spiritism which were practiced then and which are also able to be identified with practices which happen now. Here is what he has said: “Don’t let there be anyone found among you who makes his or her son or daughter ‘pass through’ the fire, or practices fortune telling, magic, divination or sorcery, casts spells, or consults with a medium, or seeks information from or seeks after the dead, because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD.”

It’s usually easy to get modern people to see what an abomination the first specific prohibition is: child sacrifice. Child sacrifice was already already forbidden earlier in the Bible in Leviticus 18:21, and it was a known feature of worship of the ancient Canaanite god Molech. This was also one of the specific sin of the evil kings Ahaz and Manasseh of the line of David who ruled in Jerusalem, and it was an indication of how deeply they sank in the worst forms of idolatry. It was unfortunately considered to be an especially powerful form of magic and divination in the ancient world. It is an especially clearly demonic form of worship, to sacrifice the lives of the most helpless and innocent to the exigencies of idolatrous worship.

It might be not so easy for a modern audience to understand how God could consider the other practices to be abominations: such things as casting spells, astrology, necromancy/mediums who attempted to communicate with the dead (such as Saul and the sorceress of Endor in I Samuel 28:1-25). But let’s be clear about some things that we might term ‘magic’ and fortunetelling which wouldn’t really be considered part of these practices. For instance, this would include not mechanical or sleight of hand illusions by modern illusionists such as David Copperfield (whose Christian testimony I have heard him give). And the fortune cookies in a Chinese restaurant wouldn’t really come under these prohibitions, since they’re mostly  just bad slogans and trite advice.

Here are God’s specific prohibitions and their modern equivalents:

  • Human sacrifice: known to be practiced by some Satanic cults and still by some isolated pagan groups 
  • Divination: fortunetelling by cards, pendulum, etc.
  • Sorcery:  witchcraft, casting spells and”white” or “black” magic of any kind
  • Interpretation of omens: astrology, tea leaf reading, crystal gazing, palm reading, etc.
  • Mediums or spiritism of any kind: consulting the “dead”, séances, channeling, the Ouija board

Note that all these prohibitions are also repeated elsewhere in the Law of Moses, so that there can be no mistake that God through scripture is not completely consistent with this prohibition:

  •  “Do not allow a woman who practices sorcery to live” (Exodus 22:18, Dale’s sight translation).
  • “Do not practice divination or interpret omens.” Leviticus 19:26, (context of religious practices)
  • “Do not turn your attention to mediums and do not seek after spiritists – you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:31,
  • “I myself will set my face against every soul who seeks after mediums and spiritists – to prostitute himself or herself after them! – and I will cut that person off from among my people.” (Leviticus 20:6, Dale’s sight translation).

All these practices received the death penalty under the civil law of Israel. This was because they were covenant treason. These practices were violations of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). They involved treating other beings as gods besides the one true God of the Bible.  These practices are also violations of the second commandment because they often treated created beings and objects – parts of God’s creation — as if they were gods – a substitute for the true and living God. In addition, the third commandment – “You shall not use the name of the LORD your God in vain . . .” (Exodus 20:7) — is often violated in these practices where the name of the God of the Bible is used in occult practices as if he were involved or approved of these practices or he were equal to or could be invoked alongside the pagan gods in magic rituals or he could be manipulated or compelled to any kind of action through magic or sorcery. This shows just how serious the third commandment truly is, that it’s not just about using the name of God as an expletive or swear word but in a way which involves him in practices which he condemns.  The imposition of the death penalty was  to remove the spiritual pollution and indication to later generations how the consequences of these practices, as sin and transgressions of the Law of God,  are death (Romans 6:23). And it is one of the marks of later lawlessness among the people  of Israel that the prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah confronted and mocked these practices also. Indeed, these practices of fortunetelling and sorcery even seemed to have been a part of a strange kind of feminist religiosity in Ezekiel 13 and Jeremiah 44. I’ll leave it to the reader to consider these passages.

One question that I have had for years when reading the gospels, then, was why Jesus encountered so many demon possessions among Jewish people in his time, when few if any demon possessions are evident in the Old Testament. One possible answer which makes sense to me is that compromises with pagan idolatry and occult practices were probably responsible for most of the demon possessions which Jesus encountered. In later times it’s noteworthy that these practices also  included use of mind altering drugs such as marijuana and opium the further they went away from even educated pagans beyond the Roman empire – and this occult connection of these drugs with occult and idolatrous practices is often enough not mentioned among people in our churches. That these drugs and practices can open a person up to demonic influence and bondage is something that many people who were professed believers may not realize before they begin.  Yet from the beginning of scripture to the end, God confronts occult practices as forbidden and abominations And from the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to the end he brings in the victory and defeats these counterfeits, and this continues wherever the God of the Bible does war with the evil of this world, when the gospel reaches new people and new peoples.

There is nothing really vague about what God has forbidden in occult practices. There is no confusion about what God is specifying in his Word when he forbids magic, sorcery and fortunetelling. So when these things sprout up even among professed believers in Christ they are actually a mark of ignorance of the Word of God or even outright defiance of the Word. And because we may see ourselves as ‘Not under the Law’ because we stand on this side of the cross of Christ and the New Covenant, they are still not something which we can look into or dabble in today. Rather, in the light of scripture from beginning to end we must see magic, sorcery and fortunetelling as spiritual evil which was first defined under the Law which but which continues to apply to all ages and times and cultures.

Again, some of these same practices are found nowadays in Hinduism and Buddhism, even in the watered down forms which infiltrate the modern western culture in different waves. For several centuries there have been practices and ideas from Hindu and Buddhism which have come across western culture and which tended to follow both popular atheism and lukewarm and entertainment based Christianity (late 1700s; early 1900s; mid 1960s). These waves of curiosity and becoming fascinated with pagan practices tend to follow shallow and lukewarm Christianity in western culture. The general principle is:  after boredom with churchianity and ritual and tradition based Christianity spiritual curiosity tends to spiritual compromise with what God has forbidden. This was what happened in the early church, such as in Colossae, and then later in late 2nd century – one of the prime characteristics of Gnosticism was spiritual compromise with pagan magical practices. And though the ‘emergent church’ seems to have become much less fashionable and to have lost its cachet, renewed interest in these same practices has also been a part of the ‘emergent church’ and with ‘progressive’ Christianity. 

There was a case which the late Walter Martin mentioned which described how a young woman became involved with the occult and then went into demonic possession. The case is remarkably similar to that of Gottliebin Dittus, which Johann Blumhardt dealt with. Dr. Martin was called to help with young woman who was a nominal Christian, but was actually unconverted. She found that God wasn’t answering her prayers, so she went into the occult instead. She then became victim of multiple possessions. Through a time of ministry she was eventually delivered of the possessions. She then confessed her sins of occultism, renounced the devil and his works, repented and put her faith in Christ. In the years to come she became exemplary believer, wife and mother and showed the power of Christ to deliver.

