“Go and Tell Them”
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“Go and Tell Them”

Mark 5:1–20  (ID: 2515)

Until Jesus intervened, the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs was ruled by demons. He was an example of Satan’s deadly grip on all those outside of Christ: by nature, he resisted the transforming power and freedom that comes from Him. By contrast, Alistair Begg reminds us that because believers have been set free, we should be proclaiming the good news about what has been done for us.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Light in the Darkness

A Study of Christ’s Encounters with the Lost John 9:1–41, Mark 5:1–20, Mark 6:30–43 Series ID: 25401

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we come to you as those who are tempted and tried and sometimes failing, to ask for your help as we study the Bible now. Meet with us, we pray. Beyond the voice of a mere man, may we hear from you, the living God, by your Spirit, through your Word, the Bible. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, can I invite you to turn to Mark and the fifth chapter? And as you’re turning there, let me say what an important and special day this is for our church family. Many of you will be alert to this, but some not, and therefore, I’m happy to draw it to all of our attentions and to reinforce for us the unique and wonderful privilege that will be ours tonight when we commission the Lowes to the ministry of the gospel. They are to be added to our little cluster of export models from B to Z. And those of you who have used your prayer calendar this week, and who continue to do so, will, of course, find no surprise in that. We’re unable to go from A to Z, but we can go from B to Z. And when you play church Scrabble, then, of course, you’ll be able to use that to your great benefit.

But each time we send out export models, as we do tonight, in a formal and purposeful way, we are reminded of the importance of obeying the command of Jesus: to go out into all the world, and to make disciples, and to teach them everything that he has commanded, to baptize them, and to see them established in the truth.[1] And when, as we gather tonight and lay our hands upon this young couple, we will be confronted by the question, “What about us in our own streets, in our own offices, within our own sphere of influence, and among our friends?” If it is of value and if it is significant to take a young couple from Shaker Heights, Ohio, uproot them from the security of their lives—financial, relational, church-wide security—and dispatch them into the heart of a very, very alien environment, then, if it is significant enough to do that with them, I find myself saying, “And what is it that you’re doing, Begg, as it relates to the cause and the cost of telling others about Jesus?”

In 1936, Archbishop William Temple wrote as follows: “It is clear that the church only fulfills its function as the body of Christ if it is constantly thinking how those who are outside can be inside. The preoccupation of the church should be with those outside.” Now, we think immediately incorrectly if we think in terms of a building. Temple was not suggesting that the issue was to get people who are outside of the building inside of the building. He was talking about the distinction between being in Christ or outside of Christ. Men and women, by our very natures, do not know Christ, do not love him, bow to his dictates. And the preoccupation of those who do is to be with those who don’t so that those who are presently outside may actually be placed inside of Christ and within the invisible church.

Now, I say to you again, if it is worth taking these people—sending them into the Andes Mountains to translate the Bible, sending them into the Czech Republic, with one of the most difficult environments that you can find in Central Europe—then it demands, it demands of us to face up to the question in our own lives. Jesus, remember, had to settle the issue for the religion-preoccupied Pharisees when they bemoaned the fact—it’s actually in Luke, as well, just in chapter [5]—when they bemoaned the fact that he was attending this event at the home of Levi, and Jesus says to them, “I did not come to call the righteous people, but I came to call sinners to repentance. It’s not people who are healthy that go to the doctor,” he said, “it is people who are sick.”[2]

Now, with this as our focus, we’re looking at these first twenty verses of Mark chapter 5. And as I say to you, you will be helped by having your Bible open. Here we have a living, walking, vivid, unanswerable demonstration of the transforming power of Jesus Christ. And I want simply to take the line and follow along with you as we work our way through these twenty verses within the time that we have.

