It’s amazing how the Bible speaks so openly about the reality of the unseen realm. The idea of the existence of spiritual beings, angels or demons, for some people belongs to the same category as unicorns, and imaginary friends. That is, for many people, they are myths.
For me, growing up here in Tasmania, this sort of thing just wasn’t talked about by my friends. I suspect that it’s not all that different today. Many of us have grown up in a western materialist culture, where it’s believed that there is nothing more than what we can see. The very idea of a spirit realm has been framed out by us. It’s a folk memory from our history when fairy tales once meant something. Spirits have just become a caricature in movies, or Halloween or in literature.
We’re still scared by spirits, but we often can’t quite believe they exist.
I want to suggest, however, that we can’t entirely escape the reality of the unseen realm. It keeps on popping its head up far too often. Here in Tasmania ghosts and ghost stories are linked to past injustices. For example, the stories around Addington Lodge in New Norfolk and Port Arthur which are said to be, supposedly, haunted. I walked Petrarch’s bookshop in town and there’s a whole shelf dedicated to things like connecting with spiritual beings.
There is a resurgence in remixed occult practices is happening at the moment, in our so called, secular, society. For example, a friend of mine recently moved house. And she was greeted by her neighbour with a house warming gift. You might think a nice bottle of wine, or a home cooked meal, but rather it was some cleansing crystals to cleanse the house of bad spirits. It’s a phenomena that’s occuring across the western world. For instance, there are now more Wiccans in the United States than Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The reality of evil
In Mark chapter 5 verses 1 to 5 we see clearly that evil forces are real and active. Jesus turns up at a cemetery and comes face to face with man under the control of evil spirits.
Verse 2 says “a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met him…”
The Apostle Paul says to Christians in Ephesians 6, that our “battle isn’t 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.…”
Satan is not just an idea or a representation of evil, as some might say. The Bible describes the devil, as a personal spirit being, with agency and with malicious intent. He is described in the Bible as a destroyer, the father of lies, accuser, deceiver, murderer, evil one, the ruler of this world, the god of this age, a roaring lion. Satan and his associates are totally against God, and committed to destroying anything good.
And this is pretty clear in how they treat this poor man in Mark chapter 5. Verses 3 to 4 shows that the spirit controls this man:
“He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.”
People have even tried to tie him up, but it doesn’t work. The spirit brings great harm to the man. He’s self destructive, hurting himself, he’s lost his mind, and crying out. This is what evil spirits do to this man.
Now you might find this an implausible. A bit too Hollywood and Halloween. But just because we ourselves might find something implausible, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The Bible, the word of God, unashamed speaks about evil spirits at work in this world today.
So how does evil show itself today? I mean that was back then with Jesus, does this kind of thing happen today?
Evil spirits may overtly bringing harm to people like this, an active torment. It does happen. But that would be rare, I think. But if we’re looking for how evil is manifest today…I suggest we need to first of all need to look no further than ourselves.
Jesus said in Matthew 15, verse 19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immortality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
We all are caught up in this, what the Bible calls sin. And sin distorts, damages, and destroys good. The Bible teaches that as human beings, what we do, say, think, and what we don’t do, say, think, believe, is not morally neutral. In each of us, the bible would say that there is a seed of every kind of sin latent in our hearts. In each of us there is the capability for great evil. We all are accountable to God for how we live before him.
The normal mode of operation for evil spirits is to aid us in our sin against God. That’s how the Bible shows the devil at work, most of the time. The devil tempt us away from God. He deceives and lies. He keeps us from wanting to follow Jesus. He’s a prowling lion, looking to bring harm to Christ’s church. What we can’t get away with, however, is shifting the blame away from ourselves and saying that the ‘devil made me do it.’ We are all morally accountable to God. And yet, at the same time, the devil, and his cronies, entice us to live in ways not honouring to God.
Jesus’ power over evil.
There is hope in all this darkness. Hope is found, not in us, but in Christ. Mark chapter 5 clearly demonstrates that Jesus has absolute authority, power, over evil.
In Mark 5, verses 6 to 8, the man runs up to Jesus and gives mock homage to him. The evil spirit knows who Jesus is, the Son of the most high God. The spirit knows who they’re up against. They know that Jesus arrival means that they’ve lost. And the evil spirit tries to gain control over Jesus. It even turns out that Jesus is up against not one spirit, but a Legion of evil spirits.
Verse 9…“What is your name?’ he asked him. “My name is legion,” he answered him, ‘because we are many.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the region.”
Yes, this whole army of evil is no match for Jesus. In verse 10 the spirits have to beg Jesus not to send them away. Instead they beg to be sent into some pigs and Jesus has to allow it.
Jesus makes the man whole again: Spiritually, emotionally, relationally, in every way.
“and they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid“
Christ lovingly frees him.
Mark 5 shows Jesus’ absolute power over these spirits. This isn’t some dualistic good vs evil scenario. It’s not a fight, like in some movie exorcism. It’s with a word, that Jesus frees this man. Such is his power. Jesus says go, and they do.
Right through Jesus’ mission to go to his death at the cross, evil threw everything, plus the kitchen sink, at Jesus.
Jesus was opposed every step of the way in his journey to the cross.
The cross is the worst evil which has been done in the history of the world: the son of God was killed. And yet, it turned out to be the greatest victory of all.
Jesus’ death was a death for sinners. It was a death that pays the price for sin in our place. Thereby Jesus’ disarms the evil one and his cronies, taking away the devils power over us.
The Apostle Paul says this in Colossians 2, about the cross. That through his death, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.”
For the Christian, the devil can no longer hold death over our heads. Because Jesus overcame the grave. The devil can no longer hold sin over our heads. Because we have the forgiveness of our sins. Christians get transferred from the evil ones clutches, and now belong to our loving, kind, and merciful saviour Jesus. And all who trust in Jesus, are freed from the fear and oppression of the evil one.
That’s not to say that the devil isn’t real and powerful and fighting against God and God’s people. Yes, there may be times when we are overwhelmed with what is happening in the world, and we ask why things happen to us. It may seem like evil is winning. Yet we can have confidence in Christ who has won the victory over evil. Evil is not out of control, running wild, doing whatever it wants. Christ has won and his judgment will come.
Jesus has all power over evil.