September 9/10, 2017
Jason Meyer | Mark 5:1-20
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain,for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.—Mark 5:20
This story has three movements, which reflect the way Jesus addresses three groups (demons, crowd, disciple).
We are going to jump right to point one and let the narrative build to the main point at the end of the story.
These 13 verses give us the backstory of the man (vv. 1–5), the evasive attempts of the demons (vv. 6–12), and their destruction (v. 13).
Look at verses 1–2:
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.
This man came rushing up to Jesus. We are not afraid for Jesus because, well, he is Jesus. But this rushing movement would have been dangerous or deadly for others. Let us pause for a moment and consider the power of the demons. You may remember the story in Acts 19:13–20 about Paul and the Jewish exorcists:
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.
If one evil spirit so thoroughly overpowered seven men, imagine what an army of demons could do.
Who is this person? Mark gives us a detailed backstory. Notice three things:
First, this person is totally unclean. He makes his home in an unclean place (the tombs), and an unclean spirit has made him its home (outside and inside—this person is unclean).
The second thing to notice is no one could tame him—he had too much power to subdue or tame (vv. 3–4):
He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him.
This word shows the heart of the problem. Wild animals need to be tamed, not humanity. This unclean spirit has totally dehumanized the man and made him like a savage animal.
The third thing to notice is how tormented he was (v. 5):
Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.
He cried out night and day. He cut himself with stones. Demons hate God but they cannot destroy or deface him and so they try to destroy and disfigure the image of God wherever they can.
Satan and the demons do not take on flesh—they enter into someone to take control of them in order to steal, kill, and destroy. Demonic possession is a counterfeit form of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the demons take on a human host to torment and destroy.
Now we witness the power encounter between Jesus and the demons (vv. 6–8).
And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
Instead of falling upon Jesus in attack, he falls down before Jesus in fearful recognition that Jesus is stronger. What about the question the demon asks: “What have you to do with me?” This is a hostile, yet feeble, attempt to confront the Lord of glory. The unique phrase “What have you to do with us?” is a phrase for conflict in the Old Testament (“what to me and to you,” cf. Judges 11:12; 2 Samuel 16:10; 19:22; 1 Kings 17:18). This question thus really asks, “Why have you come against me … what do you want with us … why this confrontation?”
The demon’s naming of Jesus should probably be read as a naming ritual—an attempt to get control of the situation and power over the person. This maneuver required that a correct name or title be used to gain control or power over him. Jesus’ unique identity is never questioned by the demons in the Gospel of Mark. They know he is the Son of God and they know God is Most High. They know they are going to be destroyed, and they despise their sworn enemy with seething, relentless hatred.
Now Jesus makes them tell him their name. “And Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many’” (Mark 5:9).
A legion referred to the largest unit of troops in the Roman army, which was usually about 5,600 soldiers. This man has a number equal to the number of a Roman army of demons living in him and tormenting him.
But they are no match for the Lord as the Almighty army of One. Now this demonic army begins to plead with him like someone who knows they are in the presence of someone vastly superior. They beg him not to torment them or make them leave the region. They try to wheel and deal their way to a more favorable judgment: They plead for a reduced sentence—just send us away into the pigs (Mark 5:12).
And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”
Then we witness how they go down in the sea as the pigs drown (Mark 5:13):
So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
Jesus accepts this plea deal. He sends the legion of unclean spirits away into the unclean animals and they immediately carry out their destructive desire: They run off the cliff into the sea and are destroyed. This bloodthirsty, destructive desire seems to backfire. I think this is a picture of judgment. I don’t think demons can drown, but they will be destroyed and tormented by Jesus, and this is a picture of that—a trailer anticipating the final judgment.
The loss of 2,000 pigs would be a huge financial loss. How will the people respond?
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.
The herdsmen are now unemployed. They are accountable for these pigs. (How could they protect them from an unseen, spiritual army?) They flee to tell the townspeople about what happened. The people came to see the sights: (1) Jesus, (2) the formerly demon-possessed man who has been transformed (Jesus did way more than they ever could), and they … what? Rejoiced? They were afraid!
When you have seen something unheard of that shatters your categories, fear is the response that shows up often in Mark. They were afraid like the disciples (Mark 4:41). One can understand why they were afraid when we remember how rare this story really is. In the first sermon on Jesus’ confrontation with a demon (April 8), I told you about how E.F. Kirschner did a dissertation on casting out demons in the ancient literature. His conclusions surprised me and help put us in a position where we can respond the way the crowds did. He noted frequent references to the concept of casting out demons and the techniques for casting out demons, but he included almost no narratives or examples or stories of casting them out:
Despite the great amount of material referring to exorcism/demons in the literature surveyed, there are very few narratives available. It is mainly in the NT, particularly in the Gospel of Mark, that most of the narratives are found. … Even fewer exorcistic figures, to whom exorcism stories are clearly ascribed, can be found. Of these, one is obviously a legendary figure (Solomon), another is apparently semi-legendary (Apollonius), still another is referred to only once (Eleazar), while another despite his fame for dealing with demons is never shown to be exorcizing a demon (Ḥanina). The only exorcistic figure in the extant literature to whom a number of exorcism stories are ascribed and related in detail is the biblical figure of Jesus of Nazareth.
