Unwelcome Guests

John Plunkett

October 4, 2014
Day of Atonement

Have you ever had unwelcome guests in your home?

Perhaps some old friends or relatives who turned up unexpectedly on your doorstep like the proverbial “bad penny”?  Perhaps old friends or relatives with whom you no longer have anything in common?

Unpleasant?  Yes.  But there are much worse unwelcome guests.  Please allow me to tell you a few true stories of some unpleasant experiences that Trish and I have had in recent and not-so-recent times.

Some years ago when we were keeping the Feast in Victoria, as we were checking into the accommodation we had booked – an older hotel in downtown Victoria – as I was unloading our big old Buick station-wagon and Trish and the girls were moving our suitcases into our room and unpacking, a mouse ran out of one of the hotel’s closets!

Seconds thereafter, five female human beings were seen running out of that same hotel, screaming blue murder!  After that unwelcome welcome, it was impossible for us to stay and enjoy the Feast at that hotel.  Despite all the impassioned assurances from the hotel management, a very inconvenient, last-minute change of lodging was a must.

Worse than that, after the Feast last year, Trish and I returned home to find that, during our extended absence, our house had been taken over by a family of rats!  Using various kinds of traps and poisons, it took weeks for us to get rid of them all – and even longer during the winter months to repair all of the damage that they had done in the house.

Once that work was complete, thinking that that trial was over, that we could relax and let our guard down.  But no!  The winter turned to into spring, the spring turned to summer, the temperature rose and lo and behold, some rather unpleasant odours began to afflict our olfactory senses – especially in the kitchen!

After much searching, we found the source of the bad smells in the crawl-space (a good name for it!).  Directly below the kitchen, we found three dead, mouldy, decomposing rats – poisoned by our own hand!  The live ones are revolting; but finding dead ones is like something out of a horror movie!

We have been working to get this cleaned up and sorted out, and only last week, almost a year after the original infiltration, we completed the work to repair that filthy, smelly mess.  We have been making absolutely sure that it is all sealed up, and especially before we leave for this year’s Feast of Tabernacles.

Please bear with me.  There is a spiritual Day of Atonement message in this.

I searched Strong’s Concordance; but I couldn’t find the word “rat” in the Bible.  I did find a couple of references to its smaller cousins, though:

Leviticus 11:
29:  These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind…

31:  These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever does touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.
32:  And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, does fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherein any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; so it shall be cleansed…

After Trish and I crawled around our crawl-space that day, we were definitely to be counted among the unclean!  The very unclean!

Verse 41:  And every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.

Yes, these creatures were created by God – and for good reasons; but still, as far as any contact between them and human beings, they were – and still are – to be considered an abomination.  This fact is mentioned again by the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 66:17a: 
They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one tree in the midst

He is talking here about people doing one thing that they think looks good; but then in secret they are doing these other things.  This is hypocrisy.

17b:  ... eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, says the LORD.

Yes.  Just like the eating of swine’s flesh, rodents are to be considered an abomination.  Can you imagine anyone eating such disgusting creatures?

With all that in mind, let us move on.  Can you imagine more unwelcome house guests than a family rats?  Well, in recent weeks Trish and I have had the calamity to cross paths with another kind of very unwelcome house guest.  I’m not sure whether or not this kind of life-form should be thought of as lower than rats and mice.  But after our recent experience, I certainly feel justified in thinking so! Because, this brand of unwelcome guests is a human being, a being that should know better…. a species of human vermin which the scriptures commonly refer to as thieves; but in this case, specifically, burglars!

A few weeks ago when we were coming to the end of an unscheduled visit to England due to the unexpected death of my brother, two nights before Trish and I were scheduled to fly home to Canada, the house that we were staying in (my late brother’s home in Liverpool) was broken into by a burglar.

They broke into the house while Trish and I were sleeping, stole our laptop PC, GPS, iPod, camera and my backpack containing my credit and debit cards, driver’s license and, perhaps worst of all, my passport!  They also stole the keys to our rental car – and subsequently, of course, the rental car itself.

