Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:14-20 Away From Jesus Or With Him?

Mark 5:14-20 “Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man – and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”

In February 1932 a young minister stood in a pulpit in South Wales and read this very passage to his congregation. It was the fifth anniversary of his coming to the church. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones had begun his adult life as a London doctor with the prospect of a glittering career in the medical profession. Or if he had chosen to go into politics there is little doubt that the very highest offices in the land, even, I believe, that of the prime minister, could have been his. He had a brilliant mind and had already amassed a string of medical qualifications. He had become the chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, the king’s physician, but then something remarkable happened. This same Lord Jesus, the Son of God, of whom we have read here, who had dealt with this man in Gerasa 1900 years ago had been dealing with young Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He had found peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he had been spared the destruction of personality that Legion had suffered yet he had known a titanic struggle in deciding whether or not he should bid farewell to that whole London scene and become a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So there Martyn Lloyd-Jones stood, 33 years of age, in the pulpit of the Forward Movement Hall in Sandfields, Aberavon, that February evening, and he read the words you have just heard to the packed congregation, “Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him” (vv. 17&18). Dr Lloyd-Jones began, “I call your attention to these two verses this evening because, between them, they seem to me to sum up the whole of mankind, and indicate the only two possible divisions or categories into which mankind can be divided. We all, finally, belong to the one or the other of these groups. We desire either to get rid of Christ or else to be with him and give ourselves entirely to him. There is in reality no other possibility. We are either for or against. But, such is the deceitfulness of our human nature, we are always trying to avoid that fundamental division, and ever trying to persuade ourselves that there are other innumerable and closely related categories. We have a feeling that this clear-cut cleavage here revealed between the attitude of the Gadarene people in general and this man in particular, is extreme, and therefore does not fit the average case. We read that these people ‘began to plead with Jesus to leave their region’, and we tend to take shelter behind these strong terms. They almost suggest violence to us and we feel that whatever our attitude may or may not be, we have at very worst never pleaded with Christ to depart from us. And yet, the whole teaching of the gospel is that eventually we are in one or the other of the two groups.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Evangelistic Sermons”, Banner of Truth, 1983, p.103).

You will remember from Mark 5 what has occurred, that this incident had taken place in a Gentile area called Decapolis on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, an area overlooked by what today we call the Golan Heights. It was a poor area where there was considerable ignorance of the Scriptures and hostility to the Lord God of Israel. The people were pig farming for their own survival and also for the occupying Roman garrisons. You couldn’t imagine the sons of Abraham tending swine! There in their midst one man had given himself so thoroughly to a life of depravity that the Devil and his hosts had got him and taken up their dwelling place in him. He was wild; he had unbelievable strength, stronger than the strongest man in the world – he could snap iron chains; he was driven out of ordinary human society; he lived naked amongst the tombs of the community burial ground shrieking out night and day. This man came running towards our Lord and shouting at him when he arrived off the boat in Decapolis, but our Lord was wonderfully loving to him, and delivered him from his condition. Jesus drove out those demons with a command, permitting them to enter a herd of 2,000 pigs which promptly ran down a steep place into the lake where they drowned. The pig herders, I suppose many of them would have been boys, ran off and reported these events both in the town and countryside to tell their masters about the loss of the swine and to exonerate themselves from any responsibility for the deaths of every single pig. Immediately the people flocked to the place to witness this calamity. That is the background to our text. What we have first of all is the reaction of the people to this incident. Let us ask a number of questions:

1. WHAT DID THE PEOPLE SEE?

Their eyes were trained on two scenes. Firstly there was the lake and floating on its surface the bodies of 2,000 pigs, food for the fishes. It was just as the boys had reported the catastrophe to them, every one of their animals was dead. It was utterly calamitous for them; it would mean a great change in the future, to start all over again, and buy whatever pigs they could afford, and start the breeding. The herdsmen were facing redundancy, and there would have to be some belt-tightening in every family. The Romans would look elsewhere for their meat. New patterns of trade would open up, by-passing them. The future would not be good for this community whose whole life revolved around the pig business. Yet there was this One in their very midst whom God had sent into the world not to condemn it, but that the world through him might be saved. He is the one who promises to supply all the needs of those who become his people. “Don’t look at the pigs, people of Decapolis, look to Jesus Christ!

