Mark 5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. (ESV)
Jesus Christ is a missionary with a clear mission: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). From the moment Adam and Eve fatally crashed into sin while living in the paradise of Eden, Christ has been faithfully laboring to accomplish his world-redeeming, snakehead-crushing mission. His heel, though painfully bitten, is in the process of thoroughly squashing the serpent’s skull.
It is both serious and imperative that we understand Jesus’ great messianic mission, because we need his help badly. Our souls depend on his mission being successful. If he were to fail, every human being who has ever lived would be engulfed by the powerful flames of evil and wickedness. Thankfully, he never fails.
His mission is directed to our fallen world, a dark and dreadful place that is “subjected to futility” and in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:20-21). Our plight involves not only the wickedness of our own depraved hearts and actions, but also attack from demons who are busy conniving ways to seduce and kill us.
In the story of his encounter with Legion, we see Jesus the missionary dealing with both depraved flesh and debilitating demons. The man he rescues was overcome by both. Legion had infested his soul, and he was also a victim of his own wicked heart. Very often these two work together; the demons tempt or possess while wicked hearts willingly follow their ways. Legions of demons labor to convince us that the dark way is a happier way, and our fallen flesh far too often agrees with them.
But many today deny that there is a struggle with darkness and evil within human hearts. They believe that mankind is basically good, moral, and upright, even though some may go astray and commit evil actions. Many also deny the presence of demonic activity in the world, believing the idea of fallen angelic beings (with criminal intent) to be utterly absurd.
Others may not deny the darkness of the human heart or the existence of demons, but they choose to ignore them, thinking that ignorance is bliss, and what you don’t know can’t hurt you. However, the Bible teaches clearly that both are real and should not be ignored under any circumstances. We really are fallen, wicked beings, and there really are cruel demons taking advantage of our broken condition. Neither denial nor willful ignorance will make them go away.
A few years back, my wife and I were falling asleep one evening when we heard an odd sound. It was an anxious scratching and scurrying that came, it seemed, from our attic. My stomach knotted up as I wondered what might have been causing this annoying noise, but honestly, I was too tired to care. So I ignored it.
The next night, we heard the same unsettling sound again, and with increasing effort, I continued to ignore it. I just wanted whatever creature it was to depart on its own, with no prodding from me. Don’t bother me with this, I thought. But the scratching did not cease. Instead, it grew louder with each passing evening. Apparently, whatever this thing was, it had invited its entire family and circle of friends to join him in our cozy attic.
Very soon, reality could no longer be ignored. One evening while locking doors and getting ready for bed, I noticed two beady, glowing eyes peering at me through our glass back door. With the stealth of a ninja, I slowly cracked the door, stepped one foot out onto the back porch, and fearfully inched my head out just far enough to see what kind of creature was invading my home. Cautiously clicking on the porch light, I was standing face-to-face with the clawing-mad intruder.
The devilish creature, which some misguided people interpret as cute, was apparently their representative. His scowl let me know he meant serious business. He looked very much like the creature seen early in the movie Elf. You might remember Buddy’s question to him: “Does someone need a hug?” Poor Buddy found out quickly that these creatures are not interested in loving embraces. As I stood shivering on my porch, I had no intentions of repeating Buddy’s mistake.
Yes, a posse of raccoons had moved into our home without an invitation, and they were claiming our property as their own. The growling, hissing representative had come to the porch that night to relay the message to me that they were taking over and that we should pack our things and leave. This is what happens when you ignore raccoons in your attic.
The forces of darkness in this world are similar. People can attempt to ignore the presence and influence of spiritually dark beings, but pretending they are not there doesn’t make them disappear. It is much better, as I learned with my raccoons, to accept reality for what it is – real! That is the only way to truly deal with it.
Satan, along with his evil band of fallen angels, has a powerful hold on the structures and systems of this world and on fallen human hearts (2 Corinthians 4:4). They’ve moved into the attic, you might say. Turning a blind eye to their presence and work doesn’t stop what they are doing. It is far better to face reality honestly and to seek the only solution that can put an end to the tyranny of darkness. Amid the terror, fear, loneliness, and sadness of this world, we must labor to understand Christ’s mission to destroy the works of the devil.
But admittedly, it is often difficult to understand how he carries out his mission. Human eyes tend to be spiritually hazy and clouded by our sin and the temptations that fill our lives. As a result, our spiritual vitality and strength wane quickly. Living in what seems a hopeless world often breeds pure hopelessness in our hearts. We need a way to see through the haze and connect to him who is the solution.
When there are raccoons in the attic, often we can’t conceive of a person who is fully capable of coming in and solving the problem – ridding the house of critters. Many are oblivious, for example, that trained professionals employed by various pest control companies specialize in raccoon extraction. Rather than call one of these professionals, many sit hopeless, hearing the noises from the attic night after night, having no idea what to do (I speak from experience).
Likewise, it can be difficult for us to imagine someone who can solve the problems of darkness in our own hearts and in the world around us. Many seem unaware that the Lord Jesus specializes in darkness and demon extraction. Rather than call on him, far too many people fall prey to the darkness. Stuck in hopelessness and broken in spirit, they have no idea what to do next.
But with the help of the Holy Spirit, our eyes see bigger themes and higher realities: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see” (Matthew 13:16). With his help, we can see that God has extended his life-saving and soul-saving mercy into this mire of darkness that masquerades as our home. The mission of Jesus Christ, which is always successful, changes everything for us. He alone knows how to deal with pests in the attic.
