Grace that Restores

Sermon by Jason Sterling on Feb 28, 2016

Mark 5:1-20

Good morning! It is great to be with you and this is actually my first time. I’ve been to First Pres. many times, but my first time to be here in this capacity preaching on a Sunday morning. And several of my friends asked me if I was nervous and I said, “Well maybe, but this feels like a home game to me.” And the reason why this feels like a home game is that as I look out over the sanctuary I see many people that I love and people that love RUF and particularly RUF at the University of Mississippi. And just like Brian and Ben, I cannot stand up here this morning and not say “thank you” for all that you do for RUF, not only in the state, but RUF nationally. We would not be on the campus, and that is no exaggeration, doing what we do, without your love and support and your prayers. And so please know, from the bottom of our heart, we are very, very grateful for this church. Let’s pray together and let’s ask God to help us this morning as we look at His Word. Let’s pray!

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. You tell us that it is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in all righteousness. And so we pray that You would come through Your Spirit and do all of those things in our midst this morning. Father, we come from lots of different places this morning. Some of us are confused and struggling spiritually; we’re filled with doubt, wondering if Christianity is really true. Others of us have lost our edge spiritually. Some feel like they have failed miserably and they’re wondering if You still care. Others are filled with fear and anxiety and are experiencing some form of suffering. And Father, we’re thankful that You are a God that comes and You meet us right where we are and You invite us to come to You. And we pray that You would come through Your Spirit and You would minister to our hearts. Convince us this morning that we are a bigger mess than we realize, but at the very same time, convince us that in You is more grace and love and mercy than we could possibly imagine. Help us this morning to taste and see that you are good. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

If you have your Bible, turn with me to Mark chapter 5. We’re going to be looking at verses 1 through 20. If you’re using a pew Bible, you can turn to page 840. Page 840 in the pew Bible. As you’re turning, let me set the context for the passage that we’re going to be looking at this morning. Tim Eudodge, a friend of mine, really helped kind of bring the context out for me. If you look back at chapter 4, at the end of chapter 4 where Jesus calms the storm, you’ll notice that “at the direction of Jesus,” okay so it’s His idea! He tells the disciples to “get into the boat and let’s go to the other side.” It’s night, they are fishing, they fished at night to avoid huge storms oftentimes, but out of nowhere, suddenly this huge storm arises and it is big. And the reason why we know this was bigger than normal is because the passage says that they are afraid. Okay, they’re fishermen; they encounter storms all of the time, but they were afraid. And it says not only afraid but “greatly afraid.” They were terrified! They thought that they were going to lose their life in this storm. Meanwhile, Jesus, the passage says, is asleep on a cushion. They go down, grab Jesus, wake Him up, “Jesus, wake up! We’re going to die in this storm! Do something!” And Jesus gets up, there’s no rolling up the sleeves, there’s no sweat on His brow, He’s not wondering, “Man, this is big. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve got to think of something.” No, none of that. Jesus simply speaks a word, “Quiet,” and immediately the water goes instant calm. Dead calm!

By this time, it’s late, if not the middle of the night, and the disciples, think about what they’ve been through. They’re completely exhausted. They’re done; physically exhausted from fighting this storm. Mentally and emotionally exhausted from thinking that they’re going to lose their life. But think about it this way - night, eerie quiet again, no water lapping up against the boat; they can see the reflection in the water. No sound of the waves around them, middle of the night, and all of a sudden from the shore they hear a man scream at the top of his lungs; a shriek. Some commentators even said it was like an animal howling. They would have been familiar with this howling with this shrieking because remember, they work these waters all the time fishing. They probably would have been very familiar with the cry from the shore. And Jesus looks at the shore and says, “Let’s go there! Let’s go to the country of the Garasenes.” And that might not sound like a huge deal to us today, but for a Jewish person that was a big deal. Why? Because that was Gentile territory. It was un-clean! It would not have been safe for them to go to a place like that. And so at this point, think about the disciples. They’re in utter shock saying, “Did He really say let’s go there?” And if they didn’t say it out loud, they had to have been thinking in their hearts, “Are you kidding me? After the night that we’ve had! Besides, who would want to go to a place like that?” Well you know who would want to go to a place like that? Jesus would want to go to a place like that. And so Jesus insists, and they steer the boat to the shore, and that’s where our passage picks up this morning.

