A new film was released last week called, “The Devil Inside.” It’s a blend of The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist following a filmmaker investigating her mother who commits murders while possessed by demons. I don’t recommend you go and see the film. I certainly won’t be going. But despite awful reviews the film has already made more than 50 million pounds in the USA. It proves that there is still an unhealthy appetite for that genre of horror films.
When it comes to demon possession and exorcism and the occult in general, films and books usually get most things wrong. But what is the truth? Do demons exist? What does the Bible tell us? It was not by my design that we come this week in our studies in Mark’s Gospel to the story of Jesus and Legion. It gives us a powerful example of the difference Jesus makes!
Here was a man totally overcome by evil.
3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
It would be hard to imagine any human being falling so low that his only home became the tombs of the dead. We can’t imagine that man’s desperation, crying out day and night, continually mutilating himself, driven away from human companionship. But perhaps we have known friends or neighbour who have gone through desperate times – or maybe not come through at all. At times the devil does terrible damage to God’s world and Adam’s children.
The root cause
Not for all suffering in the world – but specifically the problem for this man, was evil spirits, also called demons.
2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.
In this case the problem was not just one evil spirit, but very many.
8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
A legion would be 4000 to 6000 men. The herd of pigs was around 2000. Lots and lots of evil spirits!
Through the centuries the church has identified a number of symptoms of the presence of demons. We see three of them here.
1 Supernatural strength
2 Supernatural knowledge – as we have seen in earlier passages, evil spirits gave to people knowledge of who Jesus really was. Back in Mark 1 the very first miracle Jesus performed was a miracle of deliverance, or some would call it, exorcism.
Mark 121 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “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!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The sign that that man in the synagogue was controlled by an evil spirit was his supernatural knowledge of who Jesus was.
3 Speaking with different voices: in both these accounts we hear of the people shrieking or crying out.
Supernatural strength, supernatural knowledge and speaking with a different voice. There is a fourth classic symptom which is an aversion, anger or hysteria at Christian things, such as physical repulsion from bread and wine at communion, or a physical inability to speak the words of a prayer. Some people whose lives have been taken over by evil spirits may experience evil nightmares or overwhelming fears, or hear the demons speaking to them. There can be certain change in facial expression, or look in the person’s eye, when the demon is controlling them. Ultimately it is the spiritual gift of discerning spirits which will confirm the presence of an evil spirit.
I need to stress a few things at this point.
Mental illness is NOT the same thing as the presence of an evil spirit. If people are mentally ill that is NOT cause by demons. Legion was not mad, or depressed, or bipolar. Legion was afflicted by evil spirits and that is completely different. Our brains can go wrong just as our bodies can become ill. That is NOT due to demons – although the symptoms can often be similar.
In the same way, although some symptoms may be similar, addiction is not usually demonic. Alcohol, drugs, violence and immorality can destroy a person’s soul by themselves without demonic involvement.
One more thing. Christians do not usually need deliverance. If we are struggling with sin in our Christian lives it would be very easy to put the blame on the devil. But that would be a mistake. We don’t need deliverance ministry. We need confession and repentance. We need to be filled with the Spirit. Some Christians go overboard and see demons everywhere. I remember a book called “Pigs in the parlour” which goes much too far! But we should make no mistake. The problems this man who called himself Legion faced were painfully real. Evil spirits, or we call them by their other name, demons are real. Some people can have their lives taken over by demons, and only Jesus Christ can help such people. In most parts of the world I wouldn’t need to say these things because not only Christians but everybody is completely aware of the existence and the power of evil spirits. Everybody in Africa, India, or South America knows demons are real. It’s only in the sophisticated scientific West that people have forgotten the powers of evil. If you ever suspect the presence or activities of evil spirits, contact a minister as soon as possible! But back to the story
When this man met Jesus, he knew that Jesus could help.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.
The word “fell on his knees” may equally mean he worshipped Jesus. And Jesus could help. Before was a man in terrible distress.
See what a dramatic change Jesus made.
15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
What a contrast with the violence and despair beforehand. The man was dressed, instead of naked. In his right mind, fully in control of himself for the first time in years. The man could not have freed himself. The demons had complete control of his life. He couldn’t make them leave. Only Jesus could. And the same is true today. If a person’s life has been taken over by an evil spirit, they can’t save themselves. Doctors and psychiatrists and medicines can’t help either. The only hope is Jesus Christ who has the authority to cast out demons, and who gives that authority to His church.
Let’s just define a few terms. If a person’s life is being controlled by demons, which are the same as evil spirits, we say they are demonized. Films and books tend to use the old language and say that somebody is possessed by a demon. When that evil spirit is driven out or cast out, that process is called deliverance, or exorcism.
