I’m leading the Bible study this morning at River City Ministries, a homeless outreach organization just north of the river in Little Rock. My assigned text is Luke 8:26-39. Here’s what I plan to say about it:
This is a bizzarre story. For one thing there’s no real reason for Jesus and his disciples to be where they are. In verse 22 Luke simply writes, “One day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.'” Then, after Jesus calmed a storm that nearly killed them, they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes. A guy possessed by many demons greets them (not the greeting the disciples were hoping for). Jesus sends the demons into some pigs, and finally everyone begs them to leave.
Why were they there?
Maybe Jesus had seen the man.
Maybe the Holy Spirit sent him.
Maybe Jesus was bored and always wanted to see what was on the other side of the lake.
I don’t know why they went, but this story is quite possibly the greatest explanation of humanity’s need for Jesus.
We are a naturally fearful people. We fear dark places – literally and metaphorically. We fear the future. We fear things beyond our control. We fear the unknown. The unstable. The inexplicable. We fear change. We fear what might be.
Why does America lead the world in the number and percentage of incarcerated citizens?
What is the one emotion all politicians rely on for votes?
Why do you constantly check your IRA status?
Why do you keep a gun in your nightstand?
Why do you belittle people?
Why do you pretend you don’t care?
Why do you freeze when the house creaks?
And it’s not just Americans or even our modern world. Scripture is replete with fear. One of the most frequent commands in the Bible is “Do not fear.”
We are afraid. Fear is a real part of who we are.
And fear is why the man in the story was chained up in a cemetery.
What else can you do with a man who shrieks and throws himself on the ground and breaks chains and runs naked into the wilderness?
What would you do if he walked in your church?
Probably lock him in a room until the cops showed up.
Fear gripped the small lakeside community and there appeared to be no quick solution. I have to believe the people there simply hoped the demons might one day kill the man and move on. While this sounds inhumane and somewhat cruel, that’s what fear often drives us toward – inhumanity and cruelty.
Yet while we are a fearful people, Jesus never allowed fear to dictate his actions.
Jesus’ first response to the man is a question:
“What is your name?”
Imagine being a villager observing this. 13 strangers get off a boat and The Demon Man runs toward them. Instead of jumping back in the boat, they decide to chat.
After much begging and pleading from the demons, Jesus gives them permission to enter a herd of pigs.
Imagine – he gives them PERMISSION! The tormentors, the fear-causers, the evil spirits – they receive permission to leave.
And after the demons run a herd of pigs over a cliff, the fear only escalates. Now the people don’t have a demon problem, they have a stronger-than-the-demons problem. The only thing more terrifying than a demon-possessed man is the man who can overpower him.
So the villagers beg Jesus to leave out of…you guessed it…fear!
The reason this story is quite possibly one of the greatest explanations of our need for Jesus is found in the way Jesus reacted to the man. Of everyone on that lake side, he was the only person who acted out of love and not fear.
Was Jesus afraid? Maybe. But he overcame fear in order to act in love.
Imagine what the world would be if everyone – all of us – acted with love before fear. Imagine if we even went so far as to reject fear altogether. Imagine how we would treat each other. Imagine how people would treat you. Imagine that world.
That’s not to discount the value of fear. Without fear we might do some pretty stupid stuff. Fear is of some value, but when we allow it to dictate our actions toward people, it gives way to evil.
Thank you, Jesus, for your love that overcame fear.