21 September 2017

My chains are gone!

James Rogers is the minister in Ballynure Presbyterian Church in County Antrim. This is a transcript of a recent sermon he preached as part of a series on Mark’s gospel.

Freed from Occupation

Sixty-six years ago two teenage friends, Charles and Ken, joined with their fellow islanders in celebration as British Troops freed the Channel Islands from Nazi Occupation. They lived on Guernsey and you can hear their story on the BBC website. Charles speaks about Liberation Day, of the sense of relief and even shock; he says, “We’d almost forgotten what freedom was all about”. The arrival of the German occupying force in 1940 happened very quickly, and they took over the main buildings in the capital St Peter Port before dispersing around the island and taking control of any buildings they required, including people’s houses. Those five years of occupation were extremely tough: the streets were patrolled, the beaches were littered with mines, folks like Ken and Charles had to keep a low profile as the Nazis enforced strict rules. Once Ken was caught in possession of a radio and had to spend four months in prison. Add to this being forced to work for the occupying army, the deportation of some islanders, and the setting up of concentration camps in nearby Alderney, and life under evil occupation was a terrible nightmare.

On 9 May 1945, HMS Bulldog arrived in St Peter Port and the German forces surrendered unconditionally at dawn. British forces landed shortly afterwards, greeted by crowds of joyous islanders, delighted to have their freedom back. As one reporter put it, “Liberation was the start of a new life.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/guernsey/content/articles/2009/05/06/liberation_memories_charles_and_ken_feature.shtml)

Bible

Having your country occupied by an invading army must be truly terrible. As well as during the two World Wars, it’s something people still suffer today. It’s also something the people of Jesus’ day suffered too, as the Roman Army invaded and occupied the land. But imagine what it might be like if you were invaded by an evil, occupying spiritual army; your body, your mind, your soul, taken over and ruled by a hostile force. That’s the occupation endured by the man from Gerasa whom we read about in Mark 5 verses 1-20. This man was freed from evil occupation; for him liberation was the start of a new life. Here we see the reality and power of evil, and the uniqueness of Jesus in bringing freedom and new life. What we have here is the Gospels’ most detailed account of an exorcism.

1. The Reality of Evil

2 As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, he was met by a man who came out of the burial caves there. This man had an evil spirit in him3 and lived among the tombs.

Evil spirit? Some people today would wonder about this. Many think there’s no good or bad, just human decisions. In 1939 as WWII began Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said, “It is evil things we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution”. There are surely some things that cannot be explained solely by human activity, there is evil behind it. If we believe in a personal good, who is God, then it makes sense to believe there is personal evil too.

I read an article in The Times  entitled ‘The Casting Out of Demons Helps Patients: The Church and the NHS are quietly working together on Exorcism’ by Daisy Greenwell – Rev Canon Ken Gardiner & others (The Times, Body & Soul, 1 Nov 2011)

The following extracts are taken from this article:

The Rev Canon Ken Gardiner has spent five decades exorcising demons . . . a calm and authoritative man of God with an unshakeable belief in the power of Jesus.

This case illustrates how a modern exorcism can come about. During a drink on the last day of term, the student told friends that she had become deeply involved with a satanic society and wanted to escape. The friends brought her to Gardiner’s house, where she went rigid, her eyes rolled back in her head and she began saying “what sounded like ‘sausage’ ”, over and over again. After a few minutes, Gardiner realised that she was actually saying Jesus backwards. He’d have been forgiven for throwing her out, thinking it an elaborate end-of-term joke, but Gardiner had no doubt that she was possessed by a demon. He pulled out his Bible and asked her to read a passage, which she did “backwards and at an astonishing speed”. He made the sign of the cross over her and “she uttered a roar of anger. . . and a voice, coming from her, screamed ‘kill her’. She put her head down and tried to run into the wall behind me.” It was only after hours of spiritual struggle that the demon left her body “with a loud scream”.

Dr Rob Waller is a consultant psychiatrist and an honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Walker thinks that every consultant psychiatrist will see “a handful of patients” in their career requiring “some kind of deliverance ministry”.

According to Professor Christopher Cooke, who has written a new set of guidelines on spirituality for the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “There is a spiritual dimension to all health-related issues and exorcism might be appropriate in come cases”.

“I have seen exorcisms succeed”, Gardiner says. “People come to me in a state and, in the name of Jesus, I’ve commanded whatever was there to leave. Their families tell me, ‘I’ve finally got my wife/son/daughter back’,” he smiles. “So if it wasn’t using the name of Christ (that worked), you tell me, what was it?”

