Tim Challies

I think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right man, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

The Closer
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Mariano Rivera has never been one of my favorite people. After all, for many years he was a fixture for the New York Yankees, divisional rivals of my own Toronto Blue Jays. When a game came to the final inning and the Jays were down by a run or two, Rivera would jog onto the field and shut it down. Once he came onto the field, the outcome was rarely in doubt.

But he has retired now, and I like him a lot better. No sooner did he retire than he got to work penning his memoir, The Closer. It’s quite a story. Born in abject poverty in Panama, Rivera grew up in, on and around fishing boats, working with his father to scrape together a living. When the tides were out, he and his friends would play baseball on the beach, improvising the equipment they needed: wadded up fishing nets for balls, rocks for bases, tree branches for bats, and milk cartons for gloves. It was an unlikely start to one of the great baseball careers.

When he was in his late teens, Rivera began playing shortstop for a nearby amateur baseball team. One day the pitcher played so badly that Rivera was asked to take over for a couple of innings. The results were so impressive that friends contacted a scout for the New York Yankees. Rivera gained a try-out, then a minor league contract. And the rest, as they say, is history. He went on to become the most dominant closer in the history of the game, earning 652 saves in the biggest baseball market in the world. He was an All-Star 13 times, won 5 World Series, and was once the World Series MVP. He had a storybook career and through it became world famous and fantastically wealthy, with his earnings topping $150 million. He has come a long way from that fishing boat in Panama.

But there is more to his story than baseball. In his early twenties Rivera was exposed to the gospel and became a Christian—an unashamedly outspoken Christian. While the book describes his life, it also describes his faith and, to borrow a sport’s metaphor, he leaves it all on the field. He tells how important his faith has been, how it has sustained him, and how the Bible has given him guidance throughout his life.

The Bible can’t tell you the story of my walk with the Lord, but it can tell you everything about how I try to live, and why the love of the Lord is the foundation of my whole life. For me, the Bible is not just the word of God, but a life road map that is packed with wisdom that you cannot beat even if you spent the next hundred years reading spiritual books and self-help books. It is the best kind of wisdom: Simple wisdom. This sort of wisdom, from the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, verse twelve: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

When it comes to his faith, Rivera describes just what he believes and why he believes it. While it becomes clear that he loves the Lord, it also becomes clear that he is not a theologian. Unfortunately, a few of the things he says are unclear or confusing and probably owe more to Pentecostalism than to the historic Christian faith. And yet, again, it is clear that he is passionate about the Lord and the spread of the gospel. In the aftermath of his storied career he has both moved on and stayed just the same. “For the last nineteen seasons, the Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to play professional baseball for the New York Yankees. My job was to save games, and I loved every part of it. Now I have a new job—probably better described as a calling—and that is to glorify the Lord and praise His name, and show the wonders that await those who seek Him and want to experience His grace and peace and mercy.” To do this, he and his wife have co-founded a church where they serve as pastors.

As is the case with most sports memoirs, this one is dominated by descriptions of games and plays. Those who love sports, and who love the Yankees in particular, will find it riveting. Those who are a little less enthusiastic about sports may find themselves skimming over certain sections. And if you’re like me, you may find yourself silently finding yourself hoping he’ll lose the games, just because he’s pitching for New York. In any case, Rivera’s story is a good one and well worth reading.