Friday, September 30, 2016

St Stephens Bible Church

Sun, Sep 07, 2014

What is your Name?

Jesus, Son of the Most High God.

Well this morning I thought that I would kick off with some cheesy man meets woman get-to-know-you lines. So picture the scene man sees woman of his dreams across the crowded room, he saunters over to her and says…

Are you an interior decorator? Because when I saw you, the entire room became beautiful.

Are you religious? Because you're the answer to all my prayers.

Do you have a Band-Aid? Because I just scraped my knee falling for you.

I thought happiness started with an H. Why does mine start with U?

I seem to have lost my phone number. Can I have yours?

Are you a camera? Because every time I look at you, I smile.

I was so enchanted by your beauty that I ran into that wall over there. So I'm going to need your name and number for insurance purposes.

 

Well they are all cheesy, revolting and utterly terrible…and I wouldn’t recommend using any of them when you meet the girl of your dreams…much better to simply introduce yourself and ask her name.

 

The question ‘What is your name?” is a question that stands at the beginning of relationships. To ask someone their name is to show an interest in getting to know them…and to mess up someone’s names is to insult them. I have a terrible fear of getting the names wrong when I perform a wedding…Do you Johnny take….uhh what is your name again? I wake up  in a sweat over that scenario…

 Most of us are terrible at names. We forget them so quickly. For some reason they just don’t stick in our minds…have you ever been introduced to someone and within seconds you are thinking, “What was their name again?”

 

Now in Bible times to know someone’s name was believed to give you power over them. As we look at a little passage in the Bible today we find that it is dominated byy that simple question - What is your name? But Jesus is not asking that question to enter into relationship…in our passage today that question stands at the centre of conflict. The question stands at the moment of confrontation between Jesus and a horde of evil spirits…

 

Well let me back up a little and tell you the story. It is the story of a man…ironically his name we don’t know. We find this account in a book of the Bible called Mark, in chapter 5. If we had met this man, we would have certainly noticed something strange about him, we might have called him mad, we would certainly have thought him delusional, perhaps even psychotic and insane…we would almost certainly have been afraid of him because he was a dangerous man…

Jesus and his disciples have just travelled across the Sea of Galilee from West to East. It is a journey of about 2 hours…but on this day it had probably taken longer because it had been pretty stormy and there had been some dramatic events (that is however a story for another day). As they arrive at a small place called Gerasa on the North Eastern shore, they are confronted by this dangerous madman. He lived in the tombs around that village – in those days tombs were most often caves cut into the rock - and he was violently strong. So strong that they had tried to tie him down but he simply broke the shackles and the chains…Often at night he could be heard howling from the tombs, he probably spoke to himself and he certainly hurt himself with stones and sharp objects. Society doesn’t know what to do with him…they are afraid of him…so they chase him out of town to live alone amongst the tombs…

 

As Jesus and his disciples arrive this man comes running towards them…

 

It is like getting out of your car at the shopping centre and someone runs towards you with bulging biceps and tattoos all over his arms, scars on his face…as it happens you are thinking “I am in trouble…now” you have just got a moment to stiffen, the adrenalin pumps. The disciples must have tensed up and prepared themselves for any ugly conflict…the man runs straight at Jesus…and then flings himself on his knees in front of him…v7 he shouts at the top of his voice. “What do you want with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”

It is a strange scene; a strange thing to say. A peculiar thing to shout…

 

And Jesus replies by asking him…that simple question, “What is your name?”

And then all of a sudden it is apparent that Jesus is not talking to the man on his knees in front of him but to a horde of evil spirits that lives within the man. His problem is that he is possessed. He has been overcome by demonic forces…

 

Now immediately we hear a story like this our Western brains are disturbed. Our worldview precludes evil spirits and demon possession. We amuse ourselves with Stephen King style movies…movies like the Exorcist and Possessed but we have no experience of possession ourselves…but of course our worldview is not everyone’s worldview. Our city is full of people who believe in muti and spirits and sangomas. I am sure you have had a leaflet thrust into your hand…advertising Doctor Musa’s services. Win the lottery, get a job, overcome sexual problems, solve your marriage…he advertises. In Eastern religions there are medicine men and hallucinations and trances. Voodoo is practiced in many parts of the world…because we haven’t experienced something doesn’t make it untrue. Here is a man possessed by evil spirits.

 

Jesus speaks to the spirits. “What is your name?” he asks.    

They reply v9. “We are Legion for we are many.”

 

A legion was the largest unit of the Roman army…at full strength a legion consisted of 6000 men. It is a great many spirits that inhabit this man…No wonder his behaviour was so peculiar. No wonder he was constantly trying to hurt himself and others. No wonder he had super human strength. No wonder people were afraid of him…

 

“Come out of him.” Jesus says.

And then follows the most extraordinary set of negotiations. A legion of 6000 evil spirits…pleads with Jesus like pitiful wimps.

“Don’t torture us,” they beg, “Don’t hurt us,” they cry. “Send us into those pigs that are nearby.”

 

This posse of dangerous evil spirits becomes a snivelling, bundle of fear when confronted by gentle, Jesus meek and mild. They recognise his authority over them. They listen when he speaks. They do what he says…

Well, Jesus gives them permission to go into the pigs. At that moment they leave the man. They enter the 2000 pigs. Immediately the madness is transferred to the pigs and in a fit of evil destruction they run down the bank into the lake and are drowned.

