“Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as He got out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met Him. He lived in the tombs. No one was able to restrain him anymore — even with chains — because he often had been bound with shackles and chains, but had snapped off the chains and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. And always, night and day, he was crying out among the tombs and in the mountains and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and knelt down before Him. And he cried out with a loud voice, “What do You have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You before God, don’t torment me! ” For He had told him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit! ” “What is your name? ” He asked him. “My name is Legion,” he answered Him, “because we are many.” And he kept begging Him not to send them out of the region. Now a large herd of pigs was there, feeding on the hillside. The demons begged Him, “Send us to the pigs, so we may enter them.” And He gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs, and the herd of about 2,000 rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned there. The men who tended them ran off and reported it in the town and the countryside, and people went to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been demon-possessed by the legion, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. The eyewitnesses described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and told about the pigs. Then they began to beg Him to leave their region. As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed kept begging Him to be with Him. But He would not let him; instead, He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.” So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.” (Mark 5:1-20 HCSB)
It is always nice to get a few days away and relax. As I write these words, my wife and I have taken a few days to get away and celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary and get a few days of rest and relaxation before we begin several months of hard work at church, home and at work. I’m sitting on the bank of Medicine creek in Medicine Park, Oklahoma. This happens to be the same area where my great grandfather and grandfather lived and worked in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. My great grandfather and several of his children are buried nearby in Marlow, Oklahoma. In fact, my mother spent several years of her childhood living here in Medicine Park in the 1930’s with my grandfather and grandmother before moving to northeast Oklahoma.
My wife and I have very different approaches to planning trips like this. She likes to plan and schedule the details and I like to just figure it out as we go. She likes to know the precise route and I like to drive in the general direction of our destination and make adjustments as the day moves along. While I have learned that it is generally best to have a plan on where we are spending the night and to make advance reservations, too much planning makes me anxious and stressed. Fortunately, we’ve learned how to adjust, change and even enjoy each other’s methods and that has helped us stay married and in love for forty four years and counting.
Last week, I suggested that Jesus chose to “get away” from the crowds and He instructed the disciples to get into the boat and commanded “let’s cross over to the other side.” I am certain that His nap and the raging storm were divinely timed in order to address the disciples lack of faith and force their question, “Who is this that He even controls the wind and the waves?” But, I am just as certain that the events of this week’s focal passage constitute a divine appointment and a powerful confrontation that seek to provide additional answers to that very question. This time the question is not about His power to control those things that are seen, the physical elements like the wind and the waves, but His power and authority over the unseen, the demonic and evil elements of the spirit world.
The ancient region of the Gerasenes is primarily a gentile region on the eastern shore of the sea of Galilee. This would have been near the modern city of Kursi in the Golan Heights region. We aren’t told whether this man that approaches Jesus is Jewish, but I think we can assume He is. Does it matter? Maybe not, but it appears that he has a deep, innate desire to seek out and know God. Notice how Mark tells us that as soon as Jesus got out of the boat, the man with the unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met Him. I don’t believe it would have been the demons that drove this man to seek out and meet Jesus. I think they would have tried to avoid Jesus and to be confronted by His power and authority.
Again, Mark’s emphasis here is not on the evil nature of these demons but on their unclean nature. That’s something that is often missed in our understanding of Jesus’ nature and mission. As Baptists, we often talk about the need for salvation and, yet, Jesus’ saving grace wasn’t just intended to keep us from hell but to cleanse and restore us to relationship, fellowship, and righteousness before our Holy God. What God desires and intends through our salvation is our cleansing, our restoration to relationship and fellowship with Him and righteousness before Him. There is a deeper purpose in your salvation than just your personal desire to avoid judgment, condemnation and suffering in hell. Your salvation is less about missing hell and more about finding and trusting God.
Next, notice that Mark is again giving us a very stark contrast between this man, how he lived and acted before he met Jesus and after he met Jesus. Listen to how he describes him: he lived in the tombs, no man was able to restrain him – even with chains, he broke the chains, smashed the shackles and nobody was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day he lived among the tombs and in the mountains, crying out and cutting himself. But, when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and knelt down before Him. It appears that as the man ran toward them, Jesus commanded: “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then the man knelt before Jesus and begged Him, “What do you want of me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you before God, don’t torment me!”
Last week, the contrast Mark made was between the great windstorm and the great calm as Jesus exercised authority and power over the physical threat the disciples faced on the Sea of Galilee. This week, the contrast is between the man’s life controlled by unclean spirits and the life of faith lived in submission and surrender to Jesus authority and power. A life devoid of God to a life consumed by love for God. But notice how it begins…
What is your name? Who are you? What is your identity? I have several names. My mother and dad called me, Gary – and Gary Bradford when I was in trouble. In high school sports and work, I became Nick – a shortened version of Nickerson that my dad, me and my brothers all embraced with great pride. When my children were born I became dad and pops. In the churches I pastored I was Brother Gary, pastor Gary and preacher (and even Reverend Nickerson by one sweet lady). As my grandchildren were born I took the name Papa. While I have many names across these various relationships, I have only one identity. I am just one person and my identity is found entirely in Jesus, the one who made me and made me His own possession (see 1 Cor. 6:15-20 and 1 Peter 2).
