This sermon was delivered on 4/09/16 by Chris Duke at Essendon Presbyterian Church. The article is from notes I took while listening so is not word for word, though I have tried to be accurate. I have also used an article called “Immanuel: the gospel according to Isaiah” from Creation Magazine (Creation 38(4) 2016).
Today’s message is centred around Mark 3:22-35:
22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. 23 And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. 27 No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. 28 Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29 but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: 30 Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
31 There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. 32 And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. 33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34 And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
A critical section of the Lord’s prayer is a request to Father God to forgive us of our sins. Sin is an offence to God. As God forgives us, we ask that we have the same gracious attitude to forgive others. Often, however, we resist forgiving, due mainly to pride. We tend to excuse our own behaviour though when we lack forgiveness whilst not excusing it in others.
Isn’t the gospel about God’s offer of forgiveness to sinners? God will forgive all our trespasses, so when we read in today’s passage that Jesus said one sin is unforgivable, isn’t this a contradiction? No. This passage ought to frighten the comfortable and comfort the frightened. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all proclaim that Jesus is God – 100% man and 100% very God, God in human flesh. Believing this and committing your life to Christ is the only way to escape hell and enter heaven. The evidence is very powerful and is laid down by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament and even the Old Testament.
For example, Isaiah 9:6-7 prophesied that Immanuel would be born in the house of David. He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23), He would be the servant of Yahweh from His earliest existence (Isaiah 49:1, 5). He would be holy and set apart for service to Yahweh, who would put His words in Immanuel’s mouth (Isaiah 49:2). He would be extraordinarily wise, and would be filled with God’s Spirit (Isaiah 11:1). Immanuel would “refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:15), which no mere person does consistently. This is an indication that Immanuel would not be a mere man; even the extraordinarily righteous men in the Bible were still sinners. Immanuel’s birth makes it clear that He would not be an ordinary person, and His name means “God with us”, meaning that His birth would signify God’s presence with His people in a special way. He is called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Someone with these titles could be no less than God Himself.
Though there would be signs to point to the truth of Immanuel’s identity, He would seem to be a normal person; He would not be obviously divine (Isaiah 53:2). And Israel would ultimately reject Him, as Israel had rejected Yahweh for idols in Isaiah’s day, subjecting Him to humiliation and ultimately death. He would be beaten so badly that He would be disfigured (Isaiah 52:14).
Yet all this would be in line with the will of Yahweh (Isaiah 53:10); and it’s because it is the will of Yahweh that Immanuel would not resist (Isaiah 50:6; 53:7). Immanuel would be shamed temporarily, but Yahweh Himself would vindicate Immanuel, and He would be honoured eternally (Isaiah 50:7-9, 53:12).
The purpose of the shaming and death of Immanuel would be to pay for the sins of Yahweh’s people, both among the Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 53). Immanuel would never sin, so His death could count for the payment of the sins of many others. This sacrifice would bring in a new covenant, in which Jews and Gentiles who believe in Yahweh and His Son share equally in eternal life (Isaiah 56:3, 6-7).
One of the most well-known events recorded is Isaiah’s vision of Yahweh’s glory (in Isaiah 6:1-4):
6 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
3 And one cried unto another, and said,
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.
4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
John says that this was actually a vision of the pre-incarnate Son (John 12:37-41). While Immanuel would not manifest His true glory, He nevertheless possesses it (and the Transfiguration was one instance where Jesus’ true glory shone through).
Because Immanuel paid the price for His people’s sins, He is able to usher in a restoration of the entire earth. Reigning on David’s throne, He judges all nations. The earth itself is restored to an Edenic state where there is no more carnivory or predation, and snakes will not pose a threat to even the smallest children (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25). In that time, all false Gods will be humiliated and all idols will be destroyed never to be worshipped again.
When we properly understand how Christ is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, we can see that the Gospel is not new, or an idea foreign to the Old Testament. It is possible to preach the gospel from Isaiah or from other books of the Old Testament – as did Christ Himself (Luke 24:13-35), Philip (Acts 8:26-39) and especially Paul (eg. Acts 17:2-3) – if we see how they point to Jesus.
The evidence is powerful as well when demonstrated and lived out in Jesus’ three-year life and ministry. There were healings, deliverances from demons, raising of the dead, all pointing to the fact that Jesus is God. Yet the human heart and human mind is often blinded and dead to the truth. Some people made the right response but most didn’t. People today just want to ignore the historical Jesus, stating that He was merely a good man. But He was more than this, He said He was God. And by saying this He eliminated Himself from the category of the good and the reasonable. And if we eliminate this we are left with Him being either a lunatic or a liar. Yet isn’t it interesting that 2,000 years after He walked the earth, Christianity is still flourishing in the West?
Verse 33 of today’s passage reads:
And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?
Jesus is here saying that the only relationship that matters to me is a spiritual relationship. A blood relationship alone to me won’t get you into the Kingdom. Whoever does God’s will is related to me.
If your conclusion about Jesus is that He is a lunatic, you don’t have a relationship with Him. Many who reached this conclusion later repented (after His resurrection, when all the data was in).