A Man in Need of Help

“They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. [And] when Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.” Now, Mark gives us immediately, in these first five or six verses, a sort of Identi-Kit picture of this individual. It’s important that the readers understand the condition of this man. He tells us where he lived: he “lived in the tombs.” He did not live in a normal community. He did not live amongst his family or his friends. He lived isolated from all those relationships. And people who had never seen him may well, according to verse 5, have heard him, because “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”

He lived in the tombs, and he was unrestrainable. That’s what verse 3 is all about: “No one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.” They’d tried that in the past. They’d used the usual methodologies to deal with an individual that was as messed up as this man was. “He[’d] often been chained hand and foot,” but with this demonic power, “he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet.” And there was no one who was prepared to go into the graveyard—no one who was prepared to go in among the tombs—with any attempt to try and restrain this individual, because he was clearly unrestrainable.

What lay behind this was something very significant. That’s the significance of verse 2: “When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit…” This man was held in the grip of demonic powers. And these demonic powers had turned in upon this man. And that’s the significance of his self-mutilation at the end of verse 5.

What kind of individual lives in the tombs, screams in the night, runs around naked, and cuts himself with stones? And what possibility is there for any help to be given to such a man when the normal issues of society and all of the attempts—the isolation plans and the restraining plans—have all come to a grinding halt as a result of their inability to contain him? He’s utterly alone. He is alienated from his community and, in a realistic sense, alienated from himself. He breaks the bounds, in every way, of Paul Simon’s “Most Peculiar Man.” Remember him?

The most peculiar man;
That’s what Mrs. Riordon said.
She lived upstairs from him;
She said he was a most peculiar man.[3]

Well, however peculiar that man was in Paul Simon’s song, this man has got him beat. This man defines peculiarity. This man defines isolation. This man defines an individual greatly in need of help.

Now, just when we’re sitting here saying to ourselves, “Well, that’s quite a picture for this time on the first Sunday morning of June. I’m glad that I’m not remotely like this man. I have my clothes on, I’m able to reason with things, and no one’s had me tied up, or need to have me tied up, in the last little while. I am not demon possessed.” Well, I would imagine that that would be true of virtually everybody here, although we never know. The Bible does not say that the human condition of men and women is that we are by nature demon possessed. But the Bible does say—and that’s why this man is an illustration, in part, of the human condition—the Bible does say that men and women, by their very nature, are ruled by dark and sinister forces.

In Ephesians chapter 2, when Paul describes the life of these Ephesian believers in relationship to what they once were, listen to how he describes them. He’s describing now what they were outside of Christ, before they had come to know Jesus and to trust in him and to discover his life and his forgiveness and his mercy. And they were not unique because they lived in Ephesus. This description is a description of every man and every woman outside of Christ: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live,” past tense, “when you followed the ways of this world”—you just went down the same roads as everyone else, just doing the same thing as everyone else, just with the same worldview as everyone else—“when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time.”[4] This is the description of being outside of Christ as opposed to being inside of Christ.

Outside of Christ, you are a dead man. Outside of Christ, you are a dead woman. You’re an alive, dead person.

Now, I don’t want to camp on this beyond saying this: if our notion of genuine Christian experience is untaught by the Bible, ungrounded in biblical truth, then it may come out as something like this: “I’ve been a fairly decent fellow for most of my life, and my wife and I have been living here in the Chagrin Valley area for some time. We had some kind of church background in the past, and we’ve never really done much about it ever since we’ve been married. Our children have come along, and we’ve decided now would be good time to add a little religion in our lives. We’ve shopped around, we found a number of places, and although we don’t particularly like your preaching, we found that the children’s ministry here is very, very accessible to us, and so we come along.” In short, “We’ve been fairly purposeless in relationship to religion, and we’ve decided that now is the time to get serious about it.” Okay.

But do you think it would be worth taking that package that you’ve just described… How do you think it’ll sound out in Prague, with the residual impact of atheism ruling a country? And how interested do you think people will be in this story of having discovered purpose and adding a little religion? Well, of course, there would be no reason to go anywhere with that, because it’s just something that’s an add-on, isn’t it? It’s not something that’s life changing or absolutely essential. It’s just a decision that has been made along the journey, in the same way that somebody could say, “You know, I’ve been very, very lax when it comes to exercise, and I’ve decided to join a club and do a little running around, because I think it would be good for me, and it’s a good example for my children.” All of that is fine. But that’s not what the Bible is describing in terms of becoming a Christian.

