May 8, 2016
We return this morning to our study of the Gospel of Mark. We remember the time was early in Jesus’ ministry. He had just called the Twelve to Himself and had begun to teach them the truths of the kingdom of God. They knew He was different from the beginning. When He called them, something in Him compelled them to obey, even though it didn’t really make sense. He was a carpenter turned itinerant preacher, yet when He called, they left all they had, all they were, to follow Him. They began to observe as He healed those who were sick, diseased, paralyzed, demon-possessed. It didn’t matter – He seemed to have power over everything that plagued humanity. And when He spoke, He spoke as One with authority, being only this Galilean carpenter. He frequently spoke to the multitudes in parables, hiding His meaning from those who would hear, yet later explaining the parables to His disciples in private. It seemed every time He opened His mouth, they were in awe at His words. While the teachers of the law were accusing Him of being empowered by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, and while His own family thought Him out of His mind, the disciples were beginning to understand He was different.
After one particularly busy day in Galilee, when He had shared a variety of memorable parables, He said, “Let us go over to the other side.” The other side was the other side, the eastern shore, of the Sea of Galilee. It had been a busy time – Jesus perhaps needed some rest away from the crowds that constantly followed Him, seeking Him to meet their needs. But, there was a spiritual purpose for the trip as well, both in the journey and upon their arrival.
So, they’re already in a boat, so they take off along with a few other boats, making their way across the sea. Little did the disciples know they were in for yet another adventure they had never before experienced. Let’s pick up the story in Mark 4:37-41.
Absolutely amazing. Not only were the disciples now convinced Jesus was different, they were beginning to realize that He was something other. Some of these disciples were experienced fishermen. They had seen storms on the sea before, but this one was of such great intensity they feared for their lives. The words indicate a storm of hurricane proportions as the winds swept violently through the narrow mountain valleys like a funnel, drawing the storm down with fierce suddenness. The once calm sea was at once rough as the boat was tossed about in the white crests of foaming waves. There is no mention made of the other boats—they were either lost at sea or had turned back.
And while the disciples feared for their lives, Jesus lay exhausted, asleep in the stern of the boat. This is the only reference in the Gospels to Jesus sleeping. No doubt He slept, but never before when His disciples needed Him. While He had demonstrated His power over disease and sickness, it would seem this whole event was prearranged to display His power over yet another realm, that of nature.
So with one wave after another coming over the side of the boat, as it appeared they were in the process of sinking, they awaken Jesus. I find it interesting the tossing of the boat, the howling of the storm, and the crashing of the waves did not awaken Him. You see, since He was something other, He was in complete control of the situation. And while the elements did not awaken Him, the cries of those who needed Him did. He always hears the cries of His own.
And they cried out to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” If only they knew to Whom they spoke. They had the Lord of the wind and the waves right in the boat with them, it didn’t matter that He was asleep. The story goes on to tell us He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Hush! Be still!”
And immediately, the wind died down, it was completely calm. The verb tense indicates an immediate response. It could not be mistaken the winds and the waves obeyed His voice. Neither the disciples thought, nor should we think the storm just started to subside, and after a little while, there was calm as is normal after storms. Jesus spoke, and there was immediate peacefulness. He still has the ability to speak and bring peace in the midst of your storms.
As a result, the disciples were terrified, literally, they feared a great fear. They had been afraid of the storm outside of the boat; but they were terrified of this One in the boat who could speak, and the elements obey. They were beginning to realize He was something other. And they asked the question, “Who is this?” In the same account in Matthew, the question is, “What kind of man is this?”
And that is question before us today. Do you know who this Jesus is? Do you know what He is able to do? My desire this week and next is to ask and answer some basic questions about this Galilean Carpenter. It is my concern, first, there may be those of you here who do not know Jesus, the Christ, and what He has done and can do for you. Secondly, I’m concerned there are those of us who know Jesus, but we have forgotten what He expects of us. In this next couple of weeks, I hope to reaffirm His demands on our lives.
