Devotional for January 28, 2018 based upon Mark 1: 21-28
A question I have been asked several times is, Why is there so much demonization in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, when we do not hear much about it in the Old Testament, in Church history, and in the world today? I respond by saying two things. First, there are many accounts of demonization and spiritual deliverance in Church history and in the Church today. For example, the Lutheran church in Madagascar even has a recognized office of exorcist. And I remember talking with a former missionary, who later was on national ELCA church staff, who said, “Nothing in my seminary training prepared me for the spiritual reality that I ran into once I arrived on the mission field.”
Second, to me it only makes sense that Calvary – and the ministry of Jesus leading up to Calvary – would be the most demonized place and time in all of human history. For Satan knew that this was going to be the great do or die battle. If I lose here, I lose everywhere. I make it here, or I will not make it anywhere. The eternal destiny of millions hangs in the balance. Satan has one chance to prevent his own destruction. So he gathers and uses all the forces he can muster to try and stop Jesus here. Because he knows that if he cannot stop Jesus here, he will not be able to stop Jesus anywhere.
I think of the opening to the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” The depiction of D-Day near the beginning is one of the most powerful portrayals of war that I have ever seen. For a full twenty-four minutes the film graphically portrays thousands of soldiers storming Normandy Beach. This was the great do or die battle, upon which hung the future of Europe if not the whole world. If the Allies are not able to stop the Nazis here, they might not be able to stop the Nazis anywhere.
On D-Day – June 6, 1944 – the Allied powers risk it all, not knowing whether they would win. Today we know the Allies won. And today we also know that Jesus won. Through His death and resurrection Jesus has already won the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil.
But, in the meantime, we are living in a war zone. We have an enemy whose henchman said to Jesus, in our Gospel lesson for January 28, “What have You to do with us? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1: 24) We have an enemy who hates us. Who knows he has nothing more to lose because he has already lost it all. Who would like nothing better than to get back at God by getting at us. Who knows he is going down and who would like to take as many of us with him as he can as he is going down.
But we should not be so focused on Satan and what he can do to us that we allow ourselves to become intimidated. Instead, we need to focus on the victory of Jesus and on the spiritual resources we have in Jesus so that we can meet the attacks of the enemy.
The great spiritual D-Day landing has already occurred. The powers of God have already obtained a foothold on the beaches of the enemy. The great turning point spiritual battle has already been fought and won by Jesus through the cross and empty tomb. So the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, portrays Jesus as like a returning, conquering Roman general. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, having triumphed over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2: 15) Victory comes through Jesus and relationship with Jesus.
The Gospel writer Luke gives us a very interesting glimpse into the process that many go through as they learn about their spiritual authority over Satan. In Luke 10 Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples to practice what they had been learning. When they return, they express their great amazement. “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your Name!” (verse 17) “Jesus, we never expected that what You said would happen would actually happen!” Jesus replies, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” (verse 18) “Your ministry has behind it all the authority of the Kingdom of God.” And then, to make it even more explicit, He said to them – and He says to us – “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (verses 19-20) What you have experienced has not made you into some sort of special group of super-privileged, super-gifted disciples. Rather it is your being a child of God – and it is only your being a child of God – that gives you this spiritual authority.
It is not our giftedness, holiness, amount of training, or level of understanding, but being a child of God that gives us spiritual authority.
Whether we like it or not, we are living in a war zone between D-Day, the decisive turning point battle, and the end of the war. We are living in territory still occupied by the enemy, who knows that he has been defeated and who hates the one who defeated him.
Whether we like it or not, we are at war. The question is whether at the end of our lives we will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight.” (2 Timothy 4: 7) I have been strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. I put on the whole armor of God. I took my stand against the schemes of the devil.
Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE