Doubting a Demon: Luke 4:31-37

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As Jesus’ public ministry was beginning, we read about an interesting miracle where it appeared as though Satan wanted to publicly declare who Jesus was, while Jesus wanted this information to remain hidden. This is interesting because it is the reverse of what we might expect the situation to be. However, when we look at what happened, and what could have happened, we discover why Satan may have wanted to reveal Jesus to the people.

Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 4, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 31, Luke tells us that:

31 Then he [referring to Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.

33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” 37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

As our passage concludes, it isn’t surprising that word would spread about Jesus throughout the surrounding area. It was one thing to cast evil spirits out of people, but it is unlikely that any evil spirit would call anyone out as the Holy One of God.

This small detail jumps off the page at me when I read this, because Jesus wants this information to remain secret. However, why might this have been?

In my mind, as I think about this event, one place where there would be “questionably reliable” information would be from a demon. A demon does not have to lie, but a demon is fully capable and willing to lie and deceive. In an interesting move, this demon seeks to proclaim who Jesus is by sharing truthful information, but because this information is from a not-so-reliable source, the validity of the claim then falls into question.

If Satan wanted the people to know who Jesus was, openly declaring Jesus wouldn’t serve his goals of deceiving people away from God – unless Satan already knows he isn’t a trusted source of information, and then he is free to share truth and almost truth with people because it would make those present immediately doubt simply because of its source.

This is one big reason why I see this demon wanting to out Jesus as God’s Holy One, and it is also a great reason for Jesus to command the demon to stay silent.

However, another reason we can uncover when we look at this event is that since this is early in Jesus’ ministry, He doesn’t want to attract the wrong type of people. If Satan can flood Jesus with people who are eagerly awaiting a military-messiah to lead them to victory over Rome, Satan could possibly derail Jesus’ ministry away from helping hurting individuals and onto military, political conquest. If enough people assembled with a military motive, then it would attract the attention of the Roman army, and Jesus’ ministry would be crushed before He could face the cross.

Satan’s entire play in this declaration was one of doubt and distraction, and one that wanted to cause confusion among the people regarding who Jesus was.

However, Jesus commands the demon to stay silent because Jesus knows that nothing coming out of the demon’s mouth is within God’s plan for Jesus’ life and ministry.

But even before the demon-possessed man showed up, we discover that the people were already taking notice. Early on in our passage, in verse 32 specifically, Luke tells us that those in the Capernaum synagogue were “amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority”. This was before the demon-possessed man showed up, and the presence of this demon-possessed man only amplified the authority of Jesus’ words.

Everything in this passage teaches us that Jesus, as the Holy One of God, is stronger than Satan and his force of evil angels. If Satan was stronger, than the demon’s command for Jesus to go away would have prompted Jesus to go away. In an ironic twist, the demon is commanded to do what it wanted Jesus to do. Jesus counter-commands the demon to be quiet and to leave the man, which is equivalent to being commanded to go away.

The demon obeyed Jesus, and this detail proves that Jesus is stronger than the devil.

While this all could be a great trick that Satan played to deceive people, the last person Satan would want us to pay attention to would be Jesus. Jesus spent His entire ministry pointing people towards God, Jesus helped everyone who was hurting, and Jesus caused God to receive more praise than He had received in generations. Satan is in it for his own glory, so prompting people to pay attention to someone who is openly giving glory to God is both illogical and counter-intuitive.

Jesus knew the devil’s tricks and He knew why it was not productive to let the demon speak, even if what the demon said was the truth. Jesus came to give glory to God and not to seek glory for Himself, and when we come to Jesus and let Him transform our lives, we will be more interested in giving Jesus and God the glory, and not on accepting any glory for ourselves.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Intentionally choose to grow towards Him because the closer we are to Jesus, and the more we are living within His will for our lives, the clearer we will see the devil’s tricks and traps.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn first-hand from God’s Word. While other people can give you great things to think about, always take what you hear, read, and learn and test it against what you see written within the pages of the scripture. The Bible is given as a timeless revelation of God and His character, and through its pages, we can learn the truth about life.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or give up on the ideal God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 6: When a demon-possessed man shows up while Jesus is preaching to declare that Jesus is the Holy One that God sent, would that be reliable information for us to pay attention to? Discover why Jesus commands the demon to stay silent before commanding it to leave the man it had possessed.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Receiving and Keeping Eternal Life: John 3:23-36

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In our last episode, we discussed a passage where John the Baptist declares who Jesus was to the crowd present listening to him, and we learned that a couple of John’s own followers left John to start following Jesus. In many ways, our passage for this episode picks up where that one left off because we now have the opportunity to look back at John the Baptist’s group of followers, and how he responds to Jesus’ ministry growing, and how they perceive John’s ministry being affected by Jesus.

