progress through Mark's Gospel we have come to one of those exciting stories
where Jesus takes on the forces of darkness. This morning I want us to know
something of our enemy and his weapons. C.S. Lewis makes this wise observation
in the foreword to The Screwtape Letters. Two extremes to avoid. On the one
hand, a flagrant disregard for the power of evil, and on the other, an unhealthy
fascination with the occult. Instead I want us to allow Jesus to teach us about
the personal reality of evil and how he has defeated it. What a day it had been,
and it wasn't over yet.
Exhausted from a demanding day of teaching and ministry, Jesus and his disciples had decided to go by boat, over to the other side of the shores of Galilee. As we saw last week, a journey that should have taken just a few hours was disrupted by a sudden violent storm that almost had sunk the boat. The disciples were awe struck at the authority of Jesus, calming the raging wind and sea. It was perhaps the early morning when they finally made it to the shore to face a storm of a very different but not unrelated kind.
1. A DISPLAY OF DEMONIC ACTIVITY 5:1-5
Suddenly a frightened scream comes from the caves on the hillside.
As if from the dead, comes this terrifying figure. Once again the disciples feel helpless. First of all notice this is a story of great sadness.
1.1 Great Sadness 5:1-2
Living among the Defiled.
This was Gentile country, hence the herd of 2000 swine. Jews considered such animals as unclean. Not only would they not eat pork, they wouldn't allow pig farming on their land. The man like the pigs was an outcast.
Living among the Dead. We believe this incident occurred near the village of Khursi. One mile south of the present day village and 40 yards from the shore is a such a steep slope as here described, and nearby are tombs built out of caves, and used as dwellings. Not even the Gentiles would have this man as a neighbour so he lived among the tombs. The word suggests that he had settled down there. Living among the defiled, living among the dead. The presence of demonic activity was also evidenced by great sadness and,
1.2 Great Strength 5:3-4
This man was so dangerous that he has been held by chains, but so strong that he has broken free on many occasions. Even metal chains bound to his arms and legs were not strong enough to hold him. Imagine how the disciples felt. This alarming figure approached them screaming and shouting.
1.3 Great Suffering 5:5
In his loneliness and isolation he has mutilated himself, suffering sleepless nights, crying out in torment and agony. He must have been a pitiful sight, naked, bruised and bloodied, abusing and cutting himself on the rocks, his whole body covered in scars. What a display of demonic activity, great sadness, great strength, and great suffering.
2. EVIDENCE OF DEMONIC POSSESSION 5:6-13
2.1 Torture 5:6-7. As we have already seen, this man had suffered a great deal. The demons had tortured him with isolation, sleepless nights, and physical abuse, so when Jesus appeared the man cried out, "Have you come to torture me?" He knew of no other experience.
2.2 Control 5:8-10. This man was a puppet of the demons. They call themselves Legion. Roman Legion's were a well known sight in the area. Each legion was made up of 6000 soldiers. Now we don't know how many demons possessed the man, but they were willing to admit to being many. He was their mouthpiece. The conversation with Jesus shows he had lost a sense of his own personal identity. His speech is confused. It weaves in and out of 'me' and 'us'.