Do you see what it says? Outside of Christ, you are a dead man. Outside of Christ, you are a dead woman. You’re an alive, dead person. That’s the drama of it! That “you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live.” “What? I thought it says, ‘You were dead … in which you used to live’?” Yeah! You were the living dead. You are the walking dead outside of Jesus. And you may not be held in the grip of dark, demonic forces, but by your very nature, you’re in the control of that which is dark and sinister and completely counter to the life and the freedom and the joy that is provided in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the only question is the extent to which that rule and reign of sin has placed its manacles, has dropped the dust of its death, down upon our hearts and minds and lives.

So I say to you that this man is not actually as far removed from us here as we think. Oh, it is a very distasteful picture, is it not? After all, we have nice places to go home to, we have nice couches on which to sit. We’re not running around the graveyard naked at all. No, we’re not! But the fact of the matter is, we are, outside of Christ, dead in our trespasses. So the message of the gospel is not, “Why don’t you turn over a new leaf? And why don’t you get a little purpose in your life? And why don’t you shake your leg and get a little religion?” The message of the gospel is, “You’re a dead man. And furthermore, you can’t make yourself alive.” The message of the gospel is, “You’re a blind woman, and you can’t make yourself see.”

And that ought to alarm you. Because some of you sit here, Sunday after Sunday, and this is how your mind works: “When I’m good and ready, I’ll get this thing sorted out. But that’ll be my decision, and that’ll be my time, and that’ll be my place.” You don’t even know what a day will bring.[5] You don’t even know if you’ll make it to your bed this evening. That’s why the Bible always says, if you hear the voice of God, if you feel the prompting of the Spirit of God, you respond to it right there and then, because “now is the accepted time; [and] behold, now is the day of salvation.”[6]

Now, I say to you again, this man’s condition may be vastly different from ours in the sense of his demon possession, but it is not so dramatically different from ours in terms of our nature outside of Christ. It’s not very nice, is it? I don’t find it particularly nice to say—to look out on my neighbors and my friends and tell them, “Hey, I don’t know where you are, but if you’re not in Christ, you’re a dead man.” That’s not the way to gain friends and influence people and build a congregation. So why would you ever say it? Well, the only reason you would say it is if you have to say it.

An Encounter with Jesus

Now look at this encounter, then, that takes place with Jesus. If you’ve read that wonderful book on the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Professor and the Madman, then that phrase may come to your mind as you look at what takes place here—only this is the Savior and the madman. And it’s quite a drama that unfolds.

Verse 6: “When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.” And then he said to him, verse 7b, “Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” Contradictory forces at work in this man’s life. On the one hand, compelling him, and on the other hand, repelling him. Jesus, verse 8 tells us, has already called out to the evil spirit to come out of this man. And this has set up this great dialectic in his mind and in the very core of his being: shouting, verse 7, “at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’” And you’ve got this dramatic, phenomenal encounter between the light and life and power of Christ and the darkness and the deadness of the power of evil.

Jesus, at the end of chapter 4, has established himself as the Lord of nature, hence the calming of the storm. If your Bible is open, you will see that in 4:39: “He said to the winds and the waves, ‘Be quiet!’ and ‘Be still!’ And the wind died down and it was completely calm.”[7] And now, here in chapter 5, he walks into this environment, and he establishes himself as the Lord of man and the one who overcomes the power of darkness. Only Jesus can set such a person free. Only Jesus can set such a person free.

And when you look at verse 7, it’s almost as though this man knew that Christ could set him free, but he was at the same time afraid of what that change would mean: running and falling on his knees in front of him, and then at the same time saying, “What is it that you want with me? Please, I can’t stand any more torture. I can’t stand… if an encounter with you is to be tortuous in any way, I can’t stand that, Jesus! Here I am on my knees before you, but at the same time recoiling from you.”

That’s not so far removed from experience that I’ve encountered in thirty years of pastoral ministry. Because we fail to understand the grip that sin has on people—that Satan has on people—when we suggest to them, or to ourselves, that once confronted with their predicament, it will just be obvious for them, it’ll just be natural for them, to surrender to Christ’s rule. But experience tells us that it isn’t so obvious, and it apparently isn’t so natural.

