I want to leap directly into our biblical text this morning from the Gospel of Mark because there are quite a few things to consider–not the least this whole idea of the demonic. I mean, those of us who live in this part of the world are not accustomed to talking about demons and angels and spiritual warfare. Because of science and philosophy, we have basically decided these things are the stuff of legend and practiced by backwards cultures who have not been enlightened. But I want to take a little bit of time this morning to show that in some way, we are not only all possessed, but we all deserve exactly what that demon received from Jesus. Then, I want to show you what happens instead.
Mark tells us that Jesus and the disciples He just called go into a city called Capernaum, and Jesus enters the synagogue to teach. He begins teaching on the Torah, and He causes quite a stir among the listeners because he taught with authority and not like the scribes. This was a big deal. Why?
Well, the scribes were big wigs in the Jewish community. They combined the offices of Bible scholar, teacher and moralist, and civil lawyer. They were highly, highly respected by a great many people, and they were those of a select few who could enter the Jewish High Court. As scribes walked through the streets, people would defer to them, and the first seats in the synagogues were reserved for the scribes. I’m giving you all this background information to show that folks listened very carefully to what the scribes said, and when the scribes were doing their teaching, they always began their teaching by saying, “Well, this text from the Bible according to Rabbi so and so, who said according to Rabbi so and so, who said according to Rabbi so and so, means this.” You see, the scribes always appealed to other authorities to back up their interpretations of the Bible. And along comes Jesus. Jesus doesn’t make any appeals to other rabbis. Jesus doesn’t make any appeals to any experts in theology. Jesus stands before the synagogue and says, “Listen up folks, the Bible says this.” Jesus is showing that He, Himself is authoritative. He has authority to interpret the Scriptures on His own without the need to reference anyone else. It was quite an unheard of thing.
It is at this moment of teaching, when folks are bewildered and awe struck by Jesus that a man enters the synagogue who has an unclean spirit. Don’t kid yourself and think that Mark is trying to lessen the evil nature of the spirit that inhabits this man by calling it unclean. Mark uses the words unclean and evil throughout his Gospel to refer to such spirits, and the connotation is clear–this guy is inhabited by something evil; something dark; something that is anti-God and anti-goodness. The guy with this spirit walks into the synagogue and causes a major disruption. He is shouting at the top of his lungs, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
Now, I want to stop and stay here a moment because there is a matter of importance to delve into. The phrase here “What have you to do with us?” is a very interesting statement–it’s a loaded statement in the ancient world, and it almost always–almost always indicates that someone is trying to place distance between himself and another. According to one commentary I read, “The meaning can range from conflict between two parties..., or avoidance of conflict..., to simple disengagement of one party from another.” (Michaels143) In this particular case, the demon recognizes Jesus; the demon recognizes who Jesus is as the Holy One of God; and the demon knows what Jesus is here to do–destroy us!! Hence, when the demon says “What have you to do with us?”, the demon is saying, “I want nothing to do with you because I know you are here to destroy me! Get away from us!” You see, this phrase indicates that the demon is trying to put an inseparable gap between him and Jesus. Why is this important?
How often do we strive to put an inseparable gap between us and God? Oh, you might think that just by being here this morning or by praying every day or by trying to do good things that you are pursuing God. Others of you might think that you and God are just like this (hold up intertwined fingers). Some of you might be here this morning out of curiosity trying to figure out what Christianity is all about and you don’t think this possession stuff and separation from God has anything to do with you, but give me a chance to address this for just a moment by starting with this question: in what do you place your ultimate trust?
Think about that question as I say it one more time, in what do you put your ultimate trust? You might not have ever thought of this question before, so let me get you to think in another fashion. Complete the sentence: my life would be perfect if only...
