Whatever It Takes
September 19, 2002
PREVIEW Triumph Against Trouble by Keller
Matthew 12:43-50, 2 Corinthians 4:1-12 Psalms 139
Jesus is teaching the teachers about what happens to a demon once it’s cast out. The demon goes wondering about for awhile, but then declares, “I’ll go on back home.” When the demon returns home, that is, into the body of whomever it left, it’s welcomed back, so it invites seven more demons in. While Jesus speaks about the demon going home, the members of his own home are trying to get into the house. They can’t get in – Mary and James must stand outside! Now I can’t imagine that the juxtaposition of these two passages is a coincidence.
And it’s not. By asking those inside the house, “Who is my family?” Jesus makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t necessarily consider his brother a part of it. His attitude is something like, “My followers are my family since my family are not my followers.” The strained relationship between Jesus and his family is difficult to understand until we look at our own families and realize that ours are not all that well-adjusted at times either. Wouldn’t you resent a family member who was perfect? It might be easier to get along with the black sheep of the family than the white sheep.
Actually, one of the most difficult mission fields of all is one’s own family and friends. Folks at home know you too well. There’s often just too much history. In my case, family members have been separated by geography for years. Times have changed us yet we still relate to each other as though it were 1972. Maybe in your case, your family has been in your face so much that there’s over-familiarity – you get on each other’s nerves. And though you love one another, you might not always like one another. Sometimes, familiarity breeds contempt.
This may have been the case for Jesus and his brother James. It’s pretty obvious that, though they must have loved one another, they didn’t like one another. James was a little younger than Jesus; they worked together in the building trade. They both were literate; both very Jewish. James was also known as “Zadok,” “the righteous one.” Historians report that James had calloused knees from praying so much. James and Jesus both died as martyrs at the hands of temple henchmen.
They both became religious leaders in different Jewish denominations. Religion separated them from the first. Jesus was a liberal. James was very fundamentalistic and legalistic. The rift on matters of faith became so acute as to make them friendly enemies. James simply couldn’t believe Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man (see John 7). They went their own ways.*
Though James was known as a holy man, he was neither living right in regards to his brother nor believing the right things about him. He was just a little off. He might as well have been a thousand miles off. Wouldn't you think that this brother, who grew up with Jesus and witnessed his miracle ministry, would be a believer in his brother’s message? Would you believe if you were James? Maybe so and maybe not. We all know how religious hard-headedness, moral inflexibility and false teaching can divide people who should love each other better. Sometimes division is caused by jealousy.
But something unexpected was to happen. Peter was supposed to take over the Nazareans in Jerusalem. Jesus turned the keys to the kingdom over to Peter. But Peter doesn’t take over, James does, the Bible tells us (Galatians 2:11-13). How is it that James, who didn’t believe, suddenly not only believes but takes over the business? Inquiring minds want to know why didn’t James believe in Jesus from the first, what caused him to change his mind, and how might we also help turn our brother around for Eternity’s sake?
Friends, the world is saturated in spiritual darkness. Our text begins with darkness: the return of a demon to the body of a man. The only way darkness may be dispelled is through enlightenment. The light of Jesus penetrates the darkness of the world. Those who crave light will discover light. Even those who don’t crave it may be enlightened by it. Those accustomed to living in light find the experience of total darkness horrifying. Maybe you’ve been in a cavern when the tour guide switched off the light. Before long, terror creeps upon you. When someone flicks on a tiny flashlight, the darkness is pierced and all eyes are drawn to the flicker.
In the spiritual realm, it’s exactly the opposite. People are accustomed to darkness, blackness. Their eyes for spiritual things are vestigial – they have a means of perceiving light but it doesn’t work; their “spiritual eyes” are blind. They can’t recognize the light even if it beams on them. Healing their spiritual eyes takes a miracle.
Paul knew James personally. Even after the ascension of Jesus, Paul knew James to be a hard case against the gospel. Paul might've even been describing James' spiritual condition when he wrote:
Our gospel is veiled, veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded their minds, to keep them from seeing the gospel light of Christ's glory.
