Forgetting Who You Are

Sept. 22, 2016 Russell Moore

Session Transcript

Good evening. Call your attention to the Gospel of Mark 5, and I’d like for us to read starting with verse 1 down through verse 20. While you’re getting there in your physical Bible or your device wherever your Bible is, let me just tell you what a joy it is to be here at Cry Out ’16, and already to be in the throne room of God, and to be worshiping together tonight. It’s been a joy.

Mark 5, let’s begin reading with verse 1. Since this is the very Word of God, breathed out by the Holy Spirit, and comes to us with the exact same authority as if our Lord Jesus Himself were standing here speaking these words to us, would you please stand out of reverence for the Word of our God? The Holy Spirit says through Mark:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 

Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 

And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”  So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Let’s pray.

Holy Father, if we had any idea of the glory surrounding us right now, I think we would fall forward on our faces. Lord, as we gather here in worship, as we gather here under Your Word, we’re not just gathered together with a group of fellow conference goers. But we are here in the name of Jesus Christ. We are standing here in the presence of the heavenly Mount Zion. And surrounding us right now are innumerable angels and a great cloud of witnesses—a number that no man can number. And Lord, we wish to agree with all of them that Jesus Christ is Lord. And so would You silence any spirit in this place that would exalt itself above or beside the name of Jesus Christ? Would You strip away from our hearts anything that is not Christ-shaped? Would You by Your Word and by Your Spirit conform us into the image of Jesus, that He might be the first born among many brothers and sisters? We ask this in His Name and in His Name only, amen.

You may be seated.

I came under deep conviction of sin one time really early in my ministry in one of my first ministry positions over a church bulletin. And it was because this church that I was serving was a really, really programmed church. They had the same programs they had had for a long time.

Every Sunday morning we would have Sunday morning worship at eleven o’clock, and we would have Sunday evening worship at seven o’clock. Every Sunday morning, in the morning we would have Sunday school right before the morning worship service for everybody from the babies all the way up to the senior adults. And then on Sunday nights we would have kind of like a Sunday school at night that would happen right before the evening worship service that we called Discipleship Training.

The programs had been around so long in that church that everybody kind of knew them all by their acronyms. So on the bulletin we would just have “SS” for Sunday school at 9:45; Worship—11:00; “DT” for Discipleship Training—6:00; Evening Worship—7:00 PM. Everybody knew what this meant. That bulletin had probably been the same cover of the bulletin for who knows how many years. We all just knew that that’s what it was.

Until one day there was this woman who had moved in from some other place. She came up, and she was really excited when she saw “DT” because she assumed it was “detox” for people who were drying out after being drunk.

She wanted to know about that ministry, and so she came up and said, “I’m really interested in the fact that you have DT every Sunday night.

And I said, “Yes.”

She said, “How many people come to DT?”

I said, “About 150.”

She said, “That’s fantastic. Now do the people who come for DT, do they stay for worship after?”

And I said, “Well, yes, it’s kind of the core of our church. It’s all our deacons and our women’s ministry leaders, and it’s the backbone of the church.”

I could tell she was really confused. It took us several minutes to try and figure out what we were each doing with these abbreviations. Suddenly, I started getting under some deep conviction for two reasons.

One of them was that we had been in such a cocoon there in that church that we just assumed that we were just talking to ourselves—that we would just know what all of these little abbreviations meant and everybody could figure that out because we were just talking to us.

But the other reason and the more important reason is because I had been so embarrassed when I realized that she thought that I had said that the core of our church was in detox, and I wanted to assure her that that wasn’t the case.

But the problem was that the core of our church was in detox. We were all in detox from something. Some people from substance abuse; some people from idolatry; some people from sexual hedonism; some people from a thousand different kinds of brokenness. All of us were in a process of detox.

What I wanted to do was assure this woman, “No, no, no. You’re not coming to a church where you have to worry about the people here in detox. We might do that to minister to people on the outside. But the people in this church are people who have everything together, and therefore we’re the people who are able to minister to you and to minister to your children. You don’t need to go away from us. You can come to us.”

My assumption was that if we admitted to brokenness and woundedness, even just in a misunderstanding over a bulletin, that somehow we would lose our opportunity to minister—and I was on the exact opposite side of Jesus.

Scripture here is sent out to the people to tell them who Jesus is; what Jesus is like. And instead of showing us Jesus meeting with some influential figure; Jesus meeting with some powerful figure, instead Mark goes out of his way to show us Jesus talking to someone who is as far gone as he can possibly be—a demon-possessed man who is cutting himself in a graveyard. And says to us, “If you want to follow Jesus, you will follow Him there.”

