Angels And Demons

Sermon Text – 06.16.2019
[Luke 10:18 and Isaiah 8:19-20]

          The devil made me do it. A while back I met a guy, nice guy, we talked twice and I’ve never seen him since. I think he was from the Detroit area, but anyways, he came into my office one day while I was working up at the church in the UP, he had some questions, and we were chatting and we got to talking about his spiritual life and his walk with God. And at one point in the conversation, he said, “Well, what I really think people need to hear about in church is demons and the power of the devil.” Now, I’m not a stranger to people having different perspectives than me – so I was curious. “Oh, tell me more about that – what do you mean?” And he started to tell me about a spiritual leader who opened his eyes to the spiritual battle that was going on all around him. And then he said, “For example, the devil made me sleep with my girlfriend. A demon possessed me, and I couldn’t get away from him, so I had to leave her the next morning.” Now, I didn’t say this at the moment – maybe I should have. But in my mind all I could think was, “Really, the devil made you do it? Cause it seems an awful lot like your trying to blame a one night stand on demons, and justify walking away from this woman.” And I remember for the rest of that day I was so distracted by that conversation. Someone had given him the religious language of angels and demons, but no one had taught him the reality – so he was free to apply it to his life in any way he wanted. And he’s not alone. Lots of famous leaders and pastors have blamed their troubles on the devil. The devil made me do it. Jimmy Swaggert, when he got in trouble, said he could go back to ministry because his friend performed an exorcism over the phone, and now he was all better.

     Now, I know most churches avoid these topics because they can get really weird, really fast. You get to talking about demons, and exorcisms and the imagination runs wild. Take a stroll through the horror movie section in a video store and you’ll see just how much people are fascinated by this topic. What’s interesting to me is that the general public largely rejects these ideas – demons, angels, ghosts, etc. They scoff at those silly people with their uninformed superstitions. And yet they made 6 paranormal activities movies, and four sequels to the original movie “The Exorcist.” We laugh when it’s in broad daylight, but we become believers real quick when we are alone in the dark. And so most people just don’t talk about it. But we are not most people, and I realized after talking with that guy – how can you know how to engage those conversations with other people, if we never talk about them here. So this morning, we’re going to do something called a topical sermon – rather than following a specific text, we’re going to study the idea of the supernatural and figure out to do with all this stuff about angels and demons that’s out there in the world. To get us started, I have three questions. Don’t answer out loud, but actually think about these questions. First, do you believe in ghosts? I’m not making fun, I’m not judging. Seriously, think about it – what do you believe? Do you believe in Ghosts? Second question – do you believe in angels and demons? Third question is one we’re going to explore today – what do you believe about angels and demons? If they’re out there – can they control us? Can we be possessed? Can they physically harm us? What do you believe about angels and demons? Here’s the outline of the sermon: First, I want to talk about the evolution of Demons, Angels and Ghosts from what we find in the bible into what we find today. Then I want to talk about personal responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Then I want to close with John Wesley’s advice for engaging difficult topics, and how to talk to people about vague issues. I’m so excited, let’s get started.

          So before we get started, I have to start by admitting my limitations. Number one, I’m no expert on demonology. I know the bible pretty well, but I have not studies the nuances of demons and angels. Second, there is a difference between church teachings and biblical teachings. Biblical teachings come directly from the bible – it’s something we can point to and say, “See, right there. That’s the story.” Church teachings often come from tradition or famous leaders/popes, bishops, etc. And sometimes church teachings are just wrong, or they take what’s in the bible and expand WAY beyond what we can actually pull from the bible. Third and final limitation is metaphor in the bible. Most of the language surrounding angels and demons comes from prophetic books of the bible. There are certain books of the bible dedicated to the prophets, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Revelations. They are stories about the prophets, and even include prophecies. And prophets LOVE metaphors. They were always explaining the future or giving warnings with metaphors. So for us, it’s really hard to tell when they are speaking literally, and when they are just using a metaphor. Those are the limitations of the conversation.

