Thursday, December 15, 2011

5,000 demons: 0. Jesus: 1

I'm posting a little early this week, as I'll be in an all-day training tomorrow. But we're still going through the chronological Gospels, taking a look at who the Bible says Jesus is, outside the ways we're traditionally taught to understand Him by "Good Religious People".

As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels chronologically to find the real Jesus, here.

And as always you'll find the scriptures for today are here.
(Note that you can change the human-translation version on this scripture page, as suits you. I have NO theological or other tie to the online-bible site I use for this blog – it just lists many human translations to choose from, including the NASB, KJV, The Message, and the NRSV, which are the ones mentioned by those I chat and email with.)

We're looking at another famous story from the Gospels this week: Jesus healing the man possessed by a "Legion" of demons.

As usual, there's a lot going on in this story! And to get the full understanding, we have to see the story the way the original ancient-hearers would have, or we can miss important points (and that's true of the whole Bible, of course). Why is that so important? Well, imagine someone 2,000 years from now reading an ancient text from the year 2011 that talked about the "Golden Arches". How far off in understanding would they end up if they didn't know what (most of us today) know: the "Golden Arches" mean a popular fast food restaurant chain?
  • Have you understood yet how absolutely necessary it is to understand the Bible as the original writers and hearers would have, or risk getting a wrong meaning from it? How has not understanding the Bible as the original writers and hearers would have steered you wrong in your past?

So, Jesus and His disciples have entered a region where there are a lot of Gentiles (non-Jews). We can tell that because these people were raising pigs – an animal abhorrent to Jewish religious law. They met a man (or two men, if you go by what Matthew remembered) who showed all the classic ancient signs of being controlled by a demon:
  • He lived in a tomb – which the Jews would have thought made him beyond religiously unclean 
  • He couldn't be bound, but seemed to have an unnatural strength, able to break even chains and leg irons used to subdue him 
  • He ran night and day through the cemetery, howling and cutting himself 
  • He accosted anyone and everyone who tried to pass that way 
  • He refused to wear clothes

Scary dude! Today, a guy acting like that would be hauled off to a psych ward and heavily medicated (probably never to emerge), or simply shot if he ran up to the police like that. But Jesus had a different way to handle him. Jesus went right to the source of the problem: He confronted the demons inside him.
  • Do you believe that some or all of people who act like this today are demon-possessed? How does that affect what you might do for them? 
  • Have you been so much in torment and pain that you acted "crazy" in one way or another? If Jesus could heal this guy of this kind of hell-on-earth, do you imagine He could heal yours?

Note that the demons inside this guy knew exactly who Jesus was, but they couldn't figure out why He was there. They apparently expected not to see Jesus until The End, when all demons will be cast into the torment they've chosen to deserve – but not now, in the middle of Gerasenes. Next time someone tries to convince you demons see-all and know-all, remember that!
  • Has your religious background, programs you watch, etc., convinced you that demons are all-knowing and able to do anything they want? How has that wrong-teaching affected your life and sense of God's power in your life?

Jesus asked the guy what his name was. Ancient people in those days believed that knowing a demon's name gave you power over it. Apparently the demons thought so too, because they tried to outsmart Jesus by just giving Him like the clever nickname they've come up with for themselves: "Legion". The listeners back then would have known "legion" meant a division of between 3,000 and 6,000 oppressor-soldiers. Something deadly, overpowering, and terrifying, in other words. Jesus isn't impressed, though.Despite their attempt to outmaneuver or intimidate Jesus, He simply tells them to get out. They beg to go into a nearby herd of pigs, and Jesus lets them. We read then that the pigs drowned in the lake. It's quite possible the demons were being like people are sometimes, destroying something to "get back at" an authority figure that's made them do something they don't want to do.
  • Since Jesus didn't need to know the demons' names to have power over them (obviously), do you think it's possible He asked just so people would understand how bad this problem really was (meaning, several thousand demons infesting this guy, and not just one)? How might this have all looked different if those watching the scene didn't know? 
  • People often feel sorry for the pigs, and indeed, they got a raw deal! But knowing Jesus' character, and how He said that God keeps track of even every little bird in the world, was it likely Jesus or the demons who were responsible for the pigs' death?

Now, the Jews following along would have been incredibly impressed at what Jesus had just done, tossing out several thousand demons with a single command and with total control. But the non-Jews of that place and time, who wouldn't have understand what Jesus had done as a "miracle" but as the act of a "sorcerer", told Him to shove off. They were amazed that He'd healed this maniac that had been such a pain to them for so long – but the loss of the pigs and the healing of the demon-possessed guy was just too much for their brains to take in.
  • We see people even today who can look a miracle right in the eye – and still absolutely reject any hand of God in it. I've certainly done that at times in my life. Have you, as well? Why do you think we do that? What's stopping us from dropping that and just taking in God's good work in the world, as we run into it?

The guy who'd been healed "got it", though. He begged to go with Jesus. Jesus instead made him another evangelist to the Gentiles. He told him to go be a witness to his people of God's power and kindness. And the man went far and wide in his area to do just that. Another "reject" made into one of God's greatest ambassadors to the world!
  • If this guy could be so spiritually filthy thousands of demons could live inside him, yet still be cleansed and healed by God, what does that say about what God can do to cleanse and heal us? 
  • What should be our response to God's healing and freeing action in our lives?
See you next week!
This article written by Lynne at You can contact Lynne at