As I mentioned last week concerning angels, the Belgic Confession devotes more attention to the creation of angels and the fallen angels than to the rest of creation. And concerning angels and demons, more attention is given to demons. There was a lot of superstition surrounding angels and demons in the Middle Ages, lots of ritualistic practices and lots of fear. There have always been two extremes or two ditches in the understanding of demons and the supernatural. In Jesus’ day it was the Sadducees and the Manichees (or Manicheans). The Sadducees said there was no supernatural, no resurrection, no angels, no demons. The Manichees taught that evil was eternal, that there were two equal and opposite forces in the universe, good and evil. In the Middle Ages that same extremes were present and they still are today. Some say it’s a closed universe, nothing out there, nothing invisible. In the words of the atheistic scientist Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Satan has been caricatured so much it’s hard to get people to take him seriously. Satan, demons and devils are mostly the realm of superstition these days, lumped together with ghost and goblins and other things that go bump in the night. They are more about Halloween than they are about serious discussions of the Bible and doctrine. Good biblical theology must include demonology, a clear doctrine concerning Satan and demons. And we must get our theology about demons from the Bible and not Hollywood movies or the Left Behind books or other popular sources. Remember when Guido de Buis wrote the Confession he was seeking to show the religious authorities of the day that the Reformers were biblical, that they upheld the true doctrines of the faith and that they were not proposing something that was new or novel. The Belgic Confession strikes the Biblical balance and rejects both errors. So what does the Bible teach us about demons, devils, evil spirits and Satan?
Years ago I went to lunch with a lawyer who worked for the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. My intention was to ask some probing questions about his spiritual life. But I never even got to first base. By the time the lunch was over I was the one being asked probing questions for which I didn’t have immediate answers. Some came to mind later as I was driving home. I can’t say for sure but I have a suspicion he did that to keep me from asking him questions. Lawyers are trained to ask hard questions, sometimes tricky questions and leading questions and questions that can get us tangled up and turned around. That was this lawyers intent. Luke 10:25-28, a lawyer’s first question. Jesus experienced numerous questionings by skilled lawyers and this one was a specialist in Jewish religious law. His particular question was on the minds of many in Jesus’ day. The Gospels record three separate occasions when someone asked Jesus this question.
Having Jesus over for dinner could be a very awkward affair. It was the Sabbath, the high holy day, a day of real feasting for the Jews. Jesus was dining as a guest of the ruler of the Pharisees. Around the table were Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, elders, important leaders. The meal had started with Jesus asking in the presence of an infirmed man if it was OK to heal on the Sabbath. Silence. So Jesus healed the man. Then he asked them which of them if their son or ox fell into a well on the Sabbath would they save him? More silence. Then Jesus told a parable about vying for seats of honor around the table and trying to sit close to the host. More embarrassed silence. And Jesus still didn’t give it a rest. He said to his rich host that he should invite not just friends and relatives but the poor and handicapped. How awkward is that? What do you say to that? We can sympathize with the poor soul who finally blurted out, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Have you ever put your foot in your mouth at a social gathering? Have you ever opened your mouth maybe to break the ice or ease the tension or to try to impress others, only to have it come out making you look foolish or arrogant? Have you ever tried to say something particularly pious and had it come off badly? Jesus had just said something about caring for the poor ending with a very brief statement about the reward at the resurrection of the just and perhaps to fill the awkward silence one of them fastens on to that last little thread about heaven. I bet he regretted that after hearing Jesus’ response.
Article 12 of the Belgic Confession has more to say about the creation of spiritual or angelic beings than the rest of creation. That reminds us of the difference of the times. Today there is much more controversy over the creation of the earth. During the middle ages there was a far greater preoccupation with mysterious and miraculous things. There was much superstition, and interest in magic and witchcraft. So much so that some speculated and debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. People were tormented by fear of evil spirits. The Reformation with the proclamation of God’s free and sovereign grace delivered people from their fears. The skeptics of our day dismiss or deny the existence of angels and demons. They live in a closed universe, a universe where this is all there is and there ain’t no more. They believe very little, nothing that can’t be seen or proved. Then there are the super naturalists, astrologers and Satanists today who go to the other extreme and make far too much of the spirit world. With doctrines like this one that involve mysterious and invisible things, we must be careful not seek to know too much or go beyond what Scripture plainly teaches. Some people have far too great an obsession with angels or demons or supernatural things. We seek this evening what glorifies God and edifies His people. So let’s spend some time in God’s Word to learn what it reveals and teaches concerning angels. We will study the fallen angels next week.
