Sunday May 16, 2010
One of the great desperation moves of our Lord is that he reaches to the untouchables of society. I think of so many that followed Jesus and they were the ones who were at the outer edges of culture; they were the ones that others overlooked. Furthering this thought, Jesus was not afraid to encounter those who were very unlike him in order to impact their lives. All you have to do is look at a few of his closest disciples and you get a picture of a Messiah who was very unlike anything others were looking for then in a Messiah and certainly very different from anything others would be looking for today.
Last week we studied the account by Luke in Acts 16 of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke himself going to the riverside to the place of prayer where they met a group of women of which Lydia, a Gentile business woman, was saved by faith in Jesus Christ and was baptized- as was her whole household.
Lydia, we learned, was a woman of means. She was smart, had business savvy and a woman of some wealth. When she gets saved she then turns her home into a church planting base from which Paul and his comrades can further their ministerial pursuits in Philippi.
Speaking of Philippi, we learned that it was a Roman colony that was free from the tax burdens that the Roman government placed on other cities and people groups. Philippi was founded by Alexander the Great's father, Philip II, who made it a strategic city on the main road through Greece.
These missionaries were in Philippi because the Holy Spirit stopped them from going on into Asia and instead gave Paul a dream of which the others agreed was vision for their ministry: a man weeping and begging for these men to come to Macedonia and rescue them.
In our scripture text we find that they are once again on their way to the place of prayer where they were last week. As they go a slave girl- "damsel" in one interpretation I found- who gave prophetic utterances, was announcing their comings and goings by saying: "These men are servants of the Most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved." After a few days of this Paul had had his fill! He turns to the girl and commands in the name of Jesus Christ that the demon come out of her. And it did- which created no small commotion for the owners of this slave. After all, without this "pythonic spirit" how in the world can she make money for them now? So they had Paul and Silas arrested, dragged before open court, they are beaten and sent to prison and their feet put into stocks.
This morning I want to address a matter that I believe goes beyond the Fortune 500 value of a person and get to the heart of your value and who you are in Christ. I believe that who you are in Jesus Christ gives you far more intrinsic value than anything else in all the world.
First of all, notice this slave girl's problem:
- Slavery in Sin.
What is a great tragedy for humanity is the issue of his or her proneness to commit certain acts of sin but humanity's problem of ingrained sin. If our sins were merely the results of bad judgment then we could be more understanding. However, sins problem is not bad judgment (other than Adam's bad judgment) but a problem of sin at the core of who we are humanly.
And so the Apostle Paul writing in Romans pictures sin as being a slave to unrighteousness. I can't help but get a picture of this slave girl who is being obedient to her slave owners because she has no other choice- except to die otherwise. And even then, in her world this is her lot that she has to live with.
Let me share a few reminders for a lot of you about this slavery to sin problem:
a) Sin oppresses the human person.
A man or woman cannot become all that God calls them to be through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit if they are not free. This slave girl represents to us a person who is not her own in more ways than one. When a person is enslaved to what Paul tells the Galatian church are the sins of the flesh, they might think they are okay but in reality they are lost in their sinfulness. They are serving self and the interests of things other than God.
b) Sin diminishes God's image in humanity.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden their sin ushered in an altered state to the world. All of life became mutated and we now have an "abnormal universe," as Francis Schaeffer would put it. (Genesis p.p. 94-95) What is tragic is that as sin separated humanity from God this diminished the human person. However, through Jesus Christ the very image of God is stamped on the human heart.
I am convinced that a great deal of the problems that people deal with in life are the not the result of circumstances beyond their control, or even the result of circumstances within their control but the issue of self-esteem that is damaged by the sinfulness that has settled on all of humanity. Without Christ in a person's life there is very little likeness to the God of whose image we were created.
Don't ever forget that you are created in the image of God and after his likeness. Don't forget that you have a basic and inherited value as a person. What God wants to do with your life is raise you up above sin and self and transform your life and restore his image. He has predestined you "to be conformed to the likeness of His Son [Jesus Christ]." (Romans 8:29)
c) Sin leads to spiritual death.
Just as Adam and Eve ushered in death into the world, so to when you sin- when you allow yourself to be enslaved to that which is against God's commands and his will for your life- the eventual result will be spiritual death.
