What happens when the demons of the past give way to the demons waiting for you on the other shore?
“Let the dead bury their own dead, you go proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
In the gospel story we have been following the last few weeks, those who made the commitment to leave the dead in spirit behind, who had left the chaos of Peter’s house where an impromptu healing and deliverance crusade had taken place, getting into a boat to sail for the other shore of the Sea of Galilee, survived a devastating storm that only subsided with the command from Jesus “Peace be still!” finally made it safely to the other shore. And so they lived happily ever after in Never Never Land. Never to worry, never to fear or be in want again—right?
Oh wait, that’s just the modern day church’s evangelism friendly version. Let’s look at the Jesus version;
Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. 5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. Mark 5:1—5
So the chosen few, those who have answered the call to follow, committed to follow wherever Jesus led them without even the assurance of a place to lay their heads at night. They have left behind the past, leaving the dead to bury the dead, they have survived the storm which turned out to be no big deal after all, because they just happened to be sailing with the creator himself—they get to the other shore and are met by a man— who is stark raving mad. He has been living literally among the dead, in the tombs, he is demon possessed and as evil as they come.
Again, Jesus just seems to be going out of his way to make it challenging for people to follow him. They left the dead and ran smack into a maniac, a man whom, not only hurt himself, but also attacked everyone who came this way.
So—to follow this narrative that has been unfolding these last few weeks—we have been learning to not allow anything to hinder us from being obedient to the call to follow, not let anything or anyone stop us, to leave our fears, the lies and hurts of the past —spoken to us by the dead— behind. And to keep our eyes on Jesus as he leads us safely away from those who would hurt us.
In a nutshell, we have been learning how to leave the demons of the past behind us. So to me this story leads me to ask: Okay, we’ve escaped the demons of the past and moved on; “What happens when the demons are waiting for you on the other shore?”
It’s something we all fear. You don’t have to follow Jesus very long before you realize that not everyone else shares your new found enthusiasm for all things good and your desire to shun things you now realize are harmful. This of course leads to the next fear, especially for those who have been victimized by those who are influenced by an impure spirit -‘What is to prevent me from becoming victimized again?’ ‘How can I be safe?’ “I have left the dead, but what about the dead ahead?”
This is the only instance in the gospels where Jesus engages in a conversation with the demons. He usually commands them to silence. I think he did that to prove a point, he was teaching the disciples with him the same thing he is trying to teach us;
‘Yes, there are demons here, and there are demons ahead. Their influence will be around as they continue to deceive, use, and abuse all who do not yet know the truth. But do not let them deceive you ever again.’ ‘They cannot harm you, in fact they are afraid of you.’
Jesus allowed this demon to speak so that there would be no mistake, and no missing what was going on here, this man, someone’s son, was out of control, his life was no longer his. This man was possessed by had a whole host of demons living in him. Yet this legion of demons— enough to possess a herd of 2 thousand pigs and had exerted unfettered control over this wretched man— they were afraid of Jesus. They begged for mercy.
What a stark contrast for all who witnessed this, the swine herders and locals, who had lived in fear of this man, and the Jewish disciples who had lived their lives totally at the mercy of every demon spirit who had influenced them, and all those around them, all their lives.
Now they see these terrible, fearful, all powerful demons, fearing for their very existence and begging for a reprieve from what they know Jesus has full authority and power to do to them, and that is to throw them into the abyss as they await their consignment to the lake of fire.
“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”
8 For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”
(Have you come to torture us before the appointed time? Mat 8)
Jesus was making sure all understood, that in any and all places, whether riding out a storm or facing agents of the devil himself— they were safe if they were with him.
Jesus understood that one of the most basic of all human desires is the desire to be safe, to feel safe and to know that we are protected and can defend ourselves against evil. So what does he do? He brings them through a storm and then face to face with a naked bleeding maniac dragging chains behind him like a rabid Pit Bull who has broken his chain just as you were walking by on the sidewalk.
And again, Jesus is not rattled, he does not panic nor tell his followers to run, he simply tells the demons to take a hike like he is telling a disobedient child to go sit in the time out corner. And the fearful demons whimper and complain like unruly kindergartners who have had their snack time taken away.
If this doesn’t prove to the disciples that they have nothing to fear as long as they are with him, nothing will. The Psalm of David—which these Jewish men surely knew—suddenly takes on a whole new meaning and becomes very real to them.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer. My God, my strength in who I will trust. My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Ps 18:2
Jesus was indeed their shield; I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t even hiding behind him.
But Jesus was also demonstrating to them what they would be able to do as well, as he would impart on them his Holy Spirit, they would be not just safe, but they would also be those who would rescue others. No need to fear the dead, not the dead behind them nor the dead ahead of them.
He would say the same to you.