notre dame montreal

Did Jesus cast out demons?

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
6 February 2000

Mark 1.29-39

Jesus left the synagogue, and went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come." So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. In the morning, while it was still dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do."

There is an old joke that goes something like this.

An elderly man who was quite ill said to his wife, "You know, Sarah, you've always been with me—through the good and the bad. Like the time I lost my job—your were right there by my side. And when the war came and I was shot I carried your picture with me all the time. Then when I came home and I lost my job and we had nothing- but you were there with me. When we had that terrible traffic accident you nursed me in the car until the ambulance arrived. And now here I am, sick as a dog, and, as always, you're right beside me." Do you know something, Sarah,—you're bad luck!"

There is a part of us, isn't there, that is tempted to look for somebody to blame for all the things that go wrong in our lives or when things don't go as we had hoped; and, more often than not, the people we choose to blame are the very people we once looked to as an answer to all our problems. I wonder what the home of Peter was like when his mother-in-law was ill. I wonder whether he took some of the difficult comments which we tend to make to those who are caring for us when we are poorly?

Then of course along comes Jesus and the other men into the house and perhaps the expectation upon Peter's mother-in-law was that she should prepare food and drinks and things. Being so poorly she must have felt she was not fulfilling her role in the household. Jesus in restoring her to health restores her to take that position. It should not be seen as Jesus making her better so that she can sort the dinner out. So much of what we are attached to what we do and how useful we feel we are in society. Now she is allowed to get on with her life and complete her duties, the scripture tells us that she 'waited' on them.

We need to remember that this is what real Christian healing is all about. It is not just about making people better, it is rather about restoring us to service. When we want God to make us well perhaps we need to think why we want to be made well, do we want to be restored to health for service? Do we want to be better like Peter's mother-in law so that we too can 'wait' on Jesus. Do we want our back to bet better so that we can play golf, or so that we can help move chairs after the Sunday service? God gives us gifts for his service, he sends his Holy Spirit to equip us for service, not so that we can enjoy a more blessed fun filled time.

But let's move on into this passage to deal with a more difficult issue!

I had a fascinating evening this week sharing with the home group at the Leeson's house. The subject was angels and it was quite fascinating and we shared some interesting thoughts. I said that I had never actually seen an angel, one of the group reminded me that I only thought I had never seen and angel, actually of course I might have seen an angel without actually knowing it. This is especially so when we remember angels are not necessarily winged white creatures, but rather beings which are created by God differently to us.

Angels appear in the bible with many different descriptions, and we might infer that they are sometimes almost human. I shared my experience of seeing the film 'city of angels' with Nicolas Cage in which angels appear in black suits and they live in the library. This proved to be most unhelpful. However I think that I was left with this question and I would like you to think about it for yourself.

I believe in God and I believe in human beings, but do I believe that there are other created beings?

When the bible speaks of angels should we interpret these words and suggest that what really happened was that human beings did some thing, and the word 'angel' is just a matter of interpretation? In the homegroup we looked at the passage in the Gospels where Jesus is being arrested and he says to those present not to interfere because if he wanted he could call upon God who send legions of angels. Well could such a thing happen? Is there such a thing as a heavenly army.?

Our answer to all this is going to be important, because if our view of the universe has no room for angels we will likewise find the story today requires interpretation. We read that they brought people to Jesus who were suffering from demons. Now do those demons exist in reality or not? It is a simple and straightforward question which we need to ask and our answer is going to be most interesting and have repercussions for how you live your Christian life.

What do we mean by demons? Perhaps we can all think of a use of the word demon. We look into the mirror and we might need to exorcise demons. I think of the poem which contrast the kind of environment in which a child grows up. If a child grows up with criticism, abuse, being told how awful they are etc. etc then they may grow up to be a mixed up crazy adult. If a child lives with love and compassion and reassurance then they will more likely grow up to be sane and at ease with themselves and other people around them. We know that our childhood influences can hold us in prisons for the whole of our lives. As adults we look in the mirror and we can still hear voices which tell us things to convince us we are no good, unattractive etc. Hopefully in the course of growing up we come to terms with who we really are, recognise that God made us pretty good and there is no limit to what we can achieve if we follow his path for our lives. Now are these the kind of demons which Jesus dealt with? When Jesus cast out demons was he practising some kind of psychiatric rehabilitation, helping people to recognise the good in themselves?

