Jesus is on the Way

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
~Mark 5:1-5

The Word of God meets everyone right where they are living, and maybe, today, this is where you live.  On a recent read-through of the Gospel of Mark, it stood out to me just how common this man’s circumstances are in this day and age.  The Bible can seem very disconnect from our modern way of living, but everything we could face in this world is right there in black and white.  In the case of this man, it was cutting.  His demonic bondage had him in such agony that all he could do was scream and cry out, day and night, and find ways to try to destroy himself.

I can remember feeling like that…

People had tried what they could to restrain him.  Maybe some of them were family who cared and wanted him back.  Others might just have wanted to give him under control so he would stop scaring people and making a scene.  Either way, they couldn’t control him.  He snapped the ropes and cords, even the chains broke off of him the longer he was under this power.  With no one who could help him, he lived his life in the wilderness and in tombs and graveyards.  If he had lucid moments, maybe he really believed that it was the only place for him to belong.  I don’t know how long he was there, with no one to love him, no one to help him, and a legion of demons for company, that tortured and tore him the way dogs would handle an old sock.

He was someone society had thrown away.  The Jews on the other side of the lake kept the laws so that they would keep from sin and stay close to God.  They never would have touched a human bone, let alone live in a graveyard.  The people of his region (called “the other side” by the Jews) had compromised their faith.  They lived for whatever made them happy, whatever made them great, and served any god or goddess who would get them there.  Maybe at one point this man had been happy.  Maybe he had been close to being great.  He surely must have tried.  Now, he was the last person anyone would want to be seen with.  He was the last person anyone would want to see.  Between the ten great cities in that region, everyone would have heard him coming through the wilderness and among the tombs, and they would have gone as quickly as they could in the other direction.

Everyone but Jesus.

And Jesus was on His way.

Jesus had been teaching the people earlier, and had been interrupted by a man with a demon.  I don’t know how long this man had be enslaved to this demon.  I don’t know if anyone else had known before the demon lashed out against the pain of hearing the Savior speak.  With a word, Jesus freed the man from his nightmare, and gave him peace and hope again.

The people were overjoyed.  His disciples must have been awestruck and trilled to see the goodness and power of their Rabbi.  Yet they were confused and afraid when He told them that they were going to “the other side.”  They could not imagine why anyone good should go there.  Jesus knew what He would find there.  I think that in His heart He must have been thinking of a dear son He had lost: a son that He was going to bring home.

The man didn’t know it, but Jesus was getting into a boat and coming for him.

The devil knew, and he was not pleased.

The storm that rose up caused the life-long fishermen to fear for their lives.  They knew that the other side of the sea was the devil’s domain.  Now the powers that could keep a man from being bound with any rope or strong chain were pounding them again and again and again with violent waves and gale-force winds.  Try as they might, they could not reach the other side, and they were giving up hope even on living to tell the tale.

Even as the demons fought to keep claim of their victims and slaves, the Prince of Peace was asleep in the front of the boat.  No fear touched Him when He awoke to the storm.  He had no thought of turning back.  Nothing, no power of Hell, no scheme of man, would stop Him from reaching His lost child.

He rose from His seat and, with a voice perhaps no louder than a decisive whisper of “Peace, be still” the rage of devils, that could tear chains and overpower a crowd, was as submissive as a sleeping child.

 

Imagine.

The wail of the wind still ringing in their ears.

Now the only sound is the sleepy lapping of the water against the boat, and the pounding of their own hearts.  I imagine they whisper more than they speak.

Who is this man?

I wonder if the sun and wind had dried their storm-swept clothes by the time they reached land.  Did they even have time to recover from the experience before the next storm came tearing down the hillside?

Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;  and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!”  For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And He was asking him, “What is your name?”And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”  And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain.  The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.”  Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
~Mark 5:6-13

The calm of the sea is broken as the boat crunches on the gravelly shore, and immediately this all but God-forsaken creature is before them, perhaps running down from the tombs, or appearing from behind a rock before throwing himself at Jesus’ feet and screaming.

