You Can’t Walk Away From This Spiritual Fight
We are continuing our discussion in this sermon series. It’s all question and answer in this sermon series geared around the topic of angels (actually good, pure angels and fallen angels). We call them in our language, angels and demons, and I’m going to be honest with you. There are some people that are really struggling at this point. As a pastor, I realize that last week’s sermon about Satan and this week, when we talk about possession and exorcism, this can get really dark for some people.
There have been a couple of people who have been connected with our church who have said, “Jeff, I need to take a break from this sermon series, and here’s why I need to take a break: This topic is way too real for me. It’s so real that it’s overwhelming me right now because I am acutely aware of all of the evil and all of the temptation around me, and I’m getting overwhelmed by the circumstances. So I’m just going to step back for a moment.”
I totally understand if that’s where someone is coming from. But there’s also someone who’s communicated by saying, “Jeff, I don’t like the topic. I want to talk about the good stuff. And so, I’m going to kind of step away from this sermon series until we get back into the gospel of John and we can talk about the good stuff.” And for that person, I just want to warn you. I wish I had a way of making this topic today more upbeat, but I don’t.
I want to beg you, please don’t bury your head in the sand on this topic today. We’re going to wrap this whole sermon series up next week. We’re going to try to put a bow on it and hopefully give you a lot of encouragement. But today, I want to just get real, and I want to get honest about evil, the evil that’s all around us every day. What I really need you to understand from this message today is, I need you to understand that you cannot walk away from this spiritual fight.
You can’t walk away from this spiritual fight.
Everyone on the planet is involved in this fight, whether you want to be, whether you acknowledge it, whether you believe it or not. You are part of this spiritual battle that’s happening all over the world. We can’t see it with our eyes, but it doesn’t make it any less real.
Jesus wanted his disciples to know this right out of the gate. So when he called them, he called them out of their sin and into a relationship with him and then immediately put them on war footing in Matthew 10. In fact, the Bible describes it this way. This is how the Bible describes Jesus calling his first disciples, and I just need you to know this is still true to this day, when Jesus called you out of your sin and into his army.
Matthew 10:1 Summoning his twelve disciples, he [Jesus] gave them authority over unclean spirits [demons], to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.
This was part of the original call of Jesus. He called you out of the enemy’s team and to be on his team, and then he puts you on war footing to go do battle for his glory around the world.
This is true of me. It’s true of every Christian that’s ever lived anywhere on the planet. So if you’re overwhelmed by evil and you’re checking out right now because it’s too much for you, I totally get it, and my heart goes out to you. I’m praying for you. But for those people that are saying, “I don’t like this topic, and I’ll join back when you start talking about something different,” I need you to remember you can’t walk away from this, even if you want to. It’s all around you every day.
So what I want to do is just get real honest about demon possession and about exorcism, about casting out demons today. Some of you asked some really, really good questions that I’ve tried to categorize into four big things to think about when we talk about this today.
1. Is there still demon possession today like in the Bible?
The first question which was asked in a multitude of different ways is, “Hey, the way that I read demon possession in the Bible, does that still happen today?” Or here’s the way some other people worded this question. Somebody asked, “How prevalent is demon possession? What does it look like? And how common is it?” Another one of you asked it this way: “The Bible speaks about people that were possessed by demons. What does that look like, and how should we as Christians react to that?”
Well, I hope at the time we get to the end of the sermon, you’ll have an answer to the last part of that question. But the specific question, is there still demon possession today, just like in the Bible? -Very easy answer: Yes. And I’ll show you how that question is easy to answer in just a moment. But I need us to do a little bit of work. First, I need to define this term for us.
What do you mean exactly by the word possession? That’s really what I need to get at for just a second. I can unequivocally answer the question. Yes, but yes based on the way the Bible describes possession. What is in your mind and what you’re reading in the Bible, are these two things the same? Because here’s what Acts 10 says about demon possession. After Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension back to Heaven, it says this, starting in verse 37:
Acts 10:37-38 You know the events that took place throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him.