What if you conclude that He was a liar? Verse 22 of today’s passage reads:
22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
So the religious leaders of Israel said this. The brains trust of Judaism went after Jesus. They didn’t like His message or what He was doing. They conspired to kill Him as He went about healing on the Sabbath. He was doing miracles, teaching the good news of the Kingdom, spreading the good news of salvation: and the religious elites hated Him for it. So they sent out a delegate who concluded that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebub. They didn’t conclude that He was insane, interestingly enough, as this wouldn’t explain the supernatural. His power over demons and disease had to be accounted for: it was either due to God or Satan. Sadly, these leaders were unwilling to say Jesus’ power was due to God. Instead they called him a name for Satan, Beelzebub. This name came from the word Baal, meaning “Lord.” This was the god of the Ekronites, the Philistines worshiped him. A more proper rendering of the name might be Baalsebub or “Lord of the High Place.” Effectively what these leaders were calling Jesus was Lord of the dung, Lord of the flies, all terms for Satan.
Jesus’ response to this is given in verse 23. He says effectively, how can Satan drive out Satan? This is a logical impossibility. Good teachers such as the Lord ask questions that make students think, that put them on the horns of a dilemma. Jesus does this here. He in effect says, “Satan wouldn’t expose people with demons and cast them out. This would destroy both himself and his enterprise.”
Verse 27 brings a positive message from Jesus: you have to be stronger than Satan to get his power:
27 No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.
There is only one who is stronger than Satan and that’s God. In effect then, Jesus was saying, I am God. So no Jesus isn’t a lunatic or a deceptive liar who represents hell. The only other option is that He is God, He is Lord.
Verse 29 reads:
29 but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
The unforgivable sin then is that Jesus is demonic. Those who believed this went to hell for that. If that’s your final conclusion after the full revelation of scripture and the gospel have been given to you, then you can never be forgiven. This was a very unusual circumstance in that the religious leaders were blaspheming the Holy Spirit directly by saying Jesus was demonic.
Yet we know with Jesus that whatever He did was the Father’s will and was done via the Holy Spirit:
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
What about today? Could someone today commit the unforgivable sin? Yes of course they could. We’ve all been forgiven for rejecting Christ at some stage in our lives, before we were born again. The comforting truth is that if you’re frightened that you’ve committed this sin then you most certainly have not. If you’re comfortable and not spiritually convicted, however, you need to receive Christ today:
God: can be quite intriguing…. Psalm 42:1-2 (KJV) “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” As sinners in a sinful world, we get drawn by God to enter relationship with […]
“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”
— extra stanza —
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about quality of life issues lately. More specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out why some people that (in the natural) possess virtually everything we think would make for a good quality of life, yet they’re miserable. Conversely, many others have almost none of the ingredients that we think must be in the mix for a good quality of life, but they seem perfectly content.
I think about this issue more and more as life with ALS becomes an even greater challenge. If ALS takes its natural course, the victim will die of respiratory failure. The muscles needed to breathe become weaker and weaker to the point where you just can’t breathe anymore. Oftentimes the flu or pneumonia are just too much for those with advanced ALS and can speed up this respiratory failure.
This post reminds me that many of God’s most faithful followers praised Him while IN the fiery furnace, not when they were safely delivered from it. The following scripture comes to mind: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8 whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: 9 receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)
As I’ve said in other posts, I do not believe that God causes trials. But He clearly does allow difficult times to come upon even those that are closest to Christ. (If you don’t believe this, please study the life of the Apostle Paul).
When you read the Old Testament, especially the book of Job, you’ll find that people of those times believed trials and tribulations only came upon the ungodly. Most of the book of Job is his so-called “friends” trying to figure out what Job did or didn’t do to deserve these horrible trials. Poor Job sits at their feet scraping his boils trying to defend himself against their baseless accusations.
Trials humble us and expose self-righteousness in others and in ourselves.
I’m thankful that I don’t have friends like Job. Today, when looking upon those going through difficult trials, the humbled believer will likely think,
I came across a beautifully written article today about Peter Kassig, an American aid worker who was recently executed by ISIS. Reproduced it here, with full accreditation. May it be a blessing to you.
By Leonard Pitts Jr.
What, in the name of God?
It is a question that demands asking, that haunts this most recent atrocity.
Ordinarily, it is only rhetorical, something you might say if you came home to find police cars parked in front of your house. But it takes on a painful literalness following the latest video from the Islamic State, or ISIS, the barbarian army of extremists that has swept through Syria and Iraq.
What, in the name of God?
The answer is bitterly simple. They killed Peter Kassig, that’s what. They lopped off his head and displayed the results on a new video. This, supposedly, on God’s behalf.
No, neither the decapitation nor the video is a first. We still grieve Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded in Pakistan 12 years ago. More recently, ISIS has made this sort of murder porn ubiquitous.
Other known victims include James Foley and Steven Sotloff, both American journalists, David Haines and Alan Henning, both British aid workers, Herve Gourdel, a French hiker, and many others, including soldiers from Syria and Lebanon. Each was someone’s child and each, presumably, left a hole in someone’s life.
But the story of Peter Kassig, the sad courage with which his parents spoke to the world this week upon the death of their only child, suggests something that seems to need saying in the face of all this grisly cruelty, something about the things we do in God’s name.
Kassig, who was 26, first went to the Middle East as an Army Ranger. He returned as a volunteer after his discharge to use his skills as a medical technician to treat victims of Syria’s civil war. Why would he do this? Because he felt a call. Because it needed doing.
