Sermon Message: Seeing People Through God's Eyes
Sermon Message: Putting Off the Old
Sermon Message: When You Hear God's Call
Sermon Message: Access Restored
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
"The Maniac and the Messiah"
(Delivered Sunday, January 20, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, we celebrate a baptism. We celebrate because baptism testifies to the saving faith of someone we love. Our Lord has instructed us to observe this symbolic act together whenever someone has placed his or her faith in Jesus and has become one of His disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). It's not a symbol that makes something happen to the person being baptized, but rather is a symbol that publically testifies that something has happened already. It's not something that leads to that person's salvation (because that only happens through a conscious act of faith in the sacrifice of Jesus for us), but rather, is something that publically testifies that that person has already been saved through faith. That's why we celebrate!
And it's appropriate, at such a time, that we read a story from the Bible together about someone that Jesus saved. For those of us who have been saved by Jesus through our faith in His cross, nothing is more thrilling than to hear about how He saved others. This morning's story is about a very dramatic salvation. It concerns Jesus' encounter with someone that I look forward to meeting in heaven ... although I certainly wouldn't have wanted to meet him any time before Jesus had met him! His story is very important to the Gospel message because it's told in three of the four accounts: Matthew, Mark and Luke. This morning, we'll be reading his story as it was told in Mark 5:1-20.
Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I do do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me." For He had said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!" Then He asked him, "What is your name?" And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many." Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country. Now a large heard of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them." And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you." And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled (Mark 5:1-20).
We studied from this passage many years ago in my college Bible Study Methods course. As a part of the assignment, we were asked to sum the message of this passage up in a short, descriptive title. I was developing a taste for the music of Tchaikovsky at the time; so I thought my chosen title - "Swine Lake" - was a pretty good one. But when the student next to me came up with the title "Deviled Ham", I had to admit that his was much better than mine.
But as creative as those titles might have been, they really didn't do justice to this passage. It's message isn't really about the loss of the pigs. It's about the salvation of a man. Jesus cares deeply about the salvation of people. And the purpose of this story is to teach us about the awesome power and authority of Jesus to deliver anyone from the clutches of the devil - even the most hopeless and helpless of the devil's victims - and transform him or her into His own healthy, sound, faithful servant.
I hope that as we enjoy this story together, you'll celebrate with me the wonderful power of Jesus to transform anyone who comes into contact with Him. And if you are among those who feel that you're hopeless in sin - a helpless victim of the devil that God could never love or forgive or transform - then I pray that you'll be encouraged by the fact that Jesus does indeed love you, and is wonderfully able to transform you too, if you'll only trust Him.
* * * * * * * * * *
The story begins with Jesus making a journey across the sea. If you compare the different Gospel accounts together as they unfold the story of Jesus' ministry for us, you find that - just prior to this incident - Jesus had completed a very extensive ministry throughout the regions of Galilee. He taught in a synagogue at Capernaum, preached in the open air, and healed many, many of the people. Increasingly, He was demonstrating His authority as a teacher come from God, as well as His power as the Son of God to heal and to cast out demons. Such huge crowds of needy people pressed around Him that He often found that He could no longer teach them on the land. Instead, He had to be launched out in a small boat and preach to the multitudes as they gathered along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Finally, at a time when it seems as if His ministry was at its very peak of popularity - when it seemed as if the greatest numbers of people were seeking Him on the western shores of the Galilean sea - He told His disciples, "Let us cross over to the other side" (Mark 4:35). I believe there might be many reasons for this abrupt journey. For one thing, I believe that He was exhausted and needed some rest from the demands of the multitude. Jesus is fully divine as the Son of God; but He was also walked upon this earth as fully human, and often needed to separate Himself from the crowds and go to a solitary place for rest. And we're told that while the boat He was in crossed the lake, and as a violent windstorm struck and threw the boat around on the waves, He Himself remained fast asleep. He would have had to be quite tired to have slept so soundly through such a storm.
I believe that another reason for this trip was because Jesus wanted to personally demonstrate something of the greatness of His authority to His disciples. It was during this violent windstorm that Jesus - awakened by His panicky disciples - arose and rebuked the wind and the waves, and calmed them into stillness. It was a very teachable moment for the disciples. "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" He asked them. After that, they weren't afraid of the storm any longer. But they were very afraid of Him. The Bible says "they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, 'Who can this be, that event he wind and the sea obey Him!'" (4:41).
