“They ran out of the house naked.” Acts 19:16 Perhaps only deviants relish the idea of running out of the house naked. For most of us, even the thought is an alarming nightmare! Interestingly, the words “naked” or “nakedness” appear about 100 times in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. It is a vivid, emotive word used figuratively to great effect. Sometimes it is used in a positive way to convey sexual intimacy, realism or transparency (Lev. 18:16; Heb. 4:13). It is also used in a negative way to convey poverty, lack of protection, aloneness, defeat or exposed shame. To Nineveh Nahum prophesied, “‘I am against you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame’” (Nah. 3:5 NIV, unless otherwise noted). But “naked” is also used in a literal sense. We know that Adam and Eve initially lived naked, in a state of innocence. We read of a demon-possessed, naked man who lived in a cemetery (Lk. 8:27). Yet we become concerned when we read that King Saul “stripped off his clothes, and prophesied ... before Samuel, and lay down naked all that day and all that night” (1 Sam. 19:24 jnd); or that the prophet Micah said that he would “go about barefoot and naked” (Mic. 1:8); or that, as a vivid prophetic statement, the Lord Himself asked Isaiah to walk around naked for 3 years (Isa. 20:2-3). While these literal expressions, could also mean “in underwear” or “scantily dressed,” those so undressed would clearly attract public attention, but would not be considered immoral. The following five situations provide some useful lessons.
1. Freedom From Shame
“The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25). This was God’s initial design. But we sinned, our eyes were opened, and our naked lifestyle became a cause of shame. Shame led to fear, and we felt the urge to cover and hide. Shame and fear have become tools in Satan’s hands to cripple and paralyze God’s redeemed. We are concerned with our image. We fear others may find out that we are not as good, selfless or spiritual as they may think we are. Fear drives us to pretend, to fix together religious fig leaves and hide such nakedness. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). Once we confess and renounce hidden sin, once we accept God’s full forgiveness, shame and guilt are replaced by peace and joy. When God looks at us He sees Christ’s sacrifice. When others look at us, they see what Christ is still doing. Feeling fully accepted by the Lord, our urge to hide and pretend is gone. We stand free before God and man.
2. Missing Opportunities
After instituting the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus and His disciples walked to a garden where Judas kissed the Lord and betrayed him. At this point Mark, not one of the Twelve, adds two odd verses: “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized Him, he fled naked leaving his garment behind” (Mk. 14:51-52). Who was this young man? What was he doing walking at night in a sheet? Why are these two verses in Scripture? Commentators suggest that Mark may be referring to himself. It was his way of putting his signature on the portrait, his way of saying “I was there too.” Mark could have been the son of the owner of the house where the Lord’s Supper took place (Mk. 14:14; Acts 12:12). He woke up on hearing strange noises in the garden, grabbed a bed sheet, and dashed out of the house to see the action. Whoever he was, he was curious, ill-prepared and ran away naked!
Could new opportunities to witness or serve find us asleep and unprepared? Peter encouraged the saints to “always be prepared to give an answer” (1 Pet. 3:15). Religious traditions may be held mindlessly, but true biblical convictions are only acquired at a price. Communion with Christ must be cultivated. Those seeking religious adventures soon depart. Are we prepared to stand for Jesus when others threaten us or run from us?
Furthermore, the Lord sets good works before us (Eph. 2:10). Are we preparing to engage in them? Are we developing our gifts? Paul encouraged Timothy to be “useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” and to “be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 2:21; 4:2). If we wait until we’re “professionals” before we attempt to serve the Lord, we’ll probably start late and limit the Lord through our self-sufficiency. On the other hand, it would be a pity simply to run away naked because we were not prepared.
3. Facing The Demonic
“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed … Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (Acts 19:13-16). Do demons still exist? Do they still torment humans today?
The demonic has received much attention in Christian circles in the last 25 years. It probably reflects a growing trend in ungodliness and occult practices. Some Christians respond with enthusiasm that tends towards the theatrical. Some end up explaining everything in terms of demons. But there are also those Christians that hold to a theology which tells the hurting that they are not hurting. Such saints don’t lack love. It’s just that their way of viewing Scripture forces them to deny demon oppression today. But more commonly, saints believe in the existence of angels close by and demons far away – usually in some distant mission field like Colombia, where I live.
