This morning I’ll be sharing the first of a two-part message on what it means to serve; serving within Messiah’s Community, and serving those outside the Faith. Serving, not grudgingly, but gratefully. And to illustrate how crucial it is to your soul that you serve others, let’s talk about water. I grew up in southern California, where typically, you have to drive hours to get to a lake. There are 337 inland lakes in California. That sounds like a lot. But do you know how many inland lakes we have in Michigan? Over 6,500 (that are 10 acres or larger). If you count lakes that are 1 acre or larger that number goes up to over 26,000! Here in Michigan, no matter where you are, you are within 6 miles of either a lake or a river. And I’m a big fan of lakes!
The system of water cycles that Adonai designed into Creation is a wondrous thing, and it is vital to all life. Every lake and ocean in the world is both a repository and a tributary – receiving and sending water. That is, with one exception. There is one body of water that only receives and doesn’t give. It’s called the Dead Sea. It’s an apt name: the mineral concentration is so high that nothing can live in it.
If you want your spiritual life to be barren, it’s easy: don’t give. Be tightfisted with your money; don’t volunteer for things; jealously guard your ‘free’ time; don’t offer to help where there are needs that are known. Just keep taking. Before long you yourself will be spiritually lifeless. Of course, it’s far better to give and to serve out of gratitude rather than guilt or fear. But it’s a fact of our broken, sinful nature that frequently we have to do the right thing despite our feelings.
If we’re going to talk about serving out of gratitude, I suppose we should ask what gratitude looks like. First, there needs to be a living object. You don’t give thanks to the universe, or to the air, or to an inanimate object. If you’re grateful for something, you thank the one who gave to you, or did for you.
What I’d like to do for a few minutes is to look at two examples of men who were so grateful for something that was done for them, that they couldn’t help but offer themselves in complete devotion in return. The first instance is found in Isaiah chapter six.
In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two each one covered his face and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Adonai Tz’vaot, m’lo chol haAretz Kvodo – Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole Earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations and the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called out, while the Temple was filling with smoke.
This is one of those rare occasions where God has allowed a human being to see Him in some limited way. As majestic as Isaiah’s description is, the prophet did not see God in all His unveiled glory, or else he would not have survived, since because of our sinful condition, no one can look upon infinite holiness and live. Even in this brief, limited encounter with Adonai, Isaiah was overwhelmed, as we see from his reaction:
Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Now, few men in history were as faithful as Yeshayahu – Isaiah, the ancient Jewish prophet; considered by many the greatest of all the ancient prophets, and arguably the most righteous man on earth in his generation. In fact, the New Testament writers quoted from Isaiah more than all the other prophets combined. And yet, what was his reaction when face-to-face with the Holy One? “I’m a dead man!”
This illustrates the folly of trying to compare ourselves with others spiritually. I think it’s safe to say that none of us measure up to the godliness, the courage or the dedication of the righteous prophet Isaiah. And if he saw himself as desperately sinful, where does that leave the rest of us? You see, the standard of righteousness isn’t the guy in the next pew, but God Himself. And we would all have to say right along with the prophet, “Woe is me!”. And this is the dilemma – the Bad News, as it were:
- Infinite holiness and sinful humanity cannot occupy the same space
- Our very best efforts, our own righteousness, falls lethally short
- We stand in desperate need of atonement
Nothing is written about Isaiah having committed sin or bearing any iniquity, but Scripture regards it as axiomatic that sinfulness is the default human condition, resulting from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Even if Isaiah’s sin isn’t named, in the presence of infinite holiness, he felt it keenly. He knew he deserved to die. Gratefully, the vision doesn’t end there. Mercy and forgiveness are about to be shown to him. And this is where we have a foretaste of the Gospel.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Gratefully, this is a vision, and the red-hot coal was symbolic, so Isaiah’s lips weren’t singed. That would have been painful! But this exchange is an expression of God’s wondrous grace and forgiveness. As Adonai affirmed to Moses, He really is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and truth.
Imagine the overwhelming wave of relief Isaiah experienced when he heard those words! If you have embraced faith in Yeshua, you know what that feels like – the immense joy of being forgiven and brought into an eternal relationship with God and of knowing your name is written in the Book of Life. It fills you with love and gratitude. Such knowledge transforms a human being, and it translates into action, as we see in Isaiah’s reaction in the next verse.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
An appropriate response to overwhelming mercy and deliverance is gratitude and a desire to do something tangible to express your appreciation. No sooner was Isaiah declared forgiven than he jumped at the chance to do something to serve Adonai. It’s embodied in the very special Hebrew word Hineni – “Here I am!” A word that expresses your availability to Him, and your eagerness to do His will.
One day Yeshua was invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon, an extremely religious man but lacking in grace and love. At one point a woman of ill repute came into Simon’s home, having heard that Yeshua was there. She wept at Messiah’s feet and dried His feet with her hair. Simon said nothing, but inwardly was indignant. Yeshua said to Simon: “I tell you, her sins– and they are many– have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”
I think it’s safe to say that you and I have been forgiven of sins much worse than anything Isaiah ever did. And when he was declared forgiven, he jumped at the chance to take on that assignment for Adonai. Have you been forgiven much? Very well… but do you love much? Anyone can talk a good talk, but the extent of your love is evidenced in real time by your actions.
