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Mark 5:1-20 – The Scary Story with a Happy Ending

During the month of October, Americans celebrate Halloween by dressing up as witches, skeletons, goblins, and other scary creatures. In our area, several yards have been decorated with inflatable dragons, giant skeletons, and spider webs. While there is a certain thrill to being scared, I have always wondered why anyone would want to celebrate such things. We should celebrate what is good and not what is evil because of Who God is and what He has done in our lives.

We have heard many stories over the years of how God worked in the lives of people. They were saved out of drunkenness, drug use, immorality, organized crime, and other terrible situations. What a joy it is to hear each person’s story. We enjoy them because they remind us of what God had done in our own lives and what He can do for others. However great each story was, none of them come close in comparison to what we will be reading in today’s account.

  1. The man’s terrible condition (Mark 5:1-5)

    The first thing that you will notice is how Mark describes the man who met Jesus. He was in terrible condition due to being demon-possessed. Notice all that the Bible says about him.

    What does it say?

    You may recall, from our last study, that Jesus and the disciples had just made it through a terrible windstorm on the sea. Now as they come to the other side, they were probably wet and tired. The area they traveled to was “the country of the Gadarenes” on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galillee. After two thousand years, it is difficult to be certain, but some think that modern day Gergasa is the most probably location as “its geography is very steep, it is close to the shore of the lake, and it is … across the lake from Capernaum.”6 At this point, “most of its inhabitants were Gentiles”2 but there were probably a number of Jewish people who lived there as well (as we will see later).

    Jesus and the disciples did not have time to rest upon arrival because a demon-possessed man immediately met them when Jesus got out of the boat. The man came from the tombs where he lived. “These were probably cave-like rooms cut into the rocks of nearby hills which served as tombs and sometimes as haunts for demented people.”2 People had tried to bind him with shackles and chains, but the demon-possessed man had broken all of them. Nobody had been able to tame him. He was too strong. And what made matters worse was that he wandered in the mountains and tombs crying out and cutting himself with stones!

    What does it mean?

    Demon-possession is real and terrible. This is not the first time that Mark has mentioned a demon-possession. In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus cast out a demon who had possessed a man in a Jewish synagogue. In Mark 1:39, Jesus was casting out more demons. In Mark 3:20-30, the jealous religious leaders acknowledged that Jesus was casting our demons but claimed He did it with Satan’s power. In this chapter, we see Jesus dealing with another demon-possessed man. What this tells us is that demon-possession is real. But this passage shows how terrible it can be. The man was estranged from his friends and family. He had to live in the tombs. He cried a lot. He cut himself with stones. It is clear from this and other events that Satan and his demons want to ruin people’s lives.

    How does it apply?

    We must always remember that Satan is the wicked one. Peter reminds us that “your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). I would imagine that none of us would like to be in the same vicinity as a roaring lion. And that is Peter’s point. The devil wants to destroy as many people as he can. And that includes Christians and non-Christians. It doesn’t matter to him. So, let’s choose to be sober and vigilant against our terrible foe.

  2. The demons’ response to Jesus (Mark 5:6-13)

    In these verses, Mark refers to the man responding to Jesus. But the closer you look, the easier it is to see that it was the demons who were actually responding to Jesus.

    What does it say?

    It is surprising to read that when the demon-possessed man saw Jesus, he ran to Him and fell down before Him.3 4 “Luke (8:27) notes that the demoniac habitually went naked. … The sight of this naked maniac rushing down upon them must have been a terrifying experience for the disciples.”7 The demons yelled with a loud voice, “What do I have to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” This was another way of saying, “What do we have in common?” The answer is quite clear. Jesus has nothing in common with demons. And then they requested that He not torment them. All this was the result of Jesus telling them to come out of the man. Apparently, they didn’t obey immediately. So Jesus asked the demon what his name was. The answer is terrifying. He said that his name was Legion because of how many demons were controlling the man. A Roman legion was made up of 6,000 soldiers5 so it is possible that there were thousands of demons controlling this man.

