Thursday, May 17, 2012

When Pigs Fly! Mark 5

Or, perhaps, when pigs angrily stampede after being possessed by demons—but that’s a pretty long title. Either way, that’s the opening story of Mark 5 (link), our next stop going through the whole Bible.

Mark 4 had ended with Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee as He and the disciples are headed across that body of water. The storm had the disciples convinced they would perish, yet Jesus had no concern over the issue. Jesus knew that He had not come to earth to drown nor had He called the Twelve for them to drown this early in the story.

After getting over the storm, they come to the region of the Gerasenes. There is some difficulty giving a clear identity to the location: the various textual variants and parallels use “Gerasenes,” “Gadarenes,” and “Gergesenes” interchangeably. Gadara is a bit far from the edge of the Sea of Galilee to be the feet-dry moment that Mark indicates. Instead, it’s likely best identified with the village known in Arabic as Kersa. This name lines up well with the Greek for Gerasa and has the appropriate topography and features. The village would have been part of the Decapolis region, even if not a major city within it.

Upon their arrival in the area, Jesus and His disciples do not go straight into the populated area but instead go into the cemetery. Now, that’s not typically my first stop in a new town, but I have been known to put it on the list. Jesus and the disciples go straight there, though, and encounter a man.

A man who has been driven from society to live in the tombs because of his demonic oppression. In their encounter, Jesus drives the demons from the man, allows the demons to take over a herd of pigs, and the pigs rush headlong to their destruction—likely taking the demons with them. At the very least, this removed the demonic threat from the area.

The most noteworthy aspect of this miracle?

It happens outside of Israel. I have seen a few try to extend the area into Israel or try to explain that this was a region mostly inhabited by Jews. It is true that there were Jews in the Decapolis region, but this is not Jewish land. It’s Gentile space. It is the world outside—those not considered a part of the covenant of God.

Yet we see the hand of God strong and mighty present there. We see that Jesus is not inhibited either by the exertion of calming the storm nor by distance from home. We see that geography is no barrier to the work of the Almighty.

Apparently, after giving the man permission to spread the news of what God had done, Jesus goes back to Israel. Mark appears not to record anything else happening except that the people ask Jesus to leave. Really?

In doing so, they express a sentiment that too many of us hold: they have put an economic value on a human life and on the presence of Jesus in their life. It’s somewhere around 2,000 pigs. Now, I do not know precisely how much we’re talking in terms of sisterii here, but that’s not right.

We cannot put an economic value on the life of a person or on the presence of God in our lives. When we do either, we start crossing into a place that will destroy us as people.

Consider trying to attach a cash value to a person in general: once you have done that, you put yourself in a place to choose stuff over a person. If you’re offered 2,000 pigs then will you dispose of that person? Would you commit that murder? Or ostracize that person for your wealth? What price you would walk away from a relationship shows what you count people as worth to you. That price should not be attainable. Your fellow humans are worth more than 2,000 pigs. A lot more.

Then there is the costs we decide are too much to pay in obeying God. That’s a frequent topic of sermon and blog alike: how much are you willing to sacrifice? Yet that’s not a fair question. It’s like asking me how much of the material in my closet you should give to me at your yard sale. It’s all mine in the first place: there is nothing you have that does not exist due to the grace and creation of God. It may be marred and warped by sin, but He made it.

Rather, we should focus on the grace that allows us to draw near in the first place. It is not what we would pay to have God with us. It is what Jesus paid that we might be near to God that is the focus of our lives.

Length holds me back from looking at the woman healed by touching Christ and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Summarizing these two, consider this: both of these women were of value to Jesus. Not because of what they could do for Him: the woman is destitute due to medical bills, the girl is too young. They were valuable because they were His people. If people only have value for what they can do for you, you are not acting like Christ. For some additional thoughts, check Carl Trueman here.

Today’s Nerd Note: As if the location info above was not nerdy enough, there’s a few other things here. First, you might have noticed that Jesus asks the name of the demon, and the reply is “Legion, for we are many.” Now, a Roman Legion had anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 warriors plus auxiliaries and support staff. However, the term could also mean “lots of chaos” because that’s what the opponent of Roman Legions felt—much like “company” is a technical term in the US Army as well as being a business term and referring to just a group of folks.

It is not necessary to think that there were 6,000 demons in this guy. Instead, there were several and they were the source of his chaos. Neither do the 2000+ swine give us a number.

Also, the “what is your name?” is not instructive for dealing with the demonic. Keep in mind that while we have power through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are not, nor will we ever be, Jesus. We might be striving to be like Him, but Him we are not. So, just because He dealt directly with a demon does not mean that we ought to.

Our focus goes to God alone. Our focus is on Christ Jesus Himself and we seek Him. After all, whatever size mob of demons this man was afflicted with, in the end they fall to one, and only one, Jesus. Shouldn’t that cheer us all? Had you asked any Caesar, any proconsul, if one man could defeat a legion, they would tell you “When pigs fly!”

And so it was.

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