As he told CNN in 2012, “We each get one life, and that’s it. You get one shot at this. You don’t get any do-overs. For me, it was time to put up or shut up. The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I’m just a hopeless romantic and I’m an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes.” Or, just a man who believed in something larger than his own life.
Monday, in the wake of his death, his parents, Paula and Ed, met the media at their longtime church in Indianapolis and you could see where he got it from.
They called him Abdul-Rahman, the name he took upon his conversion to Islam. His father quoted Jesus’ admonition from the book of John: “Greater love hath no man than this: to lay down his life for another.” His mother said with an assurance that lifted you as tides lift boats, “Our hearts are battered, but they will mend. The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end and good will prevail as the one God of many names will prevail.” His father asked for prayer. He said the family would “mourn, cry, and yes, forgive.”
“Forgive,” he said. It is arguably the most difficult dictate of faith. No one would blame them if they didn’t even try. But they say they will.
What, in the name of God?
In 1862, mired in America’s most ruinous war, Abraham Lincoln mused on God’s role in the tragedy. “In great contests,” he wrote, “each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.”
The observation feels freshly relevant as you juxtapose the bloody charnel house of the Middle East with the quiet faith of one family from the Upper Midwest.
What in the name of God?
Well, ISIS commits murder.
But the Kassig family is driven to serve strangers halfway around the world, to whisper hope in the midst of nightmare, forgiveness in the unendurable moment. And to seek prayer.
“Both may be and one must be wrong,” said Lincoln. He was right. And one is.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Kassig is currently being held as a hostage by ISIS (Islamic state).
He converted to Islam during his imprisonment yet he was recently shown in the execution video of aid worker Alan Henning. From all reports ISIS are planning to murder Peter some time in the near future.
Peter is a gentle soul, a self described “hopeless romantic and idealist” who desperately needs to find Jesus before his life is taken. Peter has found comfort in Islam, so he is a man of faith, but he has faith in the wrong God. Please help me pray for him to be shown God’s true character, love and mercy in the person of Jesus Christ.
In 2012 Peter founded a humanitarian aid group called SERA (Special Emergency Response and Assistance), so he is also a person with a strong social conscience. The non-governmental organisation, based in Gaziantep, Turkey, but not currently functional, provided food and medical supplies for refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war.
Please help me pray for Peter’s life to be spared and for his salvation. His soul is hanging in the balance.
Please also help me pray for Peter’s captors, that they would receive repentance unto life as well and be saved.
Thank you for listening and helping with this need.
Together we can petition the Lord for mercy for all concerned.
Update from 06/10/2014:
I was heartened to see several prayer sites for Peter and other ISIS captives have sprung up on Facebook. Many caring Christians are praying for his salvation and release, along with that of other captives.
Peter’s parents have released a letter he has written in captivity. In the letter, Peter wrote: “I am obviously pretty scared to die but the hardest part is not knowing, wondering, hoping, and wondering if I should even hope at all….I am very sad that all this has happened and for what all of you back home are going through…If I do die, I figure that at least you and I can seek refuge and comfort in knowing that I went out as a result of trying to alleviate suffering and helping those in need…In terms of my faith, I pray every day and I am not angry about my situation in that sense.” The letter – which the parents received on 2 June – ends with the words: “I love you.”
Please keep Peter in prayer, that he would be given the gospel message by caring believers and that he would believe in Christ due to God’s grace. God can work miracles and hears our prayers, He is good and merciful and desires that all men should be saved. Please also keep Peter’s captors in prayer, the members of ISIS. They are desperately lost and in need of salvation too. They are our enemies now for the sake of the gospel and humanity but Christ instructed us to pray for our enemies, to bless them, and to do the very best we can for them for their highest good (which is spiritual). Matthew 5:43-48 says it all.
I pray that soon we will have good news concerning Peter (or Abdul-Rahman, as he prefers to be known as since his conversion to Islam) and his captors.
Update from 10/10/2014:
I’ve recently been reading an inspiring book on the work Christ is doing in the Middle East currently, to draw people to faith in Him. It’s called “Breakthrough” by Tom Doyle. In the book, Tom mentions that church congregations in the Middle East are particularly strong now because they are experiencing intense persecution. Acts of God and miracles are witnessed frequently by believers in response to prayer in the Middle East. So tonight the Lord moved me to contact several Messianic Jewish congregations (Hasdey Yeshua, Tents of Mercy, Harvest of Asher, Beit Hayeshua and Rachel Netanel) to enlist their compassion and spiritual strength in petitioning the Lord for mercy for Abdul-Rahman, other captives, and the members of ISIS.
I tried also to contact Palestinian believers but could not find any listed online (though I know they exist and are just as fervent in their faith and prayer as Messianic congregations). Perhaps I don’t know the key words to search for. If anyone can enlighten me here please feel free to comment below.
Please keep Abdul-Rahman (Peter Kassig), the other captives, and their captors in your thoughts and prayers. It saddened me recently to see that the most fervent prayer response for them seems to be from the Muslim community who, although well-intentioned, worship a God who is false and cannot save souls.
