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Tony's Reflection 39
The most ingenious and creative Christian book I have ever read would have to be The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
Screwtape is a senior demon, a bureaucrat in the “lowerarchy” of Hell. The letters are written to his incompetent nephew, Wormwood. Junior demons, like Wormwood, are assigned humans or “patients” to look after. A junior demon’s mission is to make sure that whatever happens to their patient, they never place their faith in God.
Wormwood has clearly been slacking, because his “patient” has become a Christian. Screwtape is utterly dismayed at Wormwood’s negligence, so launches a tirade of letters telling his nephew how to manage his “patient” so as to lure him away from his new-found faith.
Wormwood’s first instinct is to tell Screwtape how he will appear to his “patient” in his full demonic evilness and scare the poor man silly, so he forsakes his faith straight away.
Screwtape is dismayed that Wormwood could be this naïve. He takes his nephew to task, reminding him that their forces have already scored a remarkable victory in modern Britain, by making people totally unaware of the reality of the spirit world, all around them. “They are unaware of us, but they are also unaware of God - and it suits us to keep it that way,” says Screwtape. “The last thing you want to do,” he says to Wormwood, “is to appear to him. That will not only blow our cover, but make the “patient” realise that if evil spirits are for real, then God must be for real, too.”
The forces of darkness had a completely different strategy in Jesus’ day. Back then, people knew all about the reality of the spirit world. They took demons, angels and God himself seriously. Demons didn’t operate under cover in those days. They didn’t need to. There was far more to be gained by terrorising and tormenting people openly, which is what they did.
Demons are incredibly powerful. They are angels turned bad. The Bible doesn’t describe in great detail the power of demons, but we do see the power of angels from time to time. For example, we see a single angel by himself wiping out almost an entire army, 185,000 men, in just one night. Imagine that power in the hand not of an angel, a force for good, but in a demon, who is a force for evil. That’s how ferocious and frightening these demons are.
As soon as Jesus went public as God’s unique representative with his message of good news, he met opposition.
There was human opposition. Mark has shown us how conflict with the Pharisees slowly heated up, until it reached boiling point at the end of last week’s episode.
There was also demonic opposition, direct from Hell. Mark tells us as soon as Jesus was openly shown as God’s unique representative (at his baptism), then Satan, the chief demon, was at him like a shot, tempting him in the wilderness.
Our last episode closed with the Pharisees and Herodians setting themselves to kill Jesus. They will not have him to be God’s special representative. How can he be, when he undermines and subverts “true” religion? (“True religion” for them was religion as they saw it, a million miles from God and his truth.) For them, Jesus wasn’t God’s son, he was the pawn of Satan, in league with the devil himself.
Today’s episode (Mark 3:7-12) shows Jesus coming directly against opposition not from Pharisees, but from demons.
At this stage, Jesus’ own disciples barely have a clue who he is. The Pharisees are too hardhearted to see the truth. Their hate of Jesus and what he was doing has made them blind.
Ironically, while almost all the people around him are clueless or worse, the demons see the truth about Jesus with crystal clarity. They know exactly who he is – and the truth terrifies them.
The evil spirits were living in people - back then, they weren’t undercover. They were showing their true colours and making their dark powers chillingly known, by torturing the poor wretches in whom they lived. For Mark, who had seen these things himself, the personality of the victim was so wrapped up in the evil spirit, there is often no distinction between the person and the spirit inside them.
Mark tells us that when the evil spirits (i.e. the people with the spirits living inside them) saw Jesus, they threw themselves on the ground before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God!”
Were the evil spirits so terrified by the power of Jesus, that they could do no other than cower before him and blurt out who he was?
Whatever the reason, Jesus isn’t interested in who demons say he is. He tells them to keep quiet. His authority, even over terrifying demons, is so complete that they are bound in silence.
The Pharisees and the Herodians are just bit players, in the conflict between Jesus and the forces of darkness. They are long forgotten, buried in the dust of time.
The confrontation between Jesus and the demons is at the root of the battle between good and evil going on all around us. That conflict is around you and in you, especially if you have set your heart to follow Jesus.
If you believe, you follow Jesus and he is with you. You are his. His power and authority over the forces of evil, including those ranged against you, is complete. We see that in today’s episode from Mark. His victory in and through you is assured.