Jesus’ Mission on the Move
The central ideas expounded in this book are derived from the confrontation between Jesus and Legion in the land of the Gerasenes, also called the region of the Gadarenes. You are probably familiar with the narrative. Jesus cast out Legion, a group of bitter devils, from the host he had been possessing and torturing. (Note: Legion can be referred to as him, them, he, or they, because he has both a singular and plural nature – more on this later). Once repelled from the man, Legion then entered into a herd of swine, which then tumbled to their deaths in the Sea of Galilee.
In Matthew’s account of the story, we find that prior to Jesus’ arrival, he was already actively engaged in his mission. He was moving about from place to place, speaking words of grace and wisdom, and offering healing touches to broken people.
On one occasion, he was approached by a man with leprosy who pled for healing (Matthew 8:1-2). Jesus compassionately responded, “I will; be clean,” and the man’s disease disappeared (v3). On mission, Christ brings healing light to dark lives and health to sick souls and bodies.
Next, a Roman Centurion begged Jesus to heal his servant who had been paralyzed and was writhing in pain (vv5-6). Jesus immediately readied himself for the mission, saying, “I will come and heal him” (v7). This Roman officer, however, had insight into the mission of Messiah, pointing out that Jesus did not need to be physically present in order to heal. He could merely speak the word, and the healing would occur. Jesus was amazed at the Centurion’s faith and commanded him to return home where he would find his servant healed: “Let it be done for you as you have believed” (v13). Christ provided life for the body and light for the mind.
After this, Jesus moved on to the home of Peter, his friend and follower. There he kindly healed Peter’s mother-in-law (v14). Then he healed many others that were brought to him, fulfilling the messianic prophecies of Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (vv16-17).
With great power all these texts demonstrate that Jesus is a missionary. He is on the move, bringing life and light, restoring that which was lost and broken.
Notice the present tense “is” – Jesus is a missionary, and he is on the move. His mission work did not begin or end with his time physically present on earth. It began way before that, though in a shadowed, progressive way throughout Old Testament history. And it continues into the present time of our lives in a full-blown way, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is working right now as a missionary throughout all the world. The eyes of faith see this and rejoice in it.
Indeed, it could be that Jesus is on mission to your own soul this very moment. Perhaps he is bringing light, life, and healing to you even as you read these words about him.
Crossing to the Land of Darkness
After spending ample time in the towns of Galilee, bringing his merciful mission into the lives of many people, Matthew 8:18 states that Jesus instructed his disciples to “go over to the other side” of the Sea. It was time to move the mission to a new location, to a place where people were living in an impossible shroud of darkness.
But there was a problem with this leg of the journey – it was too dark. When Jesus said, “The other side of the Sea,” he was saying something similar to our common metaphor, “The other side of the tracks.” When people use this phrase, they are typically referring to the less-than-attractive group of folks on the other side of town, perceived to be mostly poor and uneducated.
In our day, many people do their best to avoid the proverbial other side of the tracks. It’s too dangerous, they think, with a high level of criminal activity. They only enter that territory if they must. One middle-class man has a job that requires him to visit that area to collect past due bills, but once he takes care of business, he leaves quickly, returning to his quiet suburb, not risking his neck for very long.
But Jesus did not think this way. He was determined to cross to the other side of the lake and enter the precarious land of the Gerasenes. It was a dangerous trip, and he would encounter great darkness. But his determination was even greater. It stemmed from a compulsion to bring them light and truth and to squelch the shadows of death that stretched across that land. Wherever he goes, those who dwell in darkness see his great light. They see the dawn.
Matthew 4:13-16 And leaving Nazareth [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (ESV)
The same determination that took Jesus to Zebulun and Naphtali earlier in his ministry also took him to the land of the Gerasenes. The brightest of all lights was about to flood the entire area.
You may think your life is too dark for Christ to make a difference. You might be doing things that shroud you in such thick darkness that you are convinced there is no hope. You may have so much shame because of your sin that it’s impossible for you to believe Jesus would cross the tracks to help you. As hard as it may be to believe, it is true – Jesus Christ came for people just like you.
Mark 2:16-17 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV)
Jesus is the Great Physician of the soul, and he has come to help those who most need healing. He is willing to step into your darkness no matter how dark it is, and he always brings light.
But what if you are addicted to pornography? Jesus can cross into that darkness and shine a blazing, cleansing light upon your soul. What if you have cheated on your spouse? He can even rescue you from that. What if you are emotionally broken, depressed, and sad? The Great Physician is willing to enter those shadows of death too: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
What if you are bitter and angry, refusing to forgive people who have hurt you? The Lord is on his boat and heading your way.
It doesn’t matter how many raccoons have invaded the attic of your life, or how vicious they are, Jesus is willing and able to come and help.
Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (ESV)
There is no darkness too thick for the Savior. He alone can truly relieve the agony of a dark soul and bring real help in time of need. In the land of the Gerasenes, there was one demon-plagued man who discovered this firsthand.
This post is Chapter 1 of the book Drowning Swine.
Read Drowning Swine Online
Click the chapter links to read now
- Jesus the Missionary
- Here Be Demons (and Pigs)
- Darkness Is Dark
- Among the Tombs Crying Out
- Darkness Kills Itself
- Who’s the Boss?
- Team Affiliation
- Naming Your Demons
- Fighting Fire with Consuming Fire
- Why God Made Pigs
- The Idolatry of Economy
- Holiness, Sanity, and Missions
Appendix: Synoptic Harmony