Responding To The Presence Of Jesus
The biblical account before us this morning is not your typical gospel account. Mark’s account of the Gerasene demoniac is one part, unsettling, one part, bizarre, and one part, heart-warming.
Mark’s account, like Matthew and Luke’s account, begins with a most unsettling description of a man “possessed with demons” (Mt. 8:28; Mk. 5:2; Lk. 8:26). This man, Mark tells us, had made his home “among the tombs” (5:3). And Luke’s account tells us that the man “had not put on any clothing for a long time” (Lk. 8:27). Mark also explains that there had been attempts to bind the man, but the man was so strong that he would “tear apart” the chains and break the shackles “in pieces”—“no one was strong enough to subdue him” (5:4).
As unsettling a description as that is, isn’t it interesting to read how this demon-possessed, tomb-dwelling, bare naked, strong man is irresistibly drawn to Jesus?
Mark’s describes how “seeing Jesus from a distance, (the demoniac) ran up and bowed before (Jesus); and crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!’” (5:7).
It is worth noting the response of the demons to the presence of Jesus. The demons, seemingly instinctively, knew that they were dealing with the Son of God. And, not only did they know they were dealing with the Son of God, but they knew Jesus had the power and authority to torment and dispose of them as He pleased. Beloved, this is more than what the average human being in our day is willing to acknowledge.
Jesus answers the demoniac by rebuking the “unclean spirit” (5:8) and asking him, “What is your name?” (5:9). To this, the demoniac answers “My name is Legion; for we are many” (5:9).
With this answer, an already unsettling account becomes even more unsettling. In Jesus’ day the word ‘legion’ was most commonly associated with the Roman legion, a highly organized band of soldiers numbering 6,000 or more. The Roman legions, in addition to being great in number, and highly organized, were composed of fierce warriors who were noted for their unity in battle.
Commenting on this, Charles Spurgeon writes, “It is a sickening thought that, while Christians frequently quarrel, we never hear of devils doing so. The Church of God is divided, but the kingdom of darkness appears to be one.”
Yet, even as this formidable force, even as a united Legion of 6,000+, the demons tremble with fear in the presence of the Son of God. The demons had an acute understanding of their impending doom, and so they initiate, what looks to us as, a bizarre set of negotiations with Jesus.
The demons beg Jesus to “not send them out of the country” (5:10), and they entreat Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs that were feeding nearby. Strangely enough, Jesus grants their request, and “coming out (of the man), the unclean spirits entered the pigs; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea” (5:13).
This aspect of the account is so bizarre it is distracting—Why did Jesus permit the demons to vent their destructive power on this harmless herd of pigs?
Commentators can only speculate on why Jesus might have done this; the best suggestion I have come across is the notion that Jesus was providing verifiable evidence that He really did cast out a Legion of demons.
Without the verifiable evidence, one might be tempted to conclude that the case of the Gerasene demoniac was nothing more than an advanced case of a man with a chemical imbalance. Without the verifiable evidence that the demons were expelled, one might have concluded that Jesus healed the man through some sort of hypnosis. But, with 2,000 pigs, literally, dead in the water, combined with the testimony of a group of angry herdsman, it is very difficult to question the gospel writers rendering of this incident.
Admittedly, there is no attention given to the economic reality, still less the humaneness, of the destruction of a large herd of pigs. We can only infer that the liberation of the Gerasene demoniac took precedent over such considerations (France, Matthew, 164).
Following the unsettling encounter with the demoniac, and the bizarre negotiations with the ‘Legion’ of demons, we come to something heart-warming in verse 15—we read that the demon-possessed, tomb-dwelling, naked man, is now “sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind.”
From all outward appearances, the Gerasene demoniac was as hopeless a man as there ever was. Possessed by a Legion of demons, you would think that he was beyond any hope for a recovery. But then he met Jesus. The man met the Son of God, and the Legion of demons, which possessed the man, was no match for Him whose kingdom on earth had now been inaugurated.
