From the Tyranny of the Urgent to the Eternally Important
In 1984 Charles Hummel, published an intriguing book, “The Tyranny of the Urgent.”
His premise was simple, sometimes, because some things seem to scream for our immediate attention, we are unable to pay attention to the things that are really more important.
In the book he writes: “Several years ago an experienced cotton mill manager said to me, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” He didn’t realize how hard his maxim hit. It often returns to haunt and rebuke me by raising the critical problem of priorities.”
It is the line about “letting the urgent things crowd out the important” that caught my eye.
It is a critical problem of priorities. How to assign things their proper priority so that we do not end up only dealing with things that scream for attention – when in fact, on the grand scale, they are not nearly as important as others things.
One person who understood this well made a sign that pushes back a bit: “Attention: A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.”
The Bible has a classic example of that in Luke 10. You are all familiar with it no doubt: Luke 10:38–42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was “distracted” by the urgency of seeing a meal was well prepared and hospitality carried out.
But at that moment – God in human flesh was sitting in her living room.
And if there was anything MORE important, it was hearing what He had to say.
Mary got it. She knew Jesus would willingly wait for His sandwich after His teaching was over – but her soul could not wait to hear what He had to say.
Not everything that presents itself as urgent, is necessarily important.
Temptation to sin – Fear, Lust, Greed, Anger, Pride – whatever – always knocks on the door of our heart with urgency: ANSWER NOW OR LOSE SOMETHING OF GREAT IMPORTANCE!
But everything that is truly important, also brings some urgency with it.
Sorting out the difference has a massive impact on how we live and deal with temptation.
What in the world does that have to do with our text today?
Just this – neither the demons Jesus encountered in this account, nor the people in the village nearby had any sense of how to judge what this moment in time really meant – because they were so wrapped up in their own plans, purposes and desires.
What was urgent to them, was not that which was of the greatest importance.
And what was truly of greatest importance, seemed to have no urgency in their minds.
Such is the twist in our thinking that sin has brought about in us.
So God was with them – and the result of failing to reckon with the fact God was with them – right then – ended in disaster.
And I want everyone within the sound of my voice today, to be able to reckon with what is truly important AND urgent in this regard – right now.
I want you to be able to take full advantage of it to your eternal good, and NOT to your eternal destruction.
There is no question this passage is rife with material that makes it quite enigmatic.
Jesus seems to go out of His way just to get to this place.
No sooner does He step foot on shore than He is met with 2 men the text says were “demon-possessed.”
Yes, the Bible attests to the reality of demonic spirits – beings who were originally created as angels – what Hebrews 1:14 calls “ministering spirits, sent out to serve those who are to inherit salvation”.
In other places in Scripture we find that a number of these angels rebelled against God, and 2 Peter 2:4 notes: “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.”
We don’t have time to explore that topic in depth this morning – but note simply that the Bible says this is a reality, and that some people, can give themselves over to the influence of these fallen beings, to the degree that they are “possessed” – or as the Greek has it: δαιμονίζομαι – demonized.
Mark’s account of this same event teases out the horrifying condition of one in this state:
In this state – as these 2 were, one is completely given over to sin so as to have it dominate the life fully and so as to crowd out even normal routines of living. This man had:
Mark 5:2–5 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.
- He had an unclean spirit. His fallen condition was not left to itself, but was energized above and beyond the norm so as to totally characterize him.
2. He lived among the tombs. He dwells and is fixated upon the macabre. Life does not interest him, only death. Decay and solitariness fascinate to the point of dominion.
3. He had no normal restraints. Conscience was not binding. Law was not binding. Love was not binding. No outward human structures had any effect upon him.
4. He was in constant inner pain and turmoil. Literally, his soul howled in its bondage. He could not divest himself of his uncleanness, and mourned the same lack of feeling he delighted in when harming others.
In any event these two met Jesus and cried out: Matthew 8:29 “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
And this, as Luke notes, was because the moment Jesus saw these 2, He began commanding the devil to come out of him.
So 30-31 tell us that this herd of pigs was close by, and the demons asked to be given permission to go into them.
