Dr. Guy Richardson preaches a chapel message on Mark 5 at RTS Jackson entitled “From Ruin to Redemption.”
Take your Bibles, if you will, and let’s turn to the Gospel of God, according to Mark. We’ll be looking into the fifth chapter.
Dr. Medeiros asked us to preach this semester on the theme that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. What a wonderful but broad topic to choose from, and so it is a privilege to look into this. I love the gospel of Mark. A friend of mine said, “This is truly a Gospel for guys.” It’s action-packed. It’s rapid-fire snapshots of our Lord’s divinity, his message, his mission. All of these little vignettes, these pictures come together to paint a portrait of who the Lord Jesus is. It’s a collage; you’ve seen these perhaps, where you see a picture, and as you look closer, it’s actually smaller pictures that together make up the larger picture. And that’s, in a sense, what the Gospel of Mark is doing for us as well.
To bring us up to speed in where we are in this particular passage, this is right after that wonderful passage in which the Lord calmed the storm. The disciples, having had very busy ministry work with the Lord Jesus, decide they’re going to take a break and go have some R and R. Boy, were they wrong about what actually happened. I probably should have preached on this calming of the storm, seeing the weather we have around us, but it was amazing to see how the Lord had done that. Now it’s at the very end of this night sail, having almost drowned in the middle of the night, and the Lord, having confronted them in his loving, wonderful way of saying, “Do you not trust me? You still have no faith. You do not know who I am.” He has been instructing them.
Being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is never dull.If that’s not enough shock to get over, they’re arriving this morning in this area called the Gerasenes where no sooner do they set foot than a screaming demoniac lunges at them. Being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is never dull. And then they experience that as well. Now let’s pick up the story here and unpack it, beginning in verse 1 of chapter 5, 20 verses, follow with me, if you will, or from the pew Bibles in front of you.
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 bruising 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 into them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about 2,000, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and they were drowned in the sea.
The herdsman 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.
Father, as we look into your Word, we ask that, knowing that we open our Bibles, but you alone can open our hearts, that you would do that. And that we would see you at work in us even as you have chosen us, each one of us, to know you and to grow and to go as you call us. Father, instruct us and encourage us even now. In your name, we pray, Lord Jesus, Amen.
As you take notes, I’m going to break this into three parts: the first 7 verses that we’re looking at, the depths of Satan’s control; the second is the deliverance wrought by Christ Jesus, verses 8–13; and third would be the difference in the man’s conduct, the last verses, 14–20. The depths of Satan’s control, the deliverance wrought by Christ, and the difference in the man’s conduct. This sermon, like Sesame Street, brought to you by the letter D. So if that makes it a little easier for you, good.
The Depths of Satan’s Control
Before we even get started, we need to ask a very basic question that perhaps each of you asked and you should ask: is this truly the story of a man overwhelmed and possessed by demons? Or is this a story about mental illness that predates a modern diagnosis? It’s a very fair and good question to ask.
If you’ve studied this book before, you know that in the first chapter Mark talks about another such afflicted man who was in the synagogue in Capernaum. But he was a little different because he was apparently not a threat to people, he didn’t scare people, they didn’t try to control him in the same way that this man apparently scared people.
And there are many people even today that believe in the latter, that this is really just a case of misdiagnosed mental illness. That is the theme of a book written by Dr. Michael Cuneo in his book American Exorcism.
And then there are others who are not so sure about that. I remember years ago seeing—I thought it was most interesting as they change their mind—Barbara Walters, that bastion of pristine scientific studies on one of ABC’s studies actually did a piece on exorcism and it really was puzzling to her. Scott Peck, who wrote the now old but well-known book, The Road Less Traveled, wrote another book later called The People of the Line, which deals somewhat with demonization.
We have to understand the Bible makes it clear that there are fallen angels. These are angelic rebels.And the other thing that plays into this are some people, Paul Long, Sr., being a missionary on the mission field, both in Africa and South America, he would say, “Yes, I have seen what seems to be very clearly what Scripture talks about as these things.”
