DEALING WITH DEMONS Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 9:14-29 LSB Series B, Proper 19
September 16, 2018
14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (ESV)
Are demons real? Is demon-possession something only in Hollywood movies or in mythological stories? These are questions that sometimes children raise to their parents or their Sunday School teachers. It’s probably a question that many adults have asked, as well. From a strictly intellectual standpoint, we would have to acknowledge that demons are real beings, evil angels to be precise, who are under the control of Satan, the chief of demons, and that demon-possession isn’t something simply in stories, but is a reality, even in our world today. In recent years I have counseled with different individuals who feel they have been plagued by demons in their dreams.
Of course, we can also speak of demons in a more metaphorical sense. When Paul says in 1 Corinthians that he was tormented by a “messenger of Satan”, he isn’t saying that he suffered from demon possession; but rather suffered from some kind of ailment which he traced back to the work of Satan. Metaphorically, then, we might speak of depression as a kind of “demon” which afflicts us, or a physical disease as a “demon” that plagues us, or the memory of a past failure, or sin, or loss as a “demon,” or an addiction to drugs or alcohol might be called a “demon.”
The bigger question, however, is: How do we deal with this reality. From this Scripture text, we learn that there is really only one way to deal with demons: take the matter to Christ. This account from Mark finally turns on the matter of faith. Jesus points to that issue when he assured the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” (23). The father’s answer also directs us to the question of faith: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (24). When the disciples asked why they couldn’t cast out this spirit, Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (29). Prayer is an act of faith; it is laying the matter before Christ, and entrusting yourself and the matter to his will.
I. WHEN DEMONS AFFLICT US WE MUST LAY THE MATTER BEFORE CHRIST
Our text highlights a young boy who suffered with a mute and deaf spirit from childhood. This spirit produced epileptic symptoms in this boy which were frightening to those around him and threatening the boy’s own life. The father came seeking Jesus, but when Jesus was not there, he turned to his disciples for help. When the disciples were unable to cast out the spirit, the father brought the whole matter to Jesus who had just arrived with Peter, James, and John. This was exactly the right thing to do.
The disciples were unable to help this man or his son, because their faith was misdirected. Back in Mark 6, we learned that Jesus sent out his 12 disciples in pairs to call people to repentance. At that time “he gave them authority over unclean spirits.” (6:7). However, there was no assurance that they would possess this authority indefinitely. Furthermore, it appears from the text that the disciples assumed that this authority belonged to them; the father asked them, but they were unable to cast it out. Their question to Jesus was, “Why could we not cast it out?” (28). They had assumed to themselves the authority which belonged to Christ.
We do not possess the power to deal with the demons; only Christ can do that. When we are faced with the spiritual attacks that come from Satan, our only hope is to turn to Christ! Consider what the Psalmist said in today’s Introit:
“I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
...rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!”
(Ps 31:14, 15).
We addressed today’s Collect to the “Lord Jesus Christ, our support and defense in every need.” We have no personal authority over Satan. We cannot, of our own strength, stand against the forces evil. Christ alone can do that, and he has as he
“gave [his] back to those who strike,
and [his] cheeks to those who pull out the beard;” and
“hid not his face
from disgrace and spitting”
On the third day his self-sacrifice was vindicated by his Father as he raised him from the dead. Christ conquered Satan and all his minions by his death and been given the victor’s crown in his resurrection. Only he can defeat Satan when he attacks God’s people.
II. WHEN WE LAY THE MATTER BEFORE JESUS WE MUST ENTRUST OURSELVES TO HIS WILL
This, again, is precisely what the father in our text did. When he said to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (22), he wasn’t referring to Jesus’ ability; he was speaking of Jesus’ willingness. Some would have you believe that God’s will is for you to be happy, to be prosperous, to be successful, to be wealthy. You are told that it is God’s will for you to be strong and victorious in this life. If you just have enough faith, you can have everything this world has to offer. Satan offered something similar to Jesus in the wilderness of temptation. But Jesus hasn’t promised that to us. His faithful prophets in the Old Testament were rejected, cast out, attacked, and killed because the world did not like the message they brought. Jesus’ own disciples were imprisoned and slain because they proclaimed Christ as the only Savior from sin and death. When Paul prayed that God would remove the thorn in the flesh which harassed him, God’s answer was simple:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”
(2 Co 12:9).
God has not promised a victory-filled life for us in this world. He has promised to sustain us through every trial and tribulation until he has accomplished his good purpose.
God has not promised to simply remove every demon from our path in life. He has promised to uphold us in every challenge we encounter. He has promised to supply us with the grace we need to endure every attack Satan may level against us. He has promised that he will not let us fall into the clutches of hell and lose the gift of salvation Christ won for us. That is how we stand against the devil’s schemes; we do so in the name of Christ who has purchased us with his own blood and given us a new life in the power of his Spirit. He has promised that he will crush our deadly spiritual enemy under our feet and give us an eternal life that can never be wrenched even from our dying hands.
Yes, demons are real. Satan is no made-for-TV figment of a screen-writer’s fancy. He and his demons are intent upon destroying Christ’s kingdom and drawing us away from Christ’s promises. They may not appear to us in frightening images or confront us face-to-face. They may accost us in various ways that afflict us body and soul. Yes, demons are real
Our Savior is real and far more powerful. He has already defeated every demon in his death on the cross and raised the flag of victory in his resurrection. He alone has the power to cast out and crush the demons which afflict us. He has promised to sustain us against Satan’s every attack. Finally he will deliver us safely into the kingdom he has prepared for us.