The veil of darkness was invented by the devil to blind humanity to the truth. Though James was a very religious and just man, though he was close to Jesus, he was blinded by the devil to his brother’s true identity, and this blindness caused sibling rivalry that kept him from his salvation.
It's the same way with those who have, like James, been brought up in the church but have never seen the light. The evidences of Yahweh’s spirit are spiritually discerned. The blind are not able to see them. To the blind, the things I teach are foolishness. In order to see the light, the blind must become sighted by divine appointment. Only a miracle of Yahweh can heal their blindness.
As I mentioned before, James, not Peter, became Jesus' successor in Jerusalem. Since James was blind, how could this happen? Paul tells us how:
Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and he was buried, and he was raised on the third day, and he appeared to Peter [Cephas], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred at one time, most of whom are still alive. Then he appeared to James. (1 Cor 15:3-8)
James came to believe because his brother returned from death and visited him. James was 513th on his visitation calendar. What a surprise! Jesus reveals himself so that James might enter the Kingdom and fulfill his mission. James’ spiritual eyes come open; the veil is lifted; he is converted. The rest is history.
Why won’t folks here turn to the truth and live? Why aren’t the churches that teach the truth full? Because spiritual light may be perceived as the result of a miracle. It’s a miracle that anyone in the whole world sees. If our brother is to be healed of his blindness -- if the veil is to be torn off -- then there must be a miracle. A miracle would result in our brother seeing Jesus on his own terms, or better, on Jesus’ terms. But not necessarily on our terms. It’s a miracle when someone sees Jesus through our faith or lifestyle or words. But we shouldn’t be discouraged when this isn’t the case. Why not? Because no matter how wonderful or favored or good a preacher or evangelist we are, a personal miracle of revelation must still take place before the blind see.
What might we do to facilitate a miracle of Jesus’ revelation to our brother? Well, if Jesus had compassion for James, we could have as much; and if he could see James' potential in the Kingdom, we should be able to see our brother’s potential as clearly. Jesus took the time to make a way for his brother in eternity, and we have even more time – time that’s wasted in trivial pursuits. Certainly if Jesus prayed for James, we can pray. What’s more important than that?
Jesus prayed. He often communicated with his Father in matters of strategy and evangelism. He lifted up the spiritual blindness of his nation to his Father, and mentioned many names. Jesus now lives with us in an unseen dimension. However, he never stopped praying, and he has prayed for you by name. It says that even now he makes intercession for us. Intercession is a word for prayer that means "going between." It’s prayer that bridges a gap. You can always reach some god through prayer, but nobody comes to the Father but through Him. He’s the bridge.
Did you know that we are to be intercessors? We bridge the gap between the Father and our brother so that he might receive the miracle of sight and see Jesus face to face. People say they don’t know how to pray. You can learn. Yahweh doesn’t care if your prayer is stylish or not. He’ll hear you because Jesus is interceding on your behalf.
Who says you can’t do anything for a dollar? You can learn to pray. I bought a book at the dollar store called The Everyday Guide to Prayer. It has a hundred prayers simply written so you can read them to the Father. Or you may recite the Lord’s Prayer and add to it the line, “Father, remember my brother James today that he might see the light of Jesus.” Yahweh never gets tired of hearing the Lord’s Prayer even though we do.
Jesus also intercedes for us against the devil. The veil that blinds our brother is his invention. Intercession against the devil is something we should continually be engaged in on the behalf of our blind brother. This is called "warfare" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). An AK47 has little effect on a bodiless demon. However, our weapons are not material, but spiritual with ample power to destroy the blinding darkness.
We must counterattack before it’s too late. We must be defensive and pray for our brother to be healed of his blindness, but we must also be on the offense and pray against the devil’s devises. We see Jesus praying against as often as praying for. He prayed for his brother's sight and against Satan's veil of blindness. And if we really care enough about our brother, I mean, if we really care, then we mustn’t be sloth to do the same. After all, this life is not just a bowl of cherries; for the believer, life is war.