Update from 29/10/2014:
It has been 26 days since Alan Henning’s execution video became public, and Abdul-Rahman was threatened to be the next victim. However, new videos put out by ISIS (see http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/10/isis-shifts-their-social-media-patterns/381988/) give no information on his status. The other beheading videos were all released about two weeks apart. A number of calls have been made to spare Abdul’s life — he is an aid worker and devout Muslim. Even Abu Omar Aqidi, a high ranking official in the al-Qaeda sect Jabhat al-Nusra, has called for his release. ISIS is known for its well-organized social media activity, yet it seems to be slowly changing patterns, which to the eyes of faith is evidence of God’s great mercy.
Please continue for the Lord Jesus’ spirit to continue working in the hearts and minds of ISIS, their captives and the people ISIS are warring against, so that as many people as possible come to Christ and are saved.
Update from 17/11/2014:
Last night I checked my phone and saw updates from a Facebook prayer site for Peter Kassig. They stated some very sad news, he has apparently been executed by ISIS. A friend said the lack of a propaganda statement in Peter’s death video suggested he had defied his captors. Michael Downey, a close friend from Beirut said: “I think he refused. He was a man of principle and wouldn’t give into intimidation from thugs. He never took the easy route.”
Kindly keep Peter Kassig’s family in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you to everyone who prayed for this request.
I thought I’d write a brief posting on how the Lord Jesus has lead me to cope with a recent dry spiritual spell, as this may help and encourage others going through similar things.
Recently I had a situation where I felt dried up and lacking in faith, it was really quite difficult to push through. Then the Lord brought the following scripture passages to mind, quietly, while I was reading the Bible. He reminded me that steeping myself in the Word of God and prayer is essential – not optional – for maintaining a strong spiritual life. Faith grows from this:
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.
I hope the above has brought as much strength and comfort to you as it did me. If you ever feel weak in faith, or lacking in spiritual strength, just reflect on the above passages then turn to intense meditation and prayer upon the Word of God. You will grow by the milk of the Word. As it is written:
1 Peter 2:2
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby
Please note that this testimony shows someone being repeatedly unfaithful to the Lord. I do not ever recommend this and believe that He stayed with me due to His love, truth and perfect faithfulness. As it is written: if we believe not, yet heabidethfaithful: he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
I have also struggled throughout this testimony to confess my most besetting type of sin, that of sexual immorality. Again I must warn about this. It has taken me just over 16 years to realise that I have demons due to sexual sin. The Lord has repeatedly tried to have me repent and follow Him, please join me in praying that I do so as soon as possible.
Childhood faith in Jesus
When I was a young girl, around 4-6 years of age (approximately), my parents witnessed the story of Christ’s crucifixion to me. I was very little and humble, as most kids are, and I believed the truth of what I heard immediately.
My parents later read me stories from the “Children’s Bible” and I took to them wholeheartedly. I used to gaze at pictures of the boy prophet Samuel and imagine that I too could minister to the Lord as a child priest. I sometimes practiced acts requiring great faith such as dividing the Red Sea with an imaginary staff, as Moses did, or keeping evil vampires at bay with a crucifix. I remember saying aloud – as a child’s honest prayer to God – that I wanted to be an Israelite, a follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I also remember several instances in time where God’s Holy Word was exposed to me and, by His grace alone, made an incredible impact upon me. I hadn’t yet read the adult Bible for myself but I knew that the words I was seeing were spiritually critical. For example, I was watching television one day when the following line of scripture flashed upon the screen, impressing itself upon my heart as the truth:
And I John saw the holy city, newJerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.(Revelation 21:2)
Another incident occurred in the early to mid 1980s. I was again watching television when the popular group Wham flashed on the screen and I noticed that both singers were wearing white t-shirts with the words “choose life” on them. This short phrase made an indelible impression on me but it was only many years later that I came to understand that it too was from the Bible, specifically, Deuteronomy 30:19:
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore chooselife, that both thou and thy seed may live
Also in the 1980’s my beloved grandmother on my father’s side of the family died of cancer. Shortly after her death I saw a Bible her husband, my grandfather, had given to her. He had inscribed it with words similar to the following, “I can see you growing every day Sylvia in kindness and compassion due to God’s Word.” And I noticed that he had posted up a beautiful and inspiring saying on his modest living room wall. When I saw it it was as if my eyes couldn’t stop taking it in. It read:
I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.
For those who are curious, the above is popularly attributed to Stephen Grellet, a prominent Quaker missionary. My grandfather lived out the saying by volunteering to maintain people’s gardens for nothing in the street that he lived in. He also became a lay preacher at one of his town’s local churches.
At this stage my response to both the Old and New Testaments (or what I could glean from them via the Children’s Bible) was genuine and fervent. I believed in Jesus Christ wholeheartedly, telling my parents that I wished I could sit at His feet and listen to His teachings. One interesting experience I had was when I was ill with a fever one day. I remember putting my hand out and praying earnestly to Christ, from my whole heart, to heal me. I then sensed an invisible presence move towards me comfortingly, and the fever left me so that I was able to fall into a restful sleep.
During my primary school years I tried to live out Jesus’ teachings: loving God first and foremost with all your heart, then loving your neighbour as yourself. But I struggled with pride, self-will and fear of rejection. I was also very rebellious, saying one day proudly to my father, “I don’t need to follow God, I can do things myself” (or words to that effect). My father just looked at me steadily, with a slight smile on his face, and said quietly, “You’ll come back to it.”
