Demons and the War for Our Souls

Demons and the War for Our Souls

Revelation 12:10-17

Dr. Jim Denison

This Tuesday we will observe an ominous day, not to be repeated for a hundred years. It will be June 6 in the year 2006; by numeric identification, the date will be 6-6-6. The number brings back bad memories.

My junior year at Houston Baptist University, I was standing in line to receive my student ID card. I had been teaching the Book of Revelation where I was youth minister, and was aware that 666 is the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13. I was struck by the amusing thought that someone at Houston Baptist University would that year receive the ID number 666. He or she would have to give that number at chapel for attendance, write it on multiple forms, and use it all year long. I paid no attention as the person in front of me was given the ID number 665. But I’ll not forget the shock on hearing “Denison: 666.” I wanted to run out to see if I’d grown horns and a tail. Going to chapel, I’d call out “mark of the beast,” the person would write down 666, and everyone would stare. This fact may confirm questions you’ve had about me all along.

It didn’t help that the movie “The Omen” came out that year. It was all about Damien, the Antichrist, and the 666 tattooed on his scalp. Now the movie has been remade and will be released this Tuesday, on 6-6-06. I don’t think I’ll go.

The movie is fiction, but the battle is real. We have rejoiced in worship that we will spend eternity in paradise. But we’re not there yet. We’re in that era between D-Day and V-Day. At Christmas, the One who brings victory landed on the shores of Normandy. This was the beginning of the end. But 15,000 soldiers died on the Western Front between D-Day and V-Day. Ironically, D-Day was June 6, 1944, observed this Tuesday. V-Day in Europe was May 8, 1945. If the Allies had not continued to fight for the eleven months between the two, the victory would not have been won.

Until we get to heaven, we must do battle on earth. You’re in the conflict this morning. There are Nazi spies all around you. At least one is assigned to you today. How are you being attacked? Are you battling discouragement, gossip, lust, anger, hatred, bitterness, guilt, despair? We all are. We’re all in the same conflict. How will you win the victory?

Understand your battle

An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, the grass always loses.” In the realm of spiritual warfare, Christians are the “grass”: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

In our text we find this battle enacted through remarkable and powerful language. On one side of the battle stands our Heavenly Father, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Lord of all that is. Our God who so loved us that he sent his Son to give us eternal life with him in heaven.

On the other stands “the accuser of our brothers,” Satan himself (Revelation 12:10). His very name means “accuser.” He is “filled with fury” that he has been defeated in heaven, so he has brought his battle to “the earth and the sea” (v. 12), to you and me.

He “pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (v. 13), a reference to the believing community, or Mary and her persecution under Herod, or both. But she was protected from the serpent. So he “went off to make war against the rest of her offspring–those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (v. 17). That’s you and me. We are the “grass” in his battle against the Lord.

And so God warns us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). His foot soldiers are his demons. We need to know about them, because they’re after us. They are the means by which the dragon has come to “make war” against you and me today.

According to the Bible, a “demon” is a created spirit being, a kind of angel. These beings sinned with Satan in heaven, and so are commonly called “fallen angels” or “unclean spirits.”

Satan is now their ruler (Matthew 12:24), and he has organized them into his army of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12). God created hell for them, where they will be with Satan forever: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

You are engaged in a battle with demons today. They are the soldiers of the enemy in the battle for our souls and world. They are attacking you and me right now.

Know your enemy

The Bible teaches five important facts about demons. First, demons are real. Most Americans don’t believe they exist. Most Americans are deceived.

Demons were real to Jesus. Six times in the gospels we find him casting them out of suffering, demon-possessed people. Mark 1:34 says that Jesus “drove out many demons.”

They were real to the early Christians. Acts 5:16 records this scene from their ministry: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Peter and Paul both exorcised demons personally.

Second, demons are evil and unclean. The Bible often calls them “evil” or “unclean” spirits. Demons are filthy, both physically and morally. Wherever you see demonism you find filth, rubbish, and sin. It’s no accident that with the rise of Satanism and the occult in America we also have the rise of drug abuse, pornography, child abuse, perversion, and obscenity.