One thing that does need to be added: the word which is translated ‘sorcery’ is the Greek word pharmakeia in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Our word pharmacy is derived from this word. It’s also used in that translation in Exodus 7:11 and 22, and Isaiah 47:9 and 12. It occurs also in the New Testament in Galatians 5:21 and Revelation 18:23, 21:8 and 22:15. It brings out the relation of drug use in the ancient world as a part of the practice of magic. Marijuana, hashish and opium were definitely known in the ancient world, and the further one went from the more ‘civilized’ parts of the ancient world the more they were used in recreational and spiritual use. The Scythians in particular were known for their use of hashish. In the Mediterranean area, wine and beer were cheap and abundant, and anyone who wanted to could generally get drunk as an escape from reality. The use of these drugs as a part of sorcery was to make them more open to spiritual realities, much as they are used by some today – just Google ‘marijuana’ and ‘spirituality’ to see large number of links pop up – but don’t follow the links, please! I’ve always wondered why some people who were professed believers in Christ seemed to become spiritually dull and obtuse to the Christ and the gospel after they started to go into marijuana use, and I think that this is why: it seems to be a part of turning from pure and holy spiritual experience in Christ through the Holy Spirit to a defiled and defaced spiritual experience which is more open to the demonic.

The problem of professed believers in Christ entering into into the occult occurs every generation or two. It comes first of all because of a spiritual passivity and laziness after God which leads to an unnecessary ignorance of the plain teaching of the Word of God about the occult. It also becomes a problem for those who live by conformity to others and to outside authority, who may be easily led by others into the occult, and it is often a problem for those who are looking for feelings and experiences and yet do not have much discernment about the source of those feelings and experiences.  Following feelings and people out of ignorance of the Word of God and sometimes in outright defiance of the Word of God means that there will always be the need to make the plain teaching of the Word of God on this clear to every generation. And the truth of Proverbs 14:12 needs to be repeated in every generation as well:

“There is a way which seems upright to a man or woman, 
But its end is the way of death.’’

God doesn’t have to give the reasons for what he forbids. But he often does let us into the reasons, and he does so here was well. It’s part of his treatment of his people as adults, who can understand and follow his will and can understand his purposes. The spiritual purity that God expects from his people is why he forbids occult practices. The purity of heart, life and spirit which he expects means separation from defiling spiritual practices. This kind of purity of heart, life and spirit is then part of the general call of God for his people to show his purity and holiness in this world.

Spiritual purity means avoiding pagan paths which lead to spiritual defilement. Spiritual defilement comes from doing spiritual practices which God finds abominable. Understanding and avoiding this paths are part of the due attention that believers need to give to anything which God says in his Word that he hates. And this includes things he calls abominations which are abominations in all ages.

The clear statement of God’s revulsion toward occult practices is in verse 12: “ . . . because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD. And the peoples who are steeped in these things are the ones whom the LORD your God is dispossessing before your face.” All these pagan practices of divination, magic and Spiritism are detestable to God. Here it is clear that they are a reason for judgment of the Canaanites through work of God and warfare of the Israelites, during the conquest of the land of Canaan. God would work to drive out these nations since they had come to the point where they had exhausted the patience of God. And in the conquest of Canaan it is clear that the God of the Bible preceded and accompanied the warfare of the Israelites with supernatural judgments of God. One of the reasons that Israel would conquer the land of Canaan with the guidance and help of God was because the justice of God was coming because his patience with false religion and corrupting practices had come to an end.

It’s difficult to say how defiling these practices are, and how much they lead to deep spiritual darkness in the lives of the people who practice them. They’re not the unforgivable sin, though; there have often been people saved from lives of occultism and deep darkness among the followers of Christ. But no one would even begin if it were clear to them how much deep darkness goes along with these practices, even to mental illness and suicide. It’s no wonder that deep spiritual darkness upon the heart comes from practices which God calls abominations and detestable.  

The leaders in these practices often become leaders in opposition to the world of God in this world as well. This is now deep the darkness can be upon the heart which goes into these practices. The examples include:

  • The sorcerers of Pharaoh (Exodus 7:11,
  • Balaam (Numbers 22:7, 24:1)
  • Jezebel (II Kings 9:22)
  • Simon Magus (Acts 8;9, 20-24)
  • Elymas/Bar Jesus (Acts 13:6-8)

But with all these people, here’s the thing: they were all unsuccessful and they all paid terribly for their opposition. No magic or divination has ever been successful against the people of God as they have followed God.

When the scripture above says in verse 12: “ . . . because everyone who does these things is an abomination before the LORD”, it does not look like a direct reference to the demonic, but it is certainly implied as revelation progresses through the Old and New Testaments. It seems like the scriptural explanation of the demonic nature of pagan religion and occult practices had to proceed much more slowly than the forbidding of these practices. There were mentions in the Old Testament and the New Testament, though, which spelled this out. For example: 

  • “Their sacrifices made him jealous;
    Their abominations made him very angry.
    They sacrificed to demons and not to God,
    To gods whom they had not known,
    Novelties which had just popped up,
    Which their ancestors did not recognize.” (Deuteronomy 32:16-17  — the Greek word in the Septuagint – the  ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament – is the same word which is used in the New Testament for for demon. Modern Old Testament dictionaries recognized this equivalence)
  • “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons” (Psalm 106:37)
  • “But whenever they make sacrifices, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I don’t want you to have anything in common with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” (I Corinthians 10:20-21) .

Since the responsibility of the people of God is to hate evil (Psalm 97:10), it is clear what the responsibility of the people of God: the hatred of what God hates and  has called abominable. And since the earliest days of the church of Jesus, the profession of faith in Jesus has also meant renouncing ‘the devil and all his works.’ In light of this passage, what this means should be entirely clear: repentance for all previous indulgence in magic, sorcery and fortunetelling, even if it was done in ignorance.

Where we usually find ignorance of and indulgence in magic, sorcery and fortunetelling in modern churches is in the ‘compromised one third’. That’s the term I use for the percentage that usually can be found in surveys to have rather shaky conversions and a lot of ideas and habits usually associated with being unregenerate. Many may simply need to grow in Christ, but we can usually find a sizable percentage in our churches who try to serve multiple masters, to hold onto Jesus and a ticket to heaven in one hand and something else in the other. The practice of this practical idolatry usually includes some form of deep selfishness the false gods of romance, marriage and sex or money or politics as well as dabbling in non-Christian religions and religious practices. I leave it to the reader to see why it’s reasonable that occult practices usually have some attraction in Hollywood and form the subject matter for so many movies and TV shows. 

