Follow the Leader!
Today, we’re going to look at a story in the gospel of Mark: a man who was trapped and tormented is set free by Jesus, and a lot of pigs die. It’s a very cool story…very manly, just right for Father’s Day.
Looking for a good Father’s Day gift? Sign your dad up for the Leadership Summit! Take a look at this. Our extremely cheap $75 rate goes up to $105 on June 29, so register now. You can register online; use the code in your program to get the best rate!
300 more children to sponsor. What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than to sponsor a child that may not have a father or mother, or may have parents but still be trapped in grinding poverty! When you sponsor a child, you change not just the child’s life, but the family and community. We have 100 new children from our partnership with World Vision in Swaziland, and another 100 from our partnership with Compassion International in El Salvador, and 100 from our partnership with Spring of Hope in Kenya. We will be taking teams to these places in years to come. If you sponsor a child, you will have the opportunity to go and meet that child some day.
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 any more, 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.
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 had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
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.
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.
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 family 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.
1. The story.
This is a strange story in many ways, so let me retell the story, explain a few things, and then we’ll talk about some take-homes.
Mark places this story right after the storm story that we read last Sunday. Imagine these disciples have just survived the most frightening storm of their lives. They were just getting out of the boat and onto terra firma when a wild man comes running toward them, screaming, “Aughhhhh!” Don’t you think that some of the guys were getting back in the boat? “Quick, shove off!”
Mark gives us quite a bit of detail about this poor man. He was demonized, tormented by evil spirits. I realize that many people don’t believe that there are evil spirits or demons, or a devil, or for that matter, a God. I’ll talk more about this in a few minutes, but for now, it’s clear that Mark, our author, considered this man to be demonized, and he indicates that Jesus seemed to think the same.
This poor man was in bad shape. Mark tells us that he lived in the tombs, away from human relationships, surrounded by death and decay. Matthew adds that he was so violent that people avoided the area. Luke tells us that they had tried to chain him hand and foot and put him under guard, but he broke the chains, and the demons drove him away into solitary places. The demons not only drove him away from human company, but also drove him to self-destruction; he cut himself with stones. And Luke adds that he hadn’t worn clothes for a long time. Imagine visiting a cemetery and a man like this runs out screaming at you! Naked, scarred, scabbed, dirty, chains and manacles dangling from his hands and feet, a wild look in his eyes! I can understand why the disciples were scared—and why Jesus was moved with compassion.
Jesus commands the evil spirit to leave. The man falls on his knees before Jesus—it’s the word that is regularly used of worship—and the demons begin begging. “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Isn’t it interesting that the demons instantly recognized who Jesus was and fell before Him, while people were much slower to recognize Him? James says:
James 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
I wish that people were as quick to believe as demons! “The Most High God” was a name for God used in the Old Testament, often by Gentiles, to acknowledge the superiority of the one true God over all man-made gods. This is a Gentile region, and the evil spirits in the Gentile man recognize the presence of the Most High God. “Swear that you won’t torture me,” they beg.
Jesus asks the name of the demon. There was a belief that knowing the name of a god or an evil spirit gave you power over it. The man answered, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” A legion was a company of 6000 Roman soldiers; remember that Rome had conquered and occupied the entire region. This name not only signified a number of evil spirits but also their conquest, domination and occupation of this man. And again they beg Jesus not to send them out of the area; Luke adds that they begged Jesus repeatedly not to send them into the Abyss—to destruction.
Instead they suggested, “Send us into the pigs.” If we can’t torment this man any longer, let us torment the pigs! There were 2000 pigs in this herd; it was probably a community herd, owned by many of the local villagers, and it represented a lot of money. Jesus gave them permission—why did He do that? I don’t know; maybe Jesus didn’t like pigs. Jesus gave them permission and the demons left the man and entered the pigs, and immediately the whole herd did a “swine dive” into the lake and drowned. It must have looked something like this: this is a picture of Ralph the Diving Pig doing a swine dive. For 20 years, Ralph was part of a show at Aquarena Springs in San Marcos, Texas—a show featuring mermaids and Ralph the Diving Pig. I am not making this up! You could have spent your hard earned money to see this!
So these 2000 pigs do a swine dive and die. It’s a mess. But the man is free. The herdsmen rush back to the village with this incredible story, and of course, everyone heads to the lake to see for themselves. They find the shore littered with dead pigs, but the man formerly known as Legion is sitting there, “dressed and in his right mind.” I’ve always loved that phrase. How are you doing? “I’m dressed and in my right mind.”
Now the story gets even stranger. For years, this man has terrorized the whole region. People go out of their way to avoid this guy; they warn their kids not to play near the cemetery. And now, here he is, sitting there dressed and in his right mind. And what is their response? Are they happy? Grateful? Relieved? “Thank you Jesus!” No—none of the things you’d expect. Instead, they’re afraid. What are they afraid of? We’ll talk about that in a few minutes. They’re afraid, and rather than thanking Jesus, they ask Him to leave…quickly, please. You would think they would be lining up for healing; instead, they’re begging him to leave.
