March 27, 2016
A reminder to readers: We’re in the thick of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will continue to cover the Gospel of Mark over the next few months.
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted 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!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 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. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
What do you think about when you think about evil? Perhaps you think of ISIS beheading people, pimps involved in human trafficking, or soldiers killing innocent children in the Sudan. The list goes on and on. However, behind it all stands Satan. Even so, we don’t talk about Satan very much. Satan is the darkest, most evil foe who has ever stood against you, me or, indeed, the whole of humanity. Mark doesn’t shy away from talking about Satan and his demonic minions. In fact, Mark’s gospel draws us into the full darkness of the Satanic forces arrayed against us and against God’s anointed One, Jesus Christ. The whole passage is designed to draw us in to the reality of the darkness which stands in opposition to us. There are five ways that Mark brings us face to face with satanic evil.
First, the event takes place at dusk, as night is approaching. This is indicated in 4:35 “as evening came.” The descent of light and the ascension of night’s darkness powerfully symbolizes the drama which the incarnation faces. The Son of God is facing down the power of Satan. The Prince of Light is crossing the lake and invading the domain of the Prince of Darkness. Satan is determined to plunge the whole world into darkness, and Jesus comes to liberate us and restore the light.
Second, this whole scene takes place in a Gentile region. Gentiles live on this far side of the Sea of Galilee. The Gentiles are considered “heathens.” These are people who are not under covenant. This is a picture of you and me without Jesus Christ. We didn’t have prophets and promises, like the Israelites did. We only learned later that God’s promises to Israel included us. We were, to use the language of the Scriptures, “without God and without hope in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
Third, this account of Jesus takes place in a graveyard. It is the only time we encounter a graveyard in the New Testament, other than Jesus’ own tomb. This is the place of the dead. The Israelites feared these places evil spirits seemed to inhabit. The Scriptures tell us that death is the final enemy to be put under the feet of Jesus (I Cor. 15:26).
Fourth, Jesus encounters a demon possessed man. However, this possession is not like anything we have seen before. This man has a “legion” of demons. Up to this point, we have only encountered single demons, not a whole legion! In the Roman Empire, a legion represented 4,000 to 6,000 troops. This man had an entire demonic force inside him! This is why we see him cutting himself, throwing himself to the ground and so forth. The enemy is always pushing us toward self-destruction and death. Jesus summons us to life and eternity with Him.
Fifth, there is a herd of pigs there. Israelites regarded the pig as the most unclean, most despicably filthy animal in the world. This is just another pointer to the spiritual darkness of this place.
Yet, despite all of this—indeed, because of all of this—Jesus walks right into the midst of it all. Isn’t that amazing? We would all be scrambling the other direction. Jesus walks right into this dark mess and sets things right. He demonstrates his power and his authority. He casts the demons out, dismisses the unclean pigs, and restores peace and tranquility to the man.
Please understand that this man with the legion of demons needed more than a few words of encouragement. He needed more than Prozac. He needed transformative deliverance which was beyond all human power, effort of will or self-help classes. We are all in the same position. We tend to underestimate the true force of darkness we are facing. We would be mistaken if we saw this man with the legion of demons as some pitiful “other” who has no reference to us. Rather, this is a picture of you and of me. We may not have allowed all the unholy fruits of the enemy to take control of every part of our lives, but that is still the same road we are all on. It is the broad road which leads to destruction. Jesus calls us to his road which leads to life and health and peace. Satan may be strong, but Jesus is always the strongest man in the room! Praise the Lord. Have you surrendered every part of your life to Jesus?
- Are we aware of the forces of evil which stand in opposition to us?
- Have you thought all your problems were “technical” problems which can be solved through greater human effort and ingenuity?
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The Sunday Daily Text through Mark’s Gospel is written by Timothy Tennent. Visit his blog here.