Christ's Absolute Power Over Demons (Matthew Sermon 28 of 151)
July 28, 2002 | Andrew Davis
Deity of Christ, Demons
We begin with Matthew, Chapter 8, verses 28 - 34, "I stand here today to proclaim that Jesus Christ has absolute power over demons." Isn't that wonderful? Jesus Christ has absolute power over the demonic realm. He has effortless power over the demonic realm. It's no struggle, no strain for him to show his influence and power over the devil. You need for Him to have that absolute power. You are surrounded at this present moment by demonic forces of evil that seek to do you harm. They seek to oppose you, resist you, tempt you, and destroy you if they can, and you need Christ's power in order to survive. The major point is that Christ has all power and all authority over demons, and the second point is that you need that power. C.S. Lewis wrote in his introduction to Screwtape Letters, advice from a great demon to a lesser demon on how to tempt human beings. This book is a study on temptation and the process of sanctification. In the introduction, Lewis wrote, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence and the other is to believe in and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. Demons are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist on the one hand, or a magician on the other, with equal delight."
Christian Interest in Demons
In the church in America in the 20th century, we saw more of post-enlightenment skepticism. We are a scientific people. We believe that all you need are your five senses. If you can make some observations about the world, you can formulate some theories about how it really functions, and if you can test those theories in a lab through experimentation, you can learn everything that there is to know about the universe. People need a God if they don't understand science, and the more that science learns, the less you need God to fill in the gaps. So, away with mythology, away with all of those ancient superstitions. We are a scientific people, we are a rational people, a logical people, and therefore, we think of demons somewhat the way you would think about Santa Claus. We've outgrown that concept. Well, that is un-Biblical. That is false. Demons surround us at all points.
David Powlison well noted that attitude is saying, "Can a modern person believe that God controls lightning and thunder if a meteorologist can use satellite pictures and computer modeling to predict the storm a week ahead of time? Can a modern person believe that demons could cause paralysis, seizures, and deafness if an EEG and electromyogram can map patterns of electrical impulse in the nervous system?" You see that's what we face as scientific people who trust in our own logic, our own science. After a while, we become thoroughly secularized and so we don't really see the need for Christ's power and protection against the demonic realm. That is false. Demons are around us right now making it difficult for you to listen to my sermon. The demons harass us at all points. This is a biblical truth. If it were not so, then we would have no way to make anything out of the text that we're looking at today. Demons are real, but in some senses, perhaps, at least in some quarters, we may have swung totally to the other side. Powlison said, "We've gone out of one ditch into the ditch on the other side of the road. We have a preoccupation, in some cases, with the demonic. We are essentially spiritual people, but sooner or later, we were going to move back toward a spiritualist way of looking at things, if we're not going to be Christian.” There is a present fascination with the occult, with witchcraft. The immensely popular Harry Potter books, for example, speak of a boy that's got power over witchcraft.These books and movies appeal to the younger generation as they show people with supernatural occultic powers.
In the Christian realm, for its part, there's been an incredible interest in the demonic. Probably this is best and most popularly summarized or symbolized by Frank Peretti's novels,This Present Darkness, and Piercing The Darkness. These are incredibly vivid books, with lurid descriptions of demons. From This Present Darkness there is a description of a demon trying to enter into a church building. "A shadow with a shape, an animated creature-like shape appeared, and as it neared the church, sounds could be heard. The scratching of claws along the ground, the faint rustling of breeze-blown membranous wings wafting just above the creature's shoulders. It had arms, and it had legs, but it seemed to move without them. Crossing the street and mounting the front steps of the church, it's leering, bulbous, eyes reflected the stark blue light of the full moon with their own jaundiced glow. The gnarled head protruded from hunched shoulders and wisps of rancid red breath seethed in labored hisses through rows of jagged fangs." Where in the world did that description come from? I've read the Bible from cover to cover, and I don't find any support for that kind of physical description of demons. I think it came from Frank Peretti's incredible skill and his creativity as a writer. Behind that, though, is a whole approach to spiritual warfare, and behind that is a whole movement, the spiritual warfare movement, which has uncovered some valid things for Christians to be aware of; namely, my second point that you need Christ's power every day for protection from the demonic realm. It's gone way beyond the Bible though, as Peretti goes in his descriptions to talk about such things as spiritual mapping and sanctification by expelling certain demons, demons of lust, demons of overeating, demons of procrastination. Any sin that you would have would have a demon behind it and you need to expel that demon. But they come back, and so you need to keep on it, and you need to have specific words of power. If you don't have special knowledge, they're not going to leave. A generalized prayer is not sufficient. There's also a sense, and this is a big theme in This Present Darkness, of territorial spirits. That demons can kind of take over a town, and the only way you can get them out is to know what they're about. This is spiritual mapping and with research you're able to pray with special words of power to get those demons out.
