Sabine was the only member of her family to survive the tribal genocide in Rwanda. She jumped at the offer by a wealthy family to move to America and work for them. Shortly after she arrived, however, she found herself imprisoned in their home; forced to work around the clock and made to sleep on the kitchen floor. After six months Sabine was allowed to go to church on Sunday. After a morning service she was approached by a kind Rwandan man who learned of her situation and helped her escape. He took Sabine to an organization that helps victims of human trafficking find their freedom.
Yet Sabine found herself still enslaved. She was afraid of everything. Even going to the grocery store or using a gift card terrified her. She did not want to go out after 4:00 p.m. because it was too dark. It took 3 months before she was able to go shopping on her own and familiarize herself with the neighborhood. She found somebody to teach her English, and eventually got in a job training program that helped her escape her poverty and provide for herself.
Sabine is one of the estimated 2 million victims of human trafficking who live in the USA. The majority are women and girls, lured into this country with a promise of freedom and opportunity, only to find themselves prisoners, forced to work for little or no pay in fields, factories, or as prostitutes. Many of them from never find their freedom.
Most of us will never know what’ it’s like to endure the horrors of human trafficking. We enjoy a freedom here in America other nations can only dream of. And yet on a much deeper level, many of us who claim to be free are really slaves.
Some are slaves to addiction to alcohol or illegal drugs. Others are slaves to fear, or slaves to their past, or slaves to prejudice and pride. Jesus Christ pinned us all when He said in
John 8:34, 44 …Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.
The booze or the drugs promise happiness, the fear drives us back to where it’s safe, the prejudice and makes us feel superior. But they also make us slaves who need to find our freedom. This morning we’re going to read a true story about a man who traded in his chains for his freedom. Our text is Mark 5:1-20
Some issues don’t really grab our attention until they become personal.
For example I could share some statistics about the crime of human trafficking: it’s estimated a little less than 18,000 people each year enter the USA as slaves. But instead I made it personal, telling you the story of a specific person: Sabine.
Throughout the book of Mark we read how Jesus heals sicknesses, cleanses lepers and…what? Casts out demons. (1:23-27, 34; 3:10-12,15)
When we get to Mark 5, we zero in on one story that makes finding our freedom personal. God shows us 3 things, beginning with the first:
1. The devil enslaves. (v. 1-4)
One of the most retold tales is the German legend of a man named Faustus. Faustus is a
highly intelligent man who’s very dissatisfied with life. His discontent leads him to make a deal with the devil: his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasure. In some versions, Faustus outwits the devil and goes to heaven, but in others demons drags Faustus to hell. All of them remind us the devil’s deep desire is to enslave and destroy us. Jesus says in
John 10:10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…
This poor man comes running to Jesus out from the tombs. He’s alive, yet forced to live among death and decay, where tears fall like the winter rain, where hopes and dreams are buried forever, and grief hangs like dark fog rolling in from the sea.
Some try to bind him with chains to keep him from hurting himself or others, but he pulls the iron apart like a child pulls apart a piece of yarn. He roams around free like a wild animal, howling and screaming, cutting himself like a maniac.
These verses bring up a burning question in my mind that just won’t go away, a question I cannot help but ask, for my own sake if not for somebody else’s: how does this happen to him?
I can’t imagine he was born demon-possessed (though I have met a child or two who makes me wonder.) There has to have been a time when he lived a normal life, when he had family that loved him, friends who cared about him. But at some point something changed. Maybe it’s a sudden, or maybe it’s gradual. Maybe he makes a deal with the devil—a deal that he thinks will make him master, but which ends up making him Satan’s slave.
What the devil does to him he wants to do to you: enslave you.
He’ll promise you the life you want—knowledge, power, pleasure, possessions. He uses this bait to lure us into the graveyard. Think of all the poor people who pursue sexual pleasure and end up with AIDS, or the ones who drink because it feels good and end up drinking so they won’t feel anything. He’ll promise you strength and freedom, promise you nobody will chain you up rules or boundaries, nobody will tell you what to do. Then almost before you know it your life goes spinning out of control and you find yourself sinking in over your head.
The devil doesn’t have to possess you to enslave you. If he can get you to believe a lie, if he can make you believe his way will get you what you want, you will find yourself like this poor man: caged with no way out. The book of James puts it this way:
James 1:14–15 14But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.15Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
You are not immune. None of us are. Satan never gives up trying to trip us up, to enslave us to his way and his will. Satan may have a foothold on some area of your life right now. You’re not running around naked in a graveyard, but you are in chains. The devil has you bound in some area of your heart and mind, and you want to find your freedom. The good news is that while the devil enslaves,
2. Jesus liberates. (v. 5-13)
This man is helpless to find his freedom. The demons have him right where they want him,
and they’re not about to let go. His family and friends can only watch helplessly as he slowly destroys himself.
But when Jesus steps out of the boat onto the Gadarene shore the cavalry finally rides in. You might say Jesus’ arrival is by chance, that He doesn’t know what awaits him here in the darkness. But a better explanation is the same Jesus Who speaks to the wind and waves and they obey also has the power to guide the ship to just where He wants to go. I suggest Jesus doesn’t meet this man by accident—He seeks him. He comes here on purpose, to help this poor guy find his freedom.
The demon-possessed man, on the other hand, is probably a different matter. I can’t imagine the demons come running to Jesus on purpose. He’s the last Person they want to meet. I suppose it is possible the man himself was able to seek out the Lord, though that is by no means certain.
What is clear is when the demons get close, they know Jesus is in charge. As the man comes closer, he bows before the Lord, and the demons begin to beg. Demons know their destiny is torment; it’s one of the reasons why their hate is so strong. They beg Jesus not to send them to hell because they know He can and He will.
