Text: Mark 5:1-20
Introduction: For the past month we’ve been addressing the question “Why Jesus?” The longer version of it goes something like this: Why in the world would billions of people over the last two thousand years determine to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, often at great personal cost to themselves? It doesn’t make a lot of sense unless, of course, Christians have some good reasons for doing so. And obviously, we believe we do. So far we’ve provided four answers to this question. (1) He is the Son of God and deserves our faith and obedience; (2) He became fully human. It was as a human being that Jesus was able to die in place of human beings and rescue us from the penalty of sin (death), reconciling us to God; (3) He is our healer. Jesus heals our souls by forgiving our sin. And He even heals our bodies, sometimes in this life by medicine or in response to prayer, but always when we’re home in heaven; and (4) He is our shepherd and as such leads us (My sheep hear my voice and they follow Me) liberates us and loves us. This morning I want to provide yet another reason why Christians bow our knees and confess with our tongues that Jesus is Lord. It’s because He is our Deliverer who rescues us from the attacks of the devil.
Perhaps when you were a child someone took the time to teach you what we call “The Lord’s Prayer“. If so, you know how it goes: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. The rest of the prayer (for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen) is something that is good to pray, but was almost certainly not a part of the original prayer. It was added later probably by a zealous priest who was transcribing it. This morning I want you to focus for a moment on the word “evil — deliver us from evil“. It’s actually an adjective in the original language so it is describing someone or something that is evil. That’s why a lot of Bible teachers believe it’s speaking about the one who personifies evil — the devil. In fact, that’s how the New King James translation puts it … deliver us from the evil one. Now, if you’re a Christian, then I know you believe Satan is real, because Jesus did and so did His disciples. In the Gospels they had many encounters with him. So we know that the spiritual world is every bit as real as the physical world in which we live. After all, God is a spiritual being (John 4:24) and so are angels. And while many of them are good and do God’s bidding, some have turned against God and chosen to follow the devil who is himself a fallen angel formerly called Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12). Revelation 12:4 tells us that on the day he rebelled against God, he took about 1/3rd of the angels of heaven with him. Today we call these beings demons or evil spirits. In the passage that we’re studying this morning from Mark 5:1-20, we’re going to see what we can learn about them, the havoc and pain they can bring to people and how they can be subdued. So in the next twenty-five minutes or so, let’s look at these verses together and see what light they can shed on the activities of demons and how Jesus delivers us from them. Let’s start by reviewing the first part of the story.
Jesus and His disciples traveled across the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile country of the Gerasenes. As soon as the Lord stepped out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit who lived in the mountains and among the tombs rushed to meet Him, naked as the day he was born (Luke 8:27). This man had become a real problem for the mostly Gentile people who lived there who must have thought he was insane. They had tried to deal with him the only ways they knew how, but to no avail. They bound him with chains and shackles so he wouldn’t hurt himself or others but, empowered by the evil spirit, he was able to break them. Eventually they exiled him to the tombs where day and night he was crying out and cutting himself with stones. It must have been a very frightening and surreal scene for anyone who happened to see him. And while he was living among the tombs, Jesus showed up and everything got very interesting very quickly. Here are four observations that will help put the pieces of this story together so we can discover how Jesus delivers us from the power of evil.