But it is to the second scene that Mark draws our attention to the place the people came together after a glance at their floating swine. Mark tells us, “Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man” (v.16). They didn’t have to search far for him; they met him with Jesus. Legion was barely recognisable. He was dressed. The fires of evil that burned in his face had been extinguished. He was no longer restless and shouting. Mark tells us that he was “sitting there, dressed and in his right mind” (v.15). Mark doesn’t tell us that he was talking to Jesus, or that he was in prayer, or that he was repentant. He simply describes him as sitting there quietly with Jesus. You remember the great invitation of the Lord Christ, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden and I will give your rest.” That man had come to Christ, and he had found rest. Is there another description of a transformation in the whole New Testament as vivid as this? It is up there alongside the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road. The man was in his right mind.

What does that actually mean? At a very foundational level it certainly means you don’t live for the pigs any longer. Only then you are in your right mind. The Lord told the story of the prodigal son, the boy who ended up penniless looking after the pigs far from home, even sharing with the pigs in their food. Then he came to himself. What happened to him? He came to his right mind about himself and the whole folly of what he had done. That was the beginning of the end of his slavery to sin. That, I say, is your own greatest need. That will put you in your right mind. It means your blindness will have ended. It means you are living for God and you are happy to be in the presence of Jesus Christ. That is what it means to be in your right mind.

Have you considered the impact that a change of life makes on those who see it? It doesn’t seem to me that it’s the suddenness of the change that is crucial, indeed the parable of the sower warns us that sudden joy can be non-saving joy, but that a profound change has obviously taken place – in values, and conduct, and language, and Sundays, and aspirations, and family life, and seriousness in truth, for righteousness and for love, and that all that, an enduring change – that is what the Bible means by conversion. Here was a man who had once lived in demonic despair but now was content to be quiet in the presence of Jesus Christ. What an impact on those who knew him.

Some years ago a young man in Massachusetts named William was converted through reading a tract. He began to attend a gospel church and after a time he applied for membership. The minister was very thorough and careful, so he went to the tin factory where William worked and he talked to the manager about this teenager as to whether he had any objections to his employee becoming a church member. The man looked at him silently for a time, and then he said, “Do you see that chain hanging there? That chain was specially made for William. I was obliged to chain him to the bench week by week to keep him at work. He was the worst boy I had in the whole factory. No rebuke or punishment seemed to affect him. I couldn’t trust him out of my sight.” He paused: “But now sir,” he said, pausing, “. . . he is completely changed. He is one of my best apprentices. I would trust him with my gold! I have no objection at all to you receiving him into the church.” That metamorphosis had taken place whose only explanation was the mighty grace of God.

That is something, the Lord Jesus tells us, that makes the very angels in heaven rejoice. You know how powerful an angel is. All the firstborn of Egypt were destroyed when an angel passed over the land. Now think of so great a being as that angel rejoicing. Think of an innumerable company of mighty angels stretching out across the heavens as far as the eye can see into the far distance in every direction, and they are all rejoicing! What a sight! What exultant joy filling all heaven, and why? Because of this change in Legion, or the transformation of a teenage boy called William, or the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, or of you! That is what they saw.

2. HOW DID THE PEOPLE REACT?

Firstly, there was an emotional response. We are so afraid of emotions in religion. “It was emotional,” we say about a sermon, as though we can dismiss great truth and mighty fact because it creates an emotion in our hearts! What was this emotion? “They were afraid,” (v.15) we are told. The bodies of their pigs mutely floating in the sea, and on the shore this transformed man was silently sitting with Jesus, and as they took in the whole scene a fear fell on them. That fear had a number of strands:

i] Firstly it was an awe of the divine, a numinous awareness of the God who is a Spirit, infinite and unchangeable. Dr Lloyd-Jones says, “It was the fear of the eternal and the almighty – the fear of the power of Christ. It was mainly superstitious and yet there was that in it which belongs essentially to true religion . . . sometimes it can be a very important factor in this question of conversion. A man is being dealt with and is in the actual process. But he holds back because of this sense of fear. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but there is a vague sense of fear of the infinite and of the unknown. And the devil is well aware of this and encourages it, and he tries to persuade his victim that this power is harmful, that he is losing himself, and he may well lose control of his reason and of his senses. So he advises the would-be convert to hold back and hold out and not give himself up in this way to another power. And in sheer terror and fright, without knowing or understanding exactly what they are doing, many do hold back. It is a new experience and they do not quite understand it.

