Expediting Your Inviting Can Be Exciting
I wish to read for you from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark. I’m going to begin to read at the first verse. This is the Word of God.
“Jesus and His disciples came to the other side of the sea to the country of the Gadarenes. When Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him. He lived among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain. For he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart and the shackles he broke in pieces, and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
“When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before Him, and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God do not torment me.’ For Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit.’
Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’
He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’ He begged Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there on the hillside, a great herd of swine was feeding, and the unclean spirits begged Him, ‘Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.’ So Jesus gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine, and the herd, numbering about 2,000, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed, and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion, and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine, reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons, begged Him that he might be with Him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy He has shown you.’ He went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. Let us pray.
Breathe on me Breath of God and set my soul on fire. Amen.
I love this book, and I love the stories that are spread on the pages of this book. One of the stories that I love best of all is this story found in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. It is a great story because it has in it all of the elements that make a story great. It has dramatic action. It has good character development, it even has a touch of comic relief. It has unusual twists in the plot line. It has confrontation and suspense. It all comes down to a conclusion which is certainly surprising, maybe even shocking.
It’s a great story. But it’s so much more than just a great story because, you see, if you read between the lines of the story, you discover buried there some incredibly rich spiritual treasures. It is those treasures I wish for us to unearth together today. So let’s dig in.
The first treasure we find buried in this story is what I would choose to call, ‘the call to evangelism.’
It is quite clear upon reading this story in Scripture that the demoniac is a very dangerous man. We are told in Scripture that the people had tried to restrain him, tried to subdue him, tried to control him, all to no avail. They had even tried to chain him up, and yet, we are told that in his great strength he simply wrenched the chains to pieces.
That should not be particularly surprising to us. Or if you know anything at all about those who are profoundly ill mentally, you know that they do seem to possess extraordinary strength. And you know that they are in fact sometimes terribly difficult to control. It is not because they actually have any greater physical strength than anyone else, it is just that in their illness they have lost the fear of personal injury. And, therefore, their physical strength operates without this self-imposed restraint. Their physical strength operates without control, and therefore, they are so difficult to control.
Today, I suppose we would take a person like this and use tied down restraints until the proper medication could be administered. In those days, they had no such recourse. They tried to subdue the man, and they couldn’t. Even chains and shackles could not hold him. And so they resorted to their last resort. For the safety and security of the whole community, they had no choice but simply to drive the man out into the wilderness, to wander out there amongst the hills and the caves. Remember, please, that in those days the caves were the cemeteries. The caves were the places where they buried the bodies of the dead.
And so they drove this man out to wander aimlessly amongst the hills and the caves in the land of the dead. There he would be a hazard to no one save himself. It is quite clear from the story that the man was dangerous. It is also clear from the story that the man was bleeding. Did you catch it in the reading? It says quite specifically that he was always howling and bashing himself with stones. The stones would have produced cuts and the cuts would have been bleeding. It’s quite clear he was bleeding. And it is also clear that he was naked. He was without clothing.
We know that’s true because later on, it says that after Jesus had healed him – you can read it for yourself, it’s down there in the 15th verse – it says that later on the people came, and they saw the demoniac sitting there cold and in his right mind. It is quite clear that he was without clothing. So get the picture, please. Jesus and His disciples late one afternoon set sail in a small fishing boat across the Sea of Galilee landing that boat on the eastern shore of Galilee at the base of what are still called to this very day, the Gadarene Hills. It was twilight. The last light was draining out of the day. And it cast an eerie aura over the whole scene.
And suddenly, out of the shadows, there sprang this naked, bleeding, insane creature snarling and spitting like a wild beast at bay. My guess is that at that point the disciples tapped Jesus on the shoulder, and said, “Lord, back in the boat.” But not Jesus, no, not Jesus. Jesus who never shrank from any challenge would not shrink from this one either. I don’t know if you’ve ever stopped to think about it or not, but this was the toughest case that Jesus ever had to face in his whole earthly ministry, at least as far as we are told in the Gospels. I say that because, you see, it took Jesus two times, two attempts to master this man’s madness. That’s right. You can see it for yourself. It’s right there in the eighth verse.
