Regional Rabbi Allegedly Controls Storms, Demons; Thousands of Pigs Killed

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a journalist for the local Galilee Times newspaper in the days of Jesus…
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Regional Rabbi Allegedly Controls Storms, Demons; Thousands of Pigs Killed


Earlier today, reports poured in from around the Sea of Galilee. This lake, a hub of fishing and other industry in this rural area, has lately been at the epicenter of some amazing claims. The latest witness reports indicate that a stronger than usual storm sprang up overnight, stirring the entire lake into chaos. Several fishing vessels were caught in the middle of the intense gale and were nearly capsized. According to several witness accounts, a Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth allegedly stopped the storm as quickly as it had arisen.


Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples and appointed spokesman for the group, told reporters, “The storm came on us more suddenly than I’ve ever seen. One minute it was clear sailing. The next, everything was pitch black, and our boat started being tossed around like a child’s toy. With the waves breaking over the boat and the downpour of rain, we couldn’t bail out the water fast enough.” Peter and his brother Andrew were professional fisherman on the lake before becoming disciples of Jesus.


“I’ve seen my fair share of storms over the years,” Peter continued, “but nothing like this. I thought for sure we were going to die. But then I noticed Jesus in the back of the boat asleep on a cushion! I thought, Who could sleep at a time like this? So me and my buddies woke him up. Then Jesus made his way to the front of the boat, looked out at the storm, and – I swear – he shouted, ‘Shut up! Calm down!'”


According to Peter and the others in the boat, the wind immediately stopped, the waves calmed down, and the clouds vanished. “We were all terrified,” said Peter. “I mean, who does that? We still don’t know exactly how that happened. We’re still in shock.”


The story then takes a bizarre turn. Once safely through the storm, their boat made land at the local gentile cemetery on the other side of the lake in the region of the Gerasenes. As the sun was dawning and the disciples were making landfall, a local madman ran out to them yelling and screaming. After a brief conversation with Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth apparently cast out a “legion of demons” from the man. These demons then possessed a herd of pigs grazing at a nearby farm. Witnesses say the pigs turned mad and rushed off the side of the hill into the lake, drowning.


Our reporters caught up with the man, who wished to remain anonymous, after the fact. They found him well mannered and articulate. They asked him for his account of what happened. “The last few years have been a blur for me,” he began. “Once I felt the darkness take hold, I was powerless to stop it. I heard voices screaming in my head that no one else could hear. They told me to hurt myself. They wanted me to kill myself but I resisted that as much as I could. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold out, though. My family didn’t want me around. No one in town would take me in. I began living in the graveyard about a year ago. Local officials would try to bind me, but no matter what ropes or chains they put on me, I would somehow break through them.”


The owners of the nearby pig farm who lost their entire herd offered some of their own comments on what happened. “Yeah, he was crazy all right. No one wanted to go near there. We thought we were far enough away. Guess we thought wrong. Everyone had just kind of come to accept the crazy man in the cemetery. We figured he wouldn’t be around much longer, anyway. Seemed as good a place as any for him to die. But then that Jesus character showed up and ruined everything.”


According to the man’s testimony, the demons were terrified of Jesus. They thought he would send them to “the abyss” and destroy them. They begged to be sent out of the man and into the pigs.


“We heard all this shouting and commotion,” said the pig farmer. “It was coming from the graveyard. Next thing we knew our pigs – about 2,000 of them, mind you – got this crazy look in their eyes. They grew restless and out of control. They broke straight through the fencing, ran down the hill, and to the last one they all drowned in the lake. There was nothing we could do. That was our entire livelihood – gone in an instant.”


The farmers ran back into town to tell the others what had just happened. A large number of the townsfolk came out to the scene of the incident.


“I’m not sure which was more upsetting,” said one local man, “the madman sitting there, still and calm, or the image of 2,000 pig carcasses floating in the lake. We were all shocked and horrified.”


All the townspeople urged Jesus and his disciples to leave.


“He had caused enough damage for one day. We may never recover from this,” said the pig farmer, visibly distraught.


Our reporters asked for one last statement from the previously-madman. “They asked him to leave. I tried to go with him! The last thing I wanted to do was stay around here, with the people who would just have soon seen me dead as healed. I wanted to go with him so badly, but he wouldn’t let me. He told me to go back home and tell everyone what the Lord has done for me. So I’m here to tell everybody that Jesus of Nazareth is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. Everyone was powerless to help, until he came ashore. There’s something special about him. Others may be afraid of him, but I owe my life to him. I’ll do whatever it takes to help those farmers recover, so long as they all know that Jesus has true power from on high.”


