LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 8 December 2019
Sermon Text: Mark 5:17-18
I. Away from Jesus or with Him
II. Why do people stay away from Jesus?
III. Why does a Christian desire to be with Jesus?
In this passage of Mk. 5, we’ve just read a strange move of Jesus – I said ‘strange’ because this act of Jesus seems unusual and exceptional. Let me share with you why I think it strangely exceptional. In Mk. 4, the Lord Jesus taught people and especially with some parables that were strongly related to the works of growing crops, such as the parables of the sower, of the seed growing and of the mustard seed. His message for them was about believing and the kingdom of God. We know that such was a usual work Jesus did – so, nothing’s unusual with that.
Having done that, He asked His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee to go to the other side which was the country of the Gerasenes – in other word, the eastern side of the Galilean Sea where the population was predominantly Greeks or Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. So far, it seems usual. When the disciples set a boat out into the sea, they met a storm – a big one. As you know, a good number of Jesus’ disciples had been fishermen, but that storm troubled them all and survival became a great concern of them all. Yet, the Lord was asleep in the stern, that’s the rear part of a boat. This wouldn’t surprise us (would it?) because we know that Jesus was asleep in at least a couple of similar occasions. So, it seems normal to our eyes.
Then, a strange and unusual thing followed and that’s the beginning of Mk. 5. He arrived at the region of the Gerasenes. Immediately, as He put His feet on the ground, a mad man, a demon-possessed man ran to Him and bowed down to Him. To cut a long story short, Jesus healed him by driving out the unclean spirits who introduced themselves as Legion. The evil spirits entered the pigs nearby and caused all of them to drown. The herdsmen went and reported it to the people of that region; they came to the spot, found Jesus and the man, once mad but now sane, and the pigs dead in the water. Hmm, that seems unusual, doesn’t it? I don’t think I’ve read any story similar to this in the gospels. So, it’s definitely unusual.
But, that was not all. After this, the people of Gerasa ‘begged’ Jesus to depart, leave their region. Other English translations render their act of ‘begging’ as ‘imploring,’ ‘praying’ or ‘pleading.’ In a word, it draws a vivid picture of the people of that area begging Jesus to just go and leave immediately! Hmm, this is a bit strange, isn’t it? It’s not common to find in the four-fold gospels that a group of people begged Jesus to leave them. But still this is not the whole picture of Jesus’ ‘strange’ move. What follows completes this picture. That is, as Jesus was about to get into the boat, the man who once had been possessed by the unclean spirits begged Him, the Lord, to go with Him. Jesus disallowed him, but sent him to go home and tell everyone about what the Lord had done for him.
The culmination of Jesus’ unusually exceptional move is this that He left the region, crossed the Galilean Sea and came back to where He had been on the western side. He crossed the sea to the east, just landed on that region, but almost straight away hopped onto the boat and sailed back to the western side. Why? He only cleansed and saved one man on that side. Then, why did He want to go there in the first place? Isn’t it strange enough? I think this is almost unique in the whole accounts of the four-fold gospels. It’s an exceptionally unusual move. I guess at least one or two disciples of Jesus, being simply human being like any of us, might’ve been grumpy about all this move of their Master. Why then did the Lord want to go and cleansed this single man and come back?
Its answer is today’s message for us. Jesus visited that region and healed only one man in order to show us that, first of all, there are only two groups of people in this world – one is ‘away with Jesus’ and the other is ‘with Jesus.’ Those away with Jesus reject the Lord, beg Him to depart or do all to get rid of Him from their lives, while the others who are with Jesus beg the Lord to go with Him. It’s a simple picture Jesus shows us through this unusual story of the Gerasenes and the man recovered from his awful status. In addition to this, Jesus shows us that we must understand people in this world according to the Lord’s view. This will lead us who trust in the Lord Jesus to know and grow in what we ought to live and do with these two groups.
It is a long but necessary introduction, and I want you to begin and consider the fact that there are only two groups of people in this world.
