Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Matthew 17:14 - Moving Mountains, Moving Kingdoms

In Matthew 17:14-21, Jesus is just coming down off the mountain in the event we call the Mount of Transfiguration.  It is the place that most clearly reveals His Identity and Mission—the place that shows the nature of His Kingdom—and the place Peter recalls years later when people were challenging Christians saying they were just making stuff up. 

2 Peter 1:16-17—“For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory: This is My beloved Son.  I take delight in Him”

It was such an amazing experience that the disciples Peter, James & John all wanted to camp out and stay for a while.  But like all mountaintop experiences, they have to end.

The Top of the mountain reveals Jesus’ Kingship and His Kingdom.  He is the one whom the Law and the Prophets testify to and point to—the coming Messiah.  Jesus has come to fulfill the Law and inaugurate the Promises God made in the Old Testament. 

In verse 14, Jesus descends from His Kingdom and reenters the kingdom of the world—the kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13) under the authority of the Prince of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, 2 Cor. 11:14, Eph. 2:2) in which he roams around like a roaring lion searching for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Scripture calls Satan this because in the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve rebelled against the authority of God, and relinquished their authority to the serpent who deceived them and they placed themselves under his authority.

When Jesus came down from the mountain, He is immediately confronted by a representative of the kingdom He has come to destroy-- 1 John 3:8—“The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works.”

Jesus is the one invading Satan’s kingdom.  Jesus is the aggressor and is on the rescue mission—binding up the strong man and robbing his house.  “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and delivered us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.”—Colossians 1:13

What we need to realize is:

  • Apart from Jesus, we cannot fight Satan—to quote Scotty from Star Trek—“We don’t have the powerrrrrr!”
Jesus has to remove us from Satan’s dominion and move us into the Kingdom of Light.  Without Jesus’ power and authority, we are Satan’s subjects, slaves to his kingdom and our sin nature. 

Look at the way Satan can controls and manipulates humanity as evidenced by this boy’s life.  The demon has the authority to cause “seizures”—literally the phrase is “moonstruck” a Greek term which implies delusional – Lunatic.  Essentially, it describes someone with the inability to think or function correctly.  This demon causes directly (as with Job) or so demoralizes the person to intentionally cause themselves pain (like the teenage pattern called cutting) to even suicidal behavior. 

We should not lose sight of the fact that many instances of children (or adults) with behavioral problems are not merely psychological or self-esteem issues but are instead spiritual.  Satan can manipulate our bodies, our mind, our sexuality, our energy level, our hope.

Bottom line is that trapped under Satan’s authority, human beings will know nothing but pain, sorrow, suffering and death, taking many forms and using different strategies with each of us. 

There is no way we could ever “rule in hell rather than serve in heaven” as the phrase likes to claim because Satan has no interest in your opinion or participation, happiness or fulfillment, nor does he care about you in the least.  Anyone who says this needs to understand that Satan has no obligation to you, owes you nothing and promises you nothing.  If he promised anything, it is a lie as lying is his native language.

Back to the Matthew passage, Jesus invaded Satan’s Kingdom after coming down from His Kingdom on the mountain.  He was confronted with a demonic rep that was too much for the disciples He had left behind.  Why is that?

Jesus gives 3 reasons why the disciples could not drive out the demon.

1.     They Were Unbelieving
a.     It’s like they had forgotten their own experience.  They had already been sent out with authority to drive out demons—Matt. 10:1.  They carried with them the authority of the Kingdom of God and it had worked before.
b.     It’s like they had forgotten.  It is like they believed the authority of the demon more than they believed the authority that Jesus had given them.  They were believing their eyes, rather than walking by faith and believing in their heart.  They had lived for too long in the world without seeing the power of God at work and that was available to them. 
c.     They believed the demon more than God.  There’s no telling what the demon said to the disciples but I’m sure it was unsettling. 
d.    While their Master was up on the Mountain in the cloud and smoke, experiencing the power and victory of the Kingdom of God, the disciples were down in the valley being defeated by the enemy—like Moses on Mt. Sinai while Aaron was building the golden calf.  They were living under the authority of the old kingdom rather than the New Kingdom that was coming down the mountain.

