Editor’s Note: I am currently serving a congregation in Taoyuan City, Taiwan. This sermon is written from that perspective, dealing mostly with the local traditional Taiwanese Religion and the spiritual battles that result from that. I believe, however, that there is room for a wider application of the truths in this sermon in any culture and religious environment.
I live in a nation that is very religious. The traditional religion is the backbone of Taiwanese society. Every holiday, with the exception of New Year (solar), Double Ten Day, (Taiwanese National Day) and 2/28 (commemoration of the massacre by R.O.C troops on civilians 2/28/1947.) are religious holidays. There are many gods in the traditional Taiwanese religion.
A young woman in one of our churches testifies that her mother is the leader of an Yi Guang Tao temple. She was training this young woman to take over as her replacement and her testimony is that if she hadn't become a Christian and she’d taken over the temple from her mother she would have become a local god when she died.
So we are immersed in a pagan society. Let me qualify this for a moment, though. There is no involvement in human or animal sacrifice. We don’t have our children walk through the fire. There are no temple prostitutes, at least as far as I know. But there is the worship of gods other than the God of the Bible.
There IS the burning of incense to the gods, the worship of ancestors, the eating of food offered to idols, and praying to idols. All of these things are in opposition to God. Look at what God himself says:
Exodus 20:2-6 (NKJV)
20:2 "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
So God is saying that we should only worship Him. Why does he say that? Why is God concerned about that? He’s concerned, because these other gods have power. They have a spiritual power, as well.
Matthew 17:14-21 (NKJV)
17:14 And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, 15 "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him." 17 Then Jesus answered and said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me." 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" 20 So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."
There’s a Spiritual Battle Taking Place
Our text doesn't seem like a spiritual battle taking place, but, in fact, this is a spiritual battle. We’re seeing spiritual warfare being fought. In verse 15, the father refers to his son as an epileptic but when Jesus calls to him, He commands a demon to come out. So this tells me that sometimes, demonic assaults can come in the form of disease. In the companion passage in Mark 9 the father tells Jesus that his son has a mute spirit, and that the spirit:
Mark 9:22 (NKJV)
9:22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
The father, in this passage refers to the spirit as he, giving it personality.
So this is a spiritual battle that’s taking place here. There is a spiritual realm that has power, and that will attempt to destroy the will of God and will interfere in people’s lives in order to do that.
We can easily see that in the Book of Exodus. God has called Moses and Aaron to deliver His people from oppression. It is the will of God that Pharaoh release the people of God from their bondage, but it isn't as easy as that. Moses says to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” and Pharaoh refuses. Then the battle becomes spiritual.
God uses Moses to perform His miracles, but then something else happens, look at this:
Exodus 7:10-13 (NKJV)
7:10 So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the Lord commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. 12 For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. 13 And Pharaoh's heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.
This is a significant moment here. In ancient Egypt, serpents were the symbol of power. They were also the chief god. So in this moment as Aaron throws down his rod, he's saying, in a sense, “Here this is our God.” Then the magicians cast down their rods, “Oh yeah, well these are our gods.” This is a spiritual battle as well. The magicians are able to do the same miracle that Aaron was able to do. Aaron was able to do that miracle through the power of God, the magician’s were able to do the same thing, but whose power did they draw upon? What was the source of real power that was arrayed against the Will of God? This is a spiritual battle a demonic force is attempting to stop the will of God.
Egypt, at the time of the exodus and Taiwan have something in common. Both nations have societies that are built around the worship of other gods. The spiritual power that was drawn upon to oppose God is also available to those who would oppose God in this nation. As in our text, those spiritual forces don't need us to manifest their power. The child was made sick by the spirit not some magician’s spell or curse. The demonic force was sufficient to cause that sickness on its own. Therefore, we must be aware of these things and be able to confront and defeat them.
There’s one other thing I want to mention about demonic power. In the New Testament, Jesus is in the Gadarenes, a region in Israel and he encounters a demon-possessed man. Look at this interaction:
Mark 5:7-10 (NKJV)
5:7 And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me." 8 For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!" 9 Then He asked him, "What is your name?" And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many." 10 Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.
These demons were begging Jesus not to send them out of the country. This tells me that demons have a region or area for which they are responsible. Look also at this:
Daniel 10:13 (NKJV)
10:13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.
This is an angel, speaking to Daniel. This “Prince of Persia” is not a man but a spiritual entity. What’s interesting here is that this spirit the “Prince of Persia,” is over that place called Persia. There are others the angel refers to as the “Kings of Persia.” So demons have a particular area for which they’re responsible. There are powerful demons over Taiwan. The traditional Taiwanese religion is made up of elements that are over four thousand years old. These demons have grown very powerful.
That means that there are spiritual forces that are arrayed against what God is trying to do through our church and in our individual lives. The devil doesn't want us to successfully win others to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The devil doesn't want you to be able to endure until the end. The powers that we face aren’t weak. The Prince of Persia withstood the angel for twenty-one days until a more powerful angel showed up. So what does spiritual warfare look like in your life?
There was a film made a number of years ago called “The Exorcist.” The demon-possessed girl was saying nasty things, her head was spinning around and she was puking up pea soup. That’s exactly what it’s like. I’m kidding. I've met a number of demon-possessed people and wouldn't have known they were demon-possessed until they spoke.
One time at the altar some kid started cussing me out and cussing God. One time a guy threatened to kill me and ran across a busy street to get me. (I’m still alive, so it didn't work). I've had people say things to me in a voice that wasn't theirs.