Observation #1 — the evil the demons were doing: The evil spirit identified himself as “legion” to Jesus because there was more than one of them. Perhaps in the militaristic hierarchy of the demonic world (Ephesians 6:12), the one dong the speaking was the commander of all the rest. In any case, the demons were busy doing the work of their lord … the devil. And no matter what form their attacks take, the intent has always been to destroy the image of God in man, and in so doing, to rob God of the glory due Him from His creation. In the case of the man in this story, they elected to torment him so that he was crying out in anguish and cutting himself with sharp stones in an attempt to kill himself, ending his ordeal. Self-mutilation and other forms of self-harm, by the way, seem to be some of the preferred outcomes of demons. Do you remember the story about Elijah, the prophet of God, and the 450 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18? In an attempt to get the people to renew their commitment to the God of Israel, Elijah challenged his adversaries to a contest … build an altar, prepare a sacrifice and ask the one you worship to send down fire from heaven to consume it. The prophets of Baal went first. When their god did not answer in response to their pleas, in desperation they cut themselves with their swords and lances until blood gushed out upon the ground. Who was this god they were trying to appease by self-mutilation? The Bible tells us it was no god at all, but demons (See Deuteronomy 32:17; Jeremiah 19:5) who have always enjoyed a good bloodlust. Now, this fellow who lived among the tombs was doing the same thing to himself and the demons, as always, were loving it. Illustration: A lot of people have difficulty believing that that there are such things as demons, let alone that they are destructive and delight in evil. Take William Friedkin for example. He directed the 1973 movie The Exorcist. It became one of the highest-grossing films in history, was a major pop culture influence, and was labeled by critics and voters as one of the scariest movies of all time. But in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, Friedkin admitted that he had never witnessed an actual exorcism. So Friedkin, who considers himself an agnostic, traveled to Italy and watched a real exorcism. When he returned to the U.S. he showed the video to two of the world’s leading neurosurgeons and researchers in California and to a group of prominent psychiatrists in New York. After watching the video, Dr. Neil Martin, chief of neurosurgery at the UCLA Medical Center, said: There’s a major force at work within her somehow. I don’t know the underlying origin of it … This doesn’t seem to be hallucinations … It doesn’t look like schizophrenia or epilepsy … I’ve done thousands of surgeries, on brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, [etc.] … and I haven’t seen this kind of consequence from any of those disorders. This goes beyond anything I’ve ever experienced—that’s for certain. Dr. Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon and clinical specialist in epilepsy surgery and seizure disorder, said: It looks like something authentic. She is like a caged animal. I don’t think there’s a loss of consciousness or contact … I believe everything originates in the brain. So which part of the brain could serve this type of behavior? … [But] can I characterize it? Maybe. Can I treat it? No. Friedkin was surprised by the neurosurgeons’ response: They wouldn’t come out and say, “Of course this woman is possessed by Satan,” but they seemed baffled as to how to define her ailment … I went to these doctors to try to get a rational, scientific explanation for what I had experienced. I thought they’d say, ‘This is some sort of psychosomatic disorder having nothing to do with possession.’ That’s not what I came away with. Forty-five years after I directed The Exorcist, there’s more acceptance of the possibility of possession than there was when I made the film. Welcome to the real world!
Observation #2 — the amount of control the demons had over the man: It’s obvious that they had some control over him. Otherwise, how would he have been able to break the chains that bound him and to provoke the kind of fear the people in the towns had of him? But the question is how much control did they have. Was the man so demonized that he no longer could assert his own will? Was he doomed to do only what the demons directed him to do until they grew bored and killed him? It doesn’t seem so. If the demons were in complete control, then logic dictates that the poor fellow would never have come near Jesus, the only One who could deal effectively with the evil spirits. But verse two tells us that even though a legion of these fallen angels were tormenting him, the man was still able to make his way to Christ at the first opportunity. We’ll come back to this a the end of the message.
Observation #3 — the demons identification of Jesus: The first thing the demonized man says to Jesus is, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, the Son of the Most HIgh God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” Now it’s clear that the ruling demon is the one who is really doing the talking here because of what the text says next … For Jesus was saying to the man, “Come out of the man you unclean spirit.” Our Lord wasn’t talking to the man, but the demon! Before He arrived these evil spirits exhibited no fear. Rather, they were the ones putting fear into the people. But once Jesus arrived and the man had found the strength to make his way to Him, the shoe was on the other foot. The demons were the ones being tormented by none other than the Son of the Most High God. This is an important title because it’s associated with God in both the Old and New Testaments. The fact that the evil spirit used it tells us that the demons knew exactly who they were dealing with. One scholar suggests that they may have been using Jesus’ name and title as an attempt to gain control over him. This was a commonplace assumption of that time … the use of the precise name of an adversary gave his opponent mastery over him. Of course it doesn’t work and the demons quickly understand that Jesus is now the one in power as God’s Son who has come to save His people.
Observation #4 — the amount of control Jesus had over the demons: As God the Son He has complete authority over all of creation including fallen angels. That’s why they go from tormenting to begging. Jesus quickly establishes who is in charge and it is not the evil spirit. Jesus asks, “What is your name?” and then it responds, “My name is legion for we are many.” Even many demons, however, have no power over the Son of the Most High and so they make their own request that Jesus would not send them out of the country. They were very fearful that He would cast them into the Abyss where they would be held as prisoners until the final Day of Judgment (Revelation 20:1-3). For reasons only known to Himself, Jesus decided against that option. He gave His permission and allowed the demons to enter a heard of nearby pigs, about 2,000 in number. The Bible says that as soon as that happened, the pigs rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned. And thus they revealed their true nature to kill and destroy. Imagine the power that our Lord possesses that He could, with only a word of consent, demonstrate absolute control over the demons. The kind of authority He wielded was the very reason why townspeople begged Jesus to leave them later in the story. You’d think they would have been grateful that the demonized man had returned to his normal state (clothed and in his right mind) and was no longer a threat to them, but if they were they didn’t show it. Instead they were even more afraid. Perhaps because they worried that their other livestock might be destroyed as well. I think it’s more likely, however, that they feared the power of Jesus. Think about it. Up that that point, the most powerful being they had ever been around was the demonized man. He could break chains and overcome many men all by himself. Then Jesus came onto the scene, took control of the situation and ordered the demons out. And, of course, they obeyed because they had to. It’s not a stretch to imagine that the people from the villages could not wrap their minds around that kind of power and it scared them. Better that Jesus should leave then stay and continue to exert that kind of power and authority.