Have we gone too far the other direction? Have we gone way beyond anything that the Bible teaches? David Powlison, again, in his book, Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare, speaks of Cynthia and Andrew, a married couple that he counsels. Cynthia once cast demons out of her toaster when it failed to work. Even worse, she and her husband, Andrew, had a remarkable and remarkably destructive way of arguing with each other. For the first five minutes they warmed up with normal person-to-person bickering, but at a certain point when the fighting turn nasty, they shifted gears and wheeled in the heavy artillery. They would bind, rebuke, and attempt to cast out demons of anger, pride, and self-righteousness from each other. In Cynthia's words, and this is a quote, "I saw the demon looking out of his eyes, glittering and murderous. So I said, 'Demon of anger, I bind your power in Jesus' name. Then I claimed the power of Jesus' blood as my cover from all demonic assault coming through my husband.’” Is this a valid approach to spiritual warfare? This is where we need to return to the Scriptures and see what the Bible says.
Christ’s Power Over Demons
As we look at our text, we're going to get some basic principles, and I'd like them to be the bedrock on which you're going to begin to form your conception of the demonic realm. The central lesson here I've already stated: Christ has absolute sovereign power over all demons. But secondly, demons are most certainly real. They exist and they are active in the world today. Were demons given full sway with absolutely no restriction from God, your life would be somewhat like a living hell on earth. If on the other hand, demons were completely cleared away from you and couldn't touch you in any way, couldn't tempt you or harass you or in any way cause you any opposition, it would feel somewhat like an 800-pound weight has been lifted from you, spiritually.
The central lesson of this passage is salvation from demonic powers which is something that only Christ can do. He does it effortlessly, absolutely effortlessly. Christ's sovereign power over demonic authority is clear. The context in Matthew, the point of the book, is to portray Jesus Christ as the King of the Kingdom of Heaven. He is the son of David. He's also the son of God and His kingdom is advancing through the world. A king must have power. He must have power over his own subjects, but he must also have power over his enemies. Jesus displays that power in Matthew. We've seen already in Matthew 8, Christ's awesome power over sickness. We've also seen Christ's power over natural opposition. He's in a boat when a terrible, terrible storm approaches. Jesus just quiets the storm with a word, "Peace, be still,” and it's gone. We've seen His power over sickness, we've seen His power over the natural realm.
Now we’ll see His absolute power over the supernatural realm. What are demons? They are spiritual beings. They live in a spiritual realm which means they are not physical, but they can have a physical impact, as we see in this text today. The are spiritual for they were originally angels. God created the Heaven and the earth. He created the spiritual realm and He created spiritual beings in that spiritual realm, and some of them as revealed in the book of Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation are quite unusual. We really don't even know what those living creatures are before the throne, they're just spiritual beings of some sort, but God created, in the invisible, spiritual realm, angels. They were created first, I believe, because Job 38:7 says that all of the angels, the sons of Heaven, sang for joy when God laid the foundations of the Earth. They were there watching and applauding God on, and worshipping Him while He created the physical world. They were created good, including Satan himself, the king of the demons. At some point in ancient history before the fall of man, demons fell, Satan fell. There was some kind of a rebellion and Satan was able to gather up according to the Book of Revelation, some say, a third of all the angels and turn them into demons. Rebel angels who fought against God. Hell was therefore created for them as a punishment. As I read scripture, they're not in hell, yet. They are roaming through the earth, most of them, creating havoc. As it says in the Book of Job, "Where have you been?" And Satan says, “Roaming through the earth and traveling around in it."
Some of the demons, I believe, are bound up in a deep pit waiting for the day of judgement. They're suffering, according to Second Peter and Jude, but most of them are free to roam and create havoc, but they know their time is short. Hell itself was created for them as we see in Matthew 25. The Lord, sitting on his throne, speaks to the sheep and the goats and says to the goats, to the reprobates, to the rejectors of the Gospel, "Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared, listen for the devil and his angels." Hell was prepared for them. They're terrified of their judgment, they don't want it to come, but it's inevitable. There is no gospel for them. There's no hope of salvation for them. Nothing but an expectation of fiery judgement that will come. It says in Ephesians 6:12, "Our struggle is not 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.” There are these dominions of power and the devil, Satan, has a kingdom.