Third, demons are stronger than we are. In Mark 5 we meet a demon-possessed man, so strong that men could not bind him even with chains (vs. 3-4). Fragments of their attempts lay all around the tombs where he lived, stark reminders of the impotence of human ability against the forces of darkness. We cannot defeat their temptations in our ability. But we don’t have to.

Gifts Every Father Needs

Gifts Every Father Needs

Revelation 19:11-16

Dr. Jim Denison

Today, more collect calls will be placed than on any other day of the year. It wasn’t always that way. The year was 1909. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington heard a Mother’s Day sermon in church and wondered why fathers didn’t have a day as well. Her father was a Civil War veteran who raised six children after his wife died. She thought he deserved better.

So she organized a church service the next June, her father’s birth month, and the idea caught on. Father’s Day was recognized by President Wilson in 1916, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Congress in 1956, and President Johnson in 1966, but it still wasn’t an official holiday until Richard Nixon signed the day into law in 1972. 58 years after Mother’s Day, fathers finally had their day as well. And the collect calls which go with it.

To state the obvious, none of us would be here today without a father. That’s true physically, of course, but it’s also more true spiritually than you may know. When Mom goes to church but Dad does not, just five percent of kids become regular worshipers. When both worship regularly, 33 percent of kids do the same. Here’s the surprise: when Dad is faithful but Mom is not, 44 percent of the kids end up as regular worshipers. I’m not dismissing the mothers from today’s service, just commending fathers for being here.

This is a day for encouraging fathers and all of us who are their children. Fathers face unprecedented time and financial pressures these days. With modern technology, no place exempts us from work. The global economy is more unpredictable than ever before, as recent weeks have proven. Our children are busier than ever in human history. We’re raising them in a culture which disavows absolute truth and objective morality. We could use some encouragement. So could our families. Today our Father has some gifts to offer–gifts every father needs. And the rest of us as well.

Fight your battles in his strength

John’s vision begins, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse” (v. 11a). In the ancient world, a white horse was always ridden by the conqueror in a triumphal march after the war was won. The Parthians, Rome’s most dreaded enemy, were especially known for riding white horses. For Jesus to ride such an animal into conquest was a clear signal to John’s readers that the Empire would be destroyed and Jesus would win the victory.

And so would they: “The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean ” (v. 14). In verse 8 we are told, “fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.” We are righteous, pure, holy, and victorious.

The One we worship and trust comes to triumph with total, global authority: “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter'” (v. 15). The latter phrase is a direct quote from Psalm 2:9, a promise the Jewish rabbis all took to predict the coming Messiah. As he spoke the universe into existence with his words, so he will destroy this fallen world with his words. He needs no bow, arrow, shield or spear. His word is enough to win the day.

So it will be when Jesus returns. But remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Our Lord possesses this day all the power he will possess on that day. Here are a few examples of that promise:

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6).

“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10).

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

“Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

“Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God'” (Luke 18:27).

Where do you need his power and victory in your life this morning? Patrick Morley’s bestselling books on men document some of the issues we’re facing today. We struggle with identity: Are we what we do? How much we make? How well we succeed? How do we relate effectively to our wives and children? How do we handle money and time pressures? How do we deal with temperament problems: pride, fear, anger, guilt? How do we maintain integrity in our secret thoughts and private lives?

Name the battles you’re fighting today–the temptations, struggles, issues in your soul and life.

Now mount the white horse of Jesus’ power in your life. Put on the white linen of his presence and peace. Get out the sword of his mouth and word, and live by its truth. Give your trial or test to him, and ask him for the courage and character you need.

Refuse to be discouraged. Today is not the day you’ll quit the battle. As you work, God works. As you are obedient to his last word to you, his word wins the fight. Refuse the self-sufficiency of our culture, and fight your battles in his strength. This is his invitation and hope for you today.

A few years ago I invited Dr. Ron Scates, the senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, to be the speaker for our Men’s Bible Study kick-off breakfast. I asked him to discuss “lessons learned the hard way.” I’ll never forget the first one he gave us. He told us about the day when his little girl drowned in a scuba diving tank at a sporting goods store. He looked at the gym filled with men and said, “Men, I’ve been to the bottom, and the bottom holds.” It still does.

