Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Pariah and the Messiah


Searching for a Cure

Nobody has to tell you that need help. There’s just little problem. You don’t want to bother anybody. You’ve resigned yourself that your life is simply going to be miserable. Awful as it is, this is just how it’s going to be. You hate to even entertain the idea but this is probably how you’re going to die.

I mean, it’s not like you haven’t reached out for help since getting sick. You’ve searched the web for a cure, for a doctor, for a miracle. You’ve seen primary care physicians, specialists, homeopaths, and plenty of a few quacks along the way.

Out of Options

You’ve exhausted all of your options. You’ve drained your bank account and maxed out your credit card. And you’re still miserable. What’s even worse, you’ve gotten worse!

You’re not just suffering physical pain, but also the pain of loneliness. You’re an outcast in the community. You can’t even go to church. You haven’t been there in over a decade.

Maybe, Just Maybe

That’s basically sums up the situation one woman is facing in Mark’s bio of Jesus (Mk 5:25-34). But things are about to change. I mean REALLY change! She gets wind that the Miracle Worker from Nazareth is back in town. Maybe, just maybe, He’s her ticket to health.

Previously on the Gospel of Mark…

If you were binge-watching this on Netflix (and if there’s ANY story worth binging, it would be the story of Jesus…am I right?!?), this is where some golden throated big voice would say, “Previously on the Gospel of Mark…”

It all begins with Jesus’ crazy, bug eating cousin baptizing Him in the Jordan River. Suddenly the other two Members of the Trinity show up to celebrate the coming out party of the Son of God (Mk 1:1-9).

The Hot New Thing

Christ immediately beats feet into the desert where He stares down the devil for forty days (Mk 1:12-13). As He begins spreading His message about the arriving of God’s Kingdom (Mk 1:14-15; 4:1-33), our Savior assembles His ragtag team of misfits and knuckleheads (Mk 1:16-20; 2:13-14; 3:13-20).

Jesus suddenly becomes the hot new thing in Galilee (Mk 1:29, 37, 45; 2:1-2, 13; 3:7-9, 32; 4:1; 5:21, 24). He’s the teacher everybody wants to hear (Mk 1:21; 2:2). Christ heals the sick, diseased, and disabled (Mk 1:30-31, 34, 40-42; 2:3-12; 3:1-5, 10).

Upsetting the Status Quo

The Lord upsets the status quo wherever He goes. He sends demonic spirits packing every time you turn around (Mk 1:23-27, 34; 3:11; 5:1-16). He even freaks out His closest followers by shutting down a nasty, late night storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mk 5:35-40).

Because He didn’t check in with the home office in Jerusalem, all the religious muckety-mucks get their undies in a bundle. He breaks their rules by working on the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-24; 3:1-2), forgiving sin (Mk 2:5-8), feasting instead of fasting (Mk 2:18) and basically just hanging out with all the wrong crowd (Mk 2:16-17).

What’s worse, His own family thinks Jesus has lost His ever lovin’ mind (Mk 2:21; 3:31-32). Mary and the rest of the fam go so far as attempting an intervention.

A Big Crowd on the Beach

We pick things up with Jesus and His crew returning from their trip to the far side of Lake Galilee (Mk 5:21). A big crowd greets them as they arrive on the shore just outside Capernaum.

A Desperate Dad

The cheers are interrupted by a desperate dad. One of the leaders of the local synagogue, a guy named Jairus, pleads with Jesus to make a house call (Mk 5:22-24). His baby girl is at death’s door.

As Jesus, Jairus, and the rest of the mob head over to help the young lady, Mark wants us to notice someone weaseling her way to get close to Christ. The author also tells us why. “A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding” (v25).

It’s Gonna Get Messy

This part of our discussion comes with a warning label. What we’re about to talk about is very personal and extremely gross. Her bleeding is way more than just her regular menstrual cycle. She’s suffered with the so-called “time of the month” for twelve long and miserable years. Yeah, this is gonna get messy.

She’s not simply spotting. She’s bleeding BADLY. The NLT calls it “constant bleeding” (v25). You can literally translate that as “river of blood.” “Constant” is the Greek noun ρυσις/rusis. It means a steady flow of liquid in a certain direction, like the course of a river or strong current.

That’s the reason other translations refer to her problem as a severe “hemorrhage” (NASB, NRS, NET). For the past dozen years, she’s suffered from horrible menstrual bleeding. While we don’t know her exact condition, it could be anything from a chronic infection to cancer.

Religious Contamination

If her health problems aren’t enough, there’s also the religious implications. According to the Jewish scriptures (Lev 15:19-27), not only is a woman impure during her period, she remains unclean as long as she continues bleeding.

And that’s not all. She contaminates anything and anyone she touches. Her clothes. A mattress. A chair. Her husband. And she can’t go to the priest and have him ceremonially purify her until she’s stopped bleeding for seven days.

