Today’s Scripture reminds us that Jesus interacted with many different kinds of people in His ministry … we should too. To the east of the Sea of Galilee were the pagans, those people who had never really been part of the ministry of God or of God’s word. Our reading takes us to “the region of the Gerasenes” which is to the East of Galilee in a region called the Decapolis, which means “10 Cities”
These were very sophisticated Greek cities ... To the Jews they were pagan cities … founded by the pagan Greeks, they practised the fertility cult, they considered the pig a sacred animal, exactly the opposite to Jews, for whom the pig is unclean. Now, regarding how it ended up being pagan territory, it was the area to which Joshua drove out the 7 nations of the Canaanites … Joshua 3:10
This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.
Now there is much to indicate that in His ministry, Jesus ministered to both the people of Israel and the 7 pagan nations. You might remember that Jesus once fed a multitude of 5000 in Galilee and on another occasion 4000 … here in the Decapolis. (Mark 6:39-43 and Mark 8). These two miracles were a very Jewish way of communicating that He was the Bread of Life to both Jew and pagan. In Galilee, after the people have eaten, they pick up 12 baskets of leftovers, which, to the Hebrew mind would have reminded them of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus is saying that He is the Bread of Life in abundance to the 12. In Mark 7:31, we’re told that Jesus went into the region of the Decapolis and there feeds a multitude of 4000.
And after feeding the 4000, 7 baskets of leftovers are collected: that’s Jesus way of communicating that He is the Bread of Life in abundance to the 7 nations … to the pagans. He is the God of the 12, He is the God of the 7 …. He is the God of all and in Christ He goes to all … the church must too.
Be this all as it may be, the Jews considered the Decapolis as the place of the devil. Beelzebub lived here because of the pagan fertility religions connected to the old Canaanites. So they referred to it as “across the sea” and it was a no go area for any self-respecting Jew.
Where are the no go areas in Hellesdon and Norwich … the places no self-respecting Christian will go to, or live, … the places where if your children said “We’re going to … on Friday night”, you’d say “Oh no you’re not!” Where is the Decapolis in Norwich? Where is the “other side” in Norwich?
Our story really starts in Mk 4:35That day when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’
And they cross over, but encounter a terrible storm in the night, which Jesus speaks to … and it calms down. To the Jewish mind storms at sea were a sign of evil trying to rise up and destroy, so they are beginning to realise that Jesus has tremendous power. Have you?
Then they land on the other side and are confronted by this demonised man.
The disciples are probably thinking: “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” … why is Jesus coming to this evil place.
Jesus confronts the evil spirits in the man and then Mark mentions:
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.
Why pigs? The pigs represent the sacred animal of the fertility cult in that area. Mark is emphasising the evil and uncleanness of the place.
12 The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man – and told about the pigs as well.
17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
3 things: Notice that Jesus deliberately, consciously, in a very planned way goes right to where he knows the evil is and confronts it.
I think that’s part of what we’re called to do as Christians; we don’t wait for evil to come to us … He didn’t wait for the demon possessed man to row across … He went and found him. And as we think of our world-changing call to become disciples, I would like to suggest that just as Jesus did, we need to find where the power of evil is … in whatever aspect of life we’re involved in and confront it. We shouldn’t wait for it to come to us. Now, the word evil is unpopular these days and we prefer to think of things as bad, or wrong … but Scripture only knows good and evil. But, if you prefer, we are talking about whatever is “bad” or “wrong” to God … things that are destructive, that ultimately destroy people, families, nations. Some are obvious …. Drugs, alcohol … others have become more “acceptable” … blasphemy, cheating on taxes or benefits, sexual immorality in its various forms … others are more insidious … the way as a nation we treat the unborn, … the way we treat the elderly. I’ve heard the state of social care for the elderly described variously as sad … unfortunate … wrong. Is it a developing evil in our midst that needs to be confronted? Should the church care? So my first point: we shouldn’t wait for the evil to come to us.
Secondly: Jesus has nothing but compassion for the man. He doesn’t confront the man … he confronts the evil. He doesn’t go into why or how this man became demonised … what lifestyle or bad choices opened him up. He loves the man but hates the evil which has caused the man to become marginalised so that he lives “on the other side”, or the “wrong side of town” … Jesus goes over to the other side. Jesus could never be found guilty of only associating with people who were more or less like Him … the church must be the same. We must be the same wherever we are. Are there people you avoid … at work, on the street, in your social life. Jesus was accused of mixing with the wrong people … oh, that you and I would be accused of the same thing.
The third is this: When you decide to live out your faith in this way, you can expect people to resist and resent and not to want to have anything to do with you. So the people plead with Jesus to leave because the two just can’t live together.
By this time you might be thinking … “Very interesting, but how is this relevant to me and my life. How does this help me in the office tomorrow?” Well, whether you know it or not, you want and need an office that is more Christlike. You need more Christian disciples in your office, in your home, in our nation. Each of these places only gets better when filled with disciples … that might never happen unless you “go over to the other side.”
But let’s go on because the best is coming yet.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.19 Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Now you talk about a tough mission field. Here’s a guy who 15 minutes ago had been possessed by demons and completely marginalised by his society … now all of a sudden he’s the only missionary in an area that represented the most pagan place you could possibly be. That’s a pretty incredible calling, but what is so encouraging is that Jesus says: “Your message is simple … you don’t need a theological degree … just tell them what happened… tell them about God’s mercy on you.” This is the key to evangelism for disciples: to be able to simply tell what the living God has done and is doing in your life and mine. That’s all this man had, and to see how this worked out, we pick up some verses that come some time after this episode, again when Jesus is in the Decapolis, this time recorded for us in Matthew 15:29-31.
Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Apparently that man had been a pretty good missionary … because when Jesus came back here at a later stage there’s a whole crowd of people coming to find out who this Jesus was. I find that quite incredible that all those people apparently listened to this one man and his story, by the power of God, made a difference in their lives. That’s the lesson for us.
God calls us to be His people in a culture that doesn’t hold His values. God says: “Your call is to bring My values, to confront the evil values, the bad values, the negative values of the culture we live in, the workplace you work in, in fact in every situation where I place you.”
To evangelise Hellesdon and Norwich requires “going over to the other side” … that might mean the other side of your office, …. classroom or sportsfield … the other side of your street perhaps … the other side of the Boundary road … please don’t leave here this morning without an idea of where the “other side” is for you … I’ve prayed that God will convict you in this area this morning … you’ve quite possibly resisted God for too long in this area … but He wants you to go to the “other side”, which might be terrifying for you, as it was for the disciples. Expect it to be stormy … we know that we live as part of a world that is fragile and troubled, terrified and terrifying. The last time I preached it was on letting our minds be transformed, getting and using the mind of Christ … Today I’m saying that with this transformed mind, we proclaim a new reality: God rules the world! What’s more, we live by that reality above all others. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have inaugurated the Kingdom of God and have reshaped the world into a new reality, which, with our born-again eyes, we see. Thus, amid the same old realities of trouble and turmoil, we are changed and are able to discern by the eye of faith the dimensions of the new creation Paul speaks of in 2 Cor 5:17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!
When Jesus crossed over, He proclaimed a new reality into a terrible and frightening reality. You and I are called to do the same … and what with, … what do I say? Just tell people what has happened to you because of Jesus … create opportunities to share your testimony about what Jesus is doing in your life. Believe that even the most pagan, unbelieving folk can be moved by your story … such is the power of God. Believe that your office, your clients, your family can be changed because of your presence and your witness.
Believe that you, by the power of God, can make a difference … believe …. and cross over.