The Seeds of Compromise Bear the Fruit of Sin
The stories dramatically flash across our screens. A well-known pastor, leader or spouse gets caught in a compromising position. Bank accounts that should be full come up empty and their custodian found driving a BMW. Victims come forward testifying to sexual abuse. A well-respected Christian is exposed as being neck-deep in sin and those around them are surprised. “I just did not see this coming”, they exclaim in astonishment. People are first shocked and think they did not see it coming. Yet, when time passes and the shock wears off, a sober inspection of the backtrail of the leader usually reveals a sad truth. It was easy to see the fall coming if they were really looking. The seeds of that person’s demise were being sown for months to years prior. They were clearly there, they were just ignored, justified away or defended. The root of the bigger issue was allowed to remain until it blossomed into something much larger.
A Foundation of “Little” Sins
People most often don’t go from doing great in their walk with Jesus to having illicit affairs overnight. There usually is a long history of “little sins” in their backstory. These are sins, temptations, and departures from God’s plan that slowly pull that person away from a good and faithful walk with Jesus. They are the ones that are easy to overlook and excuse in our permissive culture. “I am not murdering anyone and I work hard, I deserve this private pleasure” may be the rationale. It may not seem like much, but it is building a foundation of sin in our lives. Jesus calls on us to abide in Him. These are cracks in our connection to Him that are tolerated until we are nowhere near the vine and puzzled why we are not flourishing. It is the little foxes that are allowed to invade the vineyard (For More on Sin and its invasive effect).
These seeds of ill planted in a life always bear fruit. When they do they tend to do so explosively. They take a life that is saturated with a little bits of evil and send it careening off a cliff. Those around them might not notice the hidden problems before the fall. After the explosion, though, it is easy to look back and see all the ways the fuse for the bomb that exploded in their life was lit. It does not even have to be our compromise.
Choosing Money over God leads to Destruction
One such pattern in Scripture is subtly played out in the account of Jesus casting out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5. This is a joyful account of a great miracle by Jesus in many ways. It also presents a picture of unchecked compromise over generations that is incredibly sad. An area where God’s people are meant to live and flourish rejects Jesus and is overwhelmed by compromise and disobedience. The explosive problems are present everywhere in this short account of a miracle worked by Jesus Himself. Yet, the seeds of their destruction go back as far as the early entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land in the Book of Numbers. Uncorrected compromise always has consequences.
In the account, Jesus comes into the land of Gad and is encountered by a demon-possessed man who has been living in graveyards. He confronts Jesus:
6When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. 7With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”
9Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.
Stop here for a second. Gad was one of the tribes of Israel, right? They were under the Law and part of the Nation that God commanded to not eat swine. So what in the world was a herd of 2000 pigs doing there? What do you think the spiritual condition of the tribe of Gad was at this point? Mark continues and tells us.
13So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
14The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. 17And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. Mark 5:6-16
Jesus Heals and the People Reject Him
Jesus does a great miracle and frees the man from under the control of many demons. A Roman Legion was 6,000-12,000 so the choice of the name could mean that this is the number of demons Jesus casts out. A man who they likely all knew was set free from the torment at the hands of thousands of demons by a simple command from Jesus. This is obviously not something that a regular man can do. Jesus demonstrates His great power in this act. He also shows His great love and great mercy. The formerly chain breaking madman is healed despite having no ability to repent or even ask for forgiveness. Jesus saves him from the bondage that he likely placed himself in from prior choices in this life. Now, the man sits before the people of Gad freed, fully clothed, and sane. He is quietly there testifying to the Messiah who stands among them while they all stare in wonder.
One would expect rejoicing and amazement. In would be reasonable for people to fall at Jesus’ feet in wonder. Remember, they know the power of the demons involved. They know the evil involved. They tried to chain the man and restrain him from hurting himself, only for him to break the chains and repeatedly hurt himself. The only reasonable conclusion was Jesus is someone amazing. He is worthy of their worship and praise, but this doesn’t happen here. Instead, they seem to be either fearful or angry. They plead with Jesus to go away and leave them alone, not because they are afraid of Him. Rather, because Jesus messed with their pigs. Jesus threatens their sin so they want no part of Him.
The Loved their Sin more than God
What in the world is happening here? Why does Jesus kill a bunch of pigs and why do they plead with Him to leave as a result?
The seeds for this encounter were sown back in the Book of Numbers:
Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of livestock; and when they saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that indeed the region was a place for livestock, 2 the children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the leaders of the congregation, saying, 3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Shebam, Nebo, and Beon, 4 the country which the Lord defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” 5 Therefore they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan.” Numbers 32:1-5
At this point, the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. It is going back a long way but long-delayed consequences can be part of life under the influence of sin. God is patient and gives us ample time to turn away from the sin and accept His mercy. Sometimes years pass and we begin to think that there will be no repercussions for our unrepentant sin. But the consequences always do come to a life filled with sin.
As they are about to enter Israel, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have a request for Moses. They ask if they could settle where they were on the other side of the Jordan rather than proceeded into the heart of Promised Land. Even though the Israelites were given land on both sides of the Jordan, the crossing of the Jordan symbolized the entering into the soul of the Land itself. Their original land allotment, what God intended for them, was to the west of the Jordan. These tribes want a different plan than God laid out.
