Wholeness Restored

 

Week of October 23, 2011

 

Bible Verses:  Mark 5:1-3, 6-13a, 15-20.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about how Christians can continually live out their freedom in Christ.

 

Jesus Conquers Evil:  Mark 5:1-3, 6-13a.

 

[1]  They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. [2]  And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. [3]  He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, [6]  And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. [7]  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." [8]  For he was saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" [9]  And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion, for we are many." [10]  And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. [11]  Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, [12]  and they begged him, saying, "Send us to the pigs; let us enter them." [13]  So he gave them permission.

 

[1-3]  Jesus has just calmed a violent storm at sea [4:35-41]; He now meets a man with an equally violent storm inside him. In both cases the power of Jesus prevails over chaos and destruction. The purpose of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, as with the stilling of the storm on the lake, is not simply to leave readers awestruck at Jesus’ power, however, but to prompt them to consider how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you [5:19]. Mark locates the exorcism and healing of the demoniac in the region of the Gerasenes. The healing is Mark’s third and most graphic exorcism so far [1:25; 3:11]. Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:26-39 also recount the story, but drastically reduce it. Mark’s wealth of personal interest material makes the demoniac a rounded character and his salvation a complete story. The description of the demoniac in 5:2-5 is one of the most lamentable stories of human wretchedness in the Bible. He is a terror to himself and others, and his violence is hammered home in three resounding negatives in the Greek: no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain [3]. Even in life he is consigned to the land of the dead. There, wailing among the tombs, he wreaks havoc on himself day and night. Mark’s vocabulary is raw and brutal; even bindings, chains, and irons are unsuccessful to subdue the demoniac. Mark’s description is more fitting of a ferocious animal than of a human being. The evil forces that torment the man among the tombs equal and parallel the violent tempest that beset the boat on the lake [4:37]. From a Jewish perspective, the story is replete with elements of uncleanness. The setting is the eastern shore of the lake, the Gentile Decapolis which was a loose geographical term for a number of cities east of the Jordan River. In this region there lived a man who, according to Mark, had been commandeered by an unclean spirit [2]. His banishment to the tombs rendered him unclean according to the Old Testament, where contact with the dead defiled one for seven days. According to Numbers 19:11-14, anyone who failed to purify himself from the pollution of tombs must be cut off from Israel. In the region there were also swine herders. Following the Old Testament proscription against swine, the Mishnah states categorically that none may rear swine anywhere. Thus Jesus meets a man with an unclean spirit living among unclean tombs surrounded by people employed in unclean occupations, all in unclean Gentile territory.

 

[6-13]  Mark’s narrative framework implies that demonic powers are intent on prohibiting Jesus from entering the region. First, the demonic nature of the storm on the lake nearly capsizes the boat; now a demon-possessed man powerful enough to break irons hurls himself at Jesus and the disciples. This is a place where no one would want to go for any reason. Contrary to all reason and expectation, however, Jesus goes there. He penetrates both the ritual wall of uncleanness and the formidable reputation of the demoniac. For once, however, the explosive terror of the demoniac does not prevail, for rather than falling on Jesus he fell down before him. The Greek verb here signifies prostrating oneself before a person to whom reverence or worship is due, even kissing his feet or the hem of his garment. When demoniac meets divine, it is a no contest event. The demoniac’s address to Jesus, I adjure you by God, do not torment me, is a curious mixture of imploring and pleading. The plea not to be tormented by Jesus is an admission of subservience. Most important is the reference to Jesus as Son of the Most High God. In Judaism, Most High God, is an epithet emphasizing the transcendence and exaltation of Israel’s God over pagan gods and goddesses and rival powers. In Gentile territory on the east side of the lake, the strength of this God is demonstrated in the vanquishing of a legion of demons powerful enough to destroy a herd of swine. The unclean spirit is expelled from the demon-possessed man solely by the authoritative word of Jesus. With Jesus there is no elaborate protocol, nor is the effectiveness of the exorcism dependent on the words He utters. The power to prevail over the demonic resides within Jesus Himself. He speaks and the demons are expelled; His word is deed. Asked who he is, the demoniac identifies himself as Legion, for we are many. The Greek term Legion is a military term designating some 5,600 soldiers. The demoniac is not a split personality but a multiple or shattered personality equal to the number and force of a Roman legion occupying him. The plea of the demons not to be sent from the area is perhaps rooted in the illusion that there they are safe from the authority of Jesus. At any rate, it is a further clue that the Decapolis is dominated by demonic forces of darkness hostile to the arrival of Jesus. Nevertheless, the demons offer no challenge to Jesus, but plead for His mercy as the only alternative to experiencing His wrath. On their own initiative, the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs. Over the centuries many people have been puzzled by the events that followed, and especially the fact that Jesus sent the demons from the man into the huge herd of pigs grazing on the bank of the sea. Two thousand of them were drowned [13]. No answer is given by Mark, but there were probably several reasons. One was to expose the terrible power of these demons and their ultimate goal of destroying whatever they inhabited. By the same token, this holocaust of pigs as the demons took possession of them underlined the enormous power which Jesus had exercised in His authority over them. But there is another reason. Here was a man who had been held captive in pain and shame by these evil spirits. How could he be persuaded that they would never again be able to enter and dominate his life? How could he be sure that the salvation Jesus had brought to him would never be lost? There was only one way, and Jesus chose it. It is misplaced sentimentality to weep over the destruction of the pigs. It shows that we do not have our priorities aligned to those of Jesus. Jesus, by contrast, who had taught His disciples that they were of more value than many sparrows, also teaches them that the deliverance of one man is worth two thousand pigs and more! The demoniac’s story records in capital letters what is true of all men by nature: we are slaves to evil; we are not free; we are bent, ultimately, on self-destruction. Neither we ourselves, nor others, are capable of breaking the powers which have bound us. Christ alone can break the power of sin in our lives and set us free.