I wonder if John the Baptist surprised his followers with his response. Let’s read about what happened. Our passage is found in the gospel of John, chapter 3, and we will be reading from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 23, we read that:

23 John was also baptizing in Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were going there to be baptized. 24 (This was before John was put into prison.)

25 Some of John’s followers had an argument with a Jew about religious washing. 26 So they came to John and said, “Teacher, remember the man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you spoke about so much? He is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 John answered, “A man can get only what God gives him. 28 You yourselves heard me say, ‘I am not the Christ, but I am the one sent to prepare the way for him.’ 29 The bride belongs only to the bridegroom. But the friend who helps the bridegroom stands by and listens to him. He is thrilled that he gets to hear the bridegroom’s voice. In the same way, I am really happy. 30 He must become greater, and I must become less important.

31 “The One who comes from above is greater than all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and talks about things on the earth. But the One who comes from heaven is greater than all. 32 He tells what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts what he says. 33 Whoever accepts what he says has proven that God is true. 34 The One whom God sent speaks the words of God, because God gives him the Spirit fully. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given him power over everything. 36 Those who believe in the Son have eternal life, but those who do not obey the Son will never have life. God’s anger stays on them.”

While reading this passage, one big thing that jumped out at me is how John concludes his statement about God’s relationship with Jesus. John tells us the key to both gaining eternal life and losing it. He says, “Those who believe in the Son have eternal life, but those who do not obey the Son will never have life. God’s anger stays on them.” (v. 36)

This is a very powerful verse because in it we have two parallel, and somewhat paradoxical, ideas regarding eternal life. The first of these two ideas is that belief in Jesus, God’s Son, is what is necessary for gaining salvation. This means that no action or set of actions can earn eternal life for us. It is all a matter of belief, and who we choose to put our faith, belief, and trust in.

To contrast this first idea, we have the second one which might sound on the surface as if it cancels the first idea out. John tells us that “those who do not obey the Son will never have life”. (v. 36b)

It would seem that this second idea stresses obedience as a requirement for keeping eternal life. This means that faith alone cannot assure us of eternal life if we believe our actions, attitude, and obedience are irrelevant. This passage strongly suggests that while actions cannot earn us salvation, our actions can forfeit the salvation that we were once given.

This passage describes the foundation of two of the biggest “church” words we have today that are not explained often enough. These words are justification and sanctification.

We can explain justification with the first portion of our passage. Justification tells us that we cannot do anything to earn eternal life. Instead, we recognize that sin has infected our lives, and Jesus came to live the life we couldn’t because of sin, and Jesus offers us His reward for the perfect life He lived because He took our punishment when He didn’t deserve it.

The act of justification is this exchange: We accept Jesus’ reward for His perfect life and He takes the punishment for our imperfect lives. This exchange makes no logical sense. God did not have to step in to offer justification for anyone. The only reason this happened is because of God’s character of love. God loves humanity with every aspect of Himself, and because of this, we are given the gift of justification – the opportunity of receiving God’s reward for a perfect life when we do not deserve it. Justification happens at the moment we choose to accept God’s gift through Jesus into our lives and our hearts.

The second portion of our passage describes the other big theological word, which is sanctification. While justification became available to all of humanity the instant Jesus died, sanctification is the way we respond to the gift of justification. Sanctification is based on where we focus after accepting God’s gift. It is also how we choose to sacrifice our lives and our desires in regard to God’s plan for our lives.

Sanctification involves giving up the things in our lives that don’t draw us closer to God in favor of the things that do. Sanctification also draws us to focus on God and become more like Him. The closer we draw to God, the more His light and love can shine through our lives.

Both justification and sanctification involve our free will and our freedom of choice. God doesn’t justify us if we choose to reject His gift, and God won’t sanctify us if we are not willing to give up sin in our lives. This is where John’s statement about obedience is applied. Obeying Jesus after we accept His gift is how we are sanctified. After accepting Jesus into our hearts and lives, we are still free to reject Him in the future.

