God wants you back

Who was the first missionary Jesus ever sent?  It had to be someone well trained, right? Maybe a devoted follower, a close disciple, someone with a lot of Bible knowledge?  Let me give you a hint.  To find him don’t go to the list of the apostles, or the 72 disciples Jesus sent out, or even Paul. You may not believe this, but Jesus found him in a cemetery.  He was also a lunatic – a madman turned missionary!

Mark 5:1-5: “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.” NKJV

This is the type of man your mom told you to avoid – the fellow the police routinely lock up – the deranged man who stalks neighborhoods and murders families – the face you see on the evening news. Some of them look like and act like they are possessed by demons.

The Jews didn’t know what to do with him.  They restrained him, but he broke the chains.  He ripped off his clothes, lived in caves, cut himself with rocks.  He was like a rabid animal, a real menace to society.  He was absolutely no good to anyone.  No one had a place for him – except Jesus!

In our society the best that modern medicine could offer would be medication and extensive treatment, and with a lot of time, expense, and professional help, he might be able to stop his destructive behavior. But it would take years – with Jesus it only took seconds.

This passage tells us that Jesus and His disciples land near a graveyard and a herd of pigs. Both are ritually and culturally unclean for Jews.  As Jesus steps out, this crazy man storms out of a cavern.  He had wild hair, bloody wrists, scratched skin, his arms were swinging and he was screaming.

The apostles probably took one look and put one foot back into the boat.  They were horrified, but Jesus wasn’t.  Then, for a few minutes, we are provided a rare privilege – we get to see a little bit of the unseen warfare that goes on between God and Satan.

Mark 5:6-9: “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “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.” For He 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.” NKJV

What does Jesus want – He wants the man back, and the demons get panicky.  They aren’t about to challenge or threaten Jesus – they’ve heard this voice before:

James 2:19 – “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble.” NKJV

Look around us today, what do you see?  At best this is a wicked society choking on its own pride, shot through and through with false religion.  This is a nation that is guilty of what may be the most heinous crime in the history of the world – the legal shedding of innocent blood in a process called abortion.  This is a society that went through a cultural and sexual revolution, which fostered the idea that sexual immorality was not sinful and drug use was cool.  Now sexual immorality and drug abuse problems are destroying families and lives every day, to include many young people growing up in our churches.

This is no longer a Judeao-Christian society, it is not even a post Judeao-Christian society.  It is an anti-Christian society, a dark world full of cold, hungry hearts, who, though they may not be possessed like this man was, are just as trapped in the devil’s lies as he was.  In spite of all that, God wants them back. When God wants something, the demons get panicky.  When God demands them to do something, there is only one thing they can do.  Look at how much control He has over the forces of evil – total.

Mark 5:10 – “Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.” NKJV

Jesus’ mere appearance humbles the demons. They may have abused this man, but they cower down before God.  They may have scared everyone in the region, but they beg for mercy from Jesus. His very words reduce them to sniveling, groveling weaklings.

The power that Jesus exercised over evil spirits is proof of a power beyond that of a human being. Jesus’ very presence was disturbing to the demons.

In the synagogue at Capernaum, one cried out, saying: Mark 1:24 – “…Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” NKJV

Mark 3:11 – “And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” NKJV

Evil spirits recognized in Jesus the One Who would judge and destroy them: Matthew 8:29 – “And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” NKJV

Demons would rather be anywhere than in the presence of God, so they ask to be sent into a herd of pigs. Jesus consents and 2000 possessed pigs actually go jump in the lake.

Mark 5:11-13: “Now a large herd 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.” NKJV

All this time the disciples had not done anything.  While Jesus fought, they stared.  They don’t know anything else to do.  Can you relate?  Are you watching a world out of control and don’t know where to go or what to do?  If so, then do what the disciples did – when the fighting is fierce, stand back and let the Father fight.  That’s what God wants us to do.  He wants us to focus our eyes on Him.  It doesn’t do any good to focus on the storm or on Satan.  We won’t defeat him.  Only God will.