Movie buffs might remember the famous quote from Kevin Spacey’s character in “The Usual Suspects”: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.” Don’t fall for his trick.

2. The Power of Evil

This man had an evil spirit in him3 and lived among the tombs. Nobody could keep him tied with chains any more,4 many times his feet and his hands had been tied, but every time he broke the chains and smashed the irons on his feet. He was too strong for anyone to control him.5  Day and night he wandered among the tombs and through the hills, screaming and cutting himself with stones.

Look at the state this man ended up in, as he is occupied by evil forces – his life ruined, turned into the worst kind of nightmare; he is out of control, tormented, and tormenting others. We think of the power of evil unleashed on Europe in two World Wars, and other places since, but it’s not just him, or them, or then, or over there, it’s here, now and in us.

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian Novelist)

“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

“In your anger do not sin… Do not give the devil a foothold.” (Eph 4:26-27)

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (Eph 2:1-3 NLT)

This sounds helpless and hopeless. This man’s condition looked to have trapped him for life, so much so he’d probably “forgotten what freedom was like”. But freedom had come to visit him.

3. Freedom from Evil

6  He was some distance away when he saw Jesus; so he ran, fell on his knees before him,7  and screamed in a loud voice, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! What do you want with me? For God’s sake, I beg you, don’t punish me! (8  He said this because Jesus was saying, Evil spirit, come out of this man!)

9  So Jesus asked him, What is your name? The man answered, My name is Mob—there are so many of us! 10 Mob is the word ‘Legion’. A Roman Legion consisted of thousands of soldiers. Who had the power to deal with this? Jesus. Scholars tell us how Jesus dealt with this was remarkable. Other records of people trying to cast out evil spirits involved calling on a higher power and using all kinds of incantations. Not Jesus. He speaks simply. He doesn’t call on a higher power. Why? Because He is the highest power there is and His word is the most powerful word in all the cosmos.

And he kept begging Jesus not to send the evil spirits out of that region.

11  There was a large herd of pigs near by, feeding on a hillside.12  So the spirits begged Jesus, Send us to the pigs, and let us go into them.13  He let them go, and the evil spirits went out of the man and entered the pigs. The whole herd—about two thousand pigs in all—rushed down the side of the cliff into the lake and was drowned.

14  The men who had been taking care of the pigs ran away and spread the news in the town and among the farms. People went out to see what had happened,15 and when they came to Jesus, they saw the man who used to have the mob of demons in him. He was sitting there, clothed and in his right mind; and they were all afraid.16  Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the man with the demons, and about the pigs.

17  So they asked Jesus to leave their territory.

Pigs – how costly to the farmers! But what price the freedom from evil occupation? Defeating evil and bringing freedom is always costly. You will know well the famous words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech to Parliament about the sacrifices made in the Battle of Britain, 20 Aug 1940, “Never in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed by so many, to so few.”

In a way he was almost right. For not in the skies over Britain, nor in a field in Gerasa, but on a Roman Cross one man gave his life for the many, in the ultimate conflict between good and evil. How much for our souls? His life.

Tom Wright in his devotional commentary on Mark explains how Mark is telling us to look at the bigger story. “At the climax of Mark’s story Jesus Himself will end up naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, shouting incomprehensible things as He is torn apart on the cross by the standard Roman torture, His flesh is torn to ribbons by the small stones in the Roman lash. And that, Mark is saying, will be how the demons are dealt with. That is how healing takes place. Jesus is coming to share the plight of the people, to let the enemy do its worst to Him, to take the full force of evil on Himself and let the others go free.”

Jesus sets us free, so…

Go to Him

Some see the man in his right mind, freed by Jesus, but they want rid of Jesus. His presence is too costly. It’s a reminder that miracles alone, even ones done in front of our eyes are often not enough to convince us. Following Jesus is too costly for some. Don’t be like that. Go to Him with your brokenness, your torment, your sin. Get the freedom.

Tell of Him

18  As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had had the demons begged him, Let me go with you! 19  But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he told him, Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you. 20  So the man left and went all through the Ten Towns, telling what Jesus had done for him. And all who heard it were amazed.

Have you something to tell to someone? Why are we so shy? Freedom is worth talking about.

Stand for Him

“The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.”– Edmund Burke (British Statesman & Philosopher, 18th Cent.)

In the face of evil which is all too prevalent today, don’t do nothing. Pray. Speak. Act. Intervene. Give.

May the liberation of Jesus be the start of a new life for all of us.

James Rogers