But, the question for this morning is, Who is Jesus? Does the text tell us? Those who knew him, who spent time with Him, had a fearful respect for Who He was and what He could do. This morning, I want us to go away with a renewed sense of awe. I want us to know Jesus a little better, and as such, reverence Him more. And we will do that by looking at Mark 5:1-13. The outline of this section goes like this:
The Background (1-5)
The Battle (6-10)
The Bay of Pigs (11-13)
Let’s start with The Background in verses 1-5. Read.
As we begin, let me remind you the purpose of the gospel of Mark. Mark’s story of Jesus is action oriented. He recounts little of the extended teaching of Jesus, but rather shifts scenes rapidly. Jesus is constantly on the move, healing, exorcising demons, confronting opponents, instructing the disciples. You see, Mark presents a Christology in which Jesus’ miracle-working power (chapters 1-8) are set beside his suffering and death (8-16). Mark wants his readers to understand that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but especially the suffering Son of God. Moreover, believers are to be followers of Jesus. Mark wants to help us readers understand who Jesus is and what real discipleship involves.
So, it’s in this context we continue. I want you to remember, based on the events of the previous evening, the disciples were somewhat terrified of who Jesus was and what He could do. He had exercised His power over the forces of nature. You’d be a little nervous too if you observed someone command a Kansas tornado to lay at his feet. It would sure beat closing your eyes, clicking your heels together and saying, “there’s no place like home.”
Amazing, but what we’ll see now is a large company of demons also laying down at the feet of Jesus. He had healed others of demon-possession, twice already in this book with several references to exorcism ministry, but none as spectacular as this. Power over nature, now, power over the forces of evil. This whole section seems to be exalting Jesus and His omnipotence, setting Him apart as something other. In fact, chapter five shows his power over demons, disease, and even death.
The text says they went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. It lay on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Gadara was one of the cities of that region called the Decapolis. So in Matthew’s account, he calls it the region of the Gadarenes.
Upon arriving, probably in the middle of the night or very early in the morning, we find a man with an unclean or evil spirit came from the tombs to meet them. Now, those of you familiar with the gospels know Matthew records two demon-possessed men. It is not that we have a discrepancy, but more likely one was more violent and made a bigger impression on Peter as he related the story to John Mark who recorded it. But it’s a man with an unclean spirit – this whole story is filled with uncleanness – unclean spirit, demon-possessed man, living among the tombs, dead people and pigs all around. This would have been horrifying to any good Jew. But notice – Jesus wades into the uncleanness of life to provide cleansing through healing and forgiveness.
We’re told this man lived among the tombs. At this time, the tombs were burial places made up of natural caves or man-made caves carved out of the limestone rock. There were cells along each side of the cave that would hold the dead bodies, kind of like a mausoleum. If you could stand the stench and uncleanness, and if you weren’t bothered by dead bodies, it was a great place to live. The tombs were usually in a solitary place, away from the traffic and life of the surrounding towns.
Now, somewhat reminiscent of the $6 million man, this guy was somehow able, under the influence of demons, to break the chains that bound him. Keep in mind we are not talking about high grade iron or steel, and the word torn apart carries with it the idea of violently rubbing the chains together to break them. No one could bind him anymore indicates his condition had gotten worse. So, his Herculean strength rendered any attempts to subdue him fruitless. Mark is getting a point across – no one could bind him, chains torn apart, no one was strong enough to subdue him. This was a strong man – unable to be contained by natural means.
This, by the way, was the medical treatment of the day for insanity or possession – chain them to curb their violence. Psychology today would perhaps diagnose him as a depressive psychotic. But then, as with some psychological practices today, all attempts to heal the man had proven ineffective. And we’ll find he wasn’t psychotic – he was demon-possessed. This is important. You see, there are two extremes we need to avoid regarding demons. One is that they don’t exist, the other is they exist under every rock. C.S. Lewis in his introduction to his famous, The Screwtape Letters, writes:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve 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 and hail a materialist and magician with the same delight.”