For some of the time I am sure that he was. As Christians that is what we are about too. We should unashamedly go out and tell people to stop listening to the people who tell you that you are fat, hopeless, stupid etc., To tell people that the images which they see of themselves are often distorted and that if they saw themselves as God saw them they would realise how wonderful that could be. The greatest damage which is caused by these interior voices is that they convince us that we have nothing to offer the world, that we have no gifts that are worth anything. If the church is to be in the healing business, it must give people a way to claim their own giftedness. As Jesus' healing hands in the world today, it is the role of the church to heal people from the damage these 'demons' keep inflicting upon them. The church must urge all men and women to break that mesmerising, paralysing eye-contact they keep making with all the old lies in their lives. The church must help people to see themselves as God sees them. Healing occurs when we can see what God intended in us, the giftedness God gives us and the beauty God sees in us. Instead of believing in the lies of the past. More of us need to hear the boast of the apostle Paul who said that in Christ we are a "new creation;" the "old has passed away;" behold, "everything has become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But that does not answer all the stories in the New Testament. It does not explain the ministry of Jesus and neither does it make any sense of the theology of the early church. Jesus and the Christians of the Bible believed that in the universe there is a battle going on. It was not a battle that could simply be explained by human behaviour. Mark carefully records, that much of what Jesus did during his ministry was heal. While some of the healings Jesus effected were for truly physical complaints—fevers, blindness, crippled limbs, deafness, bleeding—a great many of Jesus' healings were "exorcisms."

How-ever we choose to understand that kind of sickness today, it is evident that these were spiritual sicknesses. One of the most telling symptoms of these spiritual diseases was the cruel things the interior "demons" forced their human hosts to say and do to themselves. As Mark mentions in this week's text, the cure Jesus effected was not just "exorcising" these spirits—it was shutting them up!

The ministry of Jesus was one of confrontation. We like to be people of peace and we often think of godly people as people of peace. We do well to be reminded that the ministry of Jesus was not a ministry of peace. Instead he brought a sword of conflict by waging a constant battle against evil. The Epistle to the Ephesians Chapter 6:12 says the following words and I would like you to think about them and think through what you believe

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devils schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the armour. Eph 6:12

Now we will all be able to associate with the words about rulers and authorities, powers of this dark world. We can all think of corrupt regimes which seem to rise to power and govern nations, and corruption in the structures of our own supposedly civil society. We always believed this corruption happened in other places around the world. Perhaps naively we perhaps thought didn't exist in England until we saw that even at the centre of our government, the Houses of Parliament, politicians have been corrupt. The taking of financial bribes for asking questions in Parliament is perhaps just one concrete exposed and tested in our courts.

But what do we make these words from this passage 'For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the armour.' Eph 6:12. This is quite clearly the kind of evil which Jesus is seen to be tackling in the passage today. This is the million dollar question.

Do we believe that there are created beings which are evil (demons) and created beings which are good (angels)?

It is quite amazing that the our society finds it much easier to comprehend the existence of spiritual forces than we sometimes do as a Christian community. I find that fascinating. Ordinary people with no overt religious faith can quite easily conceive of spiritual forces at work in our universe. They go to watch Star Wars and come our saying 'the force be with you.' They can understand the concept of there being good and evil forces at work in the universe. They watch Groundforce and see how you have to plant you geraniums in a certain direction because Charlie Dimmock says it Feng Shui. Old grandads suddenly start worrying about the direction of spiritual energy when they are mowing the lawn. Its bizarre.

I would think that the words of Jesus, the theology of the New Testament, the traditional teaching of the church over the last 2000 years as well as our own experience, should convince us that there is in this world real evil. I know that it is not popular sometimes to admit that it exists, but if there is real evil then we need to recognise it and bring spiritual answers to a spiritual problem. C S Lewis in his writing 'The Screwtape Letters' suggests that the subtle tactic of the Devil is to convince the Christian that he does not exist!

We may think that the only evil which we have to contend with is that which we can see and touch, quite clearly it is not. This should not come as a surprise to us. The scriptures remind us that whereas we may think that we are in peace time, we are not. Human ideas can never hold the answer to these spiritual problems. Do we not think that there is real and tangible evil which evidences itself on the streets of Northern Ireland?

Jesus said that certain evil could only be cast out by prayer and fasting, it was spiritual evil and it required a spiritual solution. And so what should we do? Firstly we need to recognise that there is no greater power than that of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Then we expose ourselves and others to that presence of Christ. You can forget your Feng Shui's, your crystals, your tea leaves, these are a complete and utter failure compared to the power which it is at work in us.

You and I are the hands of Christ, it is our duty to reach out and touch those whose lives need his healing. We are very active as a church in the business of healing, chaplains exists in practically every hospital in the country. However this ministry can sometimes be reduced to a ministry of visiting the sick instead of one of healing the sick and helping to understand the meaning of illness. The story today reminds us that healing needs to be at least twofold, healing of the body and healing of the soul.