I had to lead a Bible study recently on a story from Luke's gospel. It concerned the time when, early in the ministry of Jesus, he visited a Synagogue. He had just finished giving the sermon and all of a sudden an interjector took the floor. The Bible describes him as someone possessed by an evil spirit - a demon. He shouted something like this. "Ha! You have no power over us, Jesus. Come to try to destroy us have you? I know who you are and that means I've got it over you." Of course, as you can imagine, the demonic power was sent packing. So, what's the point of the story? How does it affect us?
Many believe there are no such things as demonic powers. The man was mentally ill and Jesus simply treated him in a way that was applicable to the age. Demon possession is a myth that needs interpreting.
We could take a literal line. Jesus was in the business of casting out demons because it was a major problem facing mankind. The problem is still with us and we can still cast out demonic powers from those who are possessed, as long as we do it in the name of Jesus. With all the satanic style films and videos around today, it's no wonder that demon possession has become big business. I recently read of a church member who claimed that over a hundred demons were cast out of him. I can't quite see how it was possible for a person possessed by Jesus to be possessed by Satan. I think it has more to do with imagination than reality.
A conservative approach to the story would have us see Jesus as someone who has authority over the powers of darkness - the surging troubles that disturb our psyche and make life miserable. Such troubles may be inspired by forces of evil, but often they are the product of chance - lady luck. So, we can look to Jesus to handle the troubles of life. A kind of Mr. Fixit Jesus is what we end up with.
So what is the truth about demon possession? Our experience of life is primarily lived at the sensual level. Yet in reality we are encircled by cosmic powers of both good and evil. These powers are actually personal and we can relate to them and live our lives under their influence. The cosmic battle between good and evil filters down to our day-to-day life. Jesus came to release his people from the bondage of darkness, and as he set out to do that, those same powers rose up against him, confronting him and claiming their power over him. A claim that was false, a power that they did not have.
Today we are confronted by those same powers of darkness. Our lives are filled with the trivia of their making. Jesus was "sent to proclaim freedom to the prisoners." "'Be quiet!' Jesus said sternly. 'Come out of him!' Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him."