Do you think Satan is real? Or is he made up? Do you believe there are such things as demons? Or do you think they were invented by charlatans to control the gullible?
Perhaps you think it’s superstition. But around the world millions of people who aren’t Christian believe in demons. Bookshops have large sections of books about demons, spirits and Satan. Let’s try to suspend our doubts for a few minutes, and see what happens to our understanding if we accept that demons are real substantial beings.
The Bible – as we all know – is filled with mentions demons and Satan. Jesus met face to face with Satan personally according to the Bible. And Jesus was able to command demons to come out of people who they had entered.
The Gospels tell us that whenever demons left people there was an experience of healing. The demons were not friendly and they did not bring blessing. They were uncovered by Jesus and deposed, and blessing came.
Jesus and his disciples went around healing and casting out demons. In fact, Jesus tells us in Mark 16 what he told his disciples, that we also shall do this.
It wasn’t just individuals though. Jesus dramatically introduced a new kingdom by expelling evil, liberating captives, freeing victims of oppression and domination, restoring sanity to those with deformed minds, and so on.
We talked last week about signs and wonders, about the miracles that Jesus performed. We didn’t mention these miracles of deliverance though. But just like his other miracles, these miracles of casting out of demons were signs and wonders.
What Jesus is doing besides healing is important. He is exposing the reality of evil. He is uncovering the reality of alternative kingdoms or regimes or systems or ideologies. He is exposing evil by drawing it out of the shadows and dark places where it hides in secret so that no one will believe it exists. It is a great victory for Satan to get us to believe that God doesn’t exist, and his angels. It is also a great victory for Satan to get us to believe that he doesn’t exist, and his demons.
There are many examples of this, but our Scripture reading today is one of the most dramatic. So many demons in one man, all cast out into pigs.
There is a homeless man living among the tombs. He cuts himself and refuses to wear clothes. Jesus arrives and draws out the evil spirits, and soon the man is normal.
Every time people come to him, Jesus draws out the evil and restores them to health. He ministers to thousands of people this way. But all the time these events are a sign of something else.
They are, as Jesus himself declares in Luke 11:20, a sign of the kingdom of God.
There is more though. This is not a sign only for individuals. It is a sign for the Jewish nation. And it is a sign for the entire world. Jesus has come to set the whole world free.
Jesus exposes corporate evil. Jesus exposes institutional evil. Jesus exposes cosmic evil.
The theologian Dominic Crossan has written cleverly of the symbolism contained in the story today of the healing of the demoniac. The first and most obvious symbol is the name of the demon, ‘Legion’. This is the name of a Roman military unit of 6,000 men. His demons are consigned to pigs, who run off a cliff and drown. This is the very destruction of Rome that every Jewish revolutionary dreams of. This real event also symbolises overcoming the evil of the Roman empire.
This evil group of oppressors was seen as demonic. Yet many Jews would have envied the power of this group and would have desired it for themselves so that they could destroy Rome and its cohorts. It was a deep, burning, angry possessive desire to destroy their demonic oppressors and return to an idealized, Edenic past. This possession made them long to transcend taboos and convention, even their own law, to kill their oppressors. So Jesus also exposes the evil desires of the oppressed.
The drowning of the pigs has scriptural echoes of the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Sea in the Exodus story. The pigs are ritually unclean animals, the demoniac is probably a ritually unclean Gentile judging by the way he addresses Jesus, and the tombs are a ritually unclean place.
Jesus has symbolically driven the evil out of Israel, conquered the evil Roman empire and at the same time exposed the evil desire of those who would do so by force.
Jesus shows us that real and significant forces of dangerous evil lurk in dark corners of our world, hiding behind robes, in temples and palaces, camouflaged in political slogans and policies and governments, hiding within traditions and customs, infiltrating groups and driving them to terrible actions.
Look around you and see how this transpersonal evil can infect whole nations, societies, religions and groups just as it does individuals. Look at how many nations have done awful things. Look at terror organisations. Look at the crusades. Look at atrocities.
Jesus by his actions again and again exposes this evil. He draws it out of the shadows into the light of day.
When he heals a man on the Sabbath, the religious elite are unmasked by their reaction.
Jesus is announcing a new kingdom is at hand, and it brings a new spirit. This is a great hope. Our institutions can be freed of evil oppression and filled with the spirit of the living God.
But this new kingdom is not like the old one, it doesn’t come with force.
Paul also talks clearly about forces of institutional evil, about thrones and dominions, principalities and powers. These are not individual demons hiding within an individual’s mind. They are real and powerful forces that work on groups of people.
In Jesus’ day, one of the main groups he confronted was the Roman empire. But when he confronts this evil it seems to shrink and lose power. Pontius Pilate cannot bring himself to act, the Legion is cast out, the centurion needs his help.
He also exposes the dark side of the religious elite, who cannot hide their hatred of him. Who plot to kill him. Who vilify the son of God. Who scream at the tops of their voices for him to be crucified. The evil is exposed.
And what does Jesus do? How does he respond? He peacefully goes to his death.
They get their evil way in cooperation with the Romans, and Jesus is nailed to a cross. He looks defeated. It seems as if evil has won. But love has won. Jesus lives.
It is so important to remember, the new kingdom is different. It does not come with redemptive violence. That would merely impose another kingdom.
It comes through truth and sacrifice and love. On Saturday, our day of prayer will focus on one aspect of this issue of breaking the hold of demons.
We are called by Jesus to do the same. We are called to show up the evil in the world, in all the places where it hides, and to confront it with love and sacrifice.
All followers of Jesus are called to cast out demons. Matthew 10:7-8 – “Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!”
You and I, all of us, are called to expose evil wherever it hides. We are all, with love and gentleness, to cast out demons from individuals. And we are all called to use love and sacrifice to cast out the demons from societies, nations, governments, groups and institutions.
We stand up for Jesus and we stand against evil wherever it exists.