Jesus Heals a Man with Demons
As many of you know about a week ago we returned from a 2-week road trip. In celebration of our 10th wedding anniversary, we loaded the van and drove to California and back. While a lot of the trip was spontaneous, one thing we knew we wanted to do was go to Disneyland. The ride that we rode more than any other was the Haunted Mansion. We rode the Haunted Mansion 3 times!
If you’re unfamiliar with the Haunted Mansion ride, this year is the 50th anniversary. It’s a dark ride, which means you sit in a car, aptly named a “doom buggy” and it moves you along as you see several different animatronic scenes. The story goes that there are 999 happy haunts in this haunted mansion, and there is room for 1 more, if you care to join. Afterward we were at the Haunted Mansion gift shop in New Orleans square buying some swag and I told the cast member, “The Haunted Mansion is my son’s favorite ride.” She said, “It’s like everyone’s favorite ride, maybe the most popular at Disneyland.”
Modern westerners live in a strange tension with the supernatural. We love extraordinary things. Stranger Things is the most popular show on Netflix. How many iterations of Stephen King’s It have there been? The most popular ride at Disneyland is the Haunted Mansion. We love scary, extraordinary, and supernatural. And yet, we don’t believe in any of it. Modern westerners, generally, reject the supernatural. And while that’s not true of orthodox Christians, when it comes to demons, we often live like they’re not real.
Then there are Christians who live at the other end of the spectrum, giving too much credence to demons. They’re like the water boy’s momma, whenever anything bad happens, “it was the devil!” This is exactly what CS Lewis was talking about when he said that the devil doesn’t usually send lies 1X1, but 2X2. We are prone to either overemphasize the demonic, or to live like they don’t exist. Our text this morning is the longest and most vivid record of an exorcism in the entire Bible and it will give us a healthy way to think about the demonic, which is always in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Begging Demons
Let’s remind ourselves of the setting. This pericope takes place the morning after Jesus calmed the storm (4.35-41). The disciples had experienced this extraordinary display of the kingship of Jesus, and now they walk into this scene. They’re on the other side of the sea in the land of the Gerasenes, which was gentile territory. This region was called the Decapolis (vs 20), which means “10 cities.” If you were one of the disciples, you would be uncomfortable before you even get off the boat. You’re in a gentile land; you can see a graveyard, and a herd of pigs. Everything about this scene is unclean. Mark reminds us that Jesus came to heal the gentiles as well. He did not come merely to be the king of Israel, but of the whole world.
The pigs and the cemetery aren’t the only unclean things in the vicinity. Immediately when they get off the boat, a man rushes to them with an unclean spirit. The text never actually says that the man in possessed. The Greek word δαιμονιζόμενον is literally “demonized,” or influenced by demons. In 1 Timothy Paul will warn us against pride because we might fall into the sin of the devil. In Ephesians he cautions against bitterness because we might fall under the influence of the devil. When we engage in these sins, though we may not look like the exorcist, we are under the influence of the enemy. This man is an extreme case of what happens to all of us when we’re influenced by the enemy. Look at the symptoms.
The demonized man is living in isolation. He lived among the tombs. He’s endowed with super-human strength. No man can bind him and he’s able to wrench the chains and break the shackles to pieces. He’s self-destructive. He’s cutting himself with stones. The enemy wants to mar the image of God. People were made to be in community; he isolates. People were made to rely on God; he gives a false sense of strength. People were made to care for themselves and others; he wants to harm.
Jesus commands the demon to come out of the man and listen to the enemy’s response. Verse 7 - And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” The demonic understands what Israel thus far hasn’t, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God! The KJV uses the word worship. While the word προσεκύνησεν can be translated worship, I think the ESV is making an important translation decision here. The demons do believe and shudder (Jas 2.19); they bend the knee. But they do not bend their hearts. The demons know who Jesus is, but they don’t love and obey.
And then the demons try to exercise Jesus. “I adjure you by God” would’ve been 1st century phrasing for an exorcism, but Jesus ignores them. Verse 9 - And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” If you’re reading/hearing this for the first time, up until this point you assume there’s one demon, now you hear there’s a legion. If you’re unfamiliar with 1st century Roman military strategy, a Legion was the largest Roman solider unit, 6,000 soldiers. This man is infested with demons. There aren’t 999 happy haunts, but thousands possess him.
