Sunday, December 19, 2010

What If The Manger Had Nothing To Do With Christmas? Part Three

The Host of Heaven

The Creator of all that is, the one who orders all events and works everything to His purpose, reveals himself to His creatures that He might display his glory and comfort his covenant people. The history of the universe is His Story and His people can see His majestic handiwork in creation but God is most clearly revealed in His Word, the Bible.

God is incomprehensible, which means that we may know God but never fully comprehend Him. God is wholly other from His creation and hence there is nothing to which we may compare Him. We have also discussed that the Bible is best understood when we realize that it is the history of redemption, a book of rescue. In this article we will look at one of the names of God - Jehovah Sabaoth or, the Lord of Hosts.

Luke 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly HOST praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

A host is a great multitude of something. It can be a great group of people or even the stars and planets in the sky but most often in scripture it is of angels that we speak. Several of the prophets use the name Lord of Hosts when they want to send a message to God's covenant people that the Creator is sovereign, that he controls events and outcomes. The name Lord of Hosts is meant to instill comfort in an oppressed and frightened people. When we speak of a host of angels we are speaking of an army, a gigantic collection of warriors. When we speak of the Lord of Hosts we are reflecting on God the Warrior.

Isaiah 31:4 4 For thus the Lord said to me,
“As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey,
and when a band of shepherds is called out against him
he is not terrified by their shouting
or daunted at their noise,
so the Lord of hosts will come down
to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.

Have you ever heard someone refer to God as 'the man upstairs'? Yeah, I got sick a little in my mouth when I heard it too. Anyone who can refer to God in such a flippant manner has never considered, never caught a glimpse of the Lord of Hosts. The Lord of Hosts commands the legions of multitudes of angels, both faithful and fallen, ALL must serve His will.

Psalm 103:20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul

We must not ignore the fabulous story recorded in 2 Kings 6. The king of Syria was frustrated that Elisha "tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” The king of Syria "sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city." Elisha's servant was terrified to see that a great army had surrounded them and destruction was immanent. Elisha, on the other hand was quite calm,

16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

We have now seen a few descriptions of a 'host of angels'. They are not a fair skinned, blond haired delicate choir, they are warriors. They are not pretty and winsome, they are frightening; they are not little old men trying to earn their wings, they are an assault force who carry out the purposes of the Almighty Sovereign Lord of Hosts. Thus, after God humiliated King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, he also inspired the restored king to utter this perfect confession and praise,

35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

What has God sent these heavenly beings to the earthly realm to accomplish?

Hebrews 1:14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Dear believer, does that not excite you? The Lord of Hosts avails his armies to protect His covenant people. Remember, Satan knows our Scriptures better than we do and THIS truth was not wasted on him. He had the audacity to remind our Lord of Psalm 91,

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.

Then he tried to pressure our Lord into a foolish test at his own tempting, but God is never tempted by evil. Psalm 91:11 reminds us that the host of heaven is sent to protect us, the children of God, but first and foremost the host of heaven was sent to protect Jesus, the only begotten Son, our Redeemer, our Messiah.

Hence, we return to where we began - an angelic army appeared to shepherds. Were they there for a birth announcement and to sing a song? No! One much greater than Elisha had just been born in Bethlehem and the Lord of Hosts established a beach head round about.

The Cross, the atoning death of Christ is the climactic act in the history of redemption. It is the single most important event in the rescue story. The incarnation, God becoming flesh, was the beginning of a 33 year period of open and overt spiritual warfare. There will be attacks on the baby, attacks on the man Jesus and attacks on those around him but God's plan WILL NOT BE THWARTED.

The greatest display of war power was being manifested because all HELL was about to be unleashed. Where Satan had failed to stop the LINE of the Redeemer he would now multiply his efforts to stop the Redeemer so when the angels sang in a loud voice,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

it was a battle cry! The most massive army of history had been sent to defend and protect the Christ child, the Lord of Hosts incarnate and those with whom he is pleased - the elect, the chosen, the covenant people of God.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What If The Manger Had Nothing To Do With Christmas? Part Two

Before we can understand the events taking place on that night the angels visited the shepherds, we need to understand the back ground. A battle has been raging since Eve first considered the words of the Serpent.