This is where many Christians get stuck. When we accept Jesus, nothing Satan can do can steal us away from Jesus, because Jesus defeated Satan. However, we are still free to walk away from Jesus and give up the gift we once had received. God isn’t going to drag anyone kicking and screaming into heaven.

Instead, we show God and the world around us that we have accepted Jesus’ gift by living in obedience to His will. Accepting Jesus is an internal choice, but what we do with this choice that is visible to others is how we make our decision public.

This idea is one of the biggest concepts in Christianity and we’ve only really touched the surface of it. What really stands out in our passage is that before Jesus has really stepped onto the public scene in a big way, we find John the Baptist sharing this big truth regarding faith and action; and regarding justification and sanctification. “Those who believe in the Son have eternal life, but those who do not obey the Son will never have life. God’s anger stays on them.” (v. 36)

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life. If you haven’t accepted God’s gift of eternal life through Jesus, do so today. Simply make the choice to acknowledge that you cannot earn salvation on your own and that you need Jesus to take your place. At the moment you make this decision, know that you have been justified and that Jesus’ reward is yours.

Then, as I always challenge you to do, be sure to pray, read, and study the Bible for yourself, and intentionally focus on drawing closer to God and Jesus through what has been revealed in the Bible. Let God’s word and His truth affect your life and apply and obey what He teaches you about Himself.

And as you learn, grow, and move towards Jesus, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him, because when we decide to stop when God is calling us to come, we ultimately begin drifting away from Him. Drifting away from Jesus is how we forfeit the gift of eternal life, and that is why it is so important that we choose to keep moving towards God and keep focusing our hearts, minds, and lives on Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 5: When an argument breaks out between some people following John the Baptist, discover a profound statement John makes about Jesus, and while also sharing the foundation of two of the biggest theological ideas present in Christianity.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Answering Our Requests: John 4:46-54

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Last week, we focused in on the miracle of Jesus healing an official’s son, but we didn’t cover one other big idea we can learn from this event. While this miracle demonstrates huge levels of faith with the officer asking Jesus to do something that there was no track record for Him doing, we can learn through Jesus’ response and their conversation something that we should apply to our requests to Jesus.

All too often, when we pray, we want God to answer us in a specific, expected way and anything less than our expectations makes us think that our prayers are going unanswered. However, is this expectation present in this miraculous event? Let’s read it and find out.

Our passage is found in the gospel of John, chapter 4, and like in our last episode, we will be reading from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 46, John tells us that:

46 Jesus went again to visit Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. One of the king’s important officers lived in the city of Capernaum, and his son was sick. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to Jesus and begged him to come to Capernaum and heal his son, because his son was almost dead.

Let’s pause here for a moment to look closely at this official’s request. Jesus had just returned to Cana in Galilee and we can conclude that Cana probably wasn’t too far from Capernaum. When the officer comes to ask Jesus for help, his request is for Jesus to come to Capernaum to heal his son. We can call this request the official’s prayer request. Similar to the times when we ask Jesus for help with something, this official was asking Jesus for help with something.

Let’s continue reading to learn Jesus’ response. Picking back up in verse 48:

48 Jesus said to him, “You people must see signs and miracles before you will believe in me.”

49 The officer said, “Sir, come before my child dies.”

50 Jesus answered, “Go. Your son will live.”

The man believed what Jesus told him and went home. 51 On the way the man’s servants came and met him and told him, “Your son is alive.”

52 The man asked, “What time did my son begin to get well?”

They answered, “Yesterday at one o’clock the fever left him.”

53 The father knew that one o’clock was the exact time that Jesus had said, “Your son will live.” So the man and all the people who lived in his house believed in Jesus.

54 That was the second miracle Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

In our passage and in this miracle, we see the official restating his original request for Jesus to come, to hurry before his child dies. In response, Jesus challenges the man to believe and trust Jesus’ promise that this man’s son will live. John tells us that the man believed Jesus’ words and left to return home.

It is at this point that we look at the prayer request and the answer to prayer being two completely different things. The man asked Jesus to come, and Jesus basically said “No”. However, under the surface, the man wants Jesus to help, specifically to heal his son, and for this request, Jesus was happy to answer “Yes” to the man’s request and His belief.

