Preached @ Anchor Community Church on October 19th, 2014
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and un- healthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
Our story today starts off with Matthew 8:28-29, and the ridiculous notion that Jesus believed in Demons. After all, now that we moderns know all through science and our perfect reason, we are sure Jesus and the bible writers are wrong and confused; or were they?? It’s interesting how science and reason “Confirms” that demons don’t exist, but evil is a huge question mark??
Big Picture: Today we look at Jesus’ Authority over Demonic/Spiritual Forces
Survey show (Depending on which ones you read) that roughly 78%-87% Americans believe in God. They also show that about 54% of Americans believe in Satan, mostly as a symbol of evil though. What’s really weird is that the “Church Pews” surveys found that up to 59% of Christians don’t believe in Satan. Wow, how influenced are we by modernism, versus the scriptures. The question remains, is there a Real “Satan” and Demons? Is there a real evil? Where does evil come? We are going to start our time today taking a very brief look down evil lane, and look at some biblical reasons for evil in this world. First;
What is Sin?
Sin is basically a failure to trust God, and a failure to live up to Jesus’ command to love God and our neighbor. One theologian (Reinhold Niebuhr) says, “Sin is thus the unwillingness of man to acknowledge his creatureliness and dependence on God, and his effort to make his own life independent and secure.” Another (Ted Peters), wrote, “When our theological leaders abandon the task of helping us to understand the experimental dynamics of sin, we are left with a symbolic or conceptual void.” Our culture has done away with the notion of sin and its effects on people and our society, and then doesn’t know to deal with real evil, when we sin played out in its intended way.
Connected to that discussion is the question:
What is Evil?
Evil is the effect of sin/brokenness in ALL areas of our lives, and it wreaks havoc on us, our psyche and all of those around us. Radical Evil is a deliberate evil for its own sake, deliberate breaking from “Good.” Evil lies at the heart of all humanity. Unfortunately many “Reasoned” people have thrown out the sin label as antiquated and hurtful, but have no idea how to handle real evil when they see it. Basically this is a question of good too. What is good? While it remains confusing in many minds, others place it in the realm of reason. Men like Sam Harris think that Evolution via Reason gives us our virtues. Basically, “doing good” is hard wired into our evolutionary psyche for survival. While that may be true, so is genocide, infanticide, and other forms of killing. The problem is “Evolution” doesn’t’ know the difference, and it doesn’t care. They both bring forth the same “Results.”
Atheist evolutionist Howard Bloom disagrees with Mr. Harris on this point and writes, “Evil is a by-product, a component of creation (Evolution). In a world evolving into higher forms, hatred, violence, aggression, and war are a part of the evolutionary plan.” He goes on to write,
“Death, destruction, and fury do not disturb the Mother of our world; they are merely parts of her plan. Only we are outraged by the Lucifer Principle’s consequences, and we have every right to be….From our best qualities come our worst…We have been blinded by evil’s ability to don a selfless disguise. We have failed to see that our finest qualities often lead us to the actions we most abhor”
Another atheist, Anthropologist Raymond Dart said, “Man is a killer ape.” The fact is, Evolution doesn’t know the difference in Harmony/Unity and destruction in the survival of the fittest. From a biblical perspective, evil is a clear absence of “Good.” The good that God defines, not we as humans that have desired to play god with our own reasoning, because “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end come destruction.”
Man’s sin brings forth a collective evil that gets played out in culture, and the very reason God is just in any of His judgment on humanity.
The next question before we dive into the text is:
What/Who is Satan?
The short list is at least that he/she is:
- Created Being (Angel)
- Instigator of Evil (John 13:2, 27)
- Deceiver (Revelation 12:9)
- Liar (John 8:44)
- He “Blinds” the mind of unbelief (2 Corinthians 4:4)
One writer says of Satan/Demons, “By definition, spiritual beliefs in demons cannot be verified objectively, any more than the existence of God can be verified. “Religion is not logical. It is based on faith, not reason. . . . Belief requires the suspension of logic and reason.” The secular world struggles with real evil, because they have killed the notion of evil, and hold to the untenable notion that humanity is good and will save itself. Another writer, Columbia professor Andrew Delbanco in his book “The Death of Satan” quotes Hannibal from the “Silence of the Lambs”
“Nothing happened officer Starling, I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism. Officer Starling, you’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants, nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, officer Starling. Can’t stand to say I am evil!”
Del Banco goes on to say,
We certainly no longer have a conception of evil as a distributed entity with an ontological essence of its own…we feel something that our culture no longer gives us the vocabulary to express.”
Jesus’ Miracles in 3 Categories
Many scholars believe that Jesus healed and did exorcisms, because they are psychosomatic. Again Wilkerson says,
“The healing power of these procedures probably lies in patients’ expectations of help, based on their belief that the healer has special powers derived from the ability to communicate with the spirit world” (Frank & Frank, 1991, p. 96). That the spirit world and the mythology of healing possession through exorcism does not correspond to objective reality does not matter, as long as the patient believes in it.”