A Twelve Year Hemorrhage

This lady has lived as an outcast for twelve years. No friends. No family. No church. No physical touch. Just blood. Lots and lots of blood. Interestingly, we’ll see that she’s been hemorrhaging the same number of years that Jairus’ dying daughter has been alive (Mk 5:42).

From Bad to Worse

It’s not like this woman hasn’t tried to get help. “She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse” (v26).

And you think the American healthcare system is jacked up! She’s tried everything! Not only could doctors not heal her but they actually made her worse!! Dr. Luke diagnoses her condition as incurable and she was out of hope (Lk 8:43).

One Last Shot

As a result, she’s broken physically, financially, relationally, emotionally, and psychologically. But maybe just maybe, this radical new Rabbi/Carpenter can do something. Sure, it’s a long shot…but at least it’s a shot. One last shot.

“She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind Him through the crowd and touched His robe. For she thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch His robe, I will be healed’” (v27-28).

What If He Says “No”

All she’s really hoping for is a drive-by healing. She’s so broken and humiliated that she doesn’t need Jesus’ full attention. Maybe she doesn’t even want His attention. I mean, what if He says “no”?!? Most likely, she wants to keep it on the down low because she believes her touch will make Him unclean too.

Time and time again, we see people in the NT who hope for healing if they can only get their hands on the Lord (Mk 3:10; Lk 6:19). And they don’t even need to touch Him, only His clothes (Mk 6:56). That’s exactly this lady’s desperate plan. “If I can just touch His robe…” (v28).

A Supernatural Vending Machine

When we’re desperate, we can resort to the same sort of thing. Okay, maybe we’re not trying to grab Christ’s clothes. But I need to remember that the Lord isn’t some lucky rabbit’s foot. His blessing isn’t tied to whether I touch His robe, wear a cross around my neck, or light a candle at the cathedral.

We don’t rub Him like some sort of Jesus genie in a bottle who will give us three wishes. When that happens, we reduce the sovereign God of the universe into supernatural vending machine who gives us what we want, when we want, and where we want. Yeah, He doesn’t work that way.

In the Blink of an Eye

In the middle of the mob, the woman stretches her fingers out and snags the hem of Jesus’ robe. And something miraculous happens. “Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition” (v29).

In the blink of an eye and the touch of a robe, everything changes! No prescription. No “take two and call me in the morning.” IMMEDIATELY the flow of blood stopped!!

An End to the Gushing Gore

Once again, Mark describes just how gory her blood loss really was. This time he uses a word (Gr. πηγη/pege) translated “bleeding” which is normally used when talking about a spring, a fountain, or gushing liquid (Jn 4:6, 14; James 3:11-12; 2Pet 2:17; Rev 7:17; 8:10; 14:7; 16:4; 21:6).

Somehow, someway, her wound clots in a heartbeat. She could literally feel the difference. Could it be true? REALLY true?!?

Running Low on Healing Power?

At the same moment the woman can feel the change in her body, our Savior feels something too. “Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from Him, so He turned around in the the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched My robe?’” (v30).

Is the Lord worried He might be running low on supernatural power? Is He stressed that whatever just happened might drain His healing tank? Absolutely not. Christ doesn’t have a limited supply of ability. He’s not a finite power budget. His tank is always full to overflowing!

Doesn’t Jesus Know?

Anybody else scratching their head over His question, “Who touched My robe?” (v30)? As the Son of God, doesn’t Jesus know it was? I mean this IS the same Messiah who knows what people are thinking (Mt 12:25; 22:18; Mk 2:8; Lk 6:8; 11:17; Jn 2:25).

John MacArthur believes Jesus asked this question, not out of ignorance, but so that He might draw the woman out of the crowd and allow her to praise God for what had happened. In other words, the Lord knows it’s important for her to identify herself.

Think about it this way. Have you ever been embarrassed by what Jesus has done for you? Don’t be! It’s His story! Give Him the praise He deserves. Give Him the credit that rightfully belongs to HIm. It’s NOT about you! It’s ALL about HIM!!! You never know. God may use your story to convince someone else to seek His help.

They’ve ALL Touched You!

When nobody fesses up to touching Jesus’ robe, His closest followers think He should just drop it. His disciples said to Him, ‘Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’” (v31).

According to Luke, Peter is the one telling the Lord not to worry about it (Lk 9:45). You’ve GOT to be kidding, Jesus. Look at this crowd! Who touched You? They’ve ALL touched You!

Jesus won’t let it go. “But He kept on looking around to see who had done it” (v32). He just isn’t throwing in the towel. He desperately wants to meet whoever it is. Apparently Jairus’ dying daughter will just have to wait.

Shaking Like a Leaf

Suddenly, a terrified female nervously steps forward. “Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of Him and told Him what she had done” (v33).

She’s shaking like a leaf, figuring she’s in big trouble. How dare this lady barge in on Jairus and Jesus! Her hopes of an inconspicuous drive-by healing go down the toilet. Quivering with fear and embarrassment, she collapses in the dust at the feet of Christ.

The Whole Truth

At this point, she tells the Lord her story. You can just as easily translate how she “told Him what she had done” as she “told Him the whole truth” (v33 NIV, NASB, NRS, NKJV).