Note the word tyranny. I want to define that for you. That word is the word that you would use to describe under the rule of an oppressive leader, and you live in the kingdom of a bad king, a tyrant. The Bible is describing the devil as a tyrant, that has control over his people, and Jesus went about doing good and rescuing people from the tyranny of the devil. That’s what Jesus’ mission was on earth.
By the way, that’s what he left his church on earth to do after he returned to Heaven. When you see the word possession in the Bible, generally speaking, it refers to ownership. It specifically shows up in the Bible, most often (this may be interesting for you) both in the Old and New Testaments, to refer to people’s land.
Now, I want you to think about this for a second. When the Bible says “they possess the land” or “they own the land”, it doesn’t mean that you can pick the land up and carry it around with you, right? It just means that this plot of land that was given by God, that belongs to me, and I have ownership of it. One of these days I’m going to die, and the ownership will pass on to somebody else. The possession of the land will pass on to my descendants, but for right now, I have control or ownership of the land.
I think some people, when they use the word possession by demons today, they’re thinking fall down, foam-at-the-mouth kind of possession. And if that’s what you have in mind, I believe that still happens today. In fact, I think I’ve seen it, but I want you to hear the word possession, demon possession, it really means under the ownership or under the control, under the ruling tyranny, of the devil. If that’s the question you’re asking, unequivocally yes; that still happens, literally to everyone on the planet that hasn’t been supernaturally rescued by Jesus.
Now, let me define it a little bit further for you, because in the book of Acts, you see this phrase tyranny to refer to the possession of the devil or evil spirits. But in 2 Timothy 2, it gives this vivid description of what that might be like.
2 Timothy 2:25-6 Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
That word captive in the Bible is the word prisoner, and it’s saying that until Jesus steps in and supernaturally rescues someone, they’re a prisoner, or under the possession of the evil spirits, or of the ultimate evil spirit, of the evil one, of the devil himself.
So, when people ask the question, does the kind of demon possession that we see in the Bible, does that still happen today? Oh yes, it does. It happens literally to everyone you know that hasn’t been supernaturally born again by the work of the Holy Spirit of the living God.
2. Can a demon possess a Christian?
Next question: Can a demon possess a Christian? This is a fascinating question, and here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to show you an Old Testament verse. I’m going to show you a New Testament verse. And then I want you to answer this question. You ready?
Old Testament: 1 Chronicles 21. This is a reference to David. We have to ask the question, is it certain that David was a Christian (using New Testament terminology)? Would you say yes, that David was absolutely a Christian? Yes, absolutely. Now look at what 1 Chronicles 21 says happens to David.
1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to count the people of Israel.
He incites him to basically have this great sense of pride, and he gets arrogant. This is an event that will lead to the death of many thousands of people in Israel. What happened that prompted David to count all of the people of Israel? Well, it was ultimately the work of the devil in his heart that prompted David to do this Old Testament passage.
A New Testament passage comes from 1 Corinthians, and in 1 Corinthians, Paul who’s writing a letter to the church that he started, is gone. He’s on a road trip, and he hears some disturbing news about wicked sexual sin. This is people in the church that have been born again, and they have committed this wicked sexual sin. Paul makes a statement about what to do with these people next. In 1 Corinthians 5, this is church discipline described for us in the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 5:4-5 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, hand that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Now, I want to make sure that you understand what kind of person Paul is referring to here.”Hand this person over to Satan so that Satan can destroy his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” You see an Old Testament example of David. You see a New Testament example of this Christian in the Corinth church that has started to commit this wicked sin, and Paul says, “I want you to hand them over to Satan and let Satan have his way with him, so that his soul may end up being convicted about what he’s done.”
So now you have an Old Testament and a New Testament example to answer this question, can demons possess, have some degree of control over a Christian? Based on what you’ve just seen from the Bible, how would you answer? Yes. If we’re not careful, you and I can start to slip into sin and when you start to slip into sin, you can start to go down a really bad road, really fast. Eventually, you are still born again, but now the evil spirits have started to take control over your actions. They have started to possess a little bit of authority over you.
