Among the Kolam tribes in Central India, they have an annual festival called ‘ganvbhandini’. ‘Gavn’ means village and ‘bhandini’ means binding or tying something. This is celebrated over three days and the people form a circle around the village and dance around the village offering animals as sacrifice. They pierce themselves after they do all their rituals. The point of the festival is to bind the village with the powers of the spirits. During this festival, only the tribal people are allowed to stay in the village. Those who are outsiders are asked to stay out of the village for those three days.
This was the explanation of an all-too-common scenario in villages around India, as I spoke to a friend of mine, the Rev Sujit David—a gospel worker from South India who has years of experience ministering amongst Hindus around India and is currently ministering in Australia with the Church of South India. He went on to say:
This was key to us as we began our ministry of evangelism and church planting among this people group. The basic fear of the people was that their spirits would be angered if they believed and worshipped another god. There are witchcraft and occult practices among these people. They settle scores by tormenting their enemies by casting evil spirits upon them. This is done by the witch doctors called ‘bagaths’. The bagaths invoke spirits and the spirits are in a hierarchy according to their powers. The witch doctors could use the spirit of different powers to torment people. So, as we entered the village with the gospel, we could see the manifestations of these spirits in many ways. These were not only challenges but opportunities to present the power of the gospel. Another aspect is that the people who are being tormented by the spirit come to us for prayer asking for deliverance from these evil spirits.
Good News for Demon-Plagued
We don’t think much about Jesus’ power over evil spirits in Australia. Perhaps it’s just that demonic possessions and the fear of the evil spirits is not as prevalent. Ours is a relatively agnostic society with hedonistic overtones. We look to medical science to explain those who are out of control.
We look to medical science to explain those who are out of control. In much of the world, though, the spiritual realm is a very real and fear-inducing part of life.
In much of the world, though, the spiritual realm is a very real and fear-inducing part of life. People perceive themselves to be subservient to the spiritual forces of this world; enslaved without any escape, by the fear of being cursed and possessed; lacking anyone with the authority to perform effective exorcisms. However, given migration patterns over the last four decades, it might be worth talking more about Jesus’ command over evil spirits in our evangelistic endeavours.
Just a quick search of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2020 shows that those born in India and China represent the second and third largest migrant populations currently in our country. This is a significant statistic and should make us consider, not only the authority that Jesus has over the spiritual world, but his compassion towards those who suffer under the weight of spiritual tyranny.
If westerners have forgotten that there is a spiritual realm, many new Australians know it very well. They have seen first-hand the devastation of evil’s control over people. The news of Jesus’ authority over the demonic world—which we accept without much thought—would be very welcome news for them.
This very point is illustrated in another episode recounted by the Rev Sujit:
In a village called Ajaypur in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, we had a missionary living along with a small group of converts. The new believers along with the missionaries in that district met every Friday for fasting prayer. On one occasion, a family in that village was deeply tormented by a spirit. Their daughter was under the spell of a spirit and she was very violent. The parents of the girl tried every form of treatment but found no relief. They heard of the Friday prayer meeting and brought the girl to the prayer meeting asking for the missionaries to pray for her. The missionaries saw the spirit manifesting by becoming violent and finally after much prayer, the spirit left the girl and she was restored. This news spread to the whole village and nearby villages. After this, every Friday, there would be people waiting outside the house of the missionary with their loved ones or relatives who need to be prayed for deliverance. This was a very powerful testimony of the power of the gospel in that area.
As we turn to Scripture, the episode of the Gerasenes Demoniac illustrates this point well. In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus is in Gentile territory and is confronted by a man possessed by a legion of demons. Against his usual preference for brief storytelling, Mark spends some time here, spelling out the devastation that this demon possession has truly caused. The man is clearly out of control, and not even iron chains could subdue him.
Yet, despite the power of Legion (the name the spirits give themselves), Jesus’ power is infinitely greater. When the man sees Jesus, he falls at his feet, calls him ‘Son of the Most High God’ and begs for leniency. And all this with a mere few words from Jesus.
By the end of the story, the out-of-control demoniac is sitting still, dressed, and in his right mind. We might think this is nice. But the local villagers see it as terrifying.
Jesus, in this account, is clearly no ordinary man. The demons are so afraid of his authority, that they beg him not to torture them. In response, ‘[Jesus] gives them permission (notice that!) to go into the pigs’. Jesus is so powerful that the spirits need permission even to possess animals. There is no contest here whatsoever. Legion may have control of the man, but Jesus trumps both. What confidence and assurance might we have—even over the dangers of the spiritual realm—if we presented ourselves as servants of King Jesus?
Jesus is bad news for demons but good news for the man. By the end of the story, the out-of-control demoniac is sitting still, dressed, and in his right mind. We might think this is nice. But the local villagers see it as terrifying—they even plead with Jesus to leave their region.
Maybe they are afraid of the raw power they see in Jesus. Maybe they fear that someone with that sort of authority will demand submission and obedience. Whatever their conclusions, the Gerasenes were starting to understand who Jesus is, and it scared them deeply.
Signpost to a Greater Victory
This is only one episode of Jesus’ interaction with evil spiritual forces, but I think is a sufficient example of Jesus’ power over demons. It also, and more importantly, points to the much grander victory he would achieve by his crucifixion and resurrection. There Jesus would make it clear that he was the stronger man (c.f. Mk 3:27). There he would, not simply command the spirits, he would defeat sin and death and render Satan—the prince of the spirits—impotent. Jesus would plunder the strong man’s house and bring those under the judgement of sin, shame, and death into a life of freedom, honour and reconciliation with their Maker.
Just as Jesus’ interactions with demons were minor episodes that pointed to his ultimate victory, so Jesus’ power over evil spirits can still provide opportunities for the gospel, as the story of Rev Sujit has already illustrated. Although my own ministry experience has not been quite so dramatic, the fear of the spiritual is ever-present in (Sydney) suburbs like Auburn. I have had many Hindu friends ask me to pray for them, that they would be able to shake off a bad omen or escape the clutches of an evil spirit that is terrorising their house or agitating a family member.
As we approach this Christmas season, might I suggest you consider our neighbours who have come from spirit-plagued lands and who bring their fears (and maybe their tormentors) with them. They need to know Jesus, the king who still has authority over the evils of the spiritual realm. Even though his authority and control might be scary, he is the only one who can save the people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
 Migration, Australia, 2019-20 financial year | Australian Bureau of Statistics (abs.gov.au)