I. AWAY FROM JESUS OR WITH HIM
As I’ve mentioned, this is a ‘lens’ or ‘worldview’ through which we observe and apprehend the world and people. This is radically different from the world’s viewpoint. This world tells us that there are many diversities. ‘Not two people are the same,’ it says. And people agree because it seems right to their eyes. As people look around, there seem to be so many ‘kinds’ of people; all different in all sorts of categories. Many of us have followed this view and considered people accordingly. So we alongside all others recognise individuals according to their specific features and traits and group them in various categories. For example, we distinguish people’s possession and call some the rich and some others the poor and still some others the middle class and so on. We regroup the same people in different terms and conditions, and classify them as the intelligent, the uneducated, the blue colour, the white colour, imperialists, hippies, capitalists, Marxists, anarchists, environmentalists, scientists, Gen-X, Gen-Y, right-wing politicians, left-wing politicians, etc, etc – you name it. If you go with people’s ethnicity, that’s another list without an end. Considering all these categories, it seems right to people’s eyes to agree with the viewpoint of this world which says that there are as many groups and classes of people as the number of stars in the night sky. It’s an agreed viewpoint and our nation’s ‘multiculturalism’ is an example of this view in socio-political term.
We used to hold the same view. But having believed in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God the Father, our view has been changed and we now have another significant category for grouping people, that is, the faith in the Lord. So we now see that there are Christians and non-Christians in the world. This is the lens I talked about a minute ago. Now we know by faith in Jesus that there are two groups in the world. But this does not mean that all Christians have abandoned the world’s perspective and adopted only this classification by faith. Probably, many Christians still keep the world’s view alongside Christian’s view, grouping people by the existence and nonexistence of faith as well as various other features and traits of individuals.
But, our Lord’s message pinpointed in the story of Mk. 5, especially in vs. 17-18, is a radical departure from the world’s perspective only to take on Jesus’ way of recognising people – one is ‘away with Jesus’ and the other is ‘with Jesus.’ Only through understanding this can we grasp why the Lord said that He would identify our serving one of His least as serving Him. Let me read you His words from Mt. 25:35 and following, “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me. … Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.” Only through understanding that there are two groups, one away from Jesus and the other with the Lord can we truly see why the Bible keeps telling us that the Lord will, on the judgment day, separate people into two groups – ‘one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’
If anyone here still follows the world’s perspective despite his faith in Jesus, he should reconsider his perspective and submit to what the all-knowing and righteous Lord teaches. If anyone has a mixed view, knowing that there are Christians and non-Christians, yet, still following the world’s way of grouping people, that person grasps only a half of Jesus and His teaching, thus, follows the Lord only a half way, thus, enjoys only a half of the blessings of the Lord. In such a case, on the one hand, it’s hard for him/her to regard and treat all Christians equally as brothers and sisters in the Lord. On the other hand, a Christian who holds a mixed view cannot see the urgency for sharing Christ and inviting non-Christians to the Lord. He might see an unbeliever’s need for Christ, but because he also regards an unbeliever in a different way (the world’s view), he doesn’t feel the unbeliever’s urgent and desperate need of salvation.
That’s not the Christian’s way of regarding people. Instead, we Christians must follow Jesus’ way of recognising people, His way of grouping people. Truth is that Jesus crossed that troubled sea that day in Mk. 5 only to call that desperate soul back to Him and through Him to the Father! That trip wasn’t at all a waste of time – no! It was a precious and important move Christ made to save him, and through him, to invite many others in that region of the unbelievers. Our Lord teaches us this in this story of Mk. 5.
II. WHY DO PEOPLE STAY AWAY FROM JESUS?
Then, we have a question, that is, ‘why do people stay away from Jesus?’ For example, those people from Gerasa, why did they stay away from the Lord? Why did they beg Him to depart from their region? Why do people around us and in this world dislike Jesus and stay away from Him?
At least three reasons. Firstly, because they fear Jesus, knowing Him as the Son of God. This insight all people inherited at birth; they simply know as the demon-possessed man recognised Christ immediately because people in the darkness know who the Light of the world is and where the Light has come. The unbelievers might deny it, but it’s true. So, they are afraid of Him, the Lord. It might not sound convincing to some of you, but this is true as Jn. 1 testifies that people did not receive Jesus, their Creator, and Rom. 1 also describes people’s rejection as their suppression of the truth in their unrighteousness.