More importantly and most importantly for us, we have to understand the Bible makes it clear that there are fallen angels. These are angelic rebels. These are ones who, with Satan, are determined to oppose, to dilute, if it were possible, to even destroy God’s work and his plan for redemption. Jesus deals with many people who are identified as being overtaken by these demons, these fallen angels, necessitating genuine exorcism, the extraction of these destructive demons. As uncomfortable as that makes us proper Protestants, it’s something we have to recognize. This is what God is telling us, and that’s the gift of the Scriptures. There are things that are true in the reality and the whole economy of the spiritual realm as well as the material and physical that have huge impact on us, and by his gift, he tells us about these things.
So we accept this as Scripture speaking into reality, and we press on to understand these truths in our lives. You have a sense that there are two extremes that have to be avoided. C.S. Lewis would talk about it well. He says there are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall into about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence and the other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. There’s really a ditch on either side of the road, is there not? And Satan doesn’t care what ditch he gets you into as long as he can get you in a ditch.
That’s where we start. And of all the passages speaking about demonic possession in people, none is more graphic or more horrifying than this particular section of Scripture, this particular man, this account in chapter 5 of Mark. Verse one: “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.
Now, the Gerasenes is on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. It is in itself an intimidating looking terrain. There are craggy cliffs, it steeply drops off into the Sea of Galilee, it is an area that was and still is predominantly Gentile, not Jewish in its population. That’s why there is a pig herd. That was specifically at the time forbidden of the Jewish people (Leviticus 11). Pigs literally were host to all kinds of parasites and problems, and so there was a practicality to God’s instructions and his injunctions to them. But the bottom line is this is not exactly some sort of pastoral picture of heaven on earth. I’m quite sure the disciples were a little bit intimidated as they come and they land there, their little boat having gone through what they’ve gone through the night before. It’s uncomfortable. It’s alien to them.
And verse 2 says, “When Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I wish that we could have had some sort of video clip of the expressions on the disciples’ faces as they are landing. They’re just glad to put feet on solid ground. And here’s this man, screeching and running at them, who is a horror to look at. And you just imagine: “Lord, thank you, but I think I’m going to stay on the boat.”
They meet this man who’s been living there among this area that was fit for little other than to have tombs for the dead. It’s barren. It’s unfriendly. This is not some sort of poet coming to meet them in this sort of pre-Walden Pond utopia. Not at all that way. He hasn’t made a choice to live there. He’s not a hermit by choice. It’s very likely he was driven out of town. The society didn’t want him. They didn’t know what to do with him, and he was basically forced to live among these tombs carved out of the rock.
So let’s just look again at the description of this man. He lived among the tombs. Verse 3: “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.” Sounds almost like echoes of Samson, doesn’t it? “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.”
This is a pathetic picture: a man who’s in continual mental, emotional, spiritual agony. It’s a much worse case of affliction than reported in chapter 1. At least they had tolerated that man in chapter 1. But now here the disciples are with Jesus and in their minds, this is spiritually polluted territory, Gentile territory. And here they are with a certified, card-carrying, demon possessed man who’s rushing at them, probably looking more like an animal than a human being. Can’t you just picture him with your sanctified imagination, these deep-set sunken eyes, rotted teeth, unshaven, unwashed, ragged? If he had any clothes at all, it would have been rags. But even more so, a man scarred with chains, shackles that had been put on him, and he had wrenched himself free of those things. Can you imagine how his body must have been so hideously covered with scars and cuts and it says self-inflicted wounds, shrieking as he rushes at Jesus? It’s almost like he’s this demonic junkyard dog.
It comes up to the Lord Jesus almost as if he’s strategically placed by the demons to stop Jesus from entering the area. In fact, the term there that we translate from the Greek, “met,” in verse 2, is actually used in military terminology as a face off, a stand off. This is not a welcome wagon sort of arrangement. This is not polite. This is not social. This is not a sweet reception for the Lord Jesus.
