The kingdom of darkness
Luke 4: He shut them up, refusing to let them speak because they knew too much.
Following his baptism Jesus is led by the Spirit out to the wilderness where he faces intense testing by the Devil. From this opening act of his ministry it’s clear that Jesus isn’t going to have an easy time of it. Right off he’s severely tested, both spiritually and physically. Obviously, the Tempter knows who Jesus is and he makes every effort to derail the work of Christ before it ever gets underway. The Devil then retreats for a time, waiting for another opportunity. Now Jesus begins his work in earnest. Luke begins the story of our Lord’s ministry in his home town of Nazareth but tells us Jesus is rejected there. Then it’s off to Capernaum, a place that will be blessed by many miracles of Jesus. When our Lord confronts a demon possessed man it’s the demon who speaks, apparently surprised at being confronted by Jesus, God’s Son. Other possessed people are brought to Jesus and he drives the unclean spirits out as they protest their unexpected encounters with the Son of God. Jesus isn’t ready for all this “Son of God” talk and orders them quiet, but Luke reports it to us. I find myself thinking of the nature of what might be thought of as the “kingdom of darkness.” When Jesus goes to the wilderness, the Devil comes to confront him. Clearly, the Devil knows the identity of our Lord. Then, just a short time later, when Jesus begins to challenge demons, they appear surprised by Jesus. Sometimes we tend to think of Satan as the evil opposite of God, but that’s nothing close to the truth. Satan has nothing like the power and authority of God Almighty. He’s isn’t always present and he isn’t in control of anything. In the case of this passage, we see that the demons aren’t like soldiers in his army, taking commands from him. The Devil knows Jesus is beginning his ministry as Son of God, but the demons don’t know it and are surprised when they found themselves face to face with him. I’m not sure what to make of this aside from being reminded that we tend to give Satan more power and authority than he actually has. Beyond that, we see here the absolute authority of the Son of God over all the kingdom of darkness. The Devil and the demons aren’t as big a deal as some think they are. Still, seeing what happens when Jesus confronts this dark kingdom causes me to want to cozy up as close to him as possible.
Take Away: I want to be aware of the kingdom of darkness but not be focused on it.
Free will and accountability
Isaiah 47: You’re acting like the center of the Universe.
God Almighty hands his chosen people over to Babylon, the powerhouse of that day. His purpose is to humble Israel and bring this rebellious people back to himself. However, Babylon goes farther than God intends and now the Lord rebukes Babylon for going too far. I think there’s a case to be made here for the doctrine of free will. God gives Babylon the power and position to dominate the region. Then when Babylon behaves in cruel ways God says they’ve gone too far and that he’ll now knock them off their high horse. They think they’re the “center of the universe” but the real “Center of the Universe” is about to put them in their place. Another thing that comes to mind here is the underlying theme of God’s love. God has been stern with Israel, but it’s out of love. He’s willing to use Babylon to bring them to submission but there’s a limit to how far God wants that to go. I’m reminded of how in the book of Job that God gives Satan permission to strike Job, but in doing so the Lord also tells him that there’s a limit to how far he can go. On one hand, therefore, I see here my accountability to God as to what I say and do, even when I’m operating within the providence of God. On the other hand, I see that God loves me, and when I’m on the receiving end of hardship that he’s set boundaries, not allowing me to be tempted beyond what I can bear.
Take Away: The Lord’s discipline of us is governed by his love for us.
Story or real?
Job 1: God replied, “We’ll see. Go ahead.”
I’ve heard some say that the fact that God gives permission for Job to be tested brings comfort to them. They tie it in to Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.” I see what they see in this. In the midst of the pain and suffering there’s some consolation in remembering that God is allowing this and he wouldn’t allow it if he didn’t know I can take it. However, this also troubles me. To think that the Lord grants permission for a life to be devastated (not to mention the very lives of Job’s children) is hard to take. I think this is why some people have decided that this is a parable-like story rather than a historical one. If this is fiction based on fact I can relax and focus on learning the lessons I can learn here. If, though, this is the real deal then I find myself struggling. If you think I am about to come up with some profound answer I fear you’re going to be disappointed. Beyond that, if you decide to skip ahead of me and read how the story of Job ends to find an answer there, well, you won’t find it there either.
Take Away: Sometimes we just have to trust the Lord, especially when we have more questions than answers.
Hell hath no fury…
Genesis 39: How could I violate his trust and sin against God?
The Ten Commandments, with the “no adultery” and “no coveting” rules, are 500 years into the future but Joseph already gets it. He’s gone from being the favorite son to being a lowly slave. His intelligence, honesty, and God’s blessing put him on the fast track in Potiphar’s household, but he’s still a slave, a piece of property. When Mrs. Potiphar becomes infatuated with him Joseph refuses to play along. There’ll be no fling with the boss’s wife for him. Joseph doesn’t need Moses or Laws written in stone to tell him that that would be a betrayal of Potiphar and a sin against God. Even though Mrs. Potiphar doesn’t like Joseph’s insistence on sexual purity he stands his ground (well, better put: he flees as fast as his feet will carry him!). I’m impressed with this young man who takes his commitment to God seriously even in the face of sexual opportunity. For him, he’ll hold to God’s beautiful standard of sex only within marriage. As we see in this story, and as we see in the lives of people today, individuals who have standards and hold to them are in a position to be especially blessed by God and to be a blessing to others.
Take away: God can use people who hold to his standards.