2.    Their Behavior was Perverse or Rebellious
a.     This is related to the last statement.  While they were believing in the false god—the demonic, the people in Exodus “engaged in revelry”.  Their behavior changed while their leader was away and it rendered them vulnerable to defeat, deception and idolatry. 
b.     In the same way, while Jesus and the others were up on the mountain, something about the remaining disciples changed—they became warped.  Their thinking and likely even their behavior had changed to the point that their authority was lost.
c.     Perhaps a recurring theme was going on.  Seeing the inner circle go up the mountain with Jesus might have really bothered them.  Seeing them blessed and privileged with this may have cause them to be jealous that Jesus didn’t take them and envious of the favorites.  Perhaps they began arguing and trying to justify how they should have been the one that went up.  Maybe they were getting angry at Jesus that He didn’t give them more credit or give them more responsibility.  Maybe they began to argue over who was the greatest or who would “sit” in seats of authority.  Perhaps they anticipated fighting the Romans and driving them out, taking vengeance upon their atrocities. 
d.    Perverse could also be translated Rebellious—which fits since we’re talking about authority to a King and Kingdom.  By rebelling against the Kingdom of God, they were putting themselves back under the authority of the Kingdom of Darkness.  Without the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were not out of the woods yet, and were vulnerable. 
e.     Perverse and Rebellious has to do with action.  Do our actions affect how we confront the demonic?  Yes—if we are continually in sin, then it’s doubtful we would even recognize the demonic.  If as believers we are ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit, ignoring repentance and turning away from our sin, we will be quenching the Spirit in us, rendering us unfruitful.  An unfruitful person has little power over the enemy.  It’s like trying to use a flashlight when the batteries are all but used up.  Yes, it turns on, but it doesn’t really help much, doesn’t light up enough to be useful and is flickering on the verge of going out. 
f.      Too many Christians, too many churches live as flashlights with dead batteries: dim, weak and useless to dispel the darkness.

3.    Because they Had Little faith
a.     The amount or size of the faith is irrelevant.  What matters is what or who your faith is in.  What you believe matters, but more than that…
b.     Satan, his kingdom and his demonic representatives are no match against the Kingdom of God and Jesus.  Satan is not God’s equal, not Jesus’ spirit brother or in any way on the same level.  Satan is a created being, a fallen angel that was created to serve God.  Jesus is the second person in the Trinity, God the Son, God in the Flesh—Emmanuel—God With Us.
c.     This is no contest.  The demon is not a match for anyone empowered with the Spirit of Jesus and sent out with His authority.  We have been given the armor of God in order to take our stand against the enemy.  It is a fight—but we have One who stands closer than a brother.  We have Jesus fighting for us and watching our back—Psalm 23.  We have the ability to resist him and stand firm in our faith.  In fact, Satan and his demons fear those who are submitted to God.  James 4:7—“Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  Satan and his demons run and get away from those submitted to God.
d.    But we must be “self controlled and alert”—aware of the enemy’s temptations and tactics, and self controlled—as opposed to perverse and rebellious.
e.     We must be, according to Matthew 10:16 and Romans 16:19 “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves”.  I’ve come to understand that this means we need to be aware of the tactics and patterns of the enemy so we can better combat them all the while not adopting those tactics as our own—remaining innocent.
f.      It is why we turn the other cheek at times.  Why we do not retaliate.  Why we bless rather than curse our enemies.  Why we are to clothe and feed them rather than enjoy their suffering.
g.     Satan repeatedly hits our weaknesses, often the same way, especially if it is successful in getting past our defenses.  It’s like what some football coaches believe—“run the same play until the defense proves they can stop it.”
h.     When I speak to people about coming to church after a long layoff, I always give them a warning.  If you say you’re going to attend this Sunday, then get ready because you’re about to get hit.  Something will happen to try to keep you from following through with this decision—your kids will get sick, your car won’t start, you’ll get in a fight with your spouse, the alarm won’t go off.  Something will happen to keep you away. 
i.      Because he wants you to be under his authority.  He wants you to be defeated.  He wants you to be powerless against him and not live in the power of the Kingdom of God.
j.      Too many Christians enjoy our perverse and rebellious behavior more than God—and so we live a powerless life.  Too many Christians believe what our eyes and immediate experience tells us rather than the truth of Christ’s transformation and New Authority.
k.     We live too often as if we have No Faith—we are Functional Atheists.  In this case, the disciples believe in the power of the demon more than they do the power of Jesus—and so they could not drive it out.

But even a little faith, even a young faith, even the least among you in Jesus has enough power to overthrow the Mountain that is the kingdom of Satan.