If you have dealt with people who have become increasingly enslaved to sexual sin, increasingly trapped in the choices that they’ve made in relationship to the substances that they put into their bodies, you will have noticed, as have I, the royal battle that takes place in the psyche, in the soul of that man or that woman, where on the one hand they’re saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, but I cannot face the tortuous implications of what it will mean for me to be torn away from that upon which I have developed such a dependence for all these years of my life.” Somebody feels the call, the touch of God upon their life, says, “Come on now, you’re a messed-up sinner, and you need to trust in Christ,” but they’re living with a woman. And she’s attractive to him. And he likes her, and he has grown to depend upon her. He shouldn’t be with her. And he comes, as it were, to the knees of Jesus, and he knows that Jesus has something to say to him, but he knows that if he says yes to Jesus it’s going to be no to her.

We better not be superficial in the way we deal with our friends and neighbors concerning these things, as if somehow or another, “Oh, come along now, give yourself a shake! After all, look at this; therefore, come on. Let’s get this dealt with.” No, it’s not as easy as that. It’s not just as easy as that. Jesus is the one who “breaks the power of canceled sin;” he’s the one who “sets the prisoner free.”[8] But as Sinclair Ferguson, our good friend, says, “No man yields to Jesus easily by nature. Tragically, like Legion, men often hold on to their bondage in evil rather than yield to the pain of transformation by Christ’s power and grace.”[9] That’s a very important phrase: “the pain of transformation by Christ’s power and grace.” You don’t want to say to people, “Oh, this is easy. There’s nothing in this.” We make light of where people are coming from, we devalue the very work of Jesus, when we seek to represent the gospel in such a superficial way.

I have in my mind a man now. Successful man. Actually fairly well-known. And we went to lunch years and years ago now, after a very significant Sunday at the high school—in the auditorium in the high school. Some of you remember that day. And when we talked over lunch, this man said to me, “I understand exactly what you’re saying about Jesus and the claims of Jesus. And I understand at the same time that if I were to respond to the claims of Jesus, it would mean giving up this and this and this. This means far more to me than ever coming to Christ. Therefore, thanks for sharing it with me, and I will put it in my portfolio”—I remember his phraseology—“I will put it in my portfolio for further consideration.” But to the best of my knowledge, he remains in the exact same position today as he was on that day. Why? Because he recognizes that there is pain involved in the transformation brought about by the grace and power of Jesus.

Why else would Jesus say, “If anybody wants to become my disciple, they should take up their cross every day and say no to themselves and follow me?”[10] Why would he say to the rich young ruler, who comes and falls on his knees and said, “Good Master, what must I do to have eternal life?” and Jesus says, “Keep the commandments.”

And he said, “I kept all the commandments ever since I was small.”

And so Jesus says, “Well, why don’t you just sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then come and follow me?”

And the guy goes, “I’m not prepared to do that.”[11]

The issue wasn’t the money. The issue was that he wanted both Jesus and his other little god. And Jesus will allow no other gods before him. The man was unprepared for the painful transformation brought about by the grace and power of Jesus. And some of us remain unconverted today, here at Parkside Church—absolutely, routinely unconverted—because you’re clever enough to recognize what is involved in bowing your knee to Jesus.

There is pain involved in the transformation brought about by the grace and power of Jesus.

Now, it’s at this point that we get into the pig situation—and some of you are from a farming background, and others of you are veterinary medicine people, and so I do need to be careful in moving my way around here. Some of you are on the other side of the divide when it comes to the deer in Solon, and so I have to be very careful in the way I handle this: “My name is Legion,” and he begged Jesus—verse 10—“Don’t send me out of the area. Don’t send us out of the area.” And “a large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. [And] the demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ [And so] he gave them permission”—you see where the power lies?—“and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. [And] the herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.”

Let me give you four p’s to help you with the pig situation.

Number one, the fate of the pigs demonstrates the ultimate purpose of the demons. The fate of the pigs demonstrates the ultimate purpose of the demons. The demons were set on the destruction of this individual, and thwarted in their attempts to destroy the man, they went ahead and did what they were put together to do—namely, they destroyed the pigs.

