Lord Over Demons
April 7, 2019
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ 8 For he was saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ 9 And Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’ 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, ‘Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.’ 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Illumination:
Guide us, O God, by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light; that in your truth find freedom; and in your will discover your peace. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Jesus and the Disciples have crossed over to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. They survived the storm by the power of Jesus’ very word. They’ve reached the Decapolis, the ten cities that are located on the eastern side of the Sea. Instead of being great by a crowd eager to listen and hear the good news of the Kingdom of God, there is one person, a demon-possessed man. As we examine this passage we’ll see the truth about demon-possession, the damage demonic activity does, and the one who is stronger.
The Truth About Demon-Possession
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” That’s the famous quote from Kevin Spacey’s character Keyser Söze. The Devil and demonic forces are often a dividing and polarizing topic. Some spend so much time focusing on the Devil and demonic forces that they give them more power than is biblically warranted. I know a pastor who has implied that any bad thing that happens is a result of the Devil and demonic activity. Others completely and utter dismiss the Devil as medieval superstition.
Scripture affirms the reality of the Devil and demons. He is a real person. There really is a Devil and there really are demons, legions under his command. However, they are not all-powerful beings. They are created beings. They can only do what God allows.
A common objection is that the Devil and demonic activity was just medieval superstition because they didn’t know about mental health. That’s a pretty common objection. But Scripture does recognize the difference between sickness, disease, mental health, and demon-possession.
In Matthew 4, they bring these various groups of people to Jesus for healing. Matthew writes “they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them”. The word for epileptic here is actually a word that means lunatic. While that word has a negative connotation today, in Greek it characterized insanity, irrational behavior, and seizures. See, they recognized that there is a difference between sickness, pain, mental health, and demons.
Demonic activity is real and sometimes they do possess people. When I say that, the first thing that comes to mind is probably something from the movie The Exorcist. You probably imagine heads spinning, spider-walking, and spewing vomit. That’s not quite the biblical perspective. The picture we get of demon-possession is found in verses 3-4. “He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him.”
Sometimes demon-possession looks like a crazed person with superhuman strength. This man is incredibly strong. He is breaking chains and shackles. He pulls on the chains and they break apart. That’s not something people normally can do. I’ve never broken chains and shackles by pulling on them.
Harvey Conn was a missionary and teacher. In his missionary journeys, he encountered demon-possessed people. He said that he encountered a demon-possessed man who was able to lift a car above his head. That’s not something people normally can do. People can’t normally lift cars above their heads.
Sometimes demon-possession is more subtle than that. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11 that Satan pretends to be an angel of light. Sometimes Satan and his legions subtly possess and infiltrate the Church. Sometimes that happens through pastors and preachers who are not really interested in proclaiming and promoting the gospel but are interested in proclaiming and promoting themselves. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
More often than not, Satan and his legions work against us by stoking our natural desires gradually. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy that if you’re proud you’ll fall into the trap of the Devil. In Ephesians he says if you’re bitter you’re under the influence of the Devil. Satan and his legions stoke those natural desires until gradually we are consumed by them.
We have seen the truth about demon-possession, now we’ll see the damage demonic activity does.
The Damage Demonic Activity Does
Verses 3-5 read, “He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones”.
Notice first the damage done to him by demonic activity is that “he lived among the tombs”. He has been driving from society to live in isolation. The man would cry out at all hours of the day. Maybe he would cry out obscenities at neighbors. Maybe he would cry out blasphemies against God. Maybe like the demon-possessed girl in Acts 16 he revealed intimate details about his neighbors. Or maybe it some combination all three of them.
In any case, the man is now living outside of the town away from the community. He lived among the tombs. The tombs were in the hills outside of the town. They were probably in caverns inside the hills. Tombs and graveyards were considered ceremonially unclean. People would only go there to bury the dead. Since they were considered ceremonially unclean, people didn’t go there often.
The damage demonic activity does is not just social, it’s also physical. Yes, the demons at times give him the strength to break apart chains but they also do damage physically to him. The demonic activity led the man to cut himself. He has cut himself over and over. Maybe it was a form of Satanic worship. In 1 Kings 18, the prophet Elijah is having a contest with the priests of Baal and Asherah to see whose god is the real god. When the Baals and Ashteroth don’t respond to the worship, the priests began to cut themselves. Maybe he was cutting himself as a desperate plea for help. The mental and spiritual anguish was too much for him to bear and he began to cut himself in hopes that someone would help. In any case, the demonic activity causes social and physical damage.
J.C. Ryle writes, “The cruelty of Satan appears in the miserable condition of the unhappy man whose body was possessed by the demons. We read that he lived “in the tombs,” that “no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain” (verse 3), that “no one was strong enough to subdue him” (verse 4) and that, naked, “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (verse 5). Such is the state to which the devil would bring us all, if he only had the power. He would rejoice to inflict upon us the utmost misery, both of body and mind. Cases like this are faint types of the miseries of hell.”