It’s quite clear that the first time Jesus tried to heal the man, He failed. It says in verse 8 that Jesus had said to him – Jesus had earlier said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit.” But the man was still possessed with his legion of demons. The first time Jesus tried, He failed. I must tell you I find it strangely comforting to realize that the Lord of Glory Himself failed on one occasion in delivering ministry. Oh, but I must tell you I find it wonderfully challenging to realize that the Lord of Glory Himself would not be stopped by failure. And so it was at that point that Jesus recognized that in this case, the normal methods of cure were not going to work.
This man was so obsessed with his legion of demons that some dramatic evidence of cure was going to be required. And so it was then that Jesus caused a herd of 2,000 pigs grazing nearby to go berserk, stampede over the cliff, and down into the sea. Beloved, that was dramatic. Now, I know if you were an animal lover as I am, you might find yourself beginning to recoil a little bit from this seemingly inhumane Jesus. Set that aside. This story is no justification for cruelty to animals. Heavens, no. Remember the Bible says that God has His eye even on the sparrow.
But what this story is trying to tell us is that there is a divine perspective in life. And it is that divine perspective that we must hold in our minds and our hearts. And the divine perspective is this: if it was necessary for Jesus to destroy a herd of pigs, who were being raised for food in any case, in order to restore this man’s health and wholeness, if Jesus had to sacrifice those pigs to restore this man to health, then under the divine perspective I submit to you it was worth the price. Because, you see, there is only one priceless commodity on the face of this earth, only one. Only one commodity on this earth which has been so inflated in its value that it is beyond any price.
That one commodity has been inflated beyond all value by nothing less than the death of God’s only Son on the Cross. The one priceless commodity on the face of this earth is the human soul. And so Jesus looked at this naked, bleeding, insane, snarling, spitting creature and saw that beneath and beyond and behind that hideous and repulsive exterior, down inside, there was nothing less than a priceless human soul. And so Jesus ran the risk. It was a risk. Remember, this man was dangerous. Jesus ran the risk and reached out and made him whole.And Jesus calls us to run the risk of sharing the good news of God’s Son with the world, calls you and calls me to run the risk.
I don’t know why it is that my mind does things to me like this at a time like this. But did you ever hear the story about the fellow who was making a visitation evangelism call? And he knocked on the front door of the house, and a voice inside said, “Come in.” He tried the door, and it was locked. Knocked again. The voice inside said, “Come in.” Well, he decided that maybe whoever was inside was somehow incapacitated. And so he went around the house to the back door, and he knocked on the door, and the voice inside said, “Come in.” He tried the door, and it was unlocked. And so he opened the door, and he stepped in. And he found himself in the kitchen of the home, and he found himself face to face with a snarling German shepherd dog. He was terrified. He looked around to see who else was there, and all he saw was a parrot sitting on a perch. And the parrot was saying, “Come in. Come in.” And he was so frightened, and he was so frustrated that he screamed at the parrot, “Is that all you can say?” And the parrot said, “Sic ‘em. Sic ‘em.”
I don’t know that there is that risk in sharing the Good News. But there is a risk in sharing the good news of God. And there is a risk in inviting other people to become a part of the family of the Lord. But Jesus calls us to run the risk, to tell others the good news of God’s Son. Because, you see, if we go out there into that sometimes mad, sometimes maddening world of ours, we are going to discover that out there, there are people. People who no matter what they look like or talk like or act like or dress like on the outside; no matter what they may have been or said or done or thought in their lives; there are people who no matter the outside, down inside there is a priceless human soul. There it is. The call to evangelism.
Another great truth buried in this remarkable story is what I call, ‘the controversy in evangelism.’
It’s always kind of baffled me in this story. But we’re told that after Jesus healed the man, He wasn’t received with joy and acclimation. No. As a matter of fact, it says – you can read it for yourself. It’s down there in the 17th verse, it says, “Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.” 10 words. They can be reduced to two, “Get out.” Amazing. Jesus heals this man who had been a threat to all of them. And what do they do? They say to the healer, “Get out.” Why? I think I know the answer. It’s found right there in the story itself. I think you can see it if you look. It’s in the 16th verse. I want you to listen carefully. “Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac -” listen, “What had happened to the demoniac and to the swine, reported it.” There it is.