Someone might mention the occurrence of magic in the fiction of  J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S. Lewis,  and J.K. Rowling. But here’s the thing: Tolkien and Lewis never pretended and actually denied explicitly that occult practices were acceptable for Christians in this age. Even though J.K. Rowling has in the past claimed to be a believer in Christ as well, her fiction does not depict anything like modern occultism. In fact, in the final Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), actually deals with life and death with scripture in the last book. But I’ve personally grown much more cautious about Harry Potter in light of more recent indications that these books and movies incite curiosity and exploration into the occult by many. And this is a very real danger. For instance, many in my generation came to become curious about the occult when we saw the occult practices like witchcraft and I Ching in the old soap opera Dark Shadows in the late 1960s. I would counsel the people of God, therefore, to understand that for some people Harry Potter could be an incentive to investigate and go deeper into the occult.

Strangely enough, the significant difference in reality and effectiveness of the power of the name of Jesus was spelled out dramatically for myself once in a dream I had. I don’t claim any revelatory authority for this dream; rather, it seems that my unconscious mind explained this better through this little nighttime psychodrama than any words I could easily think up. In the dream I saw Harry Potter trying to do battle with evil forces through his magic wand, and that didn’t work very well. But then I stepped up and used the name of Jesus and his name was effective every time I used his name against the powers of evil. (For more information, see Authority Over Spiritual Darkness in This World).

The spiritual purity of the people of God demands radical separation, then, from the abominations which bring spiritual defilement. It’s part of what it means to live in the salvation from the God of the Bible. It’s why God repeats and makes his prohibition clear again in verses 13-14: “You shall be the completely pure nation of the LORD your God. Though these nations which he will dispossess before you practice divination and consult with fortunetellers, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.” 

Again, the scripture is clear in calling for the complete and decisive separation of the people of God from both divination and sorcery. The clear statement of scripture is that God has not given any permission for these practices in any way among his people. The reminder is given to the Israelites that God is judging and kicking the Canaanite nations from their land for these practices. The people of God are therefore to understand that there will  never be no superiority in knowledge or understanding or any advantage to them in this life or before God for their practices.

God’s expectation is summed up in his command to be blameless and this means includes this kind of separation from divination and sorcery. It’s noteworthy that in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was prevalent in the time of Jesus, uses this very same word in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect (same word) as your Father in heaven is perfect.” So separation from divination and sorcery is part of what it means to be  wholehearted and blameless before God. before God, blameless. Throughout the ages this separation has been complete and decisive and no compromise permitted. And the reaction of the people, of confession and destruction of occult paraphernalia, in Ephesus in Acts 19:18-20 has been part of the deep repentance and renunciation that the Lordship of Jesus demands: “Many of those who had come to faith began confessing and divulging their practices. A large number of those who had been practicing secret arts brought out their books and burned them before everyone . . .”.

The decisive separation from the magical practices which God has not permitted has been a part of living as the people of God throughout the ages. It comes from the decisive victory of Jesus on the cross over the powers of darkness. He has forever delivered his people from the power of darkness, and God transferred his people into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:19). Living in this victory then means abiding in Jesus and learning from and putting into practice his Word in our lives: “So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, conduct your life in him, as you are rooted and built up in him and are made stable in the faith just as you were taught and as you overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Something that never seems to be much understood but which needs to be understood much more strongly among believers in Christ is the deep changes that following Jesus makes in the life, thoughts and emotions of the person who has renounced the occult and received eternal life by faith in Jesus. There may be some remnants of the old thought processes that persist for some months to several years afterwards. The truth is that purifying the thought life of the believer from the sheer weirdness, superstition and spookiness, jumbled thoughts, lingering deceptions, magical thinking and personal immaturity that involvement in the occult produces takes some time in the Word, in prayer and in fellowship with other believers.

Since this may take some months and years it is crucial that the body of Christ not become easily offended if the person coming out of occultism says or does something that others think is ‘weird.’ This is not a time to isolate, pathologize or gossip someone who love and follows Christ and may still be seeking to leave behind some of the thoughts and words of the old life – there’s never a time for that. The answer is always to love and gently instruct the person coming out of the occult according to the Word of God. The correction and healing of the thought  processes from the regular preaching, teaching and personal study and application of the Word of God can in fact bring about a remarkable transformation of life. And the relief from the infection of the thought processes simply calls for practice of renewal of the mind through the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2) over a lifetime to Christlikeness – just like everyone else who comes to Christ in faith for salvation.

No compromise with any kind of spiritual darkness is necessary, though, because God has given us instead is so much more. He has given us his Word for guidance, prayer for his guidance, provision and fellowship, and the authority of the name of Jesus for dealing with the powers of evil in this world. So it’s an amazing realization to come to, that not only are occult practices forbidden, but they are totally unnecessary for a child of God who understands what he or she has in Christ, namely,  every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in him (Ephesians 1:3).  you will never receive any greater happiness and blessing through the works of the devil than you would receive from following Christ closely in the first place

The God of the Bible has always been at war with the deceptions, counterfeits and other works of Satan in this world. He has always been at war with false religion because it is one of the counterfeits of he who was the liar from the very beginning. It is one of the counterfeits that he tries to use to draw us to where he can steal the glory of God, kill our joy in God and defile and destroy our relationship with God. But the war continued to the cross of Jesus, and that cross was the decisive defeat of Satan and all his works for all eternity. The reality is now that Jesus is Lord and conqueror, and that he has the victory for all time and in all places. Victory is in him, and greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.

Make a clean, decisive break in life part of acknowledging Jesus Lord of all your  life if you are a believer in Christ. Make your repentance complete through complete renunciation, separation and avoidance from the practices that God forbids and finds repulsive. Sometimes this kind of repentance that may sometimes be part of conversion, of repentance and faith. Often, though, it’s part of later repentance that is a deepening and enforcing of the turning away from Satan and all his works. Let this complete repentance go as far as the removal of physical articles from a life which involved occult practices that you have you in possession. It’s preferable to destroy these objects, especially if personally used or used in rituals, even if just ‘art’. When I was in college, for example, the destruction of Ouija boards in the fireplace of the house where I lived off campus often accompanied someone’s coming to Christ and growing in Christ. 

Genuine safety from a world of spiritual evil and spiritual deception is in genuine conversion. Genuine repentance and faith in Jesus puts a person into the right kingdom and under the protection of almighty power and in the eternal goodness of God. The life of spiritual safety then comes through walking closely with him and letting his Word transform your mind and your life is the way of safety. Don’t stop short of this; if you have not yourself repented of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life, do so now.  