I don’t want you to hear you’re not on your way to Heaven. I do want you to hear that a Christian can easily fall back into temptation if you’re not on guard, and the whole reason that I’m using these two passages is, you have one of the greatest examples of following Jesus in the Old Testament this happens to. You have a church planted by one of the greatest church leaders in the New Testament, and it’s happening in that church. It can happen to you. It can happen to me, and it can happen in this church, as well.
3. If I (a fit young man) fought a normal angel, would I win?
I love this question, and because I love the guy who wrote this question, I couldn’t leave it alone. If I, “a fit young man” fought with (and I’m guessing we’re talking in a cage match, in the octagon, bare knuckles), got into a fist fight with a normal angel, would I win? Thank you for qualifying the question, because I’m assuming we’re ruling out by the word normal. We’re not talking about Michael, and we’re not talking about Lucifer. But if it’s just me and a regular angel, how would that go if I was in the octagon with them?
I wanted to have a little bit of fun with this question, but I also address this question because I think it’s actually a really, really important question. Would I win if I got into a fight? No, you would not win. No, you wouldn’t even stand a chance. Can I remind you that the death angel passed through Egypt and annihilated every male firstborn in the entire land, in one night? You couldn’t stand or you couldn’t hold your own against that one.
How about the angel that went through the camp, the good, pure angel that went through the camp of the greatest military force on earth, the Assyrian army, and annihilated 185,000 of them in one night? How do you think you’re going to do against that guy? My answer to you is no; you’re not going to win in that fight.
I put this question up as a warning to all of us. Here’s the warning: In Acts 19, Paul, the apostle, God has given him such a great power that when he wipes the sweat off his forehead and people use that handkerchief to touch others, demons come out, and the dead come back to life. Paul isn’t even there. Just the handkerchief that he wiped his sweat, or the corners of his mouth with, that handkerchief is causing demons to come out with a shriek.
Well, there are some Jewish leaders that see this kind of raw power, and they decide, I want to try what Paul’s trying. So they pick a fight with a demon, an evil angel. These are the sons of Sceva, and let me tell you how the fight goes when they pick a fight with an evil spirit.
Acts 19:14-16 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest, were doing this. The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded.
My advice to you is, if you think you can just roll up your sleeves and on your own power, get into a fight with a demon, don’t. It’s not going to go well for you. And again, I’m bringing this up because I really want you to understand the spiritual forces of evil that are out there trying to harm you, trying to harm your neighbor. But I also want you to hear the last question.
4. Can anybody drive out a demon?
I saved this question for last on purpose, because I need you to understand your role in spiritual warfare. Somebody asked this question, and I want to say, “Thank God somebody finally asked a question like this!” They asked, “Hey, can anybody [and I’m going to qualify the word anybody as any Christian] drive out a demon?” I know the person who sent this question, and I kind of know where I think they were going with it. My answer is yes.
Now wait just a moment. I need you to understand that Bible scholars are hotly divided on this question. There are some very good, very sound Bible scholars out there who believe that the ability to do supernatural miracles, God-working, supernatural miracles of healing and tongues and prophecy and driving out demons, that ended when the last of Jesus’s original disciples died, when John the Apostle died. Many Bible scholars believe that. I don’t. I don’t believe it for two reasons.
One, I don’t believe God places those kinds of restrictions. I don’t see anything in Scripture that causes me to believe what we read about in the book of Acts cannot, and in fact, does not, continue to this day.
But there’s a second reason. I never thought this would ever come up in a sermon, so I’ve just never shared it. I was teaching university at the University of Louisville in Kentucky as an ROTC instructor. I was a Sergeant. I was also going to seminary on my own time, and I was doing my best trying to influence the university students that God was bringing in front of me and trying to be open with them about my faith. I had the chance in the few years that I was there to lead several of them to faith in Christ. I had a chance to baptize some of them. I even performed the wedding ceremony for some of my own students when they got married.