In Christ you have been made a New Creation, been given a New Citizenship in a New Kingdom and remain in this world as an Ambassador in order to take the fight to the Darkness

We are not to live in a spirit of fear, but a life of power as we walk, live and move in a world under another authority.  We live independent of the world’s authority, but we walk surrounded by it.  We are the true Free Radicals.

And in that Life for our new Kingdom, we have the authority to cast out Mountains.  In this case, Mountain isn’t so much a literal mountain as it is symbolic for Kingdom.

The Mountain Represents a Kingdom
This is not an uncommon symbolism in the Middle East and the world of Scripture.  Several commentaries I found say:
·         A mountain may represent the kingdom of God or a kingdom that tries to be like God.
·         Some societies identified sacred mountains with the location of their own political-religious center (e.g., Babylon, Delphi, Zion, Gerezim)
·         Isaiah 2:2 - In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
·         Habakkuk 3:6 He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.

Faith in Christ has the power to move Mountains/Kingdoms/Authorities.

And the Kingdom that is moved is the Kingdom of Darkness. 

Matthew 21:21—“Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.”

Most understand the Fig Tree to be symbolic of Israel being so unfruitful that its leaves are withered, opening up fruitfulness to the Gentiles.  In addition, if we understand “this mountain” in terms of Satan’s Kingdom and authority, then it is reminiscent of what happened to the herd of pigs in the region of the Decapolis after Jesus cast a Legion of demons out of man there.

Luke 8:32-33—“32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

The Mountain into the Sea is symbolic of deposing the demonic strongholds in people’s lives and replacing them with the Kingdom of God.

It goes beyond the individual too.  Cultures have great beauty but also great darkness.  Whole cultures in this world are not immune from the influences and authority of the demonic.  These cultures have elements that are offensive to God and harden people to the hope of the Gospel.

Paul’s Mars Hill sermon in Acts 17 describes the religious culture, proclaims the truth that God has called everyone to repent and turn away from their idolatry.  This would change the culture—how it eats, how it approves of sex outside marriage, how women and children were used as toys for pleasure.  As Ambassadors for Christ advance the Kingdom of God, whole cultural strongholds and mountains also will be cast aside and transformed. 

That’s what we saw in the eventual take down of the slave trade by committed Christians in England like William Wilburforce.  That’s what we saw when Christianity stopped the abandonment of unwanted babies at temple shrines or under bridges and taught cultures to value life.  If only we would relearn that lesson and stop sacrificing our children on the altar of convenience—so we can continue in our irresponsibility.

The Kingdom of Darkness is cast out in the lives of the individual and that moves the Strongholds in the culture as a whole.

What Jesus is showing us is with just a small faith in the Bigger than the Universe God, the Mountain/Kingdom of Darkness cannot stand.  It is cast out of the way of the Kingdom of Light.
This is the fulfillment of Daniel 2:34-35 & 44

“As you were watching, a stone broke off without a hand touching it, struck the statue on its feet of iron and fired clay, and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the fired clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were shattered and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors. The wind carried them away, and not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth… 44 In the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever”

The Mountain of God’s Kingdom will move all the other mountains in the world.  Satan’s kingdom, his mountain, his authority will be destroyed.  And Jesus proved just proved it.  

He came down from His mountain and invaded the kingdom of darkness.  With His authority, even the mountain of this world’s authority will move as His people advance.  

Let us not be unbelieving of this truth.
Let our behavior not be rebellious to this truth.
Let us truly have faith in Jesus because even a little faith in Him can move whole Kingdoms and Mountains

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Church's Future After Chic-Fil-A Intimidation

I am adding my voice to the Chic-Fil-A firestorm to address the narratives that have erupted in the aftermath: the rhetoric used to shame and silence speech as well as the abuse of political office to punish unpopular thought.

If this type of behavior of intimidation and political punishment is accepted by our society, I fear the same tactics will quickly be used against a church that seeks to open, relocate, or build a new facility or move into a new area while attempting to be faithful to Scripture’s teachings.

Just think of how this whole thing started. 

The article and quote on July 16th from Baptist Press that was picked up by the LA Times on July 18th addressed the company’s operating philosophy and only briefly touched on the issue of marriage and family.  Most of the BP article addressed their history of success, why they’re closed on Sunday, how they support and interact with franchise owners and their sponsorship of sporting events.