    The demons must have been afraid that Jesus would immediately banish them to Hell because they begged Him not to send them out of that area of the country. Perhaps this area was filled with people who were primed for demon-possession by their ungodly behavior. I have heard of people being demon-possessed in areas where people have rejected God. Sometimes it happens in jungle communities and we might be surprised that it happens in civilized countries as well.

    The demons were enjoying their “work” in that area and requested to stay there. But then they had another idea. Seeing a large herd of pigs (about 2000), they desperately begged for permission to possess them. With the Creator’s permission, these demons left the man’s body and possessed the herd of pigs. True to their cruel, demonic nature, they stampeded the herd down a hill into the sea where all of them drowned.

    Take a moment to consider what just happened. How was it that Jesus allowed the demons to kill 2,000 innocent pigs? “If the pig’s owners were Gentiles, for whom the business was not illegal, Christ’s permission presents something of a moral problem. But if the owners were indifferent Jews who engaged in this unclean business for the profit in it, the loss would well serve to jar their conscience.”8 Now if you are unfamiliar with the Mosaic Law, this might not make sense. Here is the deal. For an undisclosed reason, God told the Israelites that pigs were unclean animals that they were not allowed to eat.

    Leviticus 11:7-8 – “And the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.”

    God made it clear that Jewish people were not allowed to eat pork. However, some of them may have figured out a way around this. Ironside suggests that these people were “a mixed multitude … many of whom were engaged in … raising swine for the tables of the Gentiles.”10 So, instead of eating them, they would just raise them and make some money. With this in mind, it seems clear that Jesus was sending a message to those who were clearly violating God’s law for the sake of profit.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus is more powerful than demons. One of the reasons this event was recorded is to show that Jesus is the Son of God who has the power to overcome demons. It is not that he is somewhat stronger than demons like the difference between an NFL and a college athlete. Jesus is God and is in complete control. What He says must be done. And there is no one who can stand against Him. So demons are not a problem to Jesus because He is God.

    How does it apply?

    At some point, each of us must come to that same conclusion about Jesus. He is more than just a famous prophet who lived a long time ago. He is God Almighty. In fact, as you read the other gospel accounts, you will see that Jesus showed this not only by His miracles but also by the claims He made. Consider what John, one of the disciples, heard Jesus say.

    John 10:30-33 – “‘I and My Father are one.’ Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’”

    The above passage clearly shows that Jesus claimed to be God. And His many miracles give evidence that Jesus is God. Do you believe that? I do.

  3. The people’s response to Jesus (Mark 5:14-17)

    After all that happened, the people in the area came to see what had happened. What they found was much different than what they had been used to. However, their response to what Jesus had done was also odd.

    What does it say?

    When the herd unexpectedly ran off and drowned, the swineherds ran into the city. They told everyone what had happened and broadcasted the message to those in the city and the surrounding area. The people soon came to see what had transpired. When they arrived, they saw Jesus and also the formerly demon-possessed man fully clothed, completely rational, and sitting calmly with Jesus and the disciples. Having seen how crazy the man had been acting, this change in him made them even more afraid. “They were keenly conscious that they were in the presence of the supernatural.”9 Soon the swineherds were again telling what they had seen happen to both the demon-possessed man and the pigs. The people couldn’t take anymore. They begged Jesus to leave the country.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus can completely change someone’s life. Isn’t it wonderful to see the change Jesus had made in this man’s life. Where he used to be crying, living in tombs, and hurting himself, now he was rational, quiet, and happy. If you ever wanted a poster child for the change that Jesus can make in someone’s life, this is it.

    How does it apply?

    Do you realize that Jesus can make this change in your life as well? I don’t mean to say that you are demon-possessed. But each of us is a sinner that has offended God. Each of us will someday have to answer for our sin before God. How could any of us ever think that God would accept us as we are. He is holy and without sin and we are definitely not. And yet, God sent Jesus to die for our sins and to make it possible that we could be changed by repenting of our sin and placing our faith in what He accomplished on the cross for us. Consider what Paul said about this.