Secondly, this incident demonstrates the power of Jesus over these demonic forces. They are the ones who are coming and begging and pleading with Jesus. It is not that somehow or another they have a parallel power to Jesus, but Jesus is sovereign even over these demonic activities, and therefore, his power is made clear.

Thirdly, the dramatic end to which these pigs come establishes without any doubt the permanence of the work of Jesus in this man. If the man was tempted to doubt on the following Tuesday whether he had been radically set free, he could always in his mind’s eye go back to that dramatic moment when two thousand pigs came hurtling down the side of the hill and were drowned in the lake, and all as a result of the demonic activity that was represented there. And he would look at that and in his mind eye say, “That is the transforming, permanent way in which Jesus sets me free.”

And fourthly, this little incident also gives us a perspective that the deliverance of one man is certainly worth two thousand pigs. The deliverance of this one man is certainly worth two thousand pigs. Every culture, incidentally, that puts the value of its animals before the value of its people is a putrefying culture.

The People’s Reaction

Well, of course, you’d think that would get a reaction, wouldn’t you? And it did. Especially amongst the pig tenders. I almost said “the tig penders.” But anyway… “Those tending the pigs ran off.” You bet they ran off! You have a job as a pig tender: two thousand pigs, so much an hour, look after the pigs. You’d be concerned if three or four of them did a bunk. But for two thousand of them to run headlong down a cliff and drown themselves is a significant impact on the bottom line. And so, “those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and the countryside.” You can just imagine them running down the road and going, “The pigs! The pigs! The pigs!” People are going, “What happened to the pigs?” “Well, I don’t know. There’s something obviously happened to the pigs.”

But what had happened to the pigs was subservient to what had happened to the man. And when the word of the pigs got out and the people came to see what happened to the pigs, they saw something even more dramatic—namely, “Crazy Man” was normal! Look: “When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there.” Sitting there! “Well,” you say, “we’re all sitting here. What’s the point?” Well, the point is obvious: he couldn’t sit. This man was a roamer. He was all over the place. They tried to chain him just to keep him in one place. He was here, and he was there, and he was everywhere. If you tried to talk with him—if you’ve gone in situations where people have been held in the grip of these things, you find yourself walking with them. You’ve seen that, haven’t you? If you’ve gone in certain tragic situations, you find you have to walk with the person all the time, because they can’t stop, they can’t sit; they’re roaming everywhere. He’s sitting!

And Naked Norman has his clothes on. He’s clothed! He’d never been able to keep a set of clothes, this chap. He was always tearing and ripping at himself, and that was one of the reasons that the grandmothers said to their grandchildren, “When you come home from school, come straight past that graveyard. Don’t you go in there and look at Mr. Legion. If you hear him shouting, you come straight home here. Come straight home.” Maybe they even used him as a threat: “If you don’t go to sleep, I’ll get Legion to you.” But here he sits with his clothes on.

And furthermore, he’s in his right mind. He who had been possessed by an aggregate of uncoordinated impulses and evil forces is now set free. Now, don’t allow yourself to go from here to every chemically imbalanced psychiatric circumstance that you’ve ever heard of in your existence and say, “Oh, that must be this.” No, it isn’t this. What is being described here is what is being described here. If you know someone stark naked in the Garfield Heights graveyard who screams in the day and the night, maybe there’s a reason for us to talk to him about the nature of Mark 5. But if you don’t, then I don’t suggest that you begin to use it to anybody who looked at you kinda strange when you were sitting next to them on the railway train, okay? That’s just a word of warning, because some people wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. Before you know where you are, you got a bunch of pseudo-psychiatrists roaming around with Mark chapter 5, trying to cure every ailment that they ever saw. Just lighten up! That’s all parenthetical.

Verse 16: “Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. [And] then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.”