You and I are living in a place right now where there are a lot of people consumed with fear and with panic. There may be some of you here tonight who are consumed with fear and with panic.

Some of you are fearful, and you’re panicking when you look at the culture around you. You wonder what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen to our country? What’s going to happen to our neighborhood? What’s going to happen for my children and their children and their children? You’re fearful, and you’re anxious, and you’re on edge.

Some of you are fearful and you’re anxious when you look at your situation, and you don’t know what you’re going to do in terms of your job. Or you don’t know what you’re going to do in terms of maybe a marriage that’s falling apart. Or you don’t know what you’re going to do maybe with a prodigal child. Or you don’t know what you’re going to do with a situation where you’ve prayed and you’ve prayed and you’ve prayed until you’re right at the edge of despair and ready to give up. You’re fearful and you’re almost at the place of panicking.

The reason that we become fearful is we have forgotten who we are. This Scripture reminds us. I want you to notice first of all the problem here.

This man, the Scripture says, is among the tombs. He’s in the graveyard. Now, it could be, some people have speculated that maybe this man had lost someone and in his grief he is someone who found himself drawn to the tomb and drawn to the place where that person was buried.

But it’s more likely that instead, this is someone who is so terrorized by these unclean spirits that he is finding his life in a place of death. He is going to the place where death is, to the graveyard. This means that he is cut off from the rest of the people.

People don’t like to go into graveyards unless they have a reason to go, in virtually any culture, much less in a culture where being with the dead and being with dead bodies is something that would make you unclean. This is a man who in this place of death is cut off and isolated from someone else.

And not only that, this man, here in this graveyard and in these tombs, is someone who is under a deep spiritual warfare. As a matter of fact, he has lost this spiritual warfare. Scripture says that he is inhabited by unclean spirits – too many here to number. Now, that would have further isolated him from the people around him.

You think about even in our culture right now, even in the most secular place in America, if you go in and say, “This house you’re considering buying, yes, there was somebody that was murdered here one time. People say it’s haunted. People say they hear moaning at night. People say they hear chains that are moving along the floor. But I wouldn’t worry about that.”

Even the most rationalistic, secularistic, scientifically-minded people will be kind of creeped out by that. They’ll want to go on to look at another house. Much less people who are connected and understand and they know what it is to see unclean spirits. They know about a spiritual world that is dark, that is evil.

He is someone who is there in bondage to these spirits. He is in the graves and notice what is happening. He is someone with great power and with great strength. And that power and strength is hurting him. The chains they put on them he is able to pull apart.

But the freedom that he has isn’t a freedom that is bringing him joy. It isn’t a freedom that’s bringing him fulfillment. It is a freedom that is leading to moaning – to a crying out – not like the crying out that we’re talking about here, but a crying out of desolation and of despair. He’s cutting himself here. He is harming himself here. His power is being turned against him.

Now, what I want you to understand and see is that this man’s situation is extreme. But this man’s situation is not any different from the situation of the world outside of Jesus Christ.

The Scripture says that all of us outside of Christ are following a way that leads to death. All of us outside of Christ are under a reign and a rule of death. All of us outside of Christ are those who are living in a world that is being governed, Ephesians 2 says, by the prince of the power of the air. That is, John says, lying under the sway of the wicked one.

We are living in a demon-haunted world. All of us apart from Christ are those who are under the deception of that dark spirit world. All of us apart from Christ are under the accusation of that dark spirit world. All of us left to ourselves will want to find power, and will want to find strength, and will want to find freedom. And in all of that, we will only end up harming and hurting ourselves.

This man is here in a state of complete desolation. Notice that he assumes that Jesus is the problem. Despite all of these burdens, when Jesus shows up, now there is a crisis.

The man falls on his face. The spirits within him start to cry out because they recognize that Jesus is going to disrupt things. Jesus is going to turn things around. Jesus is going to wreck their lives. They understand and know what is actually going on.

When you’re thinking about the people around you; the people that you have a burden for; the people who disagree strongly with you; the people that you are praying for right now, do you consider the fact that this is not just a matter of winning a few arguments?

This is about something that is so deep that when Jesus encounters “lost-ness,” “lost-ness” sees that as a problem, as a threat. The Light comes into the darkness, and the darkness hates the Light and loves the darkness. That is the judgment.

