Before you read any further, do me a favor. Go to the comments section and share with me your favorite movie quote. Go ahead, the rest of this post will still be here when you get back.
Here are some of mine:
So we’ve probably all memorized a movie quote or two. Even if you couldn’t think of any without a google search, if you sat down and watched your favorite movie, you’d be able to say the next line before the actor does. You’ve memorized it. It’s in you, deep down somewhere. But here’s another question:
Have you ever memorized scripture before?
I do sometimes. I’m not the best at it, but I also have to challenge myself to do it. When I was a kid, I was in a Christian Scouting program called “Caravan.” We’d learn about the bible and faith at the same time learning a lot of the things that the better known scouting programs are famous for. Outdoor exploring, astronomy, cooking, sewing, first-aid…lots of stuff! But one of our key verses to memorize was Proverbs 3:5-6. Though it was just part of the rigmarole of the scouting club (we got badges, by the way,) That verse stuck with me. It got inside me and God used it to shape me and mold me as I grew.
As I encountered struggles in my life, I remembered I had a choice: Do I trust God with all my heart or not? Am I going to lean on my own understanding or his? Will I consider what he wants to do before I plow ahead with what I think I want to do?
And that’s a good example of why scripture memorization is important. You may not get anything out of it at first, but when you truly memorize scripture it’s like eating a tasty apple. You ingest it. It’s in you. It nourishes you. That’s the word of God. And God says He will make our path’s straight. Sounds good to me!
43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
Matthew 12:43-45 NIV (emphasis added)
Prayer prompt – Take a moment to ask God to speak to you as you read through this blog. Hearing and learning from Him is more about transformation and less about information.
This message is entitled “Worse than before.” That may sound drab and depressing, but it’s also the realistic picture Jesus paints for us here in this passage. We have a scenario of a person with an unclean spirit. For some reason, whether compulsion (The power of Christ compels you!) or just sear boredom… the unclean spirit leaves the person and goes looking for rest. The Bible says it travels through “Arid” places. I had to look up that word. I’ve heard it used much more than I’ve even really read a definition. Arid is defined as excessively dry. Lack of available water, preventing growth. So finding nothing interesting or helpful, the unclean spirit decides to return to where it used to live. The spirit finds that all the furniture he wrecked has been repaired, the house is organized and clean, but has no occupants. PARTY TIME!
Picture a bunch of college guys just walking into your house and setting up shop. Putting their feet on the furniture, getting into the fridge, perhaps (GASP!!!) even leaving the toilet seat up.
But no one is there to stop them. Nobody’s home. This is the picture Jesus paints for the audience he spoke to as recorded in our main passage. That’s the future condition of this “wicked generation.” Today I want to unpack this passage and see if we can avoid being a statistic. See if there is something we can do with our clean “house” that the person in Jesus’ example did not. We don’t want to be “Worse off than before,” we want to be “better off than before” and the first step toward that is to be cleansed.
Having an “unclean spirit” in you means you need to be cleansed. Now I’m not going to split hairs and say I know exactly what spiritual force Jesus is talking about. Could be demonic influence, possession along the lines of what we’ve read about in the bible. Could be addictions, behaviors and attitudes that the person is captive to and does not see a way out. One thing is for certain, it’s not the Holy Spirit and it’s not one of God’s angels. God’s angels are messagers of encouragement and good news, warning and instruction. The Holy Spirit comforts and guides. Neither of them have ever been referred to as “Unclean spirits.” So all that clarity out of the way, we need to be cleansed of spiritual uncleanness.
Much like scrubbing up after working hard in your garden, yard or motor vehicle, There needs to be a cleansing of one’s soul. Usually this is followed by a physical washing.
The first thing that comes to mind for me is Baptism
John The Baptist, as Mark records, preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There was a spiritual cleansing – repentance followed by or accompanied by a physical cleansing.
We see this in Paul and Silas’ Jailer that I spoke about a few weeks ago. He is scared: An earthquake rocks the jail and all doors are open. He goes to kill himself, believing all the prisoners had escaped. Paul stops him and in that moment the Jailer connects with the living Christ. Through that moment in time, his eyes were opened and he asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas tell him to repent and be baptized. Inner cleansing and outer cleansing.
In Acts chapter 8, there is a story of Ethiopian Eunuch crossing paths with Phillip. Phillip is being led by the Spirit to say something to this man, being available to guide him spiritually. Philip eventually leads him to the Messiah, this is Jesus. As soon as the Ethiopian comes across some water, he desires to be baptized. Phillip baptizes him and then the Spirit takes him elsewhere. That man, it is said, is where all Coptic Christians draw their spiritual lineage. His influence among the royalty in Ethiopia was used for Christ’s glory. He was washed clean, inside and out.
If you’ve been baptized, do you remember when you were? Was it a decision you made as a young person or adult? Perhaps one that you “owned” later in life as you confirmed your faith and repentance of sin? There’s very few things that feel better than getting clean after being dirty. But one of them is to have your Soul cleansed.
Baptism is an outward sign of an inward work. Initial salvation brings cleansing of our souls. And we profess our faith in this work by being baptized, Just like Jesus was baptized.