Back to the text. Verse 5 tells us that night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would scream and gash himself with stones. Notice the self-destructive nature of the demonic possession. We’ll see it again when they inhabit the pigs.
The word screaming speak of inarticulate shrieks. The word is used of the bawling of wild pigs or the loud croaking of frogs. He would yell at the top of his lungs, not really saying anything with what we would call blood-curdling screams. The text says he cut himself with stones. You can only imagine what this man looked like after years of cutting up his body. He was probably quite disfigured and covered with scars. Luke records the fact that he was naked as well. Basically, what we have here is a nude dude in a rude mood.
So get this scene firmly imbedded in your minds. When you think of horror flicks, what are some of the things that usually come to mind? Among these, no doubt, are cemeteries – at night. Since they had left from the other side in the evening, it was probably in the middle of the night now. So here we have a genuine horror story – a demon-possessed man that no one was strong enough to do anything about, running around nude, screaming at the top of his lungs, and living in a cemetery. Matthew records the additional fact this man would not even allow people to pass by that way, which explains why he ran up to Jesus and His party. Little did he know the he was about to face his worst nightmare.
Imagine the disciples impression of the event. They already had a rather draining night, to say the least. And as they are getting out of the boat, this crazy, demon-possessed, naked, disfigured man comes streaking up to them, screaming the whole way. They are probably scared to death, trying to decide whether it is better to jump back into the boat and face another boat ride or face this guy. Everyone present is on edge, emotions running high, everyone terrified, everyone except Jesus, who is in total control of the situation, which brings us to our second point:
- The Battle (6-10) – Read
This man, seeing Jesus and His disciples landing on his shoreline, runs over, probably to harass them. However, as he arrives, Jesus, knowing all about the man’s problem, commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him. At this, the evil spirits recognized who Jesus was and fell down on their collective knees, crying out for mercy. Now, this falling on their knees was not an act of worship, but an act of respect paid to a superior being.
Which brings me back to the question of the morning, do you know who this Jesus is? You see, even demons, as evil as they are, know who Jesus is. James 2 says they believe there is one God, and have enough sense to shudder at the thought of Him. Today, people not only refuse to shudder at the thought of Him, many refuse to even accept His existence. Or they have perverted God to be one they can stomach. When the disciples were beginning to realize who Jesus was, they feared a great fear. When demons came into His presence, they fell on their knees in front of Him. This is a proper response to Jesus.
And, without an introduction, they called Him the “Son of the Most High God.” And there is the answer. That is who He is. That He was the Son of God asserts His identity of essence with God. He is deity. That He was the Son of the Most High God distinguishes the true God from false gods. There are no other gods but this God, no other Jesus, no other Savior. It’s interesting, the demons, serving one who wanted to exalt himself above God, is not confused as to who God is. It is both exciting and comforting to know that we serve a God who is over all – and even the forces of evil are subject to Him.
So this legion of demons falls at the feet of Jesus, and their inarticulate shrieks become pleas for mercy. He says, “I implore you by God, do not torment me!” When he says, I implore you by God, he was trying to put Jesus under oath. In short, he was scared and appealed to a source that was at least equal to Jesus. Notice, he didn’t say, swear to Satan.
If you compare this with the parallel passages in Matthew 8 and Luke 8, you’ll find they were begging Jesus not to send them into the Abyss before their time, which is a place of confinement and suffering for evil spirits. To this they are destined. They were fearing the final judgment was about to come upon them early.
At this, Jesus asks the demon his name. Why would He do so? There has been much speculation. Some have suggested the ancient and current practice of discerning the demon’s name was necessary for a successful exorcism. I find it difficult to believe Jesus did not know what or who He was dealing with. And even if He didn’t know the demon’s name because of His humanity, I find it difficult to believe that would keep Him from exorcising the demon – it didn’t stop Him in all His other exorcisms in the New Testament. Others have suggested, more rightly I think, that the demon was identified to show the magnitude of the possession and the power of the miracle Jesus was about to perform. This was no small miracle.