The only person who is grateful is the man who has been freed, and he begs Jesus to take him along with the rest of the disciples. But Jesus tells him to go home and tell his family what the Lord has done for him. He’s been gone from his family for a long time—“go home, see your family; they’ll want to see you.” After healing other people, Jesus told them not to tell others, but this time he tells the man to go home and tell everyone what the Lord has done for him. Two reasons for the difference. First, this is a Gentile region, so perhaps the expectations for a messiah were not nearly as high or misguided as in Israel. Second, Jesus was leaving the region and leaving this man as his witness.
Ok, there is the story. Here are three lessons, three take-homes to help us follow the Leader.
2. The lessons.
A. The demoniac: We have an enemy who wants to destroy us.
The first lesson is taken from the description of the demoniac: we have an enemy who wants to destroy us. We are engaged in a spiritual battle.
As I said before, there are many people who do not believe in a spiritual world. They believe that the natural world, the world we can see and touch and measure, is all there is. There are no spirits, human or divine, good or evil; no angels or demons; no devil, and of course, no God, at least not in any personal sense. They would dismiss this story as nonsense and superstition.
Other people believe in God, but have trouble with this idea of a devil, and a host of evil spirits that work for him and torment people. When I was in high school, one of our youth group advisors, a schoolteacher and a wonderful Christian, taught us that this was really mental illness. Demons were an ancient superstition, she said; it was their way of explaining what we now know to be mental illness. Jesus accommodated people’s superstitions rather than correcting them. When Jesus cast out demons, He knew there was no such thing; He knew that He was healing mental illness. This is possible…but unlikely.
The problem is that Jesus did this so often—exorcism of evil spirits was a major part of Jesus’ ministry—and He had so much to say about Satan, and even had a personal encounter with Satan that He reported to His followers. If it was all untrue, it is hard to imagine Jesus never bothering to straighten out a pretty major misunderstanding, and leaving us all in the dark. He challenged and corrected so many other cultural misunderstandings—why leave this one unchallenged?
Jesus and all of His followers seemed to think there was a devil, a very real spiritual adversary who is determined to destroy us and must be resisted. It is all through the New Testament. We are engaged in a spiritual battle. Paul writes: (not on your outline)
Ephesians 6:10–12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Paul says that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, that is, human beings. You are not my enemy; the devil is our enemy, and you and I are his victims. So often we forget this and begin to think of the other person as the enemy, and that is exactly what our real enemy wants us to think.
ILL: Many years ago, Laina and I were on our way to church and got in a heated argument. Why is it that we often seemed to get in arguments on the way to church? Nah, nah, nah, nah all the way to church. Put on a smile, “Praise the Lord!” Can anybody else identify with this? Do you want to know how we fixed it? We drove separate cars to church! No…
We pulled the car over a few blocks from church, and I took Laina’s hand and apologized. “Look: I love you, and I know you love me. You are my wife, not my enemy; I am your husband, not your enemy. But we have an enemy who would love to get between us, split us up, make us think that we’re each other’s enemy. We have an enemy that wants to destroy us and our marriage. So instead of fighting each other, let’s join forces and fight him.” So we prayed, and asked God to help us. Then we told the devil to buzz off, that we weren’t going to take any more of his crap. I think I told him to go to hell—which is permissible, because Jesus said that hell was made for the devil and his angels.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood; it’s against the devil, the spiritual forces of evil that want to destroy us. Peter wrote:
1 Peter 5:8–9 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Your enemy the devil—who is your enemy? The devil. And what is he doing? Prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. What does he want to do to you? Devour you. Eat you alive. Destroy you. Look what the demons did to this poor man—they made him more monster than man. They ruined him. And look what they did to the pigs! Swine dives to their deaths. You have an enemy that wants to devour you.
So Peter says, “Be self-controlled and alert.” You know the old saying: “Be alert! The world needs more lerts!” Be alert! If you knew there was a hungry lion prowling your neighborhood looking for something to eat, you’d be alert! We’re in a spiritual battle.
But we’re on the winning side. The roaring lion is scary, but he is no match for the Lion of Judah. That is obvious in this story. When the demons met Jesus, they fell at his feet, they groveled and begged, and they did only what Jesus allowed them to do. This was not a fair fight. There was never any question who would win. Jesus won…every time. Every time Jesus encountered a demonized person, Jesus cast out the demons with a word. No contest.
Please don’t ever think that God and the devil are two opposite but equal persons, duking it out for control of the universe. That is not the Christian view; that is dualism. God and the devil are opposite but not at all equal. God is the eternal creator; the devil is a creature, an angel who rebelled against God. The devil is no match for God.
And if you are a Christian and the Holy Spirit lives within you, you will win the battle too.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
1 John 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
No contest! But you need to be aware of the battle, alert, and ready to resist in Jesus’ name. Many of us lose the battle either because we’re oblivious, or we’re fighting the wrong enemy.
Here’s a second lesson, and this one is from the townspeople.
