Summary: Jesus is ready to heal and possess you; are you afraid?
I may have told you this before, but while in conversation with Pastor Wagner about our up-coming trip to the Holy Land, he said, "After the trip, you will never read the Bible the same way again; what you once read in black and white, you will now read in living color." I understood that it would be different, but now it seems that everything I read in the Bible, become exactly that; narrations of living, breathing, even smelling color. A perfect example is this morning's narration of "driving out the demons" in this man, who was a Gerasene. The name of the city he is from is not mentioned in the Bible, only the name of his ancestry, Gerasene is mentioned, and then only twice. Consequently, I got on the Internet and entered the name Gerasenes. The information that came back was that the Gerasenes were citizens of Gerasa, which was part of the area known as the Decapolis which you have heard of before. What I learned was that Gerasa was the site of what now is known as Jerash, an archaeological city that Pastor Wagner and I visited while in Jordan. Hopefully you will be able to see those pictures next week during the presentation that Linda, Kay, and I will make of the trip. Because there is a spring of fresh water in the area, it has also been associated with the name Gilead. I'm sure you remember that hymn, "There is a Balm in Gilead." The area is about 20 miles south of Amman Jordan, which was once known as Philadelphia. Even though Gerasa itself is a little way from the Sea of Galilee, the whole area was known as the habitat of the Gerasenes. That included the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee which we circled while there. The area this lesson mentions is probably where the cliffs of the Bashan Plateau drop steeply into the Sea of Galilee. Well, so much for the geography and history lesson, but as I said, it's difficult to think of the Scriptures as just words on a page anymore. Anyway, our text this morning tells us that the possessed man was a man of that city, but had no home and did not live there, but lived in the tombs. I know that sounds a little strange but as you will see next week, there are many caves in those areas and they were used for not only tombs but for homes as well. Some were carved out of the hillsides to make homes or tombs. So just what was it that this man was afflicted with? In those days, because people didn't have the knowledge of mental illness that we are fortunate enough to possess today, those who were deranged in one way or another, were believed to be "possessed by demons." It is generally acknowledged by modern-day scholars that the man was suffering from some mental malady which we would most likely diagnose as schizophrenia, paranoia, multiple personalities, or some other such mental illness. But I think one of the things we have to understand in order to make any sense at all out of this story, is that remember that demons were very real to people in that age. People had no other way to explain mental illness, other than to say that someone was possessed by a demon or demons. This man was particularly harshly affected, because he obviously was possessed of a violent insanity. So much so that he had to be bound up at times. He was probably forced to live in the caves or tombs because he was too dangerous to live among the men, women and children of the city. It is also interesting to note that the people of that era believed that demons actually dwelt in tombs. We might note here that Jesus possessed a great amount of courage in dealing with this person because we are told the man had awesome strength which enabled him to break his bonds. He probably would never get any help from the people of his area because they were so deathly afraid of him. Jesus however, faced him very calmly, unafraid. It's difficult to tell what had caused this man's insanity, but perhaps his answer to the question of who he was, as Legion," could be one reason he was affected. A legion of Roman soldiers was approximately 6000 men. We have heard of the atrocities of the Romans as occupiers at times, and we could be led to believe that maybe something was done to this man or his family that forever affected his sanity. But whatever the cause, obviously something left scars in his mind and ultimately sent him over the edge. One thing I puzzled about as I first started this sermon was the idea of the pigs, because all we saw were sheep, goats and camels, and that's where the geography lesson came in handy because then I realized that these people were not Jews and so pork as food was not in question. It is interesting to note that Jesus has already started the exorcism as the demons speak out through the man, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me." Even before they speak, they have already admitted defeat and began to bargain with Jesus, asking him not to order them back into the abyss of hell. Jesus does so by agreeing to let them enter the pigs. But in doing so, Jesus pulls a fast one on the demons, by having the pigs go over the cliff and drown in the sea. Believe it or not, some people even have some problem with Jesus letting all those pigs die. Perhaps the lesson there is that even one person's soul is worth a passel of pigs. At any rate, now comes the hard part. Last week when I began the service and said something about having to make some choices, a few of you said after the service that you were a little nervous before the sermon, but it turned out all right. I'm not so sure that we will be as comfortable this morning. As you sit here this morning, let me ask you this; what is your name; One, Several, or Legion? When Jesus asks who we are, are we happy with those things that possess us or we possess, and are we like the demons who responded to Jesus by saying "Do not torment me, I'm happy with my possessions and being possessed?" Do we come to Jesus begging to be released from our demons or are we afraid that the thing he wants for us, might possess us and lead to commitments for him, that we're reluctant to make? Are we ready to put ourselves in Jesus hands and let him release us to his will? Or are we like Paul who says, "For I want to do good, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! Wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7) For Christians there is only one rescuer! Near the end of the story, the Gerasenes ask Jesus to go away. Why? They are afraid of him! They are afraid of his power! Here was a man who could control the very things they were scared to death of; demons. Why wouldn't they be afraid? Besides, they were very comfortable with the way things were! O sure, the had to deal with the "demon guy" every once in a while, but they could handle that. What they saw was the changes that Jesus had the power to work in their lives. They don't want to be changed. They don't really understand, but they fear that somehow any change might affect them, and maybe not for the better. For them and for all of us, the first step toward unity with God, is to face the facts: and in some cases the facts are disagreeable, uncomfortable, and thus scary. So what am I saying here? What am I asking here? What I'm asking is, why are we afraid of Jesus? We know who he is and what he is like! Why are we afraid to put our lives and trust in him? Almost every time that Jesus was in conflict with others, it was because of… what? Almost every time, it's because Jesus… disturbs. He disturbs beliefs, positions, wealth, and power… all inclusive as "the status quo." And how many times in Jesus' ministry did we see that even miracles made some people fear him? What all this means of course, is that knowing Jesus means we are expected to change; to change our lives for the better. It means that you can't be a Christian in name only. It means we are to become servants. Being a Christian means that with privilege comes responsibilities. It means we must be Jesus' apostles in every facet of our lives… at home, work, and play. All of this means that as Christians, we too like the healed man, sit at Jesus feet… clothed in peace and righteousness in the mind of Christ; commissioned by him, ready to do his will, unafraid of the challenges he places before us. And the people of God said…..(Amen.) His will be done. Amen.