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Mark 5:1-20 (Jesus heals the demoniac)

INTRODUCTION: We are working our way through the gospel of Mark, and we are in a section where Mark records four miracles Jesus performed. Today we will look at the second of these miracles – Jesus healing the man possessed by a legion of demons.

Many people today, even in the church, don’t believe in the demonic. They interpret the stories of demons in the Bible in terms of various physical and psychological illnesses, but they scoff at the idea of actual demons. I find that interesting, especially when the belief in angels still seems fairly widespread. Why would people believe in angels but not demons? The Bible speaks of both as part of the spiritual, unseen world, but people would rather believe in God than in the devil, and they would rather believe in angels than in demons.

I think one of the reasons is that we are not as familiar with the clearly demonic as the people were in Jesus’ day. Satan is still very active in our modern world, but he has gone underground so to speak. In Jesus’ day people already believed in God and the devil, so there was no point in hiding. But in our day people are so distracted from God, I believe Satan works quietly so as not to draw attention to the supernatural and to the great spiritual battle that has been raging throughout all of human history.

Another reason is because people are less apt to be involved in paganism and spiritism in our day, and so there is less of an opportunity for Satan to take hold of a person’s life. I believe in order for a person to become demon-possessed, that person or their family has to open the door in some way for Satan to enter in. They have to give permission, even if they do not fully realize what they are doing.

And even though we do not see or recognize much demon-possession in our own culture, missionaries in foreign lands where paganism and idolatry are practiced report that demon-possession is still alive and well in our world today.

I. No one is outside of God’s reach (verses 1-5)

So what can we learn from Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac here in Mark 5? First of all, and this is so important, we should learn that no one is outside of God’s reach. I am sure many people had given up all hope for this man, and we can understand why when we look at his desperate condition. Look at verses 1-5:

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, 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. (Mark 5:1-5)

Let’s look at a number of things about this man’s condition.

1) Gentile: First of all, he was a Gentile. This was a Gentile region as you may have guessed by the herd of pigs in the story. And so many Jewish people would have written this man off just because he was a Gentile. God was the God of the Jews, and the Gentiles were seen as outside of God’s covenant.

2) Unclean: Not only was he a Gentile, but he lived among the tombs which made him unclean. Any contact with the dead or the tombs of the dead would render a person ceremonially unclean and unable to sacrifice.

3) Possessed: He was possessed by an unclean spirit, or as we find out later in the passage, by a whole legion of demons. So he was not only ceremonially unclean, but he was unclean on the inside, too.

4) Isolated: He was isolated from human contact. He lived out in this area by the tombs all by himself, running wild, cut off from his family and his community.

5) Violent: He was violent. We know this because the people sought to bind him with chains.

6) Supernatural strength: He had supernatural strength. The demons so tormented his body that when the people tried to bind him, he would tear apart the chains on his hands and his feet.

7) Constant suffering: He was in constant suffering. Night and day he would run naked among the tombs crying out in agony.

8 ) Self-destructive: He practiced self-destructive behavior. The demons controlled him to such an extent that he would cut himself with sharp stones.

Now if there was ever a man who was beyond all help, this was the guy. I mean, do you know anyone as bad off as this? And so if God could reach this man, he can reach anybody. And that is such an important truth to learn. We should never give up on anyone, because no one is outside of God’s reach.

Some people think they have sinned so badly, God could never forgive them. But it’s not true. You can never be too bad for God. Have you lied to people you love? Have you been unfaithful to your spouse? Have you stolen or embezzled? Do you have secret sins in your life that you’ve never shared with anyone, and you would be so ashamed if anyone ever knew? God can help you. God can forgive you. God can give you a brand new start. He loves you so much that he sent his only Son to die for you, so that you could be forgiven.

