Of Pigs and Demons

(The following is a discourse I gave in a local congregation.) 

On June 8, 2015, a major highway in Ohio was shut down for 8 long hours. The reason? There were several hundred pigs running wildly on the road. According to the news, a trailer truck carrying 2200 piglets crashed and tipped over. Even though a couple hundred pigs died in the accident, the majority survived, but were set loose. People in the neighborhood took several hours corralling the piglets. About 1500 piglets were recaptured, but a few hundred were not, as they had escaped into the nearby forest. I’m not sure if there are still sightings of pigs running freely in that part of Ohio even today.

Our Bible story today is also about 2000 pigs running wildly. Let’s read Mark 5:1-20.

Crossing To The Other Side

The story opens when Jesus was getting off the boat, but I would like to go several verses back to what leads to this story, Mark 4:35-36.

After a long and tiring day of teaching, Jesus told his disciples, “Let’s go to the other side.” They were on the sea of Galilee, and Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side.

This other side is not just the other side of the lake, but for the Jews during that day, it was really known as the “other side,” referring to a Gentile territory, a place to avoid. The whole region was known as Decapolis as it was composed of 10 cities. But in Jewish tradition it was also referred to as the “land of the seven,” pertaining to the 7 pagan nations that were driven out of the land of Canaan during Joshua’s conquest.

But why go to the other side? Because Jesus wanted to minister there too. Because the other side needed a Savior too.

What is the other side for us today? The other side of the world? It does not need to be, for it could be the other side of the fence. Or the other side of the street. Or the other side of a room. Hostile or not, someone on that other side needs to hear the message too.

The Sea of Galilee is not really a sea. It is a lake. It measures 64 square miles, nearly the size of Washington D.C. The lake is 700 feet below sea level with semi-tropical weather around its coasts. The lake is bounded by high mountains with snowy peaks especially on the east side. So the rising warm air from the lake can collide with the rushing cold air from the surrounding mountains, causing large temperature and pressure changes and giving rise to sudden violent storms.

Jesus and his disciples encountered such a strong storm as they were crossing it, that the disciples, most of whom were experienced fisherman who knew the lake like the back of their hand, were terrified that they would not see land again. They feared that they would perish. They cried to Jesus for help.

Jesus commanded, “Peace be still.” And all was quiet again.

Some of us may be going through some storms of life right now. Just remember, the Prince of Peace is on our boat. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

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A hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee

My Name is Legion

As Jesus and his disciples reached the other side, they got out of the water and were immediately met with another stormy situation.

In Mark 5:3-5 it is described how terrifying yet pitiful the condition of this man. He was alive yet he lived among the dead – in the graves and tombs. People tried to bind his hands and feet but he was so wild and strong that he broke the chains. He would shout and the people would hear his blood curling cries every day and every night. He cut himself with stones. He was naked, only covered with dirt, mud, and blood. What a terrible condition!

Jesus was still far off when this demon-possessed man came running to him. The disciples might have run in the other direction, but Jesus was ready to meet this man. The man fell on his knees in front of Jesus.

Did this man come to Jesus on his own volition despite under the power of the demons?Perhaps this man knew despite his cloudy mind that Jesus was his only hope. Maybe he knew that the only one that could free him from the slavery of the devil and has come to deliver him.

Then the demon within the man spoke to Jesus, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”

Even the demons knew who Jesus was. But whether they acknowledged or were subservient to that authority, is another story.

In the background of this, there is an ancient superstition that you can have spiritual power over another if you knew or said their exact name. This is why the unclean spirits addressed Jesus with His full title: Jesus, Son of the Most High God, not as a confession of Jesus’ authority, but a desperate attempt to gain control over him.

Jesus asked, “What is your name?” Now Jesus was not playing to that ancient superstition. In reality, Jesus knew each demon, their name and their rank. So when the demons answered “My name is Legion,” they were not giving their exact name. Yet Jesus still had power over them.

Legion is a Roman military unit that is about 6000 men. Whether this man has really 6000 demons, is not clear. What we know is that they were many. And so when the demons answered, “My name is Legion,” they were saying we are many and outnumber you. Were they trying to intimidate Jesus?

This is what I know, with Jesus on our side, we are never outnumbered. Even if its you against the world, with Jesus on your side, you always have the advantage.

Because Jesus was more powerful than the demons, He commanded them, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then the man was free.