The woman holds nothing back and spills her guts. And you think Elsa is famous for letting it go. She tells Jesus everything. When the bleeding started. How gross and gory it got. How she’s struggled. Even her desperate dream to get a quiet cure without bothering Him. The whole truth.
 
Declaring Spiritual Bankruptcy

She’s a walking example of our Savior’s opening line of His most famous message. “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (Mt 5:3). We open ourselves up to God’s blessing when we declare spiritual bankruptcy.

This is exactly why the Lord wouldn’t just give it up and get going? He didn’t just want to heal her physically but wants the woman to experience spiritual healing as well. A key component of her cure is telling others what Christ has done for her.

Sharing Our Story Is Sharing His Story

We often hear how we are to share our story. Absolutely. But it seems to me it’s not so much mine. It’s actually His story. Once Jesus rescues me and makes me part of His spectacular narrative, I have no right keep quiet.

The story isn’t about me. It isn’t about you. Oh, it most certainly includes us, you can bet your life on that. But it’s HIS story. Pete puts it this way. “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1Pet 3:15).

It Wasn’t His Wardrobe

When she’s done sharing all that God has done for her, Jesus responds. “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over” (v34). Christ wants her to know that it wasn’t His wardrobe that made her well. It wasn’t that at all.

It’s her faith. In other words, she trusted deep down that Jesus is the very source of God’s goodness and divine healing. She had a very simple and incredibly desperate trust in Him.

Faith That’s Legit

Jesus wants her to understand that it wasn’t the touch of His robe that stopped the bleeding. It was her faith in the Son of God. Somehow, someway, she believed whatever He chose to do would be for the best. She trusted that He wouldn’t hold back.

As goofy, incorrect, and immature as her faith in Jesus was, it was genuine. It was legit. It was the real deal. What a relief! Isn’t it good to know we don’t have to know the Four Spiritual Laws, memorize the Sermon on the Mount, and possess a seminary degree before Christ will hear our cry?!?!?

Our Faith Grows

Maybe you think you don’t measure up for a meeting with the Messiah. Sorry, you need to check a few more boxes, have a better LinkedIn profile, a better religious resume first. Check back later. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.

What He wants is a relationship. He wants us to know Him as well as He knows us. As we grow in knowing Him, He grows our faith in Him.

Peace, Out

Christ gives her one very powerful command. “Go in peace” (v34). Peace. There’s something she’s not experienced for the last twelve years. The struggle has been very real. But now the struggle is over.

She can now live her life in the peace that only God can provide. It “exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). Yeah, THAT peace! Peace out!!

Your Call Is Important to Us

This lady knows that Jesus is NO take-a-number-and-I-will-get-to-you-when-I-have-a-moment God. Calling on Christ is NOT like calling customer service and getting stuck in telephone hell. “Your call is very important to us. We’re currently experiencing high call volume. We’ll connect you with the first available operator as soon as possible.”

Jesus is available NOW. I mean RIGHT NOW! THE Operator is standing by…just waiting to hear from you. He WANTS you to bother Him! He HOPES you’ll bother Him!!

If the Messiah can do it for this pariah, what do you think He can do for you?

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Desperate Dad


Living the Sweet Life

You’re one of the big dogs around town. The perks are crazy good. Best seats at the best restaurants. Tickets to all the big games. Absolutely no waiting for anything.

Okay, that might not be an exact picture of the sweet life Jairus is living in Galilee, but you get the idea. But as one of the head honchos down at the local synagogue, life indeed has its privileges.

Kind of a Big Deal

You might think I’m overstating the status of leadership at a local house of Jewish worship. But the synagogue is so much more than the building where folks go each Sabbath to praise the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

You see, the synagogue is hub of the wheel for life in town. Remember, in first century Israel, EVERYBODY is Jewish. And EVERYBODY you know goes to the same synagogue.

So as one of the rulers of the local synagogue, you’re kind of a big deal.

Is That Jairus?

That’s why people do a double take when they see you sprinting through town at top speed. That’s not Jairus, is it? No self-respecting leader of the synagogue would act the fool and run like a madman down to the docks!

But that’s EXACTLY what we seen in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus and His personal posse land their boat back on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Let’s just say they’ve had a quick and rather eventful trip to the far side.

A Late Night Storm

Our Savior and the boys found themselves in a vicious late night squall (Mk 4:35-41). If the disciples aren’t freaked out enough by the swirling winds and stinging rain, they really lose their minds when Jesus yells at the storm to stop…and it does! I mean who is this Guy?!?

Once on the eastern shore, a naked man living in a cemetery under demonic control confronts Christ (Mk 5:1-20). It seems the evil spirits living inside him know EXACTLY Who they’re dealing with.

Mass Swine Suicide

Our Savior tells them they don’t have to go home but they can’t stay here. The few thousand demons leave the man and cause a herd of pigs to commit mass swine suicide.