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 HCSB)
Why did Jesus ask this man his name? Some scholars insist that by forcing the demon to give its name, Jesus was exercising power and authority over it. I’m not certain that’s what is happening in this story. I believe this man had lost himself in these circumstances and through this demonic possession. Jesus wasn’t speaking to the demon when He asked his name, Jesus was speaking to the man who came seeking His help. But this man had lost himself, lost his way because of this uncleanness that had overtaken him, overpowered him, and had consumed his life and identity. The man answered, “My name is Legion, because we are many.” Notice what happened, he lost his “me” because of the “we”. This man had lost his unique identity and the fact that he was a precious and treasured creation of God.
We live in the midst of a culture that has lost itself, too. Like this demon possessed man, we’ve lost our unique identity that’s only found in being God’s treasured creation and possession because we continuously strive to create our own identity and be ourselves. As most of you know, there’s a drive to encourage folks to define themselves, their own identity and even to find, define and use their own pronoun(s). Well, let me tell you what my pronoun is: HIS! Why? Because I am not my own, I was bought at a price. The incomparable and priceless blood of Jesus Christ. In our effort to be a unique “me”, we’ve made ourselves in the image of the “we” that is our culture instead of the “HE” that is our God.
By the way, this is not just happening among those who do not know and follow Jesus, it is also happening by those who claim to know, believe and follow Him. Instead of listening to and following Him we are listening to and following each other. Instead of listening to His Word and His voice we are listening to our own voices as they echoe and reverberate through the halls of social media. Instead of seeking to please God, we seek “likes” and “followers” on the Internet. We think we are correct because others echo our own words causing us to think we are correct even as we fail to hear and obey God.
“I will say to the north, Give [them] up, and to the south, Do not withhold [them]; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6-7 ESV)
Next, notice the response by the man and the legion of unclean spirits: “he [the man] kept begging Him [Jesus] not to send them [the unclean spirits] out of the region.” The man seems to want relief but not necessarily release from their influence and power. Initially, it might seem as though this is coming from the demons themselves, but they respond next because they seem to sense Jesus’ intent. There’s a large herd of pigs [unclean animals] feeding nearby and the demons [unclean spirits] beg Jesus, “Send us to the pigs, so we may enter them. He gave them permission” and the spirits came out, entered the pigs and they rushed down the steep bank and into the sea and drowned. Send them away, but not too far. He wanted relief, not deliverance.
Doesn’t that sound just like us? We don’t want deliverance from our uncleanness, just relief from it. Send it away, but not too far away lest it cannot find its way back. Therein lies one of the greatest dangers facing any man who follows Jesus, to completely abhor the uncleanness within us and to desire full release and freedom from its power and control (see 1 Pet. 15-16; 1 Jn. 1:6, 2:15-17). Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t give partial or temporary relief from the power and influence of unclean spirits or demonic control over our lives, He gives complete release and freedom.
Finally, I want you to notice the response from the townspeople. The herdsmen ran into town and told everyone what happened which resulted in a group of them coming out to see for themselves. When they arrived they found Jesus and the man who had been demon-possessed sitting there, dressed and in his right mind. Notice the next words, “and they were afraid.” People are often afraid of what they don’t understand and they didn’t understand what had just happened. This man who had been the terror of the region is now completely transformed. The townspeople begged Jesus to leave their region. The one man who had the power to change their lives and they were begging Him to leave. Isn’t it ironic, they wanted Jesus to leave and the man whose life had been so dramatically changed is begging to go with Him.
Now, notice Jesus’ response as He tells the man, ‘Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.’ So, he did! When Jesus transforms us, He wants us to go and tell others what He has done for us and how He’s had mercy on us.
How will you respond to Jesus? Are you still trying to find yourself or define yourself without Him? Listen as He calls you by name and leads you to find yourself in Him.
Will you be satisfied with just a little relief in your pain or struggle? Wouldn’t you rather know complete deliverance? His deliverance can drive out the uncleanness and the struggles it brings.
Don’t be like the townspeople who just want Jesus gone. Let His love, mercy and His cleansing power wash over you and bring restoration to your soul.
At last, for those of you who’ve already experienced Jesus’ radical transformation, will you heed his command to tell others what He’s done for you and how He’s had mercy on you?
What are you waiting for, this wasn’t an accident. It was a divine appointment.