So we need to BE CLEANSED. Wash our sins away with Jesus’ blood. Make us fresh and new. But as anyone can tell you, clean things don’t stay clean forever. In order to keep clean we’ve got to…
Jesus said the house was “swept clean and put in order.” This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, organizing your life just might make it neater and cleaner. Spiritually speaking, we have thoughts, compulsions, and even addictions that left without checks and balances, can get us back into the muck and mire. So what do we do to become organized? We…
Renew our Mind
When a person is set free from satanic influence, sin – they have gotten into the “right mind” and they can think without demonic and sinful influences taking over their every thought. This is what happened with the demon possessed man in Mark 5.
Jesus meets the man. The man is scary, naked, and dangerous. The demons in the man beg Jesus to cast them into local pigs. Jesus obliges them and then the pigs dive off a cliff to their doom.
“15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
Mark 5:15 NIV (emphasis added)
He was in his right mind…and that scared the people from the area. His thoughts were orderly. He was able to have conversations. No more “Hulk Smash!” as he breaks chains. He is a normal human being cleansed and healed and put in order by Jesus.
I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 10:5b where Paul instructs us to bring “….every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,”
An organized mind is one where we are not controlled by sinful, selfish thought lives. Our thought life is organized and centered around Christ.
So we are to Be Cleansed and Be Organized and this last part is what was missed by the person in Jesus’ example of this scenario. We need to….
Be FILLED with the right Spirit (Holy Spirit)
Can you imagine that? Someone 7 times worse off than when they were CLEANSED of an unclean spirit, they got their MIND organized. Their thinking was logical. They had the right support structures in place – accountability, oversight. But the one problem is that the “house” or the person was like a move-in ready house. And boy did the demons in Jesus’ example move right in!
I’m not sure if this is a “perfect” metaphor, but it’s my metaphor.
My wife and I have had to move several times. Any time we’ve left a place, we try to tidy it up the best we can. This means filling in nail holes with spackle. We’d make sure the carpet was vacuumed and the floors were swept and mopped. We have no idea who rented after us. We don’t know if they treated it nicely or whether they changed their motorcycle’s oil in the living room!
You see, it’s important to FILL the house with something so not just anything can get in and do what it wants.
We fill our hearts, minds, and lives with the Holy Spirit. We ask him to fill us so there’s no room for anything else.
Some examples of living this out in scripture. Let’s start with Ephesians 5:18-19
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
Ephesians 5:18-19 NIV
Paul says: instead of those things people generally use to “have a good time” be filled with the Spirit. That’s all you need. The Spirit will guide you in the Worship in song to the Lord.
Acts 4:31 ESV shows what people can do when filled with His Spirit.
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Acts 4:31 ESV
“And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 13:52 ESV
Filled with joy, boldness, the blessing of worship and glorious purpose: a Spirit Filled life is the one to pursue.
This month, Olivet Nazarene University’s president has been holding zoom meetings with pastors from all over ONU’s region. Last week was our district’s turn. The point of the meeting was to help guide Olivet toward the top goals it should pursue as the Denomination’s regional University. What are the top problems that ONU can lead the way on and address? We could even come up with a workable solution. One example that seemed to keep coming up in our group was that students were going to ONU as believers in Christ, but over time they were losing their faith, or at the very least walking away from the church. We didn’t get any exact names and examples…but certainly it happens.
This was the inspiration that led me to this passage and ultimately this message. It’s a real concern that believers, college students, would become dissolution to the faith while working toward completing their degrees. Whether or not Olivet takes this specific Goal (help students not lose their faith while at college), we know that anyonecan lose their faith and find themselves Worse Than Before.
It’s my hope that in your hearing today you will choose to do one of the following:
Get Clean– maybe you’re still deep in the muck of sin. A life lived for self and not for God. Today is the day you change that. Ask for forgiveness, ask him to cleanse you. If you’ve not been baptized before and as a response to the inward work: you’d like to be baptized, post it in the comments section below. If you are not local to Viroqua area, maybe I can assist you in finding the right person to guide you toward baptism that is near you.
Get Organized – Perhaps you’ve got the fresh start in Jesus Christ going. You’ve asked him to cleanse you and you sense he’s changing you…but still there are thoughts, desires, attitudes and behaviors you’ve not surrendered to him. Patterns of selfish sin that still hang over you and you go back to in your time of weakness. Today, my friend, is the day to get Organized. Jesus is better than a Trapper Keeper! You can walk with him in reprogramming negative and destructive thoughts, thought processes you might have and more. It all begins when you organize your life around Him.
Get Filled – It’s gotta be said. We all are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There is not a Christian who is called to just get into Heaven by the skin of their teeth. We need and are called to be FILLED with His Spirit. Why?
Because He empowers us to live a life that can say “NO” to temptation. One free from giving into sin.
Because you can live a life of Love for God and man, all Powered by the Spirit.
Because the Holy Spirit takes up all the extra space in your life…there’s nothing He’s not touching. Nothing you’re hiding from him (as if you could). When that happens: there’s no room for anything else. Instead of being Worse Off than Before…you are Better than you ever could be on your own.
Blog comment interaction time:
If you’ve made it all the way here, you are probably reading this post. Would you do something for me? Comment on this post and tell me, have you ever been baptized? If so, How old were you and do you remember where you were baptized? Was it special for you and your spiritual journey or, as you reflect on it, not so much? I’d like to know.