More concerned with the financial hit over lost livestock than the man gaining back his life and sanity, locals beg Jesus to go back where He came from. So with that, He heads back home.

Welcome Home, Jesus

“Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around Him on the shore” (v21). It’s quite a scene along the shore when the Lord and His crew land.

It appears that Jesus and the Twelve come ashore back in Galilee very near where they left. Luke points out that “the crowds welcomed Him because they had been waiting for Him” (Lk 8:40). Just picture a bunch of people on the beach wondering when the radical Rabbi/Carpenter will come back home.

Back home? Matthew tips us off that they arrive back in Jesus’ “own town” (Mt 9:1). If you’re keeping score at home, that’s Capernaum. He may have been born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, but our Savior has made Capernaum his base of operations (Mt 4:13; Mk 2:1).

Harmonizing the Gospels

While we’re looking at Mark’s version of the story, don’t miss out on using the other Gospels to fill in the gaps and add color to what you’re reading. It’s what smart folks who study the Bible call “harmonizing the Gospels.”

God inspired a wide variety of human authors to tell His story for a wide variety of audiences. For instance, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John share a lot of the same stories. But they were each writing to different groups of people.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke

You can find this particular story in three of the Gospels (Mt 9:18-19; Mk 5:21-24; Lk 8:40-42). Feel free to flip back and forth between them. Take advantage of the resources He has provided to you!

Comparing the different versions, we see that Mark is the only Gospel writer to describe the welcoming party as a “large crowd” (v21). He uses a word we translate “large” (Gr. πολυς/polus). It describe something near the top end of the scale or the greatest magnitude. The crowd may be large but Jesus is in charge.

A Leader of the Synagogue

Suddenly the mood changes. One moment the mob is cheering Jesus’ return. The next moment someone is frantically trying to get His help. “Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived” (v22).

As a “leader of the local synagogue (Gr. αρχισυναγωος/archisunagogos)” (v22), Jairus is one of the top dogs in the community. The elders would handpick a handful of men to direct the affairs of the local Jewish assembly.

Jairus the Pharisee

It’s his job is to choose the various readers and teachers in the synagogue, go over the messages and lessons to be taught, and make sure everything in the assembly is done properly especially according to Jewish tradition.

Jairus is almost certainly a Pharisee. You see, the Pharisees control the synagogues in the various towns while the Sadducees run the temple in Jerusalem. When you can’t make it to worship at the house of God in the big city, you gather with your friends and family at the local synagogue on the Sabbath.

When the Temple’s Not an Option

The idea of the synagogue came about 586 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple and hauled God’s people into slavery back to Babylon. Even if the temple wasn’t a pile of bricks, you’re still 900 miles away.

With temple worship not an option, the synagogue became central not just to honoring God but living in community with His people. Because Jewish law limited travel on the Sabbath to about 1,000 yards, people would live in villages and towns near their meeting place.

Falling at the Feet of Christ

Christ certainly has his share of run-ins with the leaders of the local synagogue (Lk 13:14). But we also several of these influential Jewish leaders place their faith in Jesus as Messiah, the long promised Hero coming to save God’s people (Acts 13:15; 18:17-18). I suspect it won’t be long before we count Jairus among them.

The normally dignified Jairus is clearly out of sorts. He’s freaking out. He’s desperate. He’s there for one reason. He’s there for one Person. Suddenly, he spots just One he’s looking for. “When he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet” (v22)

In describing how Jairus falls before the Lord, Mark uses the Greek verb πιπτω/pipto. It does NOT paint a picture of propriety and decorum. This word means to collapse, come down forcefully from a higher to lower level, tumble into ruins, or falling on your face in worship and desperation.

Crumbling and Tumbling Down

Remember the story of the drowsy teenage boy in Troas sitting in a window listening to Paul? When the apostle’s message runs till midnight, the kid doses off and “dropped (Gr. πιπτω/pipto) three stories to his death below” (Acts 20:9). Yup, the very same word. You’ll be glad to know that the apostle miraculously brought him back to life (Acts 20:11).

We find it again when the writer of Hebrews flips through the scrapbook and talks about the crazy conquest of a key enemy city. “It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the wall came crashing down (Gr. πιπτω/pipto)” (Heb 11:30).

Jairus crumbles at the feet of Christ. He’s clearly a broken man as he crumbles to the ground. This proud religious leader is in ruins. Mark doesn’t say anything about his tears but if we squint, I think we can see them.

A Devastated Dad 

What in the world could wreck Jairus this way? Well, he’s about to tell Jesus. He “pleaded fervently with Him. ‘My little daughter is dying,’ he said” (v23). A dying daughter  has totally devastated him.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Desperate times call for Jesus.

Face Down in the Dirt

This one verse drips with this dad’s desperation. Face down in the dirt, Jairus begs Jesus. The word the NLT translates as “pleaded” (Gr. παρακαλεω/parakaleo) emphasizes the physical closeness and intimacy of the interaction between the two.

It’s not so much calling 9-1-1 but physically running to someone who can help, getting in their face, and almost forcing them to help. And the grammar tells us Jairus cries for help are non-stop and unrelenting.

