Sunday Service – 6/23/2024

Psalm 8:1-4 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

 Mark 5:1-20  They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.  3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain;  4 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.  5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.  6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him;  7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I assure you by God, do not torment me.”  8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.  11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding;  12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.”  13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.  14 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.  15 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.  16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.  17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.  18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him.  19 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.”  20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Jesus Calms Our Souls

Last week we saw Jesus display his power over nature when he stilled the storm.  Today we see Jesus’ power over demons when confronted with a demon-possessed man in Gentile territory.  All of this took place on the same day.  Let’s go back to that day’s beginning in chapter four which tells us Jesus began to teach beside the sea.  

Jesus taught all day, sitting in a boat on the water.  He was exhausted.  He told the boat to set out across the Sea of Galilee, seeking peace and solitude.  By crossing the Sea of Galilee they crossed over into Gentile territory known as the Decapolis, an area of ten Gentile cities. On the journey, in his exhaustion, he fell asleep.  A storm arose and the disciples woke him.  He rebuked the wind and calmed the sea.  When they finally arrive on the other side of the lake he does not find the peace and solitude he sought.  Instead, he is met by a demon-possessed man screaming at him.  Think about it, teaching all day, setting out at dark seeking peace, the journey disrupted by an enormous storm, reaching the other side, thinking finally peace!  

As the kids today say, NOT.  Instead, there’s a crazy, wild-eyed, naked man screaming at him.  I think I would have gotten back in the boat and gone someplace else.  Not Jesus though.  Despite his exhaustion, despite all he had been through that day, Jesus saw this tormented man and loved him.  The man himself never speaks with Jesus; he is so completely possessed that only the demons speak through him.  His own voice and personality have been overwhelmed.  Jesus saw through all the demons inside this man and perceived a spark of humanity remaining.  Jesus fought for that spark, he battled the demons and won, the humanity of this man was restored.  

Remember the disciples’ question when Jesus stilled the storm?  “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Today we add to that question, “who then is this, that even thousands of demons obey him?”  Strangely enough, it is the demons who tell us that this is Jesus, Son of the Most High God.  His own people did not recognize him, the disciples were still trying to understand who he was, but the demons knew him by name. They are aware of Jesus’ authority. 

We see this in the demons’ fearful recognition of Jesus’ unparalleled authority as the “Son of the Most High God” and their plea not to torment them or cast them out of that region. The irony is hard to miss: the evil that enslaves and tortures the demoniac is petrified to be bound and tormented by Jesus. 

The demons are afraid that Jesus will torture them. They beg Jesus over and over clearly knowing that He has the authority to send them out of the man.  They beg Jesus not to torment them, they beg for permission to enter the swine, which Jesus allows.  The swine ran off a cliff and drowned in the sea.

In this passage we come face to face with Jesus, the Son of the Most High God who has authority over forces of evil that oppose God’s coming reign. Jesus has the power that no one else has to deliver the demoniac who was suffering. It is only Jesus who can restore the health, dignity, peace, and freedom of the man who had lost everything.

The swineherds run and tell people what has happened.  Let’s consider how the townspeople responded to Jesus that day, despite what had taken place. They did not flock to him with their burdens and problems. They did not submit to his power. They did not receive him into their midst. No, they expelled him from their city as they had the demoniac. Their frightened plea to Jesus to leave their city is reminiscent of the terrified demons begging Jesus to leave them alone. 

The people beg Jesus to leave because he disturbed them; he disrupted their economy by destroying their swine.  It didn’t matter to them that the man possessed by demons had been restored; they were more upset over the loss of income.  

Two thousand pigs, how much is that worth?  You know, you can find out most anything on the internet.  I went looking for the price of a pig.  I found it would cost between two hundred to five hundred dollars.  Even if we go with the low figure of two hundred dollars that would mean those two thousand pigs were worth at minimum, four hundred thousand dollars.  Can you see why the people were upset?  Was one crazy man worth almost half a million dollars?  Not to them, he wasn’t.  They were afraid of Jesus, afraid of the cost.  So they begged Jesus to leave.  Sometimes our possessions matter more to us than the well-being of others.  Sometimes our preconceived ideas are more important to us than actual people.  There are some who, when confronted with the truth of Jesus turn from him because they consider the cost too high.  They will have to give up too much.  Jesus said in Revelation, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”  Jesus is knocking, we can answer the door or we can ask him to leave as these people did, it is up to us.

