“Purified in Power”
Sunday, January 28, 2018
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 18: 15 – 20
1 Corinthians 8: 1-3; 10 – 13
Mark 1: 21 - 28
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
The day the devil came to Church. This is exactly what happened in the Gospel today. Why in the world would the devil want to go to Church? You would think that if there were a place that he would want to avoid, it would be the Church. I do know of at least one church where devils do seem to enjoy attending. The order of worship in that place has singing for a little while, preaching for a little while, and then, there is a long time where the ministers cast out spirits. There is much more spirit-casting out than there is preaching being done. Much more spirit-casting out than there is worshipping the Lord God Almighty. That was what the church was known for, and it was almost like a circus. In fact, their processional song was like circus music. How can this be? Why would the devil want to be in church?
But today’s Gospel is not the only time that Jesus went to church and found the devil there. In Luke 13 it says that there was a woman in the synagogue who was oppressed by the devil for 18 years. Can you imagine that the devil went to church for 18 years? And nobody paid attention to it - not until Jesus showed up.
The day the devil came to church is not something that we talk about a lot, and that is a good thing because we are here to talk about our Lord, Jesus Christ. But the gospel for today has a message of which we should be aware. It speaks of unclean spirits, which are sometimes called demons, devils, or evil spirits. Most commonly, the Bible calls them unclean spirits. Let’s take a minute and think about it: where did unclean spirits come from? Some say that they are the fallen angels we see in Revelation 12 and Jude 6, but I’m not so sure about that; for in 2 Peter 2:4 it says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” This means that they are not free to go to church or anywhere else. They are held in bondage by God reserved for judgment. They are not as free as we see in the Bible that the unclean spirits are.
Only one time in my life, when I was in my very early twenties, I have literally seen a demon cast out of a person in a church service. My church then, believed in the power of God setting people free from demonic influence, but it was usually something done outside of the church service, in private sessions. However, a famous televangelist came to minister at our church once and towards the end of the sermon, he pointed in the congregation and called out a young lady and told her to come forward. I knew her, and she seemed not to look quite well. Actually, she looked at that time like one of the walking dead you see on TV! The evangelist said to her, “Devil, I command you to come out of her,” and she fell down. After a while, she got up and she was her normal self again. This is the only time that I have ever seen a devil in church that I know of.
I am not an expert on unclean spirits, but I do have to share a couple of things today. First, if you want to describe an unclean spirit in one word, the word would be “rebellious.” How did the devil get started? He rebelled against God saying, “Did God really say that you can’t eat from the fruit of the tree?” He was rebelling against the words of God. Satan himself started in rebellion and all of his minions have the same vibe going. In the gospel, the picture of the demon spirit is something in rebellion. He taunted Jesus saying, “What do I have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” He was making fun of Jesus and being rebellious against him. This is the mind set of an unclean spirit.
It seems that in Jesus’ time, there was a lot of demon spirit activity going on. Most of the time, whenever the Bible talks about Jesus’ ministry of healing the sick, it also includes casting out the unclean spirits. Many times the Bible says that it was a spirit that made the person sick. It was a very common thing at that time, much more so than what we see today. What changed? Why is it that it was very common then and not so common now? One reason is that as soon as Jesus received His mission and was filled with the Holy Spirit, He Himself started cleaning house. Jesus started taking authority against the demons and the unclean spirits, which no one else was doing up to that time.
As soon as Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit He went into the wilderness and confronted the devil Himself. He defeated the devil on the Mount of Temptation, then went from there and had many victories in the casting out of unclean spirits. But if Jesus was the only one with the authority to deal with these things we are in trouble, because He ascended to the Father after three and half years of ministry. But Jesus said to His apostles in Luke 10:19, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” This might be speaking of serpents and scorpions, so where does the devil come in here? Verse 20 says, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” Serpents and scorpions are just an imagery of the unclean spirits, and Jesus said that they will be subject to us.
In Matthew 28, as Christ was leaving, He said in verse 18, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Jesus then says, “Now, you go in this same authority and do works that I did.” The good news is that Jesus has been given authority over these things. Remember that the heart and core of an unclean spirit is rebellion, and when someone stands in the authority of Christ, nobody unclean spirit stand against it.
Spirits are comfortable in places where there is rebellion, they like to hang out with like spirits in rebellion. They don’t like it when authority to God is present. They don’t like it when those who have submitted their lives to Jesus as their authority are around, because they abhor submission. Rebellion is the opposite of submission, and spirits enjoy rebellion because it makes them comfortable. These spirits love rebellion and they feed off rebellion because it just stirs up what is in them already. Spirits love attention, and they love to go where they are comfortable, where others are rebelling against true authority. But when submission arises, the unclean spirits are finished.