Begging and Pleading

Just so we get this dad’s distress, Mark adds that he pleads “fervently” (v23). In doing so, the author uses that very same term (Gr. πολυς/polus) he uses to help us get our heads around the big crowd back in verse 21.

In other words, Jairus’ can’t get much more urgent. He doesn’t ask once. He doesn’t ask nicely. He begs. He pleads. Incessantly. Relentlessly. Persistently.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Desperate times call for Jesus.

His Baby Girl

If this father’s love is not tearing your heart in half already, just wait. He pleads with the Lord to come help his “little daughter” (v23). The word in the original language (Gr. θυγατριον/thugatrion) is a very special and very tender term of endearment.

Most Bibles translate it as “my little daughter” (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, NRS, YLT, BBE, NLT). I suggest we read it as “my baby girl.” A little later Mark tells us she is twelve years old (Mk 6:42). Dr. Luke adds that she’s Jairus’ only daughter (Lk 8:42).

This is daddy’s baby girl. I don’t need to tell you that the father/daughter relationship is special. Just ask any guy who’s stopped by to meet his date’s dad. Jairus’ little girl has her daddy wrapped around her finger. As her first hero, that’s a very good thing.

A Terminal Diagnosis

His twelve-year-old daughter is “dying” (v23). In the Message, Jairus says, “My dear daughter is at death’s door” (v23 The Message). Dr. Luke describes her diagnosis as terminal and that “she was dying” (Lk 8:42).

Matthew goes even further and says she “has just died” (Mt 8:18). Does Jairus actually believe Jesus has the power of resurrection and could bring her back from the dead?

A Touch from the Healer

Whether she’s still hanging on or not, Jairus knows there’s only one Man who can help. Can’t you see his tearstained face begging Jesus? “Please come and lay Your hands on her; heal her so she can live” (v23).

It’s interesting that the very same word we read here as “heal” (Gr. σωζω/sozo) is the one we see lots of other places as “save.” It has a wide range of meanings depending on how it’s used. Everything from save from death, deliver, preserve from harm, rescue from danger to cure from sickness or disease, or restore to health and well being.

Christ Is the Only Cure

What a powerful reminder that Jesus is not just our Savior but our Healer. He comes to our rescue and yanks us out of the pit of sin and pride (Ps 40:1-2). Christ is the only cure for our terminal case of sin sickness.

The Law is like an MRI that diagnoses our spiritual disease. It’s a great tool but no matter how many times we go in for tests, God’s rules can’t heal us. The only remedy for our sin is the Gospel. Only when we place all our trust in who Jesus is and what He’s done are we cured forever.

Doubling Down on Jesus

But Jairus doubles down on Jesus’ ability to heal his baby girl. She’s so young and has so much life left to live. Only if he can convince Christ to come and cure his daughter will she have a chance to grow up.

Little does this dad know that the Lord has something even better in mind for her. Something better for ALL of us. Jesus says He’s come to give each one of us a lavish, overflowing life (Jn 10:10).

Hoping for a House Call

But in the desperation of the moment, Jairus doesn’t give a rat’s rear end about any of that. He just needs the Great Physician to make a house call. And there’s no time to waste!

Imagine his joy when the Lord says agrees. “Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around Him” (v24). What a wild scene! A frantic father. The miracle-working Healer. And a mob that crushing to get to the Christ.

So what happens next? We’ll have to wait. On the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus gets sidetracked by someone else at wit’s end. But that’s another story for another day.

Take a Walk in Jairus’ Sandals

In the meantime, put yourself in Jairus’ sandals. What would it take for you to toss your status in the toilet? To set your pride aside?

A personal crisis has a way making us throw our pride aside. Managing our image no longer matters. It reveals who we really are. It exposes us. We take off the mask.

When that happens, we suddenly realize we're powerless. We've got nothing. No answer. No cure. No hope.

All you can do is cry out. Call out to God at the top of your lungs. Who cares if you look foolish? You don’t care. You need help. You need Him.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Desperate times call for Jesus.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Guy in the Graveyard


Urban Legends

The word is out. Don’t go anywhere near the graveyard. As if the cemetery isn’t spooky enough, local lore says that’s where It lives.

We know all about urban legends. Those horror stories you hear at sleepovers and campouts. The killer with the hook hand. Bloody Mary. The Boogie Man. (I’m not sure why I brought this up. Looks like I’m sleeping with the light on tonight.)

It Lives in the Graveyard

But there’s a huge difference between those tales of terror and the story Mark tells in his biography of Jesus (Mk 5:1-20). You see, this one is true. This one is real. Very real. And that makes it even more horrifying.

It goes a little something like this. There’s something dangerous in graveyard. It’s only vaguely human. More It than man. It’s naked, bleeding, and fiercely powerful.

How powerful? Witnesses describe the beast wearing broken shackles and chains from futile attempts to tie it up. Even when you don’t see it, you can hear the creature’s bloodcurdling howls.

