Ephesians 2:1-7, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sin; Wherein time past ye walked according to the course of this world, …. But God, who is rich in mercy, …. hath quickened us together with Christ, And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
This is a two part story. The first part tells us what we once were, and then it says “but God.” The picture changes and we’re now told what we can become. In Mark 5:1-6, we read of the man who lived in the tombs. No one could bind him in chains, yet when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him.” There is no one who can’t be helped by God. He does not see any of us as impossible or hopeless. Although we read of a time when we were “without hope,” it does not mean we are hopeless. We didn’t see the whole picture then as we were too bound with our own troubles, doings and desires and we didn’t have hope.
I want to encourage and make you understand today that we have every reason to be patient with others. Don’t ever think someone’s impossible! Let God decide who can be helped and who will not be helped. It’s so easy to think we know. We look at some and say they are hopeless, while others could say “That person can be helped!”
A sister worker, on a home visit from Scandinavia, visited some of the Friends she knew well, and told them how difficult the work was in that county. Her friend said, “I have some wonderful neighbours I wish I could get out to the meetings; they’re good people, but I can’t get them to come.” The sister worker said, “Wait a minute! Let me tell you about some good people in Scandinavia. I labour in the land of good people and it’s not all that difficult to get them to come.” Sometimes we make judgements about people and say this or that person will surely be helped, but then we look at others and say they will never be helped. Don’t do that! Let God make the decision, as He knows the heart; we don’t. Our duty is to have hope. We can have hope for the good people but we can also have hope for the hopeless! If we cannot have hope for the impossible people, then I wouldn’t be standing here tonight. A high school classmate of mine invited me out to my first meeting and he was so patient with me. I don’t say this lightly – he ranks up there with the patience of Job! He was that kind of person; he had hope for everyone except me! But he stayed with me and something kept me going to the meeting. I feel so grateful and indebted for his persistence today..
We read in Mark 5 of that man with the unclean spirit. He might seem hopeless to us.. Can you imagine anyone more hopeless than he? Luke says that he lived in the tombs and wore no clothes. In other words, he had no shame. He couldn’t settle down and be quiet. What kind of person was that? Let us take a look at what happened when God looked in his heart and let Him decide. Was he that far down? This story teaches us a spiritual lesson.
If I were to put myself in that man’s place, my skin would crawl. Are we really any different? No! The majority of us here have already made our heart-surrender to God, but I’m sure there are others who haven’t. Was Legion all that queer, living in the tombs? The tombs are where dead people go.. If it happened in America, I wouldn’t understand it but if it happened in the Philippines, I could. People are buried without headstones there. If they have money, they will build a monument or a building, something deluxe over the tomb, and there are some who just love to live in that building. It has everything inside it – a kitchen, and all the facilities. People who have money will do that to honour their dead. Those with no place to live will go and live in the cemeteries.
The Ephesians says “Even when we were dead …… dead in trespasses and sin”. God did something for us. If we are dead, our companions are also dead. Legion had many unclean spirits – his dead companions all lived in the cemetery. They were dead to God and dead in sin. So Legion wasn’t that odd in that sense. Although we say we live, our companions might be dead to God. We would be no different than Legion before the Gospel came.
“But God…” – God is what makes the difference. God can and God will do. If we refuse the gospel, we will have nothing. We will stay dead and our companions will be from the dead. So it wasn’t so strange that Legion was living in a place of tombs. Spiritually, we were just the same. Everyone around us was dead till the Gospel came and we received that new life! So God doesn’t care if we were good or bad; we were once all the same! People tried to bind Legion and help him, but he couldn’t stop crying out in the mountains and living down in the tombs. Those people were good people with good intentions, who tried to help. That is a picture of what goes on in the religious world today by using laws and rules, yet nothing happens to the inside of a person. No one is watching so nothing is controlled. Legion was bound but broke from his chains because nothing happened to the inside. The inside needed changing too, not just the outside.
If a person gets acquainted with the people and Way of God and come to the meetings without receiving new life, they only end up copying or repeating what another person has said. Nothing has happened to the inside. It just doesn’t work. Something must happen to the inside, as sooner or later it will show on the outside. If this has happened to someone here, it’s not a hopeless situation; it requires more humbling, more crying out for God’s help, and then His power will help change the inside.
