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Message for 3-16-14 JESUS THE EXORCIST

“THE EXORCIST”

Mark 5:1-20

 

Try putting yourself in the shoes of this man in the Gospel story.  Not everyone can do so.  But there are plenty of people in this world who know exactly what it feels like to be imprisoned by forces that are destroying their life.  They’ve known insanity.  They’ve known unrelenting torment.  They’ve known what it’s like to be out of control.  They know what it’s like to fight with beasts within.  They know how this man longs to be set free from his chains of misery.

In today’s case from the Jesus Files, we find a man whose personality has actually been hijacked by alien spirits.  Here we have spiritual powers that seek to ruin an individual.  They seek to vandalize God’s image in that person.  They seek to invade and overpower a person’s ego or will, and to drive that person to self-destruction.

Cases of bona fide demon possession are relatively rare.  Psychiatrist and best-selling author Scott Peck had been trained to believe that demon possession does not exist.  But in his years of practice, Peck has been surprised to find a small handful of cases that could not be explained in terms of mental illness alone, cases where the patient was set free from what could only be described as an outside malicious personality.

Today’s Gospel account showcases Jesus as the supreme expert in handling such paranormal cases.  He has power unequalled by anyone who attempts this kind of intervention.  Jesus has just demonstrated His authority over the wind and waves.  Here we see that His name and His presence are feared by all the powers of hell.

Mark gives us Jesus’ most remarkable case.  Here, east of the Sea of Galilee, we have a wild man whom no one has been able to tame or restrain.  He acts like a wild animal.  He is a danger to the public and to himself.  He has super-human strength.  He can break any chain or handcuff they try to use on him.  Night and day he is screaming, and gashing himself with rocks trying to put himself out of his misery.  The guy meets all 4 of the Jewish tests for insanity: if a person walks all over at night, spends nights in a graveyard, tears their clothes, and/or destroys what is given to them. 

Not only is this man himself miserable, he is also a terror to his neighborhood.  Can you imagine living next door to this guy?  Substandard housing is all he can get.  As one commentator says, he is “condemned to live out his days alone among the decaying bones of the dead, with no one to love him and no one to love.  He is one tough customer, and only a power more potent than iron bars and chains will bridle him.”   

How did this guy get into such shape?  Because the Bible gives us no clues to go on, it is impossible (and pointless) to speculate.  The Good News is that Jesus rescues this man from his intolerable misery.

Jesus comes into this man’s life with vastly superior firepower.  As soon as Jesus steps off the boat, our tormented man runs to meet Him at the shoreline, falls at His feet, and cries, “What business do You have with us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I charge You by God, do not torment me!”

The possessed man comes to Jesus with a schizophrenic approach-avoidance.  He doesn’t try to flee from Jesus.  He comes running.  The soul who is held hostage deep inside this man reaches out to Jesus.  He yearns to be set free.  But the spirits that hold him hostage are terrified by Jesus.  They already know who Jesus is. They understand more clearly than anybody else does at this point.  They know that He is God in the flesh.

The evil spirits have the audacity to invoke the name of God as they beg Jesus not to torment them.  After all the misery they have inflicted on this poor man, now they are afraid of torture.  Now they want pity.  They claim they’re not ready to burn forever yet.  Jesus can send them to their eternal fate at any time.

Jesus demands that the evil power identify itself by name.  To know the name of an evil power is to gain power over it (like having someone’s credit card number).  The man answers, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  A legion was a military unit of up to 6,000 troops.  If we take this name literally, it sounds like this poor man was filled with hundreds of evil spirits.  What happens next would seem to back that up.

Jesus will not allow these spirits to destroy this man.  That is not an option.  They must settle for a lesser victim.  They choose a huge herd of unkosher animals.  Jesus cuts them a break and lets them go.  And to the amazement of the herdsmen on the scene, the whole herd suddenly takes off running down the steep slope near where they were grazing and drowns in the lake below.  Demons come to kill and steal and destroy. 

See how much this 1 man’s soul is worth in the eyes of Jesus!  2,000 hogs die, so that 1 man can live!  The gang of demons who have tortured this soul is gone for good.  And the God of Israel gets all the glory in this pagan land where it’s legal to raise hogs.

The herdsmen who witness the scene flee.  They tell the rest of the neighborhood what Jesus has done.  The local residents are stunned.  They come and see for themselves.  There sits the newly freed man, “clothed and in his right mind.”  It’s him, all right, the madman they’ve put up with all these years.  But the change in him is absolutely astounding.  They almost don’t recognize him, quiet and with his clothes on.

What’s crazy about this story is what happens next.  The local townspeople ask Jesus to leave their neighborhood.  Why??  Do you think it’s because of all the pigs they lost?  John Maxwell imagines them crying, “Solve our problems, but save our pigs!” 

No, for some reason, these folks would rather put up with a wild man who’s been terrorizing their neighborhood with random acts of violence, than have Jesus around.  They can tolerate a man full of demons, but not Someone who has the power to cast them all out.  No wonder the demons don’t want to leave this man.  He lives in a place where people seem to be easy prey to the powers of evil, a place where those powers are most likely to be left alone, unopposed, undisturbed.

Jesus gives these local folks the creeps.  Having someone around who has so much power over the spirit world makes these people nervous.  Perhaps they are afraid that someday Jesus might use that power on them.  

The Gerasenes pass up all that Jesus could have done to help them.  They don’t bring Him their sick.  They don’t bring Him others in need of exorcism.  They fearfully but politely ask Him to leave, the only One who can offer them freedom from bondage.  They’re the ones who appear to be out of their minds.

The other crazy part of this story is, when the newly freed man wants to leave home and follow Jesus, Jesus turns Him down!  Since when does Jesus refuse to let someone follow Him?  No, Jesus has a plan.  He tells the man, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.”  This guy still has friends somewhere?  Apparently so.  Jesus wants him to go back and reconnect with his friends. 

Jesus wants this man to be His agent on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, to be a ready-made cross-cultural bridge to the non-Jewish people who live here in the Decapolis.  Instead of taking this man back to Jewish territory with Him, Jesus wants this man to stay there and spread the good news of what God has done for him, to people who otherwise might never hear that news.  The man is more than happy to tell his story far and wide.  People on the far side of the lake hear that Jesus has unequalled power over evil.  And all those who once knew this man can now rejoice, because if he can be set free, there is also hope for them!

If Jesus can heal this man, who suffered from the worst case of demon possession ever recorded, then Jesus can most certainly set us free from the powers that hold us in bondage.  Maybe you can relate to this tormented man.  You may not stand in his exact same shoes (you are probably NOT demon-possessed), but you find yourself imprisoned by forces that are destroying your life.  You’ve known insanity.  You’ve known unrelenting torment.  You’ve known what it’s like to be out of control.  You know what it’s like to fight with beasts within.  You long to be set free from your chains of misery.

If you can relate to this man, then let me assure you that Jesus is far more powerful than any of the forces that torment you or hold you in bondage.  Those forces will not give up without protest, but they cannot win.  They are toast in Jesus’ hands.

Jesus is the One who comes to set us free.  We are nuts if we send Him away, like the Gerasenes, who were afraid of what Jesus might do if they let Him stay.  Jesus goes where He’s welcome.  Wherever He’s welcome, the forces of hell cannot prevail.  Let Jesus be the One who sets you free, the One who heals your soul.  Let Jesus be the One who drives the torment out of your life.

Let us pray.  Lord, we know that You are bigger and more powerful than any power that can ever seek to do us harm.  We pray that You might break all of the chains that we allow to hold us down.  We give You the key to come in and repair all that needs to be repaired in our souls.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen. 

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