“What have I to say to all this? Simply this. Do not listen to the devil! The power, though great and eternal and beyond understanding, is nevertheless the power of God, the manifestation of eternal love. Unfathomable power! Yes! But the power that quells the storm and restores order out of chaos. It is almighty. But it is also good. Let not the power frighten you. It is the power of God!” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, op cit, p.109). Think of the incident in the Narnia chronicles of C.S.Lewis when Lucy discovers that Aslan the king of Narnia is a lion. “Is he safe?” she asks quavering. “Safe?” one says, scornfully, “Safe? No. But he is good.”

ii] But there was another strand to this fear and it came from their own sense of guilt at their own shabby and shameful lives. They looked at those two men sitting there. One they had never seen before, but the other – they had not seen like this before, clothed and in his right mind, at least not for many years. He was the man Legion whom they’d hated, cursed, manacled, chained and driven out of their midst with stones and dogs. This is the man they wanted to see dead. Here he is calmly looking at them, recognising cousins and neighbours, glancing at the men who’d hit and spat at him. Sins were being brought before them one by one, walking unwelcomed into their lives: sins they thought they had forgotten. They felt ashamed, horrified. As they stood there, Jesus said nothing at all, and Legion was silent, but their own consciences clamoured away.

The state of being under conviction is not only uncomfortable but alarming and awe-inspiring. Remember how the crowd who had so confidently come to get on with stoning a women to death for adultery were stopped when Jesus said to them, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” and then he wrote on the ground and said no more. One by one, starting with the oldest, they left Jesus and the woman. Under conviction of their own degraded lives they felt wretched and miserable, and the impulse is always to avoid what disturbs us, to choose a church where we will not be convicted of our sin, where we will find our prejudices rearranged and reassurance given us that all is well. Human nature will do its best to wriggle out of it, and avoid it, and try to get rid of it. What a tragedy! This is the work of God. When God the Holy Spirit begins to work in our lives he tells us what’s wrong and starts to put us right. This is a prelude to forgiveness and eternal life. Thank God for it. These feelings are the beginnings of reality asserting itself in our lives.

iii] Another strand to this fear was the presence of Jesus Christ. Who can this man be who, if he merely wills to do so, can drive a legion of demons into a herd of swine? Who is he before whom devils fear and fly? When a disciple like Peter sees the mighty power of the Lord Jesus a disciple falls at his feet, crying “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8). How much more will the people of this unclean land of Decapolis fear him? “Beauty always exposes ugliness, spotless perfection unmasks a sham; nothing reveals to us our emptiness and woe so much as . . . the life of our blessed Lord himself. Standing in the presence of this amazing person who’s just performed such a wonderful deed, seeing and observing his meekness and his calmness, his unaffected manner and his quiet confidence, catching perhaps a glimpse of something superhuman in his eyes, they just felt themselves to be vile and contemptible. He seemed to be opening up the very recesses of their hearts. He seemed to read them as an open book. As he had cast the devils out of that man and into the swine, so he seemed to be able to look through them to divine their deepest thoughts. What might he do or not do? They just felt themselves withering in his presence. If he did not go soon they might all be unmasked in the presence of everyone and all their sins revealed, and they were afraid of it. Afraid of themselves, afraid of their guilt and afraid of the judgment that was to come!” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones op cit, p.110).

iv] Another strand to this fear was an awareness of the future. Life must go on. Yes, but where? What lies before us? Old age? Perhaps we might attain it, and then what? The grave. And then what? God! An encounter with the living God! He was a God they’d ignored from the beginning of one year to its end, as one decade followed another, silencing their consciences, turning away from a sunset touch. “How could God at such an unannounced and inopportune time perforate our lives in this way, transforming this man, and killing our pigs? God shouldn’t act like that. God is there to give us what we ask for, and then at the end he forgives us for our entire lives and we go to heaven.” But, then, this had happened. Jehovah Jesus had done this to the pigs, and transformed this demoniac, and what would he do to them? He could do anything he wanted, and no one could stop him. He was in charge, not they in charge. He would rule them, and direct their lives, and appoint the day of their deaths and then would judge them. He would allocate to each one of them their eternal destinies. They were afraid. If they turned to him they thought that it would simply mean the end of everything they liked and enjoyed. All their sinning would have to end. It would be the end of the ‘good times’; they would lose their ‘freedom’; they would be just like slaves.