Follow along with me as I read God’s holy and inspired Word starting in verse 1 of chapter 5 of the book of Mark:

“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he was saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ And Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, ‘Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.”

This is God’s Word.

What a passage! And when we come to a passage like this, the temptation for us is to really get taken up in the fact that this man is demon possessed and to really focus on that. And sure, we’ve got things, as we’re going to see, that we can learn from this man, but the focus of this passage is not the demon possessed man; the focus of this passage is Jesus. And more specifically, this is about Jesus and His power. The focus here is on the power of Jesus to restore helpless and hopeless people who have been dehumanized by sin and who cannot fix themselves. And when we come to this passage, maybe you’re thinking, “Yes, I’ve been affected by sin, but I’ve not been affected by sin the way this man’s been affected by sin.” Okay, maybe the way sin has affected you is not this dramatic, but what I want us to see this morning and what I hope to convince you of, all of us, is that we are much closer to this man than we might originally think. You see, Legion ,in some way, is a picture of all of us. And Mark, this morning, wants us to see our story in his story. He wants us to see that though we have been bruised and broken by sin and its effects, that Jesus stands ready to save us. And Jesus, in His power, is ready to heal and transform and restore us. Three things this morning we learn about the power of Jesus; Jesus’ power, number one, we’re going to see pursues, secondly it transforms, and thirdly Jesus’ power values.

  1. Jesus’ Power Pursues

Let’s look at number one - Jesus’ power pursues. And so the picture, remember, they’ve landed the boat on the shore and notice Mark makes a point to say, “immediately,” in the passage, this man, he’s naked; how do we know? Because the passage later says, he makes a point to tell us, that he was clothed. And so this naked man, bloodied because he had been cutting himself with stones, chains hanging off his wrists, screaming at the top of his lungs, comes running at Jesus and His disciples. And if they thought they were going to die in the storm, most certainly they thought they were going to die at the hands of this man. What do we learn about this man in this passage? Look at verse 3. He lived among the tombs. He lived in a graveyard. Every single day he lived surrounded by death. Verse 3 again, he’s uncontrollable. Notice it says “no one could bind him anymore.” The implication there is that they used to try; the people in this community used to try to bind him and contain him, but not anymore. You see, they’ve given up on him. They have written him off. He’s a hopeless cause. They were completely done with this man. Verse 5, we learn that he’s in a lot of pain. He spends his days and night crying out. He is sleepless because he is crying so much. Verse 5 again, his self-hatred was so great that he actually cut himself with stones. And you can only imagine if this man had any moments of clarity at all throughout the day, even if it was just for a minute, surely he had to realize how repulsive and how unloved and how unwelcomed he was in this community. Here we have a man who’s in utter misery, utterly isolated and alone, self destructive, out of control, inner chaos going on, on the inside.

We are Closer to the Demoniac Than we Think

And yes again, we look at this man and maybe it’s hard when we think about this demon possessed man to relate to him and maybe your struggles aren’t this dramatic, but if we’re honest I believe every single person in this room can relate to this man in some way; it’s just way more subtle than what we see in this passage. For example, have you ever felt given up on? Anybody? Have you ever had someone who loved you, write you off? Have you ever felt isolated or lonely? Maybe like this man, maybe you can’t sleep at night. Maybe you are so weighed down with anxiety, guilt, and shame that you cannot sleep and some nights you literally cry yourself to sleep. Like this man, maybe you’re tormented. Maybe you’re addicted to something and it feels like that is such a fabric and part of who you are that the thought of actually giving that thing up feels like death to you. Or maybe you’re filled with self-hatred, so much so that you inflict pain on yourself. Maybe you don’t allow yourself to eat. Maybe you starve your body in order to get it to look a certain way. Or maybe like this man, you are filled with inner chaos. You are filled with fear and worry and rage and sometimes it seems like those things are controlling you more than anything else and you cannot shut it off. You see, we are closer to this man, aren’t we, than we might initially think.