The stated reason for asking for this land short of the crossing is important. The tribes had lots of cattle. That is it. They had a large amount of cows and the land outside of the heart of the Promised Land looked good for cattle. Rather than wait and let God allot their land for them, the tribes chose for themselves. They based their decision upon their own criteria of success. These boil down to one simple issue in our terms, money. They wanted big fat cattle so they could be wealthy. Who cares what God’s plan was, they wanted to be rich. This is a purely economics driven decision.
Interestingly, God grants their wishes and the tribes stay on the other side of the Jordan. Do we understand that God is not a tyrant even when it would be good for us? He allowed Adam and Eve to eat the fruit knowing the consequences because He allows free will. We are given the information to make a good decision and the freedom to make a bad one. The ability to freely love also necessarily involved the freedom to sin. Freedom can be used for good or bad. We are just warned that the one that leads away from God will have consequences. So the tribes are free to stay on the far side of the Jordan over economics. This is the seed that will eventually bear bad fruit.
The problems start almost immediately. It is just a short time later when the 10 other tribes almost declare war on the East of the Jordan tribes. It is a misunderstanding that takes place in Joshua 22. This would not have occurred if they were in the Land. They are outside of the heart of God’s will so the ripples of the coming wave of pain start coming in. Their choice is already bearing consequences. It should have been a warning to them. These tribes outside of Israel inadvertently place themselves on the invasion route for each of the countries who later come in and attack Israel. They are the first tribes carted off to captivity when Israel was invaded by the Assyrians, for example. A decision driven by short-term comfort leads to long-term misery.
The consequences and disobedience have exploded by the time Jesus visits. They are clearly on display the day Jesus blesses them with His work in their midst. He is the Son of God and long-awaited Messiah. He arrives to offer salvation to these long-suffering people of God. John the Baptist told all of Israel that they should make ready for Jesus’ arrival. Yet, Jesus finds the people herding pigs. Pigs were unclean animals in Judaism. Jews who were following the Lord would have nothing to do with pigs. They are clearly forbidden by God. Yet, the people of Gad have a herd of 2000 of them.
Compromise Bears Fruit in Sin
Why do they have thousands of animals they are supposed to steer clear of? Likely the reason that led them to choose land for their cattle. Money, greed, and rebellion. They wanted to prosper financially more than they wanted to follow God. Economically, they make a decision to raise pigs. They are living large. They are also miles outside of the heart of the will of God. What started as a compromise, a desire to choose land for themselves grows into clear disobedience. They got their wealth but lost God in the process. 2000 pigs are an abomination to God.
Jesus Sets the Captives Free by Killing Pigs
What is awesome to see is what Jesus does in response. He could have simply gotten back on the boat and left them in misery. He could have sent the demons away into the abyss. Instead, He offers mercy and grace by destroying the herd of pigs. By sending the demons into the pigs, Jesus is both challenging the people and offering them freedom.
Jesus is challenging them because He is well aware of what those pigs mean to the people of the area. He knows how attached they are to wealth. Choosing prosperity over God has been a problem in the area since Numbers. So Jesus removes the pigs from the equation. The pigs were the visible sign of their sickness, greed, so He gets rid of them. Sometimes mercy requires painful removal of what is ienslaving us before it can be seen.
Jesus is, in essence, asking them a question, ” Which is more important to you, your wealth or your Messiah? Do you want to trust in your desire for wealth or in your God?”
Jesus also offers them freedom through the death of the pigs. Jesus takes away all 2000 of the things that had been open and notorious evidence of their sin. He then throws them into the sea. It is a clear picture of what He does for our sins and idols in this life. He tosses our addictions, temptations and idols into the sea and says simply, “Follow Me”.
Knowing the pull that possessions and wealth have upon us, Jesus removes that temptation completely. He does so in the only way possible. He does it without any contribution on their part. They would not have been able to get rid of the pigs. They were too far gone into their sin and disobedience. So Jesus does it for them. He then presents Himself to them with all the supporting evidence and offers true freedom. They have all of the obvious proof, are free of that bondage, and free to receive their Messiah’s arrival. It should be a great moment but it is not. The people choose the same old sin instead of Jesus.
The saddest part about this passage is that there is no happy ending for the people of Gad. The guy who was freed from demon possession is ok, but the remainder of the people beg Jesus to go away. They love their sin more than God. They beg Jesus to leave…and He does. Jesus doesn’t stay if we beg Him not to.
The pattern of what seem like small compromises and minor disobedience add up. What started as a land of God’s children ends up filled with thousands of demons, demon-possessed guys and unclean animals. It is land that looks nothing like God’s land. When Jesus comes to fix it, He is rejected and begged to leave. The sin is more attractive than the Savior.
The seed of compromise is the same in our lives. It never gets better on its own or with time. If we tolerate the little sins our lives will end up looking nothing like God intended for His people They will be filled with the unclean and the rebellious. They will end up outside of the heart of the life that God promised us fighting against the Savior’s attempt to free us from the consequences.
Are we sowing bad seed today? Have we been sowing them for weeks, months or years? If so, I have great news. Jesus is among you today offering complete freedom. He will liberate you and heal you just as He did the demon-possessed man. He still is just that powerful and just that merciful and kind. We just have to want freedom more than we want our sins.
Call on Him today! He will answer!