Dark Encounter

It was a Friday night. We were attending a prayer meeting in our church in the Philippines and I was about 12 years old at that time. My father was out-of-town for a conference, so it was just my mother and us kids that went to church that night.

My mother had a part in the service. She gave the opening prayer, so she was sitting in front. The speaker was a lay person and was just starting his sermon when suddenly, a young lady a few pews in front of where I was sitting, started screaming in a voice that sounded non-human. She stood up and ran wildly to the pulpit and tried to attack the speaker.

The church members realized what was happening and sprang into action. Strong men in our church tried to hold down the lady who was acting strangely. It took at least 7 or more of them to control her. It was clear her strength was more than human.

But you know what? When she attacked the speaker who was a small man, the speaker, with one swiping motion, sent the lady sprawling to the floor. I want to believe that power was not coming from a human too.

They took her to a room at the back of the pulpit, the Pastor’s room, and there several members of our church tried to drive the devil out of her. You need faith to be inside that room. I was not one of them, for I may have been too young then, but more so, I was too afraid.

Even though I was not in that room, I heard what happened inside that room as it was relayed to us by those who were inside. They said that the demon-possessed woman was looking fiercely at everyone inside the room, and that was the most intimidating situation they had ever been in. But I want to believe that when the woman looked around her, it was her who was intimidated, as what she saw was not the frightened brethren, but the angels of God surrounding the brethren.

She also uttered that it was too bright in that room, and that she hated the “blinding” light. I would like to believe that it was not the 100W bulb that she was pertaining to, but it was the truth that our church had that she hated, for the devil is the prince of darkness. I am sure as well, that the blinding light was not coming from the light bulb, but from the presence of the Most High.

After some time of intense prayer, the devil left. Interestingly, when the demon left the woman, the door banged three times. Were there 3 demons in her? We don’t know. What we know was it left her.

After that event, there was a spiritual awakening in our church. The members became more active. For one we realized that since the devil was attacking the church, we must have the truth, and that angers him. The other thing was we realized that with God’s power, we can defeat the devil.

Deviled Pigs

Back to Jesus’ story, the demons requested that they would not be sent outside of the city but to the pigs instead (verse 12).

Nearby was a herd of 2000 pigs. As I’ve said, this was Gentile territory, that’s why they had pigs, as Jews would not raise pigs, for they were unclean. This story is full of the ritual of uncleanliness: the place of Decapolis – a pagan territory, the man living in graves, having an unclean spirit, and then the unclean herd of swine. But God can make even the most unclean clean. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,” Isaiah 1:18.

So the legion of demons were sent to the pigs. If there were 6000 demons, they went to 2000 pigs, so there were more demons than pigs. That’s the real “deviled ham.” So the pigs ran to the cliff and made a swine dive into the lake and drowned.

Iowa has the most pigs in all the US, so we could be considered experts. Every pig farmer would tell you that pigs can swim. Pigs may not fly, but they can swim. In fact, they are good swimmers for short distances.

Then why did those pigs drown? I don’t know, but perhaps the lesson for us is that even if we think we’re strong and can swim against the tide of temptation, if we allow the devil to take hold of us, we will drown.

Can you imagine the horror of the pig herders? The horror of the owners of those pigs? Losing 2000 pigs, that’s a lost livelihood!

When the town people came, the man was seen sitting, clothed, calm and on his right mind. The people, when they saw what had happened to the man, were afraid (verse 15). Were they more afraid now that the man was calm and on his right mind than when he was wild and fierce?

Then the saddest thing happened in this story: the people asked Jesus to leave their town (verse 17). Were they more concerned of their lost material possession or their lost livelihood? Or were they afraid of Jesus’ power and what He could do to them and their town, and they don’t want any part of that? What a more pitiful state they were in, than the demon-possessed, for they rejected Christ.

The most tragic state to be in is to believe that we don’t need a Savior.

The 13th Disciple

That term “sitting” is significant (verse 15). In Luke 8:35 it tells the “man is sitting at the feet of Jesus”  – a term usually used to picture somebody taking a posture of a disciple. What the gospel writers are saying is that this man became a disciple of Jesus. Thus I consider him the 13th disciple.

In fact he wanted to come with Jesus (verse 18), but Jesus said no. This is one instance that Jesus said ‘no’ to a request. To some disciples he said, “Come, follow me.” Not to this disciple.

