The indomitable power of good

This is material for a Hollywood film. In the caves outside of the city, demons were wreaking havoc. The people were afraid. But Jesus acted and drove out the devil, albeit differently than many thought.

After Jesus had calmed the storm, He and the disciples continued their crossing on the Lake of Galilee. On the other side of the lake, a disturbing scene unfolded, the content of which is rarely part of a divine service.

Jesus encountered a possessed man there who, under the absolute control of the forces of evil, lived a miserable life among the tombs. After a dialogue with the demons, Jesus sent them into a herd of pigs, who rushed over the edge and plunged into the lake and drowned, thus also exterminating the demons. This is how the passage in Matthew 8: 28–34 describes it.

Pitiable and dangerous

While the gospel of Matthew mentions two possessed men, Mark and Luke mention only one. Neither of the gospels specify whether one of them was the spokesman or just the more conspicuous of the two. One thing does become clear, however: the living conditions were wretched.

Controlled by the demon and powerless against him, the possessed man eked out an existence among the tombs, cut off from society. He was so violent that no one dared to pass that way. Night and day he screamed, and He cut himself with stones and was incapable of human companionship. He was a danger to the inhabitants of the area, and not even iron cuffs could hold him.

Evil recognises good

All three of the gospels mention that this man was possessed by demons. Evil is not only manifested as a power, but also as a person CNAC 4.1.2.).

This demon recognises Jesus. His presence alone is enough to strike fear into this personification of evil. While many of the people were divided about the role of Jesus, the evil one knew who his opponent was. He said: “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.”

Naming evil clearly

In order to be able to drive out evil, it was fundamental to actually name it, according to the ancient conception. According to Mark and Luke, Jesus asked the demon for his name. By way of an answer, He is told: “My name is Legion. There are many of us.”

In occupied Palestine, Roman soldiers often appeared as half a legion, which was about 2,000 men. For a legion of demons to pass from a human being to another living being, a correspondingly large herd was needed.

But why pigs? For one thing, Jewish Christians consider pigs to be unclean animals; what’s more, animals are considered a symbol of pagan worship. Since the narrative takes up certain aspects of ancient culture, it should also be noted that ancient people offered pigs as sacrifices to their gods.

Good reveals its power

In this story, there is no doubt about Jesus’ authority and His power to command evil. Even though all spirits are subject to Him, there is no agreement between good and evil. This becomes clear when the demon distances himself by asking Jesus, “What do you want with me?”

Regardless of the mythical elements of this event, Jesus’ authority became apparent. Having demonstrated His power over the forces of nature by calming the storm on the lake, He now also showed His full authority over personified evil.

Are there demons today too?

And today? Are people today not also controlled by certain spiritual powers? Selfishness, irascibility, envy, or other constraints—people who are capable of self-reflection recognise certain evil motivations within themselves. Often people feel totally powerless in the face of their own “demons”. Even people who are very willing to better themselves keep falling back into their old ways and feel completely at the mercy of their own imperfections and subject to evil.

However, the power of good was, is, and will always be greater than the power of evil. And Christ even shares some of this power! In Holy Communion, Christ shares His nature with the believer—a nature which is distinguished by perfect strength to overcome—thereby allowing the believer to live in Christ (CNAC 8.2.20). Through this perfect power, evil can be overcome despite human imperfection. And goodness can grow.

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Simon Heiniger
Divine service, Doctrinal instruction