We live in a world of fear. Deep down, most people live with a fear of something happening to their health or their loved ones. Many people live in cities with soaring crime rates. Geopolitical changes in a country on the other side of the world can raise the fear of terrorist attacks. What we see on the news makes us afraid, or else what we don’t see on the news does. Some are afraid of the cultural shifts that are rocking the moral foundations of society. And for the last eighteen months, the fear of COVID-19 has been at the forefront of everyone’s thinking. Either people fear the illness itself or fear the response from governments. Fear is a feature of life in this fallen world.
I know that logic does not necessarily mix easily with fear – it never helped much with shadows at night when we were children! But still, logically, it would make sense to fear most what is most significant or powerful. Why worry about hay fever if a third of your village has died from food poisoning in the last month? So, what is the most important, significant and potentially life-changing person or problem facing each of us today?
In Luke 8, we find Jesus on tour. In the previous chapters, he has gathered his disciples around him and begun his ministry. From the end of chapters 9 to 19, he will journey to Jerusalem and all that waits in store there. But in chapters 8 and 9, Jesus is on tour in Galilee. He is teaching and helping people. The chapter starts with one of his more famous teaching moments – the man sowing seed on four kinds of soil. The different soils lead to different responses. But the bottom line of that story is that our hearts can be good soil for the seed of God’s word. Good soil does not provide the seed, nor the sun, nor the sprinkling of rain. It is just churned up mud, ready to receive God’s word. And Jesus promises a multiplied harvest: a hundred times what was sown.
After the teaching comes a couple of stories where fear is a feature. In the first story (Luke 8:22-25), the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee when a terrifying storm hits. Even the experienced fishermen are scared of this storm, but Jesus woke from his sleep, and he rebuked the wind and the waves. Immediate calm descended. But their hearts were stirred up. They were afraid. Notice their response – they ask, “who is this?” and continue to follow him. That is the correct response. Jesus has overwhelming power and authority. The proper response to someone so significant? Fear. And the desire to know more about him, to follow him, to be with him.
In the second story (Luke 8:26-39), the disciples arrive with Jesus in the region of the Gerasenes. I suspect they may have been a little nervous in this foreign territory. Perhaps they would tell stories about this region over the campfire late at night with the orange glow of the fire flickering on their faces. This visit did not serve to change their prejudices! As soon as they arrived, a man with many demons approached Jesus.
Many of us live in a time and place where demonic manifestation is not the preferred strategy of the enemy. Many of our societies like to think of themselves as too sophisticated for this kind of thing. Nevertheless, in this one man, we see classic features of evil. For instance, evil always pulls towards death. For this man, that meant nakedness and not living in society, but among the tombs.
Today we see the same pull towards death in anyone struggling with addictive behaviour and its impact on their life. We see it when we consider the impact of gangs and crime in a city or watch the news and ponder the march of evil on a grander scale. Stripping away life, civility, community, and fellowship is always a feature of evil, and we see it all too much in our world. If we look back in history, we see this in the concentration camps of the Nazis, the work camps of Communism, or the destruction of terrorism. We may not see many demon-possessed men in our local graveyards, but there is plenty of evil in the world today. Evil pulls towards death, and in Luke, the mass suicide of the pigs only underlines that truth.
This story presents the fearful reality of evil, and it also shows us another aspect that we must recognize. The multitude of demons in this man greatly feared Jesus! They didn’t negotiate, certainly not as equals. They begged. They recognized his authority both in the present and in the future judgment. The greatest evil in this world cowers in the presence of Jesus.
I can imagine the disciples at this moment. They would not have been fanning out through the crowd offering their expert commentary on Jesus’ actions. I imagine them squeezed in behind Jesus. Nervous. Awkward. “Me? Oh, I am with him!” We must remember Jesus’ authority over all evil and lean in close to him. We are with him! Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
This story does not just present us with evil and its fear of Jesus. It also shows us that fear in the response of the local people too. As they came and found the impossible-to-contain man dressed and in his right mind, they were afraid. This Jesus is too powerful, too significant, too much of a life-changer. He made them feel uncomfortable and afraid. Like many people, even today, it is too scary to let someone turn their world upside-down. Much better to live with the evil we have gotten used to than to have everything changed. So they were afraid (compare verses 25 and 35), and they sent Jesus away.
The rescued man wanted to be with Jesus. He begged that he might be with Jesus and get in the boat too. We know from reading the Bible that he would eventually get to be with Jesus, as we all will, but first, he had work to do. Jesus had churned up that region like ploughing mud in a field. Now he was going to plant this man as a single seed into that mud. I am excited to imagine what a hundred-fold increase might look like for him! Maybe we will meet the Gerasene contingent when we get to heaven!
I wonder, did he look jealously at the disciples? “Why do they get to be with you when I get planted into this fear-churned world?” Again, we know from reading the Gospels the answer to that too. The disciples would need a longer apprenticeship, but after three years with Jesus, he would also plant them into this evil world. Jesus planted them with a promise. “All authority has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples . . . baptizing . . . and teaching . . . and don’t miss this: I am with you always, until the end of the world!” (Matthew 28:18-20)
We do live in a world filled with fear. One day we will be with Jesus, away from all evil. But for now, Jesus is with us as he multiplies a crop from our apparent insignificance. May we not only see the evil around us that causes us to fear. May we remember that evil cowers before Jesus. May we respond to his greater significance in the right way – pondering who he is and leaning into him and his plan for our role in this world. Fear Jesus, for he is more powerful and significant than any evil, or all evil! Let us trust him as he places us in the mess of this world and see how he transforms lives through us!