Finally, boredom with being a Christian or a churchy and religious routine should drive you to know more of the God of the Bible. There will always be more for us to know of him as we walk with him and grow closer to him. So, if you’re bored, or even worse, hurt and drained, don’t go looking for something else to replace him in your life. Rather, ask him to show more of his glory and what may be making you bored with the routine. Look to grow deeper in Christ and walk more closely with him than ever before.

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Authority Over Spiritual Darkness in This World

Updated!

In World War II, in 1942, General Jonathan Wainwright became a prisoner of war when the fortress island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese. As he was held in a concentration camp, he became a broken, crushed, hopeless and starving man. But in August 1945, a Japanese colonel told him that the war was over, he was free and he was in command. So, as he returned to his living quarters, he met the same old guards who attempted to mistreat him again. But he met them with a completely unexpected reaction, as he declared with authority, “No, I am in command here! These are my orders!” And so he used his now legitimate authority as he was released from cruelty and bondage to command those who had previously tormented him.

This is part of the good news for believers in Jesus Christ: they are in the winning side, with the victory that has come for them through Jesus Christ. And so Jesus himself has delegated authority to us by which our own former deceivers and tormentors must yield.

In the depiction of spiritual warfare in the gospels, Jesus exercised his own rightful sovereign authority as the Son of God over every kind of demonic manifestation. But when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection, he left us his authority as well, an authority which continues today the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ and his people continues in warfare against the kingdom of this world under Satan and his minions. It’s not always as blatant as it is in the gospels, with demonic possession and demons speaking openly through the mouths of the possessed, but the same terrible issues remain in this conflict. The lives and eternal destinies of real men and women remain in the balance, whether to remain in sin and death by the deceit and oppression of the determined and cunning enemy of our souls, or to come to life and liberation by the power of God in Jesus Christ.

What Jesus has to say is the reason for believers in Jesus to be confident in this warfare. We are in possession of an authority which has been delegated us from the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. But even more, the exercise of this authority is also assurance of an even greater fact, that we have received and possess the greater gift of salvation from sin and death to eternal life through the Son of God. And yet as we approach spiritual warfare, it calls us to a wise and serious consideration of what the scripture has to say, not only because of the subtlety, power and deception of the enemy, but also for the quiet confidence that comes to us in the power of Jesus to conquer through us. So even in this world, the way is open for the believer in Jesus Christ to share and enforce the victory which Jesus gives through his death for sin and his resurrection and through his endless and unchallengeable sovereignty. So in Jesus, by the authority of his name, by the possession of eternal life through faith in him, there is the victory for us to be received, possessed, shared and won.

So here is what Jesus had to say to us about the authority which he has given to us: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you. Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20)

Jesus has given his people the authority to defeat the enemy. The use of the authority of the Son of God in the name of Jesus is delegated to the believer to conquer the wicked deeds of the enemy. So the genuine, born again believer is assured the victory in Christ on that basis. The same authority which was delegated in the past is still effective today.

So this is where this authority was first demonstrated beyond just Jesus and the apostles: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning.’” The seventy two were a group of disciples of Jesus from his earthly ministry that did not include the apostles. The number that he had chosen is significant, since it was the same number as the elders of Israel under Moses. And Jesus had earlier given this group  a short term missions project, and for that project he gave them practically the same authority and directions that he had given to the apostles when he gave them the same kind of mission to the villages of Galilee. So they returned beaming over their success, and their experience of success stood out to them especially in their authority over demons n the name of Jesus only. So they had experienced an unprecedented authority in their lives which had not been available to anyone beyond Jesus and then the apostles. Moreover, Jesus recognized their victory on the spiritual plane as it was happening. What he said about “ . . . watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning . . .” was probably describing the defeat of the enemy as they exercised the authority Jesus had given them on their mission.

So, the reality of this authority over the power of the enemy has been a part of the demonstration of the reality of the gospel throughout this world. Wherever those sent out by Jesus on his mission to communicate the gospel, they have also often had to exercise his authority. This has happened whenever and wherever believers in Christ have encountered such works of the enemy, and very often – in fact, almost invariably – wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed in a place and among a people for the first time.

This authority is then delegated from Jesus to those whose faith is in him for their eternal salvation. It’s there for the continued exercise by believers in Christ when they still face conflicts in this world with the spiritual agents of darkness and evil. And understanding this authority in the light of the scriptures is crucial for it to be properly and wisely wielded under the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In verse 19, Jesus goes on to say, “See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you.” There are no textual difficulties in this verse. There are no historical or exegetical difficulties in extending this to the entire church and especially to the eldership of the church, because otherwise all promises that Jesus made during his earthly ministry to his disciples would have expired at the end of his earthly ministry. The ‘you’ here needs to be understood in the light of the promises that Jesus gave to his disciples during his earthly ministry as applying to all his disciples in all places at all times until his return. It cannot be understood as applying to the world at large, or even to a merely nominal Christian, but to those who have truly repented of their sins, trusted in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation, and who have been born again of the Spirit of God. In other words, those who truly have the right to use his name in prayer (John 14:13-14) are the same ones who have the right to use his name in authority over the forces of spiritual darkness in this world.

In support of this point, that believers in Christ only have the right to use the name of Jesus with authority over the demonic, we need only see what happened in scripture when a couple of people who did not have the right tried to use it. This is what happened during the time of the ministry of the apostle Paul, in the Greek city of Ephesus, on the west coast of what is now Turkey: (Acts 19:13-16): “Some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had wicked spirits as they said, ‘I exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ These were ‘The Seven Sons of the Jewish High Priest Sceva.’ But the wicked spirit replied, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but WHO ARE YOU?’ And the man who had the wicked spirit in him jumped on them, overpowered them and sent them running from the house stripped and beaten.’” We may contrast this with the time in Philippi when the apostle Paul clearly commanded the girl with the evil spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of her!” (Acts 16:18), and it came out of her at that moment.

Moreover, we need to see the great extent of this authority: it is over all the dominion of Satan and over all his malicious spiritual emissaries, in whatever works that they may do. The metaphor of serpents and scorpions are the fallen angels who already met with defeat and who will be continually defeated by the authority which Jesus has delegated until the time when they meet their final defeat in the hell which has been prepared for them.

