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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Should exorcism be a priority for the Church?

As we have seen in our study of Matthew, exorcism was a normal part of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  In addition to stories like the one from the passage last Sunday, there are blanket statements in the Gospels that indicate that these stories were not isolated events, but happened on a regular basis. 
Matt 4:24  So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.
Matt 8:16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. (cf Mark 1:32, 34, 39)
Further, Jesus gave His disciples authority to cast out demons as well, an authority which they successfully and repeatedly exercised (Matt 10:8, Luke 10:17).  This has prompted some in the church today to claim that exorcism should be a regular part of the ministry of the church.  Indeed, some have even created parachurch organizations dedicated to locating the demon-possessed and freeing them from the affliction.
Are these people on the right track?  Should PBF start an exorcism ministry?  If not, why not?  Why would exorcism be such a large part of the Lord’s ministry and the ministries of the apostles, but not the modern day church?
I think there are several reasons why exorcism is not and should not be a part of the regular ministry of the church the way it was a regular ministry of Jesus and the apostles.  First, demonic activity during Jesus’ earthly ministry seems to have been much greater than it is now.  This does not mean that the devil and his demons are vacationing.  They are very busy (1 Pet 5:8; Eph6:10-12, 16; 1Tim 3:6-7, 4:1; 2 Tim 2:24-26).  And there is no reason to think that demon possession doesn’t happen today.  But we simply do not see the manifold expressions of it that Jesus and the disciples encountered. 
Why demonic activity was at a peak during the time of Jesus is not made explicit in Scripture.  Some have conjectured that Satan was making a last ditch effort to disrupt the plan of God in Christ.  That does make sense to me, but we can’t know for sure.  At any rate, we simply are not confronted with demonic possession as regularly now, therefore a major emphasis on this is not necessary in the church.
Second, like the other “signs and wonders” performed by Jesus and he apostles, a major purpose for exorcism was to validate the message.  Jesus reveals as much in Matt 12:28: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (cf Luke11:20).  The writer of Hebrews similarly notes that the message of the gospel was validated by various signs and wonders (Heb 2:3-4). Acts19:11-20 shows that the gospel was spread as a direct result of the healings and exorcisms performed by Paul in Jesus’ name. 
But now that the canon of Scripture is complete, such validating signs and wonders are no longer necessary.  This is why we don’t see the same kinds of miracles and healings on a regular basis today that were prevalent in the early church.  I do believe that God still performs miracles and heals, but these acts are not as prominent as they were in the apostolic era.  My opinion is that the same thing is true of exorcism.
Third, there is no teaching on exorcism in the NT epistles.  To me, this is the most compelling reason why exorcism is not a regular part of the ministry of the church and why it should not be actively pursued.  The epistles apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to the life of the believer.  They show how believers are to function for God’s glory in every area of life – the home, the church, and the community.  Instruction is given on such diverse topics as how to pray, how to serve your spouse sexually, and how to endure an unjust employer (Phil 4:6-7; 1 Cor7:3-5; 1 Pet 2:18-25).  Major emphasis is placed upon exalting Christ, holy living, and selfless service.  We are told that through God’s Word we have everything necessary to be saved and sanctified (2 Tim3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3-4).  In other words, everything that we need in order to live the kind of life that we are called to live as believers is found in His Word. 
In light of this, the epistles’ silence on the subject of exorcism is deafening.  Nowhere in the NT epistles are we given instruction on how to cast out demons.  The subject is even mentioned!  What should this tell us?  It should tell us that exorcism is not intended to be a normal function or ministry of the church.  Further, a preoccupation with such things is a distraction from the mission of the church.  We should major on that which is major in the NT: knowing Christ and making Him known. 
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Son of Man

In our passage last Sunday, Jesus referred to Himself for the first time as “the Son of Man” (Matt 8:20).  When a scribe came to Jesus pledging to follow Jesus wherever He went, the Lord replied, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 
The title “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite designation for Himself in the Gospels.  It occurs in all four Gospels, and Jesus is the only one who uses it.  I remember the title puzzling me when I was young – if Jesus is the Son of God, why does He call Himself the Son of Man?, I thought.  Knowing that each of the Gospel writers desired to convince their readers that Jesus was the Son of God, it seemed strange that they would include the phrase “Son of Man” so consistently.  So what is the significance of this reference?
Virtually all scholars agree that this title was not a native Greek expression.  Therefore, its explanation must lie in the Hebrew/Aramaic background of the Gospels.  That being the case, if this self-designation is to make sense to the New Testament reader, there must be something in the Old Testament to shed light on it. 
Actually, there are a number of OT passages that use the phrase.  These uses tend to fall into three categories.  The first category employs the phrase as a generic reference to humanity.  That humanity is the referent is clear from that fact that many of these uses are found in parallel lines, being synonymous with “man.”  For example:
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  (Num 23:19)

how much less man, who is a maggot,
and the son of man, who is a worm!" (Job 25:6)

What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (Psa 8:4)

Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass…? (Isa 51:12 ESV)

Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast… (Isa 56:2)

The phrase “son of man” as used in these and other OT references should not be considered a title as it is simply another way of referring to mankind.  Could this usage be what Jesus had in mind when He used the phrase to refer to Himself?  It is not out of the question.  Jesus was fully man.  He had to be in order to pay the penalty for our sin.  Perhaps, He used the phrase to identify Himself with the human race, maybe as our representative before God.  This is possible, but because this kind of usage was not a title, it seems doubtful that it would be Jesus’ primary self-designation.