But notice Jesus here. There is no fear. Jesus is not fearful of the graveyard. Jesus is not fearful of the strength of the man. Jesus is not fearful of the unclean spirits. Jesus is not fearful of being contaminated by somebody who is unclean. Jesus is not fearful of being seen with this man who is as far gone as one could possibly go.

One of the problems facing our churches right now is that we are not only fearful of the outside world and panicking about the outside world, but we are also afraid to be seen with sinners.

The Scripture calls us to be separated from sin but never to be separated from sinners. Jesus chooses to go into the graveyard where this man is. He goes intentionally to be with him, and He does it with a confidence.

Jesus is not fearful that He will be overcome by the unclean spirits. Jesus is not fearful that He will be overcome by the man. Jesus is not fearful that His reputation will be overcome by being seen with that man. Jesus has confidence in the Spirit of God. He has confidence in the mission that His Father has given to Him. He has confidence in the gospel.

One of the reasons you and I are so often so fearful and panicked about the situation in our lives or about the situation in the outside world is because we lack that confidence.

Jesus understands the problem here. But notice also, the solution. Jesus comes and does not offer a feat of strength. Jesus doesn’t have a competition with the demon possessed man to see who’s able to pull chains apart.

Instead, what does Jesus do? He does not come in with raw power. He comes in with His voice. And the word that He says is, “What is your name?”

One of the reasons, I think, that the outside world often thinks that Christians are angry, that Christians are always outraged, that Christians have their fists balled up at the outside world. One of the reasons I think the outside world thinks that is because they read Facebook. And I have to tell you, if all I knew about Christianity is some of the things that I see posted on Facebook, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian either.

Jesus doesn’t come in to win an argument. Jesus doesn’t come in in order to demonstrate His power. Jesus comes in with His presence, with His personal encounter, and He says “What is your name?”

He gets to the most personal reality about that man. Your name is at the very core and the center of who you are. That’s why when they misspell your name on the Starbuck’s cup, you probably don’t get offended, but you notice. You notice because that’s you. That’s personal to you.

Jesus says to this man exactly what God says to Adam in the garden, “Where are you?” “What is your name?” And He does so, why? Because even this man is not too far gone for the power of Jesus Christ.

One of the problems that we have within the church is that sometimes we will do, kind of like people in my wing of Christianity who aren’t Pentecostals. We'll pray for each other for health. If somebody has something kind of minor, “I’ve got an infected ingrown toenail.” Then we’ll say, “Lord, heal that infected, ingrown toenail.” When somebody has something really major, advanced pancreatic cancer, we’ll pray, “Lord, comfort their family. Let Your will be done.”

As a friend of mine said when he got cancer, “I want all of you praying like a Pentecostal. God can heal all of that.”

Sometimes we do the same thing when it comes to spiritual realities. Sometimes we somehow believe that the power of the gospel is enough for people who are moving along with kind of respectable levels of sin. But the gospel is not enough to reach people who are completely at the point of brokenness and at the point of despair.

And that’s one of the reasons why some of you even in this room right now, may be in bondage all of the time, because you are constantly confronting the accusations of the devil. Even though you’re in Christ, you constantly have a conscience that is saying to you, “Yah, but remember the way that you treated that person? Remember that sexual relationship that took place? Remember that marriage that broke up? Remember that child that was aborted? Remember those secrets? Remember those things that nobody else knows about?”

You hold those things in your heart, when in reality, Jesus has already encountered you. Jesus is not surprised by your secrets. Jesus is not surprised by your history. Jesus is not surprised by your struggles. Jesus is not surprised by your temptations.

Jesus is ruling and governing history. So He decided that you would be sitting there hearing the proclamation of the gospel. You didn’t get in there accidentally. He had you there in order to say if you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you of your sins and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Jesus has encountered you, and He has said to you, “What is your name?”

There is a power in that. And there is a power that expels and drives away fear. But notice what happens. When Jesus says, “What is your name?” The man’s response is, “I don’t have a name. There are so many of us that we are ‘Legion.’”

This man’s situation, this man’s lost-ness, this man’s despair had led him to the place where he had lost himself. He didn’t even know who he was. This is a man who is, on the one hand isolated, away from everybody else, and on the other hand, he is crowded out with all of these unclean voices in his head.

And here we are in a culture where even when people are not inhabited in this way by the unclean, people are more connected than ever before—and yet lonely, and yet isolated, and yet alone.

