So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. 4 Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
6 When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. 7 With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”
9 Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10 Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.
11 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12 “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.”
13 So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. (Mark 5:1-13, NLT)
Wow, we need to stop for a second and catch a breath after all of that! (By the way, did you notice all of the action verbs in this account? Did you catch all of the vivid, dramatic details? These features are particularly characteristic of Mark’s authorship!) So, where are we now in our story? What’s going on? After calming the storm on the sea in Mark 4, Jesus finally makes it to the other side of the lake in a gentile-dominated region called the Garasenes (or the Gadarenes) where He is confronted by a man who has become possessed by demons. This account is unusual and perhaps even a bit unsettling for us. We aren’t usually comfortable with talking about demons in our modern Western church culture, and it certainly gets confusing for us to read about Jesus letting 2000 pigs plunge to their death! How do we start breaking down all of this information?
First of all, this chapter clearly reminds that there is most certainly an unseen dimension around us. Paul later expounds upon this reality in passages such as Ephesians 6:10-18 (“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…”) And whether we’re comfortable with it or not, one of the unique features of Mark’s Gospel is his hyper-emphasis on the accounts of evil spirits. In fact, there are no less than twelve passages in Mark which reference demons or evil spirits, see 1:23-27, 1:32-34, 1:39, 3:11, 3:14-15, 3:20-30, 6:7-13, 7:24-30, 9:14-29, 9:38-39, 16:9, 16:17 (and of course our current passage of Mark 5:1-20). Why this seemingly excessive focus?
For one thing, through these passages, Jesus’s dominion over all of creation is unquestionably established. In fact, Jesus even has the authority to grant this dominion to his disciples. (See Mark 3:14-15; 6:7-13; 16:17-18.) Mark also uses these accounts to demonstrate the true nature of Jesus’ mission. Jesus didn’t just come here to heal and work miracles. Jesus came to ultimately deal with the root of evil–to end sin itself! Through the psychotic massacre of the pigs, this passage lets us see firsthand the power of evil and sin and where it will ultimately lead–complete and utter destruction. Finally, biblical scholars point out that Mark distinctly presents Jesus as the “misunderstood son of God.” Our passage unquestionably plays into this theme. While the wicked, hellish demons recognize Jesus’ divinity (5:7, also see 1:24 and 3:11), no one else seems to get it! Jesus’ own disciples and family are confused for most of the book! And even as Jesus goes around preaching, healing, and casting out evil spirits, the Jewish religious leaders protest, “He has Beelzebub… By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons” (Mark 3:22). How tragically ironic… To say that Jesus’ mission was “misunderstood” is an understatement. Mark wants to ensure that his readers (*we*) do not make the same mistake.
Let’s continue reading…
14 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15 A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16 Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. 17 And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.
I’ve often wondered why Jesus allowed the demons to enter the pigs and cause so much destruction and disruption for these poor villagers. Until I realized the palpable irony of the situation described in verses 13-15. Here we have a man, a child of God, finally freed from evil’s curse, and yet, the villagers can only think about how expensive and inconvenient their “Bay of Pigs” cleanup operation is going to be. I think Jesus knew that only something this dramatic would arrest the villager’s attention and force them to reconcile their priority list. Is it really all about material security for them? Or would they be able to recognize the beautiful, miraculous intervention in their brother’s life?
“And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone” (verse 17). How very, very sad… But the truth of the matter, friends, is that we do the very same thing. The fact is we, too, often find Jesus’ presence and Jesus’ work entirely too disruptive and inconvenient in our lives. Jesus at a distance is usually a fairly comfortable prospect for us. But when Jesus shows up and starts interfering with our personal business, with our priority list, with our career interest, with our financial portfolio, we often also say, if not with our words then in our actions, “Please, Jesus, just go away and leave me alone.”
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. 19 But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” 20 So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns [Decoplais] of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.
Notice that Jesus never forces Himself anywhere He is not welcome, and so Jesus prepares to leave. Ironically, the villagers beg Jesus to go away, but this liberated man, who a few verses earlier had begged Jesus to leave him alone, he now begs Jesus to allow him to come along. Yet Jesus responds: “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you…” It’s kind of surprising to see Jesus decline someone’s request to be personally with Him, isn’t it? For me, I am reminded of this passage when I default into this certain mode where all I want to do is shut myself off from the messiness and confusion of the world and just focus on myself, my own devotional time and my own personal development. “Can’t it just be You and me, Jesus? Do I really have to go out there and get involved?” In those times, Jesus gently reminds me that there is a commission to be fulfilled. Our job is to “go and tell.”
Another lesson in this passage is that, while we can’t be responsible for the decisions that others make, we can at least tell them what God has done for us! No one can ever argue with our testimony. And you know what the beautiful twist to this story is? Months later, Jesus finally circles back around and revisits the region of Decapolis in Mark 7:31-8:10 and, guess what… A huge crowd of over 4000 people is waiting for Him! All due to the testimony of this one man and his personal story of deliverance.