A second category can be found primarily in Ezekiel.  In the book that bears his name, Ezekiel is referred to by God as “son of man” 93 times! An especially important passage is found in ch2:
  1 And he said to me, "Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you."
 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.
  3 And he said to me, "Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.
 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD.'
 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.  (Eze 2:1-5)

God used Ezekiel as His representative/messenger, His prophet, to rebellious Israel.  It is in this capacity as God’s spokesman that Ezekiel is referred to as the son of man.  So is this the usage that Jesus had in mind?  Was He identifying Himself as a prophet, as God’s representative and spokesman?  Certainly, this works theologically.  Jesus was widely regarded as a prophet (Matt 14:5; 21:11; Mark 6:15; Luke 1:76; 7:16; John 4:19;6:14; 9:17).  Further, all three of the Synoptic Gospels record the Father commanding the disciples to listen to Jesus, implying that He was God’s spokesman (Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). 

It is possible that Jesus had His role as a prophet in mind, just as He could have been referring to Himself as a representative of mankind.  However, the statements in which Jesus uses the phrase “son of man” would seem to point to someone more extraordinary than a normal man or even a prophet.  Consider the following uses in Matthew alone:

the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Matt 9:6)

“For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12:8)

"Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (Matt 16:28)

"Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead." (Matt 17:9)

"The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men," (Matt 17:22)

"And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death" (Matt 20:18)

"…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt 20:28)

"For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." (Matt 24:27)

"…and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matt 24:30)

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne." (Matt 25:31)

"You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."" (Matt 26:2)

"…from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matt 26:64) 

These are spectacular statements that would seem to be more suited to a third category of usage in the OT, from one passage in the book of Daniel:

"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13-14)

When we take into account Jesus’ heavy emphasis on the coming kingdom in the book of Matthew and the other synoptics, together with the above references in Matthew that connect the phrase “Son of Man” with other kingdom references (authority, Lord, clouds of heaven, kingdom, power, glory, angels, throne, etc), it seems likely that Jesus sees Himself as the son of man figure in Daniel’s prophecy.  Indeed, most evangelical interpreters not only see Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy, but believe that Jesus Himself had this in mind when He used the self-designation “Son of Man.”

So when we see this title wherever it is found in the Gospels, we need to understand the implicit claim that Jesus is making – “I am the coming King.”

What then should we make of the use of this phrase in Matt 8:20 (“the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”)?  I believe it highlights the condescension of Christ in coming to save man.  The one who has no home is the majestic King.  Reminds me of Phil 2:5-11.

 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 (Phi 2:5-11)

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Healing in the Atonement?

Our passage from Sunday in Matthew 8:14-17 pointed to Jesus’ healing ministry as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53.  This chapter in Isaiah is a prophecy regarding the substitutionary atonement of Christ, that is, Christ's satisfying the wrath of God by suffering for our sin in our place.  Because there is this link between the physical healing ministry of Christ and the atonement, some Christians claim that believers should never be sick – “there is healing in the atonement.”  So, if there is healing in the atonement, why do we find that believers still suffer illness and death?
All of salvation history can be summed up in four words: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  In the beginning, God created a world in which everything was good (Gen1:31).  When man violated God’s command, sin entered into the world, and not only did man fall, but the entire creation was affected.  Paul writes in Rom 8:20 that the “creation was subjected to futility.”  This affect on the creation is seen in several details in Genesis 3, including the appearance of thorns and thistles in the ground and the fact that the woman would experience pain in childbirth.  Because all of God’s creation suffered in the fall, all of His creation would need to be redeemed - set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:21).
Of course, Scripture reveals that Jesus Christ was that redeemer.  Through His life, death, and resurrection, He saved man from sin and death.  Not only that, but His saving work provided for the restoration of the creation as well (Col 1:19-20).  But it is important to keep in mind that redemption and restoration are not the same thing.  Redemption has taken place, but the creation has not been completely restored yet.  Occasionally, we talk about the “already, not yet” theme found in Scripture.  In Matthew, we are told that the Kingdom of God has already come (3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 12:28) and that it has not yet come (6:10).  The kingdom has come in the rule of Christ in the hearts of His people, but it has not come in the sense of His literal reign over the earth.  
The same can be said of all the blessings that are ours in Christ.  It is written that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).  So they are currently ours, yet this inheritance is being kept for us to be revealed in the last time (1Pet1:4-5).  It could be said that in one sense they are already ours, and in another sense, not yet ours.
This is also true of Christ’s defeat of sin, death, and disease, accomplished in the atonement.  There is a sense in which those who are in Christ have been saved from these things in this life, yet the fullness of that salvation will not be experienced until Christ returns.  The Lord’s atonement saved us from the penalty of sin, and yet we still live in the presence of sin and still commit sin.  It is only at Christ’s return that we will be removed from the presence of sin and no longer commit sin.  The restoration is yet future – on the last day the church and creation will experience the fullness of redemption.
Jesus’ healing ministry on earth was like a sneak peak at the paradise that would be experienced at the restoration of creation – no sickness, no pain, and no death.  What Christ did in Palestine for a short three years – eradicating disease – He will eventually do in the new heaven and new earth for all eternity (Rev 21:1-4). 
So is there healing in the atonement?  Certainly.  But we will not experience the full extent of it until the Lord returns.  Until that time, we will still know the temporal effects of disease just as we still know the temporal effects of sin.  And that is all the more reason to eagerly anticipate the day when the trumpet will sound and we will meet Him in the air (1 Thess 4:16-18)!
Posted by Greg Birdwell