In other words, no one would read this account of Jesus’ authority over demons and say “Ho hum, just another exorcism story.” But the irony of what happens next is a tragedy. When they heard about the transformation of the man and the destruction of the pigs, they begged Jesus to leave. They would prefer to have an army of evil spirits rather than the Savior of the world there. The love of money seems to have factored into that decision. But I think they saw that Jesus could not be controlled. He is not a tame lion. Jesus being with them could have a cost. It was really bad math that they concluded that being without Jesus was better than being with him.
We have seen the response of the demons and the villagers, but what about the man who just had his whole life changed forever?
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
This is a compelling climax to the story. It stands out in such a powerful way. Each of the three groups beg Jesus for something (the demons don’t want to leave, the crowd wants Jesus to leave, and the disciple wants to stay with Jesus). Did you catch the beauty of this story? Only the man in his right mind begs for the right thing. He wants to be with Jesus. This is what a disciple is (Mark 3:14). He is sitting at Jesus’ feet (Mark 5:15) like we saw disciples doing in Mark 3:34, “… looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:34–35).
What is the will of God for him? Jesus grants the request of the first two, but not the third. Jesus does not command him to be silent (like other places in Mark in Jewish territory), but here among the Gentiles he commands this Gentile to go to his people and tell them what the Lord has done for him.
Jesus has been on a mission to show mercy. Now mercy shown creates a mission to tell of mercy. Mercy creates a mission: Tell everyone (friends) how much mercy you have received—what Jesus has done. Jesus’ ministry of mercy leads to a mission. Tell others about this mercy you have received. This mission leads to marveling.
Transition: Old Testament Echoes
Why does Mark go into so much detail about this demoniac? Matthew and Luke both include this story, but in a much more abbreviated way. Remember that Jesus is the promised King. When the Messiah King comes, he will be a warrior like no one has ever seen before. The servant of the Lord will be the Messiah warrior who comes to deliver his people from those who are stronger.
Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
For thus says the LORD:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children. …
Then all flesh shall know
that I am the LORD your Savior,
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”—Isaiah 49:24–26
Why all the military language? This is not just an individual demon, but a legion – an army. We said last week that the language of rebuking the sea connects this story with even more Old Testament expectation of salvation as a second exodus (Psalm 104:7, 106:8–12; Isaiah 51:9–11). These texts connect the power of the Creator and the act of redemption at the Exodus:
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
So he saved them from the hand of the foe
and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
And the waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.—Psalm 106:9–11
So remember that Pharaoh’s army drowned in the red sea. The Jews expected the Messiah to come and do this to the Roman legions, but Jesus has come to do a new Exodus. This time it will not be Egyptians or Romans, but demons drowned in the sea. Rather than the disciples dying in the sea, the unclean army of demons drowned in the sea. I believe that this actual story has an incredible backstory in the Old Testament. Would anyone like to venture a guess as to what Old Testament book the Gospel of Mark may intentionally echo? Let all the people say, “Isaiah!” Listen to Isaiah 65:1–5 …
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that was not called by my name.
I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and making offerings on bricks;
who sit in tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat pig’s flesh,
and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;
who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
Jesus told his disciples they were going to the other side. Why? This guy! This guy needed mercy! He wasn’t asking for it. He wasn’t seeking for it. He was rebellious. He was provoking God. He was unclean. He said, “Don’t come near.”
But Jesus was on a mission to show mercy. I want you to understand the differences in nuance between the words “grace” and “mercy.” Grace is the unmerited goodness and love of God given to those who have forfeited every claim upon him and his love, and who deserve nothing but judgment and condemnation. Mercy is the goodness and love of God toward those who are in misery or distress as the result of their sin.
Jesus can do what no one else can do. What is he doing? He is on a mission to show mercy. The showing of mercy creates a mission for the testifying of mercy shown. His mercy creates a mission. (Tell of what the Lord Jesus has done for you!)
I want you to feel with me how this Gospel traces the mission of Jesus to show mercy to those in misery. How does he show his strength? This Gospel ends with Jesus dying on a Roman cross. What a mystery and a shocking surprise. To many people this death didn’t look like a victory at all—it looked like defeat.
But of all people a Roman centurion is given insight, given faith to look beyond what looks like defeat and see victory:
And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”—Mark 15:39
Jesus didn’t come to cause the death of the Roman army by casting them in the sea, but dying for them to save Jew and Gentile alike from eternal misery, eternal torment. The Roman centurion was given eyes to see that Jesus did not die for his own sins, but for the sins of others. He was given eyes to see what Paul says in Romans 1:16.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
What looked so weak, was the power of God to save. Or as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:4, “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God.” In 1Corinthians 1:18–25, Paul says …
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God … For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Jesus death on the cross is the moment that the demons are disarmed and defeated. Listen to Colossians 2:14–15. Jesus saved us and made us alive and forgave all our trespasses …
By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
They have no basis to accuse. All our sins are paid for. Satan tried to tempt Adam and Eve when they were sinless by telling them that if they sinned they would not die. Now that we are sinners, he tells us of our guilt and that we are going to die. But one little word will fell him: We say, “liar!”