We may never know what really happened on the lake last night or on the shore earlier this morning. These claims are outlandish, some would even say blasphemous. But with so many corroborating witness accounts, it is difficult to dismiss the fact that something amazing did indeed happen. The Galilee Times will keep following the trail of stories left behind from Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth.


(For the full story, see Mark 4:35 – 5:20)

Jesus Is the New Jonah…And So Are You.

A prophet of God sleeping in a boat at sea during a particularly violent storm which has everyone else on board panicked. The prophet is rudely awakened and miraculously causes the storm to cease.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The more I study the story of Jonah, the clearer it becomes that Jesus based a lot of his ministry and teachings on the life of Jonah. The connections become obvious to anyone paying attention. In fact, Jesus makes it obvious for us by coming right out and telling us that “something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12).

So how is Jesus the new Jonah?

We’ll look at this throughout the story, but let’s just stay in chapter 1 for now.

THE WORD OF THE LORD

The opening phrase of Jonah’s story should perk the ears of Christians. “The Word of the Lord…” doesn’t that have some significance?

Look at how John’s gospel begins: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus IS the Word of God. Jesus’ story is inextricably connected to Jonah’s from the opening phrase.

GO TO NINEVEH

God calls Jonah to leave his home (Israel) and go to a foreign, hostile land (Nineveh) to proclaim God’s message. Jonah, somewhat understandably, is hesitant to do this. Instead, he runs away from the call to foreign missions.

Where is Jesus in this? How is Jesus the new Jonah in this regard? The answer is best summarized in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Rather, he made himself nothing
By taking on the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
By becoming obedient to death –
Even death on a cross!

Looking back at John 1, The Message version puts it this way:

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

Jesus was sent on a mission from God to leave his home in heaven, to come to a foreign land (the world), to preach to a hostile population, and ultimately to be killed for it.

Jonah didn’t want to leave Israel and go to Nineveh for fear of what might happen. Christ left heaven and came to Earth fully knowing what would happen. Christ is the greater Jonah.
THE STORM AT SEA

Then there’s the storm. I want to draw your attention to all the parallels between Jonah 1:3-16 and Mark 4:35-41.

Sailing in the opposite direction/other side

  • But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:3)
  • That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35)

Violent windstorm on the sea and imminent danger of ship’s sinking

  • Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)
  • A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. (Mark 4:37)

Deep sleep during the storm

  • All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. (Jonah 1:5)
  • Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. (Mark 4:38)

Rude awakening by frightened shipmates

  • The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:6)
  • The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38)

Calming of sea by protagonist’s actions

  • Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. (Jonah 1:15)
  • He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)

Shipmates’ awestruck fear at divine power

  • At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:16)
  • They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41)

Before you start crying “Coincidence!” I must remind you that it was Jesus himself who drew the parallels between his ministry and Jonah’s. Jesus’ earliest followers purposefully pointed to these connections in the way they told their stories.

God was trying to teach Jonah (and subsequently Israel) the lesson that God cares about the Gentile nations, too. As Peter and Paul would put it, God wants all people everywhere to be saved (Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9). God loved the world to the extent that he sent his one and only Son (John 3:16).

Not long after Jonah, the Assyrian Empire would rise in power once again and overthrow the evil kingdom of Israel, taking their people into exile and erasing them from the annals of history. Even in the face of this unspeakable tragedy, God still had a bigger plan in mind:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
To restore the tribes of Jacob
And bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
That my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Jesus, with this very passage in mind, would tell his earliest followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5).

Jesus is Jonah. So am I. So are you. Each one of us is called to leave the comfort and security of our own tribe in order to take God’s word to the nations.

MORE POSTS IN MY JONAH SERIES:

Jonah: Who Are You?

The storm at sea is threatening to kill them all. The waves are swelling and breaking over the boat. The wind is driving the rain like gravel into their faces. They are frantically hurling the cargo boxes overboard in an effort to lighten the ship.

In the midst of this fear and panic, they find someone who really couldn’t be bothered by it all – Jonah, a prophet on the run.

