Intro – Spiritual warfare is a reality of the universe that God has created. It involves three great spheres of influence – three distinct worlds. There is the world of GOD and the good angels, now confirmed in righteousness, serving His will. There is the world of SATAN and angels who followed him in rebellion – demons intent on thwarting God’s will. These worlds are at war. But these are not equal forces. In God’s omnipotence the ultimate outcome has never been in doubt. God uses Satan to maximize the display of His glory.
The third world is the world of MANKIND. God intended man to rule the earth as regent; instead, Man rebelled. Yet God has made us the object of His great redemptive purpose in Christ to reverse the effects of the Fall and renew Creation. Mankind is in the middle -- the object of Satan’s hideous desire to take as many with him as possible to destruction, and the object of God’s desire to save all whom He has by grace chosen and who will choose Him. This great cosmic battle constantly rages, beyond the veil of our physical perception. But occasionally open warfare pierces the veil, and we get insight into these three worlds and how they relate to each other. For the next 2 weeks, this text will reveal the nature of the demonic enemy of God and man.
As we do this, C. S. Lewis rightly cautions: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our 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 and hail a materialist and magician with the same delight.” Kenneth Woodward, longtime Religious editor for Newsweek represents one extreme when he hails the idea of a devil as “merely a trivial personification – hardly adequate to symbolize the mystery of evil.” Satan no doubt approves the view.
How about the extreme of excessive curiosity? Not long ago a thriving Bible study started among some professional families – docs, lawyers, etc. But they got off on a tangent, becoming self-styled experts on demons and exorcisms. It ended badly. One night they became convinced there were demons in the dining room chandelier. They disassembled the fixture and buried it in various parts of the city. One morning soon afterward some of the group’s children were running down the street shouting, “The devil is going to get us! The devil is going to get us!” Neighbors found the mothers in the backyard hacking a rosewood chest to pieces to dispose of supposed demons. Their lack of clarity on the Bible’s teaching led them to foolish and debilitating error.
Balance is biblical. We are warned; “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” He’s real; he’s merciless and he is deadly. Be on alert! On the other hand we are reminded, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Armed with this assurance, let’s examine the world of demons.
I. Destructive Power of Demons
V. 27 “When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.” Here is a severe case of demon-possession, not just by one, but by many. This man “had demons” (plural). This is spiritual warfare in plain sight and it teaches 6 things about demons.
A. Demons Are Real
Are demons real? One commentator suggests that this man is just psychologically disturbed and thinks he has demons. He had witnessed atrocities by Roman legions and is now convinced he has legions of demons. “He would never have believed that he was cured unless he had visible demonstration. Surely what happened was this. The herd of swine was feeding there on the mountainside. Jesus was exerting his power to cure what was a very stubborn case. Suddenly the man’s wild shouts and screams disturbed the swine and they went dashing down the steep place into the sea in blind terror. ‘Look!’ said Jesus, ‘Look! Your demons are gone!’ Jesus had to find a way to get into the mind of this poor man; and in that way he found it.” The guy was just a psycho, and this is the way Jesus cured him. Really!?! Only one problem with that. It’s not what the Bible says happened.
The Bible’s credibility is at stake here. It assumes demons are real. The first sin occurred when God’s beautiful angel, Lucifer, said in his heart, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14:14). Ezek 28 and Isa 14 detail his rebellion. But he did not go alone. John tells more in Rev 12:2-4, “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” The dragon is Satan (v. 9). The stars are angels as in Job 38:7 describing the creation of the universe: “when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Those are not literal stars – they are angels rejoicing at God’s creative work. So Rev 12:4 hints that 1/3 of the angels followed Satan’s rebellion.
Spiritual warfare thus became a reality. God calls the devil “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), as well as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). But he is not limited to earth. His theater of operations includes heaven too. The war of the ages is being fought at every conceivable level—moral, ideological, philosophical, theological, and supernatural. In heaven, Satan constantly accuses us -- and we would be toast except for I John 2:1, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” For every accusation Satan brings, Jesus springs to our defense – pleading that while we are guilty, we are covered with His righteousness!
Rev 12:7 ff. describes the end of this: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels (demons are real) were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” This leads to chaos on earth as Satan is given full sway to engulf the world in a 7-year period of Tribulation. Then he is bound for 1,000 years as Christ reigns per Rev 20. He is released for a brief time after which he is destroyed in the Lake of Fire. Matt describes this in 25:41 as “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Demons are most assuredly real – they have a past, present and a very bleak future.
B. Demons Were Particularly Prominent in Christ’s Time
The OT has 1 instance of demonic activity and passing references that demons lurk behind pagan idols. That’s it. But the arrival of Jesus touched off a frenzy of demonic activity unlike anything before or after until the end-time. What explains this unprecedented demonic activity? I would suggest 2 things. First, Satan imitates God. He has no creativity of his own. So here is this monumental cosmic event of God becoming flesh. Satan copies, invading humans in unprecedented ways as well. That’s part of the answer.
But I think there is a deeper reason. Christ came for mankind – “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lu 19:10), “not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), “to save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). He told Pilate He had come to reveal truth. BUT He also had purposes directly related to the Devil. John says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:8). Heb 2:14 says Jesus became flesh, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Jesus’ coming was a full-out attack on Satan’s kingdom. This wasn’t so much Satan attacking Christ; it was Christ attacking Satan. When Satan saw Christ appear in human history, he went into full panic mode. Fear gripped the evil empire as never before for good reason; they were under attack. They saw no gentle, loving Jesus; they saw their doom in the Person of Christ.
