Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:10-12).
We are caught in a war. I'm not talking about a cultural war, a political war, a cyber war, or a war on terror. Yes, I know our world is caught up in each of those battles. However, those battles are symptomatic of a deeper and more pervasive war. Unfortunately, this is a war that many deny or doubt exists; yet if we are honest with ourselves, somewhere down at the soul level of our existence, we know it exists. That is the war of hell against God, goodness, and grace. It is the opposition of evil against all that's good. It is the assault against our hearts, hopes, and futures by sin and death. It is a mostly unseen war, yet this war impacts our eternal destinies.
Jesus sailed across the Sea of Galilee and entered a very visible manifestation of this war against a man identified as Legion because of the many demons controlling him. This man came to Jesus and Jesus brought deliverance, life, and purpose (Mark 5:1-20). Today, I want to challenge us to accept several important truths from this encounter. We must:
- Admit that this is what Satan wants to do with each of us.
- Notice where the disciples of Jesus (wrongly) are in this encounter.
- Recognize that the real person is still alive in this demonized man.
- Realize that Jesus has power over everything, but is waiting for an invitation to act.
Mark described the man known as Legion. He was suffering from the demonic control that overwhelmed his humanity in these ways:
- He was controlled by impure spirits or demons (Mark 5:2, 8, 15-16).
- He lived among the tombs (Mark 5:3, 5).
- No one could bind him any longer, not even with chains or shackles; the demonic powers that controlled him gave him super-human strength (Mark 5:3-4).
- He roamed the tombs and nearby mountains crying out and cutting himself (Mark 5:5).
- He had lost his personal identity and was known only by the demons that inhabited him (Mark 5:9).
Let's look at each of these conditions and see if we can take away a message of hope, power, and deliverance!
Admit that this is what Satan wants to do with each of us:
This demonized man was the living example of what Satan wants to do with all of us. He wants to control our lives while promising us power. He wants to strip away our humanity and isolate us from anyone who can help us. He wants us to be self-abusive and eventually to enslave us to a living death. Jesus called Satan a liar and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). Paul, the apostle, said that Satan was deceptive in scheming (Ephesians 6:11). The evil one promises us power and many other niceties to lure us into a trap. Then, when our desires take the bait and follow his false promises, we end up caught in a living death (James 1:14-15). While we may not immediately have all of the elements of demonic bondage readily visible like the man called Legion, Satan's goal is to have us caught in all of these!
At first glance, this isn't a very encouraging or hopeful story. Maybe this is one of the reasons we avoid the subject of evil, the devil, Satan, and demonic influence. If we can avoid the subject, stick our head in the sand and pretend the problem isn't there, then maybe it won't be!? So, let's wake up and realize everything that is on the line in our war with Satan and look for the good news in this great story of deliverance.
Notice where the disciples of Jesus are (wrongly) in this encounter:
If we carefully follow this story of Jesus' encounter with the man called Legion, we notice something: the disciples are not part of the story. In fact, they may have never left the boat. Jesus got out of the boat (Mark 5:2), encountered the man, drove out the man's demons, then Jesus got back into the boat (Mark 5:18). While we cannot say for sure that the disciples of Jesus remained in the boat the whole time, Mark wants us to at least notice that they are uninvolved in the liberation of this man from the demons that were destroying his humanity.
In Mark's telling of Jesus' story, we are the disciples. As our world "goes to hell in a hand basket," many of those claiming to be Jesus' disciples sure seem to be confined to the "boat" — the worship box on the weekend that we think is the goal of our faith. Many seem to have forgotten that our goal in getting together with other believers is to stir each other up to leave our "boat" and to enter our tormented world with love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Unfortunately, far too often, we argue about the worship styles we should have in the box. We look around for the best speaker and best music to entertain us when we go to the box. We judge what happens in the box by how it pleases us and not by what it challenges us, equips us, and motivates us to do outside the box. Our discipleship has become about having a great box experience and not about impacting our world as Jesus did.