But I believe that the greatest reason for His trip across the lake was because Jesus wished to keep a divine appointment. There was a man on the other side of the Sea of Galilee that had been loved by Him from before the world began; and who had been foreordained to become one of Jesus' redeemed followers. Jesus was on His way to show mercy to this poor man, save him dramatically, and make Him into His own faithful servant to others. He was on His way across the lake to do something that He knew we would be reading about and learning lessons from even today.
One of the wonderful things about our Savior is that He goes out of His way to save those He loves. He travelled across the lake to save this unloved and unwanted man. And He travelled the greatest possible distance to save us - a distance not just in terms of location, but in terms of humility and suffering. He left His glorious throne in heaven in order to be born into the human family as one of us. He even went so far as to die on the cross for us. That's how much He loves us. He loved this poor man on the other side of the lake, too; and so He travelled the distance to go and save him.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jesus had gotten some rest during the trip; but I believe that, by the time they had arrived to the other side of the lake, the disciples were very frazzled. But perhaps having seen the power of Jesus over the wind and waves prepared them for what they were about to see. No sooner did they begin to stroll up from the eastern shore of the lake, in the region called the Gadarenes, than they were met by the last person in the world anyone would ever want to meet. If they had been hoping for some rest before then, all hopes were dashed when they were abruptly encountered by this demon-possessed wild-man. Matthew, in his telling of the story, says that two demon-possessed men ran out to meet them (Matthew 8:28); and perhaps Mark (as well as Luke) only mentions this one man because he was the most fierce and intimidating of the two.
The man who greeted them was definitely among the most most frightening, most debase, most violently intimidating, most hopelessly pathetic wrecks of human falleness we find in the Bible. Perhaps he was, indeed, the most wretched human being in all the Scriptures. This man embodied the worst Satanic nightmares dredged up from The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, The Outer Limits, Tales from The Crypt, and Nightmare Theater - all rolled up into one chillingly frightening man.
The Bible tells us about many people who were possessed by unclean spirits. Some folks in the Bible were afflicted by a single spirit that made them blind and mute (Matthew 12:22); others by a spirit that made them painfully crippled (Luke 13:10-13); still others by a spirit made them deaf and dumb, and that drove them so mad that they broke out into violent convulsions (Mark 9:17-27). We're told in the Bible that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2) - which impresses us with how terribly she must have suffered until Jesus delivered her. But here, we find a situation that is dreadful beyond conception: a man inhabited with an unclean spirit that called itself "Legion" - a word ordinarily used to describe a military regiment of five to six thousand soldiers - saying, "... For we are many." Clearly, this man was possessed by demons a thousand times over! He was a living, walking hell-full of demons.
How this man came to be in this unspeakably horrible condition is something that's not told to us. But we are told of how it affected him. We're told that there had been several attempts to control this raving, demon-dominated maniac by restraining him with chains and shackles; but he was possessed of such super-human strength that, each time he was captured, he burst his chains apart and shattered the shackles to pieces. Despite all of the attempts to restrain him - often cruel and harsh attempts - we're told that no one could tame him or in any way bring him under control. He was utterly hopeless; and after a while, when he escaped, people were more than content to just let him go.
Luke tells us that he came from out of the city (Luke 8:27); but he had long since been driven from the common places of people, and was now living in the wilderness - out in the mountains, and in the unclean and despised places among the tombs. He had long since abandoned clothing, and was reduced to behaving like a violent, raving animal that ran around naked - hideously shrieking and howling. He was so exceedingly, murderously violent, Matthew tells us, that no one dared to pass by the road near were he was for fear of him (Matthew 8:28). And he was violent to himself too; cutting himself and gashing himself with stones in perhaps near-suicidal madness and agony.
Can you imagine the chill it would send down your spine to be woken up in the middle of the night to hear this crazed man screaming at the moonlight? Can you imagine the fear and terror he would continually cause to the people who lived near the region of the Garadenes? He was a fellow human being; but one who had been tortured by a thousand demons into the worst living hell you could ever imagine. Luke tells us that he had been in this condition for a long time (Luke 8:27). No one wanted him. No one loved him. No one showed compassion for him. Humanly speaking, there was absolutely no hope for him. All that could be done was to abandon him to his demonic torment; and hope that he stayed away until his pitiful madness destroyed him.
But then came Jesus, who did love him and came to rescue him. This poor man had no hope, apart from Jesus showing Him mercy, and coming across the sea for him. And in that respect, I can't think of myself as being any less in need of Jesus' mercy than that poor maniac. Can you?
