Mark 1:21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "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!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 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 evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Spinning head. Projectile vomiting. Levitation. Talking in reverse.
I have those images seared into my memory. I don’t like scary movies at all, but for some reason I watched “The Exorcist” when I was a teenager. With its disturbing focus on the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl, the 1973 movie, “the Exorcist,” has every right to be rated as “the scariest movie of all time.”
What makes it even scarier is the fact that movie – and the novel that it was based upon – were inspired by the true story of a demon-possessed 14-year-old boy in Missouri in 1949.
Demon possession is very real. It is still real in our “enlightened” 21st century culture. And it was very real in Jesus’ first century Israel.
Newly baptized and anointed with the Spirit, Jesus was the new rabbi on the block. He was invited to preach at the synagogue in Capernaum. The people noticed immediately that this new rabbi preached with authority.
Certainly, the devil does not want that kind of preaching going on. The devil had heard that kind of preaching in the desert. The prince of the demonic forces had been shut up and sent away by the King of the heavenly host. Satan didn’t want to hear any more of this kind of authoritative preaching. So he sent one of his emissaries into the synagogue on that Sabbath.
The four Gospels don’t tell us how common demon possession was, but it appears that the demons were putting in overtime during Jesus’ ministry.
Though we may not see much physical possession by demons today, we know that spiritual possession is very common. The devil knows that an all-out frontal assault by his demons may be counter-productive. It would very likely make us run screaming right into the arms of God. However, having his demons constantly whispering in our ears eventually makes us comfortable with the presence of evil. We don’t even realize that we are slowly being dragged along with other tormented souls into the depths of hell.
You see, there used to be a time when society showed outrage at people’s misconduct. But no more. We accept the flaws of others so easily. We accept their misconduct without hesitation. It isn’t that we forgive these people – we simply excuse their behavior.
We boast about our sexual conquests. We laugh off our youthful indiscretions. We excuse the behaviors of others so that our behaviors can be excused. We put no filter over our mouths. We have learned no way of waiting for anything. We must gratify our cravings right now. Then we are belligerent toward those who dare to chastise us.
The Lord preached to the people of Jeremiah’s time: “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush” (Jeremiah 8:12). God could very well be describing our time, couldn’t He?
We have forgotten how to blush. We have no shame.
This is all from the devil. This is the voice of the demons whispering in your ears.
What happens when people have no sense of shame? Auschwitz happens when we have no shame. 1 abortion every 26 seconds happens in America when we have no horror. 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce when we have no honor.
What is the result when Christians have no sense of shame? The result is that we live just like unbelievers do. We live in sin, just like those who don’t believe in the God of marriage. We do drugs, just like those who have no faith in a Savior who cures all ills. We curse and gossip, just like those who have not been sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We don’t worship our Savior, just like the pagans who have no faith in a Savior. We ignore the voice of Christ and salivate over the whispers of hell’s henchmen.
What happens when people have no sense of shame? The result is immoral Frankenstein monsters who don’t care about the hurt and damage and pain they cause. We look alive on the outside, but on the inside we are almost as spiritually dead as the unbelievers.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we may not be physically possessed by demons, but we can be spiritually possessed by them. We know better. And yet we still allow it!
The haunting aspect of “The Exorcist” is that it was based on real evil. The haunting aspect of Mark’s Gospel is that the people in the Capernaum synagogue were comfortable with the presence of evil. The haunting aspect of our lives as Christians is that we have become so comfortable in the presence of evil.
Jesus was never comfortable in the presence of evil. And the presence of evil was not comfortable in the presence of the Holy One of God.
Fearful of what was to come, the demon spoke with an insight which was born of ancient knowledge: “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!” Notice how the demons know who Jesus is, and they even speak the truth about Jesus. He’s the Holy One of God come to destroy the works of the devil. Right on every front. But this truth is a crooked truth, meant to distract, to short-circuit Calvary, to get Jesus off His baptismal road to the cross, to leak the little secret with some advance publicity.