The prodigal son represents all sinners. He is the poster child of sinners. He is the definition of a sinner. He is someone who takes what belongs to God and what is given to him by God and following the natural inclination of his own heart runs as far away from God as he can. This is us, this is our likeness. We are naturally bent to do whatever seems good to us, whatever brings us the most happiness or pleasure. We want to live for ourselves and have as little to do with God as possible.
Here is a little thought experiment for you (with thanks to Pastor Dan Phillips). What’s the most offensive verse in the Bible? Lots of possible answers come to mind. The verses about homosexuality clearly offend some. The verses about wives submitting to husbands offend others. The verses in the OT about wiping out enemies, even women and children are hard to swallow. Or what about Jesus saying that the only way to the Father is through Him? Non-Christians love to poke at Christians with whatever verse of the day they find offensive or silly or totally out of touch with modern reality. Would you like to know a good way to answer back? Why not fight fire with fire. Tell them they are missing the biggest and best verse of all. Tell them if they really are looking for the most offensive verse just start with the very first verse in the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Now that’s offensive! An absolutely sovereign God freely and independently of anything else created everything in the universe. Think about it. That means it’s all God’s and it’s all God’s doing. He’s the potter and we are the clay. He’s the creator and we’re the creature. God is God and we are not. There are two options, submit or rebel, obey or disobey. As another pastor put it (S. Lewis Johnstone), if you believe the first verse in the Bible, everything after that is completely believable. But if you reject the first verse in the Bible you start having trouble with the rest.
Remembering important words is hard. Just ask Jesus. He repeated Himself over and over again to His disciples and they just didn’t get it. Our text this morning says that as they were getting closer and closer to Jerusalem they were thinking they were on the edge of Jesus establishing His kingdom on earth and they would get to sit on some thrones with Him. So once again Jesus the master story teller tells another story, warning about how things are really going to be.
How many of you grew up saying the Holy Ghost? Did you ever wonder why Christians believed in a Ghost or worshipped a Ghost? Ghost comes from an Old English word, gast, which simply means spirit. Ghost was the word used by the King James Bible hence its common use in the church until the 20th century. The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the forgotten member of the Trinity or the silent member of the Trinity. We certainly don’t know as much as we should about Him. He doesn’t get anywhere near the same attention that we give to the Father and the Son. Despite the efforts of some Pentecostals and charismatics there is still much confusion.
One of the most important questions anyone can ask and answer is, “Who is Jesus?” Jesus asked the disciples that most important question, “Who do you say that I am?” Most people believe that a man called Jesus the Christ existed in history. Some say He was a prophet, some a teacher, some a wise philosopher, some a miracle worker or a healer, some a great man and a great example. Even Islam says Jesus was a great prophet. But lots of people don’t believe that Jesus was and is God and the Son of God. This evening we want to understand as fully and clearly as we can that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He is God. Remember when we are talking about Truth, we are talking about meat and milk, about things that nourish us and sustain us, that feed our souls and give us life, even life eternal. Don’t let yourself be bored by Truth, be invigorated by it. This doctrine of the divinity of the second person of the Trinity is like milk to a baby, and a steak to a grown man. This is the stuff of life.
Some of you have seen that YouTube video of the Moore, OK father who crawled out of the storm shelter, surveyed the destruction, saw his home completely destroyed and said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” What a godly husband and father, what an example he set for his family and what wisdom he taught them. Can you imagine losing everything, having everything taken away? Our earthly blessings and privileges and pleasures that we enjoy in this life seem so big and real and important to us, it’s hard to imagine life without them. Satan tries to make the pleasures of this world seem so great and such a big deal to us. He tries so hard to keep our desires so small, to keep us so distracted by trinkets and cheap dime store toys that we will pay no attention to the glories of God and His will and His ways and heaven and eternal life with Him. What does Jesus have to say or do to get us to change our opinions or views? Does He have to take away our health? Does He have to take away our loved ones? Does He have to make us old and tired and weak and weary before we start to think that maybe this old world isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and not all that worth hanging on to? Why does He have to do all that to convince us that the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life are so fantastic that nothing here, even the best possible life here is, is better by comparison?