A Scary Storm Story

That all changes when a radical Rabbi/Carpenter and His crew from the far side of the Sea of Galilee land on the shore near the cemetery. They’ve got their own scary story of surviving a nasty nighttime storm on their trip across the big lake (Mk 4:35-41).

Jesus may have just calmed a squall on the water. Now He’ll have to quiet the spiritual tornado swirling inside the monster living among the tombs.

Christ’s Encounter in the Boneyard

The story of Christ’s encounter in the boneyard is so famous that you’ll find it in not one, but three of His biographies we call the Gospels. Matthew (Mt 8:28-9:1) and Luke (Lk 8:26-40) also include their own versions of it.

Nothing agains Matt and the Good Doctor, but I’m partial to what Mark has to say. Why? The early followers of Jesus believed John Mark’s Gospel is actually Peter’s eyewitness account of all that went down in his three years with Christ.

Gerasenes, Gergesenes, or Gadarenes?

The story begins with our Savior and His personal posse dragging their boat onto the beach “at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes” (v1). They had set sail at sunset from from their home region of Galilee (Mk 4:35-36). As they’ll soon find out, they’re clearly not in Kansas anymore.

Your Bible lets you know there’s some debate about exactly where they’ve landed. Was it the Gerasenes, Gergesenes, or Gadarenes? Matthew says it’s the Gadarenes. Different ancient manuscripts say different things. What’s the dealio?

Bible Inconsistencies?

Is this an example of the inconsistencies and errors that critics of the Bible are always talking about? If that’s you and this is the moment you’ve been waiting for, you might want to slow your roll.

Believe it or not, they might ALL be right. The easiest way to understand this is that those are all locations on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It just depends on which maps you’re reading or who you’re talking to. Let’s chat.

A Lesson in Local Geography

Jesus and His disciples land not far from the lakeside village of Gergesa. Today it’s known as Kursi which sits on the water at the foot of the Golan Heights. That’s where we get the description of Gergasenes.

Gadarenes comes from the name of the next larger town of Gadara, about 35 miles to the south. But the largest and most famous city in that part of the world at the time was Gerasa. Hence the Gerasenes. We know it today as Jerash in the nation of Jordan.

Welcome to G-Vegas

There’s a another G we need to be aware of. This is also a mostly Gentile area. There are a few Jewish people living there, but they are in the minority.

Call it any one of the four Gs and you’re good to go. I prefer G-Vegas. And if you can’t sort them out, don’t sweat it. I’m pretty sure it’s NOT going to be on the final.

A Filthy Spirit

Things escalate quickly as the boys arrive on the beach. “When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet Him” (v2).

It’s interesting that the original Greek language actually calls this an “unclean (Gr. ακαθαρτος/akathartos)” spiritual entity. This being doesn’t just need a shower. Mark wants us to know whatever’s inside this guy is filthy, vile, and disgusting.

A Spiritual War

We need to remember there’s a war in the spiritual realm we can’t see. It makes World War II look like a water balloon fight. Satan and his unholy horde are using every weapon in their demonic arsenal to corrupt our relationship with God.

That’s why we must put on the spiritual armor Jesus has issued to each one of His followers (Eph 6:11-17). He’s given us a truth belt, righteous body armor, Gospel boots, faith shield, salvation helmet, and Spirit sword. Don’t forget to put on your gear every single day.

We need His supernatural protection. Why? The very moment we place our trust in the Lord, we become a target for the enemy. Forget the American Express card. When it comes to the armor of God. Don’t leave home without it.

Cracking the Door for the Demonic

This disgusting demon has corrupted this man whom God created in His own image. We have no idea what he did to open himself up to satanic attack. Just know that it CAN and DOES happen.

We don’t just crack the door for the devil with seances, tarot cards, and Ouija boards. My pastor Mike Lee warns that we invite the enemy inside with anger, pride, greed, and lust. And once he gains entry, he does serious damage.

Easy Targets

Mark tells us the level of destruction the devil can do in someone. “This man lived in the burial caves” (v3). Whether it was by his own choice or because the people of the town have kicked him to the curb, he’s alone.

God says loneliness is NEVER a good thing (Gen 2:18). He created us for community. We need each other. Our enemy loves it when we’re all alone. Solo targets are easy targets.

Breaking Chains and Smashing Shackles

Long before Stan Lee cooked up the Incredible Hulk, the demons torturing this man gave him strength that was out of control. While this man may not be green, he “could no longer be restrained, even with a chain” (v3).

Folks have tried to tie him up several times in the past. Yeah, that didn’t work. “Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles” (v4).

Stepping into the Octagon

I’m telling you, this is a bad man. A very bad man. Think Drago, Andre the Giant, and Brock Lesnar all rolled into one. Mark says this monster is undefeated. “No one was strong enough to subdue him” (v4).

Stepping inside the octagon with the beast is a very bad idea. Well, except for one Man. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Howling and Self-Harm

Just because restraints can’t hold him doesn’t mean he’s not in bondage! Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself just how miserable he is. “Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones” (v5).

