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Jesus, Geography & Our Mission

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Along the Road Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Part 5
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 8 minutes


As I read the closing chapters of John Beckโ€™s book, Along the Road, focusing on how the presence of Jesus in a place can bring such transformation and restoration โ€“ not only to the connotation of the land itself, but the people living in it, I couldnโ€™t help but think of the scene from the popular show, The Chosen, and the lives of its main characters, portraying the lives of Jesusโ€™ inner circle.

The very first episode of the show depicts what life might have been like for Mary Magdalene as she wrestled under the possession of seven demons.

In our Biblical studies, weโ€™ve learned that when the number seven is used within Scripture, it typically represents completeness.  While it is typically seen in the restoration and making something whole again, Maryโ€™s story includes the number seven to show just how critical her situation was (Luke 8:2).

Enter Jesus.

I love the line from Mary in the first episode of the show, as she is confronted with just how enormous the impact of Jesus entering into her life is.  Itโ€™s a line that doesnโ€™t necessarily come from Scripture but can be uttered by any one of us who has encountered His grace and His redeeming love โ€“

โ€œI was one way.ย  Now, Iโ€™m completely different.ย  And the thing in between was Him.โ€

Watch the scene from The Chosen
Season 1: Episode 1 – I Have Called You by Name

Jesus, Geography & Our Mission

Gerasa, Gadara or Gergesa?

Geographic Context

Possible location of Gergesa – 32ยฐ48’28″N 35ยฐ39’37″E

There is another story where Jesus entered, and everything changed, but the Gospels donโ€™t help us to pinpoint the location in the Decapolis, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, from Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8.ย  But the repeated details of Jesus meeting a man among the tombs help us conclude that this event was monumental in the life and ministry of Jesus.

Mark 5:1-20, NIV, says โ€“ย 

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.ย  When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, โ€œWhat do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In Godโ€™s name donโ€™t torture me!โ€ For Jesus had said to him, โ€œCome out of this man, you impure spirit!โ€

Then Jesus asked him, โ€œWhat is your name?โ€

โ€œMy name is Legion,โ€ he replied, โ€œfor we are many.โ€ And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, โ€œSend us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.โ€ 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. 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. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed manโ€”and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, โ€œGo home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.โ€ 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.

Did you catch how many pigs met their demise that day?  About two thousand.

Simultaneously, a lot of bacon was lost, as well as the livelihood of the people in that region.  No wonder the people pled for Jesus to leave.

But thereโ€™s more to this than meets the eye.ย  Context tells us that the icon of the 10th Roman Legion (pay attention to that word), which occupied Judea, was a boar!

https://biblicalhistoricalcontext.com/gospels/gerasa-gadara-gergesa-from-where-did-the-pigs-stampede/

So the question remains โ€”

Did it happen at Gerasa?  Mark 5:1-20
The location is 37 miles from the shore of the Sea of Galilee โ€“ quite the distance for pigs to travel before leaping into the sea.  However, it does pose an interesting question whether it was chosen in the Gospel of Mark because Gerasa comes from the root grs in Hebrew, which means โ€œbanish,โ€ and is often used to describe exorcisms.  

At Gadara?ย  Matthew 8:28-34
The location is 5-6 miles from the shore of the Sea of Galilee โ€“ a bit closer than the previous location, but still quite the distance to travel and would not have made quite the shocking impact for the caretakers of the herd of swine at their demise.

Or at Gergesa?ย  Luke 8:26-39
The location of this town is along the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Gergesa is the transliteration for the town of Kursi, which seems to make the most sense topographically, for Jesus and the disciples to sail directly across the sea from Capernaum but also for the fertile fields for a herd of roughly 2,000 pigs to be grazing and then run down the steep embankment directly into the sea.ย  There is also a religious compound built there in the 5th century to recall the miracle.

Image from Google Earth

No matter which G-named town this event took place in, thereโ€™s something important about this region that we might miss if we donโ€™t take a moment to consider who lived there.

The Decapolis comprised ten independent cities founded by veterans of Alexander the Greatโ€™s army in the fourth century B.C.  It included plots of land given to Roman officials for their service and were wholly pagan and Hellenistic in their makeup.

The Talmud and one of the church fathers tell us that many people in New Testament times believed that the inhabitants of this area were those whom Joshua had driven from the Promised Land the seven pagan nations (Joshua 3:10; Acts 13:19), making this the land of the โ€œexpelled ones,โ€ the worshipers of Baal. 

Some scholars believe the โ€œfar countryโ€ of Jesusโ€™ parable of the prodigal son could refer to the Decapolis.ย  It was barely a dayโ€™s walk from Galilee.ย  Certainly, the riotous lifestyle and the pigs were there.

