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He Put Them To Open Shame: The King Who Humiliates His Enemies

One of the most interesting parts of the Gospel of Mark is the way Jesus deals with Satan’s forces. In the very first chapter, in verses 21 to 28, we see Jesus encounter a demon. We see an exorcism, as Jesus sends the demon away. What’s remarkable about this incident is not the fact of the exorcism, but the manner in which it is done—and the matter-of-fact way that it is reported.

Now, in order to comprehend just how unique Jesus’ approach to demons is, we need to understand that there had been other exorcists in Israel. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus has this to say about exorcisms, and as you read this, compare this method to what Jesus did in Mark’s account:

Now the sagacity and wisdom which God had bestowed on Solomon was so great, that he exceeded the ancients… God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return; and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country, whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a Foot of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed. And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man; and when this was done, the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly: for which reason it is, that all men may know the vastness of Solomon's abilities, and how he was beloved of God, and that the extraordinary virtues of every kind with which this king was endowed may not be unknown to any people under the sun for this reason, I say, it is that we have proceeded to speak so largely of these matters.

Other exorcists used arcane instruments - this one used a ring with a "foot" or “root” recommended by Solomon. Exorcists would appeal to the name of some higher power or great figure – in this case, this Eleazar kept talking about Solomon, indeed giving glory to Solomon. Incantations, rituals, incense, you name it - that was the spiritual warfare popular in Roman Judea.

Notice, then, that Jesus didn't do any of that.

Ever wonder why Jesus ordered the demons to be quiet? Some very liberal scholars say that Mark was covering up for the fact that Jesus never actually claimed to be the Messiah. These scholars say that Mark was stuck with the impossible task of reconciling the “tradition of the church,” which allegedly (in liberal critical thinking) said Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is God, and so on, with the “real Jesus,” who (to the liberal scholar) was just a moral teacher. These scholars say that this silence that Jesus puts on the demons is Mark's invention, trying to explain the disconnect between the church and Jesus by saying that Jesus himself suppressed the word of his Messiahship. Now there's all sorts of problems with that view, but here's just one of them.

In the ancient world, it was thought that you could use the name of someone else to wield power over them. These demons responded to Jesus, whom they rightly perceived to be a grave threat, and tried to defend themselves. They used the only weapon they thought they had - they challenged him by name.

What's remarkable here, then, is the utter humiliation that Jesus visits upon the demon. Jesus uses no incantations, no incense. He needs no spells or magic. He doesn't even have to invoke some greater name. He simply says, quite literally: "Shut up." And the demon has no choice. Jesus quite literally disarms it and with a mere word dispatches it.

This is not Mark's invention at all. If it was, you think he would have made it more exciting. This is not a suspense thriller like, say, a Frank Peretti novel or something. I've never seen the Exorcist, and neither do I ever want to, but I can guarantee you that the drama and suspense that keeps such a movie going were non-existent here. This encounter between God and Satan’s minions, between good and evil, is not a nail-biter of any sort. This is an utter, complete, and total defeat. This is a humiliation. This is a hockey team running up the score - what's the world record? 53-0? There's no semblance of a “fair fight” here. Jesus takes the only weapon the demons think they have away from them. He doesn't even let them fight back.

So when Paul writes to the Colossians, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them," this is the sort of humiliation and abject shame he's talking about. Mark's point in the demon stories is to show conclusively that Jesus' coming breaks the power of Satan, so much so that his demons are publicly exposed to ridicule. Mark is describing the coming of the Kingdom, and this is a Kingdom that is unstoppable. It cannot be defeated or frustrated, I often say - so much so, that Satan daily experiences the humiliation of his best-laid plans always working out for the good of God's people, so much so that the very sins that Satan tempts us to commit wind up glorifying God in the end instead. What should have been Satan's greatest triumph - the murder of God's own Son, the turning of God's own chosen people against Him to commit deicide - was actually the occasion of Christ's greatest victory, and the moment where sin was stripped of its most powerful weapon--death. Even this lowly demon being cast out is but foreshadowing for the even greater humiliation that follows at the end of the Gospel.

That's our Lord. That is the God we worship. He doesn't just defeat His enemies. He totally, utterly, completely, and publicly humiliates them. The Kingdom is coming - and it shames the enemies of the King. That's one reason why we can endure such shame ourselves in His service. Nothing we suffer compares to the triumph that we will see in the end. Take courage from this - the enemies of justice and righteousness, those who do evil in the world, the Hitlers and the Stalins and the Pol Pots and the Jezebels and the Neros and all the rest - they are already defeated. Christ will so defeat His enemies that they won't even be able to fight back. Their own weapons are stripped away or turned against them. The Kingdom arrives and humiliates its foes.