And Jesus also has given us this great assurance with the delegation of his authority: this authority can be exercised without any fear of personal counterattacks by the enemy while the disciple wields this authority. There is no need to fear immediate demonic vengeance that may try to come against the believer, so that the faithful have no need to be fearful and intimidated when they see the power of the spiritual enemy when they may face them openly. This is no small assurance whatsoever: while the demons themselves may stir up human opposition to the gospel and the servants of God, yet the believers in Christ have no need to be intimidated if they face the naked power of a wicked fallen angel during the time of their ministry. The enemy may gibber and threaten, but the promise of Jesus himself is that none of the demons may use the power that they possess fallen angels against his servants.

But even more, we need to see that there is a special meaning to the fact that this was given to the apostles and then to a group which corresponded numerically and most likely symbolically to the elders of Israel in the Old Testament. I think that we can see a special level of delegation to those in the body of Christ who have truly the levels of spiritual character, experience and discernment to wield this authority. We need to recognize that this will not come to a person who has merely managed to get the votes to be elected an elder in a local church nor to a person of such spiritual pride to arrogate to himself or herself the position of an elder. Rather, I think we need to see that the character qualifications of I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are also qualifications for those who are to wield this authority with the greatest spiritual confidence in Jesus and capability through Jesus as well as the greatest humility and servantlike heart as possible. And so as well, this also is a stark reminder that spiritual authority in the body has responsibilities and capabilities far beyond discussions about financial statements and church infrastructure. It’s not going to come to someone who has strong opinions and a vocal, argumentative and overconfident personality. Rather, that person would be probably among the most vulnerable when faced with the most severe cases of demonization (see I Timothy 3:6). The ministering elders of the church should rather be those of such deep humility, Christlikeness and faith that they can deal with the most severe cases of demonization with unity of spirit, deep prayerfulness and spiritual confidence.

Yet still we must also see this promise as applying to every believer in Christ, from the most recent convert, to the youngest child, and to the elderly and infirm. The ‘you’ of Jesus generally applies to believers as a whole throughout the scriptures where it is a promise that came first to the apostles and the first century disciples and then to the church for all ages. So this is also a promise that can also be used against the common, everyday onslaughts of the enemy that all believers in Christ usually face throughout their lives on a regular basis. Many times there are those times when someone of greater or even average spiritual experience are not physically available when the enemy unleashes a spiritual onslaught against a believer. Many times believers may find themselves in situations where they are unwittingly isolated or even alienated by a sudden onslaught of human opposition, but still the believer has this authority from Jesus available. In fact Tertullian, one of the leaders of the early church who lived a little over a hundred years after this promise was given, thought that it was so important in his day, where there was naked paganism and occultism, that any Christian who did not know how to exercise this authority in the name of Jesus should be put to death! Doubtless that was hyperbole, but it does show that there were those in other ages that thought much, much more of this authority than so many in our day.

One thing to note: in our day there have been reports in the popular culture about “alien abductions.” One thing which Timothy Dailey brings out in his book The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth about Ghosts, Aliens and Mysterious Beings is something that you do not see reported in the popular culture about these situations. When a believer in Jesus Christ exercises the authority in the name of Jesus against these experiences when they come upon him or her, they stop immediately! So the demonic connection to these experiences has been noted at different times, and that they stop immediately at the name of Jesus shows that the origin of those that cannot be attributed to the power of suggestion must be from the demonic realm.

So understanding this authority which has been delegated by the Lord Jesus is essential to gaining and sustaining victory over the works of the enemy around us. It is necessary to understand it and to use it when necessary. It is necessary to be able to use it in a wise and mature way, as it was advised in the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization some years ago: “Never go looking for demons, but if one appears under your feet, step on it!”

Since this authority is delegated and effective in Christ, it calls us to be submissive and obedient to Christ and to be full of the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit. This is the key to be someone who is properly serious and discerning yet cautious, to be assured and confident through faith in Christ and trusting in his Word. And it calls us to use the authority which he has given us when we face different aspects and degrees of the work of the enemy, from deception to temptation to influence to oppression to possession. And certainly the most serious cases are then to be referred to those who are the most spiritually mature, to be faced with fasting and prayer (Mark 9:29). In our own lives as we know the authority that Jesus has given to us, we need to face the enemy with determined resistance, as determined as an eight year old girl once showed when a short, stocky man attempted to grab her: “I bit him, then I stomped on his feet. I hit him twice with my knuckles. I gave him a bloody nose.”

So then , Jesus has given us this great authority to use in this world, but that is by no means the full impact of this passage. Being able to use the authority of Jesus over the enemy is a sign of the even greater blessing of salvation in one’s life. The use of the authority is not as important in any way as much as whether a person has the presence and assurance of salvation in this life. The infinitely greater benefit is simply salvation in Jesus.

Salvation is greater than the authority over the enemy, and therefore it is something that believers need to consider as a greater reason for joy and celebration. This is what Jesus himself did, to redirect to the joy of the seventy two to the greater reality in their lives: “Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.”

Take another look at how Jesus describes salvation here, as their names have been written down in heaven. They have been recorded as God’s own through faith in Jesus. They were already in possession of salvation. They would learn even more of what it was they possessed: they had passed from darkness to light, from sin and death to eternal life and glory. This was what they were to take joy in. And we can take this also as part of a greater principle: that salvation from sin to eternal life in Jesus is a greater good and blessing than any outward manifestation in this world. There will be healings and miracles of provision also, but the new birth is always more important, and more to be a center of our joy than the outward blessings. Jesus told us this so that we would keep the authority he has given us in proper perspective, that it is a benefit of having received salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

So with what Jesus has said, we can avoid brazenness and undue fascination with the authority that he has given us. I’ve heard some of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters in Christ describe this as “ . . .  seeing a demon behind every rock.” In this world we neither need to go looking for trouble nor to try to  use it when the situation may be merely inconvenient or uncomfortable and not a definitely demonic work of evil in this world. There is a greater reason for joy, the joy of salvation, the joy of the knowledge and assurance of eternal life in Christ. There is the reason for gratitude and joy in the Lord, in being in fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, in the security of his presence and love for all eternity.

So, for us now, so many years later, we can also recognize that the decisive victory for us has already come for us through Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection has already brought the conquest of sin, death and Satan, and first of all, we can have through Jesus pardon for our sins and acceptance with God, eternal life, namely, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And this also assures us now of victory in spiritual conflict with the forces of darkness.

Soberly take the authority which Jesus has given us for our present battles and struggles where we meet spiritual evil. Keep it in remembrance for all that we may yet have to face, and keep a clean heart before God and man for the purity and spiritual stamina necessary for the proper use of the authority. But again, remember that salvation in Jesus Christ is a far greater reason for joy than authority over the enemy.

God’s Home Invasion: Jesus Breaks Down the Doors and Breaks Out the Captives

The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero once wrote, “ . . .  eccentricity is the privilege of genius.”