The burglary took place dark and early on a Wednesday morning and we were scheduled to fly home to Canada on the Friday morning!  The Wednesday morning and afternoon were spent with various members of the Merseyside Police force and on the phone to our credit and debit card companies, our two insurance companies, and the Canadian High Commission in London.  The Wednesday night and the whole of Thursday were spent on an unscheduled 200 mile round-trip between Liverpool and the Canadian Embassy in London where we had to go to obtain a temporary passport to get us home to Canada.

Since then, most of my free time has been taken up communicating back and forth with police, insurance, car rental, motor vehicle branch, passport and banking employees.  The whole affair has been a veritable nightmare!  I am not saying this for you to feel sorry for me; but because there are lessons to be learned from these things. 

I have always felt somewhat sorry for people who have allowed themselves to be so deceived into drug or alcohol addiction to the point that they feel the need to steal in order to support their habit.  And of course, I have no idea whether or not the person who committed this crime against us is in one of these categories.  But whether he is or not, this terrible experience has caused me to compare him and his like to human vermin!

God’s Word speaks out strongly against burglars and other kinds of thieves.  He specified severe penalties against such criminals – and especially those who break into people’s homes.

On a few occasions, Jesus referred to this mode of crime; and used it to teach us some very worthwhile, positive and practical lessons.  The most common one – repeated over and over again – is for His brothers and sisters to be “watching.”  His second coming will be as unexpected as a visit from a thief in the night – just as unexpected as was the arrival of that burglar who paid us a visit a couple of weeks ago:

Matthew 24:
42:  Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord does come.
43:  But know this, that if the good-man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44:  Therefore be you also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man comes.

Also using the analogy of burglary, Jesus advises us not to overly-treasure physical things – things would likely attract thieves – things like our laptop, iPod, camera and GPS:

Luke 12:
33:  Sell that which you have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that fails not, where no thief approaches, neither moth corrupts.

34:  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

But then Jesus comes right back to His command for us to be “watching”:

35:  Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;
36:  And you yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he comes and knocks, they may open unto him immediately…

We are to be like a nobleman’s faithful servants watching and listening – alert for indications that he is returning from some important function… so that we can jump up at a minute’s notice and be ready to welcome him home and to begin serving him immediately.  The symbolisms to our Lord and His servants should be obvious.  Continuing:

37:  Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he comes shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them…

What a promise!  What a concept!  Here we have the ultimate Nobleman serving his servants!  Jesus certainly did that, and continues to do so.

38:  And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.
39:  And this know, that if the good-man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through.
40:  Be you therefore ready also: for the Son of man comes at an hour when you think not.

There are people who think that they know when Jesus is going to return; but He says that we don’t.  

Jesus’ analogy here was a very effective one and was adopted by both Paul and Peter:

I Thessalonians 5:4: 
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

What day is he talking about?  Let’s go over to Peter’s reference to the same one:

II Peter 3:10: 
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

These are things that, over the coming weeks at the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day, we will be learning more about – things that are coming.

Twice in the visions He gave to the apostle John, Jesus repeated this command to watch, referring it to the time of His coming on us like a thief:

Revelation 3:3: 
Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.  If therefore you shall not watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you shall not know what hour I will come upon you.

If we are watching, we will see the signs of the times, we will know before it comes and it won’t spring on us like a trap.

Revelation 16:15: 
Behold, I come as a thief.   Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

The subject of “watching” in the scriptures is quite a big one and could take up at least a whole sermon just of its own.  We have tended in the past to equate ‘watching’ only with watching world news: comparing news reports to the end-time prophecies.  I am sure that that is definitely part of it; but I believe that there is much more to it than just that. 

Let’s switch gears a little.  We have looked at Jesus’ mentions of and lessons from thieves in the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke; but now in John’s gospel account, He introduces the notion of spiritual thieves, likening them to false spiritual shepherds – hirelings – who care more for their bank accounts than they do for His sheep:

John 10:
1:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
8:  All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
10:  The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11:  I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.
12:  But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep.
13:  The hireling flees, because he is an hireling, and cares not for the sheep.

