You Can Learn a lot from a Demon
So, if we can learn a lot from a demon why does Jesus stop him from speaking in the text? You'll see shortly.
The demon is right about several things. Jesus is of Nazareth, a town only 15 miles away from Capernaum. If the people were so inclined they could go to Nazareth and speak to family and friends about Jesus. They would hear stories about how an ordinary man grew up having mother, siblings, and a trade taught to Him by his step-father Joseph.
The demon is right. Jesus is of Nazareth. The demon is also right when he says Jesus is the Holy One of God. Note the article. Jesus isn't a holy one of God. He's the one and only Holy One of God. So though Jesus is flesh and blood like everyone else in that synagogue, He's also true God. Though he looks no different than you or me, He is Lord, God, Almighty.
The demon is right about who Jesus is: true Man and true God. And he's right about what Jesus came to do: destroy demons. 1 John 3:8 says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." And Hebrews 2:14 says, He partook of flesh and blood " that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." Jesus isn't here to teach the people how to be better. He's here to destroy demons. Jesus isn't here as an example of how to live a godly life. He's here to destroy demons. Jesus isn't here to show people how to get along. He's here to destroy demons.
So, you can learn a lot from a demon, but the people in the text couldn't because they didn't know a demon was speaking. Here's the scene. It's not just a plain Sabbath day. The Greek is plural denoting a festival Sabbath. Jesus is teaching and the people are dumbstruck because He didn't teach in the usual rabbinic way citing other rabbis. He spoke as One with Authority. Suddenly one of the hearers, (The insert translates "man" but the Greek is "person"; it could have been a woman.) started shrieking.
Do you see this person? He/she was in the synagogue. He/she didn't rush in. He/she was already inside listening as he/she had at other times. But the demon he/she carried had never before heard anything in that synagogue worth shrieking about. The demon could listen to the unauthoritative droning of scribes and the moralistic stories of rabbis, but when Jesus spoke, the demon shrieked.
But again, the people don't know it's a demon speaking. This is Joe or Joan their next door neighbor shrieking. Their kids go to school with his/her kids. Now maybe Joe or Joan, demon-possessed as he/she is, regularly went off on sudden rants. Maybe he/she was known as a bit off. In which case, you have a kook declaring Jesus of Nazareth is the Holy One of God. This would be akin to having lobbyist Jack Abramoff who recently pled guilty to bribing officials endorse you as candidate for public office.
So if the people don't know a demon is speaking, it appears that only a kook would follow Jesus. But what if the congregation thinks Joe or Joan is not a kook but one of them? That's how the demon speaks. "What do you want with us?" And then followed these words that surely must have scared the congregation to the core: "Have you have come to destroy us?" If this is next-door neighbor Joe or Joan, member of the PTO with you, whom you've known all your life, he/she is one of you, and suddenly this normal man or woman is shrieking that Jesus has come to destroy you!
These poor people of Capernaum couldn't learn anything from this demon as he spoke because they don't know it's a demon speaking. You and I do, and the Holy Spirit has preserved this account so we can learn from it.
We can learn that though people are often blind to God when He wraps Himself in ordinary human things, demons never are. Check other accounts of demons in the New Testament. They all see that ordinary looking Jesus of Nazareth is the Holy One of God. His flesh and blood doesn't fool them as it did humans. In Nazareth the people also testified to the authority of the Words of Jesus, but they rejected Him because they knew his mother, brothers, and sisters. Demons never did that.
They didn't do it then, and they don't do it now. You know how vampires are burned by holy water and cower at the sight of a crucifix? Well there is fantasy here, but there is truth. The waters of Baptism, not because they are holy in themselves but because the holy Word of God is joined to them, do drive demons out. Luther's Order of Baptism retained the exorcism to show this. And while a crucifix itself has no super power, the reality it points to does.
Listen to what Colossians 2 says. "God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it." 'Rulers' and 'authorities' are demons. Christ disarmed them and put them to open shame triumphing over them by the cross. Demons have an answer for every positive word you utter, every new attempt to change, every promise to do better. But they have no answer to the cross. When you take comfort in what Jesus did on the cross, when what Jesus did there is applied to you by the words of Absolution, the demons must run.
What humans only know now by faith, demons know by sight. Jesus wrapped in flesh and blood, growing up in the usual way in Nazareth for 30 years, didn't fool this demon. As soon as he heard Him, he couldn't stand it and so made his victim shriek. So even as angels and archangels recognize who is here under ordinary Bread and Wine, so do the demons. Even as the angels and archangels worship and adore the Christ present here under such mean things, the demons do the opposite. Luther wrote of how the most vile and disgusting thoughts come to people around Communion. The presence of the Holy One again on earth drives demons into a frenzy because even though Jesus looks weak in Bread and Wine even as He did in flesh and blood, the demons know better.
So you can learn a lot from a demon, but the demons couldn't put it all together. The demons recognized that Jesus was both true Man and true God, but they couldn't put together what that meant for them. They couldn't see that it was because Jesus was both true Man and true God that He would be able to destroy the works of the Devil and them while saving us.
That Hebrews passage I read earlier said that the Devil held us in bondage all our days through the fear of death. You know this fear. It's a creeping realization that you can't live forever in this flesh and blood. Your clock is rapidly running, digitally counting down to the zero hour of death. How come the Devil could hold us in bondage by death? What gave him the right? God's holy Law and our unholy sins. God had promised that the person who sins dies. From the moment Adam sinned, we were sinners, and death passed from Adam to us as surely as his DNA did.
Our sins and God's Law gave the Devil access to heaven. You see this in Job. Satan appears in heaven with the holy angels and no one throws him out. You see this in Zechariah. Satan stands side by side with the holy Angel of the Lord. You see this in Revelation. The Devil is described as the one "who accuses our brothers day and night before God."
God couldn't throw the Devil out of heaven because he was right. We are guilty of all manner of sins. Not a day goes by, not a moment goes by that we are not guilty of sin. All our thoughts are soiled with sins, so the words and the actions that come from those thoughts are nothing but sin. God would be unjust if he threw the Devil out of his court. The Devil had a case against us. As long as God's Law was not kept, Satan could accuse us before God of breaking it. As long as the punishments the Law required were not carried out against us, Satan had a right to demand that they be.
Enter the God/Man Jesus of Nazareth. He's true Man so He is under the same Commandments we are, but as true God He's able to keep them perfectly. None of His thoughts were soiled with sins, so His words and deeds were holy. But the just judgments of the Law that God had promised would be carried out against all sinners had to be carried out. Enter the God/Man Jesus. He is true Man, so He could bleed, cry, suffer and die under all of the punishments demanded by God's Law, but as true God His suffering and paying has eternal value for all flesh and blood people.
The demon knew correctly that Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy one of God was there to destroy him. What the demon didn't realize is that Jesus would do that by allowing Himself to suffer and die at their hands on the cross. By allowing that, Jesus fulfilled the Law of God and so took that sword out of the Devil's hand. The Devil can't accuse us of breaking a Law that has been fully kept by a Man in our place. Nor can the Devil demand we pay for breaking the Law when Jesus has already paid that bill in full.
That's the most important thing to learn from demons. They are subject to Jesus and to those Baptized into Him or Bodied and Blooded to Him. There is no Law that the demons can point to that Jesus hasn't kept for us. No matter what the demons say, no punishment or suffering we go through can be in payment for our sins since Jesus paid that debt for us. And there is no death they try to scare us into slavery with that Jesus hasn't already died for us. You can learn a lot from a demon, and even more from the One who conquered them. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany IV (20060129); Mark 1: 21-28