Instead he was sent out and given a commission: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (verse 19). Besides being the 13th disciple, he was also the 1st missionary that was sent by Jesus.

Is there something that the Lord has done for us? Has He shown us mercy? Should we also tell our family and friends?

I can just imagine the people from this man’s hometown who saw him before like a wild beast and helped chain him down, now seeing him sane but on fire for the Lord. Those who have heard his wild cries in the night, were now hearing his wonderful story of redemption. Those people who were afraid and were running away from him before, were now drawn to this unusual bearer of good news. They must all be wondering, “Was this the same man?” And as the scripture said (verse 20), they were amazed. Amazed of how Jesus transformed this man.

When Jesus came back to this territory of Decapolis perhaps some months later (Mark chapters 7-8), the people were ready to listen. They even brought their sick for him to heal. We read that there was a multitude of people who gathered that after being with Jesus for 3 days, they refused to leave. This was when Jesus fed 4,000 people.

Why had this part of town become more receptive? I would like to believe that some of those people had heard the testimony of this 13th disciple, the man Jesus freed from the Legion, and they wanted that same transforming and saving power too.

When Jesus met this man, he did not see a demoniac. Beyond his frightful appearance Jesus saw a man who needed to be saved. He saw a man who would be his next disciple. He saw a man who would be a missionary for Him.

If Jesus can transform this demon-possessed man, He can transform you and me.

For One Lost Soul

We always heard, “Let’s come to Jesus and live.” But the truth of the matter is, we don’t come to Jesus. Jesus comes to us. He’s always the one initiating to meet us. He’s always the one searching for us.

As in this story, Jesus came all the way across the lake to meet this man. When Jesus made that trip, He foreknew that it would take all night to cross the lake. He foreknew that He’ll even encounter a storm. He also foreknew that the people on the other side of the lake were not ready to receive Him and He would be sent away.

But Jesus made the trip anyway. Why? Because there is one wretched man on that other side that needs salvation. He ministered to no other person on the other side of the lake, except for one man. He made the trip and crossed the lake for just one man.

I believe that if there was only one man who had fallen into sin, and if that was me, Jesus would leave heaven and die on the cross just for me. If it were you, He would do it for you.

That’s the God we serve. He’s searching for you and me. He’s coming to this part of town to meet us. Be ready to meet Him. This is my prayer.

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Waiting by the Sea of Galilee

(*photos taken last year)

No Chance Encounter

(The following is an excerpt from a discourse I gave in a local congregation. Thoughts were inspired after standing in a spot pictured below.)

Simon, after an 800-mile long travel, in a dream journey of a lifetime, finally arrived in Jerusalem.

He was warned of the large crowd especially during Passover time. But that day, he saw a different event. Even though the streets were crowded with lots of people they were making way for this unusual procession. There were no wailing sirens or flashing lights to warn people to make way, but there were Roman soldiers shouting with their glistening swords that part the crowd like the Red Sea.

Then Simon saw a man, so bloodied in his face, head, and back, carrying a beam of a cross, being led by the soldiers. Simon realized, he was witnessing a man being led to his death by crucifixion.

Crucifixion was not invented by the Romans, but they perfected it. Crucifixion was a punishment mostly reserved for those sentenced with insurrection or rebellion. Mostly people crucified were people subjugated by the Romans.

The weight of the whole cross was about 300 pounds. But usually the one being crucified carry only the cross beam, which in itself weighs about 100 pounds. They carry this to the place where they will be executed.

But even that weight of the cross beam was too heavy for this man condemned to die, as Simon witnessed. Perhaps he was weakened from all the lashes he received in his back. Perhaps he was already too weak from the blood loss from the wounds in his head and body.

Simon saw that the man carrying the cross fell under the weight and cannot stand anymore. Next thing Simon knew was that he was being ordered to carry that man’s cross.

But why was Simon chosen? Was it really random or by chance that he was picked? Romans will not let a Roman citizen carry the cross. They only let Jews or a foreigner do it. And Simon looked like a foreigner. He stood out of the crowd. He definitely looked like a stranger in Jerusalem. Was it the way he dressed? Or was it something more obvious?

Simon was most probably dark-skinned. In a more blunt way of saying, he was black.

First of all he was from Cyrene, a country in North Africa. We know that these people were descendants of Ham, the third son of Noah, who was believed to be the ancestral father of black people. The name Ham, many scholars believe meant “black.” This is supported by the Hebrew and Arabic evidences, in which the word “chamam” means “to be black.”