Yes, these hirelings are false, counterfeit shepherds who will desert Jesus’ sheep when Satan comes along.  In various scriptures Satan is described as all kinds of dangerous and horrible creatures.  Satan, the key actor in the symbolic meaning of the Day of Atonement, is symbolized here by Jesus as the ultimate wolf – a beast much more unwelcome and dangerous than a mere dirty rat. 

So far in the sermon we have mentioned two kinds of physical vermin: literal animal rodents and human ones – thieves.

There are two or maybe three days in God’s Holy Day calendar when we give some time to discussing a spiritual kind of vermin.  The King James Version calls them “devils.”  Most newer Bible versions refer to them as “demons.”  Their leader is known as “the Devil.”  More than once in the gospel accounts, he is referred to as “the prince of devils/demons.”  Another of his names is “Satan” or more accurately in the Greek language: "Satanas."

The two or three days in God’s calendar when God’s people commonly make mention of these spiritual vermin are the Last Great Day, or sometimes on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles when we discuss Satan’s final and permanent end and, of course, this day – the Day of Atonement – when we often quote the Azazel scriptures in Leviticus 16 and we discuss the temporary imprisonment of Satan and His demons during the Millennium.  We will go into that a little more now.

Trish and I have learned a number of good lessons from our recent trials.  The first is to do everything we possibly can to protect our home from literal vermin – rodents – by means of various kinds of traps and poisons, as well as doing everything we can to seal up our home, blocking up any holes or weak points which vermin might use to re-gain entrance.

The second is to do everything we can to protect our home from human vermin – burglars – by means of better door and window locks, and making sure we use them; plus other methods such as leaving a light and a radio on when away from home.

But what about these spiritual rodents and their powerful prince?  How are we to get them out – and keep them out?  How are we to keep them out of our homes, out of our lives, and out of our selves?  (The apostle Paul refers to the the human body as "our earthly house of this tabernacle."  II Corinthians 5:1).  God gives us a seemingly simple – but very effective – method through the apostle James:

James 4:7: 
Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

We should be really careful not to oversimplify this command, because we can tend to concentrate on the “Resist the devil” part of it.  Yes, it certainly is very important; but we must take care not to forget the rest of the context.

Still, before we discuss the context verses, let’s go ahead and home in, first of all, on this one – verse 7 and let’s begin with the “Resist the devil” part of it:

I Peter 5:8: 
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour…

Yes the devil is a very wily, dangerous and powerful adversary.  Make no mistake – he is our enemy.  One of the meanings of his very name Satanas (as it appears 36 times in the New Testament Greek) means “adversary.”

9: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

The difference is that the people of the world have no idea who is bringing these afflictions on them, or why.  But we do know who it is who is bringing these things about; and we know why he is doing it! 

Now we come to the question, “Just how are we to resist Satan?”  How does God want us to resist Satan… and his demon followers too?

We all know what the English word “resist” means; but what does the original Greek word mean?   The Greek verb “anthistemi” (Strong’s 436) upon first reading or hearing, might remind us of the word “antihistamine,”  which is quite an apt comparison.  People might use an antihistamine to combat bothersome histamines which cause very unpleasant symptoms of sneezing, coughing, congestion, headaches, etc.  God wants us to use anthistemi (resistance) to combat Satan, his demons and the “symptoms” with which they infect human beings.

The word anthistemi is translated as “resist” nine times in the King James Version and five times as the word “withstand,” which is an excellent translation because withstanding is a very effective method of combatting spiritual vermin.  So how are we to withstand Satan and his demons?

Ephesians 6:13:
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

  I am sure that we all have some idea of how powerful and wily Satan and his demons are.  Or maybe we don’t!  Perhaps he is so powerful and so wily that he has not yet "pulled out all of the stops."

With this in mind, in order to resist and withstand Satan and his demons, we need to take unto ourselves the whole armour of God.  I don’t want to go into all of the armour of God verses today.  Like me, I am sure that you too have heard many sermons and sermonettes on the subject of the armour of God; but let me appeal to you, please never tire of listening to or studying about the various parts of the armour of God.  Every one of us needs every one of its parts in order to effectively resist and withstand these crafty and powerful beings.