2.3 Destruction 5:11-13. We have already seen the demon inspired self destructive behaviour in this man, now we see what happens when Jesus cast them out from the man. Like lemmings, in wild confusion, 2000 pigs went flying into the Sea of Galilee and were drowned. Every word in the story depicts this man's pathetic, helpless condition. One of the most pitiful sights must be such a person whose mind is so torn that he worships while cursing, confesses while blaspheming. Here is a picture of Satan's ultimate motive - to torment & destroy the last vestige of the image of God in the human being. In the Gospels, demonic possession appears a common occurrence. While I do not want to minimise the reality of that today, it is a fact that our world is radically different precisely because of Jesus Christ and His victory of the Cross. Our theology must be based on the Bible teaches and not on Ghost Busters or Poltergeist or the X Files. The NT is clear. When you were dead in your sins... God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15) The forces of evil in our world are defeated and disarmed. One day they will be destroyed. Even in our story the demons knew this when they ask "Have you come to torment us before the appointed time?" (Matthew 8:29). Defeated but not destroyed, Satan's still destroys lives but his principle work today is sowing seeds of division, doubt, despair and deception, with greed, guilt or gloating. He entices with destructive obsessions and addictions whether to drugs, alcohol, sex, - we all know these - but what about greed, work, fitness, affluence, these can just as easily become all consuming and destroy not only us but those we love. The effect is always the same. In John 10, Jesus warned Satan is a thief, he comes to steal and destroy. They steal your peace of mind, your self esteem, your sanity, and if unchecked even your family. With Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, with Jesus indwelling us, empowering us, equipping us, these demonic obsessions, for that is what they are, should hold no more terror to us than a wild lion in a cage. Only a fool would enter his cage. In twenty five years of Christian ministry I have yet to meet anyone who I needed to refer to the Diocesan exorcist. Gabriele Amorth, president of the International Association of Exorcists was quoted in the Times newspaper on Monday. He has examined 40,000 alleged cases of demonic possession and found only 130. Monsignor Balducci, the Vatican's chief exorcist has similarly found that only five or six in every 1000 people who sought help, needed exorcism. The rest needed psychiatric or pastoral help. Although I have yet to meet someone in need of an exorcist, I have met many people this week, tempted by obsessions in need of the cleansing, forgiving, empowering, deliverance work of Jesus Christ.
3. THE DELIVERANCE POWER OF JESUS CHRIST
Mark is very careful in his selection of events in Jesus life. He shows Jesus came primarily to proclaim the Good News of God's love. To call people to repent of their sin and turn back to God, to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. To deliver them from the powers of darkness and lead them into the light and comfort of a living, loving relationship with God as our Father. We've seen already how Jesus demonstrated His authority in chapter 3, by healing incurable diseases, and then last week in chapter 4, how Jesus demonstrated his sovereignty even over the forces of nature, the wind and the waves. Now in Chapter 5 Jesus demonstrates his power over the unseen but real forces of wickedness.
3.1 Jesus Ability to Understand a Person Completely 5:8
As they got out of the boat this man approached them, and straight away Jesus took the initiative. The first words were from Jesus. "Come out of this man, you evil spirit". 5:8 This was no enquiry, no debate, just one command spoken with compassion and supreme authority. Jesus knew what the problem was, as He always does. He wasted no time, there is no panic.
Jesus understands you completely. He's not phased by your past, he's not embarrassed by your secret sins, he's not intimidated by what possesses you, he identifies with your fears, he knows what keeps you awake at night. He's been there. He was tempted, the Bible says, in every way, yet without sin. That's why there's hope for you and I too. He understand you completely.
3.2 Jesus Ability to Transform a Person Totally 5:15
By the power of His spoken word. The change in this man was total, irrevocable and, it seems, immediate. When the pig farmers caught up with them, they found the man clothed and in his right mind. Binding him with chains, hand and foot had been no answer. Meeting Jesus Christ face to face is the only cure. I Timothy 2:3-4 says, "This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, Who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." That is what motivated Jesus here. When Jesus first got out of the boat, the man begged Jesus to leave him alone. As they got back into the boat to leave, the man begged to follow Jesus. That's the effect Jesus has upon people. Before coming to know Him the last thing people want to do is go to Church. After coming to know Him, the last thing we want to do is stay away from His family. Jesus has the power, the prerogative and the pleasure to save us. Save us from what ever it is we need deliverance from, what ever it is that possesses us, what ever it is that consumes us. If you feel your situation is hopeless, that things cannot be any different, then realise those thoughts for what they are - just like Glen Hoddle's fatalistic explanation for suffering and disability in yesterday's papers - its Satan's lies. You can be clean, whole, forgiven, sane. Life can be fulfilling. Jesus deliverance is total, complete, irrevocable. You know the saddest people for me in this story, are the pig owners and the local villagers. They experienced the raw power of evil which destroyed their pigs but it seems they were less keen on Jesus than the demons. Read 5:15-17.
