Prepare Our Hearts – October 9

Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.

Friday, October 9, 2020
Mark 5:1-20

 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 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. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 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.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 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 drowned in the sea.
14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 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. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 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.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Growing up in the church, I was always jealous of people with incredible stories of how Jesus changed their lives. At youth group and outreach events, the youth pastor or speaker on stage always had some unbelievable story about who they were before they became Christians. And while my middle school self was mesmerized by the power of God to transform those who were (almost always) living a life fueled by sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, my life didn’t look anything like theirs. I never really got into partying or criminal activity, not so much because I thought it was wrong as much as not really being asked and having parents who actually cared about me. Because I wasn’t committing any “big” sins, I saw my own faith as somehow less authentic. I couldn’t point to any specific “aha” moment where Jesus showed up and completely changed my behavior. But, eventually, rather than tales of wild living, the Word of God began to convict me of my need for grace. I began to understand, as the Bible explains, that everyone is a sinner and the just penalty for even a single sin is death. Instead of identifying with the wayward prodigal I began to realize that I was the self-righteous older brother, jealous of his Father’s mercy for the undeserving, unable to see the sin of my own hypocrisy and cold-heartedness. To be honest, I still struggle with the idea of grace, needing daily reminders that all of my own efforts are nothing but a pile of filthy rags compared to the perfection and righteousness of Jesus.

The disciples were not the only ones filled with fear following the awesome display of the power of Jesus. Soon after the waters on the Sea of Galilee calmed, Jesus and the disciples arrived in the country of the Gerasenes, a predominantly Gentile area on the craggy shore opposite Capernaum. As they stepped out of the boat, a demon-possessed man came running from his home amidst the desolate rocky hillside tombs and fell headlong at Jesus’ feet. While the disciples were still working to piece together the full-identity of their Teacher, this man had no such problem. Before the boat even reached land he recognized Jesus from a distance, yet instead of fleeing in terror, he sprinted over to plea for mercy.

To clarify, the man himself did not know Jesus, but the demons in the man were well acquainted with Him. For some time the poor soul had been afflicted with a plethora of unwelcome body-guests and, as with other possessed individuals, he was no longer in control of himself. The man had become such a threat to his community that on multiple occasions they attempted to bind him in shackles, but the demons possessed such super-natural strength that they broke every chain to pieces. With no other options, He was relegated to a life of tortured isolation, the community’s only reminder of his beleaguered existence the eery wails lofting from the abandoned tombs and occasional sightings of his naked, tortured frame reported by frightened hired pig-hands.

Now, on his face before Jesus, the demons inside him cried out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” Just as elsewhere in Mark’s gospel, the evil spirits are the first to bow down to Jesus. After being cast out of heaven as a result of their rebellion against God, they had been relegated to roam the earth until the time of their appointed destruction at the final judgment. To their shock and horror, the Judge had also taken the form of a man and was now standing before them on their own turf. Fearing their eternal damnation, the “Legion”, as they called themselves, requested Jesus allow them to remain in their familiar domain among the surrounding death and decay. Jesus acquiesced and gave permission to enter a large nearby heard of pigs, which subsequently rushed down the hill and drowned themselves in the sea.

After witnessing the sudden and total loss of their sole source of income, the terrified swineherds (aka: pig shepherds) raced back into town and reported the news of this miraculous calamity. As the people came to investigate, with their own eyes they saw a sea filled with swine and the once-crazed man sitting with Jesus, fully clothed and restored to his senses. Frightened by the powerful new Rabbi, just as the demons and disciples before them, all the townspeople begged Jesus to leave at once and never return.

As the disciples prepared the boat for departure, the unnamed former-demoniac with the new lease on life begged Jesus once again, yet this time asking to join Him. Strikingly, for the first time that day, Jesus said “no.” Instead of joining Jesus on His journey, he would strike-out on a mission of his own. Jesus had other plans, greater plans, for him: remaining as an undeniable testimony to the transformational grace and goodness of God among his own friends, town, and region who had already rejected Jesus.

In this brief encounter, all that Jesus taught and did continues to come into focus. The good news of salvation and liberation, available to all, is not received by all. Just as with the Pharisees, the arrival of Jesus is a threat to the comfortable way of life to the gentiles. In a flash the entire pork industry literally fell off a cliff, creating an instant financial depression. The herders and the people were so fixated on the economic impact that they completely missed out on every other implication of having the “Son of the Most High God” in their midst and demanded He leave them at once.

Whether they understood who Jesus really was is unclear, but as the response of the spirits show, and James 2:19 reminds us, “even the demons believe – and shudder!” Jesus demands more from us than verbal acknowledgement of His divinity, we must fully surrender to His Lordship. The disciple of Jesus is in no position to make demands upon Him, but must submit to His demands upon them. We are not called to a secluded life of intimacy with Jesus, but Jesus desires us to go and tell what He has done for us.

While we may not have a “storybook” testimony, every follower of Jesus has a story to tell. Before we knew Jesus, Jesus knew us. Just like the man abandoned to the tombs, each of us was dead in our own trespasses and sins. He knew the condition of our hearts, He knew what we really needed, and He moved heaven and earth to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: raise us back to life.

Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You are an incredible God. We pray that You would forgive us for our sins and open our eyes to who we really are. We need Your more than we know, thank You for lavishing Your grace upon us. We ask in Your marvelous name, Amen.