Encounters With Christ: The Beast Who Became Beautiful
I wish to read for you, now, from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. This is the word of God.
“They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet Him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 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. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of Him. 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.’ For Jesus was saying to him, ‘Come out of this man, you evil spirit.’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘For we are many.’ And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
“A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs. Allow us to go into them.’ So He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about 2,000 in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and the countryside, and all the people went out to see what had happened. 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. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 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.’ 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.”
As my great friend, Dr. Neal Plantinga loves to say, “Dear friends, that is high Bible.”
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
Just in case you hadn’t caught it yet, I really love the Bible. I love this Book. I love everything in it, everything about it. I love the wonderous stories spread upon its pages. One of the stories that I especially love, is this story from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. You know, it occurs to me as I think about that story, that it would actually translate into a very good movie or stage play. I mean, it has all the requisite elements. It has dramatic action. It has good character development. It has unusual twists in the plotline. It has situations which provoke suspense. It even has a dash of comic relief. And it all comes down to a climactic scene which is surprising. Maybe even shocking. Now, if I could write the script or the screenplay, I would entitle it, The Beast Who Became Beautiful. And like any good movie or play, this story actually unfolds in three distinct acts. I would invite you to join me in looking at each act in turn.
Act one: Confrontation.
Permit me, please, to set the stage. This madman was dangerous. It is quite obvious from the story. The people in the surrounding area had tried for all they were worth to contain him and restrain him and nothing worked. They even tried to chain him up, and what happened? He broke the chains apart. And as a result, for the safety and security of the whole community, they finally resorted to just driving him out into the hills and the caves. Understand, please, that in that time and that place, the caves were the cemeteries. The places where they buried the dead. And so they forced this madman to go out into the wilderness, to wander aimlessly amongst the hills and the caves where he would be a hazard to no one, save himself. But it is quite clear that he was dangerous.
It is also clear that he was bleeding. Did you catch it in the reading? It says that night and day, he was bashing himself with stones. The stones would have produced cuts, and the cuts would have been bleeding. So he was dangerous, he was bleeding, and he was—ooh, how shall I put this delicately? He was without clothing. We know that’s true because later on in the story it says that after Jesus had healed him, the people saw him sitting there dressed and in his right mind.
And so this madman was dangerous, he was bleeding, and he was without clothing. Catch the action, please. Jesus and his disciples sailed their small fishing boat across the Sea of Galilee to the eastern shore of Galilee. To the base of what are called to this day, the Gadarene Hills. Those hills are a part of a larger range of hills that we know from our news today as the Golan Heights. The boat landed there at the base of the Gadarene Hills. It was twilight. The last rays of light from the day were being drained away, and as a result, it cast an eerie aura over the whole scene. And suddenly, out of the shadows, there sprung this naked, bleeding, insane creature, spitting and snarling like a wild beast at bay. My guess is that the disciples of Jesus at that point tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Lord, back in the boat.” But, no, Jesus didn’t get back in the boat. Jesus, who never shrank from any challenge, would not shrink from this one either. He confronted this beast of a man.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about it or not, but I believe that this was actually the toughest case that Jesus ever encountered in his earthly ministry. I say that because the story tells us that it took two attempts for Jesus to master this man’s madness. The first attempt failed. It didn’t succeed. Didn’t work. It says in the story that Jesus was saying to the man, “Come out of the—evil spirits, come out of him now.” Well, that didn’t work. When you read the story, it’s perfectly clear that he was still obsessed and possessed by his legion of demons. And so at that point, Jesus recognized that his normal methods of cure were not going to work. And so he knew that this was going to require some dramatic demonstration of supernatural power. And as a result, Jesus then caused a herd of 2,000 pigs to go berserk, to stampede over the cliff and down into the sea. Now, let me tell you something, that was dramatic.
