“They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.
This is the first encounter that Jesus has with someone under bondage that Mark reports.
Firstly, a general rule about demonic oppression and attack: There are two extremes we have to careful about falling into when it comes to such matters:
On the one hand, you will encounter people who poo-poo a belief in spiritual things and will ridicule people who hold that belief. it is not uncommon to hear such people describe Christians as simple or uneducated and unscientific. I have had people insist that the people described in the gospels as having a demon are simply suffering from a mental condition like schizophrenia or something similar. The insist that everything can be explained by science and reason and that belief in spiritual things is no longer a tenable position for educated modern. We dismiss the spiritual realm at our peril. Demonic attack and oppression is very real, and we would do well to recognise it
On the other hand, I have met people who have a tendency to attribute every misfortune to some form of demonic attack:
- I had a puncture last week – the devil obviously didn’t want me to make that appointment.
- I have a cold, I’m therefore under spiritual attack
- I can’t stop (insert here any sin you care to think of: losing my temper; watching porn; stealing from the office) — I must need deliverance.
What I am talking about is attributing every negative experience and feeling to some form of direct spiritual attack by the devil or some evil spirit. We have to be careful about seeing every problem and issue people have as being some form of spiritual oppression. Because, bluntly, sometimes we’re not being oppressed, we’re being sinful and rebellious.
The trick is to discern where someone has fallen under some form of spiritual attack or oppression—and when they have not.
In this instance it IS the case that this man in the synagogue was (in Mark’s words) possessed by an impure spirit. Looking at this account, I believe that there are some principles we can take on board, and that is what I hope to do this morning. Pick some out and see how they out and apply to us today.
Going to church or being in fellowship is not a talisman against Sin.
This man was in the synagogue – yet he was still under oppression.
We cannot, we must not, just rely on going to church, or being round some strong Christian we know to protect us. They are not some from of Christian talisman to fend off evil. Going to church is not a shield against the devil. We do, however have to be aware that one of the first signs that we need to deal with something is that we stop going (or wanting to go) to church! If you start to feel that you don’t want to spend time with God, with His people or time in worship, it is a massive red flag for your spiritual health and a very clear warning sign that perhaps there is something that you need deal with.
We all know that being in Church is not what makes us Christians. We go to church because we are Christians, we are not Christians because we go to church! But this points to something deeper than that. Some people regard Jesus or their faith in Him as some kind of charm or talisman against evil in the world. ‘All I have to do to keep from sinning is to stay as close as I can to the Lord and I won’t sin’, people say.
- If I can just read the Bible every day,
- If I put some worship music on and worship God,
- If I get to church and have fellowship with (the most spiritual person you know).
Then I will be able to get the better of this thing I just can’t seem to stop.
This is not the case.
For a start, this man was in the synagogue. It was not until he was confronted with the proper teaching of Jesus that the impure spirit manifested. But this is not the only time someone who was in a spiritual environment, yet afflicted spiritually.
The most notable is Judas. Judas lived with Jesus. He spent 3 years as one of Jesus’ disciples, he saw the miracles, he heard and listened to the teaching, he was one of the 12, one of the 72 who were sent out and came back saying, “even the demons submit to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17) yet he still succumbed to Satan. Luke 22:2-4 records that “the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus”.
But it was not just Judas who failed: Peter denied him; Thomas didn’t believe he was risen; all of the disciples ran away and hid. In one way or another they all misunderstood and fell away. My point is this. The disciples all lived with Jesus for three years, they ate with Him, they learned from Him, they even received the gift go the Holy Spirit from Him. even though they spent time in Jesus company.
The truth for us as well is that in one way or another we all fail, we all succumb to fall from time to time. The battle inside every human heart rages on and sometimes we don’t make the grade. Paul describes it in Romans 7:15-25
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
This internal battle Paul describes is the battle of the Christian.
The point is this:
There is a war raging in the spiritual realms, a lot of the time people are not even aware of it. It sometimes seems to me that we wouldn’t be aware of it if we hadn’t been awakened spiritually when we were born again. Whatever the reason, we are now soldiers in this battle and if we are to win it, the weapons we must fight with are not the weapons of this world, they are the weapons of God.
