Mark 5:1-13 “They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!’ For Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you evil spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.’ And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs were feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank and were drowned. “
When Bertrand Russell wrote his book, “Why I am Not a Christian”, he referred to this incident (which is reported three times in the New Testament) as one of the reasons he rejected the Lord Jesus. He judged the incident to be unbelievable. We certainly have no time for irrationality and gullibility, yet we are living in an age in which millions of people every week claim to have communication with the dead. They get predictions – messages are received and advice given and acted on, directing them in how they should live their lives. Millions believe they are being helped by spirits from the other side of the grave. We are persuaded that much of the world of seances and fortune telling is quackery, but quackery with a sinister and sometimes inexplicable flavouring – if one deprecates the possibility of dark spiritual forces.
Other men don’t take demons seriously but they do believe in all the aliens hovering out there. The men in the Dog and Duck know it “because there must be”. It’s inconceivable (so they say) that only on this tiny planet should there be intelligent life and that all the vastnesses of space should be unpopulated. A rocket has just been launched to Mars to discover if there are any traces of life on that planet. It will arrive there on Christmas Day. There is tiny excitement when traces of water are found in some corner of the solar system. Listening stations set up in the USA monitor extra-terrestrial signals. There are rival species out there watching us, so some believe: untold billions of brilliant Dr Whos.
Let’s acknowledge sadly that the 20th and 21st centuries is the age of the loony, but this is also a period when the most unspeakable wickednesses have been perpetrated – genocide, massacres, the abuse of children, torture and the cruelest murders. Hitler’s Germany (one of the most educated and cultured nations in the history of the world) was responsible for 12 million deaths and Stalin’s Russia 40 million. Rudyard Kipling saw the rise of this and wrote his warning in the poem ‘Recessional’:
“If, drunk with power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe –
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
Or lesser breeds without the Law –
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!”
We are not talking about things that happened 2000 years ago in the Middle East, nor of the events that have happened in recent times in Rwanda and Cambodia, but the ‘lesser breeds’ of the godless Europeans, bowing before their political gods, men of our own continent, and even within the borders of our nation, even in our own neighbourhoods. Have not the forces of fearful spiritual wickedness been let loose? Why should a single man harming himself under the power of devilish influences be unbelievable?
What unrepeatable wickednesses you see reported in your newspapers each day. It is enough to glance at the headlines. Those acts are perpetrated by literate men and women who were in full-time education until they were sixteen years of age. The existence of a force of evil demands serious recognition from a purely historical perspective. We are saying that on an international front, beneath the cruelties and injustices of political enslavement, there is a spiritual battle going on. Leave out that dimension, ignore the great Deliverer, and men are condemned simply to repeat the 20th century cycle of violence and counter-violence throughout this 21st century – both in real life and in the blockbuster movies which entertain the world. People kill, and then get killed in return, and the world seeks to escape from that pain by watching simulations of horror. That world of seances, aliens and violence is for many people ‘real reality’, but Mark is telling us of a strong pure saving energy released by the coming of the Lord Jesus and his kingdom. By his life and death God the Son is going to bring to heel all the powers on earth and above the earth and beneath the earth.
The testimony of the Bible is that some occult phenomena are real enough. Please don’t make fun of them. They are the products of beings or creatures which are normally invisible to man, which possess subtle powers. Their activities in the moral and ethical realm are immense. There is a spirit of an age which sweeps around the globe in some uncanny way. What is acceptable and desirable in Scandinavia today becomes blase in Argentina tomorrow. America sneezes and Wales catches the cold. Drugs, sexual aberrations, fashions, abortion, body piercing, homosexual bishops, sensual music sweep the planet overnight. The devil is the god of the global village, a king of darkness, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience. Christians are not to fear the visible activities of demons so much as they should fear temptations to sin, but, take heed, we should not ignore these phenomena. That is why Mark records this incident in such detail, and both Matthew and Luke also. “Reckon on the devil’s doings,” they say, “but more so, the One who has come to destroy his works.”
When the Son of God appeared in Galilee there was a massive outbreak of demon possession. It became less evident during the apostles’ time and ever since. We rarely come across this phenomenon during our lives, but we find little comfort from that fact because the devil is not idle. The New Testament makes three things absolutely clear:
i] Men who have not received Jesus Christ into their lives do not have God as their Father. The Lord Jesus spoke to the men of his day and said, “You belong to your father the devil” (Jn. 8:44). In their implacable hatred and resistance to Christ they displayed the family likeness. They were utterly indignant at his words. They thought they were religious and moral folk who belonged to Abraham and so they were safe. “No,” said Jesus, “to your father the devil you belong.”
ii] Men who do not follow Christ follow the ways of this world “and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephs. 2:2). The devil says to you, “Don’t believe in my existence. Laugh at me. Ignore the Bible. 21st century man has no time for religion. Have no regard for your soul. Don’t think of the Creator and of your own death.” Men follow such advice because they are the unwitting followers of this ruler of darkness, while all the time they are boasting just how independent and free-thinking they are – “not like those poor Christian yes-men.” What Isaiah said has come true, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way!”
iii] Men who can’t see the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are in darkness for this reason, “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cors. 4:4). The devil just uses silence and simplistic slogans such as ‘science’, evolution’, ‘religion,’ and so blinds unthinking men’s minds so that when they hear such words of life and hope as these, “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” they see and hear nothing at all! “It’s not for me,” they say. They cannot see until that blindfold is removed by sovereign grace.