Application: The Bible recognizes that there is a spiritual world that includes God, angels and demons. Jesus routinely released those who were oppressed by evil spirits. The power and authority He demonstrated over the spiritual forces of darkness provide us with a really good reason for following Him. With Jesus, we are more than conquerors. Without Him, we may well become the next victim of spiritual warfare. Here are three questions to consider as we close.
Can we still be demonized today? You bet. Many people, including some of us, have been attacked by the enemy and his minions. I’ve heard some of your stories and you’ve heard some of mine. The Bible teaches that until that time when the devil and his demons are cast into the Lake of Fire we will have to deal with their schemes.
How do we become demonized? Usually it has something to do with habitual sin that we have not confessed or repented of. It’s also possible that the enemy could have a stronghold in a person’s life because of generational sin (the sins of the fathers visited on the children to the 3rd and 4th generation). In Ephesians 4:26-27, the Bible warns that we are not to give the devil a place in our lives. In the context in which that is mentioned, it has to do with personal anger that we refuse to deal with in the way God instructs … through forgiveness. In any case, it almost always has to do with our participation in actions or thoughts that are clearly contrary to God’s will. There are some instances, however, when you just come under the attack of the enemy and it is through no involvement with sin on your part. This happened to Job. God gave the enemy permission to attack him merely to demonstrate that God was worth glorifying even if there was nothing else in it for the one honoring Him. In these cases, you have to trust the Lord that He is using the enemy to do something that is for your ultimate good.
How can we be set free? It begins with confession and repentance of sin. Then, we need to yield our hearts to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and to act in faith, trusting in the One who holds power over the devil … Jesus, our Lord. Prayer also plays an important role. In a discussion on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, Paul reminds us to pray at all times in the Spirit. This is his way of saying that we’re to come to the Lord with a heart fully surrendered to Him. Here’s a good test to determine if you’re suffering from a spiritual attack of the enemy. Follow the instructions I’ve given you … confess and repent of any sin the Lord might bring to your mind, including anything that might have been passed down to you. Then act in faith by claiming the promises of God’s Word, and by giving control of your life over to the Holy Spirit. Once you’ve done this, ask yourself if you still sense the presence of evil. If so speak openly to the enemy and rebuke him in the holy name of Jesus Christ. At that point he has no choice but to flee. James, the half brother of Jesus, says it like this … Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Conclusion: Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). The secret to overcoming the evil one is to stay in contact with the Lord and depend on Him. In his book, Seven Practices for the Church on Mission, David Fitch shares how the prayers of a church vanquished the enemy’s grip on a neighborhood: In 2010 a group of eight people from two churches felt called to the Detroit Boulevard neighborhood of Sacramento. It was known as one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighborhoods in all of Sacramento. Each house in that neighborhood was a place of danger. Nonetheless this group of eight decided to walk through the neighborhood praying over each home and praying for the presence of Christ to reign over violence, addiction, and satanic oppression. They began walking through the neighborhood, praying over each home and rebuking the demonic strongholds of addiction and violence. One of the eight, former Sacramento police officer and gang detective Michael Xiong, reported that “each time we prayed over the houses, we felt the weight of oppression becoming lighter.” A woman from one of the houses confronted them. When she discovered they were praying for the community, she asked for healing, and God healed her. The group soon physically moved into the neighborhood and started what they called Detroit Life Church. A couple years later a local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, reported that there were no homicides, robberies, or sex crimes, and only one assault in Detroit Boulevard between 2013 and 2014. Detroit Boulevard had been transformed by a small group of people who began their ministry in the neighborhood by praying around houses, streets, and parks for the power of Satan to be vanquished. This change didn’t happen because some people willed it to change. We don’t have that kind of power over the forces of darkness. It happened because Christians prayed to the One who has authority in heaven and earth and He laid claim to this neighborhood casting out the enemy for His name’s sake.