Saturday, February 25, 2017

Of Demons

I understand there's been some interest in demon possession recently. It is indeed a really interesting subject, and can be hyped for effect to garner attention, or on the other extreme, demonic activity can be completely ignored! This week's message (in Luke 13:10-17) deals with a woman who is physically bent over, who many believe is demon-possessed. Most scholars do not, for several reasons. Jesus doesn't treat her as he treats other demoniacs. He doesn't speak to or acknowledge any demons (and they don't speak to him) and he touches her (he never touches a demoniac). Probably most importantly to this discussion, the phrase Dr. Luke uses to describe her condition (that is inferred by English speakers as indicating demon-possession) is "disabling spirit" (ESV). But according to scholars, this term is a hebraic idiom used to describe many physical ailments, even a whole category of conditions. An example might be how we English-speakers use the term "handicapped."

But because in the passage Jesus makes reference to Satan having bound this woman for 18 years, it does make us wonder if Satan "binds" people today, or if he can possess or oppress a person. If so, what does that look like? And what can be done to help a person in this predicament?

In short, Satan and his fallen angels are real, and so is demonic activity. I like to categorize a demon's influence on human beings with three words: possession, oppression, and suggestion.

Demon suggestion happens all the time. Satan tempts. He lies. He suggests ideas into our thoughts and does his best to entice us to sin. He seeks to confuse our ability to make decisions. He still does what he did with Eve in the garden. "Did God actually say...?" (Gen. 3:1) he asks us, and then he suggests that God's word can't be trusted. He can discourage and depress. He can cripple us with guilt. He can fool us into thinking that what he is saying is from God. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." Under this category are so many ways demons affect both believers and unbelievers. It is important for people to pray and ask God to give us wisdom and insight. 1 John 4:1 says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." False prophets are those people who claim to hear straight from God. That's a very common way that demons seek to influence others. So we should put all spiritual messages to the test of Scripture.

Demon oppression is even more serious. It happens when one gives in to Satan or a demon, or when one is attacked by the enemy. I have witnessed many cases of people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses (depression, obsessions, phobias, etc.) who, I believed, were oppressed by satanic forces. Satan can even wage war on individuals with sickness, death of loved ones, and other life activities in attempt to destroy a person's will to live. Read Job! Satan relished the opportunity God gave him to destroy Job...or to attempt to destroy him. As far as we know, Job never knew that the source of his troubles was Satan. In response to this kind of vigorous attack, Peter said to "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1Peter 5:6-10).

Possession is when a demon (or demons) actually inhabits a person and controls them either part or all of the time. This is a terrible condition. But it CANNOT happen to a person who has believed in and has received Christ. A believer is already possessed by a spirit: the HOLY Spirit. God himself lives inside. He is the stronger man (Matthew 12:22-32).

I did not have time in the message today to have a side-bar discussion of demons and demon-possession. But earlier in our study of Luke (August 28, 2016) we covered a passage all about Jesus' dealings with an unfortunate man inhabited by many demons. Here is the link to hear the message. I have made these notes available below.

Jesus' Power Over The Demonic
(Luke 8:26-39)

•If you feel like you are a mess—perhaps so much so that you think God has given up on or forgotten you… 
•If you wonder how Satan and demons work. If you fear demonic activity or suspect it at work in your own life… 
•If you’ve wondered if some of the diagnoses of mental health or addiction-related issues might be modern-day labels for possible demonic influences (possession, oppression, suggestion)… 
•If you have ever felt that some people can’t change—that they’re “too far gone”—and have wondered whether the “Jesus answer” is enough…Today is for you. 