What? The screaming man in the tombs is clothed, sitting in his right mind. He’s apparently normal. No one’s saying thank you. Nobody’s even saying to one another, “You know, at least we’ll be able to sleep at night now, without that dreadful wailing going on in the cemetery.” Where’s the welcome for this man? Do you see it in the text? Where are the people that go out to him and say, “We’re glad to have you back?” You think about the stigma for his family—his nieces and nephews, who heard the people at school saying the things about Legion in the tombs. Maybe they’re just getting up to it, maybe they’re getting ready to go; I don’t know. Where are those who are calling out to others in their need, other people whose lives are messed up, and saying, “Jesus of Nazareth has done an amazing thing, and if he can deal with Legion, I’m sure he can deal with you”? They’re not here. And where are those who are falling down at the feet of Christ and saying, “Could you please make me normal?” No, instead they’re amazed, they’re afraid, and they say to Jesus, “We’d like you to leave.”

I don’t know why. Maybe it was material. Maybe it was economic. Maybe they said, “This is a big hit to the economy of our area. We lost two thousand pigs here in one afternoon—just with one encounter with one person. If this fellow stays around here much longer, our whole economy’s going right down the toilet. So therefore, we don’t want you around. We can’t risk that kind of thing. The material matters more to us than the spiritual. The advance of our business matters more than whether you’re changing men and women’s lives. We don’t really care about the fact that you’re changing men and women’s lives.” We face that all the time, don’t we? “The lesser spotted owls matter more to us than whether you’re making an impact on the teenage population of the community, and helping them with their drug addiction, and all these other things. No, go away! Leave our region, would you, please? Get out of the place!” How warped are the minds of men and women?

I think one of the reasons that they send him away was because they didn’t like to acknowledge the fact that the change that he’d brought about in this man’s life was a change that was needed in theirs. That’s why some of you are really upset about your spouse, or your son, or your dad. That’s why you’ve been unable to respond with alacrity. That’s why you’ve been unable to say, “I’m so delighted to see the change that has been brought about in you.” It’s a change you’ve longed for. You’ve hoped and prayed, longed, schemed, dreamed for something to normalize this kid—something to change him, to turn him the right way up, to make him a new person. And he’s become a new person! And now you can’t rejoice in it, and I’ll tell you why: because you know that what you wanted for him is what you need for yourself, and you can’t acknowledge the change in him without recognizing the change that is needed in you. And so you say, “That’s enough of this stuff.” Am I wrong?

The Man’s Request

Finally, verses 18–20, just in a word or two: they want him to leave, and he accedes to their request; he wants to stay, and Jesus vetoes his request. He doesn’t grant the man his request because he has in mind something far better for him. It’s understandable that the man would want the security of Jesus’ presence. His company would be wonderful. No, says Jesus, “[I want you instead to] go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy [up]on you.” That’s his message. Notice his message? That’s the message for all of us, once our lives have been changed.

You don’t need a course in evangelism to get started as an evangelist. You don’t need a course. You don’t need to read seventeen books. You just have to be turned the right way up. And when you’re turned the right way up, having lived your life upside down, people will say, “What in the world happened to you?” and you will tell them, “I met Jesus. He turned me the right way up, and he’s had mercy upon me.” And they’ll say, “What do you mean, had mercy upon you?” Say, “Well, I deserved hell from the state my life was in, and instead of giving me hell, he gave me heaven. That’s mercy.” And if the person has any interest in heaven, they say, “How do you get this mercy?” and you’ll be able to tell them what happened to you. That’s how it works!

Can you imagine a thousand people, out of the three thousand that are here this morning, taking seriously that challenge in relationship to the communities in which we live? Being convinced that Temple was right in 1936—that the preoccupation of the church is with those outside, not with those inside—and since I know at least this—what he has done for me, and that is, he had mercy upon me—I can just tell people that. I can’t answer all their questions. I don’t know about the creation narratives. I haven’t worked out the doctrine of the Trinity. I’m not sure about the intermediate state between death and our final resting place and so on. But I do know this: “‘I once was blind, and now I can see.’[12] I once was a complete disaster zone, and Jesus has had mercy on me.” That’s all you need to do! Because people long for that kind of encounter. They’re not looking for a religion! They’re not out looking for some system. They’re wondering, “Has anybody the power in them to conquer the forces that hold me in their grip?”

