Salvation and Protection

Readings:      Acts 16:16-34
                        John 17:20-26

Early on in our first reading we saw that a girl was possessed by an evil spirit. Those spirits are beings much more powerful than humans. For one not filled with the spirit of Jesus Christ it’s a foolhardy thing to attempt to tackle one. The Bible tells us of seven sons of a priest who were trying to drive out evil spirits by quoting the names of Jesus and Paul. They didn’t have the necessary knowledge or power to do that. The man with the spirit jumped on them and gave them a savage beating (Acts 19:13-16).

The poor girl in this story was in a terrible position. She wasn’t controlling the spirit, it was controlling her. But, instead of trying to help her, unscrupulous men used her plight to make money for themselves. God doesn’t like the idea of human beings seeking out spirits in any way shape or form. He said, “‘Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them” (Leviticus 19:31 NIV).

Different factors can affect how people turn out in the end. Things like upbringing, environmental influences, peer pressure; problems with drugs or alcohol etc., etc. Eventually these will give rise to good people, bad people and all possible levels in between these. But then, we have evil people. Remember last time I spoke of some people doing things to others, even to children, even to their own children, that we can’t possibly comprehend. I think that we can’t understand their actions because they’re not in our own human capability. We couldn’t perform those acts no matter what pressure was brought to bear on us.

So where does it come from – this evil? People, especially unsaved ones, are vulnerable to attack by evil spirits, some more so than others. I don’t think the vast majority of people these days believe in such things as evil spirits, even many Christians. I find that very odd, because the person who saved them from evil was Jesus Christ and He certainly believed in them. He spent quite a bit of His time casting them out. He and His disciples also believed in ghosts (Luke 24:37–39). Ghosts of course are something else altogether and would require more time to go into that.

[If ghosts are invisible, how do you know if you're being haunted by a parrot?
- It keeps calling out "whoooooo's a pretty polly?"!]
Even in the Old Testament, evil spirits were known. King Saul was possessed by such a spirit, after God’s Spirit left him. He was driven by an overwhelming desire to kill David who’d always been faithful to him.

 Jesus explained in detail how these things work. He said, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:43-45 NIV).

What do you think is the most significant bit of that account given by Jesus – even the most significant word? That word is unoccupied. When Jesus cast out evil spirits, the person then needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as we are when we accept Jesus as our Saviour. If that doesn’t happen, then Jesus clearly spells out the consequences.

Anyone reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, must realise that being possessed by an evil spirit is not an uncommon occurrence. Jesus was dealing with them wherever He went and don’t forget that, unlike Paul whose ministry lasted far longer, He didn’t cover a great area whilst on earth. His ministry only lasted three years so imagine how many of these evil spirits there are in the whole world. They’re Satan’s instruments. Confusingly, God has used evil spirits as He did with Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). But Satan isn’t like God! He can’t be everywhere at once. He is only one being, so he needs minions to do his work on earth. It’s very possible that he directs these entities at the most vulnerable.

However, his greatest prize is if he can somehow tempt and succeed in bringing down a believer. But God is far more powerful than Satan and if we rely on, and trust in His protection there is no way the devil can win. As Elisha said to his fearful servant, when they were surrounded by a hostile army, ‘“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha’ (2 Kings 6:16-17 NIV). The easiest pickings for the devil amongst Christians are those who don’t believe in him. How can you protect yourself against something that doesn’t exist? And why should you?

I think it’s acceptable to follow this discussion on evil spirits by having a look at what salvation itself and what better means for that than by having a closer look at the great old hymn by Charles Wesley, And Can It Be That I Should Gain?

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?

Well can it? These days, if you want to talk to someone about Jesus, with many people, you first have to convince them that there is indeed an almighty Creator. Then how do we convince them that this super being sent His Son to die in our place? Were it not for our faith through the grace of God, we wouldn’t believe it either. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “ For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV).

Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?

And indeed it is we who caused Jesus to die on that cross. Yes, He died for the sins of all mankind but that doesn’t diminish our personal part in it. Every time we sin, even in a small way, we put Him through that torture. Of course, there is no such thing as a small sin. Sin is sin – there are no degrees of sin, just like a so-called “white lie” is a lie. Or saying someone is a little bit pregnant.

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

I spoke last time about the amazing agape love that Jesus must have had for us for Him to give up His place in Paradise and come down to grubby human beings to die for them so they could be saved

Verse 2.
’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?

The mystery of Jesus is what that Peter talked about a few weeks ago. He said that He is an enigma that didn’t fit the times into which He was born and He doesn’t fit in our modern society either – probably even less so. And to be like Him, it is we who must change.

To sound the depths of love Divine!

Paul prayed that the Ephesians and all the Lord’s people might have the power to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18 NIV). Even so it’s impossible for our small minds to do so.