Now, was he demon-possessed because of a rebellion against God’s authority, thinking somehow he could be freed of God’s authority over his life? Was it because he practiced divination and it just morphed and metastasized into far, far worse? We don’t know. We’re not told. But we do get the impression that he wasn’t born this way. It’s not like the blind man born blind, which the disciples would ask Jesus about. It wasn’t like he caught a cold somehow. But we are told that he’s overwhelmed. He’s enslaved. He’s completely consumed in bondage to these agents of sin consuming and dominating his life. He’s just a living horror, tormented and unable to do anything about it. That’s the grip that Satan had on this man.
The Deliverance Wrought by the Lord Jesus
Let’s look at the deliverance wrought by the Lord Jesus in verses 8–13. Notice again when Jesus comes out of the boat, verse 6 and 7, “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?’”
Now, several things strike me as I look into this. The first thing is it’s interesting that this man is both running to the Lord Jesus with his feet, but he’s running from the Lord Jesus with his mouth. You see that? At the same time, this man and the demons that are possessing him recognize Jesus with no introduction. They recognize his person, his position, his power. To the amazement of these disciples, when the demoniac comes to Jesus and falls at his feet, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of the Most High.” He already knows his personhood. He knows his position.
And then he says, “I adjure you by God, do not torment me,” or as another translation puts it, “Swear to God that you won’t torture me.” He realizes the power. This is the guy that nobody could control. He had shackles on him, and it didn’t hold him. And he recognizes that Jesus has power over him.
Verse 9, Jesus asks him, “What’s your name?” And he replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” A little trivia here, this is the only time that Jesus ever asked the name of a demon, to identify itself by name. As to its significance, we know Jesus talks to a centurion. He’s a man who’s in charge over a hundred people. But a legion by count was 6,826 Roman soldiers. So maybe he’s referring by name to the host of the spiritual beings that are controlling him, representing the demonic influences indwelling him.
But clearly they are fearful of what Jesus can do. In verses 10–13, they make this most unusual request. They beg Jesus over and over not to banish them from the area. An interesting reflection on that is they had a sense that this is our territory. They saw it as their home turf, their occupied home, and Jesus in a sense, accepts their request. He directs them to leave the man and to enter this very large herd of pigs who proceed to run over a cliff to the Sea of Galilee and they’re drowned.
There are never so many satanic influences that they tip the scale against what God can do.Now, we could have a lot of fun with that. The Sea of Galilee turns into the Bay of Pigs for a while. I remember my college friend, first time I ever looked at this, he said, “That’s the first ever recorded swine dive in history.” And I thought, “OK, that’s a bit much.”
But why did Jesus do this? We’re not told; we really have to speculate in some ways. Perhaps it shows the value of one person over 2,000-plus animals. Take that, PETA. Think about that. It’s interesting, the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an essay that became very famous called “Why I’m Not a Christian.” One of his reasons he cites is this waste, as he calls it, of 2,000 animals is one of the reasons why he couldn’t believe in Christianity, the value of a person over animals.
Perhaps it’s to expose the demons’ power and their ultimate goal was really to destroy anything and all the things that they inhabited. Perhaps it was to reveal the power of Jesus over all of the evil spirits, that there are never so many satanic influences that they tip the scale against what God can do. The disciples have witnessed in less than a few hours that Jesus not only has power over the elements of nature, he has power over evil. He is sovereign. They learn about the elements the night before; they’re seeing it over the demons now.
The Difference Jesus Makes in the Man’s Life
So the depths of Satan’s control, the deliverance of Jesus is being demonstrated, and now the difference that makes in this man’s life. In the last verses here, verse 14, “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.”