Most of the pioneers of the world have been those who have dared to buck the status quo, and someone at some time has usually splattered their reputations during their lifetimes with charges of either insanity or maliciousness. It’s not unusual, then, to find that the same charges were directed against Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, during his early life and ministry. These charges came from people who were close to him and people who were of sterling religious reputation, during the time which he spoke the will of the Father and did the miracles of power which challenged the course of this world into sin, disease and death.

The charges which came against Jesus came as the wave of popularity began to rise after the first months of his earthly ministry. The rumblings of opposition began early, and they eventually were to culminate in the plot against him in Jerusalem from the whole religious establishment which led to his crucifixion. But Jesus did  not allow any of those misguided and slanderous statements against him and his ministry to pass without serious challenges directly to those who were making them, and in this we see the astute perception of Jesus and his personal formidability in confrontation as he dealt with the statements of the opposition swiftly and decisively. In this we see more of his wisdom, resolution and moral courage of the one perfect man who has ever lived before this world, and his unbearable sternness and heartbreaking tenderness, to echo the words of C.S. Lewis. But in this we see the same personality of the God who revealed himself in the Old Testament, but with the perfection of humanity in his tenderness and razor sharp reason. We see here in Jesus the condescension of Deity in stooping to live among us, teach us and correct us during our most severe misperceptions and most horrible errors. We see the tough love of the Son of God, who did not consider himself too high and mighty to simply ignore our sins and turn the other way, but who rebuked us in his love, the supremely tough, yet heartbreakingly tender love of the Son of God.

This, then, is the setting of one of the hard sayings of Jesus, if not the hardest, especially when guilt, neuroticism and obsessive-compulsive disorder  misconstrues it. Understanding the situation, though, and why the statement was made discloses what the unforgivable sin really was and why it was unforgivable. But even more, as we go into the passage, we will also find the scriptural basis for something that many of us may never have truly realized had been based in scripture.

“And then he is coming into the house, and the crowd is coming together, so that they’re unable even to have a meal. And when his family heard about it they came out to apprehend him, because they were thinking, ‘He’s out of his mind.’ And the teachers of the law from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He has Beelzebul ,’ and that, ‘He is casting out demons by the ruler of the demons.’ And when he had called them together he started saying to them, ‘How is Satan able to cast out Satan? If his dominion is divided against itself, his dominion is not able to stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house is not able to stand. And if Satan rises up against himself and is divided, he is unable to stand but has come to an end. But no one is able to come into the house of a strong man and take his stuff unless he first handcuffs the strong man, and then he is able to ransack his house. Understand this: all things will be forgiven the sons of men, even  their sins and slanders with which they blaspheme; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not ever have forgiveness in eternity, because he is guilty of an eternal sin . . .’  — because they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” (Mark 3:20-30, Dale’s sight translation).

Misunderstanding and opposition accompanied the ministry of Jesus. This is the setting for one of the hardest sayings of Jesus in the gospels, and it is necessary to understand this to understand what Jesus said in its larger context.  It’s also very instructive to consider what is happening in this passage, since in it we’ll find something that we never thought that we would find there – something that some have even said is not even in scripture, but which formed a cornerstone of the apologetics of C.S. Lewis.

The first misunderstanding that followed the ministry of Jesus was the misdiagnosis of his mental health. This came from people who were genuinely well disposed to him – but they were sincerely wrong about him. Their misunderstanding of what was happening with him led them to attempt to rein him in and shut him down, and this may well rank as one of their biggest blunders and misconceptions.

This is what is happening when Mark describes the pandemonium of a crowd that mobbed Jesus when he was in a house and seemingly trying just to get in a meal: “And then he is coming into the house, and the crowd is coming together, so that they’re unable even to have a meal. And when his family heard about it they came out to apprehend him, because they were thinking, ‘He’s out of his mind.’” This description is part of the plain, vivid, blue collar language of Mark when he described the ministry of Jesus. The phrase which I’ve translated, “ . . . his family . . .” is an idiom which seems to mean that; it’s not the literal term for family. The phrase could also mean his friends, which would seemingly mean his neighborhood and family friends from Nazareth. But the appearance of his literal family on the edge of the crowd later, in verse 31, indicates from the later context that this would have more likely have been his family members – his mother and brothers.

So the situation became so crazy with the crowds at some point that his own family transferred the assessment of the situation to their assessment of the mental health of Jesus himself. I’ve translated the words, “ . . . they were thinking . . .” but the words in the original are, “ . . .  they were saying.” It seemed from the context that this was more the meaning – sometimes the phrase does mean this – but either way, they had thought up and were working each other up with a false assessment of Jesus himself. And there is no ambiguity in the phrase which I’ve translated, “He’s out of his mind.” Other, more colloquial translations could be, “He’s crazy!” or “He’s off his rocker!” There is no misunderstanding at all of what this phrase means in the original language. Those people who were coming out to take charge of Jesus considered him at this point to be mentally unbalanced. Since in the ancient world there were no men in white coats to bring a person in to a mental hospital, it was up to the family to do something about someone who was showing signs of being mentally disturbed, and this statement about Jesus, unique to the gospel of Mark, shows that at this point in his ministry his family was going so far as to come out to where he was preaching and teaching to bring him in.

This sentence also shows the blue collar frankness of Mark. It’s understandable that some of his family members might have, from third party reports, misconstrued what was happening in the ministry of Jesus. This report of what happened was also not at all complimentary to the members of Jesus’s family who were still alive and still prominent in leadership throughout the churches. But this little sentence is also a strong argument for the trustworthiness of the gospel of Mark, since he included things like this that might have been embarrassing to the early church, and it shows even more that the stories about Jesus preserved in the gospels are not fabrications, since they include these realistic and understandable details that simply would not be characteristic of a pious fiction.

But even more – this little sentence shows how sadly and utterly mistaken the opinions and assessments of family members may be. They may not understand what God is doing in the life of a loved one, since all they’ve seen over the years have been the ordinary circumstances of growth and development. They may misunderstand those who are entirely in the will of God, and their opinions and authority, which are nevertheless to be respected and valued, are not the final assessment and the ultimate authority. It’s necessary for us today to remember this, since if Jesus met with this kind of misunderstanding from his family during his earthly life, those of us who have taken up the cross to follow him as his disciples cannot consider ourselves above that same kind of misunderstanding.

But the misunderstanding of family members was only part of what Jesus encountered at this time in his ministry. Far more serious and far worse was what he found with the slanderous opposition from the religious leaders from Jerusalem. They were trying to spread the rumor that the ministry of Jesus came through demonic power. They saw him as serious religious competition, and they were seeking to discredit him and blacken his reputation by attributing his miracles to the power of spiritual evil.

