Of Pigs and Men

Jesus meets a demon possessed man near a herd of pigs in the country of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes as recorded for us in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8. He commands the demons, who call themselves Legion, to leave the man, and Legion’s last request is that Jesus allow them to go into the nearby pigs. Granting Legion’s request, they leave the man and enter the herd of about 2,000 which immediately rushes downhill and drowns itself in the Sea of Galilee.

Whenever I read these accounts, one of the first things that puzzles me is that the people ask Jesus to leave the area. Why, I wonder, would they send away such a powerful miracle worker, one who had returned one of their brothers to them? Why would they not rejoice that a local travel hazard was removed? What if the demons left that man and infected others?

Some teachers say that the expense of the pigs was a factor. Jesus had just cost someone (or maybe several someone’s) a lot of money. Others say that these people weren’t supposed to be growing pigs for market because pork was not to be eaten according to the Mosaic Law. I get that these were possibilities, and perhaps they can stay in the mix for explaining the incident. But they just are not that satisfactory to me. Wouldn’t the loss of the pigs be worth removing a hazard like a man who could break chains and attack people? I’d think so. Were the citizens Jews, who would care about the Law, or were they gentiles, who wouldn’t? The ESV study Bible says that they were Gentiles, but there must’ve been some Jews around too. And Jews aren’t exactly known for always sticking with all of the Law anyway.

I was able to make a great deal of progress understanding this situation as I read further in Mark and got to the rich young man of Mark 10, and the question on the authority of Jesus in Mark 11. Now how, you may ask, did I connect the people of Gennesaret unwilling to allow Jesus to stay in the area with a rich man unwilling to give up his riches and the unwillingness of the chief priests to answer Jesus about whether the baptism of John was from heaven or from man? I’m glad you asked that. (You might be guessing at the same conclusion as I because of the way I phrased the question.)

The chief priests could not answer a simple question, because they refused to acknowledge that the authority of Jesus was from God. If they did it would mean that their authority was from man, and they would have had to give up their cushy positions. The rich man knew that Jesus was a “good teacher,” but not so much that he was willing to suffer economic harm to follow Him. The Gennesaret people knew Jesus was at the very least a holy man of God, but were not willing to suffer further economic harm in order for Him to have stayed in the area.

In other words, none of these people wanted to go all the way. They saw the miracles done by Jesus, acknowledged His power and authority, recognized that He was from God, but didn’t take the next step of risking everything to follow Him.

In modern times we find the same sorts of attitudes. We hear people saying “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” all the time, in song and prayer and sermons. We see regular attendance at a church service, with many an “Amen” during the preaching. There are bumper stickers and hats and T-shirts proclaiming that the wearers “know Jesus.” Mega-churches abound, pastors have carved out positions with nice paychecks claiming to speak for God, and television stars rake in the bucks while hawking their latest books and trinkets.

Very few will see the Kingdom of God because the ticket into the Kingdom costs a lot more than simply raising a hand and “going forward.” Faith is putting your money where your mouth is, like the rich young man refused to do. It is the willingness to give up possibly everything you have to follow Him, like the people of Gennesaret could have done. It is submitting your will to His, and giving everything to welcome Him into your heart unlike the chief priests, Pharisees, and other religious leaders then and now.

Jesus obviously had authority from God because He did what God told Him to do and taught what God wanted Him to teach. Everything Jesus did or said was right from the written Word, and could easily be checked if one wanted to do so. But we don’t want. We fear to give up our position, our money, our reputations or our lives because the short term suffering is not worth the long term gain.

Like Frank Sinatra or Cain, we want to do it our way. We want to retain parts of the world system and try to merge them into the Kingdom. We say “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” not realizing that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. We want to patch the garment with unshrunk cloth because we don’t want the work of making it right. We try to fit new wine and old wineskins together when they are just not compatible.

We refuse to accept a message from the Christ because it will cause us too much trouble and might wreck the nice little corner of the world we have made for ourselves. It might cause us some discomfort. It might make us change. It might make us realize that even with the talisman of the name of Jesus we are still far short of what God requires of us.

Shalom

Bruce

Reading Omens

Genesis 24 has the account of Abraham’s servant searching for a bride for Isaac. Abraham instructs the servant to go to the “land of my kindred” and makes him swear not to get Isaac’s wife from the Canaanites. The servant gets to the land of Abraham’s extended family and stops by a well outside the city to get some water for his camels. He prays that God would help him identify Isaac’s bride as the one who would not only give him water but also his camels.

Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:14, ESV)

So Rebekah shows up and does what the servant was hoping. Turns out she was also from Abraham’s kindred. He gives her gifts, meets the family, and with everyone’s agreement goes back and presents Isaac with his bride. So this means we should all learn to read omens, right? No. God tells us not to read omens.

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. (Leviticus 19:26, ESV)

But many people (who should know better) do just that. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “If (such and so) happens, then that means God wants me to do (such and so).” This is what we call “reading omens.” We express uncertainty when things happen to impede the direction we want to go, then we wonder if “God is telling me not to do that” (or to do it). First, if God doesn’t want something to happen, it won’t happen. If He does want something to happen, it will. Second, it is the enemy who is ineffective. The deceiver can’t stop you if God is moving you, and can’t get you going if God is saying wait. Satan would be the one to throw all kinds of dumb omens at you to try and get you to stop doing what God wants or start doing what the enemy wants. I think that is one of the reasons God says not to read omens. Just stick with His Word and you can’t go wrong.

Did Abraham’s servant read omens? No. He prayed a specific prayer with a specific qualification. If a girl would not only give him water but also offer to draw water for the camels it would indicate the condition of her heart. She would be a generous person, soft of heart and concerned for others. Drawing water was probably hard, because one would have to dip a container into a hole or spring then pour it out for the camels to drink. And 10 camels drink a lot of water. In addition to the “sign” that the servant was looking for, the family (and the girl) would have to agree. So the servant wasn’t just throwing out a random request just to see if God would miraculously jump through hoops for his gratification.

The servant also had a specific, God given task. He wasn’t just trying to figure out if he should go to the local high school dance. I remember a trip a long time ago where it just seemed everything was going wrong. One thing after another happened to delay us. A strap broke on the car-top carrier (a big container for luggage). We forgot something. A belt broke on the car engine before we left. Things like that. At one point my wife asked me if I thought God was telling us not to go. I thought about it for a minute then said, “No. If God didn’t want us to go, we would not be going. These nagging attacks are from the enemy most likely.” So we went. It was an enjoyable trip.

Believers are not to read omens. God has given us a large amount of guidance through His Word. We strengthen our ability to sense when He is talking to us by reading His Word and doing everything He says. We practice hearing with the small things in His Word which teaches us how to recognize His voice when He speaks directly to us. Abraham’s servant didn’t need omens, and neither do we.

“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this. (Deuteronomy 18:9–14, ESV)

Shalom

Demons Confess Christ

“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chronicles 16:9, NASB95)

Building on yesterday’s post about Jesus telling demons to shut up about His being the Christ, what else can be learned?

Demons can say the right thing, and still be demons. Their nature and behavior doesn’t change just because they know the truth. In fact, they are intimately acquainted with the truth. They know it backwards and forwards. They just don’t adjust themselves to it. Even though the demons “confessed Jesus” with their mouths, their hearts were not in it. Confession goes all the way to the heart. It doesn’t stop at the lips.

The “doctrines of demons” Paul mentions to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:1-5) are doctrines that seem right, but they are not God’s truth. The truth is God’s Word. Those who know the truth and adjust themselves to it (change of heart) will know the difference between the truth and a doctrine from hell. We know the truth if we do everything God says. The demon doctrine might use some of the words of the truth, but will be a lie. A lie is any teaching that departs in the slightest from the Word.

One is coming who will pass off a lie as the truth in such a convincing manner that most will be buy into the lie. Only those who know the truth and follow it, whose heart is completely His, will be able to tell the difference. The lie will be close to the truth, perhaps even using some of the same words that God uses, but the end is death. And the spirit of antichrist is already here.

They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD. Let everyone beware of his neighbor, and put no trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3–6, ESV)

Demons Testify

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46, ESV)

Reading in the Bible today, I wondered at first why Jesus would tell the demons He cast out not to say He was the Christ (Luke 4:41). Didn’t He want the news to be published? Then I realized that demons are no one’s friend. They are creatures of their father the deceiver. So there had to be an ulterior motive for their declaration. I think it was because Jesus didn’t need or want an endorsement from a demon or series of demons, first, and second they probably were thinking it would sidetrack the timing of God’s plan. They were planning mischief, somehow. What do you think?