Let’s consider the man in the story, what do we know about him?  Mark gives us quite a history on this demon-possessed man.  He has displayed super-human strength and broken all bonds that were used to bind him.  He lived among the tombs, among the dead, the unclean, for he was himself unclean and dead to the world.  Howling night and day; bruising and cutting himself with rocks. It was a pretty miserable existence, tormented day and night by demons. 

How does the man react once he is freed from the demons?  Now fully restored to his senses, he begs Jesus to let him go with Jesus but he is instead told to go home and witness to his friends.  Jesus sends the man back to be a witness to the Gentile area of the Decapolis.  He has been set free and is to tell others about what Jesus has done for him.  We are all to witness to others of what Jesus Christ has done for us.  

I want us now to consider another aspect of this story, what it says about control.  The disciples thought they were in control of the boat last week until a terrible storm came.  The demons thought they had control of the demoniac until Jesus came along. The people tried to control the demon-possessed man but he broke all bonds.

Our passage today shows us who actually holds power and who submits to it. Who has control and who is helpless. The demons had control of the man until Jesus came but then we see the demons’ absolute terror and begging in response to Jesus’ simple command, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  At Jesus’ command they became helpless and had to submit to Jesus. This section is filled with language of power—and it plainly points to the superiority of Jesus.

Who does have control of all things?  Who holds power? Jesus.  Last week he controlled the storm.  This week Jesus meets a man who is out of control and brings order and sanity to his life.  We all like to think things are under our control.  The truth is though, things are not under our control no matter how much we want them to be or at times think they are.  

Paul said in Ephesians, “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” Day to day, we may not see an agonized demoniac wrenching chains, but we are well acquainted with the evil of school shootings, genocides, terrorist attacks, and human trafficking. That evil also manifests in our personal lives as lying, anger, jealousy, and love of power and money rather than love of God and our neighbors. The darkness in and around us is overpowering. We try to control it, suppress it, and keep it out, but inevitably we fail. Martin Luther’s hymn rings true: “For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.”

Things are not under our control.  Evil is real.  It exists in our world, causing tragedy, despair, death, mayhem and fear.  Demons are lose in this world.  Evil is all around us and may enter our lives at any moment.  We go to the doctor with what we think is a small problem and instead hear the dreaded diagnosis of cancer.  Loved ones get sick and die.  There seems to be doubt and uncertainty everywhere.  We worry over the economy, our heath, our children and grandchildren.  The world is spinning out of control.

The good news is that Jesus is in control.  He can still the storms and he can cast out demons.  We all have demons in our lives.  Maybe not actual ones, but things that can be as bad.  Demons of anxiety and worry, demons of fear, demons of depression, of disease.  Whatever besets you, know that Jesus sees you, through all that oppresses you, Jesus sees YOU.  He sees into your heart, he knows your pain, he loves you.  Whatever demons of worry and doubt assail you, do NOT listen to them.  Renounce them and turn to Jesus instead.  Hear his voice speaking words of peace, words to calm you soul.   

This story of the healed demoniac has much to teach us. It reminds us that Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, has both the power to bind the strong man and to break the chains of captives. No impurity or impossibility is a hindrance to Jesus’ compassion and power to deliver us. As Martin Luther’s hymn tells us, “Christ Jesus, it is he … and he must win the battle.”

There is a worship song, “Who Am I?” written by Mark Hall of Casting Crowns.  The song asks a question of Jesus, “Who am I?”  Who am I that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?  Who am I that the voice that calmed the sea would call out through the rain and calm the storm in me?”  The answer to the question, Who am I is: I am yours.  I belong to Jesus Christ and He loves me.  The reason we belong to Jesus is, in the words of the song, “Not because of who I am but because of what You’ve done, not because of what I’ve done but because of who You are”  We are not loved because of who we are or what we have done.  We are loved in spite of who we are and what we have done.  Jesus loves us because of who He is and we are reconciled to God the Father because of what Christ has done.  Jesus is the Son of God who laid down his life to save us from what we have done.  Jesus is the One who cleanses us from all sin, it is because of His sacrifice that we are able to approach the throne of grace and find mercy.  This is part of the reason we baptize infants in the Presbyterian tradition.  It is not what we do that saves us.  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone; through the love of Jesus poured out for our sins on the cross.  

This truth applies to each of us here today.  In the words of the hymn, “When Peace Like a River”, “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control; that Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has shed his own blood for my soul.”  

Who are we?  We are His.  We belong to Christ and He alone has the power to calm our souls.  

Let us pray. Jesus healer of mind and body, we sometimes suffer at the hands of physical, mental, and spiritual ailments. Quiet our minds, still our hearts, and empower our bodies so that we may be whole and healed. Amen.