How can we minister simple spiritual warfare for our brother? We could read this prayer:
“Father, I claim my brother’s life for your Kingdom. Tear away the veil of blindness from the eyes of his heart so that Jesus might be revealed to him. Do whatever it takes to reach him. I thank you for my brother’s future life in You in advance. Amen.”
Here’s a good companion prayer. In this one, we pray against the devil’s work.
“Father, I claim the authority as your child to intercede with you on my brother’s behalf. I command the devil to desist from blinding my brother in the name of Jesus of Nazareth and I demand that the walls of pride, resentment, rebellion and jealousy to be torn down so that he might see the your light and live. Father, do whatever it takes to reach him. Amen.”
Though the deception of the devil is strong, a deception is all it is. These two prayers are like tiny pistols that, if repeatedly discharged in the right direction, will bring the big blinder down. Simple prayers are a fine place to start learning. You’ll win if you pray like this frequently.
These are the weapons Jesus uses now to defeat the devil. He used them for you to bring you the light. As for brother James – he’s now St. James. These same means Jesus utilized to free his brother, you have right this instant, plus you have far more time and patience than Jesus ever did. You’re in the Lord’s Army, after all. Fight for what’s yours!
I know how these prayers have worked for me. I prayed them for one man almost every day for two years then he saw the light. When the devil was defeated and Jesus opened his eyes, his conversion was as natural as the rain. But let me offer one warning. Yahweh’s answers are unpredictable. If you pray, expect the unexpected. Let me tell you about the years Capt. Hook’s mother prayed these prayers.
Capt. Hook is an anointed child evangelist. Very few know his real name. He lost his right hand, left leg and eye in an accident. He dresses up as a pirate with a wooden leg, a hook for a hand and an eye patch. I had him in for a youth meeting once and seventy children responded.
Years ago I visited Capt. Hook’s elderly mother in the hospital. She wouldn’t tell her son’s real name, but she did tell his story. Capt. Hook was raised in church but he was blind to the light. In his post-high school days, Hook was wild and cruel. He became a leader in Hell’s Angels. He sold narcotics to children and promoted child prostitution. He spent time in prison and came out worse than he went in. He was on his way to an early death.
His mother wouldn’t give up on him. She prayed for him constantly and engaged in spiritual warfare against the devil. For years, often in tears, but always in faith, she would see him in her spirit as though he were already a new man. She prayed, “Father, do whatever it takes to reach my son.” She fought the devil tooth and nail for him. Had she known what “it would take” to reach him, she might have given up.
For when Capt. Hook was thirty, he had a young runaway girl on the back of his motorcycle when he decided to race a locomotive through an intersection. He lost. The girl was killed instantly. Hook lived, but lost his leg, hand and eye and was in a coma for some time. In the coma, Hook saw his mother’s prayers and tears over and over. Torn away now from the demonic strongholds of his rebellious life, Hook also saw the light of Jesus, who healed him of his blindness, just as he had for James. When Hook came to, he was the new man mother had envisioned. A miracle had taken place. As Hook’s long, long recovery progressed, he worked out how he might pay back the Kingdom for all those young people he’d exploited and the one he’d killed.
This incident was a hard answer to prayer, all right. But it may have been the only answer possible, given Hook’s sin and blindness. He later recalled the scripture, in which Jesus says:
Matthew 5:29-30. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to lose a member than have your whole body go into Gehenna.
By this time, Hook didn’t consider his sacrifice so unreasonable in return for what he received.
Friend, we’ve been given the authority to win the war for our brother, just as Jesus won James, through divine intervention, revelation and the work of prayer. Yahweh still does miracles! But we’re called to call forth the miracle that Jesus died to procure. The unbeliever can't fight the war -- he has absolutely no weapons. Don’t ever blame him. But you have compassion, vision and “all prayer.” As Jesus lives, you will win brother if you are willing to do “whatever it takes.”