Another support is in Acts 13:1, it mentioned a man named Simeon (Simon) who was called the black man, who was one of the teachers in Antioch. Whether this was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross is hard to prove. What we know though, is that Acts 11:19-21 mentioned that the first Christians who preached in Antioch were from Cyprus and Cyrene.

In all likelihood, Simon was picked because he looked different. Discrimination is not something that we only have today. Even in those times it already existed.

But Simon was not pick by chance. I believe God has destined him to carry the cross for a special reason. Same thing that God picked those who were being discriminated and ostracized during those times: the Samaritans, the tax-collectors, the Publicans, the lepers, the sinners. God chose those who the world see as unwanted, and use them in a special purpose for his divine plan.

If God does not discriminate, who are we to discriminate people whom we think are different from us?

Back to Simon, when he was picked by the Roman soldiers, he was reluctant. The Bible said in Matt 27:32, he was “forced” or “compelled.” Meaning, he did not volunteer. Most likely he even refused!

But can you refuse the Romans? There was a Roman law called lex angeria stating that if a Roman soldier tells you to carry his pack or a load, you must carry it for 1000 paces (1 pace=2 steps), which is really close to our current mile. After 1 mile, you can bring down the load and you can go on your business.

But Jesus in his teaching in Matthew 5:41, said that if a soldier demands you to carry his pack for 1 mile (pertaining to lex angeria law), carry it for 2 miles instead. That was Jesus said! So if someone ask you a favor, do it beyond what you are being asked. Not out of duty, but do it out of love.

I am not sure Simon heard of this Jesus’ teaching, that he would be willing to carry the cross for more than a mile.

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Station V, Via Dolorosa: spot where Simon carried the cross

But I get it, not just because the cross was heavy, and it was not even his cross to carry, Simon has other reasons to be reluctant. One is that if he carry that bloodied cross, he would contaminate himself with blood and he would be deemed ceremoniously unclean by Jewish law. He then would not be able to participate in the Passover feast, which was the very reason he came to Jerusalem in the first place.

Sometimes we have our own plans, and all of a sudden we are being diverted to do something we don’t want to do. Just like Simon. But God has a plan for us. We just have to trust Him.

The other reason, why I think Simon was reluctant to carry the cross was, can you imagine the humiliation of carrying the cross of somebody you don’t even know? The humiliation of being associated to somebody condemned to die.

Simon’s experience was: from dream to nightmare, from holy to horrific, from going to the place of worship to going to a place of execution.

But as Simon followed Jesus carrying the cross and being led by the Roman soldiers, something happened to him. It changed him.

Simon have looked into the bloodied face of this man and their eyes met. The look that peered through his soul. The look of love and forgiveness, despite him being led to his death. Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

As he was following Jesus with the cross, he have heard him speak as recorded in Luke 23:28 “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

Something changed the heart of Simon. I believe that after they came to Calvary and he was told by the soldiers that he can bring down the cross and was free to go, he stayed in the crowd and watched what would happen to the Man whose cross he carried.

Simon witnessed of how this Man forgave those who were crucifying him, praying “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He saw this Man die and how He cried “It is finished,” and how he uttered “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

From an unwilling cross bearer, Simon became a willing faithful follower.

Simon realized the fact that his hands and his shoulders and his body that were stained by this Man’s blood did not make him unclean, but rather that very blood cleansed him of his sins. Simon can claim that he was literally washed by the blood of the Lamb.

How sure are we that Simon became a follower of Christ?

In Mark 15:21 it mentioned Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. The book of Mark was written about 25-30 years after Jesus died. The fact that Mark mentioned the names of his sons, implied that his sons became known to the early Christian church. That means they became pillars of the church, because their converted father introduced them to the Savior whose cross he carried.

Also in Acts 11:19-21, which mentioned those early Christians from Cyrene, and we may wonder, why were the earliest Christians from a place 800 miles away from Jerusalem? I want to believe that those were converted by Simon when he returned home to Cyrene. Even Paul in Romans 16:13 greeted Rufus, Simon’s son, whom Paul said was ‘picked by God to be his very own son.’

Yes, Simon was not picked by the Romans by chance, but rather God picked Simon. And it was not a chance encounter, but it was a destined encounter.

May the story of Simon, inspire us for our own fateful encounter.

(*photo taken in Jerusalem)