Where Have All the Demons Gone?
Where have all the demons gone? Modern man for the most part lives as if there is nothing in this world beyond what he can see. Contrary to what the Church confesses in the Nicene Creed, modern man doesn't believe God made any invisible thing. He doesn't believe there is an unseen realm of angels some of which rebelled against God and became demons. He doesn't believe the devil prowls about this earth like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He doesn't believe the devil lays snares to trap people. He doesn't believe that our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with ranks of demonic angels called Rulers and Powers. He doesn't believe that hell belches out armies and legions of deceiving spirits. In short modern man doesn't believe what the Scriptures says about demons nor what every horror movie knows: demons do exist and are enemies of mankind.
Where have all the demons gone? They've been banished by modern man to the realm of superstition. O sure at one time people believed in demons, devils and evil angels, but that is when people were superstitious, gullible, not scientific like we are. Just as modern man armed with huge telescopes can confidently proclaim that there is no heaven above, so armed with drilling devices and sonar technology he can proclaim there is no demonic realm below. He chuckles at those who believe in demons and puts them in the same category as those who believe the earth is flat and at the center of the universe.
Where have all the demons gone? Liberal Bible commentators can tell you. The demons in the New Testament were nothing more than wrongly identified illnesses. The shaking of this man is nothing but an epileptic fit wrongly attributed to demonic activity. You see those poor unenlightened, unsophisticated people misidentified diseases. What about Jesus, the holy One of God? In the text, He speaks to the demon commanding him to come out. The liberal commentators say that either Jesus went along with the silly misbelief of that time or He didn't know any better Himself. Great, either my Savior leaves people in their silly beliefs or He's just as silly Himself.
Where have all the demons gone? They've been banished by man to the realm of poor upbringing. Children who are locked in a closet with no upbringing act like animals biting, scratching, kicking, gnashing their teeth, even foaming at the mouth. So people raised wrongly, poorly, or abusively will exhibit degrees of socially unacceptable behavior. The man in our text simply had authority issues and fear issues from how he was raised. Once more Jesus either didn't know these modern truths or didn't care to teach them, and so He proceeded as if the man had a demon although He knew, wink, wink, that there really aren't any.
Where have all the demons gone? Did they ever exist? Were they just figments of people's imagination, products of their poor science, inventions of superstition? However he does it, modern man relegates real demons to the realm of the make believe. In this respect, he is just like the character in a children's movie about ghosts who walks back and forth across the room spouting off to himself why there couldn't be any ghosts in the room. Back and forth he struts gesturing with his arm, numbering on his fingers the reasons why there are certainly no ghosts at all let alone in this house. While he does this, a ghost is behind him matching him step for step, turn by turn, gesture by gesture. Eventually, the man who is so sure that there are no ghosts will turn and come face to face with that which he denies. A blood curdling scream follows much to the delight of kids.
Where have all the demons gone? For the moment modern men and women have succeeded in explaining them away, but one day they are going to turn and end up eyeball to eyeball, nose to nose with one and they'll find out what our text so clearly shows. Demons do exist. They're real personal beings. They're not forces, or negative energies. Jesus speaks to one personally. "Come out of him," He says to the demon who possessed the man. The demons have minds and wills. They're ordered in ranks. They have leaders. They have plans and plots.
The demons hate Christ; they hate His work of redeeming fallen mankind, and they particularly hate the people of Christ. The Book of Revelation depicts Satan as a dragon waiting to devour Christ when He came into the world. Having failed at doing that, the dragon, Satan, is shown pursuing the people of Christ to the very ends of the earth. Not only does Satan pursue those who confess Christ, he blinds the minds of those who don't know Christ and sends demons to where the Word is being scattered like seed to snatch the Word out of people's hearts. Why don't people come to Churches where the Gospel is set forth clearly? Because Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, the god of this world, Satan, "has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ." And because, as Christ says, "the devil comes and takes away the word, so they may not believe and be saved."
And how do the demons do that? Look at the text. Jesus is teaching the very same saving, sweet Gospel of the kingdom of God that we heard about last week. The people are amazed at how different, how fresh Jesus' teaching is compared to their teachers. Just at this point, says our text, is when the demon possessed man cried out.
