Setting the Captives Free
Every October, many Americans are bewitched by Halloween. They dress their kids like cute little witches, devils and goblins … but there’s really nothing cute about Satan.
Matthew, Mark and Luke* give horrifying descriptions of a demon-possessed man who lived naked in a cemetery, gashing himself with stones — so wild that no chains could restrain him, and so violent that no one could safely pass by.
But even the strongest demons are no match for God’s power! Jesus looked beyond that man’s revolting appearance and saw a pitiful human being, made in the image of God but held captive by Satan.
When Jesus cast out the man’s demons,
“They began screaming at Him, ‘Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?’” (Matthew 8:29 NLT)
The demons referred to God’s timetable, knowing they are limited in how long they can roam the earth, trying to deceive and trap people with lust, alcohol, drugs, crime, and false beliefs like New Age — attempting to destroy souls by leading them away from God. But when their time is up — and that may be very soon! — they face eternal torture. Satan knows it, Jesus knows it, and we ought to know it, too.
Jesus sent the demons into some pigs, which instantly went crazy and rushed down a steep hill to drown themselves.
The whole city came to see the demonized man clothed and miraculously sane. But instead of being happy for him, they were outraged about their pigs — and rudely sent Jesus away!
Similarly today, it’s sad how some folks care more about their pets and possessions than suffering people. I’ve been to places in Africa and around the world where men, women and children live in abject poverty, afflicted with hunger, thirst and disease. What joy to bring them nourishing food, clean water, essential medicine — and above all, the life-giving Gospel.
In God’s eyes, just one human life is worth far more than any earthly treasure — and Jesus showed that divine love on the cross.
Psalms 119:9-11 9How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. 11I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in our Bible. It is believed to have been written by Ezra during the restoration period, when the Jews returned to Israel from Babylon. The entire psalm is about the Word of God. Each section is entitled with a Hebrew letter, and each verse in that section begins with that letter. Every verse mentions the Word of God in some form.
Ezra asks how it is possible for young men to keep their way pure. Youth are changing physically and have little experience to know how to deal with those changes. The world today is of no help. It encourages them to sin against God and not consider it wrong to do so. What would your advice be to young men who wanted to serve God in all their ways? The Holy Spirit says that the one way is by living according to God’s Word. There must be time spent in God’s Word and the contemplation of what it is saying. That must be accompanied by desire to keep what one hears from the Word. But that alone is not enough. The next verse shows us that even though we seek God with all our heart, we need to ask God to keep us obedient to what we have heard. “God, don’t let me stray from your commands. I understand what You are saying, but I need Your help. I recognize that without Your help I would not be able to do it.”
But the author didn’t just leave it at that. He memorized what God was saying to Him. He kept the words like a hidden treasure locked in his heart, brought out to enjoy and examine often. Each day you can take a treasure from your morning time with God and place it within your heart to help guide you through the day. Carry those verses in your mind. Share them with friends. Let the Word be the thought that is the backdrop of your whole day. Sin will keep you from the Word, or the Word will keep you from sin.
Challenge: Young or old with a young heart, take time to gather treasure to take with you through each day. Make some of them a part of your permanent collection by committing them to memory.
‘Satan hindered us.’ 1 Thessalonians 2:18
Suggested Further Reading: 2 Corinthians 11:1–15
How may I tell when Satan hinders me? I think you may tell thus: first by the object. Satan’s object in hindering us is to prevent our glorifying God. If anything has happened to you which has prevented your growing holy, useful, humble, and sanctified, then you may trace that to Satan. If the distinct object of the interference to the general current of your life has been that you may be turned from righteousness into sin, then from the object you may guess the author. It is not God who does this, but Satan. Yet know that God does sometimes put apparent hindrances in the way of his own people, even in reference to their usefulness and growth in grace, but then his object is still to be considered: it is to try his saints and so to strengthen them; while the object of Satan is to turn them out of the right road and make them take the crooked way. You may tell the suggestions of Satan, again, by the method in which they come: God employs good motives, Satan bad ones. If that which has turned you away from your object had been a bad thought, a bad doctrine, bad teaching, a bad motive—that never came from God, that must be from Satan. Again, you may tell them from their nature. Whenever an impediment to usefulness is pleasing, gratifying to you, consider that it came from Satan. Satan never brushes the feathers of his birds the wrong way; he generally deals with us according to our tastes and likings. He flavours his bait to his fish. He knows exactly how to deal with each man, and to put that motive which will fall in with the suggestions of poor carnal nature. Now, if the difficulty in your way is rather contrary to yourself than for yourself, then it comes from God; but if that which now is a hindrance brings you gain, or pleasure, or emolument in any way, rest assured it came from Satan.
For meditation: Satan’s devices during his attempts to hinder the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:1–11; 16:21–23). Jesus was aware of Satan’s devices (Luke 22:31). You need to be aware of them too, if Satan is not to take advantage of you (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Scripture Reading — Matthew 7:21-23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. . . .” — Matthew 7:21
Out of the entire Sermon on the Mount, this might be the most challenging of Jesus’ teachings.
The wide gate and the broad road are full of people who have rejected God and have gone their own way (Matthew 6:13). But there are also people on that road who think they are right with the Lord—people who, from the outside, appear to be doing all the right things. But it can turn out that they’ve actually been far from Christ all along.
The most important thing about us isn’t how many times we have gone to church. It’s not how much money we have given or how often we have volunteered. We’re not saved because we avoid R-rated movies or do not steal.
Instead, the most important thing is knowing, and being known by, Jesus. This means losing our lives in him and putting our agenda aside so that we can honestly say, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). People who try to follow Jesus from a distance risk his rejection because he demands our whole hearts and our whole selves.
If that doesn’t make you a little nervous, it should. Jesus is calling everyone, both in and outside of the church, to do some self-examination: Is my faith genuine? Am I on the right path? Do I really know him? And does he really know me?
Father, I place my whole life in your hands. Help me to know you, and to be known by you. Show me where I may be holding back, and help me to serve you wholeheartedly in all I do. Amen.