This miracle gives us a model for when we ask God for help. While we won’t always see what goes on behind the scenes in God answering our prayers, we should make our prayer requests fully expecting God to help us in the best way for us to be helped. This might mean that our prayers are answered exactly like how we requested them, but it might also mean that our prayers are answered in ways that we didn’t expect them to be answered. We might not even recognize what God has done as an answer to a prayer.

Whenever I talk about prayer and answers to prayer with people, I like to share that God has four answers that He gives to our prayers. The first way God response to prayer is with a “Yes”. With what we asked for, God is willing to give us the answer.

The second way is with a “No”. While people might think this answer is the least desirable, in my own life, I actually like seeing closed doors, because it tells me that God has something better in mind for me.

The third way God answers prayers is with a “wait” response. Perhaps our request is something God knows that we need, and He is more than happy to help us with it, but the timing isn’t right. I could ask God for a million dollars, and He might know that at some point in my life, a million dollars would be a great thing for me to have. However, He might also know that at this point in my life, I am not ready for that level of wealth, so the answer is a wait, because I need to learn, grow, and mature into being the person capable of handling that wealth. If He were to answer the request before I am ready to handle it, God’s answer to my request would do more harm than good.

The fourth way God answers prayer is with a “No, but here is something else”. This is the trickiest response God can give because it might feel like He is rejecting our prayers, when in reality, He is simply blessing us in ways that are different from our expectation.

These are the four primary ways I see God answer prayers. However, from our passage and this miracle, God may have a fifth way that is distinct from the other four. This fifth way is a Yes, but trust me to do what is needed behind the scenes before you will visibly see my response. While this is similar to the “wait” response, we learn that the answer to the official’s request was not delayed, but the official’s knowledge of the prayer request being answered was delayed briefly.

When we pray to God, know that He does not delay answering our prayers. Like the official did, we should trust that God has answered our prayers at the exact moment we pray them. However, we should also move forward with the faith that we might not always see God’s answers to prayers at the moment we pray them, or in the way we expect them to be answered.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and don’t be afraid of asking God your difficult requests. Know that God is willing to tackle your most difficult challenges, but He will only answer your requests in ways that are beneficial to you from an eternity’s perspective. God wants you and I in heaven with Him, and this filters all the answers He gives to the prayers we pray. I believe that God won’t answer a prayer we pray in a way that will cause us to forfeit our salvation.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. Growing closer to God through prayer and study will help align our requests with God’s will, and when we are praying within God’s will, nothing will stop God from freely answering every request we ask.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 5: When an officer asks Jesus for help, we discover Jesus responds in a way that helps the official while also refusing his direct request. Learn how this event and miracle should shape how we pray and how we trust God to answer our prayers.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Inviting, Not Arguing: John 1:35-51

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As Jesus was stepping from being relatively unknown and into the public eye, John the Baptist made pointing people to Jesus part of his message. One of these occasions is caught and recorded for us in the gospel of John. In my mind’s eye, this happens just days after Jesus returned from the wilderness where he had been tempted.

On the day Jesus came back from the wilderness, I picture Jesus passing where John the Baptist was preaching, and then we discover that the next day, Jesus returns to the spot where John was teaching and challenging the crowds. Our passage is found in the gospel of John, chapter 1, and we will be reading from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 35, we learn that:

35 The next day, John was there again, and two of his followers were with him. 36 When he saw Jesus walking by, he said, “Here is the Lamb of God!” 37 John’s two followers heard him, and they went with Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them, he asked, “What do you want?”

They answered, “Rabbi, where do you live?” The Hebrew word “Rabbi” means “Teacher.”

39 Jesus replied, “Come and see!” It was already about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him and saw where he lived. So they stayed on for the rest of the day.

40 One of the two men who had heard John and had gone with Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Hebrew word “Messiah” means the same as the Greek word “Christ.”

42 Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.” This name can be translated as “Peter.”

Pausing our passage at this point, I want to point out a pattern that I see present in this passage, and one that continues as we finish off the passage. This pattern is that the people who see, interact, and/or who know who Jesus is tell those closest to them to pay attention to Jesus.

This pattern first starts with John the Baptist. Jesus had already been baptized by John, and John knew who Jesus was. He tells his followers that Jesus is the Messiah, though the specific phrase John uses is “the Lamb of God”. (v. 36)

While I don’t know how many people were in the crowd of John’s followers that day, two of those present are paying attention enough to realize that John just identified the Messiah and that the Messiah John pointed out is someone is who worth following even more.

Andrew and an unnamed disciple, who we could call John, since John is telling us about this event because he was probably present, leave the crowd surrounding John the Baptist, and follow Jesus.

This starts the pattern.

Once these first followers find out where Jesus is staying, one of them, Andrew, immediately finds his brother and brings him to Jesus. We don’t know if John does the same with his brother James, but that may have happened. John tries to keep himself out of the story as much as possible in his gospel because his goal is focusing people onto Jesus.

The pattern we see is that the earliest followers of Jesus immediately seek out those closest to them to bring to Jesus when they learn who Jesus is. This pattern continues the following day. Picking up in verse 43, we read that:

43-44 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he met Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Jesus said to Philip, “Come with me.”

45 Philip then found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Philip answered, “Come and see.”

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said, “Here is a true descendant of our ancestor Israel. And he isn’t deceitful.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God and the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered, “Did you believe me just because I said that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see something even greater. 51 I tell you for certain that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man.”

One thing I find amazing about this whole passage is the interaction Jesus has with the two disciples who were brought to Him by others. The first one, Andrew’s brother Simon, was given a new name, before Jesus really had spent any time with him. It would be like meeting someone for the first time, knowing this other person is important, and that person’s first response to you is to say He doesn’t like your name and promptly gives you a new one.

While I wouldn’t have been as bold or up front, Jesus gets away with this because He knows something we don’t, and while it sounds strange to us in our day, this might have been a powerful compliment to someone living at that time period. One way we could view this is that parents give their children their names, and Jesus giving Simon a new name, which was Cephas or Peter, was like Jesus was adopting Simon into His family.

The second disciple who was brought to Jesus was Nathanael. Jesus’ interaction with Nathanael is interesting because we know a little detail about Nathanael before the first meeting. John tells us that when Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, Nathanael’s first response is to challenge the idea that anything good could come from Nazareth. As a side note, Nathanael might have not been aware of what Matthew wrote in his gospel about Jesus being called a Nazarene by the prophets. (This is referenced in Matthew 2:23. Understand that I am aware that a Nazarene is different from simply being from Nazareth, but I am intrigued that these two words sound connected even if they are not.)

When Nathanael sees Jesus, the first thing Jesus does is compliment him. In an odd twist, Nathanael criticizes Jesus because of where he came from, right before we read that Jesus compliments him based upon his ancestry.

While the rest of the conversation proves to Nathanael that Jesus is sent from God, it is less significant in my mind then what we can learn from this big pattern.

In this passage, I see the big truth and challenge to all who call ourselves disciples, believers, and followers of Jesus that we are to share Jesus with others. Arguing with people over who Jesus is, is not productive. Inviting people to experience Jesus is the way to move forward.

In all the examples in this passage, the invitation is presented to simply follow Jesus and see what He is like. We can learn from this first century pattern and example because there are plenty of excuses and arguments people have for not choosing Jesus – and some of these reasons are valid ones. However, arguments are rarely “won”. Instead, when people argue, they become more emotionally attached to their own side of what is being debated.

We learn from this passage that a better way to share Jesus is to invite those to experience Him. The “Come and See” approach is perfect because only by experiencing Jesus can we truly realize His heart for each of us. Experiencing Jesus today is a little different then back in the first century. Today, we can experience Jesus by visiting a Christ-like church community, by reading more about Him from the gospels, and by serving those in need like Jesus did when He was present on earth.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life. If you are on the fence about Jesus, be sure to “come and see” what He is like before discounting Him or His message. If church has burned you in the past, let me apologize for them because while they believed they were doing the right thing, I know they missed communicating in a truly Christ-like way. While the media might make you think differently, there are more churches who model Christ’s character than those who don’t, so please try it again, and if needed, make a personal challenge to see how quickly you can find a church that truly does model Jesus well. They do exist, and I believe when we seek God, He will lead us to the community He wants us to be a part of.

Also, as I always challenge you to do in one way or another, when coming to Jesus, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. A pastor or podcaster can give you things to think about, but these things can never replace your own personal relationship with Jesus. Your personal relationship with Him grows strong when you know who He really is – and this is learned through the pages of the Bible.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 4: Discover a better way to convince people to experience Jesus. See how the first disciples chose to share Jesus with those around them, and discover what we should be doing instead of what often times happens.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.