The disciples can’t destroy Satan – only God can:

1 John 3:8 – “But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.” NLT

Revelation 20:10 – “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” NKJV

But if you think the reaction of the demons is bizarre, wait until you see the response of the people:

Mark 5:14-17: “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.” NKJV

They actually asked Jesus to leave – what would cause people to do something like that?  What would cause people to prefer pigs and a demon-possessed man over the presence of God?

Let’s put it in modern language – what would cause an alcoholic/drug addict to prefer being drunk/high over being sober?  What would cause a church to prefer sleep over revival?  What would cause the Israelite nation to prefer slavery over freedom?  What would cause people to prefer hell over heaven?

The answer – fear of change!  Change is hard work.  It’s easier to follow the same old path than to move out into uncharted territory.

Too often the church is guilty of that – looking forward to the past, of living in the past.  “Do” the old things again, just do them harder!  Back out of the slump.  Don’t go forward, you’ve never been there.  Replay the memory, it’s always better.  “That old-time religion was good enough for our fathers and mothers and it’s good enough for me.”

We forget that the first century church was the way it was because of the presence of God, and that the same God they worshipped wants to be just as much a part of our lives as He was theirs. We sometimes forget what they so readily understood, that the highest calling in life is to know God and Jesus, the Son of God. We do need to change, not our doctrines but our attitudes towards God and each other (Great Commandment).

Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” NIV

We must not become guilty of leaving our first love.  We must not be guilty of the same sin the Pharisees were – forgetting the weightier matters of the law. We must make the highest priority in our lives the pursuit of God, to seek His face.

We need to learn to confess our sins like David/Nehemiah with a broken heart, to worship with our eyes on Jesus and not on the clock.  We must not be guilty of following the law of God to the letter but completely missing the Spirit of the law: 2 Corinthians 3:5-7: “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” NIV

You don’t have to live in the first century to have the same attitude the Pharisees had.  There are too many people today who have been practicing the forms of that old time religion so long that they, just like the Pharisees, have no idea what it means to have a deep, abiding, loving, ongoing relationship with God.

These are people who are guilty of honoring God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him, people who are more concerned with what others aren’t doing right than they are their own relationship with God.  Like these people in Mark 5 and the Pharisees, many are so accustomed to what they have always done they are afraid of Jesus…

So the people asked Jesus to leave, and since He never goes where he isn’t invited, He gets back into the boat.  Now watch what happens next.

Mark 5:18-19: “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…” NKJV

Strange way to treat a new believer, don’t you think.  Why wouldn’t Jesus take him along?  Simple!   He had greater plans for him: Mark 5:19-20: “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.” NKJV

So there we have the commissioning of the first missionary.  One minute he was insane; the next minute he was in Christ.  No training, no teaching.  The only thing he knew was that the Lord was stronger than the devil and apparently that was enough.

But even more surprising than the man who was sent is the fact that anyone was sent.  We probably wouldn’t have sent a missionary to people who had just given us the left foot/hand of fellowship.  But Christ did – He still does.  He still sends the message to unworthy people, and He still uses unworthy people as messengers.  After all, look who’s preaching this sermon – and look who’s listening to it. “God uses people who fail – cause there aren’t any other kind around!”

We’ve all sinned, but understand this.  No one at any point in his life is useless to God.  Not a little child, elderly person, man, woman, prisoner, clumsy, tired, discouraged, etc.  You have value simply because you exist.  You belong to God’s eternal dream, and nothing can separate you from His powerful love.  And no matter what you do, no matter how far you fall, no matter how ugly your sin, God has a relentless, undying, unquenchable love for you, and He wants you back!  His grace is deeper than your sins; He loves you more than He hates your sin.

Ezekiel 18:19-32: “’What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign Lord. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. However, if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live? No, of course not! All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins. “Yet you say, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ Listen to me, O people of Israel. Am I the one not doing what’s right, or is it you? When righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things, they will die for it. Yes, they will die because of their sinful deeds. And if wicked people turn from their wickedness, obey the law, and do what is just and right, they will save their lives. They will live because they thought it over and decided to turn from their sins. Such people will not die. And yet the people of Israel keep saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!’ O people of Israel, it is you who are not doing what’s right, not I. “Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” NLT

Ezekiel 33:11 – “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” NLT

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