C.S. Lewis prefaces his book, The Screwtape Letters, this way: 
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which [the human] race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…”  

He could not have been more right. We have these two extremes before us today in abundance. Darla and I went camping, across from us there was a particularly loud and arrogant guy who proudly proclaimed that he was an “avid atheist” and he and his wife began mocking God and church. I’m sure he’d have a good laugh over the idea of a real personal devil and demons. On the other hand, while I have known OF people who claim to worship Satan, I have KNOWN many Christians who were a bit obsessed or overly fearful of all things demonic. Ouija Boards, superstitions, backward masking in rock songs have all caused various reactions from fearful Christians looking for satanic vices. Oh could I tell you stories of kookiness!
...Like when we bought our last house and some well meaning people wanted to come over first and pray in every room and anoint them with oil and cleanse it of possible demonic strongholds. Not kidding. Weird.
...Like when I went to a pastor's prayer summit meeting years ago where a man led us to pray against "spiritual gateways" like where "The Katch" and Goody's corporate headquarters are across I-40 from each other and claimed that the Tennessee River appeared to be a serpent winding through Knoxville. Not kidding.
...Like the crazy reactions Charles Swindoll received when he put a little red devil statue on his desk! 
All and more are nutty, laughable examples of people being concerned about the wrong things.

But Satan is no joke. He is real, he has much power and intelligence, and is the leader of a battalion of fallen angels who hate God, hate all people—image bearers of God—and especially those of us God has redeemed. They have declared war on us. They desire to hurt God and his mission, and the way they wish to do it is to hurt us. They hate you, and hate God. Of course, he uses their schemes to bring about his plans, and the devils know their days are numbered. 

When Jesus came to earth, he entered what demons consider their domain. There is hardly any better example of his power than when he met them. We saw Christ’s power over nature (storm/wind/waves). It was so spectacular, the disciples were afraid and wondered, “Who is this?” Their question is about to be answered.

Luke 8: 26Then (right after the storm Jesus calmed) they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. (This is a scary thing! Listen:) For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.)
Mark 5 adds that “No one had the strength to subdue him.” And that “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” In addition, Matthew 8:28 says that he was “so fierce that no one could pass that way.” 

I’m sure he had quite a reputation. I bet all the kids talked about him: “Necked, bloody, demon-man is going to get you!” Only, it was real. Not “they say the ghost of Lucius Clay gets up and walks around” (Charlie Daniels—The Legend of the Wooly Swamp).

But as scary as this man was, we should realize he was really pitiful. We should have compassion on him. He’s a mess! We aren’t told, but I wonder what his story was. Maybe he had been exposed to religion/music/superstitions of the pagan culture that was on display around that area, the “Land of the Garasenes" (the land Mark calls, "the Decapolis") the region along the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee and northern Jordan River. It's population was majority Greek and other gentiles, but there was still a large Jewish population, who were hellenized and known to the other Jews as compromisers. Or it could be that he was just a victim! 

Regardless if he somehow invited or allowed the demonic influence or not, we should pity him. 

KNOW THIS: I don’t care how bad you’ve got it or how messed up you are, this guy is worse. AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHY JESUS CROSSED THE SEA TO SEEK HIM OUT. HE MATTERS TO JESUS. Can I remind you what Luke has shown: Jesus cares about the ones everyone else shuns or overlooks. No one else cared about this man. All had given him up for a life of torture. Then he meets Jesus:

 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him.

If you would have been there to hear that, you would have had chills. Everyone knew what a legion was. It’s a group of 5000-6000 Roman soldiers. If there’s any significance to the name, that means there are thousands of devils torturing this man. Now, before you begin to scoff in your mind, check out this article in the Washington Post from last month
Jesus is no mere exorcist or psychiatrist. He’s the all-powerful Son of the Most High God. They know him and fear him greatly. He has absolute authority.

And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 

Because he could have! The demons, who know their time is limited, may have thought (like the Jews of Jesus' day) that the Messiah would come to conquer. He did, he came first to conquer sin on the cross. They didn’t know he would come again as conquering king. These demons who are meeting Jesus face-to-face are trembling in fear that he is coming to banish them to the abyss—where Revelation 20 says Satan will be bound for 1000 years. They’ve been torturing this man for years—they’re right in assuming that God’s justice required that they will be tortured without mercy. They’re afraid and begging.

 32Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

Crazy! And that's exactly what the herdsman thought!

34When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.

So...Why the pigs?
1. They show witnesses that the demons were not imaginary. There are 2000 rotting pig carcasses floating in the sea. "This is no joke. This man was really possessed by demons!"