 

Jesus Makes Us Whole:  Mark 5:15-17.

 

[15]  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. [16]  And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. [17]  And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.  [ESV]

 

The coming of Jesus to the region of the Gerasenes had brought consternation. No sooner was Jesus on dry land than a demon-possessed man was screaming at him. Within a few minutes, two thousand pigs had gone hurtling to their death, and the herdsmen had raced back to town to explain to the owners what had happened. In the midst of this confusion, only two people remained calm – Jesus, and the former demon-possessed man. When the townspeople came out, they saw them both – and to their astonishment the demoniac was sitting beside Jesus, clothed and completely sane. Jesus had made him ‘normal’ again. In a sense, making people ‘normal’ again was the essence of Jesus’ ministry. He came, He said, to save sinners – to restore men’s broken lives by His grace and to repair the ruins into which they had fallen. The demoniac is a perfect illustration of what Jesus does in any life which He enters to possess and transform. He makes men new. But notice that Mark records two completely different responses to what Jesus did. Think for a moment about the townspeople. What did they see? There was the demoniac, a man they all knew. It had been many years since they had seen him look the way he did that day. They had been long accustomed to hearing his shrieks as he ran through the graveyard in the middle of the night. For years they had warned their children not to play near him. Some of these people were probably related to him. Others remembered playing with him in childhood. What kind of response do you think would be appropriate when they saw him gloriously normalized? For years they had not been able to control him, but now he was as biddable as an obedient child. What an occasion for rejoicing! So we might think. But we would be seriously mistaken. For the demoniac seems to have been greeted with a stony silence. There was no ‘welcome-mat’ on the faces of his townsfolk that day. Were they so taken up with gratitude to Jesus that for a moment they forgot the demoniac? On the contrary. They begged Jesus to leave their shores [17]. What possible explanation can there be for such a response to the power of God? A moment’s self-examination should give the answer. Jesus’ presence had cost the Gerasenes dearly in terms of this world’s goods. What had the demoniac ever been or done to merit the expenditure of two thousand pigs for his salvation? If these were the thoughts passing through the minds of the people, they were wrong on several counts. In the first place, they did not understand the depths of man’s need, or the costliness to Christ of the salvation of men. To ‘save’ the demoniac would ultimately cost the Lord Jesus His life. The loss of these pigs was incidental by comparison. But they valued their pigs more than the demoniac’s salvation. In doing so, they revealed that they valued their pigs more than their own salvation, and more than they valued the demoniac’s Savior. But there was probably another element in their rejection of Jesus, they could see the radical transformation which Jesus had produced in the demoniac’s life. Did they fear Jesus’ continued presence with them because they suspected it might produce a similar transformation in them? Could it be that they would prefer to have the man demon-possessed and live without Christ themselves? If so, it was they who were ensnared and in bondage to the Evil One. How tragic that men, both then and now, cling to the sins which will ultimately destroy them, and beg Jesus to leave them rather than change them.

 

Jesus Gives Us Responsibility:  Mark 5:18-20.

 

[18]  As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. [19]  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." [20]  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.  [ESV]

 

The demoniac’s response was very different from the townspeople. With all his heart he wanted to follow Jesus and be with Him. He longed to have Jesus’ protecting presence [18]. Yet our Lord had other plans for him, and refused his request [19]. He wanted to use him as his permanent apostle to the region of the Decapolis. So He gave him orders to return to his home and family, and to tell them what the Lord had done for him [19]. The man obeyed. It seems that his life left a lasting impression on his people. For later in the Gospel, when Jesus returned to Decapolis, some people brought Him a man who was deaf and almost completely dumb [7:31-37]. They believed Jesus could deliver him. Had they learned that from the demoniac? Mark presents us here with a contrast which may seem puzzling at first sight. Jesus refused the request of the man who trusted him, but granted the request of those who rejected Him. We need to learn that Jesus’ refusals to His followers are always because He has some better purpose for us than that which we request. But our refusals of Jesus, when granted, lead to hardness of heart and judgment. Like the parables, the miracles of Jesus bring us a profound challenge. The challenge of this one is simple: Do you want to go with Jesus? Or, do you want Jesus to go? These are the most important questions you could ever answer.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         In this account of the demon-possessed man, what do we learn:

            About the love of Jesus?

            About the power of Jesus?

            About the townspeople? How do they react to this miracle? Why?

 

2.         How is the healing of the demon-possessed man by Jesus an illustration of salvation?

 

3.         Why does Jesus refuse to honor the request of the healed man to go with Jesus? What did Jesus give the man instead? What can we learn from this about the times Jesus refuses to honor our requests to serve Him in a particular way or place?

 

References:

Mark, James Brooks, NAC, Broadman.

The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, Pillar, Eerdmans.

Mark, Robert Stein, Baker.

Let’s Study Mark, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth Trust.