[May 23, 2010] In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is the One stronger than Satan who breaks into his house, binds the “strong man,” and robs him of his goods. This is how Jesus described Himself in 3:27. The sad man whom Jesus delivered was dwelling among the tombs and in the mountains, and he used to cry out and hurt himself. A Roman legion consisted of between three and six thousand men. This man said there was a legion of demons tormenting him. What could this miserable man do? But seeing Jesus, he ran to Him and worshipped Him, and Jesus frees him of his many demons, with a word. He becomes a man transformed, “sitting-down, clothed, and sane.”
Part of the story is how the people reacted. They saw this transformation and became frightened, like the disciples when they saw Jesus calm the storm (4:35-41). They beg Jesus to leave them before they incurred anymore financial loss due to the shaking up of their status quo. Jesus did leave, but not until the man who desired to stay with Jesus was sent out as a witness and a missionary to the entire region. “Go to your house, to your own people, and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.” The man departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.
A Picture of the Gospel among the Gentiles
What I want to impress on you right now is that this story, which resembles the one in Acts 16 (see verses 16-18)—where Paul cast out a demon from a slave girl and incurred the wrath of the townspeople—is another picture of the movement of the Gospel, just like the story last week about the storm at sea. Only this time they have crossed the sea and their feet are on the Gentile side of the lake. The man overwhelmed by the demons, the pig-herders and all the people from the cities and countryside are Gentiles, non-Jews—like us. According to the Bible, the whole Gentile world is characterized by its worship of idols and is, in fact, ruled by Satan, his cohort of angels and his legions of demons.
The Gentile World according to the Bible
That is the world we live in, the house of the strong man, and, until Christ frees us, we are all like the man with the legion of demons. Look at the descriptions of the Gentile world that the apostles give: in Romans (1:18—2:16), 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and so on. “And these things were some of you,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 6:11). “You were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you once walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, of the spirit which is now operating in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). “Therefore remember,” he says, “that once you, the Gentiles … that you were at that time apart from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (2:11-12). “The Gentiles,” he says, “walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance which is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness to work all uncleanness in greediness” (4:17-19). We could keep going. If we did, we would find-out that Peter, and Jude and John have nothing nicer to say.
The World after Babel
Moreover, what the apostles’ describe is not the paganism of native people but rather the paganism of the great civilizations, of the successors of Babel—the paganism of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome and on to Babylon the Great in Revelation 18—Babel, where the confusion of tongues began, where humankind decided to create a “world” that could do without God, a world enthralled by its idols. The demon-filled man in the gospel story is a picture of all the Gentiles—of all of us—before we come to Jesus and He frees us.
Jesus Sends Out Those Whom He Frees
When Jesus steps out of that boat onto the Gentile shore, He breaks into the “house of the strong man,” the world of the Gentiles, and He steals those whom Satan has taken captive. It says this in Ephesians 4:8. When we connect Ephesians 4:8 and 4:11, we see that those whom He frees become His gifts to men as He sends them back into the world as His witnesses. He frees us so that He can send us out as His witnesses.
The Day of Pentecost
Perhaps we have just described what happened on the Day of Pentecost. On that day, 1980 years ago, the gathered disciples received the Holy Spirit like the breath of God breathed into them from heaven, and they spoke in tongues. A hundred and twenty Jewish men and women began speaking in Gentile languages, the languages of Babel. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit when He was baptized by John, empowered so that He could carry out His ministry, so these were empowered by the same Holy Spirit—the Spirit that anointed Jesus—so that they could be His witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria but unto the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). That movement is just what the Acts of the Apostles describes. Just as Jesus sent the man in the gospel story out into the world to be His witness, on Pentecost He sends His whole church into the world to share the Gospel and be His witnesses. The difference is that on Pentecost, He equips the church to do so with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Power of the Holy Spirit Is for All Believers
Let’s be very clear right off. The Holy Spirit fell on the whole church in the beginning, equipping all of them for this work. When Peter preached, He said to the crowds, “Repent and each one of you be baptized upon the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and YOU will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to YOU is the promise and to your children, and to all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39).
Because All of Us Are Sent to Be Witnesses
Everyone who truly believes is equipped with the gift of the Holy Spirit because everyone who believes is sent by Christ back into the world to be His witnesses. If we are not His witnesses, we are not faithful disciples but in fact are living in disobedience.
When Paul wrote to the brand-new Gentile church in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica, he says, “You became a pattern to all those who believe in Macedonia and Achaia, for from you the Word of the Lord has sounded out; not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place, your faith towards God has gone out, so that we have no need of saying anything” (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
The Holy Spirit is Given for Us to Be Witnesses of Christ
The first point then is this: God has equipped the church with the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can be His witnesses in the Gentile world around us. Jesus sends-out each of us to be His witnesses, and He has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to equip us for the task.
We Need a Vision of Christ in Glory
The second point is how we know the power of the Holy Spirit. How do we? Is it something we feel? Do we have to have an adrenalin rush that shakes us all over and makes us speak in tongues? That can happen, of course, but that is not the point. The miraculous can often distract us so that we do not see the reality that we need to see. On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter explained that the Holy Spirit was not simply an experience of the power of God. Rather, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the result of an inner vision of the ascended Christ. “Therefore [He] having been exalted to the right hand of God and [HE] having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, He has poured out this which you both see and hear … Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified” (Acts 2:33-36). If we want to know the power of the Holy Spirit, we must see Jesus more clearly; see Him inwardly, in our spirits, with the eyes of our heart. We must see the crucified One as the exalted Lord and Christ. The more we inwardly perceive who Jesus is, the more we will know the power that rests on Him, and that rests on us inasmuch as we are IN Him. Peter’s eyes, and our own too, must not be on the power of the Holy Spirit as a thing in itself; our eyes must be on Jesus—then we will know the power of the Holy Spirit without even paying attention to it.
The Spirit enables us to be witnesses of Christ. The Spirit equips us with the courage, the openness, the humility, and the words to speak. The Spirit equips us with the words to speak because the Spirit connects our words to our inner vision of Christ, so we can speak from our hearts out-of our spirits.
The Holy Spirit Makes Us One Body
But the Holy Spirit also did something else on the Day of Pentecost. This is the third point: The Holy Spirit made a hundred-and-twenty individuals become members of one another in one Body, the Body of Christ. Then the Holy Spirit took those who responded to Peter’s preaching, those who believed—there were three thousand of them—and made them members of one another and fellow members with the one-hundred-and-twenty. The Holy Spirit takes us as separate individuals and makes us members of one Body so that we become members of one another. There never was an individual Christian. There have always only been members of the one Body. Paul says that, “In one Spirit we were ALL baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and were all given to drink one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The expression of the Holy Spirit is our love for one another and our ability to minister to one another. The Holy Spirit not only equips us to be witnesses of Christ in the world around us; the Holy Spirit also equips us to build up one another in the Body of Christ.
Remember these three points. (1) When Jesus sends all of His believers into the world to be His witnesses, He equips them with the power of the Holy Spirit for this work. (2) We know the power of the Holy Spirit to the extent that we know CHRIST and have an inner vision of who He is in His exaltation. And (3), the power of the Holy Spirit makes us members of one another in the one Body of Christ and equips us with gifts for the sake of one another. If we are to be true disciples who are “with Jesus” (Mark 5:18; see 3:14) in this idol-crazy Gentile world, we need to know the Holy Spirit very, very well.