That’s why the demons were always trumpeting that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus was trying to bring His hearers along slowly, shaping their hearing and reshaping their expectations. But the devil wanted to get the image of “messiah” in the people’s minds. Get them to think of Jesus in terms of power and politics. Push on their messianic buttons and get them riled up. Jesus didn’t want people promoting Him as their Messiah because He knew the people would misunderstand. That all changed in Mark chapter 8 when He foretold His death and resurrection. After He had presented that truth to the people, then He was willing to have people tell others about Him.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus being the promised Messiah is a secret, hidden until the end. In Mark’s Gospel, no one (besides the demons) calls Jesus “the Son of God” until the very end of the book. That truth is not revealed until Jesus hangs dead in the darkness on the cross and a Gentile soldier blurts out, “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). And then no one silences him. Why? Because hanging there on the cross, Jesus is the most Son of God, the most Holy One of God. This is why He came, this is why He was baptized, this is why He battled demons. This is how the kingdom of God comes to us – by His dying and rising. And until that happens, until the world sees Him dead on a cross, they will not understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God.
With a word, Jesus silences the disruptive demon and restores order to the liturgy of the synagogue. “Be silent. Come out of him,” Jesus says. And the demon obeys. He has no choice. He must obey the Word Incarnate.
Now that’s authority! This is a word that cuts through the darkness, that casts out the demons, that changes water into wine, that calms the wind and stills the waves, that cleanses the leper, and lifts the paralyzed man from his bed. It’s the Word that declares with the authority of God that Baptism is your personal rebirth in Christ, that the bread of the Supper is His Body given for you, the wine of His Supper is His blood shed for you. By His Word your sins are forgiven, you are saints in Christ. By His Word He will raise you from the dead.
This is the Word that was spoken at your baptism, exorcising the demon from your soul. Because we were born with a sinful, unbelieving nature, we belonged to Satan. We were spiritually possessed by the devil. That’s why the Scriptures say, “we were by nature objects of God’s wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).
All that changed at the font, as water and Word were poured over our heads. Our Lutheran forefathers understood this. The baptismal liturgy we used today is very similar to the baptismal liturgy used five centuries ago. A big difference is that we no longer use the rite of exorcism that was a part of the baptismal rite.
Does that surprise you that Lutherans understood a child to be spiritually possessed before baptism? It shouldn’t. No human being stands in a neutral position but is either for or against God. A child born in a state of original sin needs to be reclaimed from the lordship of the devil through Baptism. The rite of exorcism stated simply: “I adjure you, you unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that you come out of and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ, [Name]. Amen.”
Unfortunately, as we became more “enlightened” and thought less of the devil and his power, we gradually eliminated this portion from the baptismal rite. What a shame!
The devil’s only power is to destroy and corrupt, to give pain and misery – in spite of his whispering promises to give the opposite. But the authoritative voice of Christ is still more powerful to save and redeem than the horrible power of the devil to destroy.
Christ has driven the devil out at your Baptism. Christ keeps the demons at bay at the communion rail. Christ reclaims your heart and soul at the pulpit. Christ’s voice is heard clearly and firmly in the Scriptures you read and the hymns you sing.
The voice of Jesus is different from the voices of the demons. Jesus came to save you from the prison of hell. He paid the ransom price with His holy blood in order to redeem you from the devil. When Jesus died on the cross, the gates of Hades were slammed shut and the gates of Heaven were thrown wide open for all those who believe and are baptized in His name.
In the Capernaum synagogue that day, Jesus rebuked the demon who had possessed that poor man. With divine authority, Jesus commanded, “Be silent and come out of the man.” No one should be surprised that the same commanding Word of God that brought this world into being, managed to bring the devil out of a man. The same almighty power that had defeated the chariots of Egypt; that had shut the mouths of the lions; that had guided the stone to bring down Goliath; now ripped the convulsing and crying demon from the breast of that man and sent him screaming back to the pit of hell.
The Savior’s word released Adalynn from the devil’s clutches in her Baptism this morning. The Savior’s word has created a unity of faith in our adult confirmands as they stand before the Lord’s altar today. The Savior’s Word drives away the demons from your life and silences the devil’s whispers throughout your life. Don’t cling to the one that Jesus is driving out! Amen.