Isn’t that how many of us think or used to think? “We see ourselves being changed, having to give up certain things for ever, our lives being entirely revolutionised, parting with old friends, everything we like probably having to go and much we dislike coming in. We see it all in a flash. There is probably many a person here today who in a sense is prepared to accept the gospel in general, but when he sees what it means in particular and implies certain things he holds back. Absolute surrender to Christ! There it is . . . he has almost done it . . . but . . . to say ‘farewell’ for ever to certain things – his precious idols? No way. He cannot do it . . . these people saw the cost and they were afraid. But they were only seeing one half of the gospel!” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, op cit, pp.111&112). So that is the explanation for their emotional state.

Secondly there was the verbal response, what they actually said to Jesus: “Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region” (v.17). The loving Lord Jesus came to their community, displayed his mighty power, did a miracle (that the proponents of ‘power evangelism’ say is what we need), and Christ also saved a man there, and what was the response of all the people? “Please go! Please, please go! Wont you get back on your boat and go back home to Galilee, and don’t disturb us again. We don’t want you here a moment longer. We plead with you to go. Go now . . . please go away!” That is not supposed to happen. Everybody is alleged to be so hungry for Jesus, and if only we talk about Jesus, and people feel the power of Jesus, and meet people saved and changed by Jesus then they would all be falling over themselves to know Jesus too. That is what we are told, and if only we folk would ‘share’ Jesus with people they’d all embrace him. But that is not what we see here. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself comes to their community of Decapolis and he transforms a man whom they have failed utterly to help. He is clothed and in his right mind, but when they see the Lord and see the man they can’t wait for Jesus to get back on his boat and sail away and never come back. Let him and his salvation disappear from their town.

That is precisely the way the world would treat his servants as they take the gospel to Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. They stoned Stephen to death; they didn’t say to him, “Preach us another Christ-centred sermon.” And often when Paul told them of this great Saviour there was a riot, and they stoned him and they left him for dead, or they whipped him, or beat him with rods. They didn’t say, “This is the Saviour from sin and the Lord of glory that we need.” It wasn’t because they were intellectuals that they rejected him. They thought the world was flat, and that the sun went round the earth, and that there were dragons and unicorns, and the moon could answer prayer, but they hated the truth when they heard it, and they wanted the apostles in a prison or on a cross. And that is exactly where the gospel church is in much of the world today, and that is why many faithful gospel preachers have been pushed out of their churches, and pulpits, and salaries, and manses, and it is all allegedly for wonderful devout and theological and caring reasons, but the truth in so many cases is that it is not this Christ of the Bible that people want.

Why did the people of Decapolis behave like that? They really had the Lord Jesus in their midst, and they also had the fruit of his saving work, this man wonderfully changed sitting before their eyes, but what was wrong was this, they were not in their right minds. So it is today: men are serving sin with their minds. They are at enmity against God. The devil has blinded their minds, and they cannot want Christ unless God draws them to him. They have hearts of stone and they love darkness rather than light. That is why they didn’t want Christ to stay for one more minute longer: “Get out of town, Jesus, and go back where you belong and don’t bother us again.” It is always so inconvenient to turn from your sins to Jesus Christ. The cross we have to pick up to follow him is always heavy, and it doesn’t have little wheels at the back to pull along behind us, and it’s got splinters. Unless we love the Lord Jesus more than father and mother and husband and wife and parents and children we cannot be one of his disciples. Who wants such a totalitarian Lord? “Give us a break! We want our freedom, and we want our sins more than we want this Jesus to rule over us. Leave town, or if this is your message we will leave the church.” You hear it and see it everywhere. How did these people respond to the great Deliverer? In the silence of fear and in beseeching him to get going.