Jesus mentions in Matthew 12, his kingdom is divided if Satan drives out Satan. Satan has a kingdom, and there's an order and structure in that kingdom; powers, and rulers, and principalities. The demons are, in effect, Satan’s henchmen carrying out his plans, his evil plots. What is demon possession? There's really no record of it in the Old Testament. For the most part, it is mentioned in on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Book of Acts. We get an example in the large group of people that Jesus healed in Matthew 4:24, “ News about him spread all over Syria and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases. Those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and He healed them.” In the chapter we're studying now, Matthew 8:16, "When evening came, many who are demon possessed were brought to Him and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick." In the Greek, these words of sickness usually translate as demon-possessed or demonized.
I do think demons can inhabit people. That's the only way, I think, to be fair to the biblical text. For example, in Matthew 12, verse 43 and following, there, Jesus is teaching about evil spirits. You learn so much from Matthew 12:43 through 45. It says, "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes to arid places seeking rest and doesn't find it." There's a sense that the evil spirit has been in the man; he's lived there, it's like the man is his home. In our text, the demons say, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." There's a sense that they're looking for a resting place. When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and if it does not find it he says, "I will return to the house I left, when it arrives, it finds a house, unoccupied, swept clean and put in order, then it goes and takes with its seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." The last shall be worse than the first. In other words, this man now has seven demons living inside of him, plus the original one.
That is how it will be with this wicked generation that demons can inhabit, in some sense, a person. Luke 8:2 speaks of Mary Magdalene and says that out of her, seven demons were cast. There's the Greek preposition "out of," so the demons came out of her. We don't understand how they came in to begin with. The Scripture is absolutely silent on that, and this is one of the problems I have with the whole spiritual warfare movement. They're very specific about how demons can come in to you, but the Bible actually doesn't say anything about that. Casting a demon out of a person is an act of great spiritual power and authority. In Mark 1:23 and following, in Capernaum, "Just then, a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit, cried out, 'What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are the holy one of God.'" "'Be quiet," said Jesus sternly, 'Come out of him.' The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were so amazed that they asked each other, 'What is this? A new teaching? And with authority, He even gives orders to evil spirits. And they obey Him.'" It's an act of power, an act of authority, to be able to drive out an evil spirit. In Acts 19, there's a story of the seven sons of Sceva, the Jewish high priest, who aren't believers, but they hear Paul preach and they decide they're going to try some exorcism. They're going to drive out demons and they say, "In the name of this Jesus, whom Paul preaches. We command you to come out." The demon says, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" And then the man who is demon-possessed beat them up and drove them out of the house naked and bleeding.” It is an incredible act of power, therefore, to drive out a single demon from a person. Jesus has that kind of power. To be demonized, I think, means to be so completely dominated and controlled by a demon, even a sense that the demon inhabiting this person is controlling him, so that they're almost, I would say, out of their mind. They have no control over themselves any longer. It is really, I think, a picture of total human powerlessness. The demon-possessed person can do nothing to help himself.
As we look at the demoniac of the Gadarenes, this was perhaps the most vicious, most powerful of all cases of demon possession in the Bible. Look at Verse 28, back in Matthew 8. “When he had arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way." Right away, we have some interpretive issues. First of all, it has to do with the location. Gadarenes, it says here in our text, sometimes it's called Geragasenes, and other spellings, Gerasenes. The best way to take it, I think, is to follow Matthew. There's a town, Gadara, six miles away, that controlled the whole region right up to the lake. Jesus had just crossed over the lake. This was predominantly a Gentile region as we know because they were raising a herd of pigs. Jews would never have raised a herd of pigs. They would have no interest in that. A second interpretive issue has to do with how many demoniacs were there. Matthew has two; the other accounts all just speak of the one. There's no contradiction here, whatsoever. It's just that Matthew, in this one case, is a little more explicit than the others. There were two- there's no contradiction- but there is one in particular that all of the accounts zero in on, and it has to do with the one who's got the demon “Legion” inside him. He is far more noteworthy, and so, the others just zero in on him. Usually, it's the other way around. Usually Matthew strips things down, almost problematically, so it gets it very, very succinct. But in this case, he gives us more information than the others do. We have more information in Luke 8. It says, "When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs." In Luke 8:29, it says, "Many times the demon had seized him, and though he was chained, hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken the chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places."