Now, wait a minute here. If you are an animal lover, as I am, you might find yourself recoiling a bit in the face of this seemingly inhumane Jesus. Put that aside. This story is no justification for cruelty to animals. No, no, no. Remember, the Bible tells us that God has his eye even upon the sparrow. No, what the story is trying to tell us is that there is a higher divine perspective on human life. In other words, if it was necessary for Jesus to sacrifice a herd of pigs, being raised for food, in any case, in order to restore this man’s health and wholeness, then in the divine perspective, it was worth the price. Because you see, there is only one priceless commodity on the face of this Earth. Only one commodity so inflated in its value that it is beyond price. That priceless commodity, inflated in its value by nothing less than the death of God’s own Son on the cross, that one priceless commodity is the human soul. And so, Jesus, with the divine perspective, looked at this snarling, spitting beast of a man, and He saw that beneath that hideous, repulsive exterior, there was nothing less than a priceless human soul.
So Jesus confronted this beast of a man, and I believe that this confrontation delivers to us a clear call as Christians. We are called in the name of Jesus Christ, to go into this sometimes mad, sometimes maddening world of ours because out there, there are people. People, who no matter what they look like or talk like or dress like or act like on the outside, no matter what they may have been or said or done or thought in their lives, those people are people who are priceless human souls. Every one is one for whom Christ died. That is our call as Christians. That’s the divine perspective on life. Seeing that every person is a person for whom Christ died. That is our call. And that is the divine perspective on life.
Act two: Controversy.
It’s really hard to understand, but when Jesus healed this man, there wasn’t joy and acclamation on the part of the people. Exactly the opposite. You see it in the story. It says, “Then, the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” Twelve words that can be reduced to two. Get out. Why? I mean, here, he had healed this fellow who was such a threat to the whole community, and what do they say? Get out. We don’t want what you’re offering. Why? I wondered. And then all of a sudden, as I’m studying this passage, it dawned on me. The answer is in the verse right before that. Listen, “Those who had seen it, told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man,” and, listen, “Told about the pigs as well.” There it is. That’s the answer. You see, when Jesus sent those 2,000 pigs over the cliff, it created an economic problem for them. It hit them right where they didn’t want to be hit. Right in the pocketbook. They were more concerned about dollars than demoniacs. They were more concerned about profits than about people. They were more concerned about their self-interest rather than the interest of another human being. And Jesus, by doing what He did, was delivering to them an unmistakable message. He was saying to them, “You’ve got to change the focus of your life. It’s pointed in the wrong direction. You’ve got to change the way you’re living and the way you’re loving.”
Rich DeVos is one of my great heroes in the Christian faith. I have learned so, so very much from him. He actually captures this message of Jesus in an easily remembered little phrase. He says it all the time. He says, “You, first. Me, second.” He not only says it all the time, he lives it every day. You, first. Me, second. That’s this teaching of Jesus in a nutshell. Jesus was, in essence, saying to them, “You’ve got to stop living for yourself and start living for others in this world.”
I want to warn you about something. You see, when these people got that message from Jesus, they said, “Look, we don’t want what you’re offering. Get out.” If you and I make the Gospel of Jesus Christ our own and begin to share it with others and invite them to become a part of the family of the Lord, I can promise you there will be those who rise up in opposition. It’s happening all the time now. I have a deep and growing conviction that in the years ahead, it’s going to be tougher and tougher for Christians and the church to thrive in this country. More and more, we, as Christians, are being subjected to persecution. Oh, not overt persecution like being tossed to the lions, no. A subtle, veiled persecution. Ridicule, rejection, relegated to the sidelines of society’s priorities. Restricted and restrained by the legal and political systems of our day. Oh, yes, if you ever dared to share the great Good News of God’s Son, there will be those who rise up in opposition.
But is that reason for the church to retreat? Heavens, no. It is, instead, a clear call to the church to move out into this world. The world for which Christ died. To move out into this world, proclaiming the Good News of God’s Son more powerfully and passionately than ever before. If we do that, there will be those who say, “Look, we don’t want what you’re offering. Get out.” Stand for Jesus Christ in your life. Speak for Jesus Christ. Live for Jesus Christ, and I promise you, you will draw criticism and maybe even controversy, but the call is unmistakable. Stand for Jesus Christ in your life anyway.
Act three: Command.
This is actually a kind of a wild and wonderful scene. I mean, you can just see this fellow, can’t you? Dancing around. Here, he’s got a whole new life in Jesus Christ. And he’s so excited, he says to Jesus, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you. I’ve got my bag packed. I’m ready to hit the road with you. I’m ready to help you win the world for God.” And Jesus says, “No.” Jesus then delivers to him a command which is a rich and beautiful line. Jesus says to him, “Go home to your family, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.” I want to take that line and break it into three parts and draw from it three principles for our Christian living.