Legion was naked, he wore no clothes. You might say “That’s not me!” but wait a minute….. !! In Ephesians, we’re told that we all are moved by the lusts of the flesh and do shameful things. Don’t look at Legion that way! Before the Gospel came and we had a clear picture of our Master, we have done many shameful things that we are ashamed of. We had no conscience back then and did the same things as others did. One couple I knew moved in a circle that did some pretty wild things with their friends. Then they met some of God’s people who were not like that; they were clean living people who lived under the control of God. It was God’s Power that made them different. That couple attended some meetings, and they changed, but after they made their choice to walk with God, they felt so ashamed of even making mention of those things they did before. Once, my friends, you felt no shame either.
Legion was on the move day and night; first he was up in the mountains and then back down in the tombs. He was only harming himself. Can you get a little clearer picture now? If we won’t receive Jesus and what He wants to give through the gospel, we will be like that too, never satisfied with anything. We will first try this and then that and if something new comes up well, we’ll try that too! First we are up in the mountains and then we are back down in the tombs again; we cannot rest, we cannot stop till God gives us His peace and contentment. We must make a change, a change in the inside. Until that change came to Legion on the inside, he just couldn’t stop. He had to try to keep going till Jesus came and the picture changed! He wasn’t so strange after all, was he?! In the truest sense, that is how the Gospel finds all of us.
Mark 5:7 says, “And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.” I don’t know if anyone here feels like that today, that if we serve God it would be torment and no fun. What do you want in life? Fun is so short lived; you have to keep going back and trying it again and again. Or perhaps you want a deep peace, like the river that keeps flowing on and you never have to keep running back for? That is what gives us the true source of contentment inside. Isn’t that wonderful? Legion’s thought was that by serving God it would be torment, so he said, “Torment me not.” He was a tormented man who didn’t know the control of Jesus in his life. That’s how reversed things can get. Jesus wanted him to know that peace and joy, and he finally got it. The evil spirit was cast out. Verse 15, “And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.” What an absolute change! You would say, “It’s impossible”! How could you help a man like that? But here was Legion, sitting quietly, clothed, and in his right mind. Something had happened on the inside of him..
People love loud noise day and night where I labour. The louder the noise, the better they like it. It’s very disturbing to us, but they don’t want it any other way. They don’t want to stop and think about where they are going a few years down the road, so they fill their waking hours with lots of noise. But Legion had finally found peace in his heart and he was fully clothed.
There’s a big difference between the right and the wrong. Some like to tell us that it doesn’t matter as long as the right thing is in your heart. But it does matter, and Legion knew it mattered. He felt a sense of shame he never felt before. He knew his life was shameful. His standard had been set by the world. It wasn’t the law, but something was working in his heart that told him that he was not a child of God and that he must stop doing those things that others are doing because God is watching him. He wanted to please God and be the right kind of person in His Family. His conscience knew the difference between the right and the wrong. Legion was now in his right mind when he said, “This isn’t a torment, it’s a joy; I have peace and contentment and everything a person could want.” Things were all straightened up and turned around. Remember, we were once impossible too, but I’m so glad our God doesn’t see us that way. He sees us as possible. He can change us just as surely as He changed Legion and He can give us new life.
Do you realise when you go out from this convention that someone is watching you very, very closely and it may not be the person you think? But you still have a chance to be the right example before them and show them something new has happened in your life. Everyone here is a miracle, and it was the “but God” that has done the impossible. We can rejoice in that..
One brother Worker, past sixty years, told us that as long as his mother lived, he was her little boy. Whenever he would go home to spend a few days with her and would go into the city, he would tell her and she would say, “Do you want me to go with you?” When he’d get home, the first thing she asked was “Did you see anyone you know?” Then she would say, “Peter, remember lots of people saw you today.”
Many people will see you, so give God a chance to call anyone whose heart He sees is right. Don’t limit God! Give Him every opportunity He wants. I hope there will be others at the next convention who don’t limit Him either.. May we go out useful into this next year.