They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (NIV)
When I was in college, I drove a big car – an Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a 455 Rocket engine. Because I had the largest car around, I could fit a lot of people into my vehicle to drive to church on Sundays. Since I often gave rides to people I did not know very well, one Sunday I picked up two sisters who had never been to my church before.
Everything went like a typical Sunday morning, until toward the end of the pastor’s sermon one of the sisters began yelling and crying out in the service, maybe much like the account we have in our Gospel account for today. The pastor quickly brought an end to the worship service and the congregation hurriedly filed out of the building. I stayed behind because, well, I was her ride.
What happened next is an entire story for another day. I will just say that I saw some crazy stuff that did not seem readily explainable with our five human senses. And, I might add, there was a deliverance on that Sunday from whatever or whomever was influencing the young lady.
Ever since my experience on that Sunday, I continually wonder: What are our expectations when we come to a worship service? Do we anticipate Jesus will be present via the Holy Spirit? If so, do we believe he is there to confront demons and bring deliverance to people? Do folks even believe there is such beings as angels and demons anymore? How do we make sense of stories like this?
Perhaps there is so little deliverance from evil in our own experiences and in many faith communities because we simply have no expectation that such a thing will happen. Maybe the demons just sleep through gatherings knowing that their influence is not being threatened.
This brings me to the bread and butter of today’s message. I will give you three pre-suppositions (that is, things that we assume or take for granted) from which I work from when approaching Scripture and ministry. I will also make three observations of this story about Jesus, because ultimately the story is really all about him and not about demons. Finally, I offer three applications based on today’s Gospel lesson.
First Pre-supposition: Demons are real. We know almost nothing about the man in the Gospel story other than he was “possessed by an evil spirit” which meant he was being influenced by a demon. I believe there is an unseen reality we cannot perceive with our physical eyes.
Second Pre-supposition: Jesus has authority over demons. Jesus took charge of the situation because he had the authority to do so. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as one who came to decisively deal with the powers of sin and death, especially as expressed through the demonic realm.
Third Pre-supposition: Demons could be here. I do not mean to scare anyone. I simply intend to point out that demons, or any type of evil manifestations, are not just out there somewhere in the world. Today’s story takes place in the sacred space of worship to God: the synagogue. Although it is a rather dramatic story, most demonic activity goes unaware because demons do not like to be recognized; they like the anonymity of the shadows and to operate in the dark where no one can detect them. If we knew they were around, we would do something about it! Just because we have dedicated spaces to the worship of God does not mean that it magically keeps evil out. God’s people must be savvy to evil demonic ways and take charge to use our authority in Christ with truth, justice, peace, faith, and the message of the gospel so that we might live wisely and shoo the devil away.
Based upon those three assumptions, the following are three observations about God and Jesus concerning the Christian life. These realities ought to evoke confidence in our lives without fear of the demonic realm…
First Observation: Jesus is directly interested in people. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Christ came to directly confront evil and deliver humanity from sin, death, and hell. Jesus showed interest, care, and love to people. In the story, Jesus went to Capernaum to begin his ministry. Capernaum was a non-descript small village that was of no interest to anybody outside of it. Yet, Jesus sought to reach common ordinary people as well as the rich and famous because all are in need. Furthermore, Jesus is concerned about every part of our lives, and not just the spiritual matters.
Second Observation: Jesus deals with pain and suffering. One of the truest theological statements I could ever say to you is this: God loves you in the person of Jesus through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus suffered on our behalf. Christ is against everything that destroys. In fact, Jesus did not even destroy the demon, who was probably expecting that to happen. Instead, the Lord Jesus took the demon’s power away. Jesus has taken the sting out of death. Anything that robs life of its intended flourishing, Jesus is ready to do away with. This can be a tricky point because God will use pain and suffering to teach us and form us into faithful people. Yet, that does not mean God is the author of pain or enjoys suffering. It just means that God’s grace will bend any circumstance, whether good or evil, to divine purposes for our benefit.
Third Observation: Jesus gives grace. Every instance of healing, each miracle, and every event of deliverance from evil are all because Jesus loves us and cares about us, despite whether we deserve it or not.
Now let’s pull this together into some points of application…
First Application: We need the deliverance of Jesus, and not only psychological therapy. I am a big believer in counseling and therapy for all kinds of emotional issues. It seems to me that far too many persons do not take advantage of the resources we have today in the psychological realm. What is more, I daily provide a range of counseling for individuals as both a church pastor and hospital chaplain. However, this in no way diminishes the need for spiritual deliverance or that therapy can somehow replace Jesus. If demons are real, and evil truly present, then no amount of counseling will deal decisively with Satan because only Jesus can do that. I believe Jesus is not merely one option among a smorgasbord of people who could help us. Rather, Jesus is the Messiah who delivers us from evil, like no other can.
Second Application: Amazement is not faith. The people in the Gospel story were amazed at Christ’s teaching and deliverance ministry. They had never seen or heard anything like it. Yet being impressed is not the same as naked trust. Spreading news of what Jesus did is not the same as putting Christ’s teaching into practice and personally experiencing divine power to deliver from sin.
Third Application: The Lord’s Table brings healing. Christian communion is neither only a remembrance of what Jesus did on the cross, nor a magical act of bringing deliverance. Rather, the Table is a means of grace in which we partake of the elements in faith knowing Jesus is victorious over the demonic realm. What is more, the Spirit will join us to Christ and give us the confidence and hope to confront all that ails us. Liturgical rhythms of grace consistently and surely work their way into us and bring about the healing we need and want.
Jesus Christ has authority over everything, including the demonic realm. This makes him perfectly suited and situated to provide spiritual deliverance from evil – which is precisely how Christ encouraged us to pray. So, let us pray the prayer our Lord taught us:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in 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: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.