Grace For The Journey
In Mark 5:1-20, we read what is the longest, most graphic exorcism in all the Bible. Before we study this especially dramatic encounter with Christ, it is helpful to recall C. S. Lewis’ warning in the preface to his little book, The Screwtape Letters. Here’s what he writes about the study of demons: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors …
We may deny demons entirely on the one hand or be overly fascinated by them on the other. The demons are pleased with both extremes. They are happy if we do not believe in them and they are happy if we are utterly consumed with them.
It is absolutely essential that we appreciate the depth and complexity of evil as we read of it in the Bible. Evil is systemic. Evil is part of the fabric comprising this fallen world system. Evil is all around us and the work of demons is ongoing.
While no Christian can be under the absolute control of a demon – as though by possession – Christians can, however, yield control of their lives to demonic influence and so allow themselves temporarily to fall under the power of the evil one.
So while we may be tempted to read this encounter as persons somewhat removed from the narrative, removed from the details and the events as though we were just standing on the outside looking in at something that seems so remotely fantastic, we must not separate ourselves from the very real possibility of falling under the influence of the enemy.
Let’s study the passage and let God teach us …
Verse one says, “Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.”
Jesus is traveling by boat with His disciples. They are in the boat with Him and He has just crossed over from the Western side to the Eastern side of the sea of Galilee. They had just been through the storm. The previous chapter concludes with Jesus’ calming the storm and the disciples asking incredulously: “Who in the world is this guy?!” (Mark 4:41)
As soon as they get through the storm on the sea,
There’s another storm awaiting on the shore.
It’s a different kind of storm. It’s this demon-possessed man. He is described in verse 2 as a man with “an unclean spirit.”
It’s at times like these I wonder whether the disciples may have second-guessed their decision to follow Jesus! Did they ever wonder what they had gotten themselves into? They’ve just come through the storm at sea and no sooner than they climb out of the boat this crazy man comes running toward them. Mark describes him in verse 3 as a man: “who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains.” He lived there among the tombs, not a nice and neatly manicured cemetery as in our day, but tombs hewn out of the rock, a grotesque area of stench and uncleanness.
Notice The Isolation
Because he is dwelling among the tombs, he is isolated and alienated from everyone else. The tombs are located in an area isolated from the townspeople, located on the outskirts of the city.
His condition was horrendous. He had been bound, we are told, with chains. Folks in the town had apparently tried to keep the man from hurting himself and others, but to no avail. He would eventually break the chains.
Verses 4 and 5 tells us, “Because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.”
This is a sad picture, isn’t it? This man is like an animal. But we forget he was once a young mother’s child. He was once a father’s little boy. But the demons have gotten hold of him and he is reduced to a life of isolation among the mountains and the tombs.
The enemy, Satan; the evil one,
Will do everything he can to harm us.
Satan would love to see
This demoniac destroy himself.
This is why we read that
He is “cutting himself with stones.”
Man is created in the image of God and Satan will do his level best to destroy the image of God in us. Satan wants us . . .
- To harm our bodies,
- To obsess over our bodies,
- To abuse our bodies,
- To destroy our bodies.
We may not harm our bodies by cutting, but we may destroy our bodies by drinking, by self-medicating, by overeating, and by otherwise abusing and defiling our bodies in any number of ways.
This man is isolated and alienated from God and others. The truth is: Apart from Christ each of us is isolated and alienated from God and others.
Notice The Confrontation.
This demon-possessed man is confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ. He encounters Christ and talks to Christ in a conversation that is hard to follow – it’s hard to know whether we are reading of the man and his actions or whether we are reading of the demons and their actions. So closely tied together is evil with this man’s nature.
Verse 6 says, “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.” The man literally falls before Jesus. He falls before Him in an acknowledgment of the authority of Jesus.
By the way . . .
That’s the greater point Mark is making here in his Gospel.
He has shown at the end of chapter 4
How Jesus is Lord over the storm and danger.
He will show here in the first part of chapter 5
How Jesus is Lord over Satan and demons.
Verses 7-9 state, “And he cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.’ For He said to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit!’ Then He asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’”
A “legion” was the largest force of the Roman army and, in Jesus’ day, a legion was comprised 6,000 men. The point is that this man was plagued by many demons. And again, note how closely tied to the man’s nature is the presence of evil. It’s hard to tell exactly who is doing the talking in these verses – is it the man or is it the demons within him?
You see that especially in verse 9 where Jesus asked the man, “What is your name?” And the Bible says that the man answered, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” “My” – singular pronoun; “we” – plural pronoun.
Verse10 says, “Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.” That is, the demons do not wish to become disembodied spirits. They wish to inhabit the body of someone else if they cannot inhabit this man’s body.
Verses 11-12 state, “Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.’” This is an interesting point to me . . .
It seems if demons
Can’t have us,
They’ll have swine.
So pigs are choice
Number two for demons.
They’d really rather have humans,
But they’ll settle for swine.
Verse 13 says, “And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.”
This is a memorable picture. We see Jesus’ authority at the beginning of verse 13. “And at once Jesus gave them permission.” Jesus gives permission. He has authority over the spirit world.
So the unclean spirits enter some 2,000 pigs and the herd then ran violently down the steep place into the sea and drowned. I’ve often wondered if this were to happen today, what PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) would think about Jesus’ actions.
But . . .
It is helpful to remember
That Jesus did not kill the swine;
The demons did.
Verse 14 says, “So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened.”
That had to be quite a story to hear! These folks whose job it was to feed the pigs saw all of this happen and they ran to tell the people in the city. The townsfolk hear about it and then they leave their jobs and their homes to come out to the tombs to see what happened. And what did they see?
