The fire crackles. Smores have been eaten. The teens have gathered. It’s the last night of the teen camp-out for our church. The adults have done a good job keeping everything together.
I’ve come out to join them today. We went swimming. Had a Pac-Man tournament. The guys have been flirting with every girl in the campsite. And now the sun has descended. The darkness has come. We’ve gathered together. They’re all looking at me.
“So… what’s scarier… a vampire or a werewolf?”
The young men break out into a spirited discussion of the comparative terror-inducing qualities of each brand of supernatural creature. They debate different kinds of vampires.
“What’s scarier… the mummy or Frankenstein’s monster?”
One young woman disappoints me a little by having no clue what the mummy is. The guys argue, but it’s not nearly as intense as before.
“What’s scarier… a demon or Jesus?”
A pause. Most of the young men reflexively answer, “Well, a demon!” One stops. “Well, Jesus is more powerful. That could be scary.” That starts a good discussion going. At last they quiet down and look back at me. They know there’s more coming. I wouldn’t ask that question unless I was going to go somewhere with it, right?
And I tell them a story. A true story. I relate to them an account of someone that was indeed more scared of Jesus than demons.
I tell them about Benjamin, a Jewish pig-herder that watched his herd over the cliffs that lead down to the Sea of Galilee. I tell about the man who lived in the caves, in the tombs below: a man named Legion. I use all the details from Mark 5: He cuts himself with rocks. He breaks ropes. He breaks any chains used to bind him. He beats any man that tries to restrain him. He runs naked in the tombs. He is clearly out of his mind.
And Benjamin hates it. He hates how herding pigs makes him unclean and unable to worship God, but he needs to earn a living if he hopes to marry Elizabeth, the girl of his heart. He hates being near Legion. He hates the sound of laughter bouncing up from the caves below. Yet, he chooses to live with it. He needs to earn a living, after all. He needs to earn a living.
And as I tell the story of all the things Legion does, their eyes are on me. They’re riveted. They jump when I break out in Legion’s laugh — it’s a crazy laugh I had trained myself to cackle years ago. Sometimes theatre training really helps in the ministry.
And then, I tell them of the day visitors came from across the Sea. A boat with thirteen men land on the rocky shore. Benjamin comes to watch. This should be fun, after all. If Legion can handle twenty men, thirteen will be no problem. At least the demons will provide some entertainment. And sure enough, soon Legion is loping down the shore toward the visitors.
And Legion crashes face-first at the feet of the leader. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
This fellow — this Jesus — wrinkles his nose. “What is your name?”
“We are Legion, for we are many!”
Benjamin doesn’t understand. Why isn’t Legion attacking them? Why is he — is he bowing down?
Jesus flicks his wrist. “Get out of him!”
Legion goes into convulsions, drooling blood onto the rocks and screaming. It sounds like a thousand pigs squealing at once. “No! Cast us into the pigs! The pigs! Not into the Abyss! Into the pigs!”
Jesus gives one single nod.
And then the herd of pigs — Benjamin’s herd, the only source of his income, how he supports himself — the entire herd, two thousand pigs, all of them — they run for the cliff. Two thousand pigs commit suicide. Two thousand pigs plunge off the cliffs to the rocks below. Two thousand pigs crash against the stones, slapping the ground with a cracking of bones and a huff of breath — and they are dead.
And Benjamin flees. This isn’t the spectacle he had expected. He grabs the men from his village. They all go.
And when he returns to the shore, there’s Legion. He’s sitting in front of this Jesus. He’s dressed. He’s not drooling blood anymore. In fact, he’s perfectly sane.
Benjamin realizes: as powerful as Legion was… Jesus is more powerful. And that is terrifying. Jesus took away Benjamin’s livelihood. Jesus killed all those pigs. He chained Legion. This is a man who cannot stay here. He is too much.
Benjamin begs Jesus to leave. Go away. Go far, far away.
Jesus submits to the begging. He climbs into the boat with his bewildered disciples. He leaves for the other side of the Sea again.
Benjamin returns to the village in despair. What will he do now? The herd was in his care. Now he’ll need to repay the owner — and one pig isn’t cheap, much less two thousand of them. He goes to the local tavern. He gets a beer. He sits alone.
A form sits next to him. Benjamin turns —
It’s Legion. Legion is sitting next to Benjamin. And Legion shares a story. Shares his story. How he was chained by so many demons. How he couldn’t do anything. He was their slave. And then Jesus… Jesus rescued him. Jesus freed him. And now he wanted to share his story. That Jesus wasn’t cruel; yes, he was more powerful than the demons, but he used that power to free Legion.
Jesus returned to that area later. And when he returned, he was welcomed. Legion had done his duty: he had shared Jesus.
I stopped the story and looked at the teens. “You see, Jesus is scary. He is the most terrifying person in the universe. And it’s because you’re going to see him when you die or when he returns — whichever comes first. And there’s no way to escape it. If you don’t know him, that’s the scariest thing in the world. But if you know him, it will be the best day you’ve ever had. On that day, he will tell you, “Come into the kingdom I’ve prepared for you. Come get your mansion.”
And did you notice? Jesus didn’t scream at these people who didn’t know him. He came to rescue them. Their knowing Jesus didn’t depend on their action. He came to them. He came and rescued Legion first, and used Legion to prepare the way so he could come back.
So it is with you. You know Jesus, because he rescued you. So you have nothing to fear. Nothing at all.
And I stopped talking. It was the end.
The teens waited a beat of a second, and burst into conversation.
“Man, I need to read the Bible more! Where did that story come from?”
“That’s the scariest thing ever!”
It was… gratifying that the teens enjoyed my retelling from Mark 5. It was more gratifying that one of them took it as a lesson — that he now wants to dig into the Bible deeper.
It’s fun relating all the raw emotion that the Bible really has. Sometimes I think we forget how arresting God’s Word can really be. We boil it down to doctrines and theologies and instruction books. And these things are necessary. But sometimes we make it too clinical. Those doctrines come with riveting stories. Those theologies are so often paired with the tales of people that are just like us. We can learn our doctrines in story, and for some, it sinks in far more that way.
And especially around a campfire… well, it’s just the right setting for a good, true, ghost story.