I would suggest the first place to find our armoury is Ephesians 6. I am not going to unpack each one, I don’t have time this morning and this is only one point, but our weapons are not tolerance, reason, mental health care, or any of the other ‘solutions’ which experts suggest will make our world better: they are truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, the word of God and the gospel itself. Hold fast to truth, live righteously, hold fast to the faith, remember your salvation, use the scriptures and proclaim the gospel. These are the only things that can offer real hope to a hurting and frightened world.
Deal with the issue and not the person
Jesus dealt with the problem, not the person. – he expelled the demon from the man, not the man from the synagogue! You may have heard the phrase: ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’, yet one of the biggest accusations people throw at us is that Christianity is simply a mechanism to control people using fear. We try so hard not to be like the kind of judgemental people we are painted out to be that we tolerate far more than we should. I have met lots of Christians who will extend massive amounts of grace to unbelievers, who will put up with and tolerate even quite extreme behaviour and attitudes in them.
If you read Revelation 20:11-15 about the final judgment, you will read that it is people’s actions and not their hearts which are judged. v13 says, “each person was judged according to what they had done”, not according to what they believe. When we see Jesus coming up against people who are oppressed by evil spirits, it is their actions which are recorded. One lived in the tombs, and couldn’t be bound, not even with chains, he also harmed himself. Two others were so violent people couldn’t pass them, . and cut themselves, this man in Mark cries out and has to be silenced by Jesus.
So on the face of it, God is about regulating behaviour. There is a reason for that though. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”. There is a correlation between what we are like inside and how we act and live our lives.
The mantra of the world is ‘follow your heart’. Jeremiah 17:9 says this about the heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure”. It goes on to say (in v10) that “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”. Following your heart will lead you into sin and away from God. You must guard it and lead it.
The solution to our problems is not in our actions, it is in our hearts which is why God’s promise is, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
So, what does it look like when people’s sinfulness drags them into lifestyles and actions which show them out to be enemies of God? Remember, Jesus expelled the demon from the man, not the man from the synagogue.
When people with broken lives come into our churches, when they manifest ungodly actions, how do we respond?
We have to remember that their issues aren’t in their actions, we do what Jesus did. we don’t expel people from the church, we deal with the root, we go straight to the heart of the matter (see what I did there?).
We employ the help of God, we proclaim the gospel, we love them, we pray for them, we trust the Holy Spirit to transform them into a new creation. I am NOT advocating approval. If we are asked, we tell the truth about what God thinks and the eternal consequences of sin, but we don’t use force or coercion to try to change people.
If they have no intention of changing, they will find godliness too challenging and they will leave the church anyway.
People’s lives and their actions will follow their heart. Minister to the heart and not to the actions.
When it comes to believers, even those who are relatively young in the faith, it is more of a challenge. We judge Christians who are struggling in a way we wouldn’t dream of judging someone who isn’t a believer. It is true that as Christians, we have the light. We have responded to the message of the gospel and just as church leaders have a greater responsibility than those they lead, I would posit that we who follow Jesus are accountable for how we live. Even Christians will stand one day before God and be judged, the difference between us and those who haven’t responded to Jesus is that our names are written in the book of life and theirs are not.
Much of the Bible is written to US, to believers. The gospels, perhaps, are aimed at those who don’t believe: they tell us that they are written that we might believe. But they are not just written to unbelievers, they are written to us as well, and the letters for sure are written first and foremost to Christians, to the church.
But the bottom line is the same, if we are struggling with sin, we will be far more successful if we take out the root rather than attacking the symptom. We won’t successfully overcome the stuff in our lives by willpower alone. The Bible says that if we confess our sins to him he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, it says we are to cast all of our worries onto him because he cares for us.
Don’t be de-railed or embarrassed by disturbance / interruption.
Time and again, Jesus goes about his business and he is stopped to minister. Time and again, something ‘messy’ happens. Notice how frequently it says something like ‘they came out with a loud shriek’.