       So let’s begin with the fall of Satan. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Right from the beginning we acknowledge that there are two realms – the heavens and the earth. The earth we can see, so that’s easy. But the content of the heavens is a bit of a mystery, but it seems like there are heavenly beings in heaven – we call them angels. We don’t know much about them, they just show up – usually delivering messages. Usually male-like, usually wearing white. So the story goes – there was an angel, the most beautiful and clever angel of them all. And at one point he became prideful, and he thought he could be better than God. He thought he knew more than God, was a good replacement for God. And so he, and all his followers tried a coup. Sort of a heavenly mutiny, and as a result were cast out of heaven, and given the earth as their realm. So he became the prince of this earth, we call him the devil or Satan. You can find this story in Isaiah chapter 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19, or in our scripture in Luke where it says, [read it]. Now again, these are prophets – so it might be a metaphor, but that’s where the story comes from. The angel and his followers were cast out of heaven, and now dwell on the earth. So the teaching is that demons are fallen angels. They are not a separate type of creature – they are just fallen angels.
     Now, think for a second – what does the devil look like in our pictures? Visualize the devil – what’s the stereotype? (Horns, red, tail, pitchfork, maybe goat hooves, etc). So how did we get from “the most beautiful angel thrown down from heaven” all the way to cherry flavored goat man with an oversized fork and a perfectly trimmed creeper goatee? Let’s start with the color. In the book of Revelation, in the bible, another prophetic text – with lots of metaphor, there’s a story about a red dragon attacking a woman. Most scholars interpret the dragon as the devil and the woman as the church. The devil attacking the church, pretty basic – but that’s likely where we get the red color and the pointy tail (also the bat-wings if the devil has wings). The goat hooves and horns come from the greek gods. Early Christians were trying to figure out how to represent the devil in their art, and remembering that he’s supposed to be the prince of this earth – they looked at the greek God’s representing the earth. Poseidon for the water, and the god Pan for the land, and shepherds. Pan was like a goat man, and Poseidon had a trident. Now, again, this isn’t really an exact science – but if you look at the culture around the early Christians – you can see how they took bits and pieces from the culture around them to come up with this picture of the devil that developed over the years. Aside from the dragon in Revelations, which is a metaphor, there is no picture in the bible of a little red goat man with horns and tail running around with a pitchfork. That is the imagination running wild. Despite all the fun horror movies have had with creepy pictures – that is not what demons look like.
       So let’s shift over to angels. What’s the stereotype about angels? What do the pictures look like? [wings, halos, harps]. Again we find limited pieces to each. Let’s start with the wings. Angels are supposed to be heavenly beings, and heaven is supposed to be up in the sky. So to get up there, they should have wings. In the popular Christmas movie, “It’s a wonderful life” we are introduced to this idea that when you die you become an angel and you have to earn your wings. What was that angels name? Clarence? It’s a very cute movie, but again it’s fun fiction.  First of all, humans do not become angels. Angels are a separate type of creature. Hebrews chapter one tells us that in heaven we will be served by angels. With our connection to Jesus we are not turned into angels, we are made higher than angels. Second, angels may not have wings. You know the story of the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. The angel came and said, “Go check out the baby that was born in the manger.” And then the angel was joined by a multitude of angels singing, always in my mind they are flying up in the air singing in the sky. But when I re-read the story closely, there are no wings. They are not even in the sky. There is no actual description of wings on angels. Same thing with Halos and harps. There are no halos in the bible. Halos come from pictures, where they wanted to draw a spiritual presence around the main person in a picture, and over time they stopped filling it in, so it was just a gold ring, and then in statues that translated into a big gold circle, and that’s where the idea of halo comes from. So to recap: Demons are not little red men with horns, they are fallen angels. Angels are not humans who have wings, but something else completely, a heavenly being. Sidenote: Do ghosts exist? The bible is weirdly silent about this. They talk about spirits, they talk about people who talk to spirits, like diviners and spiritists (usually they are the bad guys in the story), but the bible does not specifically confirm or deny the existence of ghosts. While I personally would be VERY skeptical, I can’t actually tell you they do not exist.

          So now, I’ve given you a huge amount of random information about the spiritual world – angels, demons, ghosts, etc. The next step is to talk about how humans and supernatural forces interact, but before we do that -there’s a half step. What if I don’t believe any of this stuff? Angels, demons, ghosts – what if I think it’s all metaphor, I don’t think any of that is real? Believe it or not, we can work with that. There is still a lot to learn from this topic. Let’s say, hypothetically, you don’t believe any of this stuff. No such thing as angels and demons, outside forces influencing you. Maybe we don’t believe the same things about the supernatural, but everyone can agree that life is full of internal struggles. And the most famous representation of an internal, moral struggle is the devil on your shoulder. Perhaps you remember the famous cartoon with Donald duck, where they show up on his shoulders. Look, whether you believe there are angels or demons pulling you one way or the other – or you just think it’s an internal battle between the good and bad parts of who you are – we have all felt this conflict when we face temptations. The devil on my shoulder is actually a really handy way to relate to people who don’t believe in the supernatural. What we learn about angels and demons still applies. Let me show you how.