3. WHAT DID THE PEOPLE FAIL TO SEE?

Two things: the first thing they failed to see was the reality of the devil. There was just one man in his right mind in all of Decapolis, and that was Legion. It was unbelievable, that he could be the sober one and all the rest weren’t. Who could believe that? But you remember the words of Peter: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (I Peter 5:8). Are you a watchful and sober man? If you are in your right mind you take very seriously the existence of the devil. But these Gerasenes didn’t believe that they could possibly be under the power of the god of this world, that he had blinded their minds. Only fanatics could possibly believe that sort of stuff. They thought they could see, and so they didn’t need Jesus Christ.

Dr Joel Nederhood and I once shared a conference together. He described how he’d been sitting with a man in a coffee shop just off the campus of a prestigious college. The man worked there as a student counsellor, and he helped them with spiritual problems too. He told Joel about a student called Mary and her brief struggle with demons. This is what the man had said: “Mary came to me because she couldn’t concentrate and was developing a weird detachment from reality that unnerved her. As I talked with her, it gradually came out that over a period of time she had developed a relationship with a familiar spirit, with a demon. She described the relationship and told how at first it had given her a sense of unusual power. But later the demon had begun to torment her unmercifully.”

He looked at Joel steadily to see if he was taking him seriously. He was. The counsellor continued. “I finally discovered that her attachment to this demon had begun when she’d acquired an elaborate fetish which was associated with the religion of a pagan tribe. Mary had it hidden in her room. Somehow it was this object that was associated with the demon, and it exerted a strange power over the girl.”

As the conversation continued, he told Joel how she’d come into his office one morning after a long and tortured night of wrestling with demonic influences. Her skin was clammy and her eyes wild. Occasionally she would slip into a catatonic state. She was emotionally and physically exhausted. It was then that she decided that she had to be freed from the power that was ruining her.

He told Joel then how he and she made plans to destroy her fetish. They called together a group of concerned friends. Together they talked about the Christian religion and demons, and about the way the power of Jesus can destroy the work of the devil. There was prayer. Finally the fetish was brought out. It was dismantled and demolished, a nd they humbly asked the Lord to save and keep her from “the pestilence that walks in darkness” and the girl was freed. Today there’s a fragility concerning that whole area of her life, but the grip of the demon that tormented her has been broken, and he is probably working elsewhere right now.

Dr Nederhood concluded, “Not very long ago, an episode like this would have been received with undisguised disbelief, and I probably would have reacted with an inner suspicion that both the girl and the counsellor who’d helped her, along with the friends who had gathered for the final destruction of the demon’s power, were a bit daft and addled. I would have been quite sure that a competent psychiatrist would have been able to diagnose their illness with some precision. But today, it is different.” Christians take Mark’s accounts of deliverance from demons seriously, and there are non-Christians too who are respectful of our convictions as they see the spreading tide of the occult and the casualties in its train. Demons are as alive and active as Islamic terrorists, but far more deadly. The people in Decapolis didn’t see it. They would rather have had Legion as he was, than what he’d become. They’d rather have had their pigs alive and Legion destroyed than Legion with abundant life and the pigs dead. They were dominated by the god of this world. Are there some ‘pigs’ which you treasure so much they are keeping you from the Lord of glory? What does it profit a man if he gain a million pigs and loses his own soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Secondly, the people of Gerasa didn’t see the costliness to Christ of the salvation of men like Legion. To save him was going to cost our Lord his life. Follow the path that went from the land of the Gadarenes over the lake to Galilee, to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to Gethsemane, to Pilate’s hall, and see him ascending the hill of Calvary. Our Lord Jesus was the only man always to have been in his right mind, and he was that as our representative man. He bore our nature and he became so identified with us that everything which he did wasn’t only for our sakes, but it was exactly as if we’d done it ourselves. In him we strove with sin, the devil and death. He utterly defeated them and destroyed their power. His victory was for us. It was really our victory. When he lived that holy life it was for us he was keeping the law of God. When he stood and suffered the judgment that sinning deserves, it was for us. When the demons possessed him on Golgotha, it was for us. He had laid a trap for them. His choice of weakness had lured them all out of hell and brought their demonic hatred upon him. He sucked them all in, having emptied hell, and when he’d got them there he destroyed their power and secured their doom for our sakes. When he arose and was accepted with joy into the presence of God, honoured and exalted to God’s right hand, all that was for us. When he sat down at his Father’s right hand side we too sit there in him in the heavenlies. The gospel doesn’t proclaim the good things God intends to do for us in heaven, but it proclaims the good things which God has done for us in Christ. Entirely outside of ourselves he has accomplished our liberation. We have been delivered from the power of Satan and sin in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are affirming this, that the only way a man can be perfectly sure he is saved is this: he must be persuaded that when Christ hung on the cross he hung there to save all the hosts of people he loved, so personally and individually and definitely that a Christian is enabled to say, “He loved me and gave himself for me.” The message of deliverance from Satan is so joyful in the Bible because it proclaims that when Christ died, he died effectually to redeem from sin’s condemnation, and deliver from Satan every one of his people, an immense company like the sands on the seashore. The work of redemption was not stored away somewhere in a vault while God waited to see how many they might be who’d take advantage of it, and who might make use of it – if any! Never! Christ died to accomplish the deliverance of specific people who belonged to him. One of them was beloved Legion, and there were billions just like him. The certainty of their salvation is rooted in the powerful accomplishment of Christ’s redeeming work. The Lord Jesus actually conquered those principalities and powers, triumphing over them there on the cross. In his triumph is theirs, and he gives the fruit of his victory by the coming of his Almighty Spirit to every one of his people.