Secondly, people stay away from Jesus because they fear for their quilt, seeing that they stand before the righteous Judge, like the way the residents of Gerasa did and like Simon Peter said seeing Jesus first time – he fell and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Jesus’ presence does always reveal people’s guilt like a bright light exposes all blemishes. And people dislike their blemishes, their sham, their ugliness being exposed, so they fear Jesus and reject Him.
Just try to recollect your memories and consider that how many people have you seen who visited a church and, hearing God’s word preached, depart and never came back? They are threatened – in a sense – that their sham and ugliness might be exposed and unmasked before Jesus. So they disappear, rejecting Christ and His word and church altogether.
Thirdly, people are away from the Lord because they fear that the Lord would take control of their lives. This will sound weird and strange to all who have a believing heart, but this is in fact a dreadful fear for the unbelievers. They have been kings and queens – even gods – to themselves since their birth. They are enthroned in their lives, having a full and absolute control over their own lives – at least to their minds. So, they fear that Christ would and will take their thrones away from them. They know that He surely can. So they stay as far away as possible from Jesus.
What does it mean that they would lose their thrones to Jesus? It means people would no longer be able to wish whatever they wish to, no longer be able to do whatever they like to do, could no longer seek what their sinful nature desires. They could not get drunken, nor get lost in all kinds of lust, and they fear losing all their excitements in sin!
As Martin Lloyd-Jones pointed out once, it is always such ‘madness’ of man that rejects Christ.
III. WHY DOES A CHRISTIAN DESIRE TO BE WITH JESUS?
Why, then, is a believer, Christian, different – in fact, completely opposite – to others? Why does one who trusts in Jesus so desire to be with the Lord? We have a good example in our text passage, haven’t we? The man who once was possessed by the unclean spirits but now is sane. He begs Jesus, unlike his fellow countrymen, that he might be with the Lord. Why is this man so different from all others? He used to be one of them; moreover, he used to be the worst one among them who disliked and hated and rejected God and Christ.
Truth is, he is not the only one who so desires to be with Jesus, so are we who have met Jesus and put our trust in Him. We desire to be with the Lord Jesus! David of the OT describes this fervour well in Ps. 63, “Let me dwell in Your tent forever!” This is described in a great detail in Ps. 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” The man we have in Mk. 5 begged Jesus for this. I believe all true Christians have done and still do the same. And the question is, ‘Why do all who trust Jesus so desire to stay with Him?’
Because, firstly, we know the joy of salvation and want to have it always. Before we met Jesus, none could save us, like the case of this mad man of Mk. 5, but Christ did! He came to us and said, ‘Be clean!’ and we became clean indeed! No one knows how joyful this freedom is, except those who are freed in the grace of the Lord! And we desire to have this joy endlessly, thus, stay with the One who initiated this joy to flow from our hearts as rivers of living water.
Secondly, a believer desires to be with Jesus because he is anxious for persistence of his present blessed status in Jesus. In other words, he cannot trust himself but in Christ alone does he able to stand firm! So, all true Christians desire to be with the Lord Jesus. And we know exactly what this means.
Lastly, because a believer knows that Jesus’ power which has set him free can also keep him free from the enemy, he so desires. We know that our struggle and fight is against the evil, our enemy, Satan. We need the Lord’s strong and powerful protection, so we yearn for being with Christ, our strong Shepherd King. Lloyd-Jones commented on this and said, ‘The power of the enemy and our own weakness are always good reasons for being with Christ.’ How precise is his insight on the reasons for our need of Christ and our desire to be with Him!
Let me conclude by reemphasising two points we’ve heard so far. First, we must depart from the world’s viewpoint and see the world and recognise people around us in only two groups – one with the Lord and the other away from Him. No other conditions do we need, but this. So we love and serve our fellow members of God’s Church while we pray for and share Jesus and His free grace with all people in the world. In a word, we have only two kinds of people in the world; one to love and another to evangelise in order that we may love them too in Jesus. Hold this simple worldview Jesus taught us and enjoy its simple yet abundant blessing!
After all, this is our privileged task commissioned by our Lord, like the way He commissioned and sent the man of Mk. 5. He and we are no different in this sense. He begged Jesus and so do we. Like the way Jesus disallowed him but sent him to his own home and friends to tell what the Lord had done for him, so has Christ commissioned us and sent us to our own. Our task is to tell all people what Christ has done for us! ***