"Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God!" (Luke 4:34 NASB)
The man possessed by a demon showed an amazing understanding of Jesus's power. "Have you come to destroy us?" He cried out. The Greek word here is apollymi, which does mean destroy, as it is translated here, but also can mean "to put out of the way entirely, render useless, metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell" (1) The demon here (speaking through the man) acknowledges the power Jesus has over him. It appears the demon sees three possibilities that include being cast out from the man, rendered powerless to torment further, or to be sent to hell for eternity. None of those seem desirable, so the demon, probably unintentionally, is asking for mercy. "Leave us alone," he said. What he is saying is, "Don't give me what I deserve. Just let me go." Only God can sort out how much of that plea for divine mercy came from the demon and how much came from the man, but the use of "apollymi" causes me to think that at least some of what was said was initiated by the demon.
That's a little shocking, isn't it? Of course the demons know Who Jesus is and His attributes. They know He exists. They are demons because they refused to submit to Divine authority and were thrown out of Heaven. What is truly surprising is that, in the presence of the Messiah, the first one we see who begs for mercy (at least a kind of mercy) is a demon-possessed man.
Here is what is so odd to me. Why weren't the people in the synagogue saying, "Don't give me what I deserve!" too? By this time, Jesus was already known as a miracle-working preacher. There was already talk that He was the Messiah. Perhaps it was because we prefer Grace over Mercy. Grace gives what we don't deserve. Mercy doesn't give us what we do deserve. It's generally easier to see yourself as a sinner than not, but who wants to admit the penalty for those sins? Requesting Mercy requires that we recognize our need for it. No one wants to put unforgiveness, bitterness, lust, gossip, prejudice in the same category as murder, burglary, or adultery, but what matters is how God sees them. All sin, great or small, carries a deadly penalty. Confessing our own behavior as sin requires us to see our need for both forgiveness and mercy.
It's a different matter entirely to accept the Grace, forgiveness, peace, and joy that we clearly do not deserve. What is even harder is allowing that Grace to transform us. My tendency is to think of it as "Grace and Mercy" but that's backwards, isn't it? Mercy has to come before Grace. Forgiveness before restoration. Cleansing before joy and peace.
As we pray for restoration for our loved ones, we often focus on the end point of a transformed life. What we often fail to see is that critical step of brokenness that comes first. Pray today that we and our loved ones will see ourselves as God sees us, that we will recognize our sinful state and our need for forgiveness, and will cry out to God for Mercy. Mercy before Grace. When Mercy comes, Grace is sure to follow.
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