The Bible says,
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1-7).
I may not have been a raving, naked, demon-possessed maniac before Jesus saved me. I was a much more 'civilized' sinner than that. But the fact is that, if Jesus hadn't come to rescue me, I'd be just as lost and helpless as that pathetic demon-possessed man. And so would you. I'm so glad that Jesus came to save me. Are you grateful for His merciful love too?
* * * * * * * * * *
This demon-possessed man had never seen Jesus before. But we can perceive, through what happened next, something of the dread the demons themselves had for the Son of God. While Jesus and His disciples were still some distance away, the man saw and ran to Him, fell at his feet, and worshiped Him. Even without an introduction, he absolutely recognized Jesus for who He is - and responded appropriately. But you can also see something of the tortured way the demons tore this wretched man apart. Even though he fell at Jesus feet in worship, he still screamed at Him at the top of his voice, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me" (v. 7). He was saying this because Jesus was saying, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit" (v. 8).
Matthew, in his gospel, says that the man was crying out, "Have you come here to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:29); and I believe that, in saying this, these demons were speaking of the ultimate destiny God has reserved for the devil and his evil angels. Hell was a place designed, not primarily for the eternal punishment of people, but for the devil. The Bible tells us that there will be people who will be condemned to this horrible place of judgment; but they will first hear these words from Jesus: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels ..." (Matthew 25:41). It's a place described as "a lake of fire", into which the devil and all who are deceived by him will be cast. "And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10). I believe that the demons have a much better grasp of the reality of that dreadful destiny than we do. The Bible says, "Even the demons believe - and tremble!" (James 2:19). Jesus, the Son of God, is their ultimate Judge. No wonder they pleaded with Jesus not to torment them "before the time"!
Mark says that they begged Him earnestly not to "send them out of the country" (v. 10). But Luke clarifies their meaning when he reports that they said "they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss" (Luke 8:31). Instead, they pleaded with Him to send them into the large heard of swine that was feeding on a nearby mountainside. We don't know much about the terrors that must await the demonic world in this place of judgment, here called the "abyss", for the demonic spirits to fear it so. But I can't help but think that it must be a dreadful judgment to be sent there, if they'd beg Jesus to be allowed to dwell in a herd of pigs instead!
In all of this, I hope you notice something very important. Jesus has absolute authority over the spirit world. The devil and his demonic spirits have fought against the cause of Christ in this world for thousands of years; and they have made make dreadful, tormented victims out of countless people. But they are in absolute fear of Jesus; and when faced with Him, they tremble before Him and must do as He commands. We have victory over Satan and his evil demons only if we are related to Jesus by faith. As the Bible tells us, "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Jesus gave them permission; and the whole legion of demons quickly left the man and entered the herd of pigs. I've often tried to visualize that scene. Can you imagine what the disciples saw? They saw the demonic man raving before Jesus, with the herd of pink little pigs dotted across the green field in the background. Suddenly, Jesus says, "Go," and the disciples see the man slump limply and quietly before Jesus; while immediately afterwards, off in the distance, the whole herd of pigs violently rushes down the steep hillside - flinging themselves like lemmings, one after another, into the waters below!
And can you imagine what must have run through the minds of those herdsmen? My suspicion is that they were already a little spooked from herding pigs in the fields next to ol' "You know who" - always hearing him screaming and howling. And then, when the whole herd suddenly breaks into a stampede into the Sea of Galilee; ... well that's the last straw! The Bible says, "So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what had happened" (v. 14).
When they came to where Jesus was, what they saw was startling to them. They found the formerly demon-possessed man sitting at Jesus feet - no longer shrieking and howling, but now calm and peaceful; no longer naked and out of control, but clothed and in his right mind. And what's amazing is that, when they saw the transformation of the man, that's when they began to be afraid. "And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region" (vv. 16-17). Imagine! They're perfectly content with a crazed, demon-possessed maniac in the region. But when they began to realize who it was in their midst, and the greatness of His authority and power, they plead with Him to leave. They're more afraid of Jesus than of the demon-possessed man!