There Is One Purpose Behind The Universe

The catechism begins by asking, 'what is the chief end of man'. The answer of course is 'to glorify God and enjoy him forever'. Glorifying God is to acknowledge the weightiness of God's being; to apprehend his attributes in such a way that it transforms our thinking and actions, to acknowledge His perfect plan and handling in all things.

John 17:3
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

God is revealing himself to us. This is amazing that the Creator of the universe is personal and loving and is willing to reveal himself to us.

The purpose of all that IS, all time and space, is to glorify God. We may find the means of God's revelation difficult at times but it really is for our good. God is glorified in his mercy and in his justice, in his love and in his wrath. We may find his providence so hard that it cripples us for a season, but the answer to the question "Is God good?" is perpetually and forever answered by the event of Good Friday -

Romans 5:6
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

So the context for the universe and all that exists is the Glory of God; the universe is the story of God. The Bible contains the truths that explain what we see around us and through our telescopes and microscopes. The Bible has a context as well. The Bible is a story of RESCUE. If you don't understand that the Bible is the story of redemption then you really do lack the context of the whole book. The history of redemption is the skeleton that holds the Bible's narratives, sermons, prophecies, doctrines, epistles, laws and poetry together. The Bible is not a book of scientific explanations, moralistic stories or an explanation of the headlines, it is the redemptive history of man.

The whole of the Bible pivots on one verse, Genesis 3:15. After the fall of man and sin totally ruined mankind, God said these words to the serpent (possessed by the fallen archangel Satan):

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This remarkably short prophecy is the summary of the several millennia to follow. The history of the world is the amazing 'playing out', the expansion and expounding, of those words. God will display his glory in the redemption of fallen man by displaying his providence in the form of a struggle between the woman's seed and the offspring of the serpent-tempter.

Let me pull up just a few of the stories from the history of redemption to make this point.

Moses and Pharaoh
God sends Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go. Is this a man going before a great king to inspire us to trust God and stand up to bullies? NO! This is the seed of the woman going to the seed of Satan and saying, “God will redeem His people and you can’t stop Him!”, the seed of Satan replies, “I will strike you dead” and then he tries every thing in his power to destroy the seed of the woman.

Egypt was the most powerful empire in the world with an enormous army. Why didn’t God send a massive army to destroy pharaoh? That would make sense. Other times in scripture he sends armies. Instead God sends one man, why? Because the man is special? NO! He sends one man because God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted. It is God who is in control and against all odds the seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent in Exodus and God redeems his people out of bondage.

Jael and Sisera
Judges 4:1-3 4:1
And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. 2 And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.

Verse 12 -
12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and....

For the sake of our younger readers and the squeamish, I’ll let you read the rest of Judges 4. But here he is, the seed of the serpent is bent on destroying the descendants of the woman and end the hope, the plan of redemption once and for all - but it can’t happen. God leads the mighty Sisera, feared by men everywhere, to the tent of a tiny little woman who gives him rest, a drink of milk and a head ache he will never recover from. He will strike at your heel, but you will crush his head.

David and Goliath
You know this story well, a young shepherd boy going up against a vile giant. The boy fights for Israel’s army and the Philistine is the champion of Israel’s enemies. Is this supposed to be some kind of David and Goliath story? NO! David is the seed of the woman, the hope, the line of the redeemer. Goliath is the seed of the serpent who wants to cut off the line of the redeemer. God told Adam this would happen and all Israel held there breath in this horrible mismatch. Goliath should have defeated David with ease. Is a sling better than a spear? No. Is a shepherd boy more effective than a 9 foot warrior? Never. But God’s plan cannot be changed. The seed of the woman felled the giant with a sling and a stone and rushing to the fallen destroyer he grabbed the giants sword and crushed the head of the serpent.

I could go on, Samson and the Philistines, Job and Satan himself. Satan hit Job with such unjust evil and yet Job would proclaim in Job 19:25
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Job knew the plan could not be thwarted.