These are some of the symptoms of demonic possession, but that isn't what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the day-to-day battles that we face with spiritual forces.
Recently, I was sharing a topic of our Christian Living Bible Study with someone in the church that had missed it. And that person made an interesting comment. They said, “Every time I’m really tired and miss Bible Study or don’t want to go to church it’s something I needed to hear.”
That’s the real essence of spiritual warfare. That’s the kind of thing most of us face. There’s a resistance to being part of the will of God. Things come up that require hard choices, in order to do what’s right. We’re worn down. We’re made deaf to certain things. We don’t have understanding of certain principles. These are all elements of spiritual warfare.
Then there is the resistance of friends and family to hearing about Jesus. There are walls which must be overcome in order to present the Gospel: Religious groups pray against us, obstacles are put in our way, people reject us and say hateful things against us. Sometimes there are difficulties in finances that make us doubt God’s promises. All of this is spiritual. There are many types of opposition.
When we rented our house on Nan Feng Street the first thing the landlady said to us was, “You can only use the house for living in. You can’t have a church downstairs because the neighbors might be offended.” I had never mentioned the church, but she knew about it.
That lady is a nice lady; I’m not trying to say anything bad about her, but there was a spiritual force being exerted against God.
Sometimes when we pray, we feel like God is distant. We can’t have the kind of breakthrough where we feel like we met with God and heard from Him, or that God has heard from us. These things cause us to doubt God. They cause us not to ask God for guidance or direction. They are a type of oppression. They are a powerful form of warfare that is wielded against us and we must resist and fight it.
Jesus shows us a way to defeat it in our text, when He says, “This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” Prayer and fasting are weapons of warfare.
The Weapons of our Warfare
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NKJV)
10:3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
Though we walk in flesh our battles are not according to the flesh. We’re not here to fight with people. People aren't the enemy they’re the prize. We’re to win them to Jesus. They’re the fruit that’s accounted to us. They’re not the enemy. Our battle isn't according to the flesh, so our weapons can’t be physical weapons, either. Our weapons should be appropriate to the battle.
There is an old saying in America; I don’t know where it came from. I looked it up on the internet and some people say it comes from the movie, “The Untouchables” but I think it’s from before that…Anyway the saying is, “You never bring a knife to a gun fight.”
You need to use the weapon that’s most appropriate for the fight you’re in. If you bring a knife you have a weapon that is inappropriate to fight with a person who has a gun. If you’re in a spiritual battle you need a spiritual weapon. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just punch out the devil? It would make Christian life a lot easier, I can tell you that. Our fight with the devil is a spiritual fight, though, so we are at a disadvantage if we try to fight with a worldly weapon.
Jesus shows us how to fight a spiritual battle. “These kind only come out with prayer and fasting.” Prayer and fasting are spiritual weapons, “mighty in God for the tearing down strongholds, casting down arguments, and every thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” These are the things I've been talking about. People reacting against you witnessing to them; our resistance to doing the things of God, outreaching, witnessing, coming to church. These are the things we need to do well in our Christian walk and these are the places in our lives where the heaviest assault is taking place. In our text Jesus says, “These kind only come out with prayer and fasting.”
Let’s look once more at Daniel chapter ten. Daniel had a vision of the end times, but he wanted a clear understanding of what God was speaking to him. He prayed that God would reveal it to him, but nothing happened for three weeks. So look at this:
Daniel 10:1-3 (NKJV)
10:1 In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a message was revealed to Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar. The message was true, but the appointed time was long; and he understood the message, and had understanding of the vision. 2 In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. 3 I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
Then the angel comes to him and look at what the angel says:
Daniel 10:12-13 (NKJV)
10:12 Then he said to me, "Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.
Twenty-one days; three weeks to receive an answer from God, but look at verse 12, from the very first day that he set his heart to understand, God heard his prayer and sent the angel. God did it immediately and there was a spiritual resistance to the will of God. After twenty-one days a more powerful angel shows up and releases the other one to do what God had sent him to do. What did Daniel do in those twenty-one days? Daniel prayed and fasted. We pray and fast to overcome spiritual resistance to the will of God, what I have defined as spiritual battles. Sometimes we fast for God to do certain things. God I want a new car. God I want more finances. God give me a husband or a wife.
Sometimes, we fast for things like that, but let me make a point here about something: If you’re not tithing it isn't a spiritual resistance when you’re short of funds. The spiritual resistance is to tithing. So you ought to be praying and fasting to overcome your fear of tithing. You ought to praying and fasting to overcome your lack of faith and your resistance to obeying God. Prayer and Fasting is a weapon designed to bring your every though into captivity to the obedience of Christ. If you’re not tithing and having a shortage of finances, it’s not really a financial problem it’s an obedience problem and that’s where the spiritual warfare is taking place. If you’re not faithful to tithe you’re probably also not faithful to attend, or pray, or read your Bible. The battle your fighting is to be obedient.
Many people struggle in their Christian walk and never understand this one simple principle from our text: When the child is brought to Jesus and he says, “This kind only comes out with prayer and fasting,” He never stops to pray or fast. He just commands the devil to come out and it does. Jesus doesn't have to stop and pray or fast because it is a regular part of His lifestyle. If we will make those things a regular part of our lifestyles we would begin to make progress against the demons over our city and nation. We’d begin to see a breakthrough in our own attendance and we would see others coming in to the church. We can only defeat spiritual foes with spiritual weapons among them are prayer and fasting.