This sin needs to be rectified. This sin needs to be dealt with. That is why Jesus Christ died on the cross so that you and I might be set free from sin. "He who the Son has freed is free indeed!" Jesus says in John 8:36.
But let's clear the air about something else:
d) Not all sin is demon possession.
Yes, sin is wrong and not from God. Yes, sin diminishes the human person which Satan strives to do. However, just because a person is a slave to sin does not mean that they are demon possessed.
In this Acts 16 text, the narrative speaks of a slave girl who is a slave to others but even more than that, she is possessed of an evil spirit. I want to be clear that not all sin is the result of demon possession.
A Pythonic Spirit.
This slave girl is possessed with what many scholars refer to as a "pythonic spirit."
Allow me to interject a quick appendix about the issue of this spirit of divination. The NIV calls it a "spirit by which she predicted the future." The translators were close but not quite close enough. NLT- fortune teller. NKJV- fortune-telling. NASB- spirit of divination.
What did she have going on? She had is called a pythonic spirit.
- She would relay an Oracle to the people who paid good money to her (or rather her slave owners). This message was supposedly from the gods.
- She had a spiritual gift. Not a Holy Spirit gift but a demonic gift that was recognized by those who owned her and those who paid to hear what she had to say.
- The pythonic spirit originated in a place called Delphi- not far from Philippi. In Greek mythology, the Greek god "Apollo" killed a large female serpent (a python).
- The python possessed certain prophets & prophetesses of which this slave girl was one.
- These messages or "Oracle at Delphi"- was when the python offers advice, counsel and direction to visitors, generals and government officials.
This Holy Bible forbids in no uncertain terms the messing around with these kinds of spirits. There is to be no room for the Christian to reading their horoscope, or consulting an 8 ball or playing around with a Ouiji board or visiting a fortune teller. The spirit realm is a very real domain and a very dangerous place to dabble in.
"But Pastor, my horoscope was right in the advice it gave me." Big deal! So was this slave-girl.
"But Pastor, I heard of a psychic who located a lost child or a murdered victim in the woods or helped police discover the real killer." So? This slave girl possessed powers that were not her own and she was even saying things that were true and accurate. But the source was wrong.
We cannot afford to allow certain things into our lives as Christians. We must be very keen about what is out there and what we touch on. I realize that there is a fascination with the supernatural and paranormal. But we must be very careful about what we allow ourselves to be exposed to.
I'll speak for myself and let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart as He sees fit. I avoid television programs that glorify the occult in any way. That's not to say I- as a pastor and in the role of study- might never view or read something for the sake of the gospel message. I'm not watching "Medium" or "Ghost Whisperer" for my entertainment. (I don't watch these shows to start with.)
Something we see about those who don't know Christ is the matter of…
2) Confusion in Living.
In Stuart, Florida where we used to work in was a five way corner similar to ours right across the street from us here in Shelby. When you arrived to the corner there seemed to be a panic that overcame you as a driver. It was aptly called "Confusion Corner" by everyone. We referred to it as a landmark when telling someone how to get to the other side of Stuart.
This slave girl was living a very confused life like so many without Jesus Christ. People who are looking to make in life find themselves mistaken and their mistake cost them their soul.
Notice a few observations about this confusion in living:
a) One may do the right thing but still be living the wrong way.
This slave girl was saying the right things but she was living the wrong way.
b) One may be living the wrong way and be unaware of their sin.
She was living the wrong way and completely blind to her sin.
c) One may be unaware of their sin but they are still responsible.
God will hold us all accountable for our works and what we did with Jesus Christ. No one will be able to plead innocent and claim like Bertrand Russell that God did not give them enough evidence of his existence.