What incredible power — able to take a chain with his own bare hands and rip it to shreds. I can't imagine who was guarding this guy, and what kind of night that was. The demon-possessed man runs into the tomb areas. How isolated, how desolate, how tragic this man is. He is totally apart from human fellowship, apart from love, out of his mind, out in the tombs, and attacking anyone that goes by. That's what's going on. Literally stark raving mad is this man. So violent, says verse 28, that no one could pass that way. Matthew tells us that his name is “Legion”. The demons begged Jesus, [Luke 8:29-31], demons plural, begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." There was a legion of demons inside this man. Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" And he answered, "Legion," for there were many demons inside him. A Roman legion could have anywhere from 3000 to 6000 soldiers. Terrifying, absolutely terrifying. Immense power. I believe there was one demon that ruled over them all, because in the accounts, the Greek goes from singular to plural. One demon is answering for them all. There's a sense of authority there, and there's a power and a strength, a terrible awesome power of the demons. But next, we see the absolute power of deity. In verse 29, the demons questioned, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?"
Recently I've been reading a history of D-Day. By all accounts, the toughest place to land was Omaha Beach that morning, because the naval shelling hadn't done the job. There was a crack Nazi troop regiment right there, just thoroughly entrenched, and as soon as the first wave hit that beach, almost without exception, the soldiers were mowed down. I pictured Jesus that way. He's crossing the lake and there's a terrible storm. He quiets the storm and he's almost like in one of those Higgins boats about to land, and take enemy territory. It's an entrenched area with powerful, demonic force there. More powerful than any human being can deal with. He gets out of the boat and immediately these demons confront him. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shout. Here we see a little bit of an element of demonic faith. In James 2:19, it says, "You believe that there is one God, good. Even the demons believe that and they shudder." This tells us a lot about demons. They don't see God all the time, so they've got to believe things about God. They believe that there is one God. Good, even the demons believe that. But in this case, they believe that Jesus is the Son of God. No human being had come to this conclusion yet — not even his own disciples. His disciples had just asked the question, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves do his bidding." The demons knew who he[Jesus] was, and they were beside themselves with terror. They say in Verse 29, "What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"
One of the faulty ways you can get into thinking about the demonic realm is that somehow you've got a good kingdom, the kingdom of God, and you've got an evil kingdom, the kingdom of Satan, and they battle it out on more or less equal terms. Wrestling through history, that is Manichaeism, that is dualism: The good and the evil battling it out. Utterly un-Biblical. God has absolute power and authority, and the demons know it. They are terrified of Jesus. I love the account in John 18, when Jesus is arrested and there's a cohort, about 600 soldiers there to arrest him, and Judas the traitor is there with them. We've already learned that Judas is inhabited not by a demon, but by the devil himself. When Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus comes out and says, "Who are you looking for?" And the soldiers say, "Jesus of Nazareth." And Jesus answers in the Greek, "Ego eimai." [I am]. What He is saying is: “I am.” That is his name, he is God, he is eternal, and when he said his name, “I Am” , the soldiers drew back and fell to the ground with Judas, too. The devil himself in Judas fell at the statement of Jesus' name. [John 18] This is an incredible display of power. These demons are terrified of Jesus.
James 4:7 says, "Resist the devil and he will run screaming mad away from him." Well, that's a paraphrase, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Why? Because he sees the power of Christ in you. What are they afraid of? "Have you come here to torture us?" it says, "before the appointed time?" The Greek gives a sense of a definite time. There's a time for judgment. The demons didn't think it was yet so they didn't understand why he was there. “Have you come here to torment?” They know that they're heading for the lake of fire, they know that their time is short.[Revelation 12]. 2nd Peter 2:4 says that God did not spare some angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in the gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment. So some of the demons are already somewhat in a pit, Tartarus. That's the word translated in the NIV as “hell”. They're down there and they're bound with chains to be held waiting for the lake of fire. They don't have freedom the way that the other demons do. I think these demons are very afraid they're going to lose their freedom and be sent to be tormented and tortured before judgment day. At this point it gets really thrilling. Look at verse 30-32. Some distance from the demons, a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." He said, to them, the only word that Jesus speaks in this whole encounter, "Go!" That's it. It's a word of power. Is there any striving, any effort, any strain from Jesus here? Absolute, total authority. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me," said Jesus. And then what did he say to us? "Go, therefore." Demons are more obedient than we are. Anyway, he said to them, "Go!" and they went out. They came out, went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank, into the lake, and died in the water. A single word, “Go," is all it took. Martin Luther in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” put it this way, "And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him, his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure."One little word shall fell him." That's it.