     Now we’re into the important question – how do we relate to angels and demons. Let’s start with Angels, because that’s more fun. In the bible, human reactions to angels vary a lot. In fact, it’s weird – but women handle angels a LOT better than men. It’s almost like angels are like the intimates section of a clothing store. Angels are like underwear. Women see angels and they think – no big deal, there’s an angel. In the old testament, Sara, in the new testament Mary, and Mary-Magdelene. But men confront angels like women’s underwear – with fear and confusion. Almost every single time an angel shows up to men – they are terrified, and they face plant on the ground in reverence. I don’t know what angels look like – but they are intimidating, powerful. They are divine, but ultimately in heaven they will serve us. Angels are usually messengers – bringing some sort of good news. On the other side of things – let’s talk about demons. Most importantly, can someone actually blame a demon for their sins? Is possession a real thing? There’s a very simple answer – we call it the sovereignty of God. God is in control. That’s the good news this morning – God is in control. Yes, the bible talks about possession like it’s a real thing. There are demon possessed people in the bible. But never a follower of Jesus. If you are a Christian, demon possession is not a thing. We cannot be forced to sin – ever. There is always a choice. Demons and the devil can tempt us, trick us, confuse us, distract us – but they cannot force us to sin. The bible paints a picture of humanity living on earth, with this spiritual battle raging all around them. The devil and his fallen angels pulling us one way, God and his angels pulling us another. But the end of the story is that God wins. The devil’s authority is fake, his power is a bluff. Now, for those who don’t believe in demons – same deal, God is in control. With the internal struggles we face, the devil on our shoulders, even if you don’t believe there are actual spiritual forces at play – you cannot be forced to sin. There are things in the world that will tempt us, trick us, confuse us, distract us – but they cannot force us to sin. Sin is our choice. Every. Single. Time. I’m not saying the pressures of the world are not real. There are times in life when we will be squeezed – physically, spiritually, we will be tempted in this world. You will face struggles in life, you will face obstacles – but with Jesus in your life you cannot be forced to fail. You cannot be overcome. The only way we sin is when we choose to do so. We give in or we give up. Jesus has all the authority over the forces of heaven and earth. You cannot blame your mistakes on the devil. We have to take personal responsibility for our actions. And if you don’t believe in the devil, same principle applies – you cannot blame your mistakes on the world around you. We have to take personal responsibility for our actions.          

          Whew okay. I know this has been sort of a weird topic, but I think it’s going to be really useful for our Christian walk. There’s two pieces of application before we’re done. First, this conversation teaches us a LOT about how to engage others in tough conversations. It’s not just about angels and demons –but it’s about bridging the gap between two people. Pick a topic – politics, homosexuality, gossip, sin, teen pregnancy, abortion, new healthcare law – anything that anyone has an opinion about. The more we talk about tough subjects, the better we get at it. Three parts to engaging someone. 1.) Admit your limitations. Be teachable, come with an open mind to the conversation. Know your stuff, but realize you may not have all the answers. First, Admit your limitations. 2.) realize their limitations. Different people believe different things. As we’ve seen, there is a lot of false information flying around out there. Not just about angels and demons but about everything! But in order to help someone grow, we have to meet them where they are in the conversation. If someone doesn’t believe in spiritual forces, talking to them about demons and angels is just going to freak them out and help no one. But by translating it based on their limitations, based on where they are coming from – we can engage them to talk about sin and pain in their life. Admit your limitations. Realize their limitations, where they are coming from. And finally, fall back on the sovereignty of God. When in doubt, remember that God is in control. And don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. I know some people avoid conversations because they don’t have all the answers. But I have the magic answer to get rid of that fear, I’m going to teach it to you this morning. If you’re not sure of something, this is what you say – are you ready? You look them in the eyes and say, “I don’t know.” It’s okay to not know everything – fall back on the fact that God is in control, and he’s with you in those moments. When did admitting “I don’t know” become a bad thing? Application part 1 – engage others in conversation.

   Application part two – just real quick I want to mention John Wesley’s process for dealing with a new topic. Imagine you are presented with a dilemma, an ethical question or a new subject, a new thing you have to deal with. And you’re not quite sure what you believe. John Wesley laid out four pieces to making decisions. Scripture. Tradition. Reason. And Experience. Scripture – the bible, is a really good starting point. Tradition – what have we done in the past, and why? Reason – is where logic comes in, does everything connect? Does it make sense? And finally experience – which is the simplest but also the strongest pillar to making good decisions. Logic may say ghosts are not real, scripture doesn’t give us much to work with – but if you talk to someone who has real life experience, there’s no convincing them otherwise. Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. The four pillars to engaging a new topic.


       The devil made me do it. Mmmmm, probably not. Angels and demons – there is a lot of stuff out there about this topic. Most of it is really weird, and completely made up. Hollywood has had a lot of fun with religious imagery. I feel like they should cut us a check for borrowing all our ideas and twisting them up. And so I’ll leave you with this. Whether you believe in demons or not – may you trust in the power of God above all else and resist the temptations of this world. May you use the tools of scripture, reason, tradition and experience to create an informed view. And May you take what you have learned and engage the people around you with love. Amen.


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