Let me tell you how I would have answered that question not too long ago because there were several answers to that statement, and in my weaker moments, I still have these thoughts. My life would be perfect if only I would win the Powerball. My life would be perfect if only I could make my congregation grow larger. My life would be perfect if only my work could get noticed and people would think I am extremely intelligent and a great pastor and they would invite me to come and speak in front of their churches and assemblies. Do you hear what I am trying to put my trust in? Do you hear in the background the things I thought were my saviors? I was putting my trust in money; in prestige; in power; and in acceptance. I thought these things would bring me joy and happiness. And the lure of them was tremendous. Every time I’d get a little extra cash, my heart leaped. Every time the Powerball reached a certain level–at least over $100 million, I’d buy a ticket. Every time folks told me how wonderful a sermon was, I found joy. When new folks joined the church, I was on cloud nine. Ah, but do you think it was ever enough? Do you think I ever was satisfied by any of these deep down desires? Do you think I found any sort of lasting joy and peace? Not a chance. Not a chance in the least. Why?
The demons would give me just enough to satisfy me for a time before crushing my spirit. They would give me just enough to hope in them before whispering in my heart and soul–don’t you wish you had more. And I wanted more. You know, I knew down deep, I think, that it was wrong. I knew these things should not drive me, but I could not help it. I could not get away from those demons because...because I wanted them. I wanted money and power and prestige and status. I wanted them badly. If only I had them, my life would be perfect. Do any of you resonate with such things? I am not asking you to nod or say yes, but in your heart, do you know what I am speaking of? I think each and every one of us do–because every human heart has such desires. They differ from one to another, but every human heart desires something deep down which will satisfy it, and we, for the most part, don’t realize we are possessed by that desire–so possessed that we cannot tell where we stop and it starts. The demon is in very, very deep.
And, for those of us who believe in God, we wonder why God isn’t helping us get what we want. Oftentimes we wonder why God isn’t helping us get that thing which we tell ourselves will make our lives perfect. And, in fact, when something happens to us which actually puts a wall between us and our deepest desire–when we are faced with hardship or hurt, we cry out to God saying, “What are you doing to me?!!” You know, that’s not very far off from “What do you want with me, Jesus of Nazareth?”
Because what is behind that question to God? Why do we toss our hands up in the sky and say, “God why are you doing this to me?” Here’s what’s behind that question, and I’m sorry if this hurts, but it hurt me like hell when I first heard it too. When we ask that question of God, we don’t believe we deserve what is happening. We don’t believe we deserve any sort of pain or suffering or agony. We believe we have done enough good things and been good enough sort of people that we don’t deserve God causing us any sort of harm. When we say, “God, why are you doing this to me?”, we are really saying, “God, I’m a pretty doggone good person, and I don’t deserve this! Stop it!” Do you see the self-righteousness of that statement? Do you see how that statement is trying to put distance between you and God? Do you see how it is putting an inseparable gap between you and God? Remember when I said we were all possessed? Remember when I said we deserve what happened to that demon? Yeah, it’s not pretty. We are all right there being confronted by the Holy One of God.
And what Jesus does to that demon really isn’t pretty. “Shut up!” Jesus says, “Be muzzled, tie a rope around your mouth!” –that’s actually what the Greek says. “Come out of Him!” And with a loud cry–a cry that is indicative of a death wail, the demon comes out. And the people are amazed–actually the word means they are either amazed in a good way or they are terrified. Perhaps they are terrified because Jesus just revealed He indeed is here in this world to destroy evil. Jesus is here to defeat the powers of darkness, including the darkness which is deep within our hearts–with those demons we cling to.
But here is the interesting twist. Here is the message Jesus has for you and for me. Instead of crushing us and destroying us–instead of tearing us out and sending us to our demise, Jesus Himself was tied up. Jesus Himself was cast out by the powers that be and hung on a cross. And while on that cross He cried out a death wail, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!” as he endured the wrath of God that was meant for you and for me. He took upon Himself the punishment which we should have received for trusting in false gods and for putting an inseparable gap between us and God. And Jesus did this because He loves you.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him!
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” God’s perfect love casts out our fear, our demons, and changes our hearts. Our hearts are grasped by what God has done so that we begin saying something very different. We say, “My life would be perfect, if I had Jesus.” For in Him we find true fulfillment; true joy; and true peace. May you find peace in Jesus. Amen.