We struggle with these verses, because we struggle with their veracity. We struggle with the upside down values and ethics of God’s Kingdom. The world denies real evil, and struggles in the face of it, yet, God is destroying evil and will destroy it completely in His timing, but we struggle with Him when He judges, because we fail to believe in the reality of evil in humanity, and we have bought into the notion that humanity is good, and just needs some prompting, some medication, some psycho-analyses.
We’re going to take a look at 4 Aspects of this passage:
From the Head…
The Setting (Matthew 8:28-29)
The setting is in some dispute, but is the area of the Gadarenes, which is a gentile. Once again, we see Jesus moving His work beyond the Jews to the Nations, as promised the Messiah would do. We find 2 demon possessed men confronting Jesus (The accounts in Mark and Luke show 1 demon possessed man, but where there are 2 there is one. Matthew was an eyewitness with more detail, and while the other accounts centered on the spokesman, this is not a contradiction). We are told that they are “Fierce” and that they wouldn’t let people pass that way. This most likely meant these men were very dangerous, and possibly even killers in their demonic state.
The Request (Matthew 29-31)
The demons approach Jesus and interestingly call Him the “Son of God.” They know who He is, yet they do not yield to Him as Lord. Their request is weird. They request to go into the pigs. I believe that request was synonymous with “let us destroy something,” and that “Something” is God’s creation. This is Satan’s desire; destroy what God made. This is similar to Satan’s request in Job. It is also interesting that they ask Jesus not to do anything “Before the time.” What time? I think this is going to be very important as we move on to answer some more questions about this text. And that question is found in Jesus’ action:
The Action (Matthew 8:32)
First we see Jesus’ amazing command and control over evil. That alone gives us great hope. He is in control, and without any fanfare, He does His work with one command, “GO.”
Secondly, why did Jesus Allow it? Now we don’t know if Jesus commanded it, because all He says in the text is “Go!” But He allowed it nonetheless. The bigger question here is why does God allow any evil to be done? Why do Cyclones kill many in India? Why are there poor, when so many are rich? Generally, I don’t know! I wish I knew why God did everything He does, but I don’t and I know I’m not God, and my feeble reason isn’t enough to understand all of the complexities and circumstances by which He makes decisions.
While we don’t know with certainty, there is a hint possibly as to what is going on. First, the statement of “before the time?” It seems that this “Time” refers to God’s final judgment. There is definitely precedent that God stays the execution of many due to His grace and His own timing (See Genesis 15:6). This is usually the problem people have with God. When God’s Grace stays the execution of evil, we say He’s Powerless. When His Righteous Justice falls on a broken world. We call Him evil and cruel. The fact is God has every right to judge humanity and when He does, it is righteous and just; and this includes His justice in the Old Testament. The commands to kill in the Old Testament, are acts of justice to a very brutal people. This is interesting, because men like Sam Harris have written that it is proper to kill of religious people that are a problem (ie. Use justice), but He condemns God for doing it perfectly and just!
Another plausible possibility for Jesus allowing this to happen is it exposed the values of the culture. They cared more for their money (The pig’s value) than the souls of the 2 demoniacs. The soul of a human is worth way more than the value of any entity. The problem is we aren’t use to God’s upside down kingdom mentality.
The Reaction (Matthew 8:33-34)
The reaction of the community reflected the reality that they cared more for their profit than the lives and souls of two human individuals. God cares for their souls over your income, job, values, etc.
…to the Heart
We struggle with evil, because we fail to see the evil in our own heart. Our lack of concern for people until we see pictures on our TV, demonstrate our lack of love for the world, as God loves it. Satan isn’t to blame for evil, even though he instigates it for sure, our hearts are evil to the core (Jeremiah 17:9; James 1:12-14). But in spite of that, Christ came to take on all brokenness and sin. In Him we are forgiven for the sin that kill us all, and because of His authority over evil, and its number one companion; death, we are set free, with great hope that He can and will save us, and that we will live in eternity because of His power and authority over evil.
It is also important to know that when Jesus first came, He too was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15), yet did not succumb to those temptations as we most often do. It demonstrated that He is in control, and that He is God, and with that He demonstrated the power that will ultimately overthrow all of evil in His time. He will re-right the evils and injustices in this world, and though humanity has no ability to do the same, it can place its hope in the creator of the universe. Today, He has given His people (The Church) the task to show the world a tangible witness to the power and authority and love of God.
Questions To Ponder
- Do you struggle in believing that there is a spiritual world with demons?
- Are you more apt to believe science/psychology in these matters or the bible? Why? Why not?
- What is evil?
- How does disbelieving in real evil hurt/help you?
- Why did Jesus allow the demons to go into the Pigs? Was this wrong?
For Further Reading
A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Craig S. Keener
The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1A, ed. Manlio Simonetti
Sermon On the Mount; Sinclair Ferguson