Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When pigs floated...

The fifth chapter of Mark begins with a wild account. It happens the same night in which Jesus calms a life-threatening storm on the Sea of Galilee. He and the disciples are crossing the top section of the Sea as they come to the shoreline of "the country of the Gerasenes". Wherever the city was actually located, it was in the Decapolis, a Gentile region on the east side of the Sea.

No sooner did Jesus' boat hit the shore than He was confronted with a bizarre scene-

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

We have in this man one of the most pathetic pictures of humanity you could ever imagine. He was almost completely stripped of his identity and utterly animalized by the demons who oppressed and possessed him. It's hard to imagine a more miserable person on earth. Who could possibly free him?

The power encounter that ensues is just as shocking as the introduction to the howling, cutting, supernaturally strong, demoniac-

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

Wow. There were enough demons in this man to fill a herd of 2,000 pigs! The man's name designation, "Legion", implies there could have been many more (in Roman military terms, a Legion could have 6,000 foot soldiers and 120 horsemen). We know very little about demons based on the biblical record, but this instance seems to be an extra-extraordinary encounter. Just as in other cases of Jesus confronting demons, these demons try to gain control over Christ by identifying Him. They recognize Him to be Deity, so turn to begging for a reprieve of some sort. The demons must not have known the pigs would run in to the Sean and drown, but then again, that isn't the real thrust of the story. This story is about the Lordship of Christ over the demons and His compassion on a miserable, enslaved human being. The demons where doing their best to bludgeon the image of God in man as they tormented this poor soul. Jesus put an end to it and gave good insight in to the eventual fate of all demons. On a very practical, personal level, this story of Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac teaches us-

If Jesus can free a man plagued by thousands of demons and beyond human help, He can set you free from whatever enslaves you- so you can testify about what the Lord has done.

Look at the various reactions from those who witnessed the events and you will see what I mean-

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.

By many accounts, salted pork was a staple meat of the Roman army. Raising swine was big business for many outside Israel (of course). Losing 2,000 hogs would have been big news. The herdsmen are quick to report what they have seen, no doubt in shock about the incident, but also worried about the financial ramifications of 2,000 inedible floating pig carcasses. Those who confirmed the story and considered the event further freaked out and begged Jesus to leave. They didn't want the economy upset. Perhaps their desire for Jesus to leave was founded on something deeper- they didn't like the conviction Jesus brought upon them- they just wanted him gone. It's really amazing when you think about it- they would rather have their pigs than see a person like Legion (whom they all knew very well) be freed from his unspeakable agony! The economy and the status quo were more important than freeing a demoniac! People can be pretty heartless.

A major point of this story is revealed by the response of the man-

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Jesus wasn't being mean to the man by declining his request to come along. Jesus was commissioning the man to go tell others in the Decapolis about Him. At this point Jesus was giving the former demoniac a more immediate commission than He was giving His struggling disciples! Further, this man was a Gentile. The Gentile leg of the Great Commission wasn't going to officially begin for a couple years, but this man was commissioned to go tell Gentiles about "what the Lord had done" for him and the mercy shown to him.

I think one of the main lessons we can draw from this incredible story, once again, is this-

If Jesus can free a man plagued by thousands of demons and beyond human help, He can set you free from whatever enslaves you- so you can testify about what the Lord has done.

Every person who has been touched by the grace of God in Christ has a story to tell. Go tell it.

Scripture references are from Mark 5:1-20 (ESV)

1 comment:

Woody Woodward said...

Wow, so many good notes, I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up. Boy are you giving me some great preachen’ meat for Moldova! I bet ya John Mark got his impetuous spirit hanging around Peter. In this passage again we see Mark describing the pregnancy of the moment as “immediately”.
Cheri and I had the blessed opportunity to host her sister and her husband this past week. They live in Fort Collins CO, and are both are mentally challenged. But what we learned about their walk with the Lord and what they showed us about the power of a changed life in Christ helped us both drink in your thought: “Every person who has been touched by the grace of God in Christ has a story to tell. Go tell it”. We took Patty and Bob down to Crown Center to tour the Hallmark Visitor’s center last Thursday and their own powerful story of a changed life in Jesus was witnessed by many. What touched me most about the these two remarkable loving and giving saints, and tied in perfectly with your powerful exegesis, was this fact: Jesus doesn’t see Bob and Patty as mentally challenged. By His grace and transforming power, He has touched them and made them whole.
When they got married 6 years ago, Cheri and I were the only family members Patty had at the wedding. I went with the “pious thought,” I can be used of God to witness to them. Boy was I wrong! They witnessed to me! The church was packed! In talking to Pastor Dave after the wedding, he told me that almost everyone attending their wedding was there because of Bob’s faithful and dramatic, almost radical style of witness. Bob has been a stockman at Safeway food stores in Fort Collins, Colorado for 28 years and his calling is to witness to everyone that walks in the store. On Wednesday’s, his day off, Bob picks up the men at the County jail and takes them to Pastor Dave’s Bible study. Bob shared, “You know Woody, they can’t go no where. These men are in my van and in my care. All the time I am with them, I get to tell them about Jesus!” I ask him how many prisoners have come to faith and his humble comment, “I don’t need to keep track, I just do what God wants me to do.”
Point to remember: Don’t be presumptuous in judging folks that might be a bit different. God can use any person, by any means, at any time to be His powerful witness to a changed life in Jesus. Pastor, I wished you could have met them. I shared some of their amazing stories at ISI last Saturday.