I want to begin by apologizing to my readers as I’ve been rather busy the past year and haven’t had many opportunities to write for leisure. Thank you for your patience.
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for 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. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 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.’ For he was saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ And Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, ‘Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.’ So 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 drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 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. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 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.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
(English Standard Version)
I was doing a devotional yesterday with the help of a resource from The Good Book Company called Explore and the study was a part of a 2-part study on Mark 5:1-20 and the title of the devotional was “Fear or Faith?” I thought it was a fitting title for this post and the passage in Mark 5 is the inspiration for this post. The passage begins with a demon-possessed man who had been running around tombs naked, crying out, and cutting himself. In addition to this people tried to bind him but he could apparently break the shackles with his bare hands and broke the chains to pieces. He was incredibly strong but he saw Jesus form a distance and ran to Jesus and fell down before him and pleaded with Jesus not to torment him. The man’s reaction proved he knew who Jesus was, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God,” and knew Jesus had the power to remove these demons from this man. Jesus asked what the man’s name was and the man responded, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Many are familiar with this passage and the response from this man and many assume ‘legion’ simply means more than one demon, but that isn’t entirely right. The truth is a legion in the Roman military consisted of about 5600 soldiers and was the largest military unit. Jesus permitted the demons afflicting this man to enter into a large herd of 2000 pigs, symbolic of being unclean as pigs were unclean in Jewish culture though this was in Gentile (non-Jewish) territory, who then ran off a cliff and into the sea and drowned. The sea was a symbol of chaos and evil in the ancient world and in the Bible judgment, so it would not have appeared so shocking that these demons threw the pigs into the sea. Although, I could only imagine how frustrated a pig farmer must have been to discover his livestock depleted! It’s important to note that Jesus permitted the demons to enter the pigs, but it was the demons, not Jesus, who threw the pigs over the cliff into the sea to meet their end.
Now, what happens next is interesting.
The man of course was fully recovered and healed. He was clothed and not behaving as wildly as he was before, but was calmly sitting down and behaving as a normal person. This must have been a striking thing to see considering the Bible says he was naked, running about, shouting, and cutting himself before. This man who was once tormented by many, many demons and a danger to himself and others, uncontrollable, was free to not simply live a normal life, but was forever changed by what Jesus had done for him.
This is where you have 2 very different responses to Jesus in the passage. The people who learned what Jesus had done pleaded for Jesus to leave. While the man who was free from those many demons begged Jesus to stay with him. The people wanted Jesus to leave, why? Well, Jesus was a danger to what they knew, their livelihoods, and their attachment to things of the world. The people could not bear to part with the things they had evidenced by their greater concern for the things they had and their ways of life than for God with them in Jesus. You see, Jesus threatened their strongholds and bastions of self. Jesus had an authority that they had never seen before. An authority greater than any chains or shackles, strong enough to break the spiritual shackles over the demon-possessed man’s heart. This, frankly, scared and terrified people. Why would authority terrify people? That is the interesting bit in this passage. Why would authority scare people?
Think about it… It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find more than one bad example of an authority figure in the world today. There are stories of bad cops who deal drugs. There are stories of corrupt government leaders who profit at the expense of the poor. There are examples of warlord leaders who terrorize countries in Africa. There are drug lords who are feared in South America. Lawyers and politicians are professions that are known for not being honest. Priests who were once sought after and respected in communities are not thought of nearly as well, even with the latest Pope, because of the many scandals of pedophilia in the Boston area and elsewhere. People in authority are not trusted much in our world today, and that’s not anything new. I highly doubt the Jews trusted Caesar in the first century simply because he was in a position of authority. Authority is often a scary and terrifying thing because there are so many bad examples of authority in the world and maybe even in our lives that we come to fear the worst of authority. Indeed, many have had bad examples of presidents in the US who have made so many false promises that many no longer look to the president as a trustworthy role and feel it would be better not to have a president at all or no government at all for that matter. People fear the worst when it comes to authority because of the bad examples of authority in our lives, but in addition to this I believe there is something deeper than that at play in the passage of Mark and in our lives, if we’re honest.
We don’t merely fear the worst of authority, we fear like the people in Mark 5, what that authority could do to change and transform us. Many of us are comfortable with our lives and don’t want the God-Man, Jesus, to enter into our lives and turn our lives upside down as was done with the demon-possessed man, so instead of a welcome to One with authority who has power to change us for good we put up our guard, we put up our defenses, and ready ourselves for whatever may come our way while clinging firmly to the sense of self that we think is better than what Jesus offers us. It becomes a terrifying thing to think that there could be something infinitely better than who we are and how we live, so we shrink in fear back into ourselves like someone who has gotten out of bed on a cold winter’s morning only to feel the chill of the cold on his feet and then went back to bed and pulled the covers up so as not to feel the briskness of the cold day. We fear that Jesus could actually change us for the good, but because of our experience with so much bad, we shy away from what is good and cling all the more to the bad in life.