This is what Mark wrote about what was happening: “And the teachers of the law from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He has Beelzebul ,’ and that, ‘He is casting out demons by the ruler of the demons.’” This apparently wasn’t just a small, one time, off hand, trite saying which could have been sarcasm or a joke which was misunderstood. Rather, this was something that they were spreading around behind his back; it was despicable slanderous opposition. They were in effect trying to smear Jesus with the reputation that he was in league with evil powers and pretty much a practitioner of black magic himself. This charge pretty much carried the implication that Jesus was possessed and probably insane was well – a wicked, insane man who was himself the tool of the most powerful demons. And this charge in fact continued after the ministry of Jesus and was repeated later in the Talmud. But this charge also is hostile testimony to the reality of the miracles of Jesus. Even those in the most malicious opposition to Jesus could not deny that his miracles were real and that they really happened. Their reality was such that all the opposition could do was to stoop to the charge that they were accomplished through demonic power, and through a demonic power superior to that which was showing itself in the people that they knew were already possessed.

This charge came from those who were in the positions of religious authority there – the most astute Biblical scholars there. They themselves also performed exorcisms as well – but they could not argue with the fact that Jesus always was successful whenever he cast out demons. The malicious reaction to the ministry of Jesus shows, then, the inadequacy of religious authority as such as compared with the authority and power of Jesus himself. Their reaction shows that roles, titles and careful Biblical scholarship does not necessarily add up to spiritual discernment nor proper understanding and application of the Word of God. They totally missed what the Spirit of God was doing there in the land of Palestine about 30 A.D.

Thus Jesus shows that even a perfect life and ministry may meet with misunderstanding from relatives and slander from others. He shows that in a world of sin spiritual ignorance can cloud the understanding of the most well intentioned and best educated people. He shows that there is a breaking point to the opinions of other human beings to be the reliable standard of truth and righteousness when God comes into human history and starts something totally new, as he did when the Son of God came into our world and began his ministry.

This then throws the question back to each one of us. Do we have the mentality that would have agreed with the rumors back then? Are we too quick to believe what others are saying without ourselves examining the scriptures and seeking to know whether what is happening is God’s incomparable working? I fear that too many believers over the years are far too ready to believe rumor and hearsay themselves, and not to speak the truth, refrain from gossip and be discreet with what they say. But even more – it brings us back to the Word of God as well as the standard of what is true and right. Not one of those things would have been said about Jesus if they had taken the Word of God and had seen Jesus through that infallible lens.

But there’s more to the story, definitely. Jesus did not leave the charges against him unanswered. Jesus answered misunderstanding and slander with compassionate but relentless logic. With a few plain, commonsense words of unbreakable logic he drove the charges into nonsense. With his quiet, pointed rebuke he implicitly answers one charge and explicitly answers the other. 

The clarity of his reaction was not the reaction of paranoia. If Jesus had truly been unbalanced, the expected reaction would have been the raving mania of an unbalanced mind clinging desperately to a deluded and depraved image of itself. Even more, his reply is remarkable in its understatement and seriousness. With singular accuracy and sanity he gives a pointed answer that shows himself not only in full possession of his reason, but far more reasonable than anyone that he addressed. His words are those of one who is full control of himself and with full discernment of the situation. It would indeed not be too much to say, in fact, that Jesus was the only truly consistently sane person in human history, with mind, will and emotions unclouded and untouched by human sin and depravity – but that’s something to be explored at another time and in more depth.

So this is what Mark tells as how Jesus answered the teachers of the Law who were charging him with demonic power: “And when he had called them together he started saying to them, ‘How is Satan able to cast out Satan? If his dominion is divided against itself, his dominion is not able to stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house is not able to stand. And if Satan rises up against himself and is divided, he is unable to stand but has come to an end. But no one is able to come into the house of a strong man and take his stuff unless he first handcuffs the strong man, and then he is able to ransack his house.’”

Mark presents Jesus as showing the utter impossibility of his miracles happening through demonic powers by the analogies of the divided house, the divided kingdom and the ransacked house of the handcuffed strong man. These analogies were apparently given in a rebuke, inside whatever house Jesus happened to have been standing at the moment. His twelve disciples were apparently there as witnesses of what was said. He delivered this rebuke and correction with tact and courtesy and did not publicly shame the teachers of the Law before the crowds. His rebuke showed his hatred for their sin of slander and his righteous stand against it, but as it has yet to be seen, this rebuke has a deadly seriousness as well.

The argument which Jesus uses in these analogies is a form of reductio ad absurdum: pushing an opponent’s point to its logical conclusion where it will be clearly understood to be ridiculous. He took their charge, that he was acting by demonic power, and drew the inevitable conclusion that he was driving out demons by demonic power there was division and anarchy in the kingdom of Satan. This was ridiculous to people who had as a matter of their lives seen the blatant work of spiritual evil in the lives of others, and it was common knowledge to them about the coordination and cooperation of the forces of spiritual evil. So the conclusion is that the exorcisms of Jesus cannot be by demonic power. QED. And the charges against him are both illogical and malicious. QED.

But Jesus goes on and, by the analogy of the strong man who is handcuffed and has his house ransacked, that there is something more powerful than the most powerful ruler of spiritual evil at work in his ministry. The One who is stronger than the most powerful and evil of the evil ones is there and exercising his power and authority. In fact, the reality of the exorcisms shows that the power of the kingdom of God – his ruling dominion – was there in the presence of the anointed King, the Son of God. Jesus was letting his actions speak for themselves in their results, as he was willing to do throughout his ministry. And his actions directed them to the proper conclusion about what was happening in his ministry. He shows them that their unbelief is illogical and in fact in spite of what they had been seeing right in front of their faces, but which they were nevertheless bending over backwards in their slander to avoid coming to the conclusion that the Messiah was there and that the Son of God had come.

It could easily be said that what Jesus was pointing out to the teachers of the Law was like the well known statement of Sherlock Holmes: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” Jesus pointed out that it was impossible that he could be acting through demonic power, and, however improbable they may have considered it, that it was the truth that they were standing before King Jesus, the conqueror, the one stronger than Satan. His miracles and exorcisms were themselves the evidence that he was the one with the authority of the Son of God and accomplishing the compassionate will of God in the power of the Spirit of God. So what they were seeing was the ultimate home invasion – the ultimate kingdom takeover – and the evidence was the number of those that they had seen before their eyes who were healed and delivered through the ministry of Jesus.