Satan’s ultimate goal is destroy the image of God in us. That is what he has been doing since the Garden. He does that by stoking our natural desires. He puffs up our pride until our view of ourselves is so great that we can’t admit fault. He puffs up our pride and ego so that we have an inordinately high view of ourselves. We begin to view ourselves as the smartest, the strongest, the best at whatever. When that happens, we can’t admit fault and begin to view ourselves as our own saviors.
Maybe it’s not pride but bitterness that Satan stokes in our hearts. He finds some wound in our hearts and does his work of making us bitter and angry about the wound. Instead of applying the healing balm of forgiveness so the wound can heal, he wants to apply bitterness so that the wound festers. The more bitterness we feel in our hearts, the more we desire to see others in pain and misery.
Maybe it’s not pride or bitterness, maybe its lust or anger. Satan seeks to stoke those natural desires so that the image of God is destroyed in us. He’ll do damage to us socially and physically.
Have you ever been around someone who is really proud? It’s unbearable. They look down at everyone else because they’re not as smart or as strong as they are. They disdain them. So people avoid them. Satan stoking those desires does damage to them socially.
Have you ever been around someone who is truly bitter? They can’t stand to see other people happy, so they make everyone around them as miserable as they are and in the process drive everyone away. Social damage. But bitterness also does physical damage with ulcers and the like. Satan stokes our desires and it does damage both social and physical.
If this is the damage that demonic activity can cause, is there any hope? Is there anyone stronger?
The One Who is Stronger
The man sees Jesus and he cries out “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” The man is trying to exorcize Jesus. There are several exorcisms in the Bible but we’re not really given a lot of detail about how to perform them. In the last few decades we have found writing from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria that have spells to exorcize someone. The similarity throughout all of them is that the person attempting to exorcize a demon would say “I adjure you by God”. They always appeal to a higher power. He is trying to exorcize Jesus.
But notice he also falls to down before Jesus. The word in Greek is the same word as prostrate. The demon recognizes that he is in the presence of the one stronger than he. The demon-possessed man falls prostrate before Jesus recognizing that he is stronger.
Jesus asks the man for his name and the man replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many”. A legion contained 6,000 foot soldiers and 120 cavalry. Satan in his cruelty has not just sent one demon to torment this man. He has sent a legion. No wonder this man cries out at all hours of the day. He is being tormented by a legion of demons.
At this point the demons recognize they have no power of him, they can do nothing. They beg with Jesus so that he does not send them out of the country. And Jesus relents. He allows the demons to be sent into the pigs. Maybe you’re wondering why he sent the legion of demons into the pigs. There’s really no consensus among commentators.
But in any case, Jesus with his very word casts the demons out of the man. He doesn’t need to appeal to a higher power. He is the higher power. And just like with the storm, he speaks and it is so. He commands the demons to leave the man and they do.
He can do that because he is the stronger man. A few weeks ago we looked at some theories about who Jesus is. In responding to those theories Jesus tells a parable about entering a strong man’s house. He says “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house” (4:27). Jesus is the stronger man. He can enter the Devil’s territory and take what the Devil has stolen. He sees a man that the Devil has bound with a legion of demons and he frees the man with his word. He is the stronger man.
The place where he shows his strength is at the cross. On the cross Jesus defeated death. His life, death, and resurrection accomplish redemption for his people. There he shows he is stronger than even death itself. And as such he can take his people out of death and into life. Jesus is the one who is stronger.
The swine herders see Jesus redeem this man from a legion of demons and send those same demons into the pigs they’re herding and they go into the city and tell everyone. When the city arrives and sees the man clothed and sitting in his right mind and that fills them with fear. They see the man who former had a legion of demons possessing him calmly sitting there with Jesus. They recognize that Jesus is more powerful than they are. And instead of that fear leading to worship, they ask Jesus to leave the region.
People at times say that if they see a miracle then they’ll believe. If they see someone healed or raised from the dead, then they say they’ll believe. These people see a miracle and instead of believing and praising God, they ask Jesus to leave. The truth is miracles won’t convince many people to believe. They’ll see the miracle but it won’t make them believe. The only thing that can make someone believe is the Holy Spirit working in them.
As Jesus is leaving, the man who had been possessed by demons comes up and asks if he can go with Jesus and the other disciples. Jesus wouldn’t permit him to come with them. Instead he commanded the man to “go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you”.
Jesus knows the best place for the man. And that is for him to stay at home. The best place for this man to grow and serve God is back home. And that’s true for many of us. The best place for many is not pastoral ministry but in other areas of work. We need godly men and women working in business, accounting, construction, and teaching. Godly teachers, employers, and workers probably do more to advance the kingdom than pastors do.
The Devil and demons are real. They do real damage, seeking to destroy God’s creation. But Jesus is stronger than them. He has defeated death and the Devil through his death on the cross.