When Jesus gets to the end of his ministry of his training with the disciples, he has a clear command. They are to not only get out their box but to also get out of their comfortable culture and go in search of people like the man named Legion (Matthew 28:18-20). They are to make disciples of these people and train them to do the same thing. And, thankfully, that's what they did. They went to war against evil, the devil, Satan, demons, and hell. They got out of their "boat" and entered the world of decaying and dying humanity to love, rescue, and save. Bottom line, if we want to be Jesus' church, if we want to be where Jesus is doing his work, we've got to get out of our "boat"!
Recognize that the real person is still alive in this demonized man:
As Mark told us about Jesus' encounter with the man called Legion, we need to recognize that the real person, the real man, was still present despite the demonic control and influence in his life. He doesn't run from Jesus but comes to Jesus from the living death in which he found himself (Mark 5:2). In fact, he ran from a great distance and fell down in the posture of worship before Jesus (Mark 5:6). (The word for "fell on his knees" is the word normally used for "kneeling prostrate in worship" [proschuneow].). Despite being demonized, the man struggled against the demonic control to get to Jesus, bow before Jesus, talk with Jesus, and be liberated by Jesus.
That is great news for any of us who are in a self-damaging bondage to the power of Satan. Addiction is one of the ways Satan keeps us in bondage and does so many of the things we see happen to the man called Legion. The message is clear. Don't give up! Please recognize that despite all that Satan had done to enslave this man in a life of walking death, Jesus not only liberated him from the power of the demons (Mark 5:13), but he also restored him to normal life and fellowship (Mark 5:15), as well as giving him a purpose for that life (Mark 5:19).
The message is clear. Jesus can liberate you, but please fight against the influence of what controls you — and remember, Satan is the power, the who, behind what controls you.
If you wrestle with self-abusive, self-mutilating, or self-cutting kinds of bondage, for example, please remember: Jesus longs to give you liberation. Some have found signing the name Jesus (putting their right longest middle finger in your left palm and then your left into your right) helps them to release their pain. Others add moving their hands on their shoulders where Jesus was scourged and reciting the words from Isaiah 53 as they release their pain to Jesus as he absorbs their pain in his wounds:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
If you struggle with this kind of bondage, please seek the help of a qualified Christian counselor in your escape and recovery from this pain. Just as Jesus steered the man known as legion to people to support him, you need the support of those gifted to help you to become totally liberated from this kind of self-harming bondage.
Realize that Jesus has power over everything, but is waiting for an invitation to act:
Throughout this story, along with much of Mark's gospel, Jesus is waiting for an invitation to step into the mess Satan has caused in people's lives and bring grace. In this case, the man ran and fell on his knees, bowing before Jesus. He made requests of Jesus. Jesus did for the man what only the Lord could do: gave him back his right mind, cast out the demons, brought him back into relationship with people, and sent him home on a mission to share the good news with his relatives. That wasn't just an exorcism; it was a total restoration of life and purpose to a man once pushed to the thinnest margins of humanity.
That is good news for us, too. Jesus is not going to force us to do his will. He is not going to force us to surrender our part of the mess of our lives. We are going to need to come to him and invite him to do his miraculous work in us. There is a very familiar passage that is often misapplied. Jesus had John write the following promise to us in the book of Revelation:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20 ESV).
Unfortunately, most of us have only heard this Scripture used in the context of someone who is not a Christian and is told to confess Christ. However, this passage is for "anyone" and especially "anyone" of us who is a believer. Jesus' message through John was directed originally to Christians, to disciples, to followers of Jesus. He gave this message so that we could know that our Lord is near (Philippians 4:5) and that he longs to be the presence that liberates us from their bondage.
So the first step for each of us as we wrestle with sins we can't shake, addictions we can't break, and with things that enslave us that we can't conquer is to fall on our knees before Jesus and invite him into our mess and bring us grace, freedom, and purpose. Then, let's follow Jesus back into the world of people who can help us and whom we can bless with his grace.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).