But here’s what I want you to see! Look at the passage again! Think about this! Think about how scary and disgusting and intense and tormented and sickening this man was if he’s running to Jesus and His disciples. What would you have done that night? Can I be honest? Do you know what I would have done? I would have stayed in the boat. And if I’d gotten out of the boat and I saw this man coming, I would have turned and run the other way or taken the long way around. And you know what else I would have done? “Freak! Who’s the crazy?” And you know what I love about this passage? Jesus doesn’t flinch! He doesn’t flinch! Jesus is not afraid of this man. Jesus actually enters into this man’s story and to his pain. Remember, it was Jesus’ idea to go here in the first place.

And so here’s a question! What did you bring into this room this morning with you? Friends, Jesus is not afraid of your mess. Jesus is not afraid of your brokenness. It doesn’t matter how ugly or sick or disgusting or entrenched it might be in your heart. Jesus doesn’t run away from you. He runs towards you! Look through the gospels. Jesus hates self-righteousness and runs away and He runs towards and pursues and enters into the story of people who are broken and who have been bruised by the effects of sin - the sinners and the tax collectors and the prostitutes and men like we see in Mark chapter 5. You can never be too bad for Jesus.

  1. Jesus’ Power Transforms

Secondly, Jesus’ power transforms. And so Jesus asks this man his name and he says, “My name is Legion.” And that was a technical term. In the Roman army, a legion consists of 6,000 soldiers. And so commentators and scholars say that this man was possessed by many demons, something like 6,000 demons. And notice again, just like with the storm, there’s no rolling up the sleeves. Jesus simply speaks a word and all of these demons come out of this man. And look at the result! Look at verse 15; I want to stay there for a second. The man’s completely transformed! He’s completely restored! It says that he’s sitting there, “clothed and in his right mind.” I love Luke’s account of this passage in chapter 8 verse 35. Luke makes the point to tell us that he was “sitting at Jesus’ feet.” Okay, so think about the picture. You’ve got this man who’s wild, who’s going crazy, screaming, chains, bleeding, naked, and now we see that he’s calm, in complete control, in his right mind, no longer against Jesus but actually in communion with Jesus. Jesus comes into this man’s life and completely restores him and makes him human again. That’s what Jesus wants to do in your life. Jesus comes into our lives and brings peace and calmness and wholeness and brings us back to our right mind and restores our sanity.

The movie, Slumdog Millionaire, came out in 2008. This is a major spoiler alert, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s been out too long! So, here’s a snapshot! Basically, the movie is about Jamal and Latika and they are orphans growing up in Mumbai, India. And of course it’s a love story, as most movies are, and they fall in love and the movie really traces their stories and the times that they get separated and they lose touch with one another and it really brings out their heartache and their pain and the scars of their lives, not only metaphorically but also physical scars. Latika, at one point in the movie, someone takes a knife and puts a huge cut down her cheek, and so she has this visible scar always on her face to remind her of the pain and brokenness of her life. And at the end of the movie, if you’ve seen the movie, you know they’re at a train station and Jamal and Latika are reunited and they’re there and the camera zooms in and Jamal grabs Latika and you think, “Here it is! He’s going in for the kiss.” And instead of kissing her on the lips, he takes his lips and he presses them to the scar on her cheek and immediately the entire movie begins to play in reverse. You see what’s happening, don’t you? The kiss of true love met her at her very point of brokenness, and it began to reverse and restore all of the painful things in her life and it had the power to actually reweave and rewrite her story.

That’s what we see in this passage! Jesus comes to this man and in His grace and mercy and love, He meets this man in His power at this man’s very point of his brokenness and pain and He undoes the way that sin has wrecked his life. He undoes the pain and the brokenness. He restores him! Isn’t that what we all want this morning? Isn’t that what you want? To undo your brokenness and to rewrite your story? I don’t know your story, but I know in a room this size there are lots of stories. What if Jesus can rewrite your story? Who have you given up on? Who have you quit praying for? Maybe a spouse, a child, a friend, or a parent. If this passage teaches us anything, it teaches us, “Don’t give up,” because Mark comes and says, “If Jesus can rewrite this man’s story, then He can rewrite anyone’s story, no matter how painful it might be.”

