Sun, Feb 21, 2021
Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling
Where My Demons Hide, Part 2
In 2009, a journalist by the name of Matt Baglio, wrote a book called, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exoricist.
Matt was working as a journalist in Rome when he read that the Vatican was offering training classes in exorcism for Catholic priests. He thought: “What? How can this even be a thing in the 21st Century?” He ended up attending the classes and following a priest on his training and writing a book about it. He was surprised by two things:
- He saw some crazy stuff! People who possessed preternatural strength and had knowledge of hidden things. They could speak languages they never learned. People speaking in unnatural voices, saying things like: “This person belongs to us. He spoke with honest priests who told stories of seeing demon possessed people levitate.
Matt had long ago given up the faith of his childhood. But when he came face to face with some of these encounters, he reaffirmed his faith.
2. The Catholic Church believes that demon possession is exceedingly rare. Anyone who came to the church suspecting demon possession was first referred to a mental health expert. And even then, over 90% of the cases were determined as not being demonic.
I think that these two points are helpful as we approach this passage about demon possession. On the one hand, there are trustworthy accounts that defy scientific explanation. In light of this, skeptics of Christianity should approach this passage with an open mind.
On the other hand, accounts like this are exceedingly rare. This passage is not meant for you to focus on demon possession and exorcisms per se.
Instead, it’s intended to show you that you are not as different from this man as you might think.
Look at: 1) The demon-possessed man’s brokenness. 2) The demon-possessed man’s redemption.
The Demon-Possessed Man’s Brokenness
V1. Tells us that Jesus and his disciples leave the area of Israel and travel across the lake of Galilee to a region called Gerasenes.
Everything about this place reeks of death and evil and impurity. And for the Jew—who kept strict purity regulations—everything about this scene reeks of unclean.
- It’s in a Gentile region outside of Israel’s holy land—for the Jews, Gentile regions were unclean.
- The man is filled with an unclean spirit.
- He lives among dead corpses (considered unclean by Jews).
- There’s a massive herd of pigs nearby. (also considered unclean by the Jews).
And yet, Jesus enters into this dark, oppressive, unclean place because he comes to make his blessings known as far as the curse is found.
In v.2-5, no sooner than Jesus gets out of the boat, a demon possesses man approaches him.
It’s apparent that this man has been assaulted by evil. It’s worth looking at all the ways evil has assaulted him, because it’s an exercise in compassion. Moreover, it shows us what evil intends to do to each of us.
- He’s been relegated to the realm of the dead
v.5 says he lives among the tombs. But v.3 says he lives in the tombs—the caves where people buried their dead. His home is the grave. His companions are corpses. He reeks of death.
He is a picture of Israel in the Old Testament—exiled and living in a valley of dry bones.
Also, he’s a picture of where our sinful desires want to lead us. You may not be possessed by demons. But you know what it is to be possessed by desires and cravings that are too powerful for you. These desires promise that if you give in to them, you’ll find what you seek. But, it’s a lie.
Proverbs 7 portrays evil as a seductress who tempts us to come to her: Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray to her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.
The forces of evil in this man’s have relegated him to the realm of the dead.
2. He has been mistreated and abused
In terms of this man’s relationships, this passage doesn’t describe a single, positive interaction that this man had with anyone. It only uses negative words to describe what people have done to him: v.3: They tried to bind him, v.4 they often chained him hand and foot. Again in v.4: They tried to subdue him. The word “subdue” is a word that’s used to describe taming wild animals. He was treated like a wild, rabid dog.
Like the Phantom of the Opera: His face, which earned his family’s fear and loathing. A chain, his first unfeeling scrap of clothing.
And yes, he possesses preternatural strength with which he can break off the chains of his oppressors—but he cannot break free of these demons.
Can you relate? Perhaps there have been people in your past who dehumanized you and abused you. You may have broken off the chains of those relationships, but some of you are still not free. Your demons might be figurative. But they live with you—imprisoning you with shame, anger, and pain.
3. He cuts himself
Finally, in v.5 it says that Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
Today, we would call him “a cutter” A person who intention harms himself by cutting his skin. According to the Journal of the American Board of Family medicine: 1-4% of American adults cut themselves, 15% of high school students, and up to 35% of college students. Sometimes people do it when they are experiencing numbness or to distract themselves from strong emotions they don’t want to feel.