After quite a rude awakening, Jonah is brought to meet with the rest of the crew. They’ve got to find out who is responsible for this storm – not necessarily what person, but what god/deity  is behind this. The most obvious god to pinpoint would be Ba’al, the Storm God of the Ancient Near-East. But Ba’al isn’t responding right now (shocker!), so they have to figure this out.

They cast lots (think Yahtzee, but with higher stakes). The lot falls to Jonah (shocker again!). Check out the interaction that follows:

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (Jonah 1:7-10)

They want to know his job, his region, his country, his tribe, his shopping habits, his Social Security number, his mother’s maiden name. They interrogate Jonah to find out which god he might have angered. In the ancient world gods were viewed as very tribal and/or territorial. Your family would have certain gods. You tribe would have other gods. Your country and region would have bigger gods. Even certain occupations, like merchants and sailors, had their own gods. So they have to narrow it down.

Let’s look again at Jonah’s response to this line of questioning:

“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

This is an interesting response for several reasons.

NATION OVER GOD

Jonah does the same thing I see so many people doing today. His first identifier was his country – “I am a Hebrew.” His identity was first and foremost grounded in his particular geopolitical situation. Jonah was a Hebrew before he was a worshiper of YHWH.

If you look back at 2 Kings 14, you will see that Jonah had every reason to be patriotic. Israel had just experienced the greatest time of political, economic, and military expansion in decades thanks to the word of God through his prophet Jonah. The king was evil, the nation was evil, yet God blessed them anyway. Jonah was at the top of his game. Jonah seems to be more than just a patriot, though. He has tendencies toward nationalism, the ideology that proclaims “My country, right or wrong.”

Today we have two identifiers – Christian and American. Which one is the noun and which is the adjective? That makes all the difference in the world. Are you a Christian American? Or are you an American Christian? Say you meet a foreigner for the first time and you’re getting to know each other. Do you tell that person you’re a Christian or an American first?

For Jonah it was clear that his allegiance to his country took precedent over his allegiance to God. He would rather blatantly disobey God than have a hand in saving Israel’s enemies. But when we become followers of Christ, we are now citizens of a new kingdom, a global kingdom. It’s great to be proud of your country and seek God’s blessing on the place you live (see Jeremiah 29). But it’s not ok to do that to the exclusion or detriment of other countries and nationalities.

YHWH, THE GOD OF HEAVEN

Jonah reveals the sacred covenant name of God to these sailors – YHWH. Any time you see “the LORD” in your Bibles, that is a replacement for the name YHWH. Jonah says, “I worship YHWH.”

But here’s the thing – YHWH was never just a regional God. YHWH had gone by other names, too. Most commonly the name El. El is the more widely used word/name for God. YHWH was the special name God gave to Moses in Exodus when establishing a covenant with the Hebrews.

I’m no Hebrew scholar, but from what I’ve heard and read, the name El is closely related to the name Ba’al, who was frequently referred to as “The God of Thunder” or “The God of the Heavens.” Jonah introduces these sailors to YHWH, the God of Heaven. Essentially, Jonah is using language they would have been familiar with to introduce them to YHWH and emphasize what a big deal this God is.

CREATOR OF THE SEA AND THE DRY LAND


Jonah gives the sailors the most basic Bible school lesson about who God is. YHWH created the sea and the dry land. That’s also a Hebrew way of implying “and everything in them.” So let’s all sing the Days of Creation song!

But this is an important distinction to make. Ba’al may have been “The Storm God” but he didn’t create the sea. There’s a big difference between having control over something and being the creator of something. I may know how to drive my Toyota, but I didn’t build it. My father-in-law worked at the plant where my vehicle was made. He knows where the parts came from and how they are all put together. If there’s an issue with the car, I defer to him.

YHWH isn’t just some little-case-g god like Ba’al. YHWH is the one who created everything that Ba’al supposedly controlled.

This rightly has the sailors terrified. “How can you run away from ‘the God who created the sea’ on the sea!

WHO’S IN CONTROL HERE?


With as crazy as things are, we always have to remember who is in control. God has not abdicated his throne to the big wigs in Washington. YHWH is still the God of Heaven who created the sea and the dry land and everything they contain.

When our identity is primarily rooted in our nationality or politics, then we will always be on shifting sand. We’ll be like the foolish man who built his house on the beach with no foundation. Nations rise and fall. Politics change daily.

But if our identity is rooted in God and the kingdom of heaven, we know we will always be on solid footing, not being tossed around by the winds of political storms.