  1. Jesus’ Power Brings Value and Dignity

Thirdly, Jesus’ power brings value and dignity. Notice the crowd’s response! I’d never noticed this before. Sinclair Ferguson brought this out for me. But you think about the story and you think about this man and who he was, you would think that a man that was wreaking that kind of havoc on this community, for him to be restored that there actually might be a celebration, that people might want to celebrate and throw a party that the fact that this man had been healed and restored. No, that’s not what happens if you look at the passage. They’re not happy about it. In fact, they are upset at Jesus and what has transpired here. Look at verse 17. It says, okay once they had heard the story and what had happened, “they begged Jesus to leave.” Why would they beg Jesus to leave? Well think about it! This man was possessed by demons, Jesus cast them out and puts these demons in the pigs, and 2,000 pigs run straight off a cliff to their death. Why is that important? Well remember the story. This is Gentile territory. Jews did not eat pork. Translation - this is a pig farm; pigs meant what? Dollars! They meant money. And essentially, they see Jesus as killing 2,000 livestock and wreaking havoc on them economically. That’s why they’re upset. That’s why they want Jesus to leave.

But underneath all of that, here’s what we see - Legion wasn’t worth it to them. They didn’t care about him at all; he had no dignity. And to restore him was immensely costly to them and he was not worth it. He was not worth the time, the money, and the resources. They had completely written him off. But guess what? Jesus comes and says, “Legion, he’s worth it. He’s worth it.” Yes, it was costly to restore him, but to ultimately save and restore Legion, ultimately, it would cost way more than 2,000 pigs, wouldn’t it? You see, it would cost Jesus His life. As we keep reading in the gospel of Mark, what do we see? Well think about it! We see that, like Legion, Jesus is naked and shouting incomprehensible things from a cross. Like Legion, Jesus is abandoned and lonely. His friends have deserted Him, and not only His friends, His own Father deserted Him. Like Legion, Jesus ends up outside the city among the tombs. Like Legion, Jesus gets cut open and is bleeding.

Why is that important? Why is that so important? Well it’s important because the only way to reverse the effects of sin and evil and death and to make you and this man fully human again is for someone to take your place. It’s for Jesus to become your substitute. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. He becomes your substitute and He lives the life that you and I should have lived and dies the death that we deserved and on the cross He takes the full wrath of His Father. Why? So that you can be restored and so that you can be made right and made whole again. Friends, Jesus is saying here that broken, sinful, evil people are worth it. They’re worth it to Him. And I want you to walk away this morning with this - you are worth it. You matter to Jesus!

Paige Brown, her father is Wilson Benton. He is a longtime pastor in the PCA. She was visiting her brother in Augusta, Georgia one weekend and it was a Sunday and they went to church and when she goes to the service there was a baptism. There were four adopted boys from Russia being baptized that morning. Paige, being friendly, walks up to the couple and particulary to the mom and says, “Wow! Four boys! What were you thinking?” And the mom was like, “Yeah, right! It is pretty crazy, but there were really only supposed to be three.” She said, “We had all the paperwork done and the background checks and we were all ready to go and we flew over there and we went to get our three boys and the five year old says, ‘I’m not leaving without him. I’m not leaving without my bed-buddy.’ And all the caretakers are trying to talk him into it saying, ‘No, no, no! You’ve got to go. This is what you’ve dreamed of! This is what everyone wants! Go, you’ve got a family who loves you!’ And the boy refused and said, ‘No, I am not leaving without him!’ And so,” the mom says, “we came home with four. Four boys.”

I love that story and I love that story because it reminds me of the Gospel. And you can just picture Jesus grabbing you by the hand and looking at the Father and saying, “I’m not leaving without them. I’m not leaving without My people.” You know, oftentimes when we think about the cross we think Jesus went begrudgingly. No, Jesus did it with great joy. Why? Because you are the person that He could not leave without. Amen. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for this story. Thank You for the details and how vivid it is. And I pray that You would help us through Your spirit to understand how sin threatens to undo us and to dehumanize us. Would You help us to see, also at the very same time, that Jesus comes to restore us and to cover our shame with His righteousness? And lastly, Father, I pray that like this man we would go out of this place and go home to our friends and to our families and to our neighbors not with a message of, “Look at me! Look at how good I am! Look all that I’ve done and how hard I’ve worked!” but we would leave here with a message of amazing grace, a message of mercy and love and grace. Father, we were once lost and You found us and You changed us and for that we are deeply thankful. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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