Now, the people in this synagogue don't know this man is demon possessed. This is a man they had worshiped with before. He lives in their town. He's a fine citizen. The demon didn't drive this man to live in a cemetery like other demons did. It didn't make him hurt himself or scare people like other demons did. No, this was a peaceful demon. He could listen to teachers blather on about the law, about keeping it, about bringing God's kingdom to earth. But when Jesus comes preaching the Gospel that sins are freely forgiven for His sake, that He brings the kingdom to earth, this exposes the demon. This, the demon can't sit quiet for. This the demon must denounce, but remember the people in this synagogue don't hear what he says as coming from a demon, but from a fine, churchgoing man.
How frightened the people would be to hear: that Jesus, a foreigner from Nazareth, really has nothing in common with them. He has come in fact to destroy them. If He's the holy one of God, He must be crazy. The people can only conclude that Jesus not the possessed man is the one with the demon. So they are blinded and can't see the Gospel in Christ. So the demon has swooped down and snatched the saving Word from their hearts. Or so it would seem.
The demon has apparently won the day. He has labeled Jesus as the demon and so blinded people to the Gospel snatching the saving Word right out of their hearts. Who would believe in the words of a someone there to destroy them? But what does Jesus do? Jesus takes the demon on. 1 John tells us that Jesus came into the world to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus describes Himself as the One stronger than the devil who would enter the devil's domain, overpower him, tie him up and rescue fallen sinners. Revelation depicts Satan as bound since Calvary not able to deceive the nations as he once had prior to Christ coming, an unable to work directly in the world like he had prior to Good Friday and the Gospel going out.
Satan held us captive under the Law, under the very Words of God Almighty which proclaim that sinners must be punished, die miserably, and suffer eternally. That's a promise of the Law of God. If God doesn't do as He promises, then God is a liar, then God is a sinner. God must keep His Law which condemns sinners like us. So Satan rightly claimed us. God had to let him punish us according to His own righteous Law.
The Law of God had to be kept and sins had to be paid for. That's why God sent forth His only beloved Son, born under the Law, to redeem them that were under it. By taking on our flesh and blood Jesus also took on the Law that we were bound to keep. Jesus not only kept that Law perfectly but He went to the cross bearing all the sin, all the shame, all the guilt that rightly belongs to us.
This is how Jesus overcame the strong man Satan. This is how Jesus muzzled the demons who relentlessly accuse sinners like us and egg God on to punish us. What Law can the demons point to and demand we need to keep before we can go to heaven? They've all been kept by Jesus. What punishment of the Law can the demons insist God carry out against sinners like us? They've all been carried out against Christ already. Even human law doesn't allow for the same offense to be punished twice. This Gospel is what gives Jesus in flesh and blood the power to muzzle demons and cast them out with just a word.
Jesus gives us this same Gospel Word on earth today. He gives us this Word of forgiveness to speak in the ears of people terrified by their sins, anguished by their guilt, certain of their damnation. Jesus gives us this Word to wash in through Baptism when our sins make us feel filthy and dirty. Jesus gives us this same powerful Word to eat and drink in Holy Communion when our sins make us feel empty, powerless, starving for love and acceptance.
You see dear friends it is nothing short of the demonic that makes the sins of Christians haunt them, that bring our sins to mind in those dark nights of sickness or sadness. It is nothing but demons straight from hell that make you confess over and over and over again the same sin from which you have been absolved, forgiven, set free of years and years ago. It is nothing but demons that whisper in your ear: "Are you sure you're forgiven?" "How can God forgive you?" "You're believing fairy tales, aren't you?". It is nothing but demons who point you to yourself, what you do, what you think, what you are and try to make you find comfort there or despair trying.
Where have all the demons gone? They are chained in hell waiting for the final judgment, but they still speak in my doubts, my fears, my pride, my guilt, my lust, my worry, my despair. I can debate with their voices all I want; I can reason with them; I can try to ignore them but nothing short of Christ, the Word made flesh can really silence them, send them away, free me from their power. When He says to me in the Absolution, "I forgive you," the demons must shut up and listen. When He says, "I wash you in your Baptism," even the demons can't make me dirty. When He says, "I give you My Body and Blood to eat and drink that I may be in you and you in Me," no demon, not the prince of demons himself, can make me a lonely, empty outcast.
Where have all the demons gone? Wherever the Word of God sends them. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany IV (2-2-03); Mark 1:21-28