And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
The modern West has little room for the miraculous. Plenty of people consider themselves to be spiritual and may even make room for the supernatural to some degree. But when it comes to the specificities of the miracles recorded in the Bible the responses range from the scoffing of unbelievers to embarrassment from some believers.
However, since God exists (It defies reason for the universe to be uncreated) we live in a world that is more than merely natural. Likewise, since God is supernatural it makes perfect sense that among his works will be those which transcend the merely natural. Jesus was widely recognized not only by his followers but by his critics and secular historians as a miracle worker.
Jesus performed miracles primarily as signs pointing to his identity and mission. The miracles demonstrate that God is actively involved in his creation. This is no more powerfully demonstrated than in the incarnation, God in the flesh. The miracles also demonstrate the authority of Jesus over all realms of creation. Jesus commanded nature, healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons.
According to Scripture Satan, or the Devil was an archangel who was cast out of heaven when he rebelled against God. Along with Satan were cast down a sizeable number of angels who had joined his rebellion. These fallen angels are what are referred to as demons. It is of particular interest that in the present passage the demons instantly recognize who Jesus is and know that His presence means judgment for them. They remember Him from glory. They know His mission on earth. And they know that he is ultimately their Judge.
Descriptions of demon possession are only hinted at in the Old Testament and there are few examples of it after the Gospels. “In the Bible [an outbreak of] demon possession seems rather to be part of the upsurge of evil opposing Jesus in the time of his incarnation” (Morris, 208). It makes sense that the coming of the Messiah into the world would be met with frequent opposition from Satan. Jesus’ encounter with demons was an important element in his ministry because of what those encounters revealed about God’s kingdom, the kingdom of this world, and the nature of Jesus’ mission.
In his encounter with the Gadarene demoniacs Jesus demonstrated his comprehensive authority. There was nothing the demons could do to manipulate Jesus or curtail his power over them. It is also clear that demons are aware that a time is coming when Jesus will judge them once and for all. It was Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners and his victorious resurrection which finally sealed the fate of the demonic powers of sin and darkness. The Apostle Paul states that through his death on the cross Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities [a reference to all opposition to Christ] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15).
In this time of crisis remember that King Jesus has not lost control of his creation. Satan is not running wild exercising dominion over the earth. He is a powerful foe, yes. But he is also a dog on a leash. He is a defeated enemy. What we see now in the wickedness that seems to prevail around the world is the death rattle of his guile and opposition to God. Praise be to God that we will not be lost; that we will not be victims of our ancient foe.
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”
The question of why bad things happen is surely almost as old as humanity. Not surprisingly, Jesus was asked those sorts of questions. In the account provided by Luke, Jesus is asked about two events which resulted in great suffering. One event fell under what we might call a natural disaster. A tower in Siloam collapsed and killed 18 people. The other event was a particularly heinous act of human evil. Galilean Jews had traveled to the temple to offer sacrifices. Pilate, the Roman governor of that region, had them slaughtered at the temple and their blood mixed with that of their offerings. This was a double tragedy for not only were the Galilean Jews murdered but the temple was defiled.
Such instances have long been fodder for unbelievers to mock the idea of the existence of God. “How can you believe in God when there is such suffering in the world?” they ask. Of course we know from Romans 1 that even the firmest of skeptics cannot escape the knowledge of God. But that is another subject. The question itself is not without merit. Even the most faithful Christians will from time-to-time cry out with the Psalmist, “Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?” Godly men and women have long grieved over the evil and suffering in the world and perhaps even wondered if the skeptics are right.
But God’s Word never grants legitimacy to the skeptics. Without exception the Scriptures uphold the existence and goodness and power of God as self-evident and undeniable truths written across creation (Romans 1:18-20) and even within the consciences of all people (Romans 2:15). That is not to say that God does not sympathize with those who honestly struggle with the cruel realities of this fallen world. The Bible is full of comforting words for those whose hearts – and perhaps bodies – have been broken by the hard realities of sin and sin’s consequences. There is a wealth of comfort in the Bible for those who suffer.
