Three friends die in a car crash, and they go to heaven.
They are all asked, ‘When you are in your coffin and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?’
The first lady says, ‘I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a loving family member.’
The second lady says, ‘I would like to hear that I was a wonderful and loving wife, and as a school teacher I made a huge difference to my pupils.’
The last lady replies, ‘I would like to hear them say, “Look! She’s moving!” ’
Today we continue our series going through Mark’s gospel, which is calling ‘Seeing Jesus’. Mark knew who Jesus was, but he wanted to share that with others, so he recorded some of the events of Jesus’ life, which he felt would best show who Jesus is.
Last week we saw how Jesus calmed a raging storm; this week we will see how Jesus cast out a legion of demons from a man. Today, Jesus is… the exorcist.
Perhaps when it gets to the bits in the Bible that deal with demons you might think it’s more myth, more movie, more make-believe than serious history. Some people might say that this is a story that was made up by Jesus’ disciples to show how powerful he was.
Sometimes it is said that people in Jesus’ day blamed ‘demons’ when actually an illness or a disease was the problem.
We are so clever now with our science and technology and medicine – they were primitive and didn’t understand.
Or did they?
Perhaps the advances in science which have so transformed the world, have also changed us. The irony is that science is supposed to be about open-minded pursuit of the truth, and yet somehow it has closed our minds to things that science cannot understand.
What if there is something more than all this ‘stuff’? Exploring and explaining this ‘stuff’ and how it works, is what science is for. But this, what happened here, is something more.
If you believe that all there is, is what you see around you – these events will seem little different to a sci-fi show on TV.
And if that’s you, I would like – respectfully – to disagree, and ask you to keep an open mind as we look at Mark 5 together.
And so let’s turn to it – v1.
As happens time and again in Mark, these events begin (and in fact end) with Jesus in a boat (1). In fact, he’s in the same boat he was in last week, which was nearly destroyed by a seismos megas, a furious squall (4.37).
We aren’t quite sure where this place is Mark is talking about. There were several places around the sea of Galilee with similar-sounding names – it was one of those.
The important points are: 1) this happened immediately after Jesus calmed the storm, and 2) it didn’t happen in Israel, it happened in Gentile, that is non-Jewish country.
Mark tells us three things about the man with an impure spirit who came to meet Jesus (2).
First, he lived in cave-tombs (3). These were low, cramped affairs, outside the villages and towns – full of, well, dead bodies, with an extremely unpleasant smell, and no doubt significant numbers of flies. He lived right on the edge of society, in fact beyond the edge of society.
The second thing Mark tells us about this man, is that he was freakishly strong: he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet (4). Many had tried, and none had succeeded in restraining him.
The third thing Mark tells us about this man, is that he led a pretty lonely and wretched existence. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones (5). His pain was real, but it was unnoticed, because there was no-one there to listen. How true that is of the pain many people feel today.
I wonder what you would do if a bruised and bloody man, with wild hair and wilder eyes, completely naked (see v15), shouting and waiting and stinking to high heaven of rotting corpses – I wonder what you’d do if someone like that ran up to you and threw themselves on the ground in front of you (6)?
I confess I think it’s not something I would like.
Good job, then, that it wasn’t me, it was Jesus this man ran up to. And Jesus said, ‘Come out of this man, you impure spirit’ (8).
Well, the spirit – or rather, spirits – inhabiting this poor man didn’t like that. He started yelling – shouting –
at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!’
Sometimes people suggest the demon was trying to fight back at Jesus by using his name – because using a name has power – but I think it’s more that the demons couldn’t help themselves.
They saw who Jesus truly is, and they were terrified, because they knew their number was up.
If you remember back in Mark 3, Jesus tells a parable about how he has come to tie up the strong man and plunder his possessions – the strong man is the devil, and this world, we ourselves, are his ‘possessions’.
Here, we actually have a strong man – or rather a legion of demons tormenting a man and making him strong, whom Jesus is going to set free. The demons knew that, and so they were terrified of Jesus, blurting out who he really is, when no-one had realised yet.
The demons were desperate. They begged Jesus to send them into the pigs (12). Notice they knew they couldn’t stay put any more. They don’t ask Jesus if they can stay, but instead they asked to go into a herd of pigs. They probably thought they would survive the pigs’ watery death, but the implication is that they were destroyed, along with the herd of pigs.
But also notice the language Mark uses. The demons say, ‘allow us to go into the pigs’ (12) and Jesus gave them permission (13).
The language here – it’s so mundane. It’s like a child asking to get down from the dinner table, and being given permission.
Whereas the demons were causing the man to shout and shriek and cut himself and pull apart chains, Jesus is so calm, almost dismissive. There are no histrionics, no incantations – Jesus simply tells them to go, and they go.
It is exactly like the way Jesus calmed the storm, as we saw last week. He said, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ and it did (4.39).
This is the first contrast Mark wants us to see: the outwardly noisy strength of the demons, and the quiet, supreme authority of Jesus.
The second contrast Mark wants us to see is the man, before and after Jesus frees him from the devil’s power. Whereas before he was crazed and naked, now he sits with Jesus, dressed and in his right mind (15).
Like the sea of Galilee was completely calm (4.39), so this man was at peace, he had his dignity back, he was human again.
This is the power of Jesus.
A little aside about the pigs: we might read this and think how awful of Jesus to allow a herd of pigs to be destroyed like that. I agree, it seems a little off. And Mark doesn’t seem to care about it, but that’s because, to the Jews, pigs were unclean animals – and so the perfect home for an unclean spirit.
But also, and perhaps more importantly, Mark cares more about the person than the pigs. The loss to the local town would have been huge – but that is nothing compared to the gain of a man, a child of God, being freed from the tyranny of Satan.
And actually, the loss of the pigs isn’t why the people from the town ask Jesus to leave.
Look in v15:
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.
They had been told about the pigs, but what really scared them was seeing Jesus’ power to transform this man completely. Before no doubt they were terrified of the demon-possessed man and his strength – and now they are terrified of the greater power of Jesus.
And that leaves us with a choice. The people of the town were terrified of Jesus, they wanted nothing to do with him, and so they asked him to leave, to have nothing more to do with him (17).
There is nothing to stop us responding to Jesus like that today. Many – in fact most – people respond to Jesus in that way.
But the man whose life was transformed – he literally begged Jesus to let him go with him (18). He wasn’t able to, but only because Jesus had a different mission for him, telling him to go and share the news across the whole region – which he did – so that by the time Jesus came back (as we’ll see in chapter 7) he was met by crowds of thousands.
How do you think you might respond to Jesus? Will you ask him to leave, or do you want to be with him, to get to know him better?
In a few moments we will move into a time of prayer, and there will be time for you to receive healing prayer. Like the way Jesus spoke to the storm and to the legion of demons, there will be no histrionics. Instead we will pray that you will encounter the power of Jesus. It will be our prayer that you – and your loved ones – will receive healing today.
But actually what’s more important, our main hope, is that when we encounter the power of Jesus, we don’t send him away, but instead seek to follow him, to find out more about him, to give our lives to serving him, and living for him.