Tuesday, August 12, 2014

get out, shut up

At risk of becoming a Sam Storms mirror blog, here's a great reminder from Storms on dealing with the demonic.

A lot of things can happen when the gospel is proclaimed. Some of them, though, are not always welcome. Take for example the disturbance Jesus caused at the beginning of his earthly ministry. We read in Mark 1:21-28 that Jesus preached in the synagogue at Capernaum. Present on that day was a demonized man who suddenly cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).

We don’t know where this demonized man came from. He may have been anonymous and unknown, sitting in the synagogue all along and the preaching of Jesus awakened him from his slumber. But I’m inclined to think that the people at the synagogue were aware of his presence. He was probably quite well known. He was probably something of a nuisance to the Jewish religious community. They had probably tried to help him many times but had never succeeded in driving from him this demonic presence. No one had made a difference in this man’s life, until Jesus showed up and began preaching, as he did in Mark 1:14-15, “The kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe the gospel!”

A lot of people really struggle with a story like this. I’m not talking about non-Christians. Many professing Christians look at this sort of narrative and are embarrassed. “Do I have to believe this in order to follow Jesus? What will my friends and co-workers think if they hear that I believe demons actually exist and actually enter into people and influence how they think and live?”

C. S. Lewis is helpful as he portrays the senior demon Screwtape speaking to his understudy, Wormwood: "I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that 'devils' are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that . . . he therefore cannot believe in you."

Let me make a few observations about this incident.

First, Mark says this man had an “unclean spirit” (v. 23). Why “unclean”? Not because he forgot to bathe or use deodorant! He was unclean because he was defiled and defiling. This spirit was morally and spiritually unclean because in rebellion against God and because of his goal of crippling and controlling people.

Second, although only one unclean spirit is mentioned in v. 23, he is quoted as saying: “What have you to do with US?” Why the plural? Probably because the demon knows that Jesus has come not simply to defeat one spirit but to confront and conquer the entire demonic power structure. This demon is only one of many, all of whom knew that Jesus was there to take them down.

Third, he knows who Jesus is. If others have not yet figured it out, be assured of this: Satan and his demons know precisely who Jesus is. The demon not only knows his name, “Jesus of Nazareth,” but more importantly he knows his identity: “the Holy One of God.”

Demons are theologically astute! They know the identity of Jesus, acknowledge his deity, and are aware of the certainty of their judgment. Yet, there is no sign of repentance. Knowledge alone, quite clearly, does not save! It was the belief in the ancient world that to gain mastery over someone, especially a spirit, you needed to know and speak their name. Perhaps the demon is trying to reverse things and by speaking Jesus’ name hopes to gain the upper hand. It doesn’t work!

Fourth, Jesus “rebuked” the spirit and said, in effect: “Shut up! Get out!” According to Mark 1:34, “he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” Why would he not permit them to speak? Peter Davids (More Hard Sayings of the NT, 27) cites three possible reasons:

a. "First, 'the teachers of the law' associated him with Beelzebub, 'the prince of demons' (3:22). Any tendency to show that he accepted the demonic would have given extra evidence to these opponents."

b. "Second, to accept the testimony of demons about himself would give a precedent to his followers to accept (or even seek) testimony of demons about other things. This would threaten to make Jesus' movement an occult movement."

c. "Third, and most important, Jesus' whole mission was a call to faith based on evidence, not on authoritative testimony. . . . Therefore the demons were short-circuiting Jesus' whole methodology. His command to them was a sharp 'Shut up!' His invitation to the crowd at their expulsion was, 'See and believe that the Kingdom of God has come." As James Edwards puts it in his commentary: “Jesus will have no allegiance exacted by amazement and astonishment” (62). He wants a faith that is borne of affection and love and recognition of his true identity.

Fifth, in an obvious but pathetic attempt to show his power and make a scene, the demon throws the man into convulsions and shrieks aloud (v. 26).

Sixth, and surely the most important thing of all, is that Jesus simply speaks the word and the demon is compelled to go! No rituals. No incantations. No candles. No mood music playing in the background. No charms. No religious formulas. No chanting. No dancing. No cutting off of a chicken’s head. He didn’t have to shout or jump up and down. He didn’t physically restrain the demonized man or press a cross against his forehead. He didn’t use “holy” water or incense.

He simply said: “Shut up! Get out!”

And what about us? If we are ever confronted with a similar situation, what might we expect can be done? Jesus himself provides the answer in Luke 10:17-20. There we read:

“The seventy-two [non-apostles, I might add] 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 on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

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