Demons Are Worms; Christ Is Our Authoritative Lord

Text:  Mark 1:21-28

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Who knows how long this evil spirit had been attending the synagogue.  Had the evil spirit been in the synagogue for days or weeks or months or years?  Furthermore, had the evil spirit caused division and disruption in the synagogue or simply tried to blend in?  Had the evil spirit ever been noticed by fellow people in the synagogue; did people in the synagogue distance themselves from this man who had this unclean spirit or was this man accepted as one of the regular attendees who seemed to be a couple French Fries short of a Happy Meal?

In case you are not totally following me at this point, permit me to bring you into the context of our Gospel reading from today. 

We hear in today’s Gospel reading from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus came into a synagogue to teach.  While He was teaching in the synagogue, the words and teaching of Jesus actually collided with a man who had an unclean spirit.  Keep in mind that this collision did not happen in some slummy dark alley or in some drug infested ghetto at night, but rather this collision of light and darkness occurred in a religious synagogue, it happened during a religious service in the day where apparently no one suspected that this man had an evil spirit.  Indeed, this collision happened in a synagogue, a building where a Jewish assembly met for religious worship and religious instruction.  It was from inside this religious building and this religious service—much like our modern day church service—that the Kingdom of God crashed with the kingdom of darkness and literally all hell broke loose.

Can you imagine being present that day, settling into the religious service listening to Jesus teach as the guest speaker of the day?  Then all of a sudden Frank—the local farmer—bursts out in a loud guttural voice crying out loudly, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?” 

Can you envision the confusion?

Who said that? 

Oh my, is that Frank?

What is Frank doing?

Why is his voice weird?

Why is he freakin’ out over Jesus and the teaching?

Then, to make things even more intense, Jesus in complete authority, power, and integrity boldly rebukes and casts out crisp powerful words saying, “Be silent! (aka, shut up you filthy demon), and come out of him!”

What proceeds to happen is that Frank convulses and cries out loud as this dark unclean spirit is separated from him.

Intense, is it not?  Truly, a collision of Kingdoms!  Light and righteousness meet darkness and evil.

Regarding this collision, in last week’s sermon we likewise heard something similar.  We heard that when Jesus and the Kingdom of God draw near to us that repentance and faith happen and come forth.  Otherwise stated, it is the same in today’s Gospel reading, we hear a bit more of what happens when the Kingdom of God draws near in the person and work of Jesus.  Yes, when Jesus drew near in the first-century, not only did repentance and faith happen, but a battle broke out due to darkness and evil being infringed upon.  The light shined into the darkness and darkness squirmed! 

All of this said, I am sure that each and every one of you are thinking about this exorcism that occurred in our text as the Kingdom of God came upon this man with an unclean spirit.  I am sure your curiosity is wandering a bit about the topic of demons and exorcisms.  Considering this, let us take a moment and address this subject.

First of all, we need to keep in mind that we have three enemies in this life.  They are: the world, our sinful flesh (i.e., our sinful nature), and the evil one (i.e., the devil) along with all of his cohorts (i.e., demons). 

Second, because the evil one and his cohorts are our enemies, we must also be careful when approaching the subject of demonism and the devil.  In the words of C.S. Lewis,
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devil and demons.  One is to disbelieve in their existence the other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.  They are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight!”  (Screwtape Letters)
To rephrase this a bit, both a denial that evil exits, as well as an infatuation with evil is not healthy.  Evil does exist and it is not our friend.

Thirdly, scripture teaches that demons are evil angels.  “Because demons are evil angels, we cannot detect them.  That means that we cannot touch, smell, hear, or see them.  Today’s Gospel demonstrates that they can exert an influence on the physical world, but this influence is only a disguise. They are not physical beings.”[1]

Fourthly, while there are obvious cases of people acting like delirious raging lunatics due to having demons, we must understand that the forces of evil typically disguise themselves.  Yes, scripture says that the devil parades himself around like an angel of light, seeking to kill, steal, and destroy our faith.  Demons and their pathetic work are often disguised in our modern culture; they cleverly attempt to make good into evil and evil into good.  Otherwise stated, “Demons have worked out that they can do the most damage in our modern culture by working quietly, behind the scenes.  It is possible that there are just as many demon possessions now as there ever were [in the New Testament times], but they are choosing not to act out.”[2]