DTMB.org – https://dtbm.org/decapolis-power-of-one-life-2/ย 

It is not a region that would be typical for a Jewish Rabbi and His twelve disciples to visit.  So what was Jesus doing there?

Historical Context

Just before Jesus and the disciples came ashore and met the man among the tombs, we read in Mark chapter 4:39-41 about how Jesus calmed the storm that had swept across the Sea of Galilee.  The chapter ends with the disciples being terrified at the power and authority of their friend and Rabbi over natural forces, as โ€œeven the wind and waves obey him!โ€  

And then, just verses later, Jesus displayed his power and authority over supernatural forces as He healed the demon-possessed man.  

But as soon as the man is healed and the demon-possessed pigs drown themselves in the Sea, Jesus retreats with the disciples.ย  This time He came for the one, but just three chapters later, Jesus was back in the region of the Decapolis, and a large crowd of people brought their disabled and sick to Jesus to heal.ย  Where did these people find their faith?

โ€œIt is the very unlikeliness of change that makes the change we see between these two stories so dramatic.ย  The demon-possessed man was not Jewish, met Jesus only once, and had no experience as an evangelist.ย  He talked to people who had no background in the Old Testament and no expectation of a coming Messiah.ย  The religion they knew had hundreds of gods, not one.ย  And their first experience with Jesus left them so terrified that they asked him to leave (Mark 5:15, 17).โ€ย 

What a different account we read from this region in Matthew 15.

โ€œWhat accounts for the difference?ย  The fact that one man told them how much the Lord had done for him.โ€ย 

John A. Beck, Along the Road, pg. 140

โ€œI was one way.ย  Now, Iโ€™m completely different.ย 
And the thing in between was Him.โ€

THE CHOSEN, SEASON 1, EPISODE 01 – I Have Called You By Name

Trust the Next Chapter Because You Know the Author

Unlike Mary Magdalene, for the demoniac, who called himself Legion (the name of a Roman unit of 5,000 soldiers) at the tombs on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee – it was time to go and tell!

And he didnโ€™t allow his past, the hurt he suffered at the hands of his neighbors, or the fear the people had of Jesus to stop him.  He simply told them what the Lord had done for him.

Timing plays a role in our calling.

If the man had only recently become possessed when Jesus arrived and healed him, his testimony may not have had the same impact on the people of the region of the Decapolis.  The stories that the townspeople had heard of the deranged man who could not be bound by chains that lived among the tombs, this chapter of his story helped to give credence to his restoration at the victorious and miraculous hand of Jesus.  

Subsequently, the people would not have known about Jesus nor trusted him to spend three days healing and restoring to life the disabled and sick before also witnessing the miracle He performed by feeding 4,000 people from seven loaves and a few fish (Matthew 15:29-39).

In a similar way, had I not left my vocational ministry position and experienced the subsequent shame after being on the receiving end of a yearโ€™s worth of ridicule, pointed blame, and the reality that the enemy attacks harder the things NOT of this world, I would not have been in a position to reexamine the worth of the ministry of Intentional Filling, nor would I have been equipped, by Godโ€™s grace, to lead it to where it is today.  

And now I stand shoulder to shoulder with sisters in faith as we learn to intentionally study the context of Scripture through a Hebraic perspective to better know the heart of God โ€“ something that years ago, I never imagined possible or worthy to pursue.

โ€œThe Holy Spirit can use our own stories to draw others to Jesus, no matter what we think of ourselves or to whom we are speaking.ย  The question is not whether we have a story to share, but whether or not we will.โ€

John A. Beck, Along the Road, Pg. 141

Recommended Resources for Further Learning:

https://youtu.be/cFoJsvV0_AE?si=jmgeXnImk-DoFTS6

TODAY WE LEARNED:
1. That the details of the Gospels may not always match, but God still works in the details to show us His power and His authority over both the natural and supernatural.
2. Thereโ€™s much more to the Gospel accounts on the demoniac and the feeding of the 4,000 than meets the eye.
3. We are called, just as the man from the Decapolis, to tell others everything the Lord has done for us.

ANSWER THIS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW:
How has studying the Bible through these connected passages of Scripture through their geography impacted the way you will share your own testimony?

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Along the Road | John A. Beck

A 5-week study providing a fresh perspective of Bible stories separated by centuries, but related by shared geography, and delve into the conversations that would have happened along the road with Jesus in the first century.

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Along the Road by John A. Beck - Winter Online Biblical Study | Intentionalfilling.com

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