You see, Jesus in healing this man had created an economic problem for those people. When those pigs went over the cliff, Jesus hit them square in the pocketbook. And they didn’t like it. When Jesus said what He said and did what He did, Jesus was delivering a message to them. Here were people who were more concerned about dollars than about demoniacs, more concerned about making profits than helping people, more concerned about their own selfish interests than the interests of another human being. And so Jesus was delivering a message to them which said, “Change. Change the focus of your living. Change the way you live every day.” And they said in response, “We don’t want to change. We don’t want what you are offering, so get out.”
Make no mistake. If we make the Gospel of Jesus Christ our own, if we choose to share that good news with others, if we invite other people to become a part of the family of the Lord, there will always be those who rise up in opposition. It’s happening now. I am convinced it is going to be tougher and tougher in the years ahead for us as Christians to share the good news of the Gospel and to be inviting others to become part of the family of the faith. It’s happening already. Stephen Carter, listen to his words: “We have created in this nation a political and legal culture that presses the religiously faithful to act publicly and sometimes privately as well as though their faith does not matter to them. Those who believe in God are encouraged to keep it a secret and often a shameful one at that. More and more, our culture seems to take the position that believing deeply in the tenets of one’s faith represents a kind of mystical irrationality, something that thoughtful, public, spirited American citizens would do better to avoid.” It’s happening already.
Dear friends, I do not believe that that is cause for the church to fall into full retreat. In fact, I believe exactly the opposite is true. Now is the time of glorious opportunity. Now is the time for us as Christians for all of us as Christians to begin to declare in our words and in our lives that every single, living, breathing soul on this earth, every man, woman, and child on this planet is of infinite worth and value to Almighty God. But if we do that, and if we invite the people of this world to become a part of the family of the Lord, there will always be those who rise up and say, “We don’t want what you are offering. Get out.” That’s what I call, ‘the controversy in evangelism.’
But there is yet another great treasure here. It is what I would call, ‘the content for evangelism.’
I love it in the story. We are told that after this fellow had been healed, he was so excited that he cried out to Jesus, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you. I got my bag packed. Let’s hit the road together. Let’s win the world with the Master.” And Jesus said to him, “No.” Why? I think I know why this fellow was so desirous of getting on the road with Jesus, why he wanted to get out of where he was. You see, I believe that he had figured out that more than likely he was going to be stigmatized in that region because of his mental illness. We know something about that, don’t we? God forgive us.
But I think there’s something else here. I know it’s not in the Scriptures, but I think it’s still true. I can’t find it there, but I tell you I believe it. I think this fellow figured that they were going to hold him responsible for all those pigs. So he said, “Lord, I need to get out of here. I’m ready to go with you. Let’s win the world together.” And Jesus says, “No.” And then there came from the lips of Jesus one of the most incredible statements He ever made. Jesus said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what great mercy He has shown you.” Oh, dear friends, in that one sentence, I find three great principles for expediting, exciting, inviting into the kingdom. And I want you to know those principles down. I want you to remember them, carry them in your heart, and never forget them. Here they are.
Principle number one for expediting your inviting. You can’t share what you don’t know. If we are going to share the good news of God’s Son with the world around us, well, then it means that first of all we ourselves have to have such a deep, fresh, vibrant experience of Jesus Christ in our own lives that we just can’t sit still. We’ve got to tell somebody about it. If you have never made that kind of deep down, life-changing commitment to Jesus Christ in faith in your life, then let me ever so kindly and ever so gently suggest that you can’t share what you don’t know. And so I’m going to call us today right here, right now, all of us to make that kind of deep commitment or recommitment to Jesus Christ in faith.
I’m not calling here for some kind of an emotional spasm that might mean something today or next week but will be forgotten next month or next year. No. I’m not asking for that at all. I’m asking for something infinitely deeper and more dynamic than that. I’m asking for each one of us in our own way to say inside our own souls, “Lord Jesus, I offer myself to you today. Nothing held back.” That’s not an act of emotion. That’s an act of will. I’m asking all of us to say simply, sincerely, quietly, genuinely, “Lord – ” and He’s the only one who has to hear, by the way, “Lord, I offer myself to You, nothing held back.” You see, you can’t share what you don’t know. Remember what Jesus said? He said, “Go home to your friends and – ” listen, “tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” You can’t share what you don’t know.