The LA Times article ignores all that and instead lifts out what it wants.  It is amazing to read the contrast in tone of the articles and how the LA Times distorts and inflames the issue.  As one example, other than the title of the article which is itself a farce, nowhere in the BP article is there any mention of “Adam and Steve”—that is an insertion by the Times’ writer,

The issue of “traditional family” likely came up in reference to articles like this from Baptist 

Press on March 8th.  It describes students and colleges rejecting Chic-Fil-A from opening a store on campus or in the cafeteria because of the Christian policies and donations of the company and its owner, Dan Cathy.  According to the original article, students and colleges removed Chic-Fil-A from consideration at Northeastern University in Boston and “at least 10 [other] campuses” including: Duke University, Bowling Green University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Gainesville State College, Indiana University South Bend, Mississippi State University, Texas Tech University, the University of North Texas and New York University.

What I am noticing that is greatly concerning in the public debate is:
·         You can no longer have a different perspective without being labeled a “Hater”
o   This is marginalizing and dehumanizing not only of the position but of the person who holds the position.  This current debate has carried to the point where the “opposition” is no longer deserving of respect or protection of the law. 
o   This kind of demonization is what immoral governments are good at in fostering a culture of persecution against a certain demographic—see Spain, Germany & USSR against the Jews.  Even the USA has fallen for this at times against Japanese, German, Native Americans or African Americans.
o   This is hardly tolerant or enlightened, nor does it show the strength of your argument.  To paraphrase an old concept, “If you can’t win the debate… intimidate.”
o   In reviewing Dan Cathy’s statements from the original article, the last thing you could claim was that he was hateful or demeaning or disrespectful in his tone or his beliefs. 

The second thing that really bothers me about the aftermath is:
·         Government Officials are posturing and threatening to block businesses from obtaining necessary permits in order to build and operate solely because they disagree with the statements or beliefs of that company.
o   I firmly believe that politicians do this all the time and are just never noticed.  They slow the process, insist on unnecessary or redundant investigations, tie things up in committee or deny permits in order to damage a rival, a political opponent or settle some personal grudge.
o   It’s also illegal.  Even the ACLU thinks what these politicians are implying is illegal:  "The government can regulate discrimination in employment or against customers, but what the government cannot do is to punish someone for their words," Adam Schwartz, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told Fox News. "When an alderman refuses to allow a business to open because its owner has expressed a viewpoint the government disagrees with, the government is practicing viewpoint discrimination."—see article here
o   While some are repudiating these politicians, many are supporting and encouraging them.  Here is an example of an article at least saying the politicians shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly and many people are supportive of their consideration.

So again that makes me wonder how long before a church is investigated for certain beliefs and they are denied a permit to build or open in a community.

That kind of thing happened in the early days, before we had a Constitution.  Communities like Boston or states like Massachusetts would prevent churches or ministers not affiliated with the state church from meeting or building a church.  See this history—The First Baptist Church of Boston:

“The Church was formed in defiance of two laws, passed by the General Court: (1) That all persons wishing to form churches must first obtain consent of the "magistrates and elders of the greater part of the churches within this jurisdiction." (2) That "if any person or persons within this jurisdiction shall ... condemn or oppose the baptizing of infants... such person or persons shall be subject to banishment.”

Back then, governments would impose fines and taxes, they would run ministers out of town or arrest the ministers for preaching without a license or illegal distribution of pamphlets with the same kind of justification these modern politicians are using. 

That’s why the First Amendment has all those issues listed in #1—it wasn’t because they couldn’t decide which one was most important, rather, free exercise of religion had been denied in all of those ways listed.  See my larger explanation here.

If this type of behavior by public officials is accepted, then I fully expect a repeat of that early American history.  That in the name of tolerance and diversity, churches that hold to biblical beliefs about marriage, the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus, the insistence of evangelism, that is vocal on public issues and other orthodox beliefs will be denied building permits, projects delayed, denied meeting space or use of public venues, have their tax exempt status revoked, or will be harassed or intimidated by governmental officials.   In the words of Philadelphia Councilman James F. Kenney, "So, please take a hike and take your intolerance with you."

Oh wait… that is happening already in many places.

The article finished with Dan Cathy saying - "We intend to stay the course," he said. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

Considering the reaction and how some are trying to keep them from operating let’s hope this remains true.  Be watching for this type of Intimidation and Exclusion happening to churches both now and in the future.

I’ll finish with two quotes.

For Believers, we must understand:
          “Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance.” --Ravi Zacharias

About our Culture:
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.
 Both are nonsense.
You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” – Rick Warren

For Further Reading: