Dear Friends in Christ,
There are a couple of Biblical teachings that make people particularly uncomfortable – the reality of Satan and the reality of hell. In my ministry visitors have heard me preach on those subjects and were offended by them. They wanted churches where those subjects were never addressed. Believe me when I say that as a pastor they are tough to preach about too, but Jesus says they are true. He taught about them as truth...and he knows what is true.
Skeptics accuse Christians of teaching Satan and hell as manipulation tools to frighten people. Frightened people can be manipulated, or so they say. Christian churches, they say, will use scare tactics to get into pocketbooks.
If Satan and hell are only manipulation tools, obviously the Bible is useless and Jesus is a liar. Jesus says that there is a hell and describes it as outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. His words, not mine. The Book of Revelation says it is the lake of fire. There are many other examples.
As far as Satan is concerned, Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus complained that the religious leaders of his day were teaching lies about God. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” Jesus said. When Peter loudly refused to believe that Jesus would journey to the city of Jerusalem and suffer and die, Jesus emphatically warned, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.” The point is Jesus spoke about hell and Satan as very real. Today our sermon deals with the Word of God and its power over Satan. Yes, “Jesus’ Word Has Power.” 1) Jesus’ Word has real answers; 2) No one has a more powerful word; 3) We can see evidence of its power.
It was a Sabbath Day. Jesus was in the city of Capernaum on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, the perfect and holy Savior, went to church. A synagogue service generally consisted of people meeting together; Scripture was read; prayers were offered and someone stood up to preach and teach on some Scripture while the congregation sat quietly and listened. That day Jesus was teaching.
He wowed all who were there. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Don’t you wish you could have been there? Mark doesn’t tell us what he taught, but there are plenty of other places in Scripture that do tell us what he taught. There is the Sermon on the Mount, the many wonderful parables, those earthly stories with heavenly meanings, and many other things he taught. The people loved it. He “taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the Law.”
In Matthew 23 more light is shed on what that means about the teachers of the Law. Jesus pronounced seven woes against the teachers of the law by severely criticizing them. They were concerned about the minute and not the meaty. They were interested in the do’s and don’ts and not about grace and forgiveness. Jesus points out that those teachers of the law would go great distances to preach to someone, but when they did they simply piled on more laws to keep.
Jesus pointed out that they were interested in the minute. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” They loved to speak about the tithe, the offering of a tenth of what someone had. They applied it even to spices they had like mint and dill and cumin, but were not interested in justice, law, and mercy. The teachers of the law were good at using guilt to motivate people rather than love for the Lord and each other.
When Jesus preached, his word was a word of life, not death. His word was and is a word of God’s grace for people who deserve God wrath. His word is a Word of light for those living in darkness. His word is a word of eternity for a people living in a vain and temporary world. And Jesus invites, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden.”
I pray that God’s Word of sin and grace, Law and Gospel is what I preach and what you hear and want to hear weekly. The Good News is needed for souls that get battered and taunted by Satan and the temptations and anger and bitterness this world presents daily. I pray that you hear and cherish more than anything that “There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Those words really give us so many answers.
There is not a more powerful word on this earth than the Good news of Jesus. The apostle said it like this, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” No other word on this earth can snatch you from hell and take you into heaven.
I noticed how Senator McCain referred to a group of disrespectful protestors called Code Pink who barged into a Senate hearing room at the Capitol this week. They wanted 91 year former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrested for his role in the War in Viet Nam. They got so far that a protester was able to jingle a set of hand cuffs over the head of Mr. Kissinger. Senator McCain, no spring chicken, was running the meeting asserted himself by demanding, “Get out of here you low-life scumbags.”
Look what happens here. “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out,“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” A man who was possessed by a demonic spirit enters the house of God to challenge Jesus. Satan doesn’t respect anyplace or anyone who is sacred. He plays dirty wherever he is. He seeks to distract and disturb. Satan is certainly represented here too this day by his demonic band of godless rebels trying to disturb and distract.
This man was possessed by Satan. That is different from being influenced by Satan. A demon had taken over the man. When the man spoke, it really wasn’t the man but the demon inside who spoke. To be influenced by Satan unfortunately occurs to all of us in different degrees. He throws temptation at us and we submit and are led down the wrong path.
Does possession still occur? One of my Seminary professors wrote a book on the occult. In his investigation he said it is very prevalent in countries where Christians are a vast minority. When the first Exorcist movie was made in 1973, the author of the book on which the movie was based, said that he investigated 3000 cases of possible devil possession before he settled on the case that he wrote about. As a Seminary senior our class took a visit to a prison for the insane. That is probably not politically correct today, but there were cells where uncontrollable people were kept. I remember a peephole opening and seeing eyes I will never forget. I have noticed that when pastors have been asked, most have a personal story about something in their ministry that made them very uncomfortable. I have one too.
Don’t doubt that Satan is real and he is to be taken seriously. The apostle Paul wrote that he is strong, stronger than we are. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Peter reminds us he is the enemy and not to be played around with as some seem to think. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” How do we stand up to him?
We don’t. God does. He gives us his word. Right after Paul warns about our struggle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil, he tells us about the defense. Therefore put on the full armor of God. What is that armor? “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Simply put, don’t stray away from the Word of the Lord.
Satan cannot stand up to the Lord. “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Satan lost. He always does at the hands of God. Did you ever wonder if Satan did cartwheels on Good Friday when Jesus was entombed after his death? If he thought he did, I am sure he spit and cursed on Easter Sunday because he lost...again.
What gives God’s Word its power? First, it is the truth. The truth always wins. Secondly, it is the sword of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit accompanies the word! The Word doesn’t simply change someone’s mind through reason or logic, the Spirit changes the heart to embrace the truth and have faith in the truth.
Satan wants to persuade you that you have done far too much evil and you are far too unworthy to be a child of God. Satan lies. Jesus speaks the truth. That’s why there are such uplifting sections of Scripture like Romans 8, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” As you leave church today and go to work next week, remember Jesus’ word through Paul, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. No one has a more powerful word than Jesus!
We have evidence of the power of that Word. “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” The word spread quickly of Jesus and all that he did and the power of the word he spoke. The word spread like wildfire.
A couple years later after Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles continued preaching the powerful word that Jesus commanded them to preach. They were persecuted for it. The apostles were commanded to stop but they simply didn’t. “We ought to obey God rather than man,” they said. We have the powerful Word of God today.
In the book of Acts there was a well-known teacher by the name of Gamaliel (Paul was a student), who said some very wise words to people who were bitterly angry at the apostles for their disobedience to them. The enemies were being used by Satan. Gamaliel, who sided with the friends of Satan said something very wise, “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Here we are, 2000 years later, speaking the same powerful Word as Jesus and his apostles. It has spread all around the world. Why? Because it is God’s Word! “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”