The most powerful manifestation of Satan's kingdom in history is right before Jesus returns during the reign of the Antichrist. 2nd Thessalonians 2 speaks of the Man of Sin. The book of Revelation fills in the picture of this total demonic kingdom reigning openly on earth. In 2nd Thessalonians 2:8, "Then the lawless one, the antichrist, will be revealed whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the splendor of His coming.” Revelation 19 has Jesus riding on a horse in front of the armies of heaven with a sword coming out of His mouth. What that means is he fights with the breath of his mouth; he speaks and it is done. Isn't that powerful? That is the God that we serve. Absolute power over the demonic realm. As a result of that came total healing. Luke 8:35 says, "When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind." He's healed. He's a person again, he's free again, all by a single word from Jesus.
Then we get the anxious plea of disbelief in verses 33 and 34. "Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town, and reported all this including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus and when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region." This is nothing but fear speaking. In the Song “Amazing Grace”, “ ’ twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” There's a fear that leads to salvation, and then there's a fear that does not lead to salvation. The disciples have already shown us the first. They're terrified of Jesus in the boat. Remember when he speaks to the wind and the waves, they say, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him?" And they're afraid. But that fear leads them to trust in Him for salvation. For the people in the region, the Gadarenes, that's a different kind of fear. They were afraid of the demoniac. They didn't want to walk by him because they were afraid he would beat them up. But now with a single word, this other man has come and driven out the demon. The demon is terrified of Jesus. How powerful does that make Jesus? "Therefore please get out of here," they said. The people there were afraid of Jesus, and they expelled him from their region.
Now, he gets in the boat and leaves, and goes back to his own area. [Matthew 9: 1] For a full account you have to put it all together from the Gospels. In Mark's account, He leaves behind a gift of His grace, a witness, to that unbelieving area. Mark 5:18-20, "As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed, begged to go with Him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. So the man went away and began to tell them how much Jesus had done for him, and all the people were amazed.” Jesus leaves one man. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Just plant it, and then it grows to be larger than anything. This man was a traveling evangelist with his story of what God had done for him, and how Christ had shown mercy. Jesus goes across in the boat, lands, drives out the demon, converts one man, sends him as a witness, and then goes back across. Mission accomplished. That is the power of Jesus Christ.
How are we going to apply this to our lives? First of all, understand, the demonic world has not changed. It's still around us all the time, and Christ's power hasn't changed either. “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” And so He has all power, in Heaven and earth and under the earth, all power on you if you're a Christian. Secondly, understand balance. Let's not go from one ditch to the other. One of the problems I have with the whole spiritual warfare thing is that it lends almost to polytheistic superstition where you can't do anything until you understand the right words of power, and have a whole history and all that. This is a new movement. They’re saying that there was no advance of the kingdom of heaven before all of this spiritual mapping, and all this stuff came in. It can't be. Rather, stand firm. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. These things are openly taught in scripture. So, let's have balance. Let's not be materialist about it and say there are no demons. We don't want to go too far the other way and say that demons are the issue of my life. “Every day, I have to wrestle with the demons. I've gotta fight them. I've got to oppose them.” Demons are not the issue of your life. Christ and His supernatural power is. Thirdly, believe. Believe in Christ. Trust in Him. First of all, for salvation. Do you realize that Christ saved that demon-possessed man? That's why he sent him out as a witness. "Go tell how much God has done for you." What has he done? Rejoice that your name is written in Heaven.
The greatest thing you can get from Christ is salvation, forgiveness of sins. Trust in Him for salvation, trust in Him and rejoice. Believe that Christ's power is sufficient to conquer whatever demons you face. Rest in His name. Trust in Him and worship Him. I tell you, fall before Christ and His majesty. One single word, "Go," is all it took and those demons were expelled. He is worthy of worship today. Finally, I want you to fight. You're going to go home and you're going to have demons around you, tempting you and harassing you. Put on your spiritual armor, Ephesians 6:10 - 20, "And stand firm and fight by the power of God. Resist the devil," the Scripture says, "And he will flee from you." 2nd Corinthians 10: 3-5, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world." On the contrary, our weapons have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the authority of Christ and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Jesus Christ.