    1 Cor. 6:9-11 – “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

    Jesus changed the life of this demon-possessed man by casting out the demons who possessed him. But He can also change your life by forgiving your sin and making you a new person on the inside. But please realize that this is not something that you can accomplish on your own. You can’t clean yourself up enough to make God forget your sinful guilt. That’s why Jesus took our place and died instead of us. But if you will turn from your sin and put your trust in Jesus, you will be born again and be changed by God.

  4. The man’s response to Jesus (Mark 5:18-20)

    Despite the fact that the townspeople rejected Jesus, this part of the story always makes me smile. How the formerly demon-possessed man responded to Jesus is simply wonderful. Let’s take a look at it.

    What does it say?

    After being asked to leave the country, Jesus quietly got back into the boat. But not everyone wanted Jesus to leave. The formerly demon-possessed man begged to go with Him. After all Jesus had done for him, he wanted to follow Jesus wherever He went. But Jesus had a different idea. He didn’t allow the man to come with them. Instead, He told the man to go back to his friends to tell them the great things that the Lord had done for him. God had been compassionate toward him. This means that God had seen his pitiful situation and actually cared enough to do something about it. As a result, the grateful man spread the story of what Jesus had done for him throughout Decapolis.1 The people who heard his story were amazed by what they heard.

    What does it mean?

    God’s plan is always better. This must have been a difficult lesson for this newly changed man. He was hoping to go along with Jesus and become one of His disciples. This seemed like a perfect idea. He had been rescued by Jesus but still needed to learn many things from Him. However, Jesus revealed a different plan for His life. It was not one that the man was expecting, but it was a good plan as we saw from what happened afterward. When people saw the scars all over his body and heard the story of how Jesus had changed his life, they listened with great interest.

    How does it apply?

    I think that we often come up with good ideas as Christians. But are they always the best ideas? As we consider how we might serve the Lord at any point in our lives, we can come up with ideas that we think will be most effective. And if we are honest, we often tell God what we think should be done instead of asking Him for His plan. How do we overcome this bad habit? Perhaps we should follow what God says.

    James 1:5 – “ If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

    Instead of telling God how great our ideas are, we should pray and ask God for wisdom. We should also search the Bible for answers. Remember that the Bible is inspired by God and is useful for all kinds of situations. As we pray and read, God will direct us to make not just good decisions but the best decision. And time will show that God’s way is always best.

Conclusion

While I had no intentions of bringing a scary story to church today, aren’t you glad that we studied it? Jesus took a scary story that nobody else could finish and gave it a happy ending. I hope that we never forget this. As you go home and pass the various Halloween decorations, or as you see the witches and goblins knocking on your door during trick-or-treat night, I want you to remember what Jesus did for the demon-possessed man. God can change anybody’s life. He did then and still does today.

Footnotes

1 “…the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The larger area, east and south, was known as ‘Decapolis’ or ‘ten cities.’ To us, the area is the Golan Heights, northwest Jordan, and southwest Syria.” As defined at https://www.bibleref.com/biblepassage/Printer?section=Mark_5:20 on 10/14/2023. See also https://www.britannica.com/place/Decapolis-ancient-cities-Palestine
2 Grassmick 122.
3 προσεκύνησεν – “to worship, pay homage, show reverence; to kneel down (before)” as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/proskyneo on 10/14/2023.
4 Grassmick states that “the demon possessing the man was fully aware of Jesus’ divine origin and superior power: he knelt before Him (in homage, not worship)” (p. 123).
5 Grassmick 123.
6 “Gerasa, Gadara, Gergesa – from where did the pigs stampede?” as viewed at https://biblicalhistoricalcontext.com/gospels/gerasa-gadara-gergesa-from-where-did-the-pigs-stampede/#:~:text=Gerasa%2C%20one%20of%20the%20cities,get%20to%20in%20a%20bit). on 10/14/2023.
7 Hiebert 130.
8 Hiebert 134.
9 Hiebert 136.
10 Ironside 77.

Bibliography

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

Ironside, H. A., Expository Notes on the Gospel of Mark, Neptune: Loizeaux, 1969.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.