Sometimes it is necessary to tailor the message to the congregation and their expectations / needs. For example, if a congregation is not used to lengthy exposition, then perhaps a slightly shorter sermon will be received better than a longer one where they fail to take it in. The following was preached at an early morning Holy Communion service, where the normal expectation is under five minutes. It was a challenge to explain and apply the passage in the tighter constraints. How do you think I managed?
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Have you ever noticed the bumper stickers people put on their cars? Maybe I should have checked the cars outside before I mention these, but here’s some that I have noticed with a message – ‘Don’t follow me, follow Jesus’; ‘God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts’; or what about this – ‘Carpenter from Nazareth wants joiners.’
Given that Jesus wants people to follow him, we might be surprised then to find in our gospel reading that Jesus doesn’t take this man with him. Rather, in verse 39, Jesus says: ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ Why was this? In our passage, we see a great testimony; a great witness; and a great God.
First, the great testimony. It is obvious to see the change in the man, because of his encounter with Jesus. Before, he was afflicted by demons. The spiritual affliction had led to physical affliction too –‘for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs’; kept under guard with chains and shackles. After, when Jesus had cast out the demons, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. The demons are gone, he is clean and free, and wanting to serve Jesus.
What is your testimony? The change may not have been as dramatic as the demoniac, but if you’re a Christian, you will have some story of how you have been changed, and how you are being changed through your encounter with Jesus. Have you thought of it recently? Is it obvious to those around us that we have been changed?
Second, we see the great witness. The people of the region were afraid because of what Jesus had done. Was it the change in the man? Was it the loss of the pigs that made them afraid? Their fear led them to ask Jesus to leave the region. Can you imagine that? Jesus turns up, performs one miracle, and the people of the town ask him to leave!
Yet Jesus does not leave himself without a witness in the region. In not taking the man with him, Jesus commands him to return home and share with them what God has done for him. The man was a local, and would be accepted easier than Jesus, who was seen as a troublemaker from outside. The man knew these people; and the people would be able to see just what Jesus had done and changed in the man, long after Jesus had sailed away.
Now that we have thought of the man’s great witness, speaking in that region, we need to think of our own witness – have you recently told someone about your faith? Have you told anyone what God has done for you? Just as the man was in a unique position to witness about Jesus, so we too are in unique positions – in the places we live or work or socialise, in the friends we have and the people we meet. They may be people I will never meet or know, so you have that unique place of being a witness to them.
Third, we see the great God. Really, we have seen the great God from start to finish, as Jesus frees the man from the demon possession, and moves to advance his kingdom. But do you notice the subtle change in verse 39? Listen carefully – ‘”Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.’ Did you notice? Jesus tells the man to go and tell what God has done for him, and he goes away to tell what Jesus has done for him!
Here we have a subtle hint that Jesus is indeed God. It confirms the identity of Jesus from the lips of the demons in verse 28 – ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’; and also the work of God that was done on the hillside that day.
As I was preparing, I was drawn to the opening verses of Psalm 103, as they speak of remembering what the great God has done for us, and in telling others: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.’ (Psalm 103:1-5).
Jesus left the country of the Gerasenes in the boat that day. But he also left behind a great witness, with a great testimony of a great God. Will we also seek to share what God has done for us as we go from this place today?