The man says, “I don’t have a name. I am ‘Legion.’” The man doesn’t know who he is anymore because he is just a collection of unclean spirits. You do not have to be a demonized man in a graveyard to be that lost.

All you have to do is to just see yourself in terms of all of your roles—all of the things that you do, all of your jobs, all of your children, all of your relationships, all of your ministries, or all of your responsibilities. And to be lost in such a place that you don’t even know what it is like. You are numb to the reality of hearing the voice of Jesus calling you personally by name. “Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?”

This is what has happened to this man. And this is what has happened to endless people all around us right now. Many of them are asking is, “Is the gospel for someone like me?”

A friend of mine who had been a lesbian, feminist, atheist, activist started to weigh the claims of the gospel. She started reading through the gospels, and she started to be drawn toward Jesus. She said one of the first things she did was to go and sit at a coffee shop across the street from a church and just watch the people getting out of their cars or their vans or their trucks, walking into that church and saying, “Could I ever be one of those people?”

There are many people who are asking that question right now. If all that we present to the outside world is: “We’re more moral than you are. We’re more well-behaved than you are. We have families that are more stable than yours are. We have lives that are more put together than yours are. We’re happier than you are. We’re more blessed than you are." We manage our image to show that we have everything all together—there’s no brokenness; there’s no woundedness; there’s no sin; there’s no detox. We’re shiny, happy people for Jesus. Then we will give the picture to the outside world that the gospel has not come for sinners but for the righteous.

Jesus doesn’t do this. Jesus walks right in here to this place of this lonely man, and he brings him out of loneliness into community. “I send you back to your people.” Jesus brings him out of this crowdedness, into a personal relationship – one on one with Him. Jesus comes and frees him from his own power.

When the man says, “We are Legion” or rather when the spirits say, “We are Legion,” that is an assertion of power. That’s how the Roman Empire protected itself—with legions, with soldiers. That’s the reason why Jesus said at His arrest, “Don’t you know that I could call my Father and He would send twelve legions of angels?”

The spirits within this man are pumping themselves up and saying, “We are many. We are mighty. We are powerful.” Exactly what we so often want to do as a church. “Pay attention to us because we’ve got the power to boycott. Pay attention to us because we’re a big voting bloc. Pay attention to us because we’re the people who will shape the future of the culture. We are Legion. We are many. We are powerful on your own terms of power.”

But Jesus sees that and says that is death. Jesus doesn’t even flinch until the spirits in this man are crying out and begging, “Please don’t send us out into the abyss. Send us instead into those pigs.”

And you know what startles me about Jesus here? Jesus says, “Okay.” That’s not how I want Jesus to act with demons. If I’m directing Jesus, I want Jesus to say, “Oh, you don’t want to go to the abyss, well the abyss is exactly where you’re going to go. And I’m going to make sure that everybody sees you as you’re fleeing out into the outer nothingness.”

Jesus says, “Okay. Go to the pigs.” Why? Because Jesus is able here to have a confidence because He doesn’t believe that this legion of demons is ultimately going to be able to derail him.

One of the reasons why we can be, as a church, so angry and so outraged and mean to people who disagree with us, to people who reject us, to people who call us names, is because if we’re honest, we’re afraid.

We’re afraid that somehow they are right that we are being left behind. We’re afraid that somehow they are right that the power of the Holy Spirit is not enough. We’re afraid that somehow we have to have something else to prove ourselves to be right, to prove ourselves to be blessed, to prove ourselves to be loved by God.

And we want to see that and we want to find that. Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus speaks instead with a voice that is able to say to these spirits, “Leave and go.” He is able then to say to that man, “Where are you? Go home. Go to your people. Go back to your community.”

Jesus has a quiet confidence that we see over and over again in Scripture. Jesus is never freaking out when everybody else is. When the boat is about to capsize, everyone else is starting to panic, Jesus is asleep.

When the crowds are starting to leave, all the disciples are starting to panic, Jesus is calm. When Jesus is being arrested and led before Pilate and everybody else is running as fast as they can go, with Simon Peter cussing in front of the fire, Jesus is standing there as calmly as He can be saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

When everybody else is calm, Jesus is anguished. When they walk into the temple and they see that the people have made a marketplace of it and they’ve taken over the Court of the Gentiles, Jesus becomes so angered that He drives them out. The disciples are probably standing around and saying, “You’re not new here. You’ve been coming here since you were twelve years old. Why now are you upset about this?”