Ministry can often happen at times when it’s inconvenient and it can get ‘messy’ as well.
What happens if we’re in a situation and something happens which we have no response to or that we can’t control? What if someone kicks off and hurts us?
There was a situation in Acts which describes some people trying to deal with a man with an evil spirit and it completely goes south:
Acts 19:13-16 “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding”.
What if that happens to me?
What about how people will view us? Our motives?
Jesus is criticised for delivering people. For example, Matthew 12:24 records that“when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.””
Ministry can get messy. Situations might develop which you can’t control, people might question your motives, you might even get attacked physically. So how do we respond? What encouragement do we get from Scripture to carry on following Jesus in the face of this stuff?
- we don’t get surprised by it. Jesus told us it would happen. For example, he says “in this world you will have many troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)
- Jesus tells us not to be derailed by the fear of what we will say. He says to the disciples that they should not worry when they are brought before the authorities because the Holy Spirit will give them what to say (Luke 12:12). You know what? If you are a Christian, that’s the SAME Holy Spirit you have. He’ll guide you as well.
- Don’t be overawed by the prospect of not being strong enough. John says “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. The context is about enduring whatever life throws at us, but the principle holds. In Christ we can do all things.
- Jesus says this: “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Notice … “whoever believes in me”. Not just the disciples, or the early Christians – whoever. If you believe in Jesus, you are covered!
All we have to do is go for it.
If you’re worried that a spirit won’t shut up if you command it to, chew on this. It certainly won’t if you don’t!
Our ministry can impact far and wide.
Two points here.
From the text: “news about Him (Jesus) spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (v28).
This phrase appears in a number of places in the gospels:
Matthew 4:24 9:26, 31 14:1 Luke 4:14 37 7:17
We have a number of different examples throughout the Bible about reputation.
DAVID had reputation: 1 Sam. 18:30; 2 Sam. 8:13; 1 Chr. 14:17 are just three places where the Bible describes it. 1 Chronicles 14:17 puts it this way: “David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the LORD made all the nations fear him”. In fact it is David’s reputation which was (partly at least) responsible for the collapse of his relationship with Saul.
SOLOMON had a reputation too: 1 Kgs. 4:31 tells us that because of his wisdom, Solomon’s fame spread to the surrounding nations. This is the reason the Queen of Sheba visited him. 1 Kings 10:1-13 (and the parallel in 2 Chronicles 9:1) tells us this: “When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Arriving with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all she had on her mind”.
Uzziah’s fame reached afar (2 Chr. 26:8, 15);
Mordecai’s fame spread abroad (Esther 9:4);
but we have to be careful that we don’t allow this kind of fame to go to our heads:
1 Timothy 3:7 tells us that those who are elders should have a good reputation with those outside.
those who were of high reputation in the church (Gal. 2:6, 9).
From the ‘bigger picture’.
(another example of how we can learn stuff because the gospel writers corroborate one another in ways which I am convinced they had no idea they were doing)
Later on in Mark, we will read about a synagogue ruler, a man named Jairus, who comes to Jesus. If you read the other gospel accounts of this event, you will discern that this happens in Capernaum.
This encounter Mark 1 takes place in Capernaum. Did Jairus witness this event? He is the synagogue leader in Capernaum after all. I’m not going to unpack this too much because I will do that when we get to Mark 5, but I do want to draw this point out. If, as I suspect, the synagogue leader at this moment is the same one we encounter in Mark 5, we can take this home: There will be times when the full effect of our ministry is not immediately apparent. Our witness will reach not only to other places, but will also be remembered by people. Possibly even when we are long gone.
If you have read and been touched by books written by or about people long since dead, you will understand this.
And I think this a good point for you to take home and mull over this week:
Your spiritual impact and influence has the potential to extend way beyond the sphere of people you see around you, those you know and meet here during your week. It will almost certainly extend to people you don’t know and don’t meet. Your witness and faithfulness may well reach forward to a time in the future you’re not yet aware of, and touch someone you have never met.
Don’t underestimate the power and potential of your witness and ministry.