Disrupting the Demons
Today we continue our journey in the Book of Mark. You’ll remember that Mark is believed to be the first Gospel account to be written down, and it’s also the shortest. Mark is a guy in a hurry. He doesn’t waste time with the nativity or stories of Jesus’ childhood, he just dives right in. And it seems like everything in Mark happens immediately. Go ahead and check sometime. Read Mark (probably the NRSV or the NIV translations) and see how many times he uses that word. Mark is the action and adventure Gospel.
While we’re still in the first chapter, we come upon Jesus’ first act (or acts) of ministry. He makes his debut as our Lord and Savior by interrupting a bunch of people who were trying to study. He shows up at the synagogue and just gets up in front of everyone and says, “I’d like to tell you what I think.” Really. Well, that’s what he could have said. We don’t know what he said. Mark doesn’t tell us the content of his message, just that he spoke as one with authority—meaning that he seemed like he knew what he was talking about. And everyone is wondering just who does this guy think he is. Can you imagine someone we don’t know just turning up here in worship and interrupting this sermon to start in on his or her own agenda? That would be weird…and a little disturbing…definitely disruptive.
And then comes turnabout. Jesus the interloper is interrupted by a man possessed by an evil spirit, or a demon.
Let’s just pause here for a moment and take ourselves out of our post-modern, enlightened, hyper-educated world. We need to imagine ourselves as ancient middle Easterners. The world is still flat and not all that large. There is no Galileo or Darwin or Freud. Mental illness is not a thing, and even physical illness is linked to your spiritual fitness or how perfectly pious you may or may not be. Spirits are very real, not imaginary entities or manifestations of a physical or chemical imbalance. Spirits are not as powerful as God, but definitely more powerful than people. When a spirit or demon possesses a person, that person has no power to stop it.
And the demon living inside the man knows that Jesus has come to destroy him. While the other people are still wondering just who this man is, the demon knows exactly who he is and the kind of power he wields. And sure enough, the encounter with Christ is the end of that demon.
Now if we let ourselves come back to our own Neil Degrasse Tyson kind of world, we know we still have our demons. We understand them a bit better than the ancient Jews, but that doesn’t mean we’ve figured out how to get rid of them. And even in our post- modern, enlightened, educated world, it’s still our demons who recognize that Jesus is here to destroy them.
The demon of shame knows it will be felled if we really believe that we are forgiven, so it makes sure we believe that deep down we don’t deserve forgiveness
The demon of anxiety knows that it will be calmed if we actually trust in the sovereignty of God, so it tells us we’re fools to trust in something or someone we can’t see.
The demon of bitterness knows that it will be done in if we extend the forgiveness we have been given to others, so it tells us we are suckers to let people off the hook.
The demon of obligation and control knows is end is near if we answer the call of Jesus to lay down our burdens, so it makes sure that we are convinced that everything depends on our actions.
How many times have our own demons told Jesus to just go away?
If find it really interesting that Mark has Jesus burst onto the ministry scene not with a sermon or a healing or a flashy miracle. Jesus’ first two acts of ministry in the Book of Mark are interruption and exorcism. In the course of an afternoon, he manages to disrupt both the devoted and the demon.
As much as we need rescuing for our demons, we also, at times, need some disruption to our devotion. In those times when we get a little comfortable in our rituals, a little smug about our commitment and a little prideful of our practices. Mark makes it clear that ours is a Savior ready to battle our demons to save us from being possessed, but also prepared to challenge our devotions to rescue us from becoming too pious.
No one said a Life in Christ was easy, but it is certainly never dull.