A Strange Jesus
Popular culture often creates the impression that Jesus was a softy. We are all familiar with the false portrayals of a gorgeous Caucasian male with long flowing hair whispering passive words of love and good will. Yet this dumbed down, sanitized depiction of Jesus is alive and well in many of our modern evangelical churches, as well as the more liberal denominations with their meek and mild stained glass representations.
Come with me, as we look at Jesus – Son of the Most High God. The one who intentionally encounters a wild man; demon possessed by a legion of vicious cosmic destroyers. This Jesus is a far cry from the domesticated icon that lives deep in our subconscious.
Think about this. Jesus inaugurated his public ministry by fasting for forty days in the wilderness where wild beasts roamed. He is untamed and unfettered, and his ministry is indicative of this. His ministry runs amok wherever he goes. Indeed Jesus conducts his ministry as a kind of fugitive. After his inaugural sermon in Luke 4, Jesus is manhandled toward a cliff in an attempted assassination. He evades the cruel mob but his public ministry is then conducted in a renegade fashion (John 7:1-5).
Then, in Mark 3, when Jesus returns to his old hometown, his teachings repulse the neighbors, and they declare Him to be insane. “He has gone out of His mind” (3:21). Even his family is so outraged by his behavior that they attempt to restrain him for his own good. They are embarrassed by his wild ideas. In John 7, his brothers rebuke him because they see him as skulking around in Galilee: “No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Luke 7:4). Later in the same chapter (v.32), when the Pharisees send out temple police to arrest him, he evades capture and continues on the run.
Don’t you think it’s strange that, for most of us who call ourselves Christians, we so quickly brush past the fact that Jesus’ public ministry was operating “under the radar” and functioning with marginal acceptability? Consider his crew. He ministered with a band of impressionable young men by his side. One of those was Simon the Zealot. The Zealots were an underground anti-imperialist movement dedicated to driving the Romans out of Israel. They wanted political freedom but also desired a purified, theocratic Jewish state that would be free from the interference of pagan Rome. Simon was a warrior. Jesus also attracted two brothers, James and John. Their nicknames, “the Sons of Thunder,” may have come from their association with the ascetic and wild, John the Baptizer. Having attracted these radicals to his side, Jesus was seen as a danger to society.
When we simply let Scripture reveal Christ for what He did and said we discover that Jesus does not always fit our stereotype of one who was gentle, pleasant, and socially acceptable.
In Mark 5:1-20 we read about the encounter that Jesus had with a possessed lunatic. I would suggest that you take about two minutes right now to read the 20 verses before you read the rest of this teaching.
There was a region on the eastern side of Lake Galilee called, Gadara. Greek speakers, who had built as many as ten cities there, had colonized it.
Pious Jews had long since left the area to avoid contamination, and those that remained knew they were in pagan territory. It’s little wonder that some said, that maniacs and lunatics ran the place!
On the steep and desolate banks of Gadara lived a wild-man. Insane and naked, he scurried about on all fours eating what he could scavenge from pigs that grazed nearby and sleeping in cave-tombs among the bones of the dead. His bloodcurdling shrieks echoed against the rocks both night and day.
When Jesus stepped out of his boat onto the beach near Gadara, he must have suspected what he was in for. Strange it must have seemed to many Jews that this Jesus, such a renowned prophet, would even bother with Gadara. “Leave them to their own devices”, they would have sniffed. “They are not our concern.”
It’s no mistake that Jesus disembarks at the desolate stretch of shoreline under the steep cliffs near the town. In all likelihood he has spotted the wild man from his boat as it approached land. His pathetic wailing and scampering about on the cliffs would have made him conspicuous to say the least. Where other boatmen would have put to shore far from this madman, Jesus makes a beeline toward him. And no sooner does his feet touch the soil than the wild man rushes him. This might have scared off many an unwary traveler, but Jesus, something of a wild man himself, is unmoved.
“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me” v. 7 NIV
Such a knowing request betrays his condition. He is a demoniac, meaning that his personality is under the mastery of an evil power…or powers. The effect is the destruction of human character. He has been brought to isolation from society, stripped of his moral integrity, and reduced to a state of utter physical degradation.
Notice the accuracy with which the demon identifies Jesus. In fact, in every account of a demon addressing another Christ-follower, or even Jesus himself, they always understand the Lord’s identity. Isn’t it ironic that people will miss-identify Christ, but the demonic world recognizes His true nature instantly? Perhaps this is part of what James meant when he wrote, “You believe that there is only one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.” – James 2:19
This man of Gadara, despised and rejected by men, has not just stumbled fortuitously upon Jesus but has been sought out by him. The demons declare themselves to be in great number in 5:1, 9. “I am called Legion,” cry’s the tormented man, overwhelmed by evil forces who have the audacity to beg Jesus to cast them not into hell but into a nearby herd of swine (5:12). Remarkably, Jesus, having negotiated with the demons, agrees to their request and sends them scuttling into the pigs who end up plunging over the cliffs and drowning in the lake (5:13).
What kind of Messiah agrees to the wishes of demons? What kind of Messiah destroys the income of a local swine herder? It would be like blowing up a local grocery store! Do these poor farmers deserve to watch their bloated, drowned pigs float by in Lake Galilee? Shouldn’t the Messiah be on the side of the poor? The demons get more courtesy from Jesus than do the swine herders. What kind of prophet is this?
This is the kind of prophet who finds clothes for the wild man, who dresses him and feeds him and treats him with the dignity and respect; the attention and love every human being deserves. When they come running to see what’s happened, the locals find dead pigs, destitute farmers, and the untamed, naked man now clothed and in his right mind. The bizarre scene scars the daylights out of these local pagan people. Strong powers have come to their small community, and they beg this “strange prophet” to leave the area (5:17).
As Jesus climbs into his boat, the wild man begs Jesus to go with him. While the demons request was granted, the wild man’s is denied. Forced to remain in the Gadarenes, he goes on to be confirmed as part of the local lore forever as the wild man who was rehabilitated by the even wilder Messiah from Nazareth!
My suggestion is that we need a “recalibration” of who Jesus Christ was and is. We need to see who Rabbi Jesus is through the eyes of the Gospels. For many, middle-class churches, niceness is the supreme expression of discipleship. In fact many institutional elder teams leading churches would prefer niceness for their Pastor at the expense of courage. Any cursory reading of the Gospels will serve to remind you that Jesus wasn’t all that nice. He was good. He was compassionate. But he was not always nice. The church must abandon its preferences for good-manners and piety and adopt again the kingdom values as taught by Jesus our King!
We need to go back to the daring, radical, strange, wonderful, unstoppable marvelous, unsettling, disturbing, caring and powerful God-Man!
We as followers of Christ, and the institutional evangelical church, needs to find itself in league with this Jesus, staring at him in amazement and saying, as Peter did, with a trembling voice, “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him.” – Matthew 8:27
Even the wild demons obey him. Even the Pharisees quake at the thought of what he might unleash if left to his own devices. Perhaps there is a man or woman of “Gardara” in your own life that the Holy Spirit is saying, “Get out of your boat and make a move!”
In the Name of Christ our Messiah,