32 And when Jesus said “Go!” – the pigs ran down into the water and drowned.
33-34 So the herdsmen who saw this, went and told those in the town what happened – ostensibly the owners of the pigs.
And the Townspeople came out and asked Jesus to leave them.
Three observations and applications:
1. Everyone has an innate sense that a day of judgement is ahead of us.
As much as many want to try to avoid the thought, the reality that a final day of reckoning is coming is the stated Biblical reality of life in God’s Kingdom.
The devils knew it.
Literature is filled with people wrestling with the fact.
Everyone – deep down knows that if there is anything called justice at all in the universe – the good and bad in this world must be judged. And the Bible proclaims this repeatedly.
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
Matthew 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
Romans 2:6 He will render to each one according to his works:
Romans 14:12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
And each will either stand cleansed from sin in the blood of God’s Lamb – Jesus Christ, or be condemned in their sin and perish in a Christ-less eternity.
Here is an issue of both the utmost importance AND urgency.
2. We have no idea how amazing this present day of grace is.
The wording right here is really important to see.
Matthew 8:31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.”
And Jesus responds: “Go.”
They asked permission, and He gave it!
The time of final judgement had not come.
Whatever the final disposition of these demonic entities, while they know they are already cast down and awaiting an end – it is not yet.
Note then how great is this day of grace in which we live.
What or who is more despicable and liable to judgment than the very demons of Hell.
Yet the day of judgment has not yet come.
And so even they find temporary reprieve from their immediately just due.
That is where you and I stand today – in the day of Grace, in the day of temporary reprieve.
A day when we can still hear the Gospel and believe – repent, turn from our sin and self-government and flee to Jesus for forgiveness.
And if they – the demons – found Christ so willing to stay His hand in their case, then how much more those made in the image of God, yet still bound in their sins?
There is grace to be had!
For every sinner within the sound of my voice.
This is the moment as well, for Christians who have too long played with hidden sins – like the Jews with their pigs… you have one last time to repent this morning. Don’t let the moment go!
The townspeople at the end of this said don’t bother us with these things now – go away.
And perhaps the most tragic words in all the Bible are then written: in 9:1 – And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.
He did just what they asked the way He did the demons.
And this is the moment for you who are still outside of Christ –
The hand of The Lord has been withheld by grace.
Judgement hasn’t yet been poured out.
But it is coming!
All who hear may come now, still.
But – and this is where the vast and eternal importance of the Gospel finds itself welded to the urgency of the hour – the day will come when such hope is withdrawn.
Unbeliever listen to me: you need to hear and respond in this extraordinary season of the Gospel.
Before it is too late.
Don’t worry that you are too far gone in your sin to be recovered and made His – beyond forgiveness.
The blood of Christ is sufficient for any and all sin.
If He will grant permission to the very demons of Hell before the Day of Judgement – how much more compassionate will He be to those made in His image?
Forsake your sin now.
Leave your self-will and self-government and self-righteousness behind – and run to Christ!
There is a fountain – filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose ALL their guilty stains.
Jesus Christ will save you from your sin and His just wrath that you deserve for rebelling against His right of Lordship over your life – and He calls you now – while it is today – to come and be made new.
3. Some will reject God’s deliverance because they believe the cost is too great.
While it is true that there were many Gentiles living in this area at this time – nevertheless, this was Jewish soil.
According to Jewish Law, it was not permitted for Jews to herd and traffic in swine as they were unclean animals.
But here was this herd of 2000. Something the Jews should never have had – in direct defiance to God’s expressed will.
But the cost of seeing these two men delivered from the bondage to demons was too steep for them.
It would cost them the perceived benefits of their sin.
1000 unclean pigs per person was too much to pay for the souls of men to be freed from demonic oppression.
The Bible is clear – we should all know the cost of following Jesus before we profess to do so.
It WILL cost us something.
It will cost us a life surrendered to God’s Will – above our own.
It will cost us our sins and the temporary and defiling pleasure we take in them.
So – how much is your soul worth?
A few more fleeting moments of the pleasures of sin?
A few more pigs?
Is that all?
Don’t be fooled by the urgency of your sinful desires – yielding to them is not important – hearing and yielding to the call of the Gospel is infinitely important – and in this moment – all encompassingly urgent.