They were probably quite religious if superstitious people, went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, they liked their religion ordered, predictable, restrained. They wanted none of this enthusiasm, this supernatural life changing stuff. The tragedy was this, before their very eyes stood the man who used to terrorise their community, now seated, dressed, and sane, and they wanted none of it. They were blind to who Jesus really was. They didn't want him around disturbing the peace. The irony of it is that the demons knew how to treat Jesus better than the people. We can learn a great deal from the way they reacted to Jesus.
The Demons Recognised Jesus 5:7
These demons whose mission in life was to blind people to spiritual realities, knew full well who Jesus was. They gave Jesus His full title, "Jesus, Son of the Most High God." They recognised Jesus,
The Demons Knelt before Jesus 5:6 They could do none else before the Lord of Lords, but kneel in submission and worship. Think about it, here we have satanic beings, evil in nature, destined to be damned for eternity, forced to kneel before the Son of God.
The Demons Pleaded with Jesus 5:10 They pleaded for mercy knowing Jesus could have wiped them out in an instant. Sometimes in books about spiritual warfare you get the impression the writers believe we are locked in some cosmic dualistic struggle with the forces of evil - a bit like Star Wars. That may be good science fiction or pagan superstition but its bad theology.
The Demons Obeyed Jesus 5:13 Jesus gave them permission to enter the herd of swine. We may not know why, but we must marvel at His full and total authority over these terrifying demons. They recognised Jesus, they knelt before Jesus, pleaded for mercy from Jesus, obeyed His every word. It has not been my intention to dwell on the subject of demons. But it would be foolish to disregard or deny their influence in the world. Mark is here not only telling us much about the majesty and power of the Lord Jesus Christ over the power of evil. He is implicitly warning by this tragic example not to dabble with the occult. We are not told why this poor man got into such a state, but it is likely he showed some interest in the occult first. This is no theoretical subject. Occasionally when I put the rubbish out in a black bag, I don't tie it up tight enough, and the next morning the cats or foxes have got at the bag, torn it open and left the left overs all over the path. This week I have encountered a few spiritual black bags like that. Bitterness, lust, resentfulness, self centredness, in myself, and in others. If this is not evidence of demons at work, then these things are most certainly the food on which they devour. These are the fuel that will ignite their destructive power. Let me remind you of some words from Ephesians 4:26 "In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." We must not give him a foot in the door. Did you lock your house door before you left for Church this morning? You may have the key in your pocket but its pointless if the door was left unlocked. You may have a Bible in your hand right now but its useless unless Jesus is Lord of your life and you are obeying Him. Please close any doors you've left unlocked this morning. As we come face to face with Jesus again we must recognise who He really is, we must kneel before Him in repentance, we must obey His word, claim His promises, trust in His power and thank him for His cleansing and forgiveness. Then we can stand firm against the devils schemes. Take great comfort in Jesus ability to understand you completely, to transform you completely.
3.3 Jesus Ability to Utilise a Person Fully 5:18-19
Jesus had given this man a new reason for living. "I want to come with you Jesus". "No," said Jesus "I have something better for you. Go back to your family and former friends, and show them what God has done for you." Only God can tame his wild nature and only the healing of home can bring him the peace he needs. Then as now, most people come to faith in Jesus Christ through the testimony of a relative or friend. Read 5:20. We each have a story to tell of what God has done in us and for us. We each have a neighbourhood, where people know us. As we allow Jesus to transform us completely he will utilise us fully, then people will see the difference Jesus makes and what to experience his life changing power too. May God make us as fruitful in telling what He has done for us, as this unknown saint proved to be. Closing illustration... Lets Pray.
In this sermon I am indebted to David Hewitt and David McKenna for their insights into this passage