And King Jesus, in an act of pure mercy, gives them permission to enter a herd of pigs. Don’t miss this: what the pigs do is what the demons do—they go running scared. Jesus sends the devil running.
And what about the madman who once ran naked among the dead? The townspeople find him sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind. He finds his freedom.
What chains could not do, what other people could not do, what this man himself cannot do, Jesus does. He sends the devil running and restores this man’s freedom.
What’s true for him is true for you. The devil wants to enslave you, but Jesus wants to liberate you.
Now many of you are saying in your mind Bro Mike, I don’t need Jesus to set me free. I’m already free! The devil doesn’t have any chains on me!
Well maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe our pride keeps us from seeing the chains.
You might be a slave to fear. You’re always afraid of what might happen, what could happen. You try to have faith, you try to believe God’s promises, but you just cannot seem to overcome your worries. The devil doesn’t possess you, but he does keep you in the chains of a constant state of anxiety and fretfulness.
You may be slave to an addiction, whether it’s to alcohol, drugs or pornography. Time and time again you’ve sworn you won’t ever give in again, but still you keep falling for the same temptation. The devil doesn’t possess you, but he knows what buttons to push to keep you a slave to your sin.
The devil has many chains he uses to keep us enslaved—pride, anger, our past, our regrets—anything that will get our eyes off the Lord and on ourselves, other people, or our circumstances.
But Jesus comes to liberate us, to set us free. And this morning, you are just a prayer away from finding your freedom.
John 8:36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
I wonder how many of us right now can say without any doubt TGIF? Not thank God it’s Friday, but thank God I’m free! Can you say that today?
That’s not the end of the story. There’s still one more lesson on finding your freedom.
3. Freedom brings responsibility. (v. 14-20)
Have you ever noticed most people who loudly demand their freedom don’t want the responsibility that comes with freedom? They want the freedom to be rich without the responsibility of work, the freedom to have kids without the responsibility to take care of them, the freedom to do what they want without the responsibility to do what’s right. What they don’t realize is freedom without responsibility eventually makes slaves of us all.
This is what happens after Jesus casts out these demons. The pig herders run into town and tell everybody what happened, and they all come running out to see for themselves. Notice what scares them most is not the dead pigs floating in the water, but the maniac sitting at Jesus’ feet clothed and in his right mind. That’s what really scares them: a power they can’t understand. Their fear prompts them to ask Jesus to get out of town. They choose complacency over freedom.
The man Jesus set free couldn’t believe his ears. They’re running Him out of town! They’re rejecting the Man Who set me free! He runs to Jesus, just as He gets into the boat, bows down and begs to follow Jesus wherever He goes.
Jesus calls many people to follow Him, and it might seem like a good idea to let this guy tag along. Imagine the publicity, the thrilling testimony. But Jesus smiles and him and tells him to go back home, to his family and friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you. (v. 19). And this is exactly what he does.
Here are two opposite reactions to freedom—the freedom to reject Jesus, or accept Him, to
forsake Him or to follow Him. Jesus Christ never forces you to follow Him one step of the way. He gives you the free will to say yes to Him, and the free will to say no to Him. He never forces you to be free. You can choose to stay in the security of your chains of unbelief.
But He also gives you the choice to find your freedom in following Him, loving Him, obeying Him. When He sets you free, He sets you free from the penalty of sin and the power of sin and Satan, and promises one day to free you from the presence of sin. Trusting Him, obeying Him is really the only pathway to freedom, but that is a choice only you can make.
Now of course the devil will try to make you believe otherwise. He’ll tell you that believing in Jesus will make you a slave, will cramp your style, will make your life unbearable. And if you really believe that, you will never find your freedom.
But if you dare give yourself to Him---if you dare surrender your life to Him---if you dare to bring your chains to Him and ask, He will tear off your shackles, and you will find the freedom God created you to enjoy. Remember the story of the boy and the birdcage?
One Easter Sunday morning the preacher walked into the pulpit with an old beat-up rusty bird cage. He held up the cage and said, “You might be wondering why this is here. Let me tell you the story.
Several days ago I noticed a little boy in tattered and torn blue jeans and a dirty T-shirt, cap off to the side, whistling, walking down an alley, swinging this bird cage. Clinging to the bottom of the cage were several little field sparrows he had caught. I asked, ‘Say, sonny, what do you have there?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ve got some birds.’ ‘What are you gonna do with ’em?’ I asked. ‘Oh, mess around with them, tease ’em, something like that.’ ‘Well,’ I asked, ‘when you get tired of ’em, what are you gonna do?’ He thought a moment and said, ‘Well, I got a couple of cats at home and they like birds. I think I’ll just let them have at ’em.’”
My heart went out to the little birds so I made the lad an offer. “How much do you want for the birds?” Surprised, the boy, said, “Mister, these birds ain’t no good.” “Well,” I said, “how much would you like for ’em?” The little fellow says, “How about two bucks?” I reach in my pocket and peel off two dollar bills.
When the boy left, I walked a good distance away, lifted open the little cage door and set those little sparrows free.
Suddenly I realized that is what Jesus has done for me, and for you, and for all of us who need to find our freedom.
Like those sparrows, we weren’t worth much. But He paid much more than $2 for us—He gave His life, shed His blood to purchase our freedom. He is your only hope of finding your freedom!
Once like a bird in prison I felt, no freedom from my sorrow I felt,
But Jesus came and listened to me, and glory to God, He set me free!
He set me free! He set me free! He broke the bonds of prison for me!
I’m glory bound, my Jesus to see, for glory to God, He set me free!
Come this morning, and find your freedom in Jesus.