 

There must have followed an eerie silence…those that saw it must have thought…what has just happened? What have I just witnessed? What is going on here?

 

The pig minders are horrified; they run off into town to tell what has just happened…they come back to look but all they see is an ordinary man sitting, dressed and in his right mind…talking to Jesus.

 

Now this story teaches us some very important truths. Truths we need to remember to live successfully in our city. if you think about life at all you will realise that it is a complicated paradox; a contradiction; it is full of ambiguity. And this ambiguity is seen in our lives and our city and our country.

On the one hand life is full of spectacular beauty, it is full of joy and laughter; it is full of splendour and love and kindness. As you sit in the traffic in the morning people let you in. People cake- bomb each other, life is filled with moments of sublime serenity; life is filled with joyous moments of delight:

But on the other hand our world is also a miserable place. There is deep sadness and real emptiness. People hurt each other – badly; people hate each other – they really hate each other; people oppress each other and destroy each other. We live in a world where marriages don’t last and parents abandon their children. We live in a world where volcanos explode and virus’s run rampant. We live in a world of cancer and diabetes and dark depression. We live in a world of corruption and nepotism.

It is a world of good and evil – together. And it is this world of good and evil that demands an explanation. Why are things the way they are? Why do we instinctively know that good is good and evil is evil? Why is there evil? Why do people do such evil to each other? Why is there good? Why do people do good to each other? What will be the outcome of this struggle of good and evil, or is it just destined to carry on endlessly like this forever?     

 

Well, our Bible passage today teaches us that evil is a real force in our world. There is a spiritual world that we cannot see…and our Western worldview does not allow us to acknowledge that…yet it is real and present and true.

 

But our passage also teaches us that there is someone stronger than the powers of evil. Jesus is completely unafraid of a legion of demons. They tremble at his presence. He speaks to them and they obey. They fear that he will destroy them. Our passage teaches us that Jesus has power over the evil world...and that power is contained in his word. He simply speaks and they listen. If you think of Jesus, as gentle Jesus meek and mild…you have missed his identity. His power comes from who he is. That power is interconnected with his identity. As the spirits throw the man on his knees in front of Jesus they call out, “What do you want with us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

They know that this man that stands before them is much more than a religious teacher or a moral example. They know that the one that stands before them is much more than a prophet or an ethical genius; they know that the one that stands before them is in fact the Son of God, come in human form. God enters into our world! The God of power, the God of strength, the God of good, the God who made everything…cares about the evil and the pain and the brokenness…and he knows that we can’t fix the mess…and so he comes to rescue us. God’s son invades our world on a cosmic rescue mission…

 

It is just astonishing if you think about it…

 

One of the earliest memories I have is of my grandfather’s swimming pool. It was in Hampton Road. That house was for me the epitome of a mansion. Upstairs was a bar and a bedroom that had its own basin in it. I thought that was super cool. It was like a palace to my young eyes. And we used to go to grandpa’s house not to jump on the feather bed but to visit and swim in the pool. But I couldn’t swim. I was also too young to know that I couldn’t swim. I didn’t know that water doesn’t hold you like land does and so I walked into the swimming pool that day…and I nearly drowned. In fact I would have drowned…except my uncle pulled me out. He rescued me when I couldn’t rescue myself. That is what God came to do – to rescue a world that can’t rescue itself.

 

We need to remember that evil is a real force but we don’t need to fear that evil will prevail. It won’t! We don’t need to live fearing that there is a battle of good and evil and that somehow these two forces of yin and yang are equally balanced and in perpetual conflict. No, there is a God and he is good and he is more powerful than the forces of evil and he sent his son into our world…

Now there are two responses in the passage when people see Jesus in action…

 

The people of Gerasa ask Jesus to go away.

 

In some of the saddest words you will ever hear; in v17…the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. He messed up their pig business. He made them afraid…they asked him to go away…and that is exactly what he does…he gets into the boat and leaves them. Imagine that…the Son of God came to visit and they asked him to go away…you can do that too, many in our world do that every day…but why would you?

Stubborn perhaps…? Too proud…perhaps? Scared of change…perhaps?  

 

And then there is the nameless man…who has been healed. He has first hand experience of the power of Jesus. He asks him, “Can I go with you.” He attaches himself to Jesus. Jesus has restored him. He doesn’t yet have all his questions answered. His life is not fixed in every way. But he has found the secret to life and death. He has found the one who has power to deal with evil…not just in himself but in the whole world. He has found the one who can give him life in a world of death…and he attaches himself to Jesus.

 

I did that 33 years ago…and I have never looked back. Jesus has proved himself to be the most gracious, faithful, patient, caring, consistent, hope-providing, gentle true-friend that I could ever have wanted. He is teaching me how life works. He is teaching me about my heart and shaping my heart every day. He has forgiven me, he has rescued me and he promises me that eternal life is coming for me. In the middle of a world that is a mess…I am not going back…

 

But until that day when I die or he returns…Jesus gives us a job to do. Jesus gives this man a job to do….he says to him, “Go and tell everyone what has happened to you. Your life has been transformed, changed, radically altered, never to be the same again…Go and tell everyone.”

That is what God does to you when you meet him and submit to him…he changes you, he restores your life and he gives you work to do…work that provides purpose and meaning to your life…”

Let me pray…perhaps you might want to echo this prayer in your heart… 

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