I should add that I also remember several unpleasant spiritual experiences that occurred to me in the wake of finding faith in Jesus. I suffered from bad dreams occasionally, including dreaming that my bed was spinning around on its own axis and levitating: I now know that these experiences were demonic but believe the Lord didn’t suffer them to continue as I was too young at that stage to understand what was occurring.
My parents were very strict with me growing up, in an attempt to teach me obedience and respect for authority (both of which are necessary to find faith in God and keep His commandments). At the time, however, I didn’t understand the purpose behind their strictness, so felt miserable, unloved and rebellious (Proverbs 23:13-14, Hebrews 5:8, Matthew 18:3).
During my childhood I was exposed to people of faith on both sides of my family – both sets of grandparents were Christians in fact – but the person who made the biggest impression on me was my grandmother on my mother’s side, Mary. Mary was quiet and gentle (1 Peter 3:4), with a forgiving sense of humour when laughed at or provoked. She was also humble – my mother often talked about how well Mary kept house, even scrubbing the stone step on her knees when it needed cleansing (1 Timothy 5:14).
As a child who often had tantrums and other fits of bad temper, I found it incredible when my mother told me of Mary’s patience: she once made my mother a very elaborate meal of rissoles then quietly took it away when Mum didn’t want it anymore. She had the true fruit of the Spirit that every real Christian is to have (Colossians 3:12-17).
When Mary died my mother gave me the source of all her patience and good character – her faith in her Saviour Jesus, stemming from her King James Bible.
We never went to church regularly during my childhood but Mum always ensured that we kept up remembrance of God through saying grace before each meal:
“Lord make us truly thankful,
For what we are about to receive,
For Christ’s sake,
High school to University
I vacillated between being a faithful Christian, drawn to the Lord Jesus and His Father, and being agnostic.
At University, I had a deep longing to be loved, due to my misunderstanding of my parents’ strictness in trying to teach me obedience to authority. When I met my future husband at 18, he said to me, “I don’t believe in God.” At the time his statement caused my spirit to shift uncomfortably but the human drive within me to be loved was so strong that I overrode the spirit. I remember consciously choosing to love an unbelieving man over God.
I fell in love with this man – Luther – and retained a vague thankfulness to some higher authority (though I was no longer a believer) for the many joys I experienced in life.
Yet I was struggling intellectually and spiritually at University. I noticed that as students progressed in the course I was studying (Medicine), they became less friendly and cooperative with each other, more ambitious. Their characters seemed to change, and not for the better to my eyes. I also struggled with the demands of study, failing several subjects and having to repeat them. Other students seemed to have less difficulty with their memories but mine troubled me.
In the end I dropped out of Medicine half-way through 5th year, then took a break. With my boyfriend Luther’s encouragement I took up a new course, IT, which I hoped I would be better suited to.
In the late 1990’s, while I was studying IT, my brother Ben invited me to join a karate school he was attending. This I did, though I had some concerns about the characters of the people running the school. My then boyfriend Luther expressed it best by saying that there was “something stinky” about the instructor, and he was cautious of him therefore.
I later found out that the instructor was molesting some of his students/seducing them, plus having affairs on his wife. There were rumours that he had placed cameras in the girls’ change-rooms, which added to a palpable sense of evil and dread that I had whenever I entered the school.
I now believe the school was almost overrun by demons of fornication and evil. It took almost all of my remaining strength to leave the school (and not be overcome by its seductive, carnal pull) but I was damaged in all ways: physically, mentally and spiritually. I tried my best to fight what I sensed was evil in the school by going to a detective (to check for hidden cameras), then to the police. However, none of it did any good. It was a hard lesson to learn but, as Christ Himself says, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Soon after I left the karate school my boyfriend (who then became my husband) Luther got transferred overseas. I was told I could go with him, but we had to be married to do so.
At first I was rebellious about marrying, then, when we were, I felt happy to be a wife with a husband. It felt right in my heart and soul. I married my first partner.
However, I was unable, try as I might, to find employment in the USA. I remember almost praying for a job (and being unconsciously angry at God, though I was not a believer at this stage), but none materialised. So I then decided to keep house and not be a burden to Luther. I washed and cleaned, surfing the Net when I had time.
One night Luther directed me to some writings by a man called Steve Kangas. They were on left wing politics. I started reading and became intrigued by Steve’s character. He was thoughtful to others, went the extra mile in his duties, gave to those in need, and died in the end for his cause. I quite literally fell in love with those aspects of his personality that I saw in his writings, becoming grief-stricken to the point where I saw no meaning in life any more once I realized he had either been murdered or suicided. As I said to my husband, Steve’s life and character “reminded me of God.” It was unbearable to me therefore that such a beautiful person had been trampled upon, thrown away forever. I then tried to keep Steve’s memory alive by building a website devoted to his writings. I tried to make peace between both the left and right sides of politics by including both viewpoints in the site.
The buffeting/damage I’d given myself spiritually at the karate school, plus the damage I took grieving for Steve, shifted my consciousness onto a different plane from the purely materialistic. One night I had a strange experience: I was drawn up from my bed and what felt like an arrow of fire pierced my chest, flooding my body with an oddly ecstatic feeling. I was then dropped back onto the bed. Later (perhaps that same night, I cannot now recall), I was awoken from sleep by a strange vision. The vision was of a golden egg which spoke to me and said, to the best of my recollection, that I would never fall sick again. In 2006 I wrote about these experiences here on this site: this was before I became a practicing Christian so please read what I wrote with care and discernment.