But the people of Gerasa didn’t see this. All they saw in Jesus was a powerful exorcist, and nothing more. “Go away Jesus. Please go away and don’t trouble us again!”

4. HOW DID LEGION REACT?

He longed to stay with Jesus. “As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him” (v.18). So we have arrived at the point where we started, with the two responses to Christ, the multitudes of the broad road not wanting him to interfere in their lives, and one figure on the narrow way wanting to be close to him always. Words couldn’t describe this man’s gratitude to our Lord. How can any give a mere word of thanks for so immense a deliverance? Rather it is “Let me become your disciple. Let me stay with you and serve you from this day forth.” Oh the blessed release! Oh the happiness, the peace, the joy! “What shall I render to the Lord? What can I do? Say the word, and if I can do it then it will be done. Doesn’t Jesus deserve this? Doesn’t Jesus deserve everything – my life, my soul, my all? Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. I give myself away to you. Make me your slave. I care not how humble the task might be as long as I am near you. Don’t let me stay here a moment longer. I can’t bear to see you sailing off out of my life.” That was the spirit of this new disciple.

So it has been ever since. No one who has felt the wretchedness of sin and the greatness of Christ’s deliverance hasn’t begun to love the Lord in return adoring the Lamb. Such a sinner’s worst nightmare would be the loss of Jesus. “Less than Jesus would never satisfy me again, and more is not desired, for more than all in him I find. Can I hear too much about him? Can I grow tired of such a person? Can there be any place more wonderful than in his presence? ‘More of Thyself O grant me hour by hour!'” Have you felt that? Has deliverance from sin and Satan created longing for Christ and his redemption? What culture, and education, and friends, and family, and money, and health could never do Christ will do. He will give you a knowledge of the living God. He will give you deliverance from sin and condemnation. Cry to him that this might be given to you! Cry today, and don’t stop until you know he has given it to you.

This man ached that this fellowship, sitting quietly in the presence of Jesus, might never end. Words couldn’t describe his peace. “Jesus, don’t go!” he cries, “or if you must, take me with you!” Did he fear the return of the demons? Did he see the hostility on the faces of his fellow citizens? How could he stay there with all those wretched memories? With Christ he would be happy. With Christ he would be safe. So he begged to go with him. What a sensible and rational request. How spiritual! What a fine indication of a new heart. How honouring to the Lord Jesus. It came from a spirit of trust and love and faith. Surely if you pray like that you can ‘claim’ the answer? Can’t you guarantee that Jesus will say yes?

What did the Lord Jesus do? He said no. He didn’t permit him to accompany him on the ship: he said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v.19). There was some natural misunderstanding in this new convert; he thought the physical presence of Christ would keep him. But Judas was in the presence of our Lord for three years and he went to hell. Dr Lloyd-Jones said, “A new convert sent straight back to his old haunts alone? Yes, it was quite safe! It was Christ that sent him. And when Christ so sends, he accompanies! Christ will never put us where his grace can’t keep us. That was true in the days of his flesh, it is still more so now and since he sent the Holy Spirit. Trust him! Obey him! Do all he tells you, and he will be with you. ‘He will never leave you nor forsake you.’ You will still be tempted and tried, at times even fiercely, but like all the saints you will be able to say,

“Temptations lose their power
When Thou art nigh.”