Others of us, may not cut ourselves, but we still engage in self-harm: Excessive drinking, binge eating, drug use, looking at porn, or even intentionally sabotaging our relationships.
Part of living in a fallen world is that we experience pain and suffering. Part of our brokenness is dealing with that pain in ways that bring us further harm.
This man is in agony. Day and night he cries out from the hill. Romans 8:22 says that all of creation groans—cries out—for someone, something to redeem us. He seems to be crying out with that same plea.
He needs the grace of God to arrive and land on the shores of our life. So do we.
The Demon Possessed Man’s Redemption
Three different pictures of redemption in this story:
1. Christ’s relentless pursuit of him.
In v.6-10, the demon-possessed man runs up to Jesus and begins shouting at him.
Sometimes he refers to himself in the singular: v.7 What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High? Other times he refers to himself in the plural: When Jesus asks his name: v.9 My name is Legion for we are many.
It’s apparent that there is a war going on inside of this man.
Also, part of him is tormented, crying out in agony day and night—he knows he’s living a painful existence. But there’s another part of him that doesn’t want Jesus to help him: v.10: He begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. Notice, the man begs Jesus to keep the demons around. They’re killing him, but he doesn’t want to part with them. He’s rejecting Jesus’ healing. He’s running from Jesus and rebelling.
This man could have written Francis Thomson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him…
But Jesus pursues this man amid his fleeing, rejecting, and rebelling. In v.8 Jesus says, Come out of this man, you impure spirit!
In v.15 it says that the man was sitting there, dressed, and in his right mind. “Sitting there” conveys a sense of restfulness has come over him, “dressed” signifies that his nakedness and his shame have been removed and his dignity restored, and “in his right mind” reveal that the demons have left him. He is now at peace with God.
Jesus came all the way across the sea for this one man. Here, Jesus, the Hound of Heaven, does the seeking and the finding. Luke 19:10 says, For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. You’re not so lost that Jesus can’t find you. Don’t stop praying that Jesus would pursue your loved ones who are running.
2. The drowning pigs
In v.12, as Jesus begins to cast out the demons, they beg to be cast into the pigs. Oddly enough, Jesus gives them permission. The demons enter the pigs and then the pigs rush over a cliff and drown.
Most people read this story saying, “That doesn’t seem fair! What did the pigs ever do?” It’s true that Jews regarded pigs as unclean animals, but God loves his creation—including pigs. Why does this happen?
What if we are reading the story the wrong way? What if the pigs aren’t the victims in this story? What if these unclean swine are the heroes? Could it be that they—as members of God’s creation—play a role redemption? Think about it: It doesn’t say that the demons send the pigs into the sea. Is it possible that they rushed over the cliff of their own volition to rid the region of these demons?
Interestingly, the Bible teaches that God’s creation itself does play some mysterious role in our redemption and in protecting us from evil. For example, Revelation 12, the Apostle John uses imagery to make this very point. He describes the church as a woman in the desert with a serpent—the Devil—coming after her. The serpent spews out a river to overtake the woman and sweep her away. In v.16 it says, But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river.
In the excellent 2006 movie, Stranger than Fiction. The main character, Harold Crick is depressed and his friend offers him a homemade cookie. The narrator says:
As Harold took a bite of a Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, not to mention an uneaten Danish, and Fender Stratocasters. We must remember that all these things which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true.
3. The demon-possessed man
While the good things of creation may help us, preserve us, and sometimes save our lives. We need a greater salvation—a salvation that comes from God himself.
That salvation will come from Jesus on the cross and the empty tomb. His death and resurrection. Mark hints at that in this story.
Later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus ends up looking a lot like this man: Jesus is bound, naked, cut, isolated, taken outside town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as he is tortured by Roman Soldiers. Satan enters into Judas and betrays Jesus.
Jesus didn’t just restore this man by casting out his demons. He takes his place. He takes ours. In Christ’s death, like this man, we are freed from the chains of death and Satan.
More than that, when this man is restored: he is dressed and sitting. This is the language Mark uses at the resurrection of Jesus in Mark 16:5: When the women entered the tomb, they say a young man dressed in a white robe sitting. That’s not a coincidence! Mark hints at this seen several times throughout his Gospel to foreshadow the resurrection.
This formerly demon-possessed man is a glimpse of what will be seen at the resurrection of Jesus. Victory over death!