First Mennonite Church
September 24, 2017
Jesus Meets the Gerasene Demoniac
Text: Mark 5:1-2
It should not surprise us if people in general have trouble understanding the deliverance ministry of Jesus as narrated in the Gospels. But can we keep being truthful and committed to Scripture and at the same time reap the benefits of modern medicine, including its explanation of and treatment of mental illness and other personality disorders, if we accept those accounts of Jesus and his deliverance ministry as valid? Is it possible to accept the reality and activity of demons, evil spirits, the dark world and work of Satan, yet at the same time accept modern explanations about the causes and symptoms of mental illnesses and personality disorders? If we do accept those accounts as valid, do they continue to be true even today? Or, is there a more grave problem in demon possession that any extreme case of mental illness or personality disorders?
We will not be able to cover all those issues today, but will come to them when we engage our next series. Today, we will start by looking at this story from the same view point as we have done the previous stories.
Let us go to our passage. If Jesus went to the city of Gerasa from which is the demoniac is, Jesus went deep into Gentile territory. Gerasa is about 30 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Decapolis (Ten Cities). Mark tells us that as soon as Jesus arrived on land a man with an unclean spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. From the description that follows, the man is described with all the signs of an anti-social person even from what is acceptable in this pagan culture. The man lived like a wild animal among the tombs, roamed about uncontrollably, hurt himself with stones, and had super-human strength. No one and nothing could hold him down. The demoniac lived, acted, and reacted outside every accepted norm of civilized life, even by pagan standards.
At the moment Jesus reaches firm ground, the demoniac comes to Jesus. And although the demoniac recognizes Jesus’ identity and seems to react appropriately by prostrating himself before Jesus, his words correspond to those of an antagonist of Jesus. “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” The demon’s resistance voiced in the mouth of the demoniac comes in response to Jesus’ command to come out of the man. Mark wants to communicate that the minute Jesus set foot on land, he began commanding the demon to come out of the man.
This account of Jesus dealing with a demon-possessed man differs significantly from others. Jesus usually silences the demon from identifying him (Mark 3:11-12). But in this case, Jesus engages in a dialogue, almost.
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.
12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs;
allow us to go into them.”
13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs
It is rather interesting that the legion calculated well that they will not be able ward off Jesus’ power. Thus, they strike a bargain with Jesus. Instead of being driven off the country, they plead with Jesus to allow them enter into the herd of pigs. Jesus allows them to enter the pigs. Based on the name of the demon, the man was possessed by many demons. A legion in Roman definition is a battalion of 2,048 men strong.
Once Legion was order out and given the permission to enter the swine herd, the man is freed. And news of what had happened reached the city through the herdsmen. When the townspeople came to see Jesus they saw the man clothed and in his right mind. Mark does not tell us the reason, but just as the demons wanted Jesus off their territory, so does the people. The people begged Jesus to leave their territory. They were filled with fear.
The liberated man upon seeing Jesus entering the boat to depart, pleads with him to join his crew. But Jesus tells him, “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.” 20 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.
Once again, let us see some of the themes this story raises. It is very interesting to read this story in its context in the gospel according to Mark. Jesus and his disciples go through the trouble of fighting a storm just to get to the place the demoniac lived. Besides delivering the man from the demons, Jesus did nothing on this tortuous trip. That is very significant. Jesus left the crowds to cross over for just one man. That is how personal Jesus treats people. He came to you, spoke to you, transformed you, but there is something more he does. He also sends you. And we will see that a little later.
The demoniac man seems to have been left to out of social contact, and understandably so. Maybe he did it on his own, whether knowingly or by the impulse of the demons in him. Yet, we can assume people were relieved this man was not in their neighborhood. Our church, as of late, has become the place where a few homeless people spend the night, clean themselves, and rest during the day, not every day. It is uncomfortable at times to see this or to have to take care of what they leave. It could be that the people where these homeless people used to hang around are glad they are not there anymore. They whisper to their neighbor, “They are with the Mennonites.”
The demoniac lived among the tombs, the place where the dead are buried. But God created human beings to live in community. If were to talk with people who work in places like ASH (Atascadero State Hospital) they would tell you how difficult it is to work with the patients there. It is very difficult to work with people with mental illness. And we should be grateful for the work these people do and for the care they provide.
But the issue of demon possession is a much serious problem. Although there could be some symptoms that cross over with people with mental illnesses, the tail-tell signs given in the Gospels about the demon-possessed are: they are fully controlled by evil—even the vocal cords (Mark 1:24, 5:3,4; 16:16-18); convulsion (Mark 1:26; 9:20-22, 26); and have superhuman strength (Mark 5:3-4; Acts 19:16)
It is not uncommon of lately to hear some people who have committed a murder to say they heard a voice that told them to do what they did. I am also sure you know how repulsive and yet how very sad it is to see people with violent behaviors and lacking every sense of decency and hygiene look.
Once the demoniac was delivered, Jesus did not want him to remove him away from his community. Instead, Jesus sent him back to his family and friends. “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.” 20 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.
My dear brothers and sisters, our healing or our being kept whole by the Lord is not for our own enjoyment only. It is for the purpose of witnessing the how much the Lord has done for us and to make his mercies known to those around us. The demoniac who was without family, friends, and living like a wild animal was transformed into missionary and evangelist. Jesus went the troubles he did for just one man, but the evangelistic work this one man accomplished multiplied the work Jesus was not allowed to do. You are a missionary of God to your friends, and neighbors. They know you. They can trust your words because they know who you are. Tell them of them what the Lord has done for you. Tell them of God’s great mercy. Amen.