Can’t you just hear his horrible screams? Imagine the agony and torture. It’s so bad he resorts to self-harm. Mark uses a Greek verb we translate as “cutting (Gr. κατακοπτω/katakopto),” which means to gash, slice, hack, or slash into pieces with a sharp object.

Something Less than Human?

He’s a disgusting sight. Covered in fresh blood, open wounds, and ugly scars. Dr. Luke adds how the man “had been homeless and naked” (Lk 8:27). You can easily understand why locals see him as something less than human.

Too many times, we do the same thing. Admit it. You know it’s true. You pass a homeless woman on the sidewalk mumbling to herself. The panhandler at the bottom of the exit ramp. The vet in the wheelchair with PTSD. The Alzheimer’s patient at the nursing home.

They make you uncomfortable. They’re broken. They’re messy. They’re needy. But guess what? So are you and I. Despite it all, we’re each masterpieces in the eye of our Maker (Eph 2:10). And we all desperately need Jesus. It’s just a little more obvious for others than it is for some.

A Cry for Help?

Meanwhile back on the beach, Mark tells that the demon-possessed dude made a mad dash for Jesus. He sees Christ from a distance and then “ran to meet Him, and bowed low before Him” (v6).

No, he didn’t try to intimidate or threaten Jesus. Could there be a sliver of something human still in him who desperately knows he needs God’s help. What a great reminder that nobody is too far gone even when they may look and act like a lost cause.

The Demon Speaks

But what appears to be a cry for help suddenly goes south. “With a shriek, he screamed, ‘Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’” (v7). Suddenly the evil spirit is back in in control and appears speaks for itself.

The demons know EXACTLY who Jesus is. John MacArthur points out “the Most High God” is the title used by all people of the Greco-Roman world to identify the one, true, and living God of Israel from all the other false and minor league deities of the day (Gen 14:18-20; Num 24:16; Dt 32:8; Ps 18:13; 21:7; Is 14:14; Dan 3:26; Lk 1:32; Heb 7:1).

The Poll Position

The filthy spirit answers the question the Dirty Dozen just asked after Christ calmed the storm on the lake the night before. “Who is this man?” (Mk 4:31). That’s the big idea of the Book of Mark…who is Jesus?

SPOILER ALERT! Jesus is the Son of the Most High God!! He holds the top spot. He’s in the poll position. There’s no other god above Him in the supernatural pecking order. It’s not even close.

Why Are You Interfering with Me?

Not only do demons know about God and who Jesus is, “they tremble in terror” (James 2:19). That’s exactly why they freak out every time He comes around or His name is mentioned.

The rude spirit in the nude dude wants to know, “Why are You interfering with me? (v7)” You might remember the evil spirt tormenting the man at the synagogue asks Christ the exact same question (Mk 1:24).

Have you noticed the culture is doing the very same thing? I’m sure you’ve know what I’m talking about. Unbelievers blow a gasket when confronted with Jesus and His Gospel. They can’t believe God would have the unmitigated gall to tell them how to live their lives.

On the Same Side as Satan

The folks at the Life Application Bible drive home a very powerful point. When we reject Jesus and His loving leadership, we put ourselves on the same side as Satan and are headed in the opposite direction from God. Let THAT sink in!

We all need to ask whether we’ll choose what we want that leads to destruction, or if we’ll choose the Lord’s guidance over my life? If so, He gives me an overflowing life (Jn 10:10) of forgiveness, healing from sin, cleansing, and true freedom. My answer has eternal implications.

A Holy Eviction Notice

One reason the disgusting spirit gets its demonic undies in a bundle is that Jesus has given it a holy eviction notice. “For Jesus had already said to the spirit, ‘Come out f the man, you evil spirit’” (v8).
At this point, the Lord asks for spiritual ID (v9). Just so we’re clear. Jesus already knew exactly what was inside the man. He wants everybody with a front row seat to know the complexity of the evil controlling the man.

Thousands of Demons!

The demonic response had to shock everybody there except Jesus and naked guy living in the graveyard. “My name is Legion” (v9). This is a common Latin term that defines a Roman military unit of 3,000 to 6,000 soldiers.

There are apparently THOUSANDS of demons attacking the man from the inside! Just in case we’re not paying attention, the spirits spell it out for those of us with a public school education. “Because there are many of us inside this man” (v9).

Outnumbered

I imagine it’s much like the movie “Split,” where the main bad guy had multiple personalities fighting for control over him. In this case, it’s not a couple of dozen. They number in the thousands. As the Message puts it, “Mob, I’m a rioting mob” (v9 The Message).

Despite this demonic horde totaling in thousands, they are still outnumbered. One Jesus wins every time…and it’s not even close. Best of all, they know the jig is up.

Frantic Negotiations

The Legion knows full well they can’t tell the Lord what to do. So they begin frantically negotiating with the King of Kings. “Then the evil spirits begged Him again and again not to send them to some distant place” (v10).