One day, one of my students came and knocked on my door. I’m a Sergeant in the Army and an ROTC instructor. She came down and sat in my office very distraught, and she said, “I have a demon, and I need you to perform an exorcism right now.” Can I just tell you, there was no class in seminary on what to do next. None of my professors even touch this thing with a 10-foot pole and so, I’m standing in front of this young woman with my mouth open, having no idea what to do next, but I could feel the presence of evil in this room, and I could see the torment that she was in.
She’s saying, “I’m serious. I need you, right now, to do something about this.” So I just simply sat next to her and started to pray for her, and when I started to pray for her, I got real angry about this torment that this beautiful creation of God was under, this woman who was created in the image of God, like I would be angry about any man or any woman that is under torment of the evil one. I started to invoke the name of Jesus. I don’t even know where this came from, and I started to pray that this demon would leave her. I felt anger like I have never felt in a prayer before. I felt this righteous indignation, and I felt this burning sensation. And then this woman just went through this transformation right in front of my eyes. The young lady who walked out the doors of my office, walked out very different than she walked in the doors.
I’ve never experienced anything like that since. I was totally not ready for that when she sat down and said, “I need you, Jeff, right now to do something about this.” But I sat there and thought to myself, If the Holy Spirit of the living God is inside of me, he that is in me is greater than he that’s in the world. And if you need me to pray over you right now, Jeff holds no power. Jeff holds no power to cast out this demon, but the one that’s inside of me does, and if that’s what you need, then I will invoke the name of the one that’s inside of me.
So I want you to see from the book of Acts what happens to a regular dude. -not one of Jesus’s original disciples, but a regular dude by the name of Philip, in Acts 8, because the Bible describes it this way:
Acts 8:6-8 The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed, and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
There was joy in the city because a regular dude, just like you, by the name of Philip, showed up, and people were being tormented around him, and Philip said, “Oh no. In the name of Jesus Christ,” he performs an exorcism and the spirits come out in such a way that the people in town can tell there’s something different.
I believe that God, to this day, still uses people, his people, to do the same thing today that he did through Paul and Peter and James, when they were alive, and that he did through Philip when he was alive.
Now I want you to know something. I did a little research on Philip before this sermon today. We don’t know a whole lot about this guy. Maybe Philip never even met Jesus personally. Maybe he heard about Jesus from one of the original disciples. We do know this: He’s a good man, and he’s full of the Holy Spirit because he’s one of the seven guys in the church selected to serve widows and the only criteria for selection is, they had to be a good man and full of the Holy Spirit.
Philip is such a good man that he passes his faith onto his family and later on in the book of Acts, Philip has four daughters, and all four of those daughters want the world to know about King Jesus. So they prophesied, and they’re making a big impact on King Jesus. When somebody sent this question in today, I thought to myself, Hallelujah!, because now we finally turned a corner.
When we talk spiritual warfare, I think it’s natural; I think all of us do this (I do this too). The first thing that we think about is ourselves and our soul and the attack on our soul. And you should think in those terms; don’t get me wrong. But when we got to question number four, now we start to think about not just my soul, but I care about the soul of my cousin, and I want to know where they are going to spend eternity. I think about the soul of my coworker. I see them every day, all day long, and I care about what’s going on in their soul and, “God, maybe they’re under the control, under the possession, of the evil one.”
I think about my acquaintance, who I follow on social media or who I stay in touch with regularly, and I’m starting to wonder about their soul, because, “Jesus, I believe you called me out of my sin and into relationship with you for your glory and for my good. And so, I care about my soul [the first three questions today], but I care about the soul of my neighbor, because you’ve called me to explain the Good News and to make a difference, and when I do that, the Bible says, ‘The angels in Heaven rejoice over one sinner who turns from the evil one and starts to follow King Jesus.’