That is what happened with the people in Mark 5 and that is, if we’re honest, what often happens with us. That does not have to be our story though…
There is another response in Mark 5 and that is the response of the once demon-possessed, now fully healed, transformed man. Yeah, THAT guy. The man did not beg Jesus to leave, but rather to stay with him. When the man begged Jesus to stay, Jesus responded and told him to go back to his family and friends and to tell of what Jesus had done for him. This seemingly was no problem for the man who immediately went and did what Jesus told him to do, gladly. The passage ends with the man telling all that Jesus did for him and the mercy that God had shown him to his family, friends, and to many in another region and everyone marveled at what had happened to this man. The man was not terrified of Jesus, but possessed faith in Jesus. He acknowledged that Jesus had the power to change and transform his life, and he didn’t reject Jesus because of that but welcomed and pleaded with Jesus to remain with him. His response is one that not even the disciples possessed at that time in Mark’s gospel. We learn just prior in Mark 4 after Jesus calmed an incredible storm where waves were crashing into the boat and the disciples feared for their lives, that after Jesus calmed the storm by telling it to be still the disciples didn’t respond with faith in Jesus but with fear, not unlike the people in the region who begged Jesus to leave. Jesus possessed great authority over the storm and Jesus possessed great authority over illness and disease (hence hearings and Jesus possessed authority over demons. Jesus had and had great authority.
How will we respond to Jesus? How do we respond already? Do we fear Jesus because we are afraid that Jesus could actually change our lives and we fear losing the lives we have? Do we fear how Jesus will use His authority in our lives in light all the negative examples of authority figures in the world and in our lives today? Jesus doesn’t use His authority like corrupt police officers, corrupt world leaders, warlords, corrupt priests, or politicians who say one thing and do another. Jesus used His authority to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind, to calm a raging sea and storm, to expel demons from a tormented person. Jesus used His authority to give a new, transformed life to the blind, to the sick, to those who believed they were perishing on the sea in a storm, to the one demon-possessed man. Jesus was indeed a threat to the lives all those He encountered had, but only because responding to Jesus would mean leaving a former life for a life that was filled with hope, joy, mercy, compassion, grace, and love. A life free from the slavery of what was once one’s life, a life free from sin, and a new beginning. That is what Jesus has used His authority for. He used His authority to offer Himself on a cross, to put Himself at the expense of His own creation being God in the flesh, to place His sinless hands in the hands of sinners to exchange the crown He deserved for the shackles that we rightly deserve because of sin.
He used His authority to offer His life on a cross for our sins and to rise from the dead defeating the power of sin, something only One who is sinless and fully God and fully man could do. He used His authority to free the world from the diseases, illnesses, evil, pain, hunger, famine, and sin that plague it. The beginning was His life and His work through His death on the cross and resurrection. The church, His church, is to go out into the world to carry on proclaiming the transformative work of God in Jesus much as that once demon-possessed man had done with his family, friends, and people in the Decapolis region. One day this Jesus will return to bring about a complete and utter end to all those horrible things I mentioned above. The Bible speaks of the future work of Jesus as being a place with no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, no more hunger, no more thirst, no more sin. That all creation will one day acknowledge the authority of Jesus, including those who reject His authority in this life.
So, where are you today? Do you fear what Jesus could do in your life? If you are a Christian, do you fear giving up parts of your life to Jesus because of the change that could and likely would happen? The encouraging bit about Mark 5 is we don’t have to fear Jesus. Look at how He used His authority. Jesus is not like any of those corrupt examples from our lives or from this world. Jesus is not much like anyone in the world ever, actually. We can respond to Jesus with faith, we can beg for Jesus to remain with us, we can proclaim the mighty work of God in Jesus to our family, our friends, our neighbors, and to those in our city because we indeed have nothing to fear for Jesus has the power and authority to heal, transform, and give new life to anyone who would but trust and place their faith in Him. How can someone like Jesus do all the amazing things that He did? How can someone like Jesus die for our sins and those of all the world and rise from the dead? It is because Jesus has authority over both life and death because He is God, He is God made man. The awesome power of God is a scary and terrifying thing, but the amazing love and goodness of God as a loving Father are nothing to fear.
We need only look to Him with faith and we too will be healed. Amen.