Esther and the Wicked Haman -
Esther 3:13
Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

The serpent trying every scheme to stop the line of the redeemer.

King Herod, on hearing that a baby had been born who would be the king of the Jews slaughtered countless babies and toddlers. Why, because he was jealous? No, because the seed of the serpent will not stop in his battle
against the seed of the woman. This is the history of our redemption.
Go to Part Three

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What If The Manger Had Nothing To Do With Christmas?

Luke 2:8-15

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

There is such a danger in being TOO familiar with a portion of scripture. First off, we will probably forget or ignore the context of the too familiar verses and thereby forgetting or ignoring important background for a thorough understanding. Secondly, the passage may take on associations from the repetitions of weak interpretations of the verses. In other words, perhaps the passage has been layered with so many popular associations that many important truths have been filtered out. The narratives regarding the Incarnation are perfect examples of passages that have fallen victim to an artificial context that has blurred the rich truths contained in them. Let’s face it, the events of 4BC have nothing at all to do with Christmas. Christmas is a manufactured package of Christian and pagan images and rituals that was used as a tool to trivialize and absorb pagan religions into the Church. Marketing the church and trying to appear relevant to culture is not a technique invented by Joel Osteen, it goes back nearly two thousand years.

Ok, I don’t want to start sounding like Scrooge and give the impression that I’m trying to undermine your Christmas traditions but I do want you to see an important teaching on spiritual warfare. It will require that you forget the trappings of Christmas; peel away the layers of Christmas applications and associations that have been slapped on over the years. This kind of focused thinking is going to take discipline but the reward is worth it all.

My purpose in these next few articles is to demonstrate that the angels who ‘suddenly appeared’ to the shepherds were not there only to make a birth announcement, they were not there to merely sing a Christmas carol, they were there TO MAKE WAR. The ‘Host of Heaven’ is not a choir, it’s an ARMY and this event was the most massive grouping of warriors the world had ever witnessed. Their song was not a holiday wish, it was a battle cry and they had come to make war, ‘to plunder the Strong Man’s house.’

So in the words of Dicken’s, Ghost of Christmas Past, “"Your reclamation, then. Take heed. Rise. And walk with me."

(Go to Part Two)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Satan, God's agent of discipline

Here is an amazingly revealing passage of scripture:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31,32

For those who believe that Satan is the evil equivalent of God it is a foreign idea that Satan is actually an agent of God's discipline. In the life of the unbeliever Satan is an agent of wrath but God holds no wrath for his own, rather, the Lord disciplines those whom he loves (Hebrews 12:3-11).

If there is only ONE authority in heaven and earth then it should come as no surprise that God has full and absolute authority over Satan and his hosts. Luke 22 contains a remarkable picture of how the Lord uses the fractured purpose and evil intent of the Devil. The words of Jesus tells us that Satan has requested, DEMANDED even, for the opportunity to 'sift the apostles like wheat'. Sifting wheat is a GOOD thing and the Holy Spirit's role in sifting us is to point out weakness and give us the power to strengthen that which is weak.

Satan, an expert in human dynamics, knows that there must be a tearing down process as well - a deconstruction. In his lust for power (he has very little since Christ 'plundered his house') he requests of God to play in the 'tearing down' part. We would expect God to say "No!" but He doesn't. Instead, Jesus prays to the Father and insures that the faith of the apostles will be made strong. Jesus will USE the fallen 'ape' to continue the process of transformation. As we see so many times in the history of redemption, in the struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, what Satan has purposed for evil the Lord has purposed for good.

The difference between the craven apostles on the night that Jesus was betrayed and those same men who stood boldly and preached before strangers and enemies on Pentecost was the 'sifting like wheat'. Satan had to ask permission and he was never outside of God's good purpose to establish the pillars of the church. Could God have transformed the apostles without Satan? Of course he could... but he didn't. It pleased the Lord to use the rebellious angel and therefore showed the world that God is glorified in all things. The apostles did not need to know of any schemes or methods to combat demonic attack, they only needed to trust the sovereignty of the Father and the authority of Jesus Christ.

