By Pastor Glenn Pease
The hero in one of Bruce Marshalls novels is a Benedictine Monk who is shocked at the general disbelief in the supernatural. Even the local Anglican priest argued with him against it. He is so disturbed that he is determined that all shall see a miracle, and he prays that a nearby dancing establishment of ill repute be transferred to as rock out in the sea, and it happened. The building, dancing girls, neon lights and all rose into the air leaving a huge hole in the ground, and was noiselessly deposited on the island rock. The flight lasting exactly 17 minutes. What Christian has not dreamed of possessing such power? The monk is so excited that he cannot sleep all night for wondering how the church is going to cope with the mass conversions that will take place as a result of this marvelous miracle.
The next day the press gave the story front page publicity, but there was no stampede of people into the church. In fact, the people thought this unusual event only proved that the clergy were not to be trusted. The policeman on the beat considered a arresting him for wrongful removal of property, and the dance hall owner sued him for damages due to transfer of his business to a location less convenient to his patrons. The only positive note was that a film producer made him an offer to enter the movies. Of course, its all fiction, and claims to be no more, but Bible students will recognize it to be based on the facts of the historical experiences of Christ. Miracles have had surprisingly little effect on the unbelieving world. If the church had to depend upon miracles for its growth and success, it would have died while it was being born in the ministry of Christ.
The leaders of Israel saw the power of Christ demonstrated time and time again, yet they did not believe, but sought to kill Him, and called Him an agent of the devil. When the rich man in hell wanted someone from the dead to warn his brothers Jesus said, "If they will not believe God's Word, they will not believe a man from the dead." Miracles will not convince an unbeliever, and we are deceived if we think we could convert the world through miracles. One of the temptations of Jesus was to jump off the temple and use the power of miracle to gain a following. Jesus refused to display His miracle power to draw crowds and satisfy curiosity. Jesus performed His miracles as signs of His Lordship to those who followed Him. They played a major role in His Christian education for His disciples. They were a part of His teaching technique.
We want to look at a day in the education of His disciples. This particular day was really unique for this band of roving seminarians. Chapter 4 of Mark shows Jesus teaching them and the multitudes for the good portion of the day, and then toward evening verse 35 says that they all got into a ship to head for the other side. Jesus was so exhausted that He fell asleep. A day of teaching is an exhaustive day. The disciples were at their wits end when a storm threatened to sink the ship, and Jesus continued to sleep. Finally in desperation they wake Him saying, "Master, carest thou not that we parish?" Jesus arose and said, "Peace be still," and by His power He calmed the angry waves. They were overwhelmed with awe and fear at such superhuman power. Verse 41 says they feared exceedingly. They were in a state of shock. Dryden's poem describes the situation:
The clouds dispelled, the sky resumed her light,
And nature stood recovered of her fright.
But fear, the last of ills, remained behind,
And horror heavy sat on every mind.
When they reached the other side, they no doubt felt they had had it, and were glad that day was over. Little did they realize they had some major learning yet to do before they slept that night. They stepped out of the ship and immediately must have had the wits scared out of them again, for out of the tomb on the hillside a raving maniac came charging at them, and he was shrieking at them like the madman he was. He was naked and mutilated with broken chains hanging from his wrists and ankles, for in spite of all the efforts to chain him down he escaped and lived among the tombs. If ever there was a haunted cemetery, this was it. Luke tells us that no one dare pass by that way. Of all the places for Jesus to bring His disciples after what they had been through, this was certainly the worst. What a test on the nervous system. By this time it was nearly dark, if not definitely dark, and here they are in a haunted cemetery facing a demon possessed madman. Never had Jesus led His disciples into such a spooky, gloomy, weird, and frightening situation.
There can be doubt that Jesus deliberately planned this whole day. What an impact it is to see the day as a whole. In the morning he demonstrates His Lordship over Satan by His wisdom as He casts out ignorance by His teaching. In the late afternoon He demonstrates His Lordship over Satan and nature by calming the storm. Now, in the evening He is about to demonstrate His Lordship over the forces of Satan by casting out the legion of demons. He is Lord of the unseen realm as well as the seen. He is Lord over the supernatural as well as the natural. All of this Jesus taught by actions in one day to leave an impact on His disciples that could never be forgotten.
There are a number of important things we can learn from this unique closing lesson of that unique day. We learn that no case is too hopeless for Jesus. If ever a man was hell-bound and God-forsaken, and a total menace to society, it was this demoniac that Jesus restored to his right mind. Not only that, Jesus made him a missionary to his people, and being this was Gentile territory, this one time slave of Satan became the first missionary of Christ to the Gentiles. He was preparing the way for the Gospel which would soon be coming to them after the cross and resurrection. This madman turned missionary was an equivalent of a John the Baptist to the Gentiles preparing the way of the Lord.
