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Demons and the power of God

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Mark 9:14-29

When I graduated from high school I made plans to attend Baylor University, as all good Baptist boys do. But then my girlfriend and I broke up; she was going to Baylor, so I couldn’t go there after that. Houston Baptist University offered me an academic scholarship, so I went to HBU. My junior year I met Janet, and the rest is history.

At HBU each student was issued an identification number he or she would use through the year. It was given at chapel to register attendance, and put on forms and papers. Registering for my junior year at HBU, as I was standing in line for my ID number, the thought occurred to me that someone at Houston Baptist University would get the number 666—the “mark of the Beast.” The movie Omen had just come out that summer, and everyone was talking about 666. I had taught the Book of Revelation at the church where I was a student minister, and was thinking about all of this.

I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t notice when the student in front of me in line was given the ID number 665. But I’ll never forget the shock when the lady at the desk smiled and said, “Denison—666.” I wanted to run out to see if I’d grown horns and a tail. Going to chapel I’d say, “Mark of the Beast,” and the lady would write down “666” while everyone stared.

Last week we began exploring one of Jesus’ most amazing miracles, an episode where he responded to the faith of a father by healing his demon-possessed son. Last Sunday we discussed faith and the power of God; today we’ll look at demons and the power of God. Next week Janet will speak while I’m out of town; the week after we’ll finish this story by exploring prayer and the power of God.

What is spiritual warfare?

First, let me introduce you to the subject of spiritual warfare. An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, the grass always loses.” Who are the “elephants” in the spiritual battle we’re waging? And who is the “grass”?

On one side is our Heavenly Father, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Lord of all that is. Our God, who so loved us that he sent his Son to give us eternal life with him in heaven.

On the other side is Satan. His name means “adversary” or accuser. All across the Scriptures he acts in defiance of God’s word and will. He tempted Jesus, and tempts us as well. We are the “grass” in his battle against the Lord. And so the Bible warns us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).

According to the Bible, a “demon” is a created spirit being, a kind of angel. These beings sinned with Satan in heaven, and so are commonly called “fallen angels” or “unclean spirits.” Satan is now their ruler (Matthew 12:24), and he has organized them into his army of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12). God created hell for them, and they will be there with Satan forever: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).

Their doom is sure. Revelation sees the day when “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

But in the meanwhile Satan is fighting for every soul he can bring to hell and damnation with him. And his foot soldiers are his demons. We need to know about them, because they’re after us.

What are demons?

As we saw last week, our story comes just after Jesus’ transfiguration before Peter, James and John. He came from the Mount of Transfiguration to the valley of suffering below, where he was met by a distraught father whose son was possessed by a demon. What does our text tell us about demons?

First, they are very real. Most Americans don’t believe they exist. Most Americans are deceived.

Demons were real to Jesus. Six times in the gospels we find him casting them out of suffering, demon-possessed people. Mark 1:34 says that Jesus “drove out many demons.”

They were real to the early Christians. Acts 5:16 records this scene from their ministry: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Peter and Paul both exorcised demons personally.

And they were certainly real to the boy in our story today, weren’t they?

Second, demons seek to destroy. The demon in our text robbed the boy of speech; it threw him to the ground where he foamed at the mouth, gnashed his teeth and became rigid. The boy’s father told Jesus that “it has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him”

Third, demons are stronger than we are. The man told Jesus, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (v. 18). In the story of the demon-possessed man of Gadara, no one could bind him with a chain.

Last, demons want to hurt us. They hate all people, so that they came to possess and tried to kill this innocent boy. They especially hate the people of God. They cannot harm our Father, so they try to harm his children.

Know that if you are a Christian, you cannot be “possessed” by a demon. You are owned by Jesus, and cannot be owned by the devil. But you can be “oppressed” or tempted by them.

How do we defeat demons?

First, receive Jesus. Make him your Savior and Lord. As he defeated this demon, so he has power over Satan and his temptations always. Make him your Lord, and he will help you win the battle over temptation and sin every day.

Next, recognize temptation. When sin knocks at your door, demons are hiding behind it. And that sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Know that every sin is part of a demonic strategy to ruin your witness and life.

Third, run to the Spirit. Every time you are tempted, go immediately to the Spirit for his help. Don’t try to win this battle on your own, because you cannot.

There is no sin you have to commit. 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that God will not allow a temptation in your life which you cannot overcome in his strength. There is no sin which you must commit.

But there is no sin you can defeat without his help. James 4:7-8 is God’s antidote to temptation: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Submit to God’s Spirit—be filled and empowered every day by him—then resist the devil with his strength and help.

When you’re being attacked by temptation, take it immediately to the Spirit. Ask for his help, wisdom, and strength. And it will be yours.

More than 20 years ago, I taught an apologetics course at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas to a group of college students home for the summer. One of them was especially unusual. She wore occult clothes and jewelry, and looked angrily at me each week as I spoke. After our next-to-last session, she asked if she could talk with me the next week before the last session began. I was happy to meet with her, and asked the college minister to join us.

That week, my car broke down on the way to the church. It was the only time all the time I owned it that it had mechanical failure. I barely got to the church.

She wasn’t there. But just as the last session ended, she came into the back of the room. She came up afterwards to apologize—family friends arrived at their house uninvited and unexpected, and she had to stay. Finally she made excuses and slipped out to come to the church.

So she, the college minister and I met in his office together. She told me her story: she had grown up around church but had never become a Christian. When she went off to college, she became involved with a group of people who “channeled spirits.” They taught her to pray to the various “spirits,” asking them to take control of her life. Her personal spirit was “Isis,” one of the Egyptian pagan deities.

Now she wanted Isis to leave her, and wanted to give her life to Jesus. So we took hands together and prayed. As I prayed for her, her hands trembled and she cried out, “He’s tearing at me—he’s hurting me.” The college minister and I continued to pray, and in a moment her hands calmed.

She asked Jesus to forgive her sins and become her Savior, to replace Isis in her soul and become her Lord. And he did. When we opened our eyes, we found a new person with us. Her face was completely different. She took off her occult jewelry and handed it to me to throw away. She had the joy of Jesus.

I didn’t hear from her again, but one of the staff members of the church did. A few years ago he told me that she had married a minister and was now a pastor’s wife. Scripture is right: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Conclusion

Let me close by warning us again: sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Always. So take temptation immediately to the only One who can defeat it. And his victory will be yours.

A few years ago, National Geographic told the story of a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park. After the fire was out, forest rangers began to assess the damage. One found a bird literally petrified by ashes, perched on the ground at the base of a tree. The ranger pushed over the bird gently with a stick. When he did, three tiny chicks ran out from under their dead mother’s wings.

This mother, aware of impending disaster, sheltered them under her body and wings, knowing somehow that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety, but she refused to abandon her babies. When the fire arrived and its heat scorched her small body, she remained unmoved. Because she was willing to die, those under her wings would live.

Get under Jesus’ wings. Every time the temptations and sin of Satan’s demons attack. And the victory is yours. This is the promise of God.