Sunday, September 10, 2017

Deliverance: Finding Freedom in the Reign of God

Parush Parushev was a communist. He had a PhD in Mathematics. He taught at one of the leading universities in Europe. While teaching in Poland, he met a small group of Christ followers, and he was drawn to Jesus. Eventually, he converted and became a Christ follower himself. Several months later, he returned to his home country of Bulgaria. And soon after that, he began to receive invitations to preach in various Christian congregations in the area. So this former atheistic Communist mathematician was now preaching the good news of Jesus!

One day Parush received an urgent call from a preacher in a neighboring gypsy village. There was a woman who was dying. This preacher asked Parush to come and pray over the body and anoint her body with oil. She was dying quickly, so they asked him to hurry. As he arrived, he heard the loud wailing of the mourners. It was their custom to wail loudly at such occasions and the stench of incense was strong. Listen to how Parush describes what happened next:
My heart echoed the mourners’ pain with great trembling. This was the first time since my ordination that I was called to minister to a dying person.
The sight evoked my compassion. The woman was dying on one side. I could see the effect the illness had had on her. Her facial features resembled a skull. Her skin was transparent and so tight up around the bones that it felt painful to look at it. The color of her face and hands was turning dark blue. Her stomach was enormously swollen. It was obvious that the life in that body was fading fast…
The procedure of anointing was short. Short, also, was the prayer that followed. In an instant, with my eyes closed, I lost balance. I reached for support and I leaned over, trying to hold onto the iron bed frame. Instead, my hand touched the woman’s leg through the cover. The coldness I felt pierced me. In the midst of the summer heat, the woman’s limb lay cold and hard as granite. Terrified, I stood there in tears, helpless before the signs of the coming death.
The woman made an attempt to talk; I approached the bed and leaned closer to hear. Her effort caused her mouth to arch, but it gave no sound…
(A sister had) told me that the sick woman had had a dream. She dreamt that I would come pray for her and anoint her. After that, she would drink the water of a liter-and-a half bottle, she would throw it up, and with this she would be completely healed…
I observed in disbelief how the woman gathered what appeared to be her last traces of strength, how she lifted her head and drank the water slowly until the whole amount was consumed. A violent regurgitation followed after…
Each woman present at the scene knew what to do to ensure that all would happen according to the dream. Their faith in the healing power of God stood against my rational mind. Their world, simple and modest, remained unshaken. My world, well built and sophisticated, was crumbling under me.
The transformation was immediate. Before our eyes, the sick woman sat on the bed. We observed how her skin regained its color and her limbs their flexibility. She spoke with a clear voice. She told us that she needed to use the bathroom. The woman got up, all by herself, and headed to the front door. (In those villages, the bathrooms are located outside.) When she appeared in the doorframe, a loud scream of “Ghost!” ripped the skies. The gathered crowd scattered in fear…
Some witnesses of this event were believers. Some were about to become believers. The power of the Spirit pervaded the place. The love of the lord enveloped it. One by one, all souls joined in giving praise. The mouths of the meek proclaimed His name…
The doctors had given up efforts to fight the disease. The desperately ill woman had been transferred from the local hospital to the capital’s fine medical facilities in hope of help. The doctors repeatedly had drained the accumulated liquid in her stomach, but with time this procedure was not efficient anymore. The woman was sent home to die in peace among her family.
Today, the woman is alive and well. (Living the Sermon on the Mount, 13–14)
One thing is clear. This is not a story about moral perfection. This is not a story about the high ideals of this mathematician turned preacher. This is a story about the power of God, about God healing a dying woman, about God bringing deliverance. The fact is: God has always been in the business of deliverance.

Do you remember why Jesus came to earth?

Jesus began to proclaim: “Repent, for the kingdom has come near" (Matthew 4:17).

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14–15).

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. . . . Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. . . . I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:16–19, 21, 43).

Why did Jesus come here? Well, we’re in luck, Jesus tells us in His own words.

“I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Jesus came to give us this important message: “The Kingdom of God is here!” That is a message God’s people had waited a long time to hear. All the way back to the days of the prophet Isaiah, who lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God’s people had been talking about a time in the future when God’s kingdom would arrive. And Jesus left no room for doubt that His life ushered in that new age. Over and over and over again, Jesus says in His ministry:
The Kingdom is here.
This is what the Kingdom is like . . .
I’ve come to proclaim the good news of the kingdom!
So, here is the thing, church. If the kingdom was at the center of Jesus’ message, if Jesus came primarily to announce the coming of the kingdom, it stands to reason that we should be very familiar with what the kingdom is all about. And whatever we do here should be centered on the kingdom!

So, what exactly was Jesus talking about when He spoke about the Kingdom?

