Matthew 8v28-34 SBD 30 June 2019
At end of this sermon I’m going to ask what we want in our lives – which direction we want to take - Jesus or evil?
I realise that question is very bald and stark and might not make much sense. I hope by the time we get to it you understand a bit more what I mean.
But how you react to that stark version – Jesus or evil?
We might think – what do you mean – evil? Or course I don’t want evil – that’s evil. That’s bad. Who wants that?!
I hope we’ll see while that’s right – evil is evil – terrible – but at the same time what the Bible calls evil can masquerade as something appealing – something we find attractive. And so something we want.
Or maybe we think – well I’m a Christian – so of course I want Jesus. That’s what I’m about.
Again – that’s right. Jesus is very good - wonderful to have in our lives. But he’s also disturbing – he changes things – so it’s not as simple as of course I want him. We’ll see there are times we don’t want him.
Maybe we thought – I don’t really want either Jesus or evil. I just want to do my thing. Well, fair enough, but I hope we see – as we talk about what we mean by those terms – actually we can’t avoid that question. Every choice this week – will take us in one direction or the other.
But before we get to our question - we need to go on a bit of journey with these men we meet in our passage.
1) An Evil World
So let’s start with v28
Now we’ve immediately got a problem here because for us, today, the idea of demon possession is a joke. It’s conjures up images of films like “The Exorcist” or “The Omen”, with Damien as the child of the devil. It’s just not something we take seriously.
It’s true that in these men we get a very extreme case of the devil’s influence – we’ll see later that usually the devil works in much more subtle ways – much more behind the scenes. But here it’s full on - so it looks very unusual and bizarre to us.
In fact some people say these two men were suffering from epilepsy and Matthew mistakes that for demons. Actually in chapter 4 Matthew distinguishes epilepsy from demon possession. So he knows the difference – and he takes demons seriously.
More than when the demons speak through these men Jesus doesn’t say – you have a psychiatric complaint I will cure – he talks back to the demons as demons. So Jesus takes demons seriously.
The rest of the Bible is the same – while not telling us that much about him – it is clear the devil is real, personal, evil.
So while it may feel a bit odd to us – and go against our culture – we should take demons, the devil, the reality of the force of evil – seriously.
In particular I want us to see what the devil is seeking to do. And because these men are such an extreme case – they show us pretty clearly what he’s trying to do. In word – he’s out to destroy us.
These two men have clearly lost their self-control and reason – their humanity is being destroyed.
We’re told they are so violent no one can pass that way – they seek to destroy others.
They live among the tombs – the place of death. And when Jesus casts them into the pigs they kill them – showing us that is what they are about – they want to kill us.
The devil’s aim is destruction – the destruction of us in ourselves, the destruction of relationships with others, and ultimately the destruction of a relationship with God.
And that is what he’s working at today. This plays out a bit differently for those who are Christians – those who are not. We’ll come to that. But in simple terms the devil is active today – seeking to destroy us. Destroy us as people, with each other and with God.
I saw a Robbie Williams documentary some years ago, with him talking about alcohol and drug abuse – think things are better now – but he said, “I ingest things that aren’t good for me, I bend the rules on my sobriety, which isn’t good for me.”
He does things that destroy him. That can be true of all of us - it might be the obvious visible things like drugs, pornography, self-harming. Or it might be more hidden – critical thought patterns, lust, lack of discipline, laziness, indulgent habits. Things which aren’t good for us.
The same goes for relationships with others. Being over sensitive, proud, selfish, taking someone for granted, taking offence, getting your own back – it destroys relationships.
And the same with God. We can ignore God. Don’t listen to what he says. Do our own thing.
Now if we’re Christians, we would usually just call all that – sin. Or doing things wrong. And that’s right.
But actually the devil is involved in this. He wants to destroy us – so he encourages all of that. He whispers in the ear – have another drink, did they really do that to you – take offense. You deserve better. Don’t bother with praying, you’re too tired to go to church.
He encourages – evil. It’s not what we’d call evil. It’s not murder or abuse. In many ways it might be very acceptable or attractive. It’s just living for ourselves, doing what we want. But it’s actually destructive to us – breaks relationships – most of all it’s against God – and so the Bible calls it evil.
Now this doesn’t mean we’re helpless victims. We’re responsible for what we do. And quite how our responsibility and the devil’s temptation interact is difficult. But while there is some mystery here – the Bible is clear - as well as sin being a reality, the devil and his temptations are a reality – suggesting - encouraging – destruction.
So what we see here in these men – while it looks very far away from our lives. Actually it’s an extreme version of what the devil is seeking to do to all of us.
Destructive behaviour – breaking relationships - ignoring God – what the Bible calls evil. It’s a reality for all of us.
So having said that much – let’s see what happens. V29. Two things we should see from this – first of all,
2) Jesus will end all evil
The demons say – have you come to torture us before the appointed time – in other words they’re expecting a future time – when they are going to face Jesus.
They’re right. The Bible is clear there is an appointed time when Jesus will return and put this world right.
We’ve referred to this over the last few weeks. God’s promise to put the world right – that party from Isaiah – what we often call heaven. Or a new creation, a perfect world.
But of course to make heaven – to make things perfect - you’ve got to get rid of what is wrong in the world. Get rid of evil. That’s what the demons are talking about – the time God has appointed to end evil.
And notice Matthew wants us to know it’s certain.
The demons are in no doubt about it. “Have you come before the appointed time” - they know there is a date in God’s diary – marked – judgement – end evil. They are sure about it.
And there’s no doubt Jesus can do it. V31-32
Jesus speaks one word – the demons obey. There is no effort on Jesus’ part. He doesn’t raise a sweat – as he destroys evil.