Let’s consider another example of a man filled with gratitude.
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Yeshua got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
This encounter took place right after Yeshua calmed the storm on the Kinneret as they crossed at night. The first thing to know is just how dismal it was on the Galilee’s eastern shore. You may recall from the words of chapter nine of Isaiah, that the Galilee was already looked upon with contempt. They called it “Galilee of the Goyim”. But even to rough-and-tumble Galileans, the area around the eastern shore, especially the Gerasenes, was a place you wouldn’t want to be stranded without a cell phone. Matthew refers to the area by a similar name, the Gadarenes (Gerasa and Gadara were 2 of the 10 cities there), and notes that there were two dangerous demon-possessed men. Mark focuses on the one who ran to Yeshua, rather than away from Him. In any case, this horribly demon-possessed man reflects the spiritual pall that hung over that region. God’s light had not yet penetrated the Decapolis – the 10 Cities. Contrary to Jewish law, and contrary to common sense, this man lived among the tombs. The demons living in him gave him superhuman strength, but they also tormented him.
When he saw Yeshua from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of Him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Yeshua, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Yeshua had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Yeshua asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Yeshua again and again not to send them out of the area.
The man came running to Yeshua, but I’ll bet the demons were trying to get him to run the other way! As he fell to his knees at Yeshua’s feet, it was a demon who cried out – apparently the spokesman for a host of demons that had taken up residence in this poor guy. A Roman Legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. That doesn’t mean there were exactly 6,000 demons in him – just that there were a lot!
And they recognized who Yeshua was – calling Him the Son of the Most High God. They were not honoring Him; they were trying to invoke His precise name, according to what scholars suggest was the belief that if you pronounced a person’s name precisely, you could take authority over them. That wasn’t about to happen. Notice also that they acknowledged His authority over them. Yeshua commanded them to come out of the man, and they desperately tried to negotiate with Him.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Yeshua, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.
Demons apparently find it tormenting when they are unable to inhabit a body of some kind. Their preference would be a human body. If they can take up residence in a human, they can use that person’s mind and body for their dark purposes. From a comparison with Matthew’s account, they negotiated with Yeshua that He not immediately send them to the abyss, but at least allow them to go into a nearby herd of pigs. He consented, and no sooner did the demons enter the pigs than the pigs drowned themselves – probably the demons were hoping to flee at that point and seek human hosts elsewhere. Word of this got to town quickly, and everyone hurried out to see what happened. And the scene that awaited them was remarkable.
When they came to Yeshua, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man– and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Yeshua to leave their region.
Perhaps it was out of fear of Yeshua’s power and authority, or out of resentment that the death of the pigs represented a huge financial loss; in any case, the citizens of that town begged Yeshua to leave. What a tragic decision on their part! First of all, they had nothing to fear from Him. And, secondly, how do you measure the worth of a man? Here was this formerly violent, tormented soul, now sitting there calmly, dressed and in his right mind. Isn’t he worth more than a herd of pigs? But it’s the man’s response that is our focus this morning. Let’s conclude the passage.
As Yeshua was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Yeshua did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Yeshua had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
The people of the town begged Yeshua to leave. This man begged Yeshua to let him accompany Him. What a contrast! And who can blame that man? After being set free from so many years of torment, out of deep gratitude, wouldn’t you want to stay right by the side of the One who rescued you? Wouldn’t you want to follow Him, learn from Him, serve Him?
But Yeshua had other plans for this man. So remarkable a deliverance was this, that by returning home and testifying to the wonderful grace of God in his life, many more people would become disciples of Yeshua and experience salvation, and the light of the Lord would spread in this once-dark, demonic region. What I appreciate is the obedience and zeal with which the man complied. I’m sure he was disappointed at not being allowed to go with Messiah Yeshua, but his obedience proved his love for Him.
Do you recognize that Yeshua rescued you? You may not have had a legion of demons tormenting you day and night, but you and I were every bit as lost in unbelief and in desperate need as was this Galilean Jew. In the blinding light of the infinite holiness of God, even righteous Isaiah saw his desperate plight and need of forgiveness. And when he received it, he wanted to express his gratitude by doing God’s bidding. The righteous prophet and the demon-possessed man each experienced the grace of God, and each responded with love and obedience.
Maybe the problem is that it was so long ago that we’ve FORGOTTEN what wretches we were and how much we needed God’s mercy…
Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle (Psalm 103:2-5).
Next Shabbat, Lord willing, we’ll transition from the foundation of serving God out of gratitude, to the practical outworking of how each of us can serve God, both within Messiah’s Holy Community, and serving those outside the Faith. So, if you really don’t want to serve, you’ll really hate next week’s d’rasha. But don’t play hooky just because I forewarned you.
Let’s boil it down to this, as we conclude today’s message, and you go home to hopefully have a restful Shabbat. He didn’t redeem you so you could sit back and be a spectator, and soak it all in selfishly. Like Israel, we were redeemed to serve.
If you are grateful for what Yeshua has done for you…
You should want to serve Him
You should want to follow Him
You should want to tell everyone about Him!
So… what are you waiting for?