WHEN KINGDOMS COLLIDE
Three weeks ago we began our sermon series in Mark’s Gospel in chapter one, verses fourteen and fifteen, where we are told that Jesus’ mission was to preach God’s Good News. Jesus declared that the time promised by God had come at last, that the Kingdom of God was near, and that people need to repent of their sins and believe this Good News. The following Sunday we explored Jesus’ authority to forgive sin, and last Sunday we looked at a storm on a lake, a story of external circumstances that were out of control from a human perspective yet subject to the control of Jesus, the Son of God.
The issue before us today is related to the story of the storm but different. It concerns not external circumstances that are chaotic, but inward conditions that are frightening and terrible. The question for us this morning is a question of identity: “To which kingdom do you belong?” We will be exposed to the horrors of the kingdom of this world, and we will meet once again the transforming grace available in the kingdom of God. I invite you to join me in Mark 5:1-20 where it is later the same night as when Jesus calmed the storm; perhaps it is now early morning.
So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. 4 Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. 6 When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. 7 With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.” 9 Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?” And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10 Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place. 11 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12 “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.” 13 So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. 14 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15 A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16 Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. 17 And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. 19 But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” 20 So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.
A fearsome man who possesses supernatural strength, because of an evil spirit, rushes toward Jesus. All attempts to restrain him have failed. The village has no place for him, so he lives in the tombs where he screams in torment and cuts himself. This man, a subject of the kingdom of Satan, comes before Jesus, the ruler of the kingdom of God. Good and evil confront one another; the holy and the unholy come face to face; two kingdoms collide. And, as calmly and as easily as Jesus stilled the storm on the lake by rebuking the wind and the waves, Jesus stills the storm in the man by rebuking the evil spirit. The crazy man becomes Jesus’ man by the transforming power of the kingdom of God.
The Bible is clear when it comes to the purposes of Satan and the demons that serve him. Their goal is to ruin what God has created, and especially to ruin the very best of God’s creation which is human beings. You and I were created in the image of God, and it is Satan’s desire to ruin that image by taking the good things that God has blessed us with and perverting them. So, for example, God has designed us for living in relationship with himself and with one another. But Satan is working hard to ruin our relationship with God and to alienate us from one another. We see this in the evil forces at work in the man which had caused him to driven from his home, from his family, from his community. Furthermore, God desires for us to experience an abundant life filled with love and joy and peace and the other gifts of his Spirit. Satan, however, promotes hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, hatred and division, and a dissatisfaction with our God-given life that leads to abuse of others and abuse of self. The man was clearly tormented, cutting himself with stones in his anguish. Does any of this sound contemporary?
Our world suffers at the mercy of evil forces no less than did the world of the first century. Many people live in isolation, like the man in the tombs. No one is able to still the restless storm in their lives. They scream in torment, sometimes for the world to hear, sometimes in ways that no one realizes until it is too late. Their only relief comes from self-abuse, whether physical or emotional or through mind-altering substances. They’re suspicious of anything that looks like love, because they’ve been burned before. But Jesus loved the man in the tombs, and he calls you and me to love the people around us who are enslaved by the forces of evil. Jesus confronted the power of evil with the power of love, and in his name we are called to do the same. We are called to invite people out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s light; we do so, not empowered by our good intentions, but by the One who is able to deliver us from evil.
About 500 years ago there lived in Germany a Catholic monk named Martin Luther. Aware of the sin in his life and his inability to overcome that sin in his own strength, he came to rely on the mercy and forgiveness of God to transform him and bring him out of this world’s darkness and into God’s light. In response to the power of God over the power of evil in his own life and in the lives of those in the world around him, he wrote the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” In a few moments we will stand and sing it together, and I hope you will pay close attention to the words for they celebrate the victory of the Kingdom of God over the Kingdom of the Prince of Darkness.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God's own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.