Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spiritual Warfare in the Book of Acts

In the Acts we find many instances where God allows the display of supernatural power to enhance the spread of the Gospel, but relatively few instances of direct demonic confrontation. There are several events in Acts which are of significance to spiritual conflict. First, Peter's great escape (Acts 12:1-21). At least in part an answer to prayer, an "angel of the Lord" rescues Peter from prison. He appears suddenly, provides a light, hits Peter in the side to wake him, and, like a parent with a child awakened from sound sleep, carefully instructs the groggy apostle to get dressed. Peter's chains fall off as he gets up without disturbing the two soldiers with him, implying that they are supernaturally asleep. He is led past two sets of guards. The last set of doors open on their own and Peter is escorted outside. Until he is outside and left alone, he thinks he is dreaming. The angel departs as suddenly as he came, leaving Peter on his own. While no demonic agencies are mentioned in this account, it does provide a wonderful picture of God's control and loving response to the prayer of the church-even when the church has a hard time believing. Some conclusions may be drawn from the whole chapter. 1. Once Peter is delivered, he is not willing to unnecessarily test God by staying on the street where Herod can find him. God can and will deliver us when He sees fit, but that does not mean we capriciously look for trouble just to test Him. 2. God's plans will not be thwarted. He is sovereign, and will exercise His sovereignty whatever we may do against Him. Why did James die and not Peter. Most commentators agree that Luke is not trying to show that the church prayed for Peter after not praying for James. The most simple answer to the whole question is that we do not know, but that God's sovereignty is not challenged by the circumstances. 3. The faith of the early church is more like our faith than we realize. God responds to us where we are, and sometimes He answers our prayers in spite of our faith. The size of our faith is not as important as the object of our faith. We do not need big faith as much as we need faith in a BIG God. 4. We see evidence of a folk religious belief in the disciples' response to Rhoda's claim that Peter (the answer to their prayers) was at the gate. After Peter's escape, he goes to Mary's house, where the rest of the church was praying for him. He knocks, and the house-girl (Rhoda) talks to him through the door. On hearing his voice, she excitedly reports that Peter is at the door, but the others insist that it is "his angel." What is "his angel"? There is evidence that guardian angels were believed by some to have a similar appearance to the one they guarded. On the other hand, this may refer to "some kind of heavenly counterpart to a person, having the same physical appearance." It could be they believed he died and his human spirit came to visit them. In a wonderful way, God's sense of humor comes through. I am reminded that He is delighted to answer our prayers, and sometimes He answers them in a delightfully refreshing way. Second, the pagan fortune teller (Acts 16:16-18). Paul's casts a spirit of divination out of a girl who was following them for days. Undoubtedly all who knew the girl regarded her as neither fraudulent nor insane but as demon possessed and able to foretell the future. Paul does not initially cast the demon out, though no reason for this delay is given. The girl pursued Paul and kept on screaming for many days, and Paul is finally annoyed enough to give a simple order to the spirit. "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out." This spirit does not fight, but leaves immediately. Luke does not mentions the girl again, so we do not know with certainly if she ever comes to Christ. Luke's intention is not to give us the story of the girl's life-his focus is on Paul's exercise of authority and the subsequent persecution of Paul because of this incident. The story serves as a reminder of Christ's authority as well as Satan's refusal to back down after displays of power. In this instance, the forces of evil collect themselves and go after Paul through social and legal channels. Again, however, God's sovereignty is seen in the earthquake which results in Paul's release and the Philippian jailer's conversion. Third, the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-20). Some important lessons may be drawn from this story. Seeing Paul's successful use of Jesus' name in expelling demons, seven sons of Sceva, all non-believing Jews, imitate his practice. However, they use Jesus' name only as an incantation or formula, and have no authority. The demon knows both Paul and Jesus, but not the purported exorcists. Their "experiment" backfires, and the demon severely beats them and sends them running into the streets naked. The rest of Ephesus hears of this and fears. As a result, magic practitioners confess and denounce their practices and burn their secret scrolls (which contain spells, incantations, names of magical power, etc), in public, demonstrating their complete renunciation.Demonic confrontation is not to be taken lightly. Even so, the contrast between Paul's encounter (Acts 16) and this one is striking. The authority of the believer is clearly seen in contrast to the peril for those who do not believe and yet use Christ's name as a formula of power. Many in the church had been mixing magic practices with their faith (seen in the value of the destroyed occult objects). Especially in light of the rise of new age thinking, we cannot assume that similar practices are absent in our churches. The burning of the fetishes was not the result of a witch-hunt; it was God's merciful and sovereign doing from the beginning to end. As you examine your life, are there any "occult objects" in your possession. I have seen believers trapped by reading their daily horoscope. We must be careful to focus on the Lord and seek wisdom from His Word.

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