Ultimately for anyone to be truly saved from their sin they to need to experience…
3. Deliverance by Christ.
I like what the old Bible Commentator, Matthew Henry had to say about our text this morning:
Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can thereby serve his purposes. But much mischief is done to the real servants of Christ, by unholy and false preachers of the gospel, who are confounded with them by careless observers. Those who do good by drawing men from sin, may expect to be reviled as troublers of the city. While they teach men to fear God, to believe in Christ, to forsake sin, and to live godly lives, they will be accused of teaching bad customs. (Matthew Henry)
We don't know for sure why, but Paul allows this demon possessed girl to continue announcing there presence for several days. I believe that Paul the others were discerning the spirit from which this was coming. They didn't have a "how-to" book on casting out demons or testing the spirits other than prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Which should speak volumes to us about how we deal with others who may be doing similar. At a certain point, though, Paul has had enough, he has discerned from the Holy Spirit that this is wrong and what to do about it.
a) The power of the name of Christ.
In the name of Jesus Christ this demon is cast out of her. In that moment Paul knew what had to be done. Maybe he awoke that morning with the answer to the problem. Maybe in that very moment the answer was revealed to him. However the answer to the slave girl's problem came by the Holy Spirit, the answer was the correct one. The demon was cast out of her.
b) The purpose of the disciple of Christ.
This points us to the purpose of every disciple of Christ. Our role may not be to specifically cast a demon out- even though may remain possible. Our role is to be obedient in bringing the message that Jesus saves and sets free the sinner.
This missionary team of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke were bent on bringing the gospel message to those they encountered regardless of the personal cost to them. The result of Paul casting the demon out of this demon possessed slave girl was arrest, a kangaroo trial, beating and then imprisonment.
Are we willing to do what it takes regardless of the personal cost to us to bring the gospel message to a lost and dying world? Are you willing to dip into your savings account by faith and give so that others might be saved? I'm not saying that money buys souls but what I am saying is that it is very important that we understand the value and cost of operating a church ministry, church plants such as Manantial de Vida and other missionary ministries. So often we want the comforts of our personal lives without realizing the obligations that those who minister in your place go through. Those who have given up their personal goals and careers and dreams to be in full-time Christian service.
But even greater than this, what about your personal witness in the work place? Within your family? Your friends? Others at school? Standing in line at Cherry Hill or Wesco? These people we encounter have never dying souls that need Christ.
c)The peace of Christ to the new believer.
There is an inner peace that comes to the new believer in Christ that is far different than anything they could ever experience. It is amazing to me that when someone comes to Christ in a very real way they all seem to have that relief in knowing that their sins are forgiven. It is the same when the follower of Christ sins and comes to him for forgiveness once again. There is something special and holy about this peace.
d) The possibility of a new life through faith in Jesus Christ.
What is distressing to me as I have studied this passage of scripture is that there seems to be no further move on this slave girl's part for salvation. The demon has been exorcised from her but what happens to her remains a mystery. History tells us that this pythonic religion declined from this point and actually ceased within the next thirty years.
But let's not miss the truth of the matter: she had an opportunity of a lifetime. And whether we realize it or not, we all get that same opportunity when Christ knocks on our heart's door.
Conclusion: Freedom is no respecter of persons.
There are three essential truths that I want you to take with you to consider for your life:
- There is freedom from slavery to sin. No matter what you are struggling with- pornography, swearing, anger, bitterness or anything else, Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross so that you might know the forgiveness of your sins and the freedom that Christ can bring to your life.
- There is freedom to live without confusion. You no longer need to live wondering what to do next in your life or what your life is all about. Jesus Christ gives purpose to every person who comes to him by faith. No matter how limited you feel your pool of talents might be, Jesus offers to you a life that is truly set free to live to your fullest potential in him.
- There is freedom that supersedes all other "freedoms." The world is constantly marching and striving for "civil rights." I'm not against the idea of people having rights and being allowed to live their life. However, so what if you have all the freedoms and rights as a human being the world allows? These things do not compare with the glory that will be revealed in you through Jesus Christ.
So what must you do at this point? Understand the role of Christ in your life. He quotes Isaiah in stating his purpose for you and me:
"He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Isaiah 61:1
"Call to me and I will answer you…" Jeremiah 33:3
Call to Jesus and He will answer you. Freedom comes when we truly take the first step by faith and opening the door and letting Jesus come into our life. And once we allow Jesus into our life we must then allow him by faith to lead in every area of our life. And once we allow him to be Lord of every area of our life we begin to really know what it is to live by faith. Faith- to trust in him for our very self-esteem and trust in him with our very lives.