When Jesus finished with this man, the people requested he leave. He did not hesitate, for He had fulfilled His mission. This demoniac is what brought Him over the sea, teaching us, not only that none are hopeless, but also that all are precious. If Jesus cared so much for such a man who was a curse to himself and society, and humanly hopeless, then who dares to point to any human creature however hellish and horrible, and say that Jesus does not care for such a person?
There are many other implications that grow out of this unique demonstration of Christ's Lordship, but the primary lesson concerns that Lordship itself. Jesus makes it as clear as possible that He has come to destroy the works of the devil. Here was one of the most Satan bound men of history set free to become a servant of Christ. When the disciples are taught to pray, "Deliver us from the evil one, " they will know this will be no problem for their Lord. Not only did madness meet its master in Christ, but the author of madness, Satan himself, met his master in Christ, and suffered one defeat after another. Every time Jesus confronted one of Satan's victims He set them free. The sovereignty of Christ over all principalities and powers is the primary lesson of this strange and fearful experience. It is one of the primary themes of this whole Gospel.
The second major lesson this event teaches us concerns a subject of great mystery. This setting of the madman freed from his legion of demons commits Bible believers to the belief of the reality of demons. Men can rationalize other cases of demon possession, and say it is only what we call mental illness, epilepsy, or insanity today. This argument fails here, however, for the demons are actually sent into a herd of swine. They have to be objectively real, for a subjective illness cannot be transferred to such a herd. Belief in the objective world of spiritual creatures is not superstition, but a matter of revelation.
G. Campbell Morgan said, "Christians make a terrible mistake when they laugh at spiritism, and treat it as a fancy. It is a reality." When we call spiritism a false cult we do not mean that all they do and teach is false and nonsense, but that it is a false way to God, and a false way to be pleasing to God. Much of what is experienced by cults is true, but it leads to damnation rather than salvation. Drugs can give one an experience that is real, but it is not a reality that leads to God. No man is saved by how he feels, but by the death of Christ, and faith in Christ as one's Savior.
What I am saying is paradoxical. The false cults are not to be laughed at, because they are true. We say it is utter nonsense to worship the devil, and be a medium for demons. If we mean by nonsense that it is all a hoax, and that demons are non-existent, then we are denying an aspect of reality clearly revealed in the Bible. This is what the non-Christians means by calling spiritism and demon possession nonsense, but a Christian is compelled to believe in the reality of demons. This is a subject rarely thought of because it is embarrassing to the modern mind. It seems to be too directly connected with superstition and blind paganism.
There are pagan peoples who believe there are evil spirit in every bush and tree, and they live in constant fear of them. They devise all kinds of rituals to drive them away and keep them from causing them harm. The Christian does not want to be in the same category with these victims of ignorance, and so, for all practical purposes, he dismisses the whole idea of demons as irrelevant. Its the same old story of one extreme leading to a reaction to the opposite extreme. They over-believe in demons, and so we under-believe. We unconsciously follow the reasoning of the skeptic. Demonism is connected with fanatical ignorant unscientific paganism, therefore, as an educated enlightened man I cannot believe in demons. This is false reasoning.
If a man has extremely abnormal fear of germs so that he becomes a fanatic for washing and sterilizing everything continuously, would his unfounded fears prove that germs were really non-existent, and, therefore, nothing to worry about? It proves no such thing, nor does extreme fear and preoccupation with demons prove that such creatures are imaginary. Other skeptics object that if demons are real we would see today the same things we see the New Testament. The same objection could be made concerning the great plagues that swept Europe killing thousands of people. If that was true, why do we not see the same thing today? The answer is obvious. We have learned how to conquer this enemy. The same is true concerning demon possession. We do see it because where people are enlightened with the Gospel Satan cannot operate as effectively.
Demon possession is common on the mission field, and the records of it are extensive. Many are just like legion. They go naked and cut themselves, and shriek, and in the name of Christ they are cast out. This phenomenon of exorcism has a long history which goes back even before the time of Christ. Josephus traces it back to Solomon and writes, "God also enabled him (i.e. Solomon) to learn the skill which expels demons, which is a service useful and sanative to man. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated, and he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return; and this method of cure is of great force unto this day."
The truth of this is confirmed by Jesus Himself when He responded to the accusation that He was casting out demons by the power of the devil himself, by saying, "By whom do your sons cast them out?" Even the unsaved can cast out demons, for Jesus said many will come before Him at judgment saying, "Did we not cast out demons in thy name, and do many mighty works in thy name?" Jesus will reply that He never knew them. In other words, though the reality of exorcism is Biblical, performing it is no proof that one is a child of God. There are many marvelous and mysterious things that take place in this world, but because they are true, it is no reason for Christians to pursue them. Our only interest in the mysterious realm of demons is to be an interest in keeping them, by the power of Christ, as close to non-existence as possible.