In previous weeks we’ve seen him end disease and death. We’ve seen him overcome natural disaster. We said they were pictures of the future – a trailer – a promo of his perfect world. This time he overcomes evil. So we can be certain - one day Jesus will speak and violence, murder, hatred, prejudice, injustice - everything that spoils this world will end – as Jesus ends all evil.
But there is a second thing to notice here. V29.
Jesus is going to end evil in the future - they know that – their question is – what are you doing here now? Why have you turned up early?
The answer to that is – he’s come to rescue from evil.
3) Jesus wants to rescue from evil
Let me try and illustrate this – I’m afraid I can only think of a rather contrived and unrealistic scenario – I apologise for that – but you’ll get the idea.
Imagine a company accused of gross negligence. The court date is set – and the judge announced. Everybody gets ready for the trial.
And then one day the judge walks into the accused company head office. Everyone looks up from their desk – what he’s doing here – the trial is months away yet.
Then the judge spreads out his papers – showing the evidence. And it’s obvious – they are grossly at fault – and are going to lose. The company is over.
But then the judge says – if you admit your negligence – if leave this firm today – then when we get to court nothing will be brought against you. You won’t even be in the dock – you’ll be acquitted.
Now obviously that wouldn’t happen – but that gives us a sense of what Jesus is doing here. He is the judge of his world – and the court room date has been – when he will judge all evil.
But the judge has come to his world early – what’s he doing here ask the demons. Answer one - he’s showing us he will end all evil. You can be certain of that.
But more than that – answer 2 – he come early to rescue from evil. That’s what he does with these two men – hopelessly in the grip of evil – he rescues them. He puts them right – so they can live as they were made to live. Be what they are meant to be. Know others again – have relationships. Know God. And on the future day - not in the dock on the side of evil – but standing with Jesus, and part his new world.
That is Jesus’ offer to us – to rescue us from evil.
That rescue happens when you become a Christian. The devil encourages you to ignore God, say no to Jesus – and then you are rescued from that – enabled – freed – to turn to God – put your trust in Jesus. So if we’re Christians – we’ve been rescued from evil.
And then the devil can’t posses us like these men. He can’t be in charge of us – Jesus is now in charge.
But as I was hinting earlier – the devil is still active – tempting us. And so there is a sense that we go on being rescued from evil by Jesus.
Say we’re struggling with jealousy. Porn. Pride. Ambition. Gossip. Bitterness. It’s our responsibility to fight that. But in that fight - the devil is encouraging us – whispering in our ear – lying to us, making evil seem attractive.
So we should pray – Jesus – rescue me. Help me with this struggle. Empower me. Strengthen me. Help me see through the devil’s lies. Help me know evil will one day end. Help me see your way is better and to live for you.
That doesn’t mean life is magically transformed and it’s easy to do the right thing. But it is possible to do the right thing. It’s possible to overcome those destructive habits. It’s possible to treat others better. It’s possible to relate well to God. Because Jesus can rescue us.
However the question we must finish with is, what do we really want?
4) What do we really value?
V33-34 – well what would you expect it to say?
They pleaded with him to stay so they could thank him for overcoming evil? They pleaded with him to rescue them from the evil in their lives?
No - v33-34 - they say – “Jesus – please – we beg you - go away and leave us alone.”
Why do they say that?
Well one reason is the pigs. There were a lot of pigs – worth a lot of money – probably owned by people from the town.
So while two guys rescued are from evil – for them pigs are more important than people.
It can be the same today. Imagine if the message of Jesus spread so thoroughly through the London that there were no dodgy bank deals, no one was addicted to instagram and binge drinking stopped. Wouldn’t many bankers, advertisers, pub owners - say – Jesus please go away. Stop mucking things up for us.
Never mind that people are stopping destructive habits and evil is being defeated. They value money more than people.
Mind you – I think it’s a bit broader than that.
I think these people would have realised that having Jesus around means change. As they heard what had happened to these two men – how Jesus changed them – rescued them from evil – they must have thought to themselves – what will he do in my life? If he’s that powerful to change them - if he’s turning lives around – how will he change me?
So they say - look Jesus – push off will you? Because they are happy as they are. Happy with this world and their lives with it’s – evil. They wouldn’t call it evil – that’s a bit black and white – but happy with living for themselves and ignoring God.
I heard the other day of a student who heard the Christian message, and then said that he couldn't find fault with the reasons or evidence. 'But,' he said, 'I'm not going to do anything about it. Because I want to keep sleeping with my girlfriend and drinking too much.' He was a student. In 20 years he could have said – I want to keep spending my money as I choose, and putting my career first.
In essence saying - please go away Jesus – I prefer things how they are, thanks.
So we come to our question. What do we really want? Jesus or evil?
That’s the question for someone thinking about following Jesus. Do we want Jesus – rescue – change? Or do we prefer how things are – us in charge.
And it’s the same question for Christians.
I remember when I was praying to God about something – I asked for his forgiveness and then said – please help me change. As I said it the question came into my head – do you really want to change? Do you really want to give up that sin? And it was a real question and issue.
So let me ask, are there sins that are precious to us – habits – comforts - reactions – so that we are in danger of saying to Jesus – about that part of our life – please leave, I like it the way it is.
The devil and evil is real – it sometimes appears to be attractive – but in these men we see evil for what it really is – it brings destruction.
The devil and evil is real – and can seem strong – but here we see Jesus will end it forever.
The devil and evil is real – but wonderfully Jesus has come early - to rescue us from evil. He can do that today.
Question is - what do we want?
Communion – remember the heart of how Jesus rescues us – be dying for us. So come and be reminded of his rescue. Be reminded of how good he is, how for us he is.
As we take bread and wine – let’s use it as a way of saying – I want you Jesus. Or if we can’t say that – can we say - I want to want you. As I remember your rescue, how you’ve loved me – please help me choose you.