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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Truth Encounters

Every day during this season of Lent we’re looking at the miracles of Jesus – his spectacular displays of supernatural power that are reported in the Gospels.    


In his book The Dust of Death, theologian and social critic Os Guinness recounts a trip he made from his home in Switzerland to England, where he gave a series of talks.


The very first night he noticed in the crowd a woman with an odd expression on her face.  Guinness felt prompted to pray silently that this woman would not create some kind of scene.


As soon as he finished his presentation, she was on her feet.  "What kind of spell did you cast on me tonight?" she asked.  Os answered that he had no idea what she was talking about.  She responded that she had been dispatched by a local coven of witches to disrupt his teaching, but had felt powerless throughout the evening. 


Later, when Guinness returned to Switzerland, he was approached by a young lady in his church.  "I was thinking about you the other day," she said.  "As I stopped to pray about the talk I knew you were giving in England, I saw in my mind's eye a woman with a very odd look on her face.  I didn't know what to make of it, so I just prayed that God would make everything all right."


John G. Paton, who served as a mission worker last century in the New Hebrides Islands, reported that hostile natives surrounded his small house one night, intent on burning Paton and his wife to death.  The couple prayed intently.  When morning came they were surprised to see the attackers walk away.  They thanked God for deliverance.


About a year later one of the tribal chiefs became a believer in Jesus.  Paton, remembering what had happened, asked the chief what had kept him and his men from torching the mission house. 


The chief replied in surprise, "We didn’t attack because of all those men you had with you."  The missionary answered, "We had no men; there were only two of us."  The chief argued that that wasn't so.  He and his warriors had seen many men standing guard – hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands.  They had circled the mission station and made it impossible for the natives to attack. 


Paton thanked God for his angels.


These two anecdotes are noteworthy not because the central characters were religious extremists, but because Guinness and Paton were anything but.


Like many followers of Jesus, however, they experienced from time-to-time what Celtic Christians came to call “thin places” – moments in space and time when it seems as if we can see through the fabric of reality and catch glimpses of an invisible world. 


Numerous intellectuals of the European Enlightenment (roughly 1650 through 1800) doubted such reports.  It was time for reasonable people to abandon superstition.  Bible scholars openly dismissed the validity of the Gospel accounts of miracles, healings, and exorcisms. 


The problem is that there are just so many of them.  If we try to find a “miracle-free Jesus” in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there’s not much Jesus left. 


Matthew 8:16-17 is a good example: “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.”


The Gospels occasionally zero in on a single case of demonization, such as the Gadarene demoniac, whom we will encounter tomorrow.  But there are multiple texts like the one above in which it seems Jesus confronts spiritual evil for an extended period of time, and in a number of individuals. 


What’s missing here?  There’s no thunder and lightning.  “He drove out the spirits with a word…”


Jesus dismisses the presence of spiritual evil with a word of authority.  How can he do this?  Jesus represents the One who rules both the seen and unseen worlds, and the True King’s identity and power are not in doubt.


The apostle Paul writes, “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” (Ephesians 6:12). 


Hollywood has conditioned us to think that this struggle is a power encounter.


Evil forces are portrayed as super-strong entities that chase us around the house, levitate our furniture, and cannot be finally vanquished.  When the resourceful babysitter Jamie Lee Curtis stops the psychotic killer at the end of the movie Halloween, she assures the kids under her care that all is well.  She killed the boogeyman.  Little Tommy replies, “But you can’t kill the boogeyman!”


In the background, at that very moment, we can see the monster coming back to life.  This scene not only launched a handful of Halloween sequels, but made it clear that when it comes to evil, we can run but not hide.  The advertising tagline of a recent Christian novel seems to agree:  Fear no evil is no longer an option.  I agree with Bible scholar Klyne Snodgrass that that line borders on blasphemy. 


That’s because the Bible instructs us to fear God, not demons.  According to the New Testament, the battle against spiritual evil is always a truth encounter.   


None of us is stronger than Satan.  But it doesn’t matter that we fail to match his might.  Even though evil is real, Jesus has already won the ultimate spiritual battle on the cross. 


Therefore, Peter counsels us to “be alert” (I Peter 5:8).  Notice that he doesn’t say, “Be afraid.”  And James declares, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  We don’t run from Satan.  He runs from us.  Scripture tells us to flee temptation, but to stand up to the Evil One – at which point he has to leave.   


How exactly do we live this out?


Our faith is not in crosses (even big gold ones), strands of garlic, or holy water.  That’s movie stuff.  We resist evil by defining reality according to the truths of Scripture.  When we embrace the genuineness of Christ’s victory and affirm our own status as God’s children and thus his representatives, we will win the truth encounter.


Sometimes that comes down to speaking the truth out loud.


On three occasions I have been part of a small group that came together to help an individual experience spiritual deliverance.  


We had received some wise counsel.  The demonized person, who in the past had made personal oaths of loyalty to multiple spirits, needed to affirm, out loud, their desire to belong to Christ and Christ alone.  Were there some dramatic moments on the way to making that happen?  Yes.   


But in the end it was that person’s spoken word of authority – an authority delegated by Jesus, not unlike the words spoken by Jesus himself in the Gospels – that brought lasting freedom. 


Perhaps you’re in a season of profound discouragement, fear, or confusion.  When it comes to connecting with God, it feels as if there’s always static on the line. 


Here’s something you might try.  Find a place where you can be alone.  Surrender yourself, as best you can, to God’s care.  Then calmly speak aloud words like these: “Because I know I am God’s child, dark powers have no power over me.  Go away in the name of Jesus.”


You may feel like a fool.  You may be glad that no one was there to hear you. 


But God always hears. 


And he is the one who has told us to resist the dark powers that tend to attach themselves to our discouragement, fear, and confusion. 


That’s more than just a word of hope.


It’s the truth. 



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