We Christians know there is power in the name of Jesus, but how can we help the oppressed and tormented to get free? We may think in terms of covenants or dispensations. While these frameworks help us understand how God changed His dealings with man over time, neither rules out the possibility of demon activity today. The Scriptures speak of the existence of evil spirits. We may be charismatic or anti-charismatic, but I’d suggest that helping free those tormented by demons is not part of that debate; helping them is not a “spiritual gift.”
This topic always generates some controversy. On clear evidence that Jesus expelled a demon, some Pharisees concluded that Jesus made use of Satan’s power (Mt. 9:32-34). Some Jews thought that Jesus himself was demon-possessed (Jn. 10:19-20). As we seek to help people, especially those with difficult backgrounds, we may encounter evidence of demonic activity. Should we deny the evidence before us? Should we suggest they go elsewhere? Surely the Lord can guide us to a solution. Should we copy what others do? The seven sons of Sceva were Jews, not Christians, and had a degree of success in expelling demons. Some who did not follow Jesus also expelled demons (Mk. 9:38). The Lord gives us clear warning that not everything that “works” should be imitated: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!’” (Mt. 7:22-23). This suggests that demons may also leave when non-Christians use the name of Jesus. Not everything that “looks successful” should be imitated. That said, those with pastoral hearts, like Jesus, will be more concerned about helping people live free in Christ than avoiding possible controversy. Unless we find an effective, biblical solution, we’ll leave the hurting hurting, or find ourselves running away naked from the next difficult situation.
4. Temporal Provisions
James, the practical apostle, highlights our duty towards another Christian who is naked and lacks daily food (Jas. 2:15). We should ensure that he does not remain naked and hungry. In fact, the Lord Himself identifies with the saint in need, to such an extent that He said “I was hungry and you gave Me food … thirsty and you gave Me something to drink … a stranger and you welcomed Me … naked and you gave Me clothing … sick and you took care of Me … in prison and you visited Me … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of My family, you did it to Me” (Mt. 25:35-40 NRSV). If these words of Jesus do not move us to get involved and be generous, we may be dead inside!
King Solomon concluded: “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccl. 5:15). My father-in-law passed away recently. As a Christian he was an honest worker and lived well. Yet he took nothing material with him. How do we view our material things? We are only temporal administrators.
5. Collective Delusion
In the story of “The Emperor’s New Suit” by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1837), two swindlers came to town, “weaved” some invisible cloth, and sold an invisible suit to the emperor. Everyone believed that only the “stupid” could not see the invisible material. The emperor had his doubts, but was not going to let anyone think that he was stupid. The swindlers helped him put on the invisible clothes, and he was presented before the people. All expressed their admiration at such fine colors and such a beautiful design. Nobody was stupid. Finally a child looked at the king and remarked, “But he has nothing on at all!” Most eyes were then opened. This story brings to mind those in congregations like Laodicea. It was not a child but Christ Himself who called out, “You are … naked!” (Rev. 3:14-18). The saints at Laodicea had convinced each other that they were enlightened, not stupid.
At first we may think that a given practice or scriptural interpretation is odd. Yet soon we find ourselves accepting it and even repeating it. We quote the same commentaries, we smile at each other at Bible conferences, we nod, and keep on practicing or repeating it. Only the “stupid” and the “non-spiritual” do not see it. Like it on not, our thinking is influenced by these social forces. This sad distortion of reality, once evident at Laodicea, is common in conservative and liberal congregations alike. May the Lord open our eyes to see reality as He sees it. Many may admire our biblical teaching, many may applaud our “effective” ministry, many may envy our growing church, and yet, if the Lord says “you are naked,” that is reality. There will be no improvement until we humbly agree with Him.
We should prepare to fulfill the ministry and do all the good works the Lord may send our way. We should not run away naked from these opportunities. Nakedness is a call to be genuine, to honestly seek truth and embrace it, to acknowledge our dependence on the Lord. “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (Heb. 4:13 NRSV).
By Philip Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org