That is what happened in this story to the man who called himself Legion. The evil spirits were driven out by Jesus.
8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
The demons had no choice but to leave the man, simply because Jesus commanded them. And the change was dramatic and immediate. Physical healing is usually a process which takes hours or days, even when God works a miracle of healing. Healing of the mind is always a process – it can take a very long time for somebody with a mental illness to recover and be ready to face life again. But deliverance ministry is always immediate, and does not need a repeat “treatment”. An immediate and dramatic change.
But, you may be asking, what about the pigs? What was that all about?
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
I don’t think that tells us that pigs always have to be on hand for deliverance ministry to work. But I believe there were three reasons why in this case Jesus sent the demons into the pigs, which then ran over the cliff. Firstly, it was to reassure the man that the demons had actually been cast out. Secondly, it was to persuade the people from the surrounding towns that the man had actually been delivered. Thirdly, the pigs were there to prove to a skeptical world that demons are real. This man was not mentally ill. He was not suffering from depression or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or epilepsy. Mental illnesses are not contagious. It was not mental illness which passed from the man into the pigs. The only possible explanation for the pigs’ behavior is the explanation that the gospels give us. The demons left the man and entered the pigs!
This “before and after” story demonstrates so well
THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF JESUS
Nothing else could help this poor desperate man. Only the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note the power that Jesus had over the evil spirits.
. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”
The demons knew who Jesus was. 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
Luke’s Gospel also records, 31 And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
The demons also knew that Jesus had absolute authority over their eternal destiny.
And by a simple word of command Jesus cast the demons out of the man.
8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
No magical spells. No complicated rituals or sacrifices, which witchdoctors in many parts of the world will still perform today in doomed attempts to gain control of evil spirits. Simply the word of command. Demons have to obey the word of Jesus, just as even the wind and the waves had to obey when Jesus calmed the storm immediately before this incident.
We touched before on the victory Jesus won over the devil in those 40 days and nights when he was being tempted in the wilderness before his ministry began. Jesus the Son of God resisted all those temptations, and in that way demonstrated his superiority over the devil and all the demons. And Jesus explained it in the parable of “binding the strong man” back in Mark 3.
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.
The strong man in this parable is the devil. Jesus’s opponents recognized his authority over evil spirits but they were saying that Jesus’s deliverance ministry was only effective because he himself was controlled by a more powerful demon, even the chief of demons, the devil. Jesus’s explanation for his control over evil spirits was instead that he had overpowered the devil, and “bound the strong man.” Jesus explains in Matthew 12:28 that his acts of deliverance were evidence that God’s Kingdom was coming.
28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
The church has been entrusted with continuing Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom, and part of that is continuing to set people free from the grip of evil spirits by the ministry of deliverance. So demons can still be driven out today, in the all-powerful name of Jesus.
The power of Jesus Christ can set ANYBODY free. Since Jesus could help Legion, Jesus can help ANYBODY. You may have met folk who would seem to be hopeless cases, they have rebelled so much against God. Their lives may be ruined by alcohol or drugs, by crime or greed or apathy, even by witchcraft or the occult. They may even be demonised. Over the years we have worked with people who were trapped by alcohol and drugs, and even involvement in the occult, and we have seen Jesus wonderfully set them free. NOBODY is beyond the reach of God’s love and his transforming power. Jesus came to seek and save the lost and the worst of sinners. Jesus can save ANYBODY.
Jesus can set anybody free, as long as they want to be freed. Jesus can even release men and women from the grip of evil spirits, to the point where the person is completely free to choose whether to follow Jesus or not. And if at that time the person chooses to follow Christ and become a Christian, they will be forever safe and protected by God. But if the person chooses not to follow Jesus, there is a great risk that evil will come to control them once again. In their accounts of Jesus meeting Legion, Mark and Luke record one demonized man but in the same place Matthew speaks of Jesus bringing deliverance to two men but makes no mention of either of them following Jesus afterwards. Perhaps Mark and Luke only record the happy ending of the one man who ended up following Jesus. Perhaps there was another who was equally freed from evil spirits, but chose not to follow Jesus but in the end returned to the life he knew in the graveyard. But the happy ending in Mark’s gospel gives us a wonderful example of the difference Jesus makes to a life!
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
What a lovely example of the enthusiasm of a new Christian. Jesus gives him the same job as he gives to all of u. “Go and tell how much the Lord has done for you.” If we have experienced the transforming power of Jesus, if Jesus has set us free from sin and death, then we should be telling other people what God has done for us. And the fantastic news is that if Jesus could save Legion, he really can save ANYBODY!