Principle One: You can’t share what you don’t know.
If you and I are going to share the Good News of God’s Son, then we have first got to have in our lives a rich, deep, vibrant expression and experience of Jesus Christ, so much so, that we just can’t sit still. We’ve got to tell somebody about it. If you do not have that experience of Christ, if you’ve never made that full surrender, that full commitment to Christ, let me invite you to do that right here, right now. Quietly, sincerely. Nobody has to hear it except God. Just simply say in your heart, “Lord, I offer myself to you, nothing held back.” Mind you, I’m not calling here for some great emotional spasm that may mean something today or next week but will be forgotten next month or next year. No, I’m asking you simply to say, “Lord, I offer myself to you, nothing held back.” That’s not an act of emotion, that’s an act of will. Make the commitment now because you see, you can’t share what you don’t know. Jesus said to this fellow, “Go home and,” listen, “Tell them. Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” But you see, you can’t share what you don’t know.
Principle two: You can’t win people you don’t love.
Belief in Jesus Christ means desiring to share the Gospel. Belief in Jesus Christ also means loving other people. You put them together, and it comes out like this. You can’t win people you don’t love. So what I want you to do, I’m asking you in the name of Christ, I’m asking you to take a notecard and write down on it three or four names of people in your circle of acquaintance whom you believe need a rich, vibrant expression of Christ in their lives. And I don’t want you then to go and beat them over the head with your Bible. No. I want you to pray for them. Pray for them every single day by name. And then I want you to go and spend time with them. Demonstrate to them that you love them and care for them. You see, I want you to earn the right to be heard. If you do that, then I promise you God will give you the opportunity you seek to speak. But you can’t win people you don’t love. And so Jesus said to this man, commanded him, “Go home to your family.” Start with those closest to you. You can’t win people you don’t love.
Principle three: You can’t give what you don’t have.
I’ve always loved the story of the rich matronly lady who sought out a prominent artist and said to him, “Sir, I’m going to pay you a huge commission to paint my portrait. You had better do me justice.” The artist looked at her and said, “Madam, you don’t need justice, you need mercy.” Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Oh, that’s what the people of this world need. Mercy. They need to know that they matter to God and they’re loved by Him so much that He gave His only Son. They need to know that they matter to you, and that they are loved by you as well. They need mercy. That’s why when we’re sharing the Good News of the Gospel, we do not have to be harsh or judgemental. We do not have to be coercive or overbearing or overly pious. We certainly don’t have to be dominating or intimidating or manipulating. All we need to be is kind and merciful.
Do you remember in the Old Testament where we’re told that Jacob was helping his sons load all their wagons with provisions for the trip they were going make to Egypt? And as a little aside, Jacob says, “Put in a little honey.” Oh, I like that. When we are sharing the great Good News of Jesus Christ with others, put in a little honey. People are always won by warm, gracious, loving acceptance. All we ever need to be is just kind and merciful, but you can’t give what you don’t have. Jesus commanded this man to go home to his family, tell them how much the Lord had done for him, and how the Lord had had mercy on him. You can’t give what you don’t have.
Well, the story doesn’t really end there, no. You have to read on in the Gospels. Ultimately, the story comes to a grand and glorious climactic scene. Jesus, maybe as much as a year later, returns to that very same place, and this time, the Bible says thousands of people turned out to hear Him. Think of that. Earlier, same people said, “Get out.” Now, when he returns, a crowd of thousands is there ready to receive Him. Why? I submit to you it was because this beast whom God and Jesus Christ had made beautiful did precisely what Jesus commanded him to do. He went home, and he told everyone how much the Lord had done for him. And he proceeded to live his life so wonderfully, so winsomely, so splendidly, so significantly, so faithfully, so lovingly, that now, thousands of people were ready to hear Jesus and to receive what Jesus has to give.
Here’s the point. The very best way for us to express our gratitude to Christ for all that He has done for us is to bring others to Him so that they may experience for themselves His love, His peace, His power, His pardon, His joy, His life. Life here and life hereafter.
Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.