But notice how Jesus chooses to deal with these two particular disasters: one natural, the other an act of unmitigated evil. He applies the same question to both events. He asks whether those who died and were murdered suffered their fates because they were worse sinners than those who did not suffer the same fate. Essentially, Jesus asked, “Did those poor souls die because they were worse sinners than you?” The question is rhetorical. The answer is supposed to be obvious. “Of course not!”
So what exactly are they (and us, for that matter) to ponder in the face of disaster and human cruelty? Jesus tells us: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And just so we don’t miss it, he says it twice. Keep in mind this is not mean old Apostle Paul speaking. Nor is it one of those unreasonably harsh Old Testament prophets. This is Jesus, meek and mild! Our Savior did not consider it rude or unfitting to call to repentance those who were struggling with the tragic news of disasters and murder. Indeed, Jesus is the great preacher of repentance in the New Testament. He is the great Herald of the judgment to come. It is Jesus who warned against the terrors of hell more than anyone else.
In our current trials there are a number of ways for us to think and respond which are legitimate and God-glorifying. Certainly we ought to consider ways to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ. We ought also to find practical ways to love our neighbor. We should be praying for our national leaders and for those scientists who are working to perfect a vaccine against COVID-19. But if we do not include with those responses a sober look at our own hearts and daily repentance from sin then we have not gone far enough.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared. (vv. 1-4)
Psalm 130 is composed of four sections of two verses each. The first two verses record the Psalmist’s cry to the Lord out of the depths of despair. The next two verses express confidence that with the Lord there is forgiveness of sins (this indicates that “the depths” of verse 1 is the despair of a guilty conscience). The third section (vv. 5-6) describes the psalmist’s waiting for a word of assurance from the Lord. The final section (vv. 7-8) is a call for the people to hope in the Lord for he is the one who will redeem them from all their sins.
With this Psalm’s emphasis on sin and full atonement, Martin Luther referred to it as a “Paulline Psalm.” So deep is the hope in God’s forgiving mercy expressed, it could easily be placed in the book of Romans.
The theme of the Psalm is summed up in verse 4: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” The “depths” from which the psalmist cries is the knowledge of his own iniquity. The problem of sin cannot be adequately captured in purely therapeutic language. Sin is iniquity which is another word for wickedness. It is from wickedness that the sinner must be delivered. The psalmist expresses the confidence that with the Lord there is forgiveness.
Notice that the forgiveness which is found in the mercy of the Lord is not without its effect. God forgives the iniquity of his people so that they may fear him (vs. 4). That is, there is a direct connection between forgiveness of sins and fearing the Lord. God’s redemptive work in the lives of his people is comprehensive. He not only washes them clean from their sin, he changes them from sin lovers to God fearers.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning. (vv. 5-6)
God calls his people to put their hope in him. Specifically, the call here is to hope in “his word.” We can trust that all God says is true and reliable. He is present with his people by means of his word. In God’s word we find his law and gospel. We are comforted by his great and gracious promises. To hope is to wait. It is look with expectation toward the fulfillment of that which God has promised. Notice the repetition of the clause “more than watchmen for the morning” (vs. 6). God’s people hope in the Lord with the eager watchfulness of those whose job it is to scan every horizon.
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (vv. 7-8)
Redemption from sin comes as the fruit of God’s “steadfast love” (vs. 7b). How God loves his people! The theme of God’s steadfast, covenant love is of central concern in the Scriptures. Indeed, the Bible tells the story of God’s commitment to his gracious covenant with his people. God will never break faith with his people. He will never betray his word. He saves us from all of our sin. He redeems our lives from destruction.
“The psalm is saying that the present (and repeated) cycle, for the remedy of sin – forgiveness and deliverance – is a harbinger of the final and complete deliverance from all sin. In other words, every deliverance is a preview and a pledge of that great day of redemption, and every experience of forgiveness is a foreshadowing of the final redemption from sin and everything connected to it” (Allen Ross, 711).
To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah (vv. 1-3)
We know from the superscription that this Psalm was written as a song. Some passages of Scripture beg to be sung. Certainly this is one. In difficult times, is there a more appropriate theme of which to sing than that of God as our refuge and strength?