I once saw a bumper sticker on a car that said, “Heaven doesn’t want me, and hell’s afraid I’ll take over.” And my immediate reaction, was, “No, heaven does want you, very much. And hell is not afraid of you in the least.” You can never be too bad for God to help. That’s one of the things we learn from the demoniac here in Mark 5. No one is outside of God’s reach.

II. Jesus rules over Satan (verses 6-13)

The second thing we learn from this passage is that Jesus rules over Satan. Last week we looked at the miracle of Jesus calming the storm at sea. In that miracle, Jesus showed his power over nature. Well, in this miracle Jesus shows his power over super-nature, that is, over the supernatural, in particular over Satan and his demons. Look at verses 6-10:

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, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5:6-10)

So the demon-possessed man sees Jesus arrive with his disciples at the shore, and he comes running over to him screaming. What would you do if a demon-possessed man came running and screaming at you? If you are anything like me, you would probably run the other way, right? Well, Jesus was not intimidated. He stands his ground, and we see his absolute power over Satan and the demonic in a number of ways here.

1) Physical submission: First of all, we see it in the demons’ physical submission to Jesus. Demons are spiritual beings, so normally you would not be able physically to see their submission. But in this case they physically possess this man, and through his body we literally see them fall on their knees before Jesus, physically submitting to his power.

2) Verbal confession: We also see Jesus’ power in the demons’ verbal confession. Like the other demons earlier in the gospel of Mark, when the demons are confronted with Christ, they are compelled to confess him as the Son of God. In a sense the demons answer the disciples’ question from last week after he calmed the storm. The disciples asked, “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?” (Mark 4:41) The demons confess that he is Jesus, Son of the Most High God.

3) Desperation: There is a desperation in the demons as they confront Jesus. They cry out, “Swear to God!” This was actually a technical term used in exorcisms where the person doing the exorcism called on God’s name to cast out the demon. But here the demons call on God’s name to ask Jesus to leave them alone! Talk about desperate measures! When a demon resorts to calling on God’s name to help him, you know he is desperate.

4) Fear of punishment: The demons are deathly afraid of punishment by Jesus. The demon-possessed man cries out, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” (Mark 5:7) The demons recognize Jesus’ authority over them, and they know that he has the power to punish them for their evil.

5) Obedience to Christ’s command: We also see Jesus’ power over the demons in their obedience to his commands. It is one thing to give orders to your own side and they obey, but imagine giving orders to the enemy and they obey! That is how much power Jesus has over Satan. When the demons obey Christ, this is not a loving obedience such as a believer renders unto God, but rather an obedience based on fear and on an understanding of Jesus’ absolute power. And so when Jesus casts them out, they will have to go. When Jesus asks the demon his name, he has no choice but to respond.

6) Their great number: Jesus does ask the demon his name, and he replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (Mark 5:9) Now if that doesn’t freak you out, I don’t know what else would. A Roman legion consisted of four to six thousand men. That does not necessarily mean there were four to six thousand demons in the man, but we know there were very many, perhaps thousands, dwelling within this man’s body. I think a lot of wanna-be exorcists would have dropped out of the conversation at this point. But not Jesus. He is outnumbered by far, but he does not yield any ground. He does not even flinch!

7) Begging and pleading: And then finally, we see Jesus’ great power over Satan in the begging and pleading of this huge mob of demons with Jesus. Verse 10: “He [i.e. Legion, the spokesman for the demons] begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.” (Mark 5:10) Which brings us to the pigs. Look at verses 11-13:

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil 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. (Mark 5:11-13)

It is important to understand that the demons were not negotiating here with Jesus. They had no bargaining chips to put on the table. They are begging and pleading for their lives. Elsewhere in the Bible we read about various demons confined to the Abyss, kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6) The demons know their eventual future, but they are desperate to do anything to delay the inevitable. So they ask to go into the pigs.

