Jesus casts our Legion. Mark 5:1-20

The literary structure Mark 5:1-21

We’re back into our series on the Gospel of Mark. Remember with me – after teaching in parables all day Jesus took a boat, along with his disciples, to the other side of the sea of Galilee. On the way a great storm arose and Jesus calmed it, leaving his disciples astounded and asking, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (4:41).

Just after this, when they arrive on the other side, our story begins.

Mark 5:1-20

5:1They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

It’s impossible to say exactly where this took place given what the gospels tell us.

decapolis and galilee

As you can see on the map the city of Gerasa is some 35 miles away! (Matthew says, “the region of Gadara” which is much closer to the lake, but still 5 miles away.) What Mark is doing here is using the phrase, “country or region of the Gerasenes” as a way of talking about the region called Decapolis, mentioned later in the story (v. 20). He means the part of the Decapolis or region of the Gerasenes that touches the Sea of Galilee.

This was a Gentile area, Jesus’ first visit to such a place, as Mark tells the story of Jesus. It used to be a part of ancient Israel, but was now Gentile.

2And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4for 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. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out (or howling) and bruising (or cutting) himself with stones.

Three things stand out in these verses. From a Jewish point of view the ceremonial uncleanness involved is highlighted. It’s not just that the Decapolis is a Gentile area, this particular man has an “unclean” spirit and he lives among tombs – which were unclean according to the Law (Numbers 19:11, 16; Matthew 23:27). These tombs were probably caves in the side of a hill, where he could find shelter.

Second, he’s beyond anyone’s help. No one is strong enough to subdue him. And even chains and shackles, that is, handcuffs and leg irons can keep him down. He breaks them apart due to his superhuman demonic strength.

Finally, his sad state stands out. He’s not in his right mind (v. 15). He lives in tombs. He’s like a wild animal, screaming or howling – running around naked (v. 15). And he’s engaging in self-destructive behavior. And he does this, Mark tells us, “night and day.” What a terrible and miserable existence!

6And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7And 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.” 8For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

The demons know who Jesus is (as Mark tells us in 1:34) and so they know his superiority to them, which is why he bows. And he correctly identifies Jesus as “Son of the most High God,” that is, the one true creator God. (Similarly – 1:24, 3:11)

We learn in v. 8 that Jesus is in the process of casting out the unclean spirit, which explains the demon’s question, “what have you to do with me?” As we saw before this means something like, ‘what business do we have with each other?’ Or perhaps here, ‘why are you involving yourself in my affairs?’

But then the demon moves quickly to pleas for mercy. Usually an exorcist would say to the demon, “I adjure you by God,” but here the demon says it to Jesus. And he seems to be saying observe the boundaries that God has set for when demons are to be tormented. In other words, the Son of God and judge of the final day is already here now, but the demon is saying, it’s not time yet for the torment of the final judgment. (Or as Luke says the demon doesn’t want to be thrown “into the Abyss” – 8:31; or as Matthew 8:29 says, the demon says, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?”)

9And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

 A Roman legion is usually considered to be just over 5,000 soldiers. So here we’re talking about thousands of demons in this man! (Other examples of multiple demons – Matthew 12:45; Luke 8:2)

And then we have an interesting twist in the story –

10And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

Apparently demons are territorial (Daniel 10:13) and so the demon who’s speaking doesn’t want to be cast out/ or disembodied so that, as Jesus says, “it passes through waterless places seeking rest but finds none.” (Matthew 12:43.)

That there’s a pig herd nearby confirms that this is a Gentile area, since Jews were neither allowed to eat pigs, nor to raise them.

Notice how Jesus merely speaks and the demons must go.

There are a number of questions that come from these verses that are hard to answer:

  • Can demons possess animals? Or does what happened suggest that this doesn’t work, since the pigs immediately killed themselves?
  • Why did Jesus let them go into the pigs? Whatever the reason it did become a visible way of seeing that the demons are in fact cast out and also that there were thousands of them.
  • What happened to the demons after the pigs died? Apparently they became disembodied anyway.
  • What about the herd of pigs? Wasn’t someone mad about the significant loss of wealth? Well, it was the demons who killed them. And perhaps this was a small price to have rid the community of thousands of demons. And perhaps from a Jewish point of view pigs shouldn’t be raised in what was a part of ancient Israel anyway. We’ll never know!

14The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15And 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.

He is sitting, not wild. He is clothed, not naked. And he is in his right mind instead of being out of his mind. What an amazing transformation Jesus has on this man’s life! He is completely whole.

16And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19And 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.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

There’s a lot of begging going on in this story. The demons beg for mercy several times. And then here the people beg Jesus to leave. They’re so afraid of his power that they ask him to depart. Jesus casts out demons from their region and they respond by casting him out of their region!

And then finally the man begs Jesus “that he might be with him. (He wants to be a part of the disciple group – 3:14). Interestingly Jesus grants the requests of the demons and the people, but not the man. Probably because he was a Gentile and that just wouldn’t work as he continued his ministry to the Jews.

He is commissioned for ministry however. (If Jesus silenced others who were made whole to avoid the crush of the crowds, there is no need here since he is leaving the area.) Jesus says to the man, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19).

And he was faithful telling everyone, “how much Jesus had done for him.” v. 20. Notice that what Jesus does is what the Lord does. It’s the same.

Now, it’s no mystery what this story teaches us –

Jesus is able to make anyone whole

Here is a man who was beyond anyone’s help. Who was possessed by thousands of demons. But Jesus is easily able to defeat these demons and make the man whole – “clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15)  When he was possessed he was able to break literal chains. But Jesus broke his real chains – bondage to demons.

This is who Jesus is, the Son of God. And this is the hope we have – no matter what our situation, it’s not too difficult for Jesus. There is always hope because of Jesus.

And then closely connected to this –

We are to tell others how Jesus has made us whole

v. 19 is the voice of Jesus to us this morning. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Once we have received of Jesus’ transforming power we are to tell others of God’s grace and mercy to us.

The kind of faith that receives from God

Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.