You see while Mark was reporting on this historical event, he was also giving comfort to the 1st century Christians who would’ve been reading this pericope. They were experiencing persecution by the roman legion. After AD 70 Nero began to murder Christians. The Holy Spirit is encouraging them, Jesus is not only mightier than the demons; he’s mightier than the demonic world powers that war against the kingdom of Christ. It’s true today for brothers and sisters in China and Russia.
Mark then retorts with the power of Jesus. You don’t see it in English, but it’s crystal clear in Greek. The Greek word for “many” is πολλοί. When Mark says in verse 10 that the demons begged him earnestly, the word earnestly is πολλὰ. It’s as if Mark writes, the demons were many and they had to beg Jesus many. That’s how powerful Jesus is. Tony Stark loves you 3,000; the demons beg 6,000.
Jesus does grant them permission to enter the pigs and the demons orchestrate the massive swine suicide – 2,000 pigs down a steep bank, drowned in the sea. And that’s the last we hear of the demons. We see from God’s Word that demons are real and they’re powerful. But they’re no match for King Jesus.
The Begging Crowd
You had to know that this incident would stir the local community up. The herdsmen, who witnessed the whole thing, run to town to tell everyone what happened. Then they all come out to confront Jesus. Imagine the scene, the city folk come out to the seaside to the sight and smell of 2,000 dead pigs floating in the sea, and the man that they have exiled sitting, clothed, and in his right mind. And what is their reaction? Like the disciples after the storm, they’re afraid. They’re afraid of the power that King Jesus wields. They had allowed themselves to become comfortable with the wild animal that the man used to be, so much so that they’re afraid when he gains his humanity back.
What a commentary on the human condition. Do we ever become so comfortable with sin, with pain, with dehumanizing someone or some group that it scares us when we’re reminded of the truth? That all people – from conception to the grave, regardless of skin color, gender, socioeconomic status – are made in the image of God. It’s easier to dehumanize our opponents, to view them as wild animals sometimes, isn’t it? It’s easier to leave a scathing comment on Facebook than have a face-to-face conversation; it dehumanizes. It’s easier to lump everyone with a different view than you into a less-than human category.
This crowd is so scared that they beg Jesus to leave. This is the second group that’s begging Jesus to leave. The demons begged to leave, and now the crowd begs Jesus to leave. They don’t want the redemption of Jesus. They didn’t want it for the demon-ized man, and they don’t want it for themselves. Because if Jesus is the king, if Jesus has this authority, that means that they don’t.
And what are we to do with the pigs? Our modern ears hear this and feel bad for the pigs. First century ears wouldn’t have the same sympathy. To them the pigs represented cash. 2,000 pigs is a lot of money. Jesus is showing them that one human soul is worth all of the money in the world.
The Begging Believer
Mark tells us of one more beggar in this pericope.
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
The healed man begs Jesus that he might go with him. And Jesus tells him no. Jesus has a mission for the man. He is to go to his home and his people and tell them what Jesus has done for him. Jesus is directly quoting Psalm 66.16, and yet the context is not Israel, but the gentiles. In Mark’s Gospel, this man is the 1st missionary to the gentiles. This man is like us. Jesus has saved him, yet he doesn’t get to be with him, at least not in a physical sense. We know that we fellowship with Jesus at the Lord’s Supper every week in a spiritual way, but in a physical way Jesus is in heaven and we’re here on earth. He’s got a great commission for us, we are to go and tell our homes and our friends all that he’s done for us.
Do you know why Jesus could heal this demonized man? Because at the end of Mark’s Gospel Jesus will trade places with him. Jesus will be the one naked among the tombs – in the tomb. Jesus will be dehumanized by his fellow man. Jesus will defeat Satan through his death and resurrection and drive him into the sea. The question for you this morning is what do you want from Jesus?
The demons begged Jesus to let them leave. The crowd begged Jesus to leave them. The believer begged to be with Jesus. What’re you begging Jesus for? We’re all begging for something. Everyone, when confronted with the real Jesus, will either beg to leave or beg to stay. The gospel call this morning is to beg for Jesus. Repent of your sin and believe the good news. And if you do, Jesus promises that he will be with you. But it wont be in a haunted mansion, it will be in his Father's house where there are many rooms. If it were not so, would he have told you that he goes to prepare a place for you? And if he goes and prepares a place for you, he will come again and will take you to himself, that where he is you may be also (John 14.2-3).