I don’t know if he had very much of his own control over what he did.  The demons are the ones that answer.  I don’t know how many more demons he had than the man who was freed earlier, but it seems to have been very many.  Whether or not they or he had witnessed the storm, they knew that a power that could finally hold them had come.  Perhaps, deep down somewhere, it felt almost like hope, but the pain of being in the presence of Jesus must have been searing to every facet of his being that was controlled by such evil.  It always burns at first, when we are confronted by His presence.  Sometimes it is enough to want to hide or run away.

Now, after all of those endless hours of torment, his demonic captors are begging for mercy.  The blackness inside is replaced by a searing, burning pressure that builds and builds until suddenly it breaks, and all he can hear is the lap of the waves and the beating of his own heart as he catches his first shaky breaths, cries his first hopeful tears, as a free man.  And perhaps that first reassuring touch came from Jesus as the man received the first clothes, so warm after all of those nights in the cold, that anyone could remember him wearing.

Jesus showed others how it felt for this man to be free.  A storm of two thousand pigs, used as unclean sacrifices to false gods, unable to be contained by their herders and keeps, rushed into the sea and were drowned.  I don’t know how many of these temples this man had visited for worship, but I don’t believe he ever did again.

Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened.  Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine.  And they began to implore Him to leave their region.
~Mark 5:14-17

With His healings among the Jews, Jesus often tried to be discreet.  He told people not to tell anyone, and often silenced the demons before they could say anything about who He is.  In this case, He seemed to want everyone to know whom it was that He loved.  I don’t know if the swineherds knew that the man was set free before they lost all of their pigs.  Perhaps they would not have noticed Jesus coming if the demons had not been allowed to enter the pigs.  At hearing that the swine were lost, the people came out to see that the possessed man, the man no one in their culture was smart enough or strong enough, or wise enough, or loving enough, or godly enough to save or control, was resting contentedly at Jesus’ feet.

Who is this man?

Perhaps they felt some of that same pressure, that same burning.  We know we are unworthy.  We can’t believe He would care, so we beg Him to go away.

As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him.  And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”  And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
~Mark 5:18-20

Imagine.

A crowded city market.  Shouting from vendors from every corner.  Jostling from every direction as loads are carried in and out, some for selling, some having been bought.  Important people discussing everything from politics to poetry under the statues of Caesar and the other greats.  She doesn’t concern herself much with them as she make her way to a strong-smelling shop stand covered in all manner of herbs and incense.  Maybe, just maybe, they will have something to heal her son.

She squeezes her heart to be still and to hold back tears when there seems to be nothing that can be done.  She barely notices that the crowds begin to whisper and tentatively pull away.  A cheerful, almost strong, voice says “Hullo!”  She looks up to see whom she has almost run into, and pulls back with a start when she sees that his face and his hands are covered in scars.  She can’t bring herself to meet his eyes.  She knows who he must be, the dead one from among the graves, but his eyes are so cheerful that they make her feel afraid of what he might see in hers.  A part of the crowd keeps quiet as he tells an extraordinary story.  How can it be real? but there he is, right in front of them, sometimes laughing, sometimes with tears rolling down his scarred cheeks.  She listens, hardly daring to hope.  But maybe, just maybe.

And then Jesus is on the way again.

It was through another storm.  This time, He came walking on the water before calming the storm from the boat, because nothing would stop Him from healing His lost children.

When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.  When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him,  and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was.  Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.
~Mark 6:53-56

If you are fighting a battle with self-harm, contemplating suicide, or hating yourself or your body so much that you want to destroy it or break, I want you to know that there is hope.  Not just happiness or distractions from what you’re going through.  All of those things are the work of a real enemy with real servants who want to see you hurt, and want to keep you in pain and in the dark.  There are so many ways you’ve tried to fix it, so many people who have tried to help, but none of it seems to hold up against that storm.

