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The World of the Miraculous

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Introduction

I’m glad that you’re able to join us today as we are on the second week on our series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As I mentioned to you last week, approaching the end of Matthew 12 as part of our expository sermons, God has given us an interesting few passages that helps lay certain foundations that serve as a good transition into our topical series on the Spiritual Gifts.
And the passage before us today deals with a subject so big, that a detailed study would probably take us weeks. Instead, what I am going to try and do is to overview it as best I can in two sermons, one today and one next week, so that we have a sufficient grasp on this subject as we move ahead.
Today, we are going to talk about the world of the miraculous.
Matthew 12:43–45 (ESV)
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.
45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Exegesis

Matthew 12:43 ESV
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
Unclean Spirit
What is an unclean spirit? It’s a demon, a spirit that is in league with Satan. But then, what is a spirit?
When we as Christians consider the world of the supernatural, we are either too presumptious or too uncomfortable. And so, in our study of Spiritual Gifts, we will have to navigate between these two sentiments. On one side, we will see many who love this topic and have many opinion on the spiritual world, whereas on the other side, we will have many who are wary of the topic, and would rather stick to the more rational or tangible aspects of the Christian faith. Both are a danger and a sin in their own rights.
Here’s what you must understand. As a Christian, there is no escaping the supernatural and the spiritual. It is not merely a part of our worldview or belief, it is the central part.
John 4:24 ESV
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 18:36 NASB95
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
How can you understand these verses if you don’t have some grasp of the spiritual nature of things?
At the same time, it does not help to speculate.
1 John 4:1 ESV
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
There is no denying the fact that there are many false teachers who lead many astray in this regard. Our only source of understanding the world of the miraculous is to go to Scripture, not by soaking in the spiritual mysticism of the popular charismatic world. Releasing our mind to enter in to some trance, and inviting spiritual forces to lead us in a mindless pursuit of God, is evil. When Jesus appear to John in the spiritual realm, even there he asked him to write things down. It wasn’t a mindless pursuit of extasy, it was mindful and thoughtful.
Revelation 1:10–11 ESV
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
A spirit, or a spiritual being, is a living being in that it has a conscience, a will, a personality. But they are immaterial beings in that they are not made up of matter like we are. So, they don’t possess physical bodies like we do. Now, don’t get me wrong , that doesn’t mean they’re less than we are, it is quite the opposite.
During the transfiguration, we read in Matthew 17:2
Matthew 17:2 ESV
2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Or even when Jesus ascended, that he was taken up bodily into heaven.
Although there are many unanswered questions, about this spiritual world, one thing is certain, that world is not a lesser world, it is greater.
So, maybe when considering the material world we live in and the immaterial world of spiritual beings, we should think of them as being of a different type, rather than a simplistic view of ‘body here’ and ‘no body there’. We know that angels have spiritual bodies, often expressed as having six wings and so on, and we also know that spiritual beings can inhabit or even take the form of physical bodies like we have.
Hebrews 13:2 NASB95
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Now amongst this so called spiritual beings, we have those whose allegiance is to the Living God, and those whose allegiance is to Satan, what we typically distinguish as angels and demons.
Now, in our passage here, the evil spirit or the demon is called an ‘unclean spirit’. They are impure spirits or unholy spirits, that are hostile to God and evil in every sense. They are by nature totally and utterly depraved, eternally.
it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none
And the state of their existence is made aware here by Christ, when he says that they pass through waterless places seeking rest.
Throughout the Bible waterless places and deserts were used as examples of a place devoid of God’s blessing, a dry and weary land.
Zephaniah 2:13 ESV
13 And he will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and he will make Nineveh a desolation, a dry waste like the desert.
Malachi 1:3 ESV
3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
And so it is the life of demons as they traverse through dry and weary lands, which is a picture of thirst and hunger though spiritual beings have no need for food or water like humans do. It is a picutre of being impoverished - a horrible existence.
Now, look at what they are seeking. For rest. There is no peace in their lives, and they yearn for it. They seek it but they find none.
One of the main reasons that we have a difficult time understanding or believing the spiritual world is because we confuse the immaterial with the imaginary.
Whenever we consider a world beyond the material world we live in, we use our imagination. And we’ve all had our fair share of imaginary friends, and some of you still might. But sanity demands that we understand the imaginary to be ‘not real’. So, the material and imaginary world are real and fiction respectively. This is what we are used to. However, not all imagination is fiction. In fact, I believe that the human imagination is a great faculty of the human mind that God has gifted us with, that we can contemplate of things beyond our physical senses. We use our imagination to picutre realities that we haven’t experienced with our senses. That doesn’t make those realities an illusion.
Beloved, the spiritual world is not an imaginary world or an illusion, and to comprehend this world we don’t depend on our imagination, we look to God’s word. Our imagination is merely a tool here, that helps us ponder on what these spiritual realities might be.
Therefore, we need a new category other than material and imaginary. We need to believe in a real and powerful world of the spiritual.
Matthew 12:44 ESV
44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.
Then it says
So we see here that it can reason and think - a conscience.
I will return to my house from which I came
Whether the demon is presumptious here or not, one thing is for certain, it believes that the man it inhabited belongs to him. There is a degree of possessiveness and ownership we see displayed here.
So having roamed about and found no rest, it then seeks to return to the man it inhabited. Why is that? What rest is there in man that it could not find anywhere else?
We know from many passages that demons prefer to indwell human bodies, or even animal bodies. As John MacArthur points out, perhaps demons feel most at home in a human being, because it is through human beings that Satan and his demons can most successfully work their evil and oppose God.
That in their endless misery, the only pleasure they can find is to manifest their evil upon our world by influencing, indwelling and inflicting man.
Now, we read something interesting. And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.
Everything about the state of this man’s life (the house) seems to be antithetical to the nature of the demon. A miserable, impure and evil wandering spirit would not have kept the house swept and in order.
We all know that the state of our rooms are a good picture of the state of our minds. When we have guests coming around, we rush to tidy everything up so that we can welcome them to a clean, homely and safe environment. And so it is with our minds. When we are on our own or with our own family, we let our thoughts and impulses, our words and actions languish as though there is no high standard of character we must keep. Yet, when someone knocks on the door, we cast some spell and behold, everything is in order and we are on our toes in the best of behaviour. This is no different whether you’re a believer or unbeliever.
So, it was with this man. Though he’d tidied everything up and kept everything in order in his heart, in life and action, we read that he was still empty.
Matthew 12:45 ESV
45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Now, for whatever reason the demon had to go out of the man in the first place, it was coming back with reinforcements. Many people, whether by fear or social and cultural pressure, are able to push themselves to a certain moral standard. Maybe such a reform, possibly pushed the demon out. Or, maybe it was the work of God throught the prayer or work of a believer who prayed over this man and the demon was cast out.
Regardless, upon its return, the demon finding the man empty, goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.
The number seven here is probably a symbol of completion (like the order creation and Sabbath). So the demon possession of the man is now complete, which means that earlier it wasn’t as bad or as strong a demonic intrusion maybe. And so now, the state of the man is worse than the first.
There is no question about the fact that this is not fiction or illusion. This is as real as real can get. In fact, a wise man once said that the difference between the material world we live in, and the spiritual world we belong to is that we currently inhabit a world that is veiled what is truly real.
1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
A lot of reformed, conservative brothers I know find it very unnerving to talk about the spiritual world. It is often too quote-on-quote “wierd”, and therefore it is left as an heirloom for the spiritual fantasies of the far charistmatic ends.
I see no possibilty for the Christian to evade this subject, as I mentioned at the beginning, because this is not part of the Christian life, but central to the Christian life.

