4th Sunday after the Epiphany
February 3, 2019
“Everything You Wanted to Know About Demons But Were Afraid to Ask”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson previously read.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
In 1949, the Rev. Dr. Louis Sieck, then President of Concordia Seminary in St Louis (my alma mater) was asked to perform an exorcism on campus in what is now called the Chapel of the Holy Apostles. Having no previous experience with exorcism, Dr. Sieck was at a loss on how to proceed. Unfortunately, the only Lutheran writings on exorcism he could find had been written in 1684…in Latin.
After several unsuccessful attempts to expel the unclean spirit from the young boy, Dr. Sieck gave up and turned the boy over to Jesuit priests in St. Louis. After several intense efforts, the exorcism was successful. The boy eventually became a father and grandfather, a devout Catholic, and was never bothered again by the demonic. This well-documented case was the primary study for William Peter Blatty’s book (1971) and subsequent film “The Exorcist.”
We can’t really blame Dr. Sieck. Maybe we as Lutherans are ill prepared when it comes to discussing, recognizing, and especially fighting the demonic. Know how many books I have on the topic? One. In the last 15 years, CPH has published 1 book on the subject. But not so in the case of Jesus.
The 1973 film “The Exorcist” – based on Blatty’s novel – sadly provides much of the modern mindset in thinking of demons: evil spirits that cause people to levitate, speak in dead languages, turn their heads 360 degrees, shirk away from anything holy, and spit soup-like junk all over the room. This is simply not the case; that’s more Hollywood than Holy Land, and we would do well to know what is the truth – the real truth – about demons. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus casts out not 1, not 2, but many demons. Throughout all 4 Gospels, Jesus frequently battles against demonic forces – demons – but there’s no mention of pea soup. So, how much do we know about them and are we prepared to deal with demonic forces? That’s where today’s sermon will try and help.
And so, here is a little “demonology 101.” To begin with, are demons real? Yes, demons are very real. The Bible provides plenty of evidence that demons are real and are at work in this world. Just because our Lord Jesus has ascended back into heaven does not mean the demons went away!
Where did demons come from? Demons are angels that were created by God. God created all the angels to be good and holy and righteous servants and messengers of His will. But some time before humanity fell into sin, many angels followed Satan’s – another angel – lead. Of their own accord, they fell away from God and they constantly exhibit and exert their rejection of God. This is manifested primarily in their constant attempts to bring about the ruin of His beloved creation – mankind. They are also exceedingly hostile towards the church of Christ and they do their best to strike church leaders, spread false doctrine, incite persecution and strife against the kingdom, and lure hearers away from God and His life-changing Word.
Should we fear demons? Yes…you’d better believe it! However, we don’t fear them in the sense that we worry they will bodily possess us. That’s EXTREMELY rare. We should be afraid of what demons can do and why they would do it to us. Demons can teach or deceive people away from God by any means necessary. They can do minor feats which appear “supernatural” causing people to doubt God; doubt is Satan’s favorite tool. Do you know, and I’m not making this up, that a woman in Hollywood, Florida made and then sold 10 years later a grilled cheese sandwich that is supposed to contain the image of Mary, the mother of our Lord? She sold the item on-line for…$28,000. God doesn’t work through grilled cheese sandwiches, and demons probably laughed at the thought He would.
Demons give information – false information – to people who claim to then have “revelations from beyond.” Case in point, the “renowned” psychic Sylvia Browne, working with law enforcement, told the parents of Shawn Hornbeck in 2002 that their abducted child was dead in a wooded area. Shawn Hornbeck was later found in Missouri in 2007 alive and well, but Browne still received her consultation fee of $1000/hour! In 2004, Sylvia Browne told Amanda Berry’s mother that Amanda was dead. In reality, she was not dead but alive and being held captive in Cleveland for 10 years until she and 2 other women escaped in 2013 – the same year Sylvia Browne died (11 years before she predicted she would die). Is that the work of a demon or a con artist? Is there a difference? You tell me.
All right, how about this? Do people still get possessed today by demons? Demons possessed and afflicted people in Old Testament times, they did it during the earthly ministry of our Lord obviously, and they continue to do it now perhaps more through influence rather than physical possession. I will say this. Anything which lowers or impairs a victim’s ability to say “no!” to satanic intrusion can lead to demonic influence. Alcoholism, drug addiction, or any form of chronic substance abuse can make a person more susceptible to a demon wedging its way into their life. Demons can still possess people – rarely – and each case needs to be judged individually by very specific criteria.
So, what’s the point of all this information about demons? If nothing else, please know and remember today that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is stronger than demons! Demons cannot stand up to Him, defeat Him, or resist Him and His commands. We saw that in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus has power and authority unlike the demons. The death and resurrection of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins seals His power and His authority forever over and against the temporal, temporary power of any demon or demons. As Luther wrote in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God:” “this world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none, he’s judged, the deed is done.”
Jesus is the victor. He gives us the victory by our faith in Him. Will demons strike at you anyway? Absolutely. Will they try to harm you and your family and turn you away from God? Of course! Can they change Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and hell? No way. Jesus is the Holy One of God, and no demon in your life or in the life of this world can ever change that glorious truth.