Now, within, this heart-warming, miraculous account, we also have a disheartening response to the presence of Jesus. Mark records that those who had seen the exorcism of the demons, and the subsequent mass suicide of the pigs, described it to others in the region, and “(the people) began to entreat (Jesus) to depart from their region” (5:16, 17).
Why would the people want Jesus to go? It appears that the commotion was too much for them. The confrontation with the demoniac and the destruction of 2,000 pigs disrupted the peacefulness of their lives. These folks, evidently, wanted to be at ease. These folks were comfortable, and Jesus interrupted their peace by confronting the demoniac and sending the demons into the swine. Like some churchgoers today, these individuals would tolerate Jesus so long as their peaceful routine remained undisturbed.
In contrast to the those who entreated Jesus to leave, “the man who was demon-possessed was entreating (Jesus) that he might accompany Him” (5:18).
Notice how the presence of Jesus, and His miracle, provoked polar responses. The multitudes were disturbed by what they saw, and begged Jesus to leave, while the man Jesus healed begged for an opportunity to accompany Him.
Interestingly, Jesus responded to the faithless multitude by doing what they asked. Yet, Jesus turns away the man who responded with faith. Jesus denies his request to accompany them, offering instead, this instruction: “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (5:19).
Do see how Jesus’ dealings with people differs? The multitudes asked the unthinkable of Jesus: “depart from us”, and yet He grants their request. And then we have the healed man bringing forth a pious request, “Lord, let me accompany You”, and the man’s request is denied. How is it that Jesus would grant the petitions of His enemies and refuse the prayers of His friends? Jesus does so according to His sovereign wisdom.
If Jesus remained in this unfaithful community it could have meant greater judgment for these people. And, if Jesus had allowed the healed man to accompany Him, it would have meant taking away their only evangelist. So by refusing the man’s request, Jesus was ensuring a continuity of witness in this very needy region (Cole, Mark, 159).
Jesus’ demonstration of His power and authority provoked two opposite reactions from those who witnessed it. And, even today, the proclamation of Christ’s power and authority is provoking varying responses. For some, the gospel message is overwhelming, and the implications of following Christ, too weighty. And so, like the multitude in this account who begged Jesus to leave, there are many today who want nothing to do with the Jesus revealed in the Bible. But, thankfully, there are others, like the man who was healed, who are willing to follow Jesus, regardless of the personal cost.
I’d like to think that I am speaking to the latter group here this morning. If I am not, if there are some individuals here today who find the proclamation of Christ too much to bear, I implore you to consider the alternative to following Him. Because even the demons recognized that “torment” and judgment that awaited them.
And, for those of us who regard ourselves as being a part of the former group, we should note the responsibility given to us. We are given a mandate; we are commissioned to “go” and “report” to others “what great things the Lord has done for (us), and (to report) how (the Lord) has had mercy on (us).”
Granted, it is doubtful that any of us can match the dramatic testimony of the healed demoniac. What a sermon he would be able to preach! He could describe to others his life as a demoniac—how he spent his time living among the tombs, cutting himself with stones, he could tell how he used to scare visitors away, and how he would break free from the chains and shackles that were used in attempts to bind him, and then he could tell them how everything changed the day that he met Jesus: “I once was a demoniac, but now I am an evangelist—a follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God.”
Mark records that when the healed demoniac told his story, when he told others about what Jesus had done for him, the people “marveled” (5:20).
Beloved, there was a day when you were lost, but now you are found; there was a day when you were spiritually blind, but now you see. The appropriate response to your meeting Jesus is to tell your story to others; report to others the great things Jesus has done for you.
The continuity of Christian witness in this community depends on our faithfulness in sharing the message entrusted to us. And, as we are faithful in sharing the Gospel, we trust Jesus will fulfill His promise: “I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not overpower it” (Mt. 16:18). Amen.