Friday, March 14, 2014

He Commandeth the Unclean Spirits

  Life of Christ 44

          Today’s story in the life of Christ (Mark 1.23-34) finds us traveling with Jesus on His first preaching tour of Galilee. For some time now He has been moving from town to town, preaching in the local synagogues, and presenting His claim to be the Messiah. Along the way, He has recently picked up three additional disciples, Peter, James, and John.
         After preaching with great authority one Sabbath in the Capernaum synagogue Jesus was confronted by a demon. This demon clearly recognized Jesus for Who He was, the divine Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. Jesus tells the demon to hush, and then commands the demon to leave the man.
          The reaction is one of incredulous amazement. They were already astonished at His authoritative method of preaching, and now here He is exercising authority over unclean spirits. ‘And there were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! For with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out’ (Luke 4.36). The result of this public deliverance was another wave of fame, flowing out from Capernaum throughout Galilee.
          Leaving the synagogue, Jesus then takes the short walk to Peter’s house, and finds Peter’s mother in law sick. Out of sheer compassion, He performs a private miracle, healing her of her fever. Meanwhile, word has gotten around the area that He stayed in town that night, and once the Sabbath ended at sundown on Saturday, and people were free to travel, entire groups of them began showing up at Peter’s house. They brought with them their sick loved ones, and those they knew that were demonically afflicted or possessed. Jesus healed them all, including the demonically possessed, whom He continued to command to hush about Him. This persisted, hour after hour, late into the night.
          I freely confess that one aspect of this story used to trouble me greatly as a boy. If Jesus wanted to publicize His claim to be the Messiah why in the world would He instruct demons to be quiet when they brought it up? Wouldn’t allowing their testimony be a further, and very convincing proof, of His claims?
          The short answer is no. Looking forward, while the Pharisees could not deny the validity of His miracles, they could and did accuse Him of doing them in the devil’s power rather than the Holy Spirit’s power. A wise Jesus saw this line of attack coming. Allowing the demons to continue to testify of the accuracy of Jesus’ claims would have only established the Pharisees’ future attacks as accurate. No, Jesus would not have wanted Israel to accept Him on the word of unclean spirits; He wanted to be accepted on the basis of His own words and works and life.
          Mark Twain once famously said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that he didn’t exist. After all, how can you win a war that you insist isn’t actually being fought? The psychiatrists of our day insist the demonic world doesn’t exist. At the very same time they are vigorously writing prescriptions to deaden the symptoms of demon possession in the minds and bodies of their patients. The medical professionals of our day insist the demonic world doesn’t exist. At the same time they are physically restraining their insane patients behind locked doors in the padded rooms of mental wards. The Chicago Police Department of our day insists the demonic world doesn’t exist. At the same they are striving to defend our citizens from crazed people, hopped up on drugs, who cut heads off and then sit down in the front yard to play an Ipad until the police arrive.
          I’m convinced that much of what happens in the natural world is simply an outgrowth of what happens in the spiritual world, and my study of the life of Christ has only intensified that belief. There are only two choices: either all this talk of demons and devils and unclean spirits was only limited to Jesus’ time, or they are still around today, afflicting, oppressing, and possessing people. I strongly believe the latter, not the former.
          How did these Jews to whom Jesus ministered become demonically possessed? Were they born that way? No, somehow that unclean spirit was invited into the life of that individual. Just behind my garage are five large trash cans lined up along the alley. They hold all the garbage that is produced in our church and in our home. Hundreds of other large trash cans line this same alley. We also have a plague of rats. Curiously enough, those two things often go together, garbage and rats, and where you have garbage piled up, and left uncared for, you always find more rats. As the Jewish society of Jesus’ day became increasingly filled with spiritual garbage it shouldn’t shock us at all that it drew more and more rats, so to speak.
          The same thing is true in our time. In my experience, there are numbers of people who not only allow heaps of unconfessed known sin in their life, thus drawing rats, but they also often open doors in their heart and mind to these unclean spirits. They do not, like the palm reader one block away from my church building, do so consciously, but even unconsciously those windows to the soul still open. Unclean music, for example, pours into your mind and an unclean spirit comes with it. Many other examples could be given.
          These things, these open doors and windows to the world of unclean spirits, have no place in the life of God’s people. ‘Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord’ (II Kings 23.24). Besides frequent proscriptions in the Old Testament we find even in the New Testament stories, such as the one in Acts 19, of God’s people eliminating such things from their lives.
          The solution, however, is not just to clean up the garbage and close the windows and doors of access to our mind. The solution now is the same as the solution then – Jesus. Unclean spirits are beings to fear, creatures from humanities darkest nightmares of the soul, but Jesus has more power than they do (Luke 4.36). This is the same Jesus in Whom we are, and Whom is in us when we are saved (I John 4.4). As we draw close to Him we will find the cure for the physical, mental, and emotional problems caused by demonic oppression. Medicine, psychiatry, and hospitalization cannot cure what are, at their roots, spiritual problems. Only Jesus can.
          What a word is this! For with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.

If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you can find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 19, 'Even the Unclean Spirits Do Obey Him.'

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