Thursday, June 30, 2016

TELL HIS STORY THROUGH YOURS

Pixaby (Public Domain)
Mark 5:1-20

The Lord has had an already busy day—which was a reasonable explanation for why He fell fast asleep when He and His disciples got in the boat to cross over the Sea of Galilee.

But though Jesus took the opportunity to nap in the boat, it was not without reason that He commanded His disciples to cross the sea. He wasn’t just trying to avoid any more interaction with the crowd after a busy day. He had an appointment on the other side. It has always amazed me that despite the fact that our Lord got hungry, thirsty, and weary just as we do, He would reach the end of His life and be able to say that He had done His Father’s will—He had accomplished all His Father had asked of Him. The human frailties and limitations never kept Him from doing, not everything there was to be done, but everything He had been mandated to do.

And so He gets into the boat and catches His breath by taking a nap, knowing because He is still God in spite of His humanity, that there is someone that waits for Him on the other side of Galilee.

Here’s what Mark records:

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

The torment described here is more than we can wrap our minds around. This was a man that, in our day and age, would have been assigned to a mental institution, to lock-down, to a padded cell and perhaps a strait-jacket. Someone might have sent for an exorcist. But there was nothing that existed in those days to deal with him. No chains could hold him and obviously he was too disturbed and violent to be allowed around other human beings. So he had been consigned to the dead as one who might as well be dead and it appears that even in his madness he tried to end his misery by cutting himself with stones.

And this was the man with whom Jesus had a divine appointment—what everyone else thought was a lost cause was never, nor is now, a lost cause to the Lord.

We don’t know how this man came into this state, how he became open to demon-possession. I don’t know enough to speculate, but it worries me that we “play” with Satan and then expect not to be influenced by him. So many of our television shows, for example, are centered around him, and I wonder just how much people are opening their lives up to his influence and even to possession by thinking that all this is simply entertainment that doesn’t lead to other, more dangerous things. But we don’t know the backstory in the case of this poor, lost soul. We just find a man in deep trouble.

Mark continues with the story:

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus was saying to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

Often in the records of Jesus casting out demons, we find that the demons recognized Jesus for Who He was. They knew He was God. They knew He was more powerful than they were. This is the first time in the Gospels that this phrase: “…the Most High God” is used, though it appears frequently in the Old Testament. The man, or the demons speaking through the man, fall at Jesus’ feet. Barnes writes that even devils must acknowledge Christ and “This was an acknowledgment of his power, and of his control over fallen spirits.” Gill comments: “Devils believe there is one God, and tremble at him; and they confess that Jesus of Nazareth, who was born of the virgin, according to the human nature, is the Son of God, according to his divine nature: and whereas they had no interest in him, as a Saviour, they desired they might have nothing to do with him as God; and since they had no share in the blessings of his grace, they beg they might not feel the power of his hand.”

We say “they” here because of what Mark tells us as part of the conversation between Jesus and the demon-possessed man.

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

Note the “I” and “we” — perhaps the man struggling with the demons speaks sometimes and sometimes it is the demons who speak through him.

Legion” taken literally means 6,000 of them, taken representatively simply means “lots.” Since Satan is a liar it is possible that the demons were trying to bluff their way out of this confrontation by implying that they were a superior force.

It is interesting that those who torture—the demons—don’t themselves want to be tortured. And since they have already acknowledged Who Jesus is they know what He could do to them. Even the demons didn’t want to go back to hell! Anything was preferable. So they beg Him to be merciful to them even though they had not be merciful to the poor man whose life they had made literally a “hell on earth.”

Mark continues with the story:

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

The demons had asked Jesus not to torture them (as they surely deserved) and then they suggested an alternative. But they couldn’t have known that what the man failed to do—kill himself—the pigs would do! They went crazy! And the demons would end up, we assume, where they didn’t want to go—back where they came from.

One commentator notes that this story shows us that a demon is not everywhere. He has to be in one being or another, in this case in the man or in the pig, not just floating around.

But there is something else we need to note here. The demons may have suggested where they wanted to go since they knew that Jesus could send them anywhere, but it was Jesus who gave them permission. Even demons cannot operate without God’s permission. Many people tend to give Satan more power than he actually has. They tend to believe that Satan is at least as powerful as God, if not more powerful. But for God to BE God He must be supreme over everything, otherwise He is flawed and cannot be God. He is either ALL-mighty or He is not mighty at all. This authority over even demonic forces is mentioned specifically several times in Scripture.

Luke 22:31
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Job 1:6ff
6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Job 2:1-6
1 On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

Satan, as Lucifer the angel, was created by God. And as a created being, God controls him. Speaking about Jesus, Paul writes in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created, whether thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities; all things created by him and for him.

This is our assurance that even the worst is still under His control and though we might not understand, as Job didn’t, why what happens, happens, we need to remind ourselves from His Word that nothing happens without God’s permission. And because we can trust God to be both good and just, we can be sure that He will work in us and through us both for His glory and our ultimate benefit.

Mark finishes the story:

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

This is a part of the story that is both sad and happy. We are happy for the man who has now been restored to his right mind and who will be able to return to a normal life. We are sad because the people of that region did not appreciate what the Lord had done for one of their neighbours and could do for others among them. They were mad about the pigs, about their lost revenue. Pigs before people was their life motto!

But they may have gotten rid of Jesus but they didn’t get rid of the one who had been witness to the goodness of God—the now ex-demon-possessed man! Though he wanted to go with Jesus, the Lord knew that he’d be much more useful to the kingdom if he returned to his friends and family and told them—over and over again—the story of the God-man who had made a special trip across the lake to rid him of a legion of demons.  What a witness!

And he must have done that well because this section of Mark’s record ends with, “And all the people were amazed.”

People like to argue about theology, doctrine, the Bible, and half a dozen other things that have to do with what we believe as Christians. But there is one thing that one can't really argue with—my story and what Jesus did in my life, or your story and what Jesus has done in your life.

So perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from this story from Mark is: tell your story and you never know how many people might be amazed, and even amazed enough to believe for themselves.

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