When I read of the reaction of the people to Jesus, I think of the way Jesus called Peter to be His disciple. Jesus had asked Peter, a professional fisherman, to allow Him to teach the crowds along the shore from his boat while he washed his nets. I suspect that Peter was listening intensely to Jesus' teaching while he worked; and that it had begun to affect his soul. Then, in appreciation, Jesus told Peter to go back out into his boat and cast his net at a certain spot for a big catch. Peter, who had been working with his companions all day and had caught nothing, protested at first; but I believed he sensed something about this man Jesus that moved him to do as He said. And when he did, he and his companions hauled in such a huge catch that it almost tore their nets and nearly made their boat sink. The Bible tells us, "When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!' For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken ..." (Luke 5:8-9). Jesus, of course, didn't depart; because He was calling Peter to now become a 'fisher of men'.
When we come to grips with who Jesus really is, it's dreadfully frightening. It's far more frightening than that dreadful demon-possessed man could ever be. You can live with a demon-possessed man if you have to; and nothing about you personally has to change. But a real encounter with the life-transforming power of Jesus forces you to the crossroads of a decision. You will be changed as a result of the encounter. You will either bow to Him in repentance and worship, or you will reject Him and harden yourself under sin - compounding your condition under the dreadful wrath of God. What will you do with this life-changing Jesus?
Peter was profoundly convicted of his sinfulness when he came into contact with the power and authority of Jesus. Shamed because of his sin, he pleaded with Jesus to leave because of his own terrible sense of unworthiness and shame. But Jesus is always glad to forgive and save people who are truly sorry for their sins.
Others, however, are also convicted of their sinfulness when they come into contact with the power and authority of Jesus; but they reject Him out of a greater love for their sin. They don't want to be rescued from their sins; but want things to stay the way they are. Such people plead with Jesus to leave them, so that He wont force them any further to change. They demand that those who want to tell them about Jesus be silent, and tell them about Him no further. That was the heart condition of those saw how Jesus had saved the demon-possessed man. They asked Him to leave; and Jesus did as they asked. He will never force Himself unwanted on those who truly needed Him. Light had come to the land of the Garadenes; but they had loved the darkness more than the light. He left them.
* * * * * * * * * *
I love what happens next. As Jesus and His disciples got back into the boat to return to the other side of the lake, the demon-possessed man came and pleaded with Him. There's a lot of "pleading" in this passage. The demons had pleaded with Jesus not to torment them; and then the Garadenes had pleaded with Jesus to leave. Now, this man who had been set free pleaded with Jesus too. He pleaded to be allowed to go with Jesus, and follow Him throughout His ministry. He was a genuinely grateful man who truly loved his Savior. He wanted to follow Jesus from then on; which is a characteristic of someone who has truly been saved by Him.
Jesus, however, said no. He had another job for him instead. Jesus said, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you" (v. 19). And the man did so. He departed from Jesus, and became a great evangelist. He went to the great cities of the Decapolis (which means "The Ten Cities"), and told the people there his story; preaching to them about all the things that Jesus had done for him.
Jesus was not welcomed by the people of that region. But then, I don't believe that it was Jesus' intention to go to them personally anyway. I believe that, instead, it was in His sovereign plan to save this poor, pathetic demon-possessed lunatic and transform his life. I believe that it was Jesus' intention that this man become a living, breathing demonstration of His saving power, and thus become the one who would go and proclaim the Good News about Jesus to others who needed to be set free by Him.
And isn't that God's intention with us too? The apostle Paul, the greatest missionary/evangelist the church has ever known, once wrote;
... I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Tim. 1:12-17).
* * * * * * * * * *
I would never have wanted to meet this demon-possessed man before Jesus had transformed him. But I'm confident that I will one day meet him in heaven; and I look forward to it. I'm sure he'll be thrilled to tell the story, over and over, of how Jesus saved a poor wretched sinner like him. All of us other poor and wretched sinners will thrill to hear it.
Can you see that God had a good reason for wanting this story told to us in three of the Gospels in the New Testament? It's because it teaches us about Jesus' authority to save anyone who cries out to Him from the clutches of the devil; and because it testifies to His mighty power to lift that man or woman up from the depths of depravity, and transform them into one of His fruitful and faithful servants.
He loves you and wants to transform your life too - right were you are. But you must respond. Perhaps you sense the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit calling you to Jesus today. He will gladly save you; but He'll only do so if you'll cry out to Him. If you plead with Him to leave you alone, He will. If you want Him to go away so you can stay in your sins, He'll depart from you.
But if you cry out to Him to deliver you from your sin, transform you, and use you for His good purposes, He will gladly do so. He will do so this very day! The story of this formerly demon-possessed evangelist teaches us that there is no one who is beyond Jesus' mighty power and authority to transform!
Missed a message? Check the Archives!
Copyright © 2002 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights Reserved
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436