B. The townspeople: We can miss Jesus because of fear of change and loss.
Jesus comes to their region and within minutes rids them of the problem that has terrorized them for years…and they ask Him to leave. He does a miracle—and they ask Him to leave! They weren’t thankful, happy or relieved; they were afraid. What’s going on?
For years, the townspeople had lived in fear of Legion. They were used to living in fear. However, when the man was freed and they saw him dressed and in his right mind, they were still afraid; but it was a new fear, a fear of the new normal. We can get so used to the dark that we can be frightened by the light! Change can be frightening, even when it is good. You all know the saying: “Better the devil we know than the one we don’t.” They knew the old devil Legion and had adapted to living with him. They didn’t know this new man who sat before them dressed and in his right mind. And they sure didn’t know what to do with this stranger who with a word had freed the man they knew as Legion, and killed their pigs in the process! What is this? So they asked Jesus to leave.
Why did they ask Jesus to leave? Fear of change…and fear of loss. The town herd had drowned—2000 pigs down the drain. This must have been a huge economic loss. It might be like Spokane losing Fairchild Air Force Base, and Sacred Heart Hospital, and Spokane Public Schools—all at once. Huge! So they thought: Get this guy out of town before He kills anything else! He’s dangerous! He is, you know. Jesus is dangerous to the status quo.
ILL: My associate pastor Rick Noll has been with me for 28 years and we’ve been friends for 35 years. In 1982, when I offered him a job at Life Center, there were only a couple hundred people in the church, and very little money. He said yes because he and Janine believed it is what Jesus wanted them to do. On the day they were loading the U-Haul, Janine asked, “By the way, what will our salary be?” Rick decided to call and ask me. When I told him, there was a moment of silence, then he said ok, and said he’d see me in a few days. It was less than half of what he made in Eugene.
Jesus is dangerous! I can tell you that Rick is not the only one on our staff who took a significant cut in pay to come to work here. That’s losing your pigs! That’s hard…but they said yes to Jesus. And Jesus is dangerous to the status quo.
I said this last week when I interviewed Tom Gresham about the Leadership Summit. He went and Jesus messed with his world. He ended up adopting a baby from Ethiopia. Jesus is dangerous to the status quo.
I said it last week when we talked about the disciples following Jesus into a storm. He doesn’t necessarily lead us in the safe and easy way; He might lead is into trouble—into a storm or an encounter with a wild man. Jesus is dangerous to the status quo.
I’m warning you: Jesus is dangerous. He will show up and mess with your world.
- You have your life all planned, and Jesus shows up with a different plan.
- You want to spend it all on yourself, and Jesus wants you to share with those who have less.
- You are planning on ending your marriage, and Jesus wants to save it.
- You want revenge, and Jesus wants you to forgive.
Jesus is dangerous! He will mess with your life! But the worst thing you can do is send Him away! The worst thing you can do is play it safe, and keep living in your disordered but status-quo world.
Jesus had disturbed their status quo, their ordered world, even if the order was cock-eyed. And it was. It’s a crazy world where men are in chains and pigs run free! They obviously cared more about losing the pigs than they did about saving the man. We still live in a world like that.
ILL: In her book Breathing Space, Heidi Neumark, a pastor in the Bronx, tells about trying to build housing for the poor (called Nehemiah Housing).
The new construction was held up because an archeologist received a grant through the city to study early Bronx settlements. He had located the latrines of Dutch settlers on the property and wanted to study the contents of the old latrines to collect information about these 17th century immigrants’ diet. The city was paying for this while hot breakfasts were being cut out of the school menu and in their place out-dated, spoiled food was taken from warehouses and served to the children to save money.
Such skewed priorities are not unique to the Bronx. The construction of Nehemiah homes in Brooklyn was held up because a rare breed of mice were making their home on the land. Much hoopla and major concern were raised over the mice. Meanwhile, in many city-owned apartments, poor conditions breed asthma and lead poisoning that damage children permanently. No hoopla for that.
Such is the world we live in—where mice are protected and children are not. And such was the world they lived in—a world where men are in chains and pigs are free. But Jesus comes along and sets the things right. You have to decide: am I going with Jesus or sending Him away?
One last lesson, quickly:
C. The new man: The good news is shown through a changed life.
The only guy who didn’t want Jesus to go was the man who had been freed. When it was clear that Jesus was leaving, he begged to go with. But Jesus sent him home with the words on the bottom of your outline.
“Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
The man did this and look at the result: it says, “And all the people were amazed.”
When you meet the living Jesus and become His follower, Jesus changes you. And those who know you best should be able to see the change in you, and be amazed. The best evidence of knowing Jesus is a changed life. This guy went home and didn’t just tell them the good news; he showed them the good news; he was the good news. “Look what the Lord has done for me!” Amazing!
Our story isn’t about what we do for God but what God has done for us: how He has loved us and changed us. Amazing! Here’s a challenge for you. Compose a three-minute story of what the Lord has done for you. “This is what I was; this is what I am because of Jesus.” Don’t make it about what you’ve done; make it about what the Lord has done for you. Then…
“Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”