There’s an obvious radical change in this man. Notice something is really different. For the first time in apparently years, we’ve got a man who is now calm. He’s self-controlled. He’s presentable. He’s acting rationally in front of people who’ve known him for years. You talk about a 180 in somebody’s life, this is truly a turnaround from the state of existence. He is just as instantaneous in his demeanor change as the storm had been the night before and how Jesus had calmed it.
We see this unassailable demonstration of the power and the majesty of this one standing in their presence. Wow. What did these people do? How did they respond? All these people in the area? I mean, there are witnesses who were there: the pig herders, the ones who’d seen what had happened. They’re keeping their distance, but they hear about this, they tell everybody what’s happened, and the local population turns out in mass to see the village idiot, the crazy guy, no longer crazy. What’s their response? “Jesus, would you please leave?”
Verse 17: They began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.” We can’t handle this. We don’t know what’s going on. Would you just go away? You know they’re curious, but at the same time, Legion, this wild man, remember, they had put up with him for years and they had to protect themselves from this guy. They couldn’t easily tend the graves of their loved ones, their relatives, and probably had to care for this man’s family on top of everything else, insult to injury. They couldn’t process this. It was more than they can comprehend, and it scared them.
The miracle of a changed life does not automatically translate into people saying, ‘Wow, that’s what I want too.’Plus, Jesus had given permission for the demons to go into the pigs and ruin their herd of pigs, brought on financial ruin for many of their owners. What’s the point? Same thing that’s true today. Wherever Jesus works, the response and people are polarized. The miracle of a changed life does not automatically translate into people saying, “Wow, that’s what I want too.” These people were terrified, and they didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
Let me just take a little bit of time here, and let’s wrap some thoughts in here. What’s happening here? Jesus is going to get back into the boat. He’s not going to fight them. And he’s ready to leave. Verse 18: “As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.” That’s interesting. The man whose life has been changed wants to be with Jesus. The people whose livelihoods had been changed wanted him to leave.
The man whose life has been changed wants to be with Jesus. The people whose livelihoods had been changed wanted him to leave.Verse 19: the man is begging, “Can I come? Please, let me come with you!” It says Jesus did not permit him to go with him. Why? Well, up until this point, we know that the message was going to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles. This man is most likely pretty obviously not Jewish. Jesus knows there’s a time where there will be an unfolding and a reaching into the non-Jewish community. But instead, Jesus, look what he does. It’s fascinating. He commissioned this man to be a home missionary. Probably the first home missionary that we see in this account, verse 19 and 20: “He did not permit him but he 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.”
People whose lives have been changed by Jesus can have an impact everywhere, but the greatest impact is on the people who know them, who have watched them, who have seen them, been raised around them. That’s where Jesus sends him. He doesn’t tell him to go off and start some sort of a little holy huddle. Just get with people of like mind and sing Kumbaya together, hanging out just with Christians. He doesn’t do that.
And the fact is he’s going to go back and share the good news with people who had been mean to him, who had been rough with him. Those are the ones that put him out of society, out of town. That’s where Jesus sends the man. He sends them back to the people who know him. That’s the way God works. God always works, sending people who are unworthy and they know it, to share the good news of the gospel with people who are unworthy, but they don’t yet know it. That’s the work of our savior. That’s what he’s doing. It’s almost like the woman at the well in Samaria in John 4. Testimony is powerful. Why is it powerful? Cause people knew what she had been like. Wow, this woman is different. What has happened?
We don’t know how much this man played a part in all this, but we do know that the gospel flourished in the region that’s called the Decapolis. It means the 10 cities. It was sort of a confederation of cities that protected and had commerce together and worked together. The Book of Acts talks about the strong church that was in Damascus. Damascus was one of the Decapolis; it was one of the 10 cities. That’s where Paul goes after his conversion, that’s where he’s welcomed, he’s discipled there by Barnabus. Huge change in this area, is it through this crazy man? Maybe.
