Sunday, November 01, 2015

Clinging to Our Pigs

“For this is what the Lord, the Master, the Holy One of Israel says, “If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered; if you calmly trusted in me, you would find strength.  But you are unwilling” (Isaiah 30:15).

It’s hard to believe that it has been years since I have written.  More time has passed than I had realized until today. It is not because I have not had much to say, or that I’ve lost or lacked the conviction(s) I once so often shared.  So much has happened since I last posted in April 2012. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve experienced great sadness and loss— some of which I am still not quite ready to write about— and I’ve experienced great joy— most notably, the birth of my second sweet and precious son, Bowen, this past April. But my purpose for writing today isn’t so much to catch up for those who may still follow or happen to come across my blog, if any do, as much as it is to share something (or record for myself something) I feel convicted of at this place and in this season of my life.  

It hit me this morning as I listened to my senior pastor, Lon Solomon, of McLean Bible Church, preach a sermon about valuing people based on the well-known passage in Mark 5 where Jesus heals the man of an evil spirit that is sent into a herd of pigs that run into the sea and drown.  And I think what came to mind applies both to those who do not and maybe even more so, to those of us who do profess to know the Lord. 

We tend to cling to our pigs.

Mark’s account tells us that Jesus came into the Gerasenes on the other side of Galilee by boat and that as He stepped onto land, He met a man controlled by an evil spirit, who had lived among the tombs, where he spent night and day screaming and cutting himself with stones.  This man who had come out of the tombs to meet Jesus was so tortured by this evil spirit that he could not be controlled.  He was literally out of control. So much so that the people had often tried to restrain him by chaining him up, hand and foot, only to see him break the chains and return to the tombs or the mountainside where he cried out, harming himself.  When the man saw Jesus, it was from a distance, and he ran to Him and literally fell down at His feet, bowing down before Him.  And it is at this moment that the spirit calls out to Jesus, confessing Jesus’ authority over Him, and pleads with Him.  Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the man saying, “You evil spirit, come out of the man.” In doing this, Jesus causes the spirit to identify himself by name.  Jesus asks the spirit, “What is your name?” and the spirit responds, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  Some translations read, “For there are many of us.”

Whereas the text before this question referred to the spirit binding the man who ran to meet Jesus as “an evil spirit,” it goes on to say, “The demons begged [Jesus]…” 

So at this point of the story, we learn not only that Jesus has dominion over the demons, who know exactly who He is (as James teaches at 2:19), but the extent to which the man who ran and fell before Jesus’ feet is afflicted by his demons.  In this sense — literal demons. 

The text goes on to tell us that, at Jesus’ command, the demons went out of the man and into a large herd of pigs feeding nearby on a mountainside and that the pigs rushed down the cliff into the sea and drowned.  To this miraculous event, we see two very different reactions.

The man, once afflicted, once bound, and now set free, responds to Jesus by begging to stay with Him.  But Jesus has a plan for this man’s life that will bring glory to His name and reach many people for His names’ sake as the man shares what Jesus has done for him to other’s amazement.  

“As Jesus stepped into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him, "Let me stay with you." But Jesus would not allow it. Instead, He told the man, "Go home to your family, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been to you." So the man left. He began to tell how much Jesus had done for him in the Ten Cities. Everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:18-20).

Those who heard the man’s account were amazed.  But what about those who witnessed this same event with their own eyes?   

“Those who took care of the pigs ran away. In the city and countryside they reported everything that had happened. So the people came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. The man was sitting there dressed and in his right mind. The people were frightened. Those who saw this told what had happened to the demon-possessed man and the pigs. Then the people began to beg Jesus to leave their territory” (Mark 5:14-16).

What can we make of this disparate reaction?  The healed man and those he shared news of his healing with were amazed.  But those who took care of the pigs and those they shared the news with: they begged Jesus to go away.  WHY?

There appears to be no doubt that everyone who witnessed what Jesus had done with their own eyes recognized Jesus’ authority over the demons. There is certainly no doubt that the man who shared the news with his family boasted of Jesus’ healing power and authority when he did so. When he ran to tell his family what Jesus had done for him, he presented himself as a new man, in every way changed by Jesus’ mercy — and there is no doubt his family recognized that and were amazed.  What a powerful testimony!   

But the men who cared for the pigs and their owners and the people they shared the same account with — they were frightened, and rather than running to Jesus, falling at His feet, and begging for the same healing or mercy over the demons in their lives (literally or figuratively), they returned and begged Jesus to leave their land.  WHY?  

Presumably because of their financial interest in the pigs.  Here was Jesus, standing before them, showing His mercy and power.  And here, this group of men were turning and running in the opposite direction because they cared more for their financial interests than they did their souls.  They chose their pigs over healing.

Hearing this story that I’ve read so many times again this morning, I could not help but ask myself: 

Do we really want healing or do we cling to our pigs?

If we know Scripture, we are familiar with the many instances in which those who were afflicted pled on their own behalf for Jesus to be merciful before Jesus turned and healed them.  We can also recall many instances of people seeking Jesus out to ask for healing for those they love. And Jesus time and time again declares that faith has resulted in healing.   

One of the most poignant examples I can think of is where Jesus heals the centurion’s daughter in Matthew 8 after the officer declares that he is not worthy to have Jesus come into his home and essentially declares that Jesus is so powerful and has such authority, that He does not even need to come to heal his young servant, but that if He said the word, his servant would be healed.  Jesus declared that He had not seen faith like this in all of Israel before telling the man, “Because you have believed, it has happened.”  Earlier in that same chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy who acknowledges, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”  Jesus responds by reaching out and touching this man, who likely had not known a human’s touch for many years, and said, “I am willing.  Be healed.”  

There are numerous references throughout Scripture, in the New Testament and the Old, to this concept.  If we would seek the Lord and His healing from the demons in our lives, He would respond to us.  Would He always bring healing?  Well, we know from a careful examination of Scripture, as well as our own experience walking with Him, that He doesn’t always heal. And we have Paul himself as a witness to God’s purpose in sometimes leaving a thorn in the flesh and James himself giving us numerous reminders that sometimes we must suffer affliction because God has a greater purpose for our lives and 
is more concerned with our character than our momentary comfort.  There are many other examples, but the concept remains the same: we either recognize the strongholds in our lives and seek His power and provision and the wisdom He would freely give — or we cling to our pigs, counting temporary, earthly things, even things that bring us great harm, more important than what He offers us.

“Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. And he gives grace generously.  As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ So place yourselves under God's authority. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come close to God, and He will come close to you. Clean up your lives, you sinners, and clear your minds, you doubters” (James 4:7-8).

So the question I want to pose today — and have surely asked myself — is this:  

What are the “pigs” in your life?  

What are you clinging to more dearly than you are clinging to Jesus? What are you chasing after in the expectation that it will satisfy more than you are chasing Him?  What bondage ensnares you to the point that instead of falling at His feet and asking for the healing or mercy or wisdom that you know He can give and promises to give, it has you running in the opposite direction?  

And more importantly — WHY?