Principal number two for expediting your inviting. You can’t win people you don’t love. The Disciple John in his letter says, “We know that we have passed from death to life when we love other people.” Therefore, to believe in Jesus is to desire to share the good news of His story with others, and to believe in Jesus is to love other people. You put it all together and it comes out like this, “You can’t win people you don’t love.” I’m going to say something to you that you may find to be a bit surprising, but I believe it’s true. I do not believe that God calls us to seek to witness to and to seek to win every single person we encounter along our life’s way. No. Instead, I believe that God calls us to seek to win those whom God has prepared for us.
Therefore, I’m going to ask you to do something for me today. Before you go to sleep tonight, I want you to sit down, and on a little notecard, I want you to write down three names – maybe four, no more than that. Just three names – or four – of people who, in your circle of acquaintance, people you believe need to have a fresh, vibrant experience of Jesus Christ. I want you to put those names down, and then I don’t want you to go to those people and beat them over the head with your Bible. No. No, no, no, no. I want you to begin to pray for those people by name every single day, day after day. And then I want you to go to those people, and I want you to spend time with them. And I want you to develop a relationship with them. And I want you to demonstrate to them that you love them and care for them. I want you to earn the right to be heard. If you do that, I promise you God will give you the opportunity you seek and you will know an excitement like nothing else you’ve ever known in your life before. You can’t win people you don’t love. Remember what Jesus said? He said, “Go home and tell your – ” listen, “Go home and tell your friends.” You can’t win people you don’t love.
Principle number three for expediting your inviting. You can’t give what you don’t have. I’ve always loved that story about the rich, matronly lady who went to a prominent portrait painter to have her portrait painted. And she said to him, “Sir, I am paying you a huge commission to paint my portrait. You had better do me justice.”
And the painter looked at her, and he said, “Madam, you don’t need justice. You need mercy.”
Mercy, mercy. Oh, yes that’s what the people of this world need, mercy. The people of this world need to know that they matter to the Almighty. They need to know that God loves them so much that He gave His only son for them. They need to know that they matter to you and that they are loved by you. They need mercy, but you can’t give what you don’t have. And so, therefore, in our inviting, in our sharing with others, we don’t have to be harsh and judgmental. We don’t have to be coercive or overbearing or overly pious. We don’t have to be dominating or intimidating or manipulating. All we have to be is just kind and merciful.
Do you remember in the Old Testament? It says there that Jacob was helping his sons load the wagons with provisions for the long trip to Egypt. Do you remember? It says that Jacob said something to his sons. He said to them, “Put in a little honey.” I love that. When we share the good news of God’s Son, when we invite others to become a part of the family of faith, always put in a little honey. You see, people are won by gracious love and warm acceptance. God must believe that because when God chose to come to this world, He came as the kindest, most loving, most graceful person who ever lived. You can’t give what you don’t have. Remember what Jesus said? “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and – ” listen, “and what great mercy He has shown you.” You can’t give what you don’t have.
I don’t know if you know it or not but the story didn’t actually end there. Later on in the Bible, we’re told that – later, biblical scholars think it may have been as long as a year later – Jesus came back to that very same region. And when He returned, the Bible says, “A crowd of thousands turned out to hear Him.” Isn’t that amazing? Right in the same spot where earlier the people had said to Him, “Get out,” now when He returns a year later, thousands are ready to hear Him. Why? I submit to you it was because that demoniac did what Jesus told him to do. He proceeded to go into that region and proclaim the claims of Christ positively and powerfully. And he proceeded to live his life so wonderfully, so winsomely, so splendidly, so significantly, so faithfully, so lovingly that now a year later people saw and heard Him. And suddenly, they were now ready to see and hear Jesus.
Do you understand what I mean when I say the best way for us to thank God for what He has done for us in life is to invite other people to come to His Son in faith that they might experience in their own lives His peace, His pardon, His power, His joy, His love, His life now and life forever? Therefore, go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what great mercy He has shown you in Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.