Jesus is a great savior, and the gospel is a declaration of good news for people whose lives they know aren’t right before God.Jesus is a great savior, and the gospel is a declaration of good news for people whose lives they know aren’t right before God. Any man is in Christ, he’s a new creature. The old passes away, the new has come. Now, honestly, not many of us sitting in this room come from demonic backgrounds, but every one of us knows what it means to be tormented, and to struggle, and to hurt, be self destructive. And it’s just this guy, the Gerasene demoniac, experienced it in the extreme, what all of us experienced to some degree.
The apostle Paul, talking of God’s work of transformation in Romans 6, let me just read three verses here. Paul writes of the gospel’s affect in our lives in this way, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at the time from the things that you’re now ashamed of? Those things resulted in death. But now that you’ve been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Some of us have been spared from the ravages of life apart from Christ. But whatever your story is, don’t be ashamed of it. It’s yours. It’s what God has been doing. It’s your story. You may not like the life you’ve come from, but I have news you can use: you don’t get to swap with anybody else. You are uniquely who God has created to be and by his grace and mercy, making you the man or the woman that God has for you to do his purposes in this little narrow slot of time in all eternity.
We are exhibit A, living exhibits in the courtroom of life, of the power of God to change lives.We are exhibit A, living exhibits in the courtroom of life, of the power of God to change lives. I read an interesting plaque, and I wrote down what it said. I thought, “That was so thought provoking.” It said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” There’s no better place to do it than at home. At home, where you live, where you work, where you play, where you go to school.
One last thought as we wrap up this wonderful, wonderful chapter. This is a harrowing story. Don’t pass over it with such academia that you look at it and go, “Oh, interesting story.” Put yourself in it. After this exhausting pace of ministry recorded in chapter 4, they’ve been preaching and teaching, the disciples are looking forward to some rest, this peaceful night sail to get away from things, this traumatic episode of nearly being drowned in the middle of the night. Remember, these are professional sailors. This was no little storm. These guys were terrified at what they experienced even the night before. And then they’re met by this one-man horror show when they touch shore.
I mean, what’s going on? Why is Jesus do this? I really believe that Jesus knew exactly what he was taking them into. The storm, everything.
I talked to my wife one time about this passage, “What do you see in this?” My wife has got a great sense of humor. Her first response, she says, “Well, the application that I’d first take away from this is don’t let Jesus plan your vacation. That would be the first thing that I would say.”
Why did he do it? Why is he doing this? Why did he go to this Gerasene demoniac? Was it to rustle up another crowd, to gather a new following, to get a bigger fan club? Nope. Does he plant the church on the shores of this Gentile land, is this some sort of D-Day invasion? You know, the storming of the Normandy beaches?
Even though there’s going to be a huge impact from it, and that through this one, hugely unlikely, pathetic, nasty, at least he had been, man, now a passionate preacher for the truth. Jesus takes the disciples on this Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and then turned right around within a matter of a few hours to head back. Why does Jesus do this? Do you know what I really think is going on? It’s to save one horrendously pathetic human being.
You know, the word save means to heal. He went all that way. He took his disciples through all of that to rescue one tormented, miserable, lonely, lost man. That is the savior to know. To grow in that relationship, to serve him, to worship and adore him, Jesus, the lover of our souls so much that he would go whatever distance for one individual. The shepherd leaving the ninety and the nine for the one lost sheep.
Let me tell you folks, you may aspire for big ministry, the big steepled churches or a big counseling community that looks to you. The Lord Jesus looked at every individual person. One.
The man who discipled me when I was in high school made the comment one time, and I’ve never forgotten, he said, “Guy, if you’d been the only person in the universe in need of salvation, Jesus would have come down from heaven to die on the cross for you. Period.” The only one in the universe who could overcome the power of evil temporarily and eternally would come and save such a wretched man as this man from the tombs of the Gerasenes, a living death. He saved the chief of sinners, the self-righteous Saul who becomes Paul. He saved me, he saved you if you’ve received him. The words of the hymn we just sang: “Jesus, what a friend for sinners, Jesus, lover of my soul. Hallelujah! What a savior!”