It’s at this point that some unsuspecting livestock become part of the story. “There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. ‘Send us into those pigs,’ the spirits begged. ‘Let us enter them’” (v11-12).

Inviting Non-Jews to the Party

Mark’s reminding us Jesus and the Dirty Dozen are on foreign turf. Jews wouldn’t have anything to do with the other white meat. Pigs aren’t kosher. There’s no bacon on the menu anywhere in Israel.

This is Gentile territory. For the first time in the second Gospel, the Jewish Messiah makes a point of traveling to non-Jewish people. Remember, heading across the lake was His idea in the first place (Mk 4:35).

I don’t know about you, but as a Gentile follower of Jesus, I’m VERY glad He came not just for the Hebrew people. He came to invite every people group on the planet to God’s party!

Getting God’s Permission

The demons plead with the Son of God to let them head for the pigs. That’s because Satan and his toadies have no authority to do anything on their own. They must get God to sign off on what they do. Chapter one of Job is a classic example.

When Pigs Fly…or Not!

Just when Jesus gives them okay (v13), things get even crazier. “The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water” (v13).

A couple of thousand suicidal swine take a flying leap off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee. I wonder if this is where we get the slogan “when pigs fly?” In case you didn’t already know, they can’t.

Now I’m no math major but 2,000 dead hogs probably means there were a minimum of 2,000 demons in the dude. That number just reinforces the massive amount of evil controlling and torturing this man.

Breaking News

It wasn’t long before the pig farmers hightailed into town. Mark says they’re “spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened” (v14). Breaking news! Push alerts about the crazy events in the graveyard of G-Vegas, thousands of demons, a mass swine suicide, and Rabbi from Galilee.

When the crowd arrives, they can’t believe their eyes! “They saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid” (v15).

Jesus Makes All the Difference

What a difference Jesus makes!! One moment he’s a naked, bleeding, howling madman terrorizing anyone who dares enter the cemetery. The next moment he’s sane, sitting quietly, and dressed to the nines. Talk about doing a double take!

Eyewitnesses try to put into words what just happened to those who’ve just arrived (v16). He what? How many demons? Into the pigs? Are you SURE that’s the same guy?!?

Cancel the Parade

This is the part of the story where you expect the heartwarming happy ending. Hugs and kisses for the man freed from the demons. Carrying Jesus on their shoulders. Parades and confetti, right?

Wrong. The people suddenly turn on the miracle-working Rabbi. “And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone” (v17).

A Huge Financial Hit

Most Bible experts believe the locals are hot about loss of the hog herd. They’re more upset about the huge financial hit than the fact that this man’s life and sanity have returned after years of spiritual torment.

The people wanted life back the way it was. Bring back the status quo. And what do they do with this former demon-possessed guy? Life was easier when he was the It that lived alone in the cemetery. You’re telling me THAT GUY is moving back to town?

When Things Get Uncomfortable

We do the very same thing. But Jesus has a way of messing up our neat and clean little lives. He loves to shake things up and put us around people who aren’t like us and make us uncomfortable.

Micah Kiel puts it this way. When what we fear most is transformed and dumped in our lap, our natural inclination is fear and ridding ourselves of the change that we cannot explain.

You Can’t Stay Here

As a result, the people tell Christ He doesn’t have to go home but He can’t stay here. He and boys get back in the boat. But somebody wants to join their merry band. “The man who had been demon possessed begged to go with Him” (v18).

He’s willing to chuck it all and follow Jesus wherever He goes. But Christ has a better idea. “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been” (v19).

Putting Family First

Notice a couple of important points. First of all, the guy has a FAMILY!! How long has it been since he’s seen them, hugged them, and kissed them?!? Our first ministry is always at home. Nothing at church or work takes priority.

Second, did you catch that Jesus refers to Himself as the Lord? So much for those who say He never admitted to being God.

The First Gentile Missionary

Our Savior wants this man to spread the word to his friends and family. So in Mark’s bio of Jesus, the first non-Jew He saves is a former naked, demon-possessed, bloody lunatic who lived in a graveyard who becomes the first Gentile missionary in history. You can’t make this stuff up!

The guy wastes no time. “So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things that Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them” (v20). The Ten Towns become ground zero for Gentile evangelism.

Your Story Is His Story

The man does what we should do. Tell our story. Tell our friends. Tell our family. The ones who’ve known us the best and longest are more able to see the change God is making in our lives.

I need to remember that it’s ultimately not my story. It’s God’s story that He’s writing in my life. Think about it. The Creator of the universe is still writing the most amazing story anyone will ever hear…and He’s using you and me to do it! What a privilege!!

Feeling Disqualified?

Maybe you think there’s no way Jesus can use you. Your rear-view mirror is full of shame and embarrassment…and it’s mostly self-inflicted. If Christ can transform a naked, bleeding, demon-possessed monster in graveyard of into a missionary, I’m pretty sure you’re not disqualified.

Jesus uses him to begin spreading the Gospel that will eventually change the world. Apparently what happens in G-Vegas does NOT stay in G-Vegas.