“You may fall, but you will never be ‘utterly cast down’ (Psa. 37:24). There will be trials and tribulations, but he will bring you through all ‘more than conqueror.’ (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, op cit, pp. 115&116).

There is this same great insistence in the writings of the apostle Paul as he writes to the church at Corinth that “each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (I Cor. 7:20). Paul insists on it. These people were bowled over by new life in Christ. The Christian slaves were running away from their masters and preaching the gospel all over the place. Christian wives were restless in the duties of their homes so that their unbelieving husbands were growingly opposed to the faith, while men were giving up their vocations and becoming itinerant preachers leaving their families without any support. Paul reminds them of their responsibility to God: “Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to” (I Cor. 7:24).

So it was in Gerasa where this man wants to leave his family and neighbours and disappear off the face of the earth with Jesus. What does the Saviour do? Does he comply with his request. It this his way, to meet a man, convert him, and then takes him off so that no one who knew him ever sees him again? “Go home,” says Jesus. “Talk to your family,” says Jesus. “Tell them about the Lord and what he’s done for you, that he’s shown you mercy,” What did the man do? He accepted it, waved Christ good-bye and went home. We are told, “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed” (v.20). There is a fascinating postscript which we read of two chapters later; in Mark 7 we are told that Christ returned to Decapolis and some people bring him a man who is deaf and almost completely dumb. They brought him to Jesus because they believed he could deliver him. Were these people the fruit of Legion’s evangelism?

How important not to neglect the relationships of home and the duties of life and the patterns of each day and week in the name of Christ. Once a man came to Ichabod Spencer and told him that he believed he would never become a true Christian unless he gave up work and went off by himself in a cabin for some weeks with his Bible. There he could give himself totally to seek for God. Dr Spencer firmly opposed the idea. He told him that this would do him no good, that his duty was to work: “Six days shalt thou labour.” But he could not change the man. He quit his work and his home going to live in a cabin shutting himself up with his Bible. At the end of the first week he had made no progress. He would come to church for meetings and then go back to the cabin. At the end of three weeks he found that almost all his religious impressions had gone. He gave up the cabin, moved back to his home and his job and he told Ichabod Spencer, “I found my own heart was the worst companion I could have. If I cannot come to repentance in the workshop, I am sure I never can alone. If I had stayed there much longer, I should have cared nothing about religion.” After four weeks he had some hope in the mercy of God in Christ and he joined the church, a happy Christian (cp. Ichabod Spencer, “A Pastor’s Sketches,” Solid Ground Christian Books, Vestavia Hills, AL 35266, pp. 67&68). Go home! said Jesus. If you cannot be a Christian at home then you can be a Christian nowhere.

We have a converted student here who is considering Christian work in south-east Asia. She came to know the Lord during her years in college, the only member of her family to show any interest in Christian things. She has gone straight home to spend the summer with them before working for a year with OMF in personal evangelism amongst Chinese people in England. She realises how radical to her family in her new interest in ‘religion’ and that they are saying things like, “We are glad that she is interested in the church, just as long as she doesn’t get fanatical.” So these summer months are her time to live under the same roof as them, and be a loving daughter, and build up trust. She is showing them that she loves them and they mean so much to her. It will earn her the privilege of talking to them in the years to come about the ways Christ can help them.

So here in Decapolis are two groups, one on the broad road and one on the narrow. They both asked Jesus for something, but he refused the request of the man who trusted him, and he granted the request of the people who rejected him. If Christ refuses us our longings then it is because he has something better for us. But let those who reject Christ, but are getting material blessings, health and wealth and a good life, take note. That is no sign that all is well between you and the Lord. If you have told Christ to back off and trouble you no more then he will give you what you want, for ever and ever. Your duty is get a right mind through the grace of Christ, and give him no peace until you know you have it.

The same two parties are here in our congregation, those who are content without Jesus Christ and are thus on the road to perdition, and those who are content with his will whether it means the lonely path of serving him somewhere where nobody else knows him, or in the midst of the community of the faithful. Even so Father, for so it seems good in they sight.

15 June 2003 GEOFF THOMAS