For a long time I believed that because the vision looked friendly and spoke nicely to me, that it must have a good source. It was only when I got a slight cold (after the promise that I’d never be sick again) that I began to doubt. I then wondered, “How can you tell if something behind a nice vision is good or evil?”
Around this time, while I was looking into the spiritual side of life, my brother gave me some books on New Age religion. I trusted my brother Ben, and knew very little about any kind of religious doctrine (except what little I could recall from my children’s Bible), so I embraced the teachings with an open mind and heart.
One night, after my husband and I had returned from the USA back to Australia, I was reading the New Age teachings when I had a strange experience. I felt descending upon me invisible hands, molesting my body. I had no control whatsoever over the hands, the experience was disgusting and terrifying. Though it felt physically pleasant, I knew it was wrong spiritually so burst into tears. I remember weeping to my husband, saying, “How can He (meaning God) love me now?” I felt soiled and unholy.
Return to Christianity – Orthodox Church
In the wake of the spiritual experience with the invisible hands, I began looking online for explanations. The only religion I found that described the kind of spiritual evil I was experiencing was Biblical Christianity: it called this evil demons. I was also concerned to read in the Bible that the “ascended masters” my brother Ben was following with his New Age religion were in reality demons from the pit of hell. Ben told me they were “flaming beings”, which fit exactly with how angels (including the fallen ones who sinned against God) are described in the Bible.
More out of terrified obedience than love (Psalm 111:10), I returned to Christianity, and then tried to find a faithful Church that stuck to a plain, literal interpretation of the Bible. I had what my husband described as a “conversion” and made the decision to follow the Lord first and foremost. My husband was very jealous at the time and kept asking who my “new man” was!
Before I found a church to join, I emailed my family (including my brother Ben) a warning on all world religions that were not Bible-believing Christianity. I told them I had found faith in Christ again after making a grave spiritual error and urged them to do the same. To my surprise and shock, all my siblings came around to my apartment and I immediately understood that they did not believe me but thought my faith was a sign of mental illness (Luke 12:51-53). There was a division now spiritually between myself and the rest of my family.
My family actually called the CAT team around to my apartment but I panicked, grabbed my handbag, and fled to a nunnery at an Orthodox Church I had been attending.
I was a faithful member of St Nicholas’ Antiochian Orthodox Church for at least 12 months, living as a novice in one of its nunneries, but eventually left. The reasons I left included the following:
1) The character of the Sister I was living with did not have the true fruits of the Spirit spoken of in the Bible eg. Galatians 5:22 and Ephesians 5:9.
In particular, she could not discern truth from error eg. she was convinced a Nigerian email scam letter was a genuine movement of God to give her money for a monastery.
She did not welcome visitors to the monastery with patience or gentleness but grew visibly irritated with them, as she felt they were interrupting her prayer time. She was even irritated with little children, when Jesus says children have the closest characters to people in heaven (Matthew 19:14).
She did not want to actively spread the gospel or minister to people, preferring to pray for “enlightenment” (or sanctification of the heart), over and over again, in solitude. The Bible calls such prayers “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7) and Jesus warns against doing this.
2) They had practices and traditions that made the Word of God of non-effect, or profaned it eg. selling “holy” water for money. The latter contradicts Christ’s commandment to His disciples in Matthew 10:8, “Freely have ye received (of the Holy Ghost), freely give.”
After leaving the Orthodox Church, I attended many other Christian, Bible-believing churches in Melbourne. I was trying to obey the commandment in Hebrews 10:25 to not forsake assembling together with other believers. However, problems ensued. I quite literally found no church in Melbourne where people were willing to follow the examples of Christ and His apostles/followers (including Paul) and become “conformed to the image of His Son.” Romans 8:29 states that God the Father picked souls He knew would accept Christ during their earthly lives, and that He planned for these souls to be refashioned in the image of His dear Son. To do this, they would have to live lives patterned after that of Christ and His followers (such as Paul), who knew they worshipped a holy, merciful, just and fearsome God (Acts 17:22-28). Those lives should be filled with the fruits of the Spirit in each person’s character, leading to good deeds based on faith (Galatians 5:22, James 2:22). Their lives should be self-sacrificial, directed to loving the one true God first and foremost (as His nature is revealed through close reading of the Old and New Testaments), then your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:25-28).
Yet many churches I joined were worldly (1 John 2:15, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Colossians 3:2) or else had fallen away from the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). The latter was of grave concern to me spiritually as it indicated that the existence of “watered down” (or apostate) Christianity, mingled with other religions into one big, unholy, mass, heralded the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. The Bible prophecies that the Antichrist will head up a one-world religion (with “lying signs and wonders” – such as the one I was given in the USA – behind it, as per 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10), which will deceive everyone who is not a true follower of Christ.
True followers of Christ will be persecuted, as they stick to living out the simple truths of God’s Words in the Holy Scriptures, but are exhorted by Christ to be faithful to Him “unto death” and they will inherit eternal life (Revelation 2:10).
We are exhorted to live holy, humble, self-sacrificial lives in obedience to God’s Words in both the Old and New Testaments (but especially the New). We are told we must love God and our neighbour with everything we’ve got, and that our hearts must not be divided, or we just won’t have the kind of faith that stands up to persecution and death (Luke 6:49).