What does all of this mean for you and for me?  It means that demons don’t spend a lot of time attacking people who are already on their way to hell, for there is no need to oppose those who are living in darkness.  But rather, demons do attack people and congregations—that is to say Christians and Christian Churches—where the salvation of Christ is proclaimed and given, but they do so under the guise or sneaky appearance of goodness and light.  Permit me to give an example:  Hypothetically, what would things look like if satan really took control of Sargent County and Gwinner?  If you are like me, immediately our mind drifts to negative things such as: mass chaos, anarchy, bloodshed, moral decay, outbreaks of painful infidelity and so forth.  However, is this how satan would unleash his rule if he could?  As previously mentioned St. Paul describes satan in his second letter to the Church in Corinth.  He says that, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”  Therefore, it seems to me from this reading that satan tends to work much more covertly.  So, I ask again, what would things look like if satan took control of Sargent County and Gwinner? 

Consider the following answer from a Presbyterian pastor named Donald Barnhouse.   Some 50 years ago he offered up a scenario on his weekly radio sermon that was broadcast nationwide on CBS.  He speculated that if satan took over a city that, “all of the bars would be closed, pornography would be banished and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other.  There would be no swearing.  The children would say, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached.”

Bluntly put my friends, satan only needs to get the church to look away from Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  Keep in mind that a lot of things that distract us from Christ are not only negative but can be very good things.  “In order to push us offpoint, all that satan needs to do is throw several spiritual fads, moral and political crusades and other ‘relevance’ operations into our field of vision.  Focusing the conversation on us—our desires, needs, feelings, experiences, activity, and aspirations—energizes us.”[3]

So what would things look like if satan took over Sargent County and Gwinner?  Simply put, Christ not preached.  The key issue is Christ and Him Crucified for the forgiveness of our sins.  Where Christ is clearly professed and presented as the Savior of sinners, we can be most assured that the forces of evil will be on-site trying to turn the eyes of the church away from Christ.

While this news of the kingdom of evil and demons certainly can be sobering and even discouraging to you and me, we mustn’t forget what our Gospel reading shares with us.  In the Gospel reading, “Jesus rebuked [the unclean spirit], saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing [the man] and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.  The unclean spirit [had] no choice.  It [was] no longer in control.  It [had to] submit and come out.  Jesus is Lord even over the demons.  It is just as James, the brother of the Lord wrote, [James 2:19] Even the demons believe—and shudder!”[4]

In summary, in our own strength we have nothing, are nothing, and frankly don’t stand a chance against the devil, his evil lies, and his fallen angels.  That is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that we would be delivered from evil; that is why we pray in Luther’s Evening Prayer that we would be protected from the powers of the evil one.  However, even though we are weak sinners in thought, word, and deed we do have a Savior, we do have a Lord that we belong to.  Yes, Jesus is your Lord; He is the Son of God.  He lived a perfect life for you and died on your behalf.  He rose for you.  He defeated death; He defeated the devil; He defeated sin.  You are baptized into His name, into His death, and into His life.  You no longer live but He lives in you.  Thus, you can know and confess today and together that Jesus has complete and total power over demons and over the pathetic-foul-weak-blind-no good-rotten-dirt eating-ignorant-brainless-hopeless worm, who is known as satan or the devil.  Yes, Jesus’ power over evil is pure Gospel to you and to me.  “The most powerful demon can no longer rule you.  Jesus has come.  He has come to expel them and set you free.”[5]

Therefore, Blessed Saints, “When the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”[6]

Yes, the Kingdom of God came in the first-century; it has come to us in our baptisms, in the Word, and in the bread and wine.  Therefore, you belong to the Lord!  He is yours; you are His; He has and will save you and preserve you from all evil in this life and even in death. 

Even if masses of demons filled the land with threats to devour you and me, we shall not tremble or be unmoved for we stand underneath the shadow of the Cross.  The evil foe cannot overpower us for his might is doomed to fail.  The Lord’s judgment will prevail, for the Lord’s Word subdues the evil one and forgives you and me, thus promising us everlasting life forever.[7]

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] James Batchelor, “Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany.” (1 February 2015) (31 January 2015).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael Horton, (Specific Source Unknown).

[4] James Batchelor, “Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] Martin Luther Quote.

[7] A loose paraphrase of Stanza 3 of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 657.

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