Now let’s go back to James 4, and look into the context verses set around God’s command for us to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  What are some of the other important, related concepts?  In the same verse (7), even before God – through James – tells us to “resist the devil,” He tells us:

James 4:7a: 
Submit yourselves therefore to God…

You know as well as I do that it is not always easy to submit ourselves to God.  But, if we want to rid ourselves of infiltration by the spiritual vermin – Satan and his demons – it is a must!  We have to submit ourselves to God.  Fasting on the Day of Atonement may be considered a small example of our submission.  What else?

8a:  Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you….

What is another name for our drawing near to God and Him drawing near to us?  It is Atonement!  It is At-one-ment!  That is exactly what this day is all about.  At-one-ment with God.  True at-one-ment with God is even more than just being near to Him and having Him near to us.  Jesus repeatedly tells us that He and His Father will even dwell within us through their Holy Spirit; and that we can be in them. One cannot get any nearer than that!

8b:  … Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.

Can we expect to be at one with God the Father and Jesus if we are participating in ungodly practices?  Of course not!  We must cleanse our hands – repent – of any involvement in such wrong things that we might have done in our past.  Is there anything from our past that we want to go back to, to try to dredge up again and get back into?   Maybe some of the things that we should not have been doing back then, and stopped doing when we came into the church, maybe some of them are stealthily creeping back into our lives.  We must repent and cleanse our hands completely of those things.  In the same way that we need to wash our physical hands on a regular basis throughout the day; we can’t just wash our spiritual hands once at baptism and think that they are going to be spiritually clean for the rest of our lives.  It doesn’t work that way.

I have found over the years that it is very unwise to dwell in detail on accounts of people’s encounters with demons.  There is some truth in the old British saying, “Speak of the devil and here he comes.”  Yes, there is some truth to that; but through James, God commands us to do the very opposite – to resist the devil.   We are to shun him and get him away.

And through James’ spiritual brother Paul, God commanded the Ephesian brethren to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”  He also advised that “it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12).

God does not want us to dwell on these things.  He wants us to stay away from them.  There are only a couple of days in the year where He wants us to mention them.  Rather, we are to be continually on guard against them.  But if we watch the devil’s movies, read his books, or play his video games, how can we expect him and his demons to stay out of our thoughts when we turn out the lights at bedtime?  It appears that young people in the church are perhaps more prone to these things than older people.

Doing such things is like sending an open invitation to Satan an his demons.  In the daytime, it’s: “Hey!  We’re intrigued and fascinated by your stuff!”  But during the night, it’s another story… “Oooh!  Why am I being bothered by such things?”

Can we expect to be at one with God the Father and Jesus Christ if we willingly, voluntarily fill our hearts and minds with words, images and sounds from literature, games, movies, television shows or music that are initiated and motivated by Satan and his demons?  Of course not!  It is totally unacceptable to God for His people to be double-minded in such things.  We must purify our hearts and minds from them.  Be careful what you are watching on television.  Don’t be a channel-flipper.

9:  Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

God doesn’t want us to be permanently afflicted, mourning and weeping, of course.  On the contrary, the good news He has given us should inspire us to be filled with great joy. 

But on occasion, He knows that it benefits us greatly to be afflicted – for us to voluntarily afflict our souls.  We all know exactly what that means, don’t we – especially on this day?  In thirteen Old Testament verses, it means to fast – as we are doing today.  But it is not just on the Day of Atonement that we should be fasting.  It is very worthwhile to schedule occasional, voluntary fast days throughout the rest of the year too.  And even more especially if we find that perhaps we have not done our best to seal our homes and our families against entry by the many spiritual rodents who would love to get in to do us harm, or if we have failed to put on and keep on the armour of God, or if we have been sinning or double-minded in some areas. 

Some people might say that they find it beneficial to fast monthly.  Some people may say four times a year.  That detail is between you and God.  But it is good and it is very beneficial.  Actually, fasting is good for us physically as well as spiritually.  Fasting is an excellent partner with humility and repentance:

10:  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.