Verse 15 tells us, “Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.” They saw a miracle! The man was, “sitting and clothed and in his right mind.”
Notice The Transformation.
This demon-possessed man has been changed. He is transformed. He is in his right mind. What a contrast!
To be saved is to be in our right minds. We once were under the influence of Satan and not thinking correctly – but when God gets hold of us through the Lord Jesus Christ He changes us. As the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”
Verse 16 says, “And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine.” The eyewitnesses had told the townsfolk what they had seen, “how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed,” how he had been delivered. They also told the others “about the swine.” Their response?
Verse 17 tells us, “Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.” Years ago when I first studied this passage I had concluded that these folks didn’t care much for the economic impact the Lord’s actions had upon the swine industry – and that this was why they pled with Jesus to depart from their region. I mean, 2,000 pigs had just died. That’s a lot of ham and bacon!
But while the economic impact is likely a great concern for these folks, I really think there is more than that going on here in their pleading for Jesus to leave them. I think it may have more to do with their inability to fully understand all that has just happened – after all . . .
With the inability to comprehend
Comes an inability to be in control.
I think fear exists anytime w e are in a situation where we feel we have no control. If we are honest there is a fear in coming to Christ. There is loss of control. I’m talking about really coming to Christ, savingly, coming to Him as Lord of our lives.
Remember . . .
We don’t just add Jesus to our thinking
The way we add a side item to a combo meal.
Jesus has not come simply
To “complement” our life.
He is our life.
He is Lord when we bow before Him and yield control to Him. That can be a frightening thing when one is unwilling to relinquish control. There is trust involved.
If you have ever ridden a roller coaster you know what I’m talking about. I mean, what control do you really have when you get into one of those little roller coaster cars? They fold that bar down on you and it clicks a few times and they walk away. And you’re like, “I think I’ll see if it clicks again.” And you push it down even more securely. Why? Because that roller coaster is getting ready to take you on a ride and in the space of some 3 to 5 minutes you will have absolutely no control once it leaves the station. And you would never get on that thing if you didn’t trust that someone was in control of it. It’s a trust issue.
Living for Jesus is a trust issue.
You are literally yielding yourself,
Trusting yourself, to His Lordship.
At least that’s what being a biblical Christian is all about. I’m not talking about those who say they are Christians, but are not. I’m talking about those who are genuinely born again, living under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ. I’m talking about those who allow Jesus to have complete control over all decisions, following Him according to the Bible, His Word, living for Him, yielding to Him.
I think these townsfolk were frightened by Jesus. They had not seen this kind of thing before.
Notice The Proclamation.
This newly transformed man; formerly demon-possessed, has a story to tell; He has something to proclaim:
Verse 18 tells us, “And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him.” He wants to go with Jesus! A natural response to those who have been changed by the Gospel.
But notice what verse 19 says, “However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’” Jesus points this man to a powerful truth – He has a story to tell, a truth to proclaim. The people here want Jesus to leave so He is leaving him as a witness. Jesus couldn’t stay, but he could. He can tell everyone what happened to him!
By the way . . .
At its core,
This is what
Witnessing is all about,
about Telling others
“What great things
The Lord has done for us,”
“How He has had compassion on us.”
That’s at the very core of sharing the Gospel.
Verse 20 states, “And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis (the 10 cities) all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” Imagine this fellow going through all these towns. He goes to the towns nearest the tombs first. He is clothed and in his right mind. They think he is the same person as before, but when He met Jesus he was changed, he “once was lost but now he is found, he was blind and bound but now he can see and is free!”
Does This Story Really Apply To Me?
You know, you may not identify exactly with this demon-possessed man. After all, you were not once bound in chains and isolated in some graveyard. You may, however, be experiencing a similar kind of isolation. Your chains and shackles may take a different form.
Your separation and alienation may occur in an office with the door shut and the computer turned on. Website after website glows in your face as you look at things you don’t want to see – and yet you do want to see – the influence of Satan is strong. It seems both to empower you and enslave you.
And with every moment spent there, the influence grows stronger. Like the demoniac, you could once break free from the power, but it’s growing stronger.
The demon possessed man could once be shackled but, now no one could shackle him anymore. This was a gradual slide into evil. And that’s just how it works in your life and mine.
We allow Satan to get a foothold. We open the door to evil just a little ways and Satan sticks his foot in the door and then, little-by-little, we allow him more and more “room” until he is finally welcome to come in and move freely about.
No one suddenly falls into alcoholism. No one suddenly falls into drug addiction or suddenly falls into adultery. He slides. He cracks the door by flirtation. By an inappropriate smile or glance or embrace. One slip leads to another and, before we know it, our careers are over, our families shamed, our influence lost.
It all starts by
Allowing just a little bit
Of uncleanness into our lives.
The reason this man,
And all men and women,
Can be healed is because
Jesus exchanges places with us.
He Himself becomes the outcast.
This man is naked, his body cut,
And he is crying out,
Experiencing alienation from God and others.
And Jesus, soon – on the cross –
Will Himself be naked, His body cut,
And He will be crying out,
Experiencing alienation from God and others.
He will be among the tombs for us – actually placed in a tomb.
Jesus exchanges places with us and takes upon Himself
All of our wrongs, all of our sins. He bears them.
And He gives to us all that is His –
Righteousness, perfect goodness, perfect obedience
All of this is credited to our account
And God sees us as though we ourselves
Are righteous, perfectly good, perfectly obedient.
All of this because Jesus exchanges places with outcasts—outcasts like the demonized man—and outcasts like you and me.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”