I think the answer to that question will come from a careful look at the sermon Jesus’ delivered on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Have you ever wondered why the sermon was delivered on a mountain? I mean, why didn’t Jesus deliver this sermon in Capernaum, where He spent most of his time? Why didn’t Jesus deliver this sermon in the middle of the courtyard in Jerusalem, more people would have heard it! Why on a mountain? Did you know that Jesus going up onto a mountain to deliver that sermon was intentional, and it had serious theological implications! Jesus going “up the mountain” reminds us of Moses going “up” Mount Sinai to get the 10 Commandments from God. In fact, there is a lot to connect Jesus to Moses in this story. Moses’ story begins with his birth and proceeds to his rescue from the murderous Pharaoh. Jesus’ story begins in Matthew with His birth and His rescue from the murderous Herod. Moses had to be rescued from Pharaoh’s attempt to murder all young Jewish boys. Jesus had to be rescued from Herod’s attempt to murder all young Jewish boys. Moses and his people, the Israelites, spent years in Egypt and then returned to Israel. Jesus and his parents spent years in Egypt and then returned to Israel. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness relying only on God for his food before entering Israel. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting before beginning His ministry in Israel. Through Moses, God gave His people the 10 commandments. And through Jesus, God gave the world the Sermon on the Mount. These parallels are not an accident! Matthew is trying to tell us something. Jesus is the new, greater Moses! Jesus’ sermon that He preached on that “Mount” bears striking resemblance to the words Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Both the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are special words from God with the same message.

The 10 Commandments were all about deliverance. Through the Law, God was delivering His people. The first three commandments begin the same way: “Because I brought you out of slavery . . .”
And consider the commandments:
Married people need to be delivered from the threat of a broken covenant.
People with possessions need to be delivered from the fear that their neighbors will steal from them.
Elderly people are vulnerable to neglect and they need to be delivered from shame—their children need to honor them.
People in court need to be protected (or delivered) from false witness.
The 10 Commandments are all about God’s deliverance! The Sermon on the Mount also centers on deliverance. So what was Jesus offering those crowds deliverance from? In short, the ways of this world.
In this world, fear overpowers love.
In this world, people retaliate when they are wronged.
In this world, our possessions dominate us.
In this world, we are quick to judge.
In this world, we worry…constantly.
In this world, when we do something good, we want others to see us do it!
Do you know what living in a world like this does to the soul? It makes us all slaves! Have you ever felt like a slave to this world? I don’t have to tell you, you know! Fear and judgment and materialism and worry, those things will consume you. They will enslave you! In Jesus’ Sermon the Mount, He says: Come over here. Let me show you a new way to live. You don’t have to be slaves. You are free! That is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Freedom. Deliverance. Jesus’ entire ministry existed to announce: The Kingdom of God is finally here. And Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount begins to describe what that kingdom looks like.

Anyone in here desperately want to be free?

You may say, “But I am free! I was baptized when I was 12 years old! I walked down the aisle. I confessed Jesus is the Son of God. God washed my sins away. I am free.”

OK, but are you free, now, in this life? Jesus came to this earth not only to ensure that we will live with Him in the next life. Jesus came to show us how to live in this one. And there is a way to live life in this world that is so, freeing. Jesus calls that kind of life “eternal life.” A life in this world that is based not on slavery, but instead on deliverance.

Jesus’ ministry, in the end, is all about deliverance. And everyone in this room needs deliverance from something. Some of us need deliverance from the belief that we can fix all of the mess in this world. Doctors, no matter how much training you have and no matter how much expertise you have, you are only participating in the healing process. You cannot fix your family. I cannot fix all of the problems of church! Some of us need to be delivered from that belief and recognize that only God can bring deliverance. Some of us need deliverance from our love of money, some of us need deliverance from a constant state of worry. We worry about everything, we worry about the President, we worry about health care, we worry about tomorrow. We even worry about yesterday!

And let’s not forget, church, that our world (beyond these walls) needs deliverance too. Would you like to join God’s mission in bringing deliverance to this world? What if we took seriously the words of Jesus in this Sermon? What if we really believed in God’s power to deliver? And what if we really did (with all of our strength) participate in this deliverance?

I am beginning a lengthy sermon series on Jesus. For the next several months, I want us to camp out in Jesus’ ministry. For most of that time we will be centered right here in the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve preached through the Sermon on the Mount before. In fact, when I started preaching full-time when I was 23 years old, the first series I preached was on the Sermon on the Mount. Charlie Siburt recommended I do that. He said, “You can’t go wrong if you start your ministry with Jesus!” But I’ll confess to you that I’ve never really taken Jesus’ words in this sermon too seriously. I, like many folks, have treated them as high ideals. Great teachings, but out of reach for us. That’s how I and many others have preached this sermon. And that is how many of us read it today. I mean, if we take Jesus’ words seriously, that means we are many times in direct opposition to the ways of this world, and sometimes our politics, and sometimes our Christian culture! Love your enemies? Turn the other cheek? Let your light shine, how bright, exactly? Stop collecting treasures on this earth? Maybe I should stop there! What if Jesus really meant for us to take His words seriously? And what if by following these difficult teachings we might actually find deliverance from all of the stuff that enslaves us in this world?

I want to issue a challenge to you. Many of you, like me, have heard this sermon 1000 times! You may think you know exactly what it says. You may think you know exactly how to apply it. You know which things Jesus meant for us to do, you know which things are in the category of “high ideals”, but Jesus never really meant for us to go there! I want to challenge you to walk through this sermon with me and to take the words of Jesus seriously this time. To not just read them, but actually do them.

Why? Because I bet you, like me, are tired of being a slave. I’m tired of trying to please everyone. I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of playing the games this world calls us to play. I just want to be the person God has called me to be. Period. And I think the only way to do that is to follow Jesus up onto that mountain, sit down, and listen to His sermon. Did you hear what Jesus said? A new kingdom has been inaugurated! And do you know what that means? Deliverance!

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