The Most Important Questions on Earth

The Most Important Question on Earth

Revelation 21:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

A dear friend sent me this story. A man says, “I’ve been married 25 years. I took a look at my wife one day and said, ‘Honey, 25 years ago we had a cheap apartment, a cheap car, slept on a sofa bed and watched a 10-inch black and white TV, but I got to live with a hot 25 year old blonde. Now we have a nice house, nice car, big bed and plasma screen TV, but I’m living with a 50 year old woman. It seems to me that you are not holding up your side of things.’

“My wife is a very reasonable woman. She told me to go out and find a hot 25 year old blonde, and she would make sure that I would once again be living in a cheap apartment.”

Some discussions are just not worth having. We should declare victory and go home, because we’re going to lose, anyway. Other discussions are crucial to our lives, families, and future.

We learned this week that North Korea is close to testing a long-range ballistic missile launch. South Dakota voters this fall will decide the fate of a law which would ban most abortions in the state; other states will be watching closely. Iran is being urged to suspend its uranium enrichment program. We could go on.

But none of these issues, as vital as they are, is as significant as the discussion we need to have this morning. We’re going to talk today about the most important question on earth. I need to ask it with you, and show you why it is so vital to your life today.

What is heaven like?

Let’s set out the context and parameters for our discussion. Our text talks about heaven. We’ve been watching Jesus reveal himself to us through the Revelation, not as The DaVinci Code’s human prophet but as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Today he wants to show us his home.

First, his word says that heaven is a real place. John said, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14.2).

Heaven is a real place.

Second, heaven is a blessed place (v. 4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well. There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more. You’ll be glad you’re there.

Third, heaven is a place of great reward. Jesus told us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). The psalmist testified, “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). Our reward is forever, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

Is heaven real?

Now, let’s see if we believe everything we’ve learned thus far. Raise your hand if you believe in heaven. But I’m afraid there’s a “but.” In the back of your mind, is there ever a glimmer of doubt that maybe it’s not really true? That those you love who have died are really just dead? That this is all there is, and heaven is what we hope for but aren’t sure really exists?

I was in Houston a few months ago, and stopped at my father’s grave. The greatest tragedy of my life is that my father never met my sons. My spiritual side is sure he’s in heaven. My human side hopes so. I want there to be more than this. I want to see him again. I want him to meet my sons one day. I hope it’s true.

I’ve spoken with several people in recent weeks who tell me that they do not believe in an afterlife. Most of us are sophisticated, scientific people. It’s hard for many of us to believe what we cannot understand or verify through our experience, science, or logic. It’s hard to believe what we cannot prove.

Freud said that God is a projection of our need for an ideal father. By extension, heaven is a projection of our need to live forever. We conjure up the concept to make ourselves feel better about our finite time on earth.

Marx called religion the “opiate of the people.” Unfortunately, he’s sometimes right. During the horrific days of slavery, a slaveowner was happy for his slaves to believe that they would be rewarded in heaven if they were obedient on earth.

When I’ve thought about this issue in the past, it’s always comforted me to remember that every culture known to history has a sense of something beyond this world.

It’s impossible to find a civilization which doesn’t believe in life beyond this life. Pascal said that there’s a “God-shaped emptiness” inside us all; Augustine observed that our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

But what if that’s because we all share the same need to believe that there’s something more, the same horror at the idea that this is all there is? When we stand at the grave of someone we love, our hearts break at the thought that we’ll never see them again. So we believe in heaven because we need to believe in heaven, the same way we believe in peace even though our world is always at war. What if that’s all it is–a belief?

We can say that even if heaven isn’t real, believing in it is a good thing. It gives us hope, something to look forward to, a way to be comforted. The people I know who don’t believe in heaven don’t mind if I do. “Whatever gets you through the day.” Believe what you need to believe. So let’s move on, hoping that heaven is real. If we’re right, we’ll rejoice forever. If we’re wrong, we’ll never know it. What have we got to lose?