In the Gospel, the people were saying, “Oh, Jesus has authority. He speaks the word of God.” As soon as they recognized the authority of Christ, this is when the unclean spirit was in trouble. It is not an accident that these two events come back to back. First, it talks about the authority of Jesus speaking the Word, and then the unclean spirit surfaces, mocking and taunting the things of God, but he knew he was doomed. Even as he was taunting, Jesus said, “Enough!” When the authority of God is respected and in its proper place, the unclean spirit, the demon, has no place. This is why for the last two thousand years, as the Lord builds His church, in His authority, the influence of the demonic spirits has been much less. In areas where the church is not strong we will find some demonic activities, but when a church or the semblance of a church is standing in the authority of God the rebellious spirit won’t find a place as they did prior to the time of Christ.
The further the church gets away from the authority of God, the further the Church gets away from the authority of the Word, the further the church gets away from submitting her life to Christ, Who is the true authority, the stronger the demonic influences will be. Perhaps we see them now than years ago. There are certain periods in history where rebellion was strong and demonic activity was strong, but then revival took place; after which, we don’t see them much anymore. When submission to authority is absent, unclean spirits or rebellion can rise up.
When God’s authority is in proper alignment in His church, unclean spirits have no place. Ephesians 4:27 says, “Give no place to the devil.” The location of this verse is in Ephesians 4, the chapter which talks about the Body of Christ being in proper order. In verse 11, the Body is in submission to the authority given by God: the apostles, the prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In this situation, St. Paul says that the devil has no place. When the church understands the authority that God has given her – the bishops, the priests, the deacons and the laity - St. Paul says that the devil has no place! The devil has no place when the church is its proper structure under the authority of God.
We like to quote James 4:7, where it says, “Resist the devil and he will flee.” But the first words of the verse says, “Submit therefore to God.” The opposite of rebellion is submission. We think that it is enough to submit ourselves to God, but St. John says, “How can you love God Whom you do not see when you can’t love man whom you do see? By extension, “How can you submit to God Whom you do not see when you cannot submit to authority in Church whom you can see?” When James says to submit to God, he is not only talking about God, our Father in heaven, but also to God’s authority in His place on earth. When we submit to God, then, we have the power to resist the devil because the devil hates submission. Unclean spirits despise submission because it is the opposite of who they are. They revel in rebellion.
Often, we think these demons, the unclean spirits, the devil causes rebellion, and that they give rise to rebellion; and that through the demons come rebellion. I am sure this is true, but I also wonder if the opposite isn’t also true: rebellion gives rise to unclean spirits. Perhaps it works the opposite way also. Sure, demons will give rise to rebellion, but rebellion will likewise attract unclean spirits. So it is important to remain in submission, and for the church authority structure to remain it its place.
Now, let us remember that the strongest spirit that Jesus ever faced, the spirit that nine of His apostles couldn’t cast out (excepting Peter, James and John, who weren’t there), the spirit that caused a young boy to have epilepsy, was conquered by prayer and fasting.
I am calling us today to remember what Bishop Elmer Belmonte recently shared with us about the steps that Jesus took on Palm Sunday. First, Jesus purified the temple. Second, Jesus said that His Father’s house is a house of prayer, and thirdly, worship must come from it. Prayer is always a force that can influence and defeat any work of the enemy because prayer is the essence of submission. The real prayer to God is that which is in submission to Him, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” This is the opposite of rebellion, and this is the kind of prayer that the devil can’t handle.
When our bishop, the shepherd in our Church says that our mission is to know God and to make Him known, this happens through prayer. When we walk in this, we will have the authority over the works of the enemy, and the devil won’t come to Church. Again, the theme given by our bishop for this liturgical year is “Purify Ourselves Just as He Is Pure.” Let us not be mixed up with the impure thing such as rebellion. Here in the first month of the year we see a story of an unclean spirit – impure. Rebellion is the ultimate number one impurity. Purify ourselves in submission to God’s authority; be sanctified to God in prayer and in prayer, we know Christ.
This is how we stand against the devil. We think that all we have to do is to use the Name of Jesus. The Name of Jesus is powerful, but if the Name of Jesus is not used properly, by someone who doesn’t know Him, it has no power. In Acts chapter 19 the seven sons of Sceva were trying to cast out spirits in the Name of Jesus, when they didn’t know Jesus. They were left beaten, naked, and bleeding. No, it needs to be spoken by someone who knows Him, who is Holy Spirit-filled, and who is in submission to the gifts Christ placed in His Church. It is not a hobby to cast out spirits.
We come to know Jesus through prayer. Purify ourselves; know God and make Him known, so that we can exercise our authority over the enemy. Unclean spirits can’t stand up against authority. They can't stand up to a Church operating in proper authority, who respects the authority that God has given, and who walks in this. When we understand this, we understand one thing: the issue is not so much about the authority itself; the issue is about how the Church responds to that authority. When the people responded to the authority of Christ, the power was there to defeat the unclean spirits. As long as there is rebellion, the Church is not strong. The issue is not whether the leader is this or that, the issue is how the people respond to leadership and to authority.
To purify ourselves and our Church, to make sure that the devil doesn’t enter our Church, our home, and our family, the key is authority and submission to authority. Then rebellion, unclean spirits, will be not able to stand against it.