C. Demons Are Unclean (both Physically and Morally)
V. 27: “For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.” Why among the tombs? Because demons love filth and decay and death. They are at home in physical and moral filth. People who live in a pigsty demonstrate demonic influence. A disordered, dirty, environment leads to mental and spiritual decay. The potential for Satan to influence a downward spiral into discouragement and despair is affected by physical disorder. God bless you ladies in particular who insist on clean households. Certainly houses are to be lived in; they are not primarily for display. But in keeping things clean and orderly, you are doing God’s work.
V. 29, “For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.” This spirit is “unclean.” 22 times demons are called “unclean spirits.” They love physical filth, but what really defines them is moral uncleanness. V. 27, “For a long time he had worn no clothes.” They are the propagators of moral filth. Rev 18:2-3 talks about how this will characterize the end time: “2) And he (an angel) called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. 3) For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” That’s a gross depiction of end-time people given to moral irresponsibility and overt sensuality. Sounds a lot like now, doesn’t it?
I read recently how tough pastors have it in oil boomtowns like Williston, ND. The roughneck workers have brought with them a rough-and-tumble lifestyle and morality. Decency is abnormal. The article says, “One of the biggest challenges is maintaining Christian morals in a place where few others do. Men congregate at the town’s bars and strip clubs after work, and foul language fills the work sites. There are rumors of men sneaking prostitutes into nearby camps. A Christian named Phil said, “In the shop, it’s ‘f this, f that’ – that’s a contagious way of talking.’” Sound familiar? You say, “What would you expect in that kind of environment?” But I can testify from personal experience, that language is no different in the govt offices and corporate boardrooms where I’ve spent a lot of time. Neither are the off-color stories and recreational activities of men away from home.
What would have been shamefully hidden 50 years ago now streams into our living rooms. Satan has used men like Hugh Hefner to mainstream pornography. What God invented for the ultimate joy and pleasure of mankind within the confines of marriage has become a bonfire burning out of control. The damage is irretrievable in terms of broken homes and a broken society. Our world is drunk of self-centeredness. No society can long endure which places ultimate value on self-satisfaction, self-indulgence, and self-gratification as opposed to love of God and love of others. And we are there.
And it’s not just “out there.” Moral filth has penetrated our Christian culture. At a recent Pastor’s conference, hotel records revealed more than half the participants order X-rated movies. Many Christian couples, some with the approval of church-sponsored sex seminars, utilize pornography to “spice up their marriage”. One columnist in a Christian magazine recently admitted, “Sure, even as a Christian I had traded in some biblical teachings for a more up-to-date morality.” A study by the Evangelical Alliance found that 1/3 of evangelicals between ages 18 and 35 approve of unmarried men and women living together. One Christian college president confided to Christianity Today that his most troubling issue is that student leaders are outspoken in their Christian commitment and yet living with their girlfriend or boyfriend – and not seeing a disconnect. Wonder why? A Kaiser Foundation study recently showed that 87% of sitcoms and 87% of TV drama has sexual content – the vast majority of which suggests that everyone, right down to high school students, engages in sexual activity with no moral judgment. Our kids are simply getting the message that radiates nightly from the living room.
This is not even to mention the internet which has made hard-core pornography the most common marriage problem. Considered to be private and not affecting anyone else, any qualified marriage counselor will confirm that a husband’s addiction to pornography will in short order make it impossible for him to relate normally to his wife sexually.
So, are we saying that sex is wrong? May it never be? It is one of the finest gifts God has given to mankind. But when taken out of the context of a committed marriage relationship, it is an out-of-control wildfire that destroys everything in its path. Unclean spirits revel in dragging God’s treasure through the squalor of abuse in the name of self-gratification. They are winning the war for moral responsibility? Make no mistake, filth in whatever form comes from the world of Satan and his demons. As one limerick summarized:
God’s plan made a hopeful beginning,
But man spoiled his changes by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory,
But, at present, the other side’s winning.
Conc -- How do we respond? May I suggest if Christian values no longer hold sway in our society as they once did, we can and must still be an outpost of morality and obedience – not in a self-righteous manner, but graciously and kindly. That is what Jesus challenged us to when He said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). To point others to the Christ who will ultimately be victorious is the greatest privilege a person can have.
The demons know they are defeated. Look at them squirm in v. 31, “And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.” We will see more about all of this next week.They know their time is coming. Who would want to be on their side? Prior to becoming heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, suffered a humiliating and unexpected defeat at the hands of the German, Max Schmeling, who knocked him out in the 12th round. Louis went on to win the crown from Jim Braddock, but in 1938 he and Schmeling met in a rematch with international implications. The hopes of Nazi Germany rode with Schmeling against the hopes of the free world which rode on Louis’s shoulders. Fighter Billy Conn describes what happened, “Joe’s fury still awes me. About a minute into the fight, Schmeling landed the first punch, and it was his last. Joe caught Schmeling with a left hook that drove him into the ropes, and battered him with a burst of punches. Dazed, Schmeling caught a left and a right that sent him to the canvas. He got up. Joe knocked him down again. He got up again. Joe knocked him down a third time; this time his face was buried in the canvas. The referee stopped the right. Schmeling had lasted two minutes, four seconds.” That’s where our great enemy is headed, Beloved. To a final, humiliating, scorching defeat. Meantime, our call and privilege is to live in loving obedience to the winner, even when we don’t fully understand. Let’s pray.