2. They show that sinful people make better “homes” for demons than amoral animals. Jesus even used “house” as a description for the body of a person who is possessed by a demon. Demons prefer people to animals.

3. Pigs were considered unclean to Jews. I learned of a rabbinic tradition that claimed they were among the most impure beings in creation. (I get it: slop, mud, etc.) Anything below them was considered, “abysmal.”

4. The sea is a symbol of the abyss in Jewish lit. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament used in Jesus' day, called the Septuagint, abyssos almost always translates the Hebrew word, tehom, meaning the “watery depths of the earth” (Psalm 77:16; 78:15; 106:9; Isaiah 51:10; Amos 7:4), and in Psalm 71:20, "the depths of the earth" are spoken of in a manner closely signifying death. Abyssos never translates Sheol, so in the Old Testament it never carries the idea of "the realm of the dead." In Genesis 1:2 the total chaotic earth is called "the deep," over which the Spirit of God hovered. But during the intertestamental period the meaning of abyssos broadened to include the idea of death as well as the realm of demonic spirits. Simply put, in Jesus’ day, the sea is a symbol of the abyss.

5. If these pigs were owned by compromising Jews, this was a judgment of their sin, indeed of the sin of the whole area of the Garasenes. It hurt their economy, but they didn’t protest. They show their response by simply asking Jesus to leave.

6. By committing suicide in the sea, the pigs are making a strong statement to all who would hear of this. Even pigs, as profane as they are, cannot bear to live while filled with these wicked demons. Death—even death without hope of life afterward—is preferable to life under satanic control. They didn’t hesitate in this instinctive response.

7. There’s no bargaining with Jesus at judgment. These demons ended up in the abyss...exactly where they begged Jesus not to send them.

However you interpret it, it’s a vivid picture of the filth of the demons and Jesus’ uncompromising judgment on them. They were duped by Christ who made a huge statement of their condemnation that simply sending them straight to the abyss wouldn’t have done. Of course those who heard about it—who also profited from the pig trade—were afraid. They were completely uncomfortable with this uncompromising Christ. And they begged him to leave.

So he got into the boat and returned. 

But what about the man? For the first time in years he’s clothed and sane. He’s proof of what happens when Christ seeks you out and shows mercy. Before Jesus departs on the boat,

38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. 

There are some truths in this story I hope you caught:

•There is a spiritual realm, and evil spirits who are very real. They hate God, therefore they hate God’s image-bearers. They can and do INFLUENCE people: either by Possession, Oppression, or Suggestion.

•Jesus wields complete authority over all things spiritual, even devils, who must obey his word. The only way for us to successfully defeat Satan is through Christ.

Hebrews 2: Jesus became human 14that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Because Jesus died, we are not slaves anymore. But we don’t have to wait till heaven to have victory over Satan’s schemes. 1 Peter 5: 8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

•Demons are exceedingly fearful of Christ. This should make us wonder: why are we so fearful of them? Yes, they are very powerful, intelligent, and dangerous. But our God is infinitely more so. And we can trust him.

•Jesus turns messes into messengers. I'm thankful for this. Because I'm a sinner without any merit on my own. I have made messes. But God somehow uses even me. I wish I could have been there when "necked, bloody, demon man" came home at peace, and with a story of amazing redemption through Christ. I bet people listened.

Four practical NOW WHATS:

1. Join Beauty for Ashes. Beauty for Ashes is a great opportunity for women who are dealing with hard things, whether big or small. I plead with you to sign up.

2. Get counseling. There is a spiritual underpinning to successful counseling. We have a great opportunity because Tara Havely is on our staff. We also have other trained ministry staff. Email us (or call the church office or tell us on the card). We will set you up with an appropriate counselor who can evaluate and help you.  If you want to meet with Tara, put that in the email. Otherwise, we’ll set you up with a minister on our staff who is experienced and educated. All is confidential.

3. Read The Screwtape Letters b
y C.S. Lewis. We have 200 copies available, $10 each, but you can also get it online. Think about how the enemy plots and schemes. Know that he hates you. But know that God has your best interests at heart and loves you more than you love yourself. Know that he is in control. 

4. Yield yourself to Christ.

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