Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jesus Started It: Exposing the Shadow Kingdom

Preached on Sunday, June 9, 2013.

Scripture readings: Acts 13:4-12; Ephesians 6:10-20

Paul and Barnabas were honored to be invited into the presence of the Roman governor of Cyprus to tell him the message about Jesus. They found that he was, in so many ways, the perfect audience for the good news.

Photos Taken around the Church & Manse In Washtucna WA
He was intelligent; which didn’t mean that he was merely very smart. Being merely smart can cause so much trouble. Intelligence meant that he could understand, and sort things out, and see what was really there, and come to the right conclusion. And this intelligent audience had a wizard, a sorcerer, right by his side.

We can’t be sure that Barnabas and Paul knew about the sorcerer from the start. There was some shifting in what they knew. There was some shifting in what they knew they had to do about it.

There was a kind of inspiration involved on Paul’s part. We read that he was, “filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas (the wizard)” and spoke judgment upon him. (Acts 13:9)

While Barnabas and Paul were trying to share their faith and lead the governor to faith in Jesus, the sorcerer “opposed them and tried to turn the governor from the faith.” There was this growing conflict until the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of Paul to who this man named Elymas was, and what he stood for. The conflict was an outbreak of what has been called “spiritual warfare.”

I know, from my own experience that such warfare is real and that it is going on all the time. There is the Kingdom of God and there is the Shadow Kingdom of this present darkness. There are armies of these kingdoms fighting some kind of war that we can’t see, but that war involves us and has an affect on us.

At the same time, I want to avoid obsession. C. S. Lewis said, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." (C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”)

I think our human race can fall into the same pair of opposite errors related to angels: either to disbelieve in them or to have an unhealthy interest in them. Angels almost never make their presence known unless they have a special mission that requires them to communicate with us.

Elymas the wizard probably would never have called his familiar spirits devils. They were just spirits, and maybe even gods to him. Or he thought they were angels at his service. As Paul says, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

Paul, in his thoughts on our struggle against “the spiritual forces of evil”, doesn’t tell us much about either devils or angels. The angels may well be working or fighting all around us but, for Paul, the main point is all about living inside of the spiritual realities that come to us through Jesus: truth, righteousness, the good news of peace, faith, the Spirit and word of God, and prayer. He calls this our armor, or our defense. He calls it our means of standing through it all; standing up in resistance and going forward. (Ephesians 6:11)

I have seen angels, myself, a few times. One summer night, when I was sixteen, I struggled with an invisible devil until I was able to say, “Go away, in Jesus’ name and don’t come back.”

That is one way of being aware of a spiritual warfare but there is no need whatsoever for any kind of experience like that. In fact, if you tried looking for experiences like this it might get you in a lot of trouble. I would solemnly warn you that there are much more important and necessary ways to be aware of such a warfare.

Paul said for us to be aware of it in the form of things like truth, and peace, and faith, and prayer. Our hold on the truth, and the peace that comes from the good news, and a faith and loyalty toward God in our heart, and all kinds of prayer make us part of the warfare.

Seeing these in others is also a way in which we take part. We see the armies of the kingdom of God when people live out the truth, and bring peace to others, and patiently cope by faith and prayer; trusting and communicating with God.

At such times, you see and feel the unseen. You see and feel the power of God living in others and living in you. You see it in the love and integrity of families. You see it in the baptism of babies, and children, and adults. You see it in weddings. You see it in holy funerals.

You see the glory of the armies of the kingdom of light. You see people living out what God is putting into them, but you also see it as a sign of the march of a whole kingdom (a whole new world) on the move; holding out and advancing against the darkness.

On the other side of the war, it is easy to see the sadness and the badness lurking in human nature; but sometimes you see something much worse. You see self-fulfilling fears. You see self-destructive behavior. You see the irresistible and irrational descent into misunderstanding and misinterpretation between people who should be working together; people who should be friends, or who should love each other.

You see something beyond human weakness. Sometimes you hear the cackling laughter of the spiritual forces of darkness.

Paul was aware of something strange in his meeting with the governor. There was this other man. His name was Bar-Jesus (bar-Joshua, son of Joshua, a common name) Elymas (a Jewish and a Greek combination). In this way he was just like Saul who was also Paul (Saulus Paulus, a Jewish and Roman combination). One was a Jew who had turned into a sorcerer. The other was a Jew who had turned into a Christian. They had parted ways. They had been swept apart by the forces of the spiritual warfare.

The Romans were so much about mastery and control, and this Roman governor was being mastered by the sorcerer every time Paul tried to share Jesus with him. The governor was “intelligent”, meaning that he had a gift for putting things and ideas together. He had the skill to see where and how things added up, and he was oddly not able to hold on to anything Paul said.