Because, the demon’s name was Legion, for he was many. A Roman Legion consisted of over 6,000 men. There were 2,000 pigs that rushed into the sea after being possessed by the demons. Exactly how many demons there were, we don’t know – just that there were many. The word legion by this time had come in the Jewish mind to be signify vast numbers, complex organization, invincible strength, and relentless oppression.
We do know it was not uncommon for a person to be possessed by more than one demon, and that they can be counted. For example, Luke 8 records Mary Magdelene was possessed by 7 demons. At any rate, having given their name, they beg again and again not to be sent out of the area, or perhaps they didn’t want to become disembodied spirits, which leads us to our third point:
- The Bay of Pigs (11-13) – Read
Again, let’s get the picture here. We have 2,000 pigs feeding along the Sea of Galilee. This region of Decapolis was largely inhabited by Gentiles, who probably owned the pigs. The next thing you see, however, is these 2,000 pigs rushing headlong into the sea and drowning themselves. Lots discussion about the morality of sending demons into pigs – the PETA people would have a heyday. This was not a concern to the biblical authors – the point is, one human being was worth more than 2000 pigs.
We must understand the power involved here. First, we have a man who had been possessed by demons for some time. No one was able to subdue the man, not even with chains. Along comes Jesus, and at His spoken word, they leave the man. It also important to see the demons realized they were fully at the control of Jesus – they asked His permission to enter the pigs.
Now, there are a number of questions we could ask here which we don’t have time to answer – questions like, why did the pigs drown themselves, where did the demons go after the pigs drowned, or did Jesus know what would happen to the pigs. Maybe we’ll look at some of those next week.
All of this brings us to our conclusion. You may be asking the question, so what? What does all this mean? And you may be asking questions like, “I’d believe this Christianity stuff if I could see something like that.” Or, “I’m a Christian, but it sure would have been nice to walk with Jesus and see that kind of miracle. I think I’d be stronger in my faith.” Bear with me as I draw some analogies between this historical act of grace, and the act of grace God performs today every time He converts the soul of a sinner.
First, if you don’t know who Jesus is, you’ve never committed your life to Him, asking Him to forgive you of your sin and become your Lord, you too are under the influence of the forces of evil. You are chained, a slave to sin, and Jesus said in John 8 that you are a child of the Devil, because you do the things he does when you sin.
Not only that, second, Ephesians 2 tells us you too, like this man, hang around dead people. In fact, you are one of those dead people. You are dead in trespasses and sin, and so is everyone else that hasn’t been made alive in Christ.
Third, you also, like this man, are self-destructive. Every evil act you perform, like scars are permanent records making you guilty before God.
Fourth, you, like this demoniac, have found there is nothing you or anybody else can do about your condition. You’ve tried to curb your violence, your evil, but you’ve been unsuccessful. Modern psychology, self-improvement, or I’m Okay You’re Okay programs can do nothing to fill the void in your heart and remove your sin, your pollution, and your guilt.
Which means, finally, you too have to fall at the feet of Jesus, recognizing who He is – that He is the Son of the Most High God. Certainly this is where the analogy breaks down. The demons did not find deliverance, but the man did. We’ll see that next week as he understood who Jesus was and what He had done for him.
My question to you this morning is, do you know this Jesus? I suppose you can dismiss the story of Legion as mere legend – but there are too many stories of His amazing, miraculous power. And so, do you know the price He paid by dying on the cross to free you from your bondage to sin? If you don’t, you can. It’s simply a matter of confessing your sin, bowing at the feet of Jesus as your Lord, seeking His forgiveness through His death, burial and resurrection. And for those of you who already know Jesus as your Lord, my purpose is to impress you once again with Him. I want you to walk away today with a renewed sense of awe for Who He is and what He has done in your life.