Most of us feel quite humbled and brought low by 24 hours without food and water, don’t we?  But even though it doesn’t feel good, it’s actually good for us.  It really is uplifting, as God promises!

In the past, we’ve all had some “good fasts” and some “bad fasts.”  But if done in the right spirit and the right attitude “in the sight of the Lord,” it helps reconcile us with Him.  It helps towards making us at one with Him.  Not eating and drinking for a day, if you think about it, brings us a little closer to being just a little more like the One who has no need for food and drink.  Although Jesus came back after His resurrection and enjoyed a breakfast of fish with His disciples, He didn’t need it any more (John 21:9-13).  So when we fast we are getting a little bit closer to God.  I believe that this is exactly what is meant by James’ phrase, “He shall lift you up.”  Fasting, if it is done in the right spirit, and the right attitude, lifts us up closer to being God-like. 

The mention of humbling here in verse 10 links us right back to verse 6 – the verse preceding the “Resist the devil” verse:

Verse 6a:  But He gives more grace

Please keep that statement in the back of your mind. 

6b: … Wherefore {i.e. for that very reason} He says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble.”

Yes, “God resists the proud” and He commands us to “resist the devil” – the one who is the very author of pride. 

True humility is part of God's antidote to the things of Satan, including the sin of pride.  A Christian’s humility is like spiritual warfarin – it is like spiritual rat-poison – to those spiritual rodents!  They hate to see true humility in God’s people.

It’s interesting that yet another apostle – Peter – adds to the mix by repeating some of James’  exact words:

I Peter 5:5:  
Likewise, you younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.  Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for
God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.

Submitting and being subject to one another – in the right, appropriate ways, of course – are both examples of true, Christian humility.  And doesn’t Satan just hate that?

But we just read that James mentioned that God gave us a promise that He would give us more grace especially to His children who obey His command to be humble.

Grace is yet another subject that we could preach whole sermons on.  It is, perhaps, a subject that is somewhat "under-understood."

What is grace?  Herbert W. Armstrong's simple definition of it was free, unmerited pardon.  But is it merely a one-time, undeserved forgiveness of our sins by God that forever guarantees our salvation?  Or is there more to it than that?  I believe that there is much more to it than that!

God promises to give us more grace.  That promise indicates that grace is not just a one-time thing; but that it is something that we can have more of.   Do we need more grace, as promised by God through James?  I would say that if God promises it, then yes, we really do need it!  James knew that we did and so did the apostle Peter.  Twice in his second epistle, the apostle Peter proves that grace is not just a one-time thing:

II Peter 1:2:  
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

II Peter 3:18: 
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…

So grace can be multiplied to us and we can grow in grace.

So this is a gradual thing.  Fasting can help lead us to more humility, and more humility can lead to God giving us more grace.  All of this in the context of us resisting the devil and his demon followers – the spiritual vermin of the universe.  All of this is very relevant to the subject-matter of the Day of Atonement.

The days are coming when God is going to take some major steps to separate the spiritual vermin from the people of the world – to remove the at-one-ment between Satan and the world. God promises that that is going to come to an end.  First of all temporarily – as symbolized by this Holy Day – the Day of Atonement – for the thousand years of the time that we call “the Millennium”:

Revelation 20:
1:  And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2:  And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
3:  And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season…

And then at the end of the Millennium, these “spiritual vermin” will be permanently put away – as pictured by the Last Great Day:

7:  And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
8:  And shall go out to deceive the nations…
10:  And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

God speed that day!  

But in the meantime, what must we be doing?  We can be doing all we can to protect our physical homes from physical vermin – both the squeaky kind and the burglar kind!  But, do what we may, we can never be 100% positive that our homes are totally secure against either kind of those physical rodents.  They are experts at getting in. 

However, we must be doing everything that we possibly can to protect our spiritual houses (which the apostle Paul referred to as “our earthly house of this tabernacle”).  We must do all in our power – and with God’s instruction and help too, of course – to protect our spiritual homes from spiritual vermin – from those most unwelcome guests!