God. "To walk out of his will is to walk into nowhere" C. S. Lewis, Perelandra

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why are demons more active in animistic cultures?

Why does demonic activity seem more active in animistic cultures? Superstition!

Superstition is the lever by which weak demons produce the appearance of great and frightening power.

They will make efficient use of the local superstitions and expectations of a group, village, church, whatever, and they will create schemes to fit those localities. Given the right superstitious package, the demon can scare a group to death, destruction or at least exhibit control.

I used to believe that the economy of the demonic world was power, I don't believe that anymore, they trade and work in superstition. Our own superstition and expectations 'empower' (actually it's all an illusion) the demons. Take away superstition by teaching a Biblical worldview and preaching the Gospel and removing fearfulness and you have removed the demons ability to affect people.

There are three beliefs regarding demons but only these first two are common:

1. Demons exist and they are powerful and frightening, and
2. Demons do not exist, they are explained by natural phenomena and subconscious brain functions.

The third, and I believe Biblical response is that demons DO exist but they were greatly weakened at the establishment of the Kingdom. Any real power is gone and they must rely on misconceptions, fears and superstitions BUT that is enough. Demons have studied humans since we were created. They know our weaknesses, they know how susceptible we are to fear and that we can be controlled by it.

1 John 2:4
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.

This verse tells us that the one who keeps the commandments out of gratitude and knowledge of God is the one who has perfect love. Many try to obey out of fear, THAT is superstition. If we fail, we have a High Priest who makes intercession. There is no need to fear. John goes on to say in 4:12:
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

We must love one another and again this perfects our love.

Finally in verse 16 he says,

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Hebrews 2:14,15 also summarize the release from the fear of death that Satan had been able to use in is arsenal of schemes:

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

John tells us HOW love is perfected and then gives us the most powerful weapon against the demonic - love that is perfected by God's removal of future punishment, love of our brother, knowledge of Him, hatred of the world - THESE things cast out fear. Where there is no fear, there is no foothold for the devil. He may accuse but it has no effect, he will attack the sovereignty of God and the authority of Christ but we KNOW GOD.

The doctrines of the sovereignty of God and the authority of Christ allow us to pull the curtain back and see that the Devil, with his ability to breed fear like the "Great and Powerful Oz", is really just a weakling who knows how to manipulate those who aren't as smart as he is. He may understand physics, psychology, chemistry, anatomy and the art of illusion but he is a toothless and defeated lion. Don't be fooled, don't be frightened.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Seeking A Biblical Response to Demonic Activity

It is not the least bit difficult to find anecdotal responses to perceived demonic activity. I have read many books on the subject and there seems to be a good deal of agreement on how to engage demons. Within the culture of Christian literature on modern demonic activity there is a wide range of explanations for these malevolent spirit beings, for the most part these treatments fall into three main categories:

1. Demons do not exist. Satan and the demonic are symbolic and representational. Demons may or may not have been a problem in Bible times but today it is better to take on an understanding that demons are negative thoughts or ideas or a superstitious interpretation of mental illness.

2. Demons exist and have great power. Demons are to blame for temptation and every form of malady - depression, illness, afflictions, catastrophes are all the product of demons working to make the lives of the sons and daughters of Adam miserable.

3. Demons do exist but they are not powerful. This is both the Biblical and historic approach to demons. It will be my goal here to demonstrate that this gives us a much more useful view of demonic activity.

I will attempt to answer the questions that I hear over and over, questions such as:

• Should we directly engage demons?
• Should I bring in a deliverance ministry?
• Is the occult a gateway into the demonic realm?
• Is there such a thing as a demonic realm or domain?
• Can demons read your mind?
• What about ghosts and hauntings?

It seems that everyone has a story to tell about a haunting or a 'spooky' experience. It is my desire to help in building a Biblical framework to explain these matters without taking away from the sovereignty of God and the authority of our Lord Jesus. My prayer is that you will find deliverance and blessings in a life without fear to the Glory of God. Our Father, protect us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Amen.