The exorcism of Jesus was not indirect and accomplished by means of ritual or incantation. He spoke directly with authority, and the demons fled. In Mark 1:27, after his first exorcism, the people were amazed and said, "For with authority commanded he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him." Jesus gave the same power to His disciples. In Mark 3:14-15 we read, "And He appointed 12 to be with Him, and to be sent out to preach, and have authority to cast out demons." Again in Mark 6:7 we read, "And He called to Him the 12, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." In verses 12 and 13 we read, "So they went out and preached that men should repent, and they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.
When the 70 that Jesus sent out came back they were amazed at their power in His name. In Luke 10:17-19 we read the strongest passage in the New Testament of Christ's Lordship over the forces of Satan. "The 70 returned with joy saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And He said to them, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.'" Resist the devil and he will flee from you is the advice of James. In Christ we have the power to escape, and even to defeat the demons of hell. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church of Christ. We can say, "Get thee behind me Satan," and when said in the name of Christ it forces him to back off. The Lordship of Christ needs to be practiced as well as believed.
This first exorcism of an evil spirit was the beginning of a long history of the power of Christ through His church to cast out demons. Back in 150 A.D. Justin Martyr in his Apology wrote that large numbers of possessed people, who could not be helped by the magicians or herbalist, were being healed in the name of Christ. Tertullian a little later called the demons gods, and he said that when they were cast out they confessed that they were demon-gods. Cyprian in the third century said that all Christians had the power to cast our demons. Even women were equal to men in this way. It was a sign that the church represented the kingdom of God.
Through the middle ages there was a constant battle to distinguish between the demonical and the diseased. This was made harder by the fact that so many people tried to fake demonization. In 692 the Trullan Synod ordered that, "Those who pretend to be demonics shall have to undergo the same hardships and deprivation as those who are truly possessed." Confusion led the Catholic church to make exorcism an official duty limited to the priest. In 1614 The Rituale Romanum was formed which only the priests could use as a method of exorcism, and ever since the casting out of demons has been institutionalized in the Catholic church.
During the middle ages possessed Christians were a regular part of the Christian community. They were permitted to participate in all the services, and prayers were said for them. Debate was strong as to whether they should be permitted to be baptized. These possessed Christians would have periods of being completely normal, and then suddenly they would be attacked. When they were normal they were just like all the rest of the Christians. In 441 A.D. the Council of Orange made this rule: "Possessed who have been baptized and are under clerical care should be admitted to communion, so that they might be strengthened in their resistance to wicked enemies, or cleansed after such attacks." There were no clear distinctions between the mentally ill and the demonized at this point.
There was great debate over whether a possessed person should be ordained or not. Some said if he was delivered, it would be okay. Others were of the strong opinion that even the delivered should not be ordained because of the danger of relapse. Demonized Christians in leadership was a big issue just as divorced Christians in leadership is today. St. Benedict made this his ruling: "Anyone who, after receiving holy ordination, suffers from possession, but is certain that he has overcome it, should be permitted by his superior to exercise the tasks for which he has been qualified by the previously received ordination." Clearly, if the clergy can become possessed, the church recognized that any Christian could become a demonized Christian.
As the centuries passed, however, exorcism became less and less of a priority. In the early centuries it was as significant in the life of the church as it was in the life of Christ. At the beginning of the third century Tertullian claimed that only Christians could expel demons, and he wrote to his pagan critics who wanted to suppress the Christian community, "Who would deliver you from these secret foes, ever busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health? Who would save you, I mean, from the attacks of these spirits of evil, which without reward or hire we exercise?" We do not have the time to pursue the whole history, but let it suffice to say there has been exorcism of demons all through history.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, "He that knows what human nature is will be astonished at nothing evil that it produces. I do not mean human nature unrenewed by grace, but I mean that carnal nature which remains even in the disciple of Christ." Spurgeon is saying that the Christian is capable of any evil, and can still be a tool of Satan. We would like to believe that when godly men fall they were not really godly at all, but the fact is, true people of God can be deceived and come under the power of the demonic. Spiritual warfare is real, and even the good guys get hurt and killed in this war. It is time for us to take the conflict of the Savior and Satan seriously. We need to recognize that we live in a world of madness for which there is only one cure, and that it Christ. Ignorance, deception, and madness are just as real today as they were in the day of Christ. It is our responsibility to see that the victory over evil is just as real today as it was then. We need to be casting out the demonic in our lives and our culture in the name of Jesus, the Master over all madness.