Verse 3
He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,

In all of the other sacrifices that Jesus made for us it might sometimes be overlooked that He was living in Paradise. The wonderful place we hope to be with Him sometime in the future. But not only was He there, He was God, with all of the unimaginable powers that were His. So He not only left the place and perfect life He had but also discarded all of His mighty authority. All He brought with Him was His love for us.

For, O my God, it found out me.

So the love He brought found out me and you and every believer who saw the light He brought.

Verse 4
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

For some, the imprisoned spirit lasted longer than others. For me it was 45 years. Of course, I didn’t know throughout all those years that I was bound in sin and was in the night of my natural instincts and feelings. I thought I was a pretty decent guy – helpful, honest and reliable. Unfortunately there are millions of people who feel exactly the same way. My brother alas is among them. When I look back now, what comes to mind is the film of “A Christmas Carol”, where Jacob Marley appeared dragging huge, long chains that were his sins that had caught up with him. So I’m really moved when the hymn gets to the part where, “My chains fell off”.

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

And indeed, it’s as if a switch had been thrown and you can’t understand how or why you didn’t believe before. Why you didn’t know of the need you had within you.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Our embarrassed son was telling his friends that his parents had become Christians and they were going round telling everyone. As Jesus told His disciples, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). And that’s what He expects from all of us who’ve been given eternal life. I’m happy to say that our son, his wife and their four children have all accepted Jesus as their Saviour.

Verse 5
No condemnation now I dread.

Paul wrote to the Romans that, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2 NIV). Jesus has paid for our sins, so we can no longer be condemned for them. How liberating is that?

Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,

I’d like to think that I’ve never been self-righteous but now I’m clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and so is every believer. So —

Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

We could only approach our God before, in fear and trembling, because Jesus told His disciples not to fear those who could harm the body but to fear Him who could send them to Hell (Luke 12:5). In the Old Testament, when Moses was going up Mount Sinai for the Ten Commandments, the Lord said, “Go down and bring Aaron back with you. But the priests and the people must not cross the boundary to come up to me, or I will punish them” (Exodus 19:24 GNB).  But, thanks to the sacrifice made by our Saviour “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12 NIV).

When your chains fall off, you begin to be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. You become like a water barrel put out to catch the falling rain. When the barrel is full, it doesn’t stop raining and thank goodness because as people need the water in your barrel it will gradually become empty. That’s why we need to keep topping up that grace by talking to God in prayer, by coming to church and hearing about Him and worshipping Him. We can read about Him in the Bible. All of this is like the rain that keeps topping us up with grace. God will keep filling us up so long as we keep the entrance to our barrel open. But we have to keep listening for His voice.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but some years ago, Jean and I were on holiday in Whitby and went to the local church on Sunday. They had a visiting preacher who said he’d been out that morning looking at the sea and realised that that’s how God sends His grace. Not a bucketful to keep you going but He sends wave after wave after wave. What a great analogy.

Of course, in the episode when the chains fell off Paul and Silas, that wasn’t the important bit. After witnessing the power of God, the jailer asked what he should do to be saved. Again I’m reminded that Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). And that’s the best part of this story. Yes, it was wonderful the way in which God showed His power with the earthquake, as in the days of old. But that was as nothing compared to the fact that a whole family was saved from eternal damnation, because Paul and Silas didn’t take the opportunity to escape when they were freed but instead showed compassion for their jailer. He’d been about to kill himself, probably because he could imagine his fate would be much worse had he been found guilty of not carrying out his trusted position. He’d been ordered to lock them up tight. He in turn showed compassion on Paul and Silas. And we see in our first reading that “He and his family were filled with joy, because they now believed in God” (Vs 34).

That acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Saviour is indeed our salvation from an afterlife more terrible than we can imagine. And we owe it all to the courage and agape love of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. How can we not love and worship Him in return. Amen.

1.Have you, or do you know of anyone who has had dealings with someone thought to have been possessed by an evil spirit?

2. Even if you think this would never happen among your acquaintances, it might be prudent to be prepared. If you don’t think such things exist, please reread paragraph 4 of the sermon. Bearing that in mind, what should you do if you suspect this had happened to someone you know? As far as I am aware, the person in our church with experience of working in this field is Roger Atkins. He’d be my first stop. (Hope you don’t mind my saying this Roger).

3. How often do you actually marvel at the fact that the Son of God was willing to die a horrible death so that sinners like us could be saved from eternal damnation? Do we ever think what form that terrible fate would entail for us?

4. How often do you actually reflect on the fact that each sin we commit is the reason He had to undergo that fate? Does it give you pause for thought before you do anything that might be counted as a hammer blow to the nails?

5. Do you have a story to tell about how you came to faith?

Jim Glynn, 08/05/2016