Jesus is on the way.

No storm can stand against even His slightest word.

Run to Him.  Shout to Him.  You know His name.

Jesus.

Son of the Most High God.

He will rescue you from everything that torments you.

Even if you can hide it on the outside, He knows that you were never fine.

Come into His presence.

Don’t hide.  Don’t run away.

Jesus is on the way.

by Stephanie H.

Fifty Thousand Pieces of Silver

 

Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices.
And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
~Acts 19:18-20

 

 Can you imagine the scene?  Somewhere in the midst of Paul’s two year sojourn in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit so convicted the hearts of the people, Jews and Greeks, that they repented of many things, not least of which was their secret practice of witchcraft.  They were so eager to follow the Lord with all of their lives, that they burned the evil that had most consumed them.  The footnotes in my Bible identify the piece of silver as the Greek drachma: a day’s wage of a laborer.  I don’t know how many people were burning magic books, or how much each one had cost, but it would take an average person of that day one hundred and thirty-seven years to earn that much money (with only five days off in that time).

These people have been freed from the curse of their wickedness, and yet, so many times when I have read this passage in the past, it has caused me to… hesitate.  I know that they were devoting their lives to the Lord, and that burning the magic books was very important to their following the Lord, but it took me a long time before I truly understood, beyond the textbook answer, why it was so vital.  A part of me would read it and think as the disciples did in Matthew twenty-six: “Why this waste?”  Of course, I knew it would be wrong for them to sell the books to others, and lead others into sin in so doing, but isn’t their some way that money could have been redeemed?  One hundred and thirty-seven years wages!  It’s bothered me that I think of it, but I would still think of it.

In my last read-through of Acts, it struck me in a different way, and it does even more now that I am reading this chapter for the sake of this post.  The first thing that I came to realize is that these people were not just burning fifty thousand paychecks they had received that morning.  This bonfire was built on one hundred and thirty-seven years of bondage.  It was fifty thousand days of trudging through muck under a heavy burden that only gets heavier the further you go all washed clean and healed by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Suddenly, this is all such a precious scene.  None of us alive today is old enough to have sinned for fifty thousand days.  But even if we had, Jesus would still be able and eager to cleanse us and give us His joy and a sparkling white robe the moment we will surrender our chains to Him.  None of us has small sins, but look at how vast the forgiveness of our Lord is when we come to Him and repent of all of the times in our lives that we have devoted to evil.  What and sweet and humble God we serve!

The other aspect of this scene that stands out to me now begins earlier in the chapter.

“And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul,
so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches’
And seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.
And the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’
And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.”
~Acts 19:11-17

 

This is the rest of the story.  Whenever we think that we can purify and redeem ourselves by “repurposing” our sins and the things that pull us away from Jesus, it is like this new believers trying to get rid of their sin by selling their books of witchcraft, or leaving them on a shelf and “promising” not to look at them again.  Left to ourselves, we cannot cleanse a single day of our lives, no matter how Christian we try to look, or how hard we honestly try.  Like the Jewish exorcists, we will try to do good, but will only end up being beaten down by the evil we face, and those who are enslaved to evil will also be worse off when we try to help them!  From the time of Adam and Eve’s first sin, the devil’s play was to say, “you can be God, and you can do it yourself.” “Don’t burn the magic books; just leave them on the shelf.” “Giving up that hobby? What a waste!  You could use that to glorify the Lord once you get famous and people start noticing you!”

That is why it is so vital that we always be as willing to give up what we love in this world as Jesus is to give up Himself for us.  Fifty thousand days devoted to serving the devil, all just a shadow in the past when we kneel before Jesus today.  And we can’t claim a single day of credit for it, thank God!  As with Paul, after He pays our one hundred and thirty-seven year debt, Jesus will give us His Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to help others who are still slaving to pay the debt themselves.  Do not hesitate to surrender your chains to Jesus.

by Stephanie H.