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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DISCOVER YOU'RE MORE LIKE JESUS THAN YOU THINK?
By jonathan martin, Dave Lindstedt
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2013Jonathan Martin
All rights reserved.
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The most common form of despair is not being who you are.
Who are you?
If I were to ask you that question straight up, you might respond with some version of your Facebook profile: "Here's where I went to school; these are my favorite movies, books, and bands; I like to fish, hunt, play video games, go scuba diving, and listen to Jay-Z."
But who are you really, behind the avatars you've created for yourself? What are you covering up? What are you afraid of? What are you hoping for? Where are you going?
If you're like most people in our society, you live in a perpetual identity crisis—with countless voices competing for your attention, across a dizzying array of platforms, telling you who you are and who you ought to be.
So, who are you?
Forgive me for being so forward. I know we've only just met. I don't mean to be abrupt or intrusive. But if we're going to say anything truthful about becoming more like Jesus, surely we have to tell the truth about ourselves first. I know it's a little premature to be disrobing our souls to one another. On the other hand, if you read books the way most people do—in the bedroom or bathroom or squeezed into an uncomfortably small seat on an overcrowded airplane, shielded by the false privacy of headphones—this is already a pretty intimate thing we're doing. Besides, our lives are too important to remain hidden behind self-protective social graces. So, let's get right to it.
What if it were possible to know your true identity? What if it were possible to hear the name we were given before the foundation of the world? What if it were possible to be so truly and fully alive—so fully human—that no matter what happened, you would be able to live without fear?
My name is legion ... for we are many
One of the more arresting yet disconcerting encounters in the life of Jesus is recorded in Mark 5, when He meets a man terrorized by demons. According to the text, this was a man who "lived among the tombs" (verse 3). Despite multiple attempts to restrain him, not even chains were able to control his volatile behavior. Night and day he roamed the town, "howling and bruising himself with stones" (verse 5). Upon encountering Jesus, the demons within the man were paralyzed with fear: "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me" (verse 7). When Jesus asks the man, "What is your name?" he responds, "My name is Legion; for we are many" (verse 9).
As products of a modern Western culture, in which we seldom dare to wonder whether there is a greater force of evil in the world beyond the sum of its parts, we might find such a story laughably primitive. Given our advances in medical technology, psychology, and biochemistry, and as able as we are to live our lives in relative isolation from the realities of evil, perhaps we feel too sophisticated to take the idea of demons seriously. And yet the plight of the Gerasene demoniac has never been more relevant than in the twenty-first century.
One description of Satan in the New Testament refers to him as "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2, ESV). What a provocative image of evil in an age in which wireless technology has allowed us to be "connected" wherever we are, even as we're hopelessly disconnected from our identity as God's beloved children. "Living among the tombs" seems an apt description of the time we spend in the earbud-enhanced privacy of our own alternate realities, where constant access to technology drives us apart even when we're together. Research has shown that our dependence on technology is changing our brains—and, by most accounts, not for the better. In our day and age, we don't have to believe in demons to be given over to despair and distraction. We simply have to go wireless.
We are subjected to a thousand different voices competing for our attention. We present images of our lives through Facebook, Twitter, or other alternate realities, that are perhaps more reflective of who we want to be than of who we really are. It's so easy to manipulate our "identity" to suit the differing expectations of our home, school, work, religious, and social communities. Never before have we had so many forms of communication at our disposal, and yet rarely has our sense of loneliness and alienation been so profound. In an age of relentless self-expression, do we have any idea who we really are?
The question Jesus asks is a frightening one in a world given over to so many voices, so many images, so many screens, so many sounds, so many identities. In those four simple words—"What is your name?"—everything about the half-life of this man is called into question.
Whether or not we believe in the reality of demons, a truthful response to the question for many of us would be, "My name is Legion ... for we are many." Many voices, many activities, many interests, many influences.
I find it interesting that it wasn't the sight of a tormented man injuring himself with stones that frightened the Gerasene people. Just as in our day, they had become accustomed to all the noise and violence. It wasn't even the spectacle of two thousand hogs running headlong into the Sea of Galilee. No, it wasn't all the uproar that caught everyone's attention; it was seeing the former demoniac sitting next to Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, that struck fear in their hearts (Mark 5:15).
In a world where self-destructive behavior has become commonplace, the most frightening scenario may not be a global apocalypse. Perhaps the most startling thing to see is someone whom we have come to expect to be as fragmented, fractured, and self-destructive as we are, transformed into the epitome of sanity, peace, and purpose.
We're afraid, not because we would rather see the demonized man continue to harm himself—we're terrified because his transformation raises for us new possibilities for what it means to be human.
Many of Jesus' contemporaries were versed in the evocative poetry of the prophet Isaiah, with his enchanting vision of a future in which "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6, esv). It's why a song such as John Lennon's "Imagine" continues to resonate—it's lovely to daydream about a world no longer plagued by the threat of famine, violence, war, or death. As long as these visions exist as a distant utopian fantasy, a counterbalance to a good zombie yarn, they don't threaten us—but neither do they really inspire us.
In a world beleaguered by famine, violence, war, and death, it is far more shocking to see other people who were once as haunted as we are no longer playing by the old rules. In a society in which it is more the norm than the exception for people to have conflicting centers of value and meaning inside their hearts and minds, it is much scarier to encounter people who are sane. If it is possible for one person to transcend the madness and become something other than he or she once was, then it is possible for all of us. And that means the future is no longer a speculative pipe dream. It means the future is upon us. The future is now.
In the life and ministry of Jesus, we see the wonder and chaos of the future breaking into the present. Before the resurrection of Jesus, the account of the Gerasene demoniac was an awful but beautiful foretaste of a new way to be human. We don't know the man's name—it could have bee
Excerpted from prototype by jonathan martin. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Martin. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC..
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