In Chapter 4, we saw Jesus asleep in a boat while his disciples nearly drowned in a storm, and Jesus stands up and says “be quiet” and the storm and waves stop. His disciples say, “Who is this, that the wind and sea obey him?” The question of JEsus’ identity seems to be a reoccurring one. It’s difficult for people to understand who does things like this and who says things like this. This is a question we all must answer: who is this Jesus? Is he who he says he is in the pages of Scripture, or not? In Mark 5, there is another passage that leaves people in awe of what Jesus does.
First read Mark 5:1-5.
The Bible doesn’t say why Jesus had come to this area of the country, but, it was a part of Israel that was significantly non-Jewish in culture, religion, and race. In other words, this was Gentile territory. As they get out of the boat there is a man there. Verse 2 says he comes out of the tombs and has an unclean spirit. The tombs were likely catacombs and caves, not simply graves like we might think of in our day. Verse 3 says he lived there, in the catacombs. Verses 3-4 say that people had tried to bind him. They used chains and shackles, but this man was so strong that he would wrench himself free and break the chains. Evidently he was a problem when he lived in town and this is why he ends up here in the hills and tombs. The text is careful to note in verse 4 that “no one had the strength to subdue him”. This is strangely reminiscent of Jesus’s little parable in 3:27 where he says, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” If you remember that story, you know that Jesus is about to clean house in this story. One of the themes we see in Mark’s Gospel is how Jesus’ authority is superior to Satan’s dominion. If Jesus is bringing God’s Kingdom, then there will be no room for the Kingdom of Darkness and Jesus is waging war against it. Apparently on multiple occasions people had attempted to bind this strong man and had failed miserably. In verse 5 it also tells us that this man is self-destructive. He is always cutting himself with stones. This graveyard is an appropriate place for this man because it is unclean and full of dead bodies. This man is unclean, powerful, and self-destructive and he sits there as good as dead, alone, abandoned and alienated from society.
Continue reading, Mark 5:6-20.
The man sees Jesus from a ways away, and he runs to him and falls down. In many places in the Bible you see people fall down like this in worship, but here it’s slightly different because he doesn’t fall to worship him. He bows before him as recognition of his authority and power – the power that stopped the storm on the way over to this place. When he bows, he pleads with Jesus not to torment him. Then as Jesus is calling this unclean spirit out if the man, he asks it its name to which it replies, “Legion, for we are many.” A Roman Legion was 6000 troops, and this doesn’t necessarily mean there were 6000 demons inhabiting this man’s body, but there are many, many. It’s no wonder that this man was so strong with the cumulative strength of an army of demons. But when Jesus speaks, this army obeys. Since they were in Gentile territory, the presence of a bunch of pigs is not surprising. The demons ask Jesus to be sent into them and he obliges. Verse 13 tells us that a herd of some 2000 pigs went hurling down a cliff after the demons went into them. This is a sign of the self-destructive behavior these beings incite in their hosts. Then verse 14 says the herdsmen fled (Well I should say so! That’s enough to freak you out!). It says they go all over, into the town and into the country and they tell everyone what has just happened and people come to see for themselves. When they get there, the man the crazy man they knew, was there is sitting down, clothed, and in his right mind. They were afraid of this man before, now they are terrified. This man who was violent, powerful, and self-destructive is now calm, subdued, and normal. The witnesses of the event describe to everyone what happened to the man and the pigs. And the people beg Jesus to go away, so he does. They would feel much better without such a disturbing presence around. Jesus had just orchestrated a major change in their community. The local crazy man is sane but it came at a huge economic loss. So rather than asking Jesus to stay, they ask him to leave.
This is something that anyone who encounters Jesus will discover. Sometimes he messes things up. Sometimes your plans and your life get messed up because Jesus begins to change things that you would rather leave the same. However, following Jesus does have great benefits as we can see in the example of this man who had the demons. But, along with some incredible and wonderful things, there are places in our lives that he will disrupt. We love our sin that’s why we continue to hold on to it, and when Jesus begins to do surgery in our hearts and lives sometimes it hurts. This is the nature of repentance. God will cut away the sinful and sick, so that we can be made well, but often it is not pleasant. When he begins to do this, will we continue to believe that He is our King who is good and loves us eternally, or will we reject him?
These people rejected him because of the trouble that he had brought to their lives. It’s absolutely true that God loves us and wants what is best for us, but that doesn’t mean what we think is best is truly best. If you’re having trouble coming to terms with this, it’s helpful to think about kids. My kids would love to eat junk and watch TV all day. They think that’s good for them. In fact, a few weeks ago, the boys were misbehaving, so I turned off the TV. After about 15 minutes Nate said, “This is the worst day of my life”. I asked why, and he said because he couldn’t watch TV. I wonder how often I am like that before God. How often does God remove us from something that is bad for us, or remove something bad from us, and it causes us to be sad, rather than rejoicing that God is at work in our lives?
As Jesus is getting in the boat in verse 18, the formerly demon possessed man asks to be with Jesus. This is what Jesus had told his disciples that they would “be with him”. This man wanted to be a disciple; a close follower of Jesus. But, Jesus doesn’t permit the man to come. He leaves him with a command though. In verse 19 Jesus tells the man to go to his friends and tell them what the Lord has done and how he has had mercy on him. Up to this point, Jesus has been telling people to be quiet about what he has been doing. But he tells this man to proclaim what the Lord has done. This is Gentile territory though. Proclaiming it would not cause people to begin to plot rebellion because the Messiah was beginning to assemble an army. These people had no conceptions of the Messiah, so they had no misconceptions of the Messiah like the people in Jesus’s home territory did. So he tells this man to proclaim the message freely.
In my experience the emphasis for “going and telling” has largely fallen to missionaries and preachers. We often expect the professionals to handle this type of thing. But Jesus doesn’t tell this man to go to Africa and be a missionary. He doesn’t say stand on a corner and preach to people walking by. What he does say though, is go tell your friends what the Lord has done. As complex as we like to make things, Jesus has a way of simplifying things for us. Go and tell your friends how the Lord has had mercy on you. This is an excellent church growth strategy. This is a great evangelism strategy. If God has done anything for you, if he has shown you mercy, tell your friends. These are the people who are already in your life, your neighbors, co-workers, and the people you spend time with. They need to hear of God’s goodness and mercy and the best person for them to hear that from isn’t a missionary or preacher, but you. Certainly God does call missionaries and preachers, but he also calls normal people to display and speak the Gospel in the places that he has planted us. Our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and places we go in normal life are meant to be our mission field as much as Pakistan or Africa, or anywhere else.
Verse 20 tells us that this is exactly what this man did. And the result of it was the final words in the passage, “Everyone marveled”. People were amazed that God was doing something like this. Who is this Jesus that the wind and sea obeys him? Who is this Jesus that armies of demons flee from him?
Who is Jesus to you?