The evidence was that right there before them was a reality which they had to come to grips with. His life and ministry were demonstrating the truth of the statement of I John 3:8: “This was why the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” And this was the conclusion that Athanasius, a pastor and theologian who lived after 300 A.D., came to: “From such ordinary acts as being born and taking food, he was recognized as actually being in the body; but by the extraordinary acts which he did through the body he proved himself to be the Son of God.”

So by this point let’s consider what we’ve found here in the gospel of Mark. We’ve found that there were a few who charged Jesus with being crazy – a lunatic. We’ve found that there are those who charged Jesus with being the very devil of hell, the ultimate spiritual counterfeit – a liar. And we’ve found that Jesus himself pointed to his own ministry as being the evidence of his being the promised Messiah – Lord. So here we have something striking that appears in the writings of C.S. Lewis as the trilemma: that these are the three alternatives that Jesus has given us to assess his ministry – Lord, liar or lunatic – but the conclusion that he leads us to as the ultimate conclusion is one that is demonstrated throughout the gospels – Lord. I’ve heard criticisms of the trilemma, that it is not itself scriptural, and certainly I don’t think that it should be forced into any passage of scripture, but it is remarkable that within these few verses you find all three being set forth: lunatic, by his misguided family; liar, by his malicious critics; and Lord, by his own direction to the results of his ministry.

And when the results of his ministry were considered, they were real and lasting. It was asserted that people whom Jesus healed during his earthly ministry were still walking around about A.D. 100 – it’s easily plausible they had been children who he had healed during the years of A.D. 27-30. And I think that the analogy of the ministry of Jesus as a home invasion that brought freedom to captives from evil gains more clarity when it is compared to the freeing of Amanda Berry, Gina De Jesus and Michelle Knight from the clutches of Ariel Castro (Ariel Castro kidnappings). These three innocent women were taken captive for years by an evil man but freed from evil when forces stronger than the evil man came to break down the doors and rescue them. This dramatic story, with the story of their own faith and prayers for deliverance, captivated the world. And this is a very apt analogy to Jesus tying up the strong man and ransacking his house – bringing freedom to the captives of sin, disease and demonic oppression.

But there’s even more to be considered here that will do well to our souls from the Word of God. There’s more to be understood from understanding what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was. What Jesus said to the teachers of the Law on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was a warning to them to cease their slander. It’s easy to see that they were words wrung out of him by the situation with which he was faced. Of all that Jesus said, I can see these as words he would rather not have ever had to say.

So Jesus concluded what he was saying to the teachers of the law with this most serious warning: “Understand this: all things will be forgiven the sons of men, even  their sins and slanders with which they blaspheme; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not ever have forgiveness in eternity, because he is guilty of an eternal sin . . .’  — because they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”

I don’t think that we can see this as Jesus pronouncing a statement of final judgment on the teachers of the law. He himself said of his earthly ministry in John 8:15: “I pass judgment on no one.” Rather, this must be seen first of all as an extremely serious warning of how serious their slander was. He was warning them of the final consequence of the slander that they were directing against him was implicating the Holy Spirit. The gravity of this warning comes with his words which I’ve translated, “Understand this.” This was Jesus’s characteristic idiom which he used for emphasis; in other places it’s translated,m “I tell you the truth.” It’s been considered to be equivalent to the Old Testament expression of God, “As I live, saith the LORD.”  And what Jesus is warning them against is an explicit and unretracted declaration the work of the Holy Spirit through Jesus is the work of spiritual evil. Jesus does not say why it is unforgivable, but it is most likely because is means an inability to receive forgiveness and that it is a symptom of a moral disease that is incurable. It is an utter moral blindness that cannot see the light at all and cannot recognize the presence of the forgiving God among them. It means a decided preference for moral darkness and an utter obstinacy that hates, resists and slanders the genuine working of God through Jesus Christ and calls it pure evil.

As a matter of pastoral care, this sin cannot be the symptom of a diseased mind, of a messed up thinking mechanism such as in obsessive compulsive disorder, that seizes upon this thought and subjects the person to an endless series of self accusations and attacks, like a kind of mental auto-immune disease. Nor can this be a mere passing, inadvertent thought that comes across the mind of a believer. I cannot say that it’s impossible for anyone in our day and age to have committed it, since I don’t know the actual threshold of when a person passes over any kind of sin of word to where this one is committed. But I consider that Jesus delivered this as a warning and not a condemning declaration that there was hope even for those who were saying such things and that they themselves were not unforgivable. Indeed, I don’t believe that Jesus would even have taken the trouble to speak to them and warn them if he had considered them unforgivable because of what they had said. I do believe that it’s impossible for anyone who has ever put his or her faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life to have committed this, and the evidence of regeneration is more than enough to show that it has not been committed by anyone. So I think that it comes down to not being obsessed about this one saying, but this transgression will not become clear and clearly judged until eternity, and it is not for us ever to conclude that anyone has ever committed this sin, or the forgivability or unforgivability of any sin before God, or to judge others or even ourselves on whether we have committed an unforgivable sin.

Ultimately, then, all that is in this passage directs us to the proper reception of Jesus Christ for all that he truly is. He is the Stronger One who invaded the house of utter evil to set the captives free, as the rest of the gospel of Mark shows us as well. His call to us is what it was at the beginning of the gospel of Mark: “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has arrived. Repent and believe the good news!” His call is to recognize him as the anointed King of God, the Son of God who came as a Jewish man in first century Palestine, who did miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit, and who dies for us on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and who rose again to provide eternal life for all who put their trust in him.

So then, the falsehoods that have already been exploded about Jesus work even more to show the truth about him!  Truly the Son of God came to earth for the salvation of men and women! It happened, and it’s real. Jesus Christ does do miracles! He did miracles of salvation then, and now, in the power of his death and resurrection he continues to do them. So he now calls us to receive him as the Savior now, and the Lord of our lives, to submit to his authority, to receive the forgiveness of our sins and to experience the power of his risen life.

Jesus Christ truly does miracles of salvation from sin to eternal life. Therefore, he calls us to truth him for our salvation, whether this is the first step of faith to acknowledge him as Lord and Savior, or in the continuing trust in him for our lives. And even more, we cannot leave this reality just at the place where it touches us; this means that we also need to seek him for the miracles of salvation for our friends and relatives who have yet to come face to face with the Savior.

Jesus Christ really does do miracles of healing. There is still healing and deliverance from the power of the enemy in his name. So we can continue to seek his power for our most intractable problems of physical disease and infirmity, and for the most impossible situations of spiritual evil. Through prayer and the exercise of his delegated authority in his name he still continues to wreak havoc and ransack the house of the enemy.

The ultimate miracle of the Son of God is yet to come, though. He is coming back to take us to himself, to purify and glorify us finally and entirely beyond sin, disease and death, to be like him and with him forever. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!