There is a world-wide perspective to the Psalm. It proclaims God’s supremacy over nature (vv. 1-3), over hostile forces (vv. 4-7), and over the whole violent world (vv. 8-11). “Its robust, defiant tone suggests it was composed at a time of crisis, which makes the confession of faith doubly impressive.” As we are currently living during a time of global pandemic we need to see once again the universal reign of the God who is our help in time of trouble.
Notice the calamitous conditions described by the Psalmist in the first three verses. The earth gives way. The mountains fall into the sea. The waters roar and the mountains tremble. In verse 6 he points out the rage of the nations and the instability of the earth’s kingdoms. In verse 9 he acknowledges the violence of war.
And yet despite these tumultuous conditions the Psalmist declares that “we do not fear.” This sense of security is not justified on the basis of positive self-talk or false expectations that calamities will not occur. Rather, it is because “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” God does not lift us up out of all our troubles. He is our very present help “in” trouble. It is within the valley of the shadow of death that our God is with us.
This Psalm anticipates the final consummation of the ages when those pillars of creation which seem most sure are wiped away by the chaos of the seas. The picture is one of undoing the created order; a portrait of final judgment. But fear not child of God for “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved” (vv. 4-5). For you, child of God, the presence of the Almighty is one of comfort. The roaring seas become a river of gladness. The ruined nations are replaced by God’s holy city.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (vv. 10-11)
Beginning today I plan on posting daily (Mondays – Fridays) devotions for anyone interested. First and foremost these are for the folks I get to serve as pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church. But I hope they are encouraging to anyone who may happen upon them.
I’ve been preaching through Genesis so I figure I’ll start with the passage I preached this week.
There are tremendous riches here not least of all the first announcement of God’s covenant with Abraham; the everlasting covenant of grace.Remember where and who Abram was when the Lord called him. He was raised in the pagan city of Ur. No doubt his view of reality was shaped by that wicked culture. Not only did Ur have within its walls a ziggurat dedicated to the moon god Nanna but human sacrifice was practiced there. By grace the LORD called this man out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Indeed, the former idolater Abram would become Abraham the worshipper of Yahweh. He entered Canaan to declare the universal dominion of the Lord over that pagan land.
“And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” (vv. 5-7)
The clause “the place at Shechem” seems to indicate the site of a pagan shrine. The “oak of Moreh” was almost certainly a sacred tree to Canaanites. And to Abraham and his offspring the Lord promises to give this idol laden land. It was at Shechem that the people of God had to make the choice between cursing and blessing; between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. At Shechem Joshua gave his final address to the people of God. At Shechem the kingdom of Solomon was divided. And here, God brings Abraham to Shechem in the very shadow of a Canaanite shrine and promises the land will soon change tenants.
Notice Abraham’s response: “So he built there an altar to the LORD” (vs. 7). Abraham built an altar in the very shadow of the paganism of the world in which he now lived. This was a defiant declaration that God’s dominion extends everywhere. The LORD Is not a regional or ethnic deity. His rule extends over all the earth and over all peoples. Abraham’s altar declared this fact.
This is the life of the Christian in a pagan land. It is the life of the Christian anywhere in this fallen world. Our lives, our worship, our words, our families, our fellowship, our attitude toward money and possessions, our views on marriage, sexuality, and human identity, the way we love each other and love our neighbor – all of it! – stands as a living witness against sin; against the world’s idolatry of sex and money and power.
And such a life will always make us strangers and pilgrims in this world.
“From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb” (vv. 8-9).
Notice the two things Abram is described as doing in verse 8: He pitched his tent and builds an altar. Even in the Land of Promise Abraham lives in impermanent dwellings. This will be his practice and that of his descendants. “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9).
Abraham knew that even the land which the Lord had given him was not his permanent home. So he lived like a nomad in the land of promise. Are we Christians any less nomads? Are we not “sojourners and exiles” so long as we live in this fallen world? (1 Peter 2:11). Abraham lived like a visitor but worshipped like a permanent resident. His altars to the LORD would stand for many generations after his tents had fallen apart and passed away.