The Natural?

One of the main flaws in their thinking is how they distinguish the natural from the miraculous. Notice I said natural and miraculous, not natural and super-natural.
The natural and super-natural categories are clear. Things we see in nature and subsequent to natural order or law. But the supernatural is extra-natural. Things beyond the natural order of things.
However, it would be a mistake to think of the miraculous as being entirely supernatural and not natural.
What is natural, at the end of the day, except what the supernatural has created? Tell me brothers, what is breath? What is natural about it?
Job 33:4 ESV
4 The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Job 27:3 ESV
3 as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
Acts 17:25 (ESV)
25 ....since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Science may tell us the biological aspects of breath and the reason it sustains life, but the Scriptures tell us that it comes from God. A miracle?
Why is it with such great technological advances, that we are unable to create wings that work like that of the birds? Or, where do birds come from? How are babies born?
Psalm 139:13 ESV
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
Natural? Miraculous?
We live in a time where we hear the term Artificial Intelligence everywhere. And what is the pursuit? To make artifical minds that work like human minds. But they will never succeed at it. The best that we can hope to do is to immitate or give the feeling of human intelligence. Because at the end of the day you still have to program in all of the responses of the AI and everything it does is a bulk of permutations and combinations. But it will never have a true will or conscience of its own. No AI will be useful or effective without human agency.
When I decide to walk to my house, and I see an ice-cream truck, I’m not running computations in my mind. I feel pleasure, and I let myself go to my feelings and I enjoy myself a good vanilla cone with chocolate syrup.
Machines will never replace man because the product never replaces the raw material. We live in a world where we use the raw materials given to us, and we make all sorts of things, useful and pleasurable. Yet, we call this natural but where do these raw matierials come from?
Brothers and sister, my point is this. The natural world we live in is incredibly miraculous, or for my more conservative brethren, the world we live in is incredibly wierd.
Even our salvation, faith is an alien object imputed to us through a supernatural work of the Spirit of God. Our very salvation is miraculous and wierd. So, there is no question about whether we should talk about or learn about or know about the spiritual world because we feel it’s too wierd. The miraculous world God created has both physical (natural) and spiritual (super-natural) realities, and we need to have a receptive mind willing to learn.

Conlusion

The redemptive work of Christ has natural and supernatural realities at play. And as we enter into the study of the world of the miraculous, it need not be strange to us, brothers.
There is a reason why seven demons don’t come knocking on our doors.
Judas, not Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples asks him in John 14:22
John 14:22 ESV
22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
And here is Jesus’ response,
John 14:23 ESV
23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
We are not empty houses, and our bodies do not belong to the devil, and not even to us.
1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
Beloved, through Christ, we are inhabited by God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the triune God has made his him with and in us.
Imagine the reaction of the demon when he comes knocking on our door.
Next week, we will continue on this subject and look at the nature of our salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives and what that means, and the cosmic conflict between the spiritual forces in the heavenly places.
For now, remember that our assurance of safety and belonging is the inheritance given only to the born-again in Christ Jesus, the Christian. And the world of the miraculous is our inheritance.
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