When Satan tells me to despair and tells me of the guilt within upward I look and see him there who made an end to all my sin. One with himself, I cannot die, my soul is purchased by his blood, my life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God. (From “Before the Throne of God Above”)
My sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross. I will not die.
We faced the prospect of everlasting misery and endless torment! The same torment as the demons experience. But God saved us. He met our misery with mercy! I am praying right now that some would be saved as they see not just their earthly misery, but look at their eternal misery and torment to come and then hear about a Savior whose mission it was to show mercy to the miserable and give saving righteousness to the guilty—and run to him. Let him clothe you with his righteousness. Where did the guy get the clothes? He was “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.” Jesus will clothe you with the robes of righteousness!
For those of you who are saved, I am praying that God would restore the joy of your salvation today. I think we lose that joy when we allow the temporary weigh heavier on your mind and heart than the eternal. Are the cares of this world taking your eyes off the cross of our Savior?
Sometimes people debate about being a glass-half-empty or half-full kind of person—the pessimist or the optimist. Why should I be thankful? (Look at what is not in the cup—the half that is not full). But look again—the cup should be full of wrath. He drank that cup to the dregs. No more wrath! Now whatever is in the cup is so good and so undeserved. Are you waiting for something to be glad about?
Application: 25 x ’25
This is happening. Here are a few of the ways Jesus is at work.
There is a great need: 1,510 unengaged people groups have no one who has come to share the good news of Jesus. But we have a strong Savior who has not forgotten them, but who is calling us to go to the other side with his message of mercy and we believe that he can change lives and make disciples like he did in this story. Jesus is stronger than an army of demons. No one is beyond his saving reach. What the demons have defaced and destroyed Jesus can redeem and transform.
The first two of our 25 new churches were planted in 2016. Word of Grace church in South Minneapolis, and Northfield Community Church in Northfield, MN.
I am so excited to tell you more about what we have in the pipeline—but only after those churches get established.
The last update (April 9) I gave talked about the amazing way the Lord led in flip-flopping some of the architectural plans and getting more square feet for less money and the addition of a gym. Because Jesus is stronger, he turned a situation with our neighbors (lamenting the loss of trees) into a way to gain favor with the neighbors and with the city. Sept. 18 is the next milestone: If the city council approves the Developer Contract, then we could have a shovel in the ground by the end of this month. Did you hear that? This month!
And the South elders have not been twiddling their thumbs waiting for the building to be built, they are dreaming and praying and strategizing about how to shepherd their people and reach Lakeville with the gospel.
Of the four components in our Fill These Cities: 25 x ’25 vision, strengthening the core is the hardest to define. The last update I gave back in April talked about Steven Lee as a candidate. He is now here as our Lead Pastor, North Campus. We also talked about Daniel Viezbiecke (now the South Pastor for Youth & Family Discipleship) and Bryan Pickering (Pastor for Care & Counseling, Downtown). We have also voted on deacons.
I tend to think of core as the innermost concentric circle. A strong core is essential for reaching out further to church planting and unengaged peoples. We are asking three things of everyone at Bethlehem: (1) faithful church attendance, (2) small group membership, and (3) giving of yourself (time, talents, treasures).
And one of the most encouraging parts of 25 x ’25 has been the way that you have been giving of your treasures. Last year at this time, we had received $5,706,835. This year we have received $7,050,868. We are over $300,000 ahead of budget ($6,750,000)! That’s incredible.
The recent hurricane rescue efforts in Houston are another example of the wider example of giving and serving. Government and state employees certainly did a lot, but the most impressive to me was the way that so many people volunteered their time, talents, and treasures. People gave money and engaged in rescue attempts, the Cajun navy came from Louisiana, monster trucks were going around pulling out cars that were stuck. All of you have something to give. Do that! You can tell others of how much the Lord has done for you. You have a mission of mercy (children’s ministry, sidewalk counseling, etc).
Someone might say that these four things are too difficult. But don’t you see how this section started? Jesus said, “Let us go to the other side.” It doesn’t matter what resistance tries to stop us. Disciples don’t need to be afraid because Jesus said that he was going to the other side—and he will.
In the same way, you may feel like all that is against you right now is too much for you. You are right. You look at the legions in your life and you feel absolutely defeated and deflated. I don’t what the addictions are. I don’t know what your family situation looks like or your financial situation. I don’t know what is going on at work or at school. But I know Jesus. I know that he can come to you and save you from a legion of sins. He can save you and sustain you right now.
Closing Song: “Stronger”
Main Point: Jesus can do what no one else can do. His mercy creates a mission—tell of what the Lord Jesus has done for you!
Pray for a grace to savor the mercy already shown and grace to testify about that mercy to others.