In the governor’s oddly disabled intelligence Paul saw something more than the work of a man who simply posed as a sorcerer. He saw that Elymas was more than a poser.  He saw that the spiritual forces of evil were at work.

The power and the wisdom of God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, filled Paul. So Paul could speak for God and put his finger on exactly what was going on. Paul saw the hand of God was at work in this moment of time. God himself was there with Paul to face the spiritual forces.

The interesting thing is that, as far as we know, nothing worse happened to the sorcerer than what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus where Paul had met Jesus. Paul, too, had been blinded for a time, and had to be led by the hand, just like Elymas. (Acts 9:8 and 13:11)

Paul’s blindness and having to be led by the hand were the mercy of Jesus. They were part of the story of Paul’s salvation. They could be part of the salvation of Elymas. When it all happened to Paul it was a matter of hope. The salvation and hope that come through Jesus are the power that created the armor of God.

They come to us not as a feeling but as a fact. Jesus, and everything he has done for us, almost forces itself upon us in a way that leads us to repent and surrender. We see Jesus, and the cross, and the resurrection. How can we say no to what he shows us? How can we escape?

We see the truth of it; and it is that truth (that factuality) that serves like a belt that holds our lives together: the belt of truth. However much we may struggle, Jesus has made the fact of his love, the truth of his love, just as great a reality as any of our struggles.

There is the “breastplate of righteousness” where everything is set right. Jesus is the righteousness of God and our righteousness too. He is the justice of God who sets us right with himself and with ourselves.

In the cross of Christ we die to ourselves. From the tomb of Jesus we rise as new people who can stand against the devil, because Jesus has made us right before God.

We are still sinners, but Jesus stands up for us against all accusers. The word “devil” means accuser. The spiritual warfare seeks to accuse us and make us give up. The grace of God in Jesus enables us to stand up.

There is “the shoeing of your feet with the gospel of peace”. Paul almost never says anything in a simple way. The gospel means good news. The good news of Jesus gives us peace with God, but it also gives us peace in every way. In Hebrew, the word peace is shalom and it is all about relationships. It doesn’t mean an absence of conflict it means all relationships are healthy and flourishing.

The spiritual warfare attacks us when we are not nurturing our most important relationships. Or the warfare tempts us to mess with our most important relationships. The gospel of peace prepares us to stop and pay attention to people. The peace of Christ teaches us how to nurture our relationships and this protects us, and it protects them, from the spiritual forces of evil.

There is “the shield of faith” and faith is a kind of loyalty and trust in God, in Jesus. Loyalty listens to Jesus instead of listening to our doubts, or despair, or weariness, or weakness, or our strongest desires and temptations.

Loyalty and trust helps us to listen to Jesus who forgives our sins, and so we have another way to defend ourselves than by proving ourselves, or by justifying ourselves, or by pretending we are something other than what we are. True faith saves us from pride as well as from fear.

Then there is the “helmet of salvation”. When I was seventeen I drowned, but I was saved from the lake. I was rescued from the water by Charlie Lucas.

I was rescued, then I was resuscitated, then I was safe and alive. Salvation is our rescue by God in Jesus, and we are safe. Knowing we are safe in Christ is how we stand up to the struggle of the war.

Then there is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. In Isaiah chapter eleven we can see the power of the Lord working through the Holy Spirit, and through the Messiah. Isaiah wrote like this, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him; the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:1-4)

This would tell us that the sword of the Spirit is the word that Jesus speaks in healing, mercy, and judgment. In a way, Paul spoke for Jesus to the sorcerer Elymas. The Spirit put his sword on Paul’s hands, or the Spirit put his sword in Paul’s mouth. The Spirit gave him God’s word to speak God’s truth. It sounded like judgment, and yet it had the potential for mercy.

In spiritual warfare, we can see things as they are, and name them for what they are. At the same time, we can also leave the door of mercy open. We know that the sword of the Spirit has been given us with an end in view; to make all things new.
Then there is prayer. Prayer isn’t given a name as a part of the armor of God. Yet, maybe it is also part of the sword of the Spirit. In Romans chapter eight, Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

In the spiritual struggle we may be too tired, or confused, or frustrated to know how to pray, but God’s own words and thoughts (what we would pray if we were faithful, and loving, and wise) gets said. The word of God gets said I prayer, and that prayer changes things.

What God does for us in Christ is the real armor that we wear. God is our strength. The Lord’s Supper tells us this. Here is the gospel set upon a table. “Eat and be strong,” it says. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10) “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a great sermon this is. I never knew that the word "devil" means accuser. There is so much in this sermon, I have already read it three times and I keep seeing something new each time.