When Jesus encounters a fig tree that doesn’t have figs because it’s not the time for figs, He curses it and denounces it. And the disciples are probably saying to themselves, “He probably needs a vacation or something.”

When the disciples are asleep in the olive court in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is sweating blood. Jesus is calm when they’re panicking, and Jesus is anguished when they’re asleep. Why? Because Jesus knows about what is actually going on in the world around us better than we do.

Jesus knows that the things we are the least worried about are the things we ought to be the most worried about. And the things that we are the most worried about are the things that we ought to be the least worried about.

And in this He speaks a word of gospel solution. Notice the reaction. When Jesus frees this man from these spirits, when Jesus returns this man to his right mind, it says that the people there are frightened. The people want Him to leave. The people assume that Jesus is the problem.

Why? Because what they wanted to do with this man is to chain him. What they wanted to do was to keep him away from hurting anybody else and just to control his behavior.

Sisters, that is Bible-belt, cultural Christianity. Let’s get people to behave the right way; let’s get people to say the right words; let’s get people to know how to act; let’s get people to do all of these things the way a good Christian should except apart from the actual power of knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That does not address the problem.

When the people actually see the gospel, they are frightened by it. They start to retreat from it. As a matter of fact, they are infuriated by it because some of these people are angrier that they have lost pigs than they are rejoicing that they have gained this brother.

They are more concerned about their possessions, about their security than they are about the advancing the kingdom of God. And before we get too hard on them, how often do we do the exact same thing? It is hard and difficult if you are going to love a hurting and dying world.

It’s one thing to love orphans in the abstract until you bring that child with fetal alcohol syndrome into your home who’s never been in a situation like that before. It’s one thing to love hurting women in the abstract. It’s another thing to bring that unwed mother into your home.

It’s one thing to love the lost people that you’re talking with in the line at the coffee shop. It’s another thing to say, “It doesn’t matter how messy my house is right now. It doesn’t matter how disorganized my kitchen is right now. These people in my community need me right now.”

We all, left to ourselves, try to prioritize those things. The reaction here is one that sees Jesus as a problem, that sees the gospel as a problem, because we assume that what really matters is our lives the way that we have planned them.

If we’re freed from fear by the gospel, then we are going to be the people who are willing to have our lives wrecked and rebuilt by Jesus.

I was so embarrassed about that woman thinking we had drunks all through the church. But I hadn’t been there very long when we had a lady who started coming to the church who had this combination of Alzheimer’s Disease and Tourette’s Syndrome of some kind.

She would be in the service, and she would just yell out her thoughts on whatever was being said. So you learned if you were teaching not to ask a rhetorical question. And she would yell out the vilest string of profanities you’ve ever heard in your life.

And the first time she started doing this, I’m teaching and my immediate thought is, I can’t believe this happening. We’re going to have people visiting here today. They’re going to have children with us. We’re going to have people whose kid’s first word is going to be ‘blankety-blank-blank’ because of what’s happened in my church.

I’m embarrassed by that until a group of elderly ladies came up after, and they said, “Oh Brother Russell, we could tell you might be embarrassed when Miss Betty was doing what she was doing.”

And I said, “Well, I kind of was.”

They said, “She’s our sister. She’s sick.”

And one of them said, “Brother Russell, when Miss Betty says, 'Blankety-blank-blank you blankety-blanker.' That’s just her way of saying ‘Amen.’”

What they were saying is, “This church does not exist for you and your image.” And what they were saying was, “This church does not exist for its reputation. This church exists to be on mission with Jesus to seek and to save that which was lost. And so we will bear the burdens of our sister.”

If we are going to be the people who will engage the people around us without fear, we must give up our attempts to be strong and powerful and all together. And we must be the people who bear witness to the outside world. "We’re not more moral than you. We’re not more behaved than you. We’re not more put together than you."

The only difference between us and you is that somewhere outside the gates of Jerusalem we were crucified with Christ. And somewhere outside the gates of Jerusalem, there is an empty hole in the ground where we walked out with Christ. And we're so joined with Him, God says exactly of us what He says of Jesus Christ. “This is My beloved child in whom I am well pleased. There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ.”

And until the day when we are freed from all of this besetting sin, and until the day when we are freed from all of these doubts and all of these fears, we will walk not seeing where we’re going by faith because we follow a voice that first said to us “What is your name?” And we confess and bear witness that we’re with Him, and we’re in detox.

Thank you.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.