But we need to be actively striving, with everything we’ve got, to live humble, separate from the world (ie. holy), blameless lives – the straight and narrow gate to heaven (Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:24). If we do not work with God’s Holy Spirit to transform our characters by living out His commandments (see Christ’s sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7), we will become foolish virgins or unprofitable servants (Matthew 25:1-3, Matthew 25:24-30).
It is not that doing things makes us right in God the Father’s eyes. Rather that, faith that Jesus redeemed the fleshy, bodily side of us by coming to earth as the perfect Man (as He was also God), then sacrificing Himself on the cross…this faith in what Christ did means believers can have fellowship with the Father again. If Christ had not sacrificed Himself (1 Peter 1:19), nothing any human could have done would ever have made them right in the Father’s eyes. This is because even our best and truest acts have traces of selfishness (or sin ie. not doing God’s will but your own) in them. So we are covered by Christ’s blood in the same way that the Israelites were covered by the Passover lamb’s blood on their door lintels in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:23). I’m sorry if this explanation isn’t very good or detailed. Basically, you just have to trust that Christ’s sacrifice makes you OK in the Father’s eyes, freeing you up to wholeheartedly do good deeds in His eyes. Then, as Christ knows who you are (because you genuinely lived your whole life patterned after His, even up to your death), you can stand before Him on Judgement Day (James 2:22, Luke 21:36, Ephesians 6:13, Revelation 6:17) and be accepted before His Father.
One existing false Christ
Maitreya. This being sits behind New Age religion and is a so-called “World Teacher” whom many non-Christian religions are waiting for. His symbol is a six-pointed star (hexagram) and his powers come straight from Satan. I have read there will be a “Day of Declaration” where he will telepathically message everyone on the planet to pretend that he is the one true God…however, we shouldn’t focus too much on him but on living holy, blameless lives to ensure we serve the real Jesus Christ so are kept from worshipping the Antichrist or False Christs (Revelation 3:10, Revelation 7:3, Revelation 9:4). If we know who the real God is (holy, humble, merciful, self-sacrificing, just), we won’t fall for an imposter.
Christ Himself warned of the existence of False Christs at the end of the age, and said He has already given us the sign of His coming (His death and resurrection). So signs and wonders, and people claiming to be Christ today, are sent to test out who God’s real followers are: Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22, Matthew 12: 38-40.
There are instructions in the New Testament on how Christian men and women are to live their lives. Scriptures for women:
After leaving the Orthodox Church in 2004, I struggled to find a church in Melbourne that was really keeping Christ’s commandments. In fact, I could find none that were. Exhausted and disillusioned, still suffering from demons, I fell away from faith. I went back to the world (ie. got a job), reunited with my husband (we had separated when I went to the nunnery), and “slumbered and slept” spiritually (Matthew 25:1-12). I saw a psychiatrist instead of praying to the Lord, though the drugs she gave me did not help at all.
Interestingly, when I reunited with my husband he refused to go near me physically, hence we both became celibate. We still loved each other, and still do, but I believe the hand of the Lord was there to prevent me falling into further sin/fornication. As I’d married outside the Lord, and was still suffering from demons of fornication, I could not be with my husband physically and be OK spiritually.
As time passed, and the celibacy/abstinence continued, the torment of the demons lessened noticeably. I have now been celibate for 9 years and the sensations are much less than when I first began.
A combination of factors occurred most recently to bring me to faith:
Feeling uncomfortable in a “leadership” role
I have never liked being a leader, and am in fact a happy helper and natural follower.
At NAB, I was put into a leadership role over men, which really embarrassed me. I felt bossy and lacking in authority.
As Christ commands us to be servants who minister to each other, the above was going against what people should be like in the Kingdom of God. Hence my feeling uncomfortable with it.
Being physically/carnally pressured by 2 men in the team at NAB.
This brought back memories of the spiritual darkness I fought at the karate school.
One of the guys kept putting his hands on me. Though it was non-intimate, I felt very uncomfortable. I only like my husband and my cat Buster touching me – people/creatures I know very well and trust.
The other guy was a Christian, though in the Catholic Church. Though I was a non-believer at the time, I saw that he was not truly living the teachings of Christ. He was eating lots of food, staring at my body and lips, and talking about how much “fun” it would be to see prostitutes in Thailand.
All of the above stirred up my spirit and made me realise that I agreed with all of the values held in the Bible eg. it is good to be spiritual and not earthly or carnal, it is good to be faithful to your spouse, etc.
My husband then went overseas for 2 weeks to the USA, so I had lots of time on my own. This lead to contemplating where I was going in life and I realised I was craving stillness and solitude. I saw that I was very unhappy and wanted to turn away from the world completely: I hated it.
I then came across a picture of Michael the Archangel on the Internet, striking with his sword. The purity and inexorable decisiveness of what he was doing struck me – the beauty of holiness. I was drawn to him due to what he represented and slowly found myself drawn back to the Bible. At one stage I even heard myself say happily, “The Bible is a beautiful book, so much wisdom is in it…though I’m not a believer.”
It was then like there was a battle between two sides of me, the physical and the spiritual. A line from the Bible struck me and I burst into tears: “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20). When I read this, I knew I did have faith (or, rather, that I had been given it by God) and I had to then make a choice.