So, few men are demon-possessed, but all men show a family likeness to the devil; they follow his ways while he works in their lives, and they are blinded to the true beauty of Christ. Those of you who are not Christians here today, this is your condition – if it is true that God is the author of the Bible, and Jesus Christ is his Son. That is my only premise for saying these things. If God lives then you’d better believe it. You are in a far worse predicament than you thought you were in, and I would be a quack and not a physician of souls if I sought to heal you with a few bland words and an aspirin of humanism. Only the life and death of God the Son Jesus Christ can save you from spending eternity with your father the devil and all his hosts. This incredible incident that we have begun to examine today has been written by the Holy Ghost to educate you but more than that, to deliver you from Satan. Listen carefully to this portion of Scripture.
1. NOTE CAREFULLY WHERE THE LORD JESUS CAME ASHORE.
The storm on the lake failed to drown the Lord of creation and the boat reaches the other side, the region of the Gerasenes – well, that is what the N.I.V. decides is the best translation. The scribes who copied the manuscript of Mark couldn’t agree about whether this incident took place near Gerasa, Gergasa or Gadara, and so there are these variations which you’ll find in the footnotes of different translations of verse 1. We are so used to referring to the man as the ‘Gadarene’ demoniac that surely I shall slip into that designation as I speak. So what do we know about Gerasa on the south-east side of the sea of Galilee?
i] It had never been Jewish territory. It was called the ‘Decapolis’ which means ‘Ten Towns’ even though different writers in the ancient world couldn’t agree which were the ten towns being included. So it wasn’t Jewish land and the people weren’t Jews and this explains the fact that they were pig herders. You mustn’t imagine the big domestic white sows and boars we see today. Breeding over two thousand years has considerably enlarged the pig! You must think of snuffling herds of pigs the size of terriers, who like the dogs of that day would scavenge and devour anything they came across including their own vomit. To the Jew the pig was unclean. So unclean Decapolis was a region without the influences of Old Testament covenants, laws and promises. There was no Sabbath rest in Gerasa, no sacrifices and no hope of a Messiah coming to save them and bruise the serpent’s head. This was the pagan world where the devil roamed freely, holding the people captive.
ii] It was an area that had been over run by the Romans for a century. The legions were the single greatest influence there. They were in charge. What they said was done. The people of Decapolis were a subjugated people. If they cruised along with the Romans they did all right by the occupying forces, and so local politicians, tax-collectors, servants, garrison-suppliers, and prostitutes prospered. These Roman soldiers marched and fought on a diet of salted pork supplied by the local herders. Most people saw these armies as the number one enemy – “Go Home Rome.” Rome was the devil in their eyes. They were enslaved to Roman might.
iii] But thirdly Jesus came to the unclean heart of this unclean land. He arrived at the very burial grounds where the bodies of the people who had lived their sad hopeless lives in this place ended up. Jesus was confronting dying and death. A graveyard to a Jew was also considered a place of contamination. Contact with the dead or with graves made a person unclean. So this man who scuttles out from amongst the tombs (v.2) is as unclean as you can get.
The man named Legion lived in the worst possible environment. There was no word of God there. There was no freedom there. It was a place of death and uncleanness. You might be tempted to think that there would be no hope for people who lived in a place like that. But the Lord had ordered his disciples to go to that very place, in the vestibule of hell, away from the great crowds listening to him in Galilee.
2. NOTE THE CONDITION OF THE MAN WHOM THE LORD JESUS MET.
There was a man who lived in this benighted place who had inherited all its ignorance, but he was not a typical inhabitant of Decapolis. He was, in fact, amongst the most evil and depraved men who lived there, and thus he had opened himself to the entrance of Satan’s hosts. When he ran to Christ he was a fearfully ruined man. The Lord had allowed Satan to half kill him, but how much is he allowing Satan to destroy you? In Enfield, Massachusetts, on Sunday July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards addressed a congregation and spoke to them to such effect that a remarkable impression was made on all his hearers. The sermon was later called, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards at one place in his message said this of the state of sinners:
“The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as his goods (Lk. 11:12). The devils watch them; they are ever by them, at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens it mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.” Strong words, but true. Consider the state of this man:
i] Legion was in chains. They symbolized the man’s enslavement to evil influences. He couldn’t say, “I’ll go down to the lake and wash. I’ll make a fire and boil some water and shave. I’ll beg for some clothes and get a job and go in a new direction.” He couldn’t because he was a servant of wickedness. His life was dominated by evil. He was a pawn in the hands of sin, and so he was uncontrollable. He never had a plan for a single day. When he got up in the morning he didn’t think, “How best can I live my life, and use my talents today?” He never thought like that. He existed minute by minute. He didn’t live. You think of that great indictment in Galatians 3:22 “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.” So much for your boast to be a free man, sinner! Without Christ you are a slave to unbelief.
ii] Legion was alone. “This man lived in the tombs” (v.3). You live with your family – not this man. You have friends to greet you – not this man. People don’t run away when they see you coming – they did from this man. His companions were dead bones. His home was a sepulchre. No one else went near the place. Did they drive him away at funerals, throw stones at him and setting their dogs on him? They didn’t want him coming near to them when they brought the dead there. He was the total outsider; the absolute loner, isolated from the rest of humanity.
iii] Legion was possessed by demons. When Christ asked him, “‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.'” (v