An Evangelism Slogan from a Story About Demons?
The account of Jesus’ quick visit to the east side of the lake opposite Galilee to a Gentile town called Gerasene includes but one simple act of healing. If you boil it down to the bare essentials: Jesus meets a possessed man, Jesus drives the evil spirits occupying the man out of him and into a herd of pigs who throw themselves over a cliff, falling to their deaths. This causes the fearful swine owners and townspeople so much grief that they ask Jesus to leave them. The man cured of his illness asks to go with Jesus, but is refused with Jesus’ admonition to, “return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
At first read, the whole story might sound a bit far-fetched and irrelevant for us today living in our post-modern society and culture. And before the advocates for the SPCA become offended, we must consider the context in which this report was written: by Jews of the time who considered pigs as unclean animals. That Jesus drove out evil spirits from a man possessed by them and sent them to their death made perfect sense to people in that culture (though the owners of the swine no doubt had a different take on the events and impact on their incomes).
To this day, our society maintains its fascination with demons. Last week I looked at a top 20 list of horror films that featured demons. Fortunately the only two titles I recognized were “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist.” I’ve never watched one and never plan to–unless you consider Dan Brown’s book and movie entitled “Angels and Demons” starring Tom Hanks as in this category.
How seriously you believe or disbelieve the nature of demons literally as evil spirits isn’t the focus here though. But I submit to you that demons certainly do exist in our world today. Just as the naked man, living in the tombs occupied by the dead, was separated from his family and his community, his ability to experience joy and good health was severely limited. He failed to experience a life in its abundance. Yes, demons do exist in our world today. And they may be closer and more real than you think.
Instead of conjuring up the image of some horrible creature inhabiting the inner being of a person, let’s redefine demons using three common characteristics. Professor Sarah Henrich from Luther Seminary lists three:
- they cause self-destructive behavior
- the victim feels trapped
- they separate the victim from normal living within the family circle.
Using this definition, there are plenty of negative forces at work in our society today that fit, aren’t there? Mental illness, addictions, obsessions and a host of destructive habits permeate the world we live in today. Demons are – as they were in Christ’s time and before – active forces that prevent us from becoming what God intends us to be and obstruct us from enjoying the blessings of His creation.
A great evangelism slogan
To overcome our demons, we need God’s help, and that of people around us, to experience life in its abundance, as God intended us to. Jesus found a man so ridden with demonic powers that when asked for his name, the man replied “Legion” since there were so many of these forces afflicting him. His identity was by that which occupied him, just as the Roman legions of 6,000 troops occupied foreign lands during the reign of Caesars. And when the man was cured, what did he seek to do? He sought to climb in the boat with Jesus and follow him. But that wasn’t God’s plan for the man. Instead, Jesus told him to go back into his community and family and, “declare how much God has done for you.” What a great evangelism slogan. What a wonderful motto to live by. This man believed in Jesus and knew what he had done for him.
Jesus gave the man his identity back. Jesus restored him to the person he could be within his family and community. No longer did he suffer from the affliction that made him an outsider, living among the dead, naked and an object to be avoided.
Jesus gives us our identity too, which is first announced at our baptism. God offers us the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we are active members of God’s family, with the demons cut out and our identity restored. God wants us to know his great his love for each and every one of us. God doesn’t want us to be shackled by our fears and doubts. God can free us from these and what troubles us if we put our trust in him.