Around this time the Lord spoke to me quietly. He said, “I am Jesus and I am God. Follow Me.” I remember consciously choosing the seed of faith in my heart over the logical mind (which was battling my heart). I said to the Lord, “This will be difficult because my husband is not a believer, but I’ll try. I promise to try.”
So it was that I came back again to faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour. I pray that this is where I will remain eternally, and not just me but others I have met (such as you) who I care about.
2013 – 2016: Hearing Negative Voices
From 2013 – early 2016 I worked at several jobs in an attempt to help my husband pay off our mortgage. I tried to keep following the Lord but the straw that broke the camel’s back was being sexually harassed by my male boss in an otherwise good role within IT. I felt horrible, as though I was in a place that was slowly strangling me spiritually.
One night in early 2016, after a period of intense stress at work, I heard what I thought were loud male voices coming from my roof. The voices were very aggressive and hostile. They told me that if I didn’t comply with their demands they would come down from the roof and strangle me, my husband and pet cat. The voices called me a whore, on the basis of sexual sins I had committed during my life, and that I was going to hell. Oddly enough, they then suggested that I call upon Jesus Christ in prayer. At the time I had wandered very far away from the Lord but took up this suggestion and started praying for the salvation of the evil voices as well as myself. The voices then began to leave me, one by one, claiming that they had been converted and now felt much freer and lighter spiritually.
I rang the police several times that night, as I believed the voices were actual people, but had no insight into the fact that no-one else could hear them and that I was unwell. I needed help and this lead to a visit by the CAT team and a period of recovery in hospital.
At the time I was hospitalised, I was deemed to be at risk due to the following:
I was giving authority to negative voices, and was highly distressed emotionally by what the voices were saying.
I became preoccupied with Christianity. I believed this helped me fight the voices in my head, who I then saw as evil spirits or demons who were trying to take my soul.
I withdrew from friends and activities I had previously been occupied with and enjoyed e.g. I resigned from my workplace and started spending lots of time alone in my room. I was also drinking to excess as a way to cope.
I had lost my sense of humour.
I was having problems sleeping as the voices would wake me up at night threatening to take me to hell. There were times when I didn’t think I’d make it through the night.
The burden of experiencing negative voices was so great I feared I would never work or be productive ever again. I knew that reading the Bible and praying comforted me but was devastated when the churches I reached out to (one in particular stands out as being particularly unsympathetic, Faith Baptist Church) were unable to cast out my demons. I remember being in tears after one prayer session, almost begging my fellow parishioners (who I saw as my spiritual and godly than myself) to pray for me.
One little light in this dark journey was the discovery of a fellow Christian blogger who had also been labelled as “mentally ill.” His name was Eric. He told me he too had been rejected from several churches but that he still loved Christ and Christ’s followers. Eric stood up for me when Faith Baptist Church effectively told me never to come back.
I now believe Faith Baptist Church, and many of its parishioners have a “form of godliness” but deny its power. The Bible instructs us to “turn away” from such places (2 Timothy 3:5).
Because I was hearing horrifyingly negative voices (which I knew in my heart and soul were demons bent on my destruction), it took years of struggle and heartache, and walking away from the Lord, for me to come to the slow realisation that I was in fact saved.
I remembered back to my childhood where I had heard negative voices then too saying that they were demons who were going to hell. I had no concept at all of what demons were at that age. Because they sometimes played chasey and other games with me, though they were invisible, I thought of them as trusted friends. So when I heard that they were going to a very bad place, hell, I offered to pray to God for them. Before I did, one of the demons said, “You’d sit on the edge of hell with me, wouldn’t you, and share the hot coals?” I said, “Yes”, though still did not feel that anything was untoward about the conversation. I believe the demons then tried to dissuade me from praying but I did to God anyway, asking if He could please let my friends into heaven too so we could be together. Shortly after this the demons told me that they would repeatedly rape me, once I was an adult, so I would understand that they could never be redeemed and that God had rightly condemned them.
Shortly after this incident with the demons a lovely new book came into my life. I believe it was from my godfather Victor, my grandfather. The book was a children’s Bible with much of the Word of God included, and I took to it immediately, as I’ve outlined at the beginning of this article. I was saved very early on in life, wholeheartedly accepting Christ as the way back to my Heavenly Father. And it is not the will of the Father that little ones such as myself who came to Him early should perish:
“Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:14).
Overcoming the world 2020
Because my husband and family are all at the moment in unbelief, though I pray for them daily, they view my faith in Christ as mental illness. As such, I have been forced to have stays in mental health units periodically within Australia. Being labelled as mentally ill when I just love and follow Christ seems terrible and unjust until you consider three scripture verses I would like to share with you. The Lord gave them to me while I was making a prayer request for Helen, a friend who also loves the Lord and has many painful physical conditions. God the Father is breaking us down and remaking us in the image of His Son. Here are the scriptures to meditate on:
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29, King James Bible)
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9, King James Bible)
11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:11, King James Bible)
I particularly love Revelation 12:11 as it maps out the path Christ sets us on to overcome the world, and the powers of darkness, and to be His children. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) who saves to the uttermost all those who come unto God by Him (Hebrews 7:25):
25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
As Christ said in referring to His beloved Father, “He doeth the works.” So thereby does Christ do His Works in us who believe in Him:
Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. (John 14:10)
We must keep Christ’s commandments to move along His path of sanctification after we have been saved: If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10)