Surprisingly, Jesus gives them permission. Some people get real upset about this. “What? Didn’t Jesus care about the pigs? Somebody report this guy to PETA.” But I believe Jesus allowed it as a visual demonstration of how many demons Jesus actually cast out of this man. And as it turns out, the demons only get a short reprieve, because the pigs go crazy when the demons enter them and go stampeding into the water where they all drown. Such was Jesus’ power over this legion of demons that possessed and tormented this man of the tombs.

III. You must make a choice about Jesus (verses 14-20)

1) No one is outside of God’s reach. 2) Jesus rules over Satan. 3) And then the third and final point I would like to make from the passage is this: You must make a choice about Jesus. The next verses show us the various responses people had to Jesus casting out the demons. First, let’s look at the response of the people in the town. Verses 14-17:

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 man — and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. (Mark 5:14-17)

So, the people tending the pigs run off to town and countryside to tell everyone what happened, and the whole town comes out to see for themselves. And what they find is simply astounding. This demon-possessed man, whom they all knew, whom no one had been able to help or subdue, this man who had run wild in the tombs for all these years has undergone a remarkable change. Whereas before he was running wild, now he is sitting calmly. Before he was naked, now he is dressed. Before he was out of his mind, now he is in his right mind. Jesus has cast out the demons and brought healing and restoration to this man.

And you know what the people’s response is? Are they happy for this guy? No, Mark says they are afraid. They don’t know what to make of Jesus’ power to change a life so dramatically. The eyewitnesses tell them what happened, and what happened to the pigs also, and the people begin to plead with Jesus to leave their region. They have seen the power of Christ at work in their midst, and they don’t want anything to do with it.

Sadly, that is a very common response to Jesus. Some of you know this firsthand. When you committed your life to Christ, Jesus came into your life and changed you. You became a new person. You became a better person. Jesus rescued you from all sorts of garbage in your life. And there were people close to you who saw the change … and didn’t like what they saw. They rejected you. And that is so confusing at first, because you know that you are so much better off now that you are with Christ. Why would they turn away from you? It is not you they are rejecting but Jesus. Some people when confronted with the power of Christ don’t want anything to do with him. They push him away, and if he is in your life, they push you away with him.

The people were afraid of Jesus’ power, and they were upset about the pigs. In fact they cared more about losing the pigs than they cared about this poor man who has been released from all these demons. And so they ask Jesus to leave. “Get out!” they tell him. “We don’t want you around here anymore.”

So that was the people’s response. Next, let’s look at the demoniac’s response. Verses 18-20:

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, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 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. (Mark 5:18-20)

The demoniac is so grateful to Jesus, he asks to go with him. But Jesus tells him no and sends him back to his family. He says “Go back to your family, go back to your town, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you. Tell them how he has had mercy on you.” And so the man does what Jesus says. His trust in Jesus, he is obedient to Jesus’ command, and he becomes an active witness on Jesus’ behalf.

Notice what this verse teaches us about being a witness for Christ. Being a witness for Christ does not require that you have a seminary degree or have memorized the Bible or something like that. It is simply telling other people what God has done for you, telling them how much God has done for you. It is not telling people things you do not know or have not learned yet, but telling them what you do know. It is as simple as saying, “Jesus is real. He is God’s Son. He rose from the dead. And he changed my life.”

CONCLUSION: This is an amazing passage. It is one of the most detailed miracle accounts in the whole New Testament. Once you have met Legion in the pages of Scripture, you can never forget him. Remember the three lessons from this passage:

1) No one is outside God’s reach. If God could reach the demoniac, he can reach anyone. You can never be too bad for God to help you.

2) Jesus rules over Satan. There are two kingdoms battling for this world and for your soul. Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God was near, and he showed it was true by his amazing power over Satan’s kingdom in casting out the legion of demons.

3) You must make a choice about Jesus. Jesus is real! He is God’s Son. He did rise from the dead. Will you trust him like the demoniac did? Or will you push him away like the townspeople? You can only do one or the other. You cannot do both. You must make a choice about Christ. Will you choose for him today?

© Ray Fowler

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By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

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