This is the gospel: that Jesus dies in the place of the screamers, the self-mutilators, those who are alienated from themselves as well as alienated from others.

And the way in which that word goes out to the gentile world is not as a result of Jesus doing large-scale evangelistic preaching events, is it? His plan for the region starts with this little man, turned the right way up, and his territory that he’s given, in the same way that you may send a salesman out. Maybe you’re starting a new salesman tomorrow, or a salesgirl. She’s gonna sale pharmaceuticals for you. And you say, “This is where I want you to start, and when you’ve covered that, if you could expand to here, and then hopefully I’ll give you the whole ten-city region, depending on how you do.” That’s what he says: “Go first to your family.” Luke chapter 8, which is the parallel passage, says that he went “all over town,”[13] and then it says here that he went to the Decapolis, which is the ten-city region. The inroads of the gospel to the gentile world begin with one transformed life—a transformation that only Christ can bring about. Only Christ can bring about such a transformation.

And if you read all the way to the end of the story—all the way to the end of the gospel—then you find a quite remarkable thing. And that is that you find Jesus naked, isolated, calling out in the tombs—calling out in the tombs, in phraseology that is incomprehensible to many who are around: “Tetelestai!”

“What’s he shouting?”

He’s saying, “It’s finished.”[14]

“What’s finished?”

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“What is he saying? What’s the naked man on the cross screaming about?”

He’s saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[15]

“Why is the naked man on the cross? He was so nice, so kind, so good! Who tore all his clothes off and did that to him? Why is he up there?”

He screams in those tombs so that he might silence the screams of the man in this tomb. And that is the gospel—that he dies in the place of the screamers, the self-mutilators, those who are alienated from themselves as well as alienated from others. It’d be a strange company this morning if there were not at least some—and doubtless amongst the teenage population—who have such a warped view of things that they have been known to take and harm themselves. And every attempt to assure them of their validity, and of their purpose, and of their significance, and of the opportunity for redemption and for love has fallen on the ground—every attempt at isolation and at restraint. Well, bring them, and let them bow down at the feet of Jesus. For by the stripes that he bore, he deals with the cuts that they make.

Father, it’s so easy for us just to become a gigantic marina, bringing our pleasure boats in here, Sunday by Sunday; the captain has a few words to say concerning navigational procedures and the height of our flags and the state of our crafts. Remind us that we’re actually a lifeboat station. Send us out, we pray, onto the sea of life. Send us out, we pray, to “rescue the perishing,” to “care for the dying,” to “tell them of Jesus, ‘He’s mighty to save,’” to “weep o’er the fallen one.”[16]

I pray, Lord, for people whose lives are so clearly held in the grip of that which they are unable to conquer or control. I pray that you will bring them in childlike trust to the feet of Jesus.

I pray for those of us who are smug and self-satisfied and think because we are in our clothes and we are in our right mind that this does not describe us. It does. We are dead in our trespasses and in our sins. We do follow the ways of this world. We do follow the devices of those who lead us in disobedience. Show us what we are, and then show us the mercy of Jesus. And then, Lord, send us out, in humility and in wisdom, to others who wrestle on the troubled sea.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest and remain with each one of us, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See Matthew 28:19–20.

[2] Luke 5:31–32 (paraphrased).

[3] Paul Simon, “A Most Peculiar Man” (1966). Lyrics lightly altered.

[4] Ephesians 2:1–3 (NIV 1984).

[5] See Proverbs 27:1.

[6] 2 Corinthians 6:2 (KJV).

[7] Mark 5:39 (paraphrased).

[8] Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues” (1739).

[9] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999), 64–65.

[10] Matthew 16:24 (paraphrased). See also Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.

[11] Matthew 19:16–22 (paraphrased). See also Mark 10:17–22; Luke 18:18–23.

[12] John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779). Lyrics lightly altered.

[13] Luke 8:39 (NIV 1984).

[14] See Mark 15:37; John 19:30.

[15] See Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.

[16] Fanny Crosby, “Rescue the Perishing” (1869). Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.