They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching; and with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
Have you ever been possessed by an unclean spirit like the man in the story above? No? How do you know? Did you ever do something foolish and wrong, something that hurt someone else, something that you regretted, and then said to yourself or to them, “I don’t know why I did it; I don’t know what got into me.” What got into you? What do you mean by that? Are you saying you did not really do it on your own, but something, or someone, else got into you and made you do it? What might that something or someone else be? Well, you might say, that is just a figure of speech. But I would say it is an accurate figure of speech that is pointing to something very real.
They are only a few people in the Bible who are fully and completely ‘possessed,’ as this man in the text. But we read in many Bible verses that everyone is tempted again and again by Satan and his helpers. The book of Ephesians tells us that we fight our biggest battles in life not against flesh and blood, but against the unseen powers and spiritual forces of this dark world. There are probably not very many people who are completely possessed by an unclean spirit or a demon, but all of us are tempted by these ‘unseen powers and spiritual forces.’ So you sometimes don’t know what got into you? Well, perhaps it was the voice of the Tempter that got into you, and you said ‘yes’ to that temptation. Yes, something does get into us, make no mistake about it; and for that reason, life is a battle, a battle within yourself, and, a battle with others when they yield to the Evil One and wrong you.
We read in this story from the first chapter of Mark that Jesus has power and authority in this area, as he casts the spirit out of that unfortunate man. I have never seen anything like that, though I believe it happens yet today. What I have seen is people changed by the love of God, changed by the hope that God brings, and changed by the life that he offers. I have seen people decide to resist whatever had gotten into them, and change their lives. And I have seen people die not with fear and trembling, but with the hope and confidence that they are just falling asleep and will wake up in a better place. When we first read this story about Jesus casting an unclean spirit out of that man long ago, we might wonder what that has to do with us. But just change ‘unclean spirit’ to ‘unwelcome temptations’ and the relevance to your own life will be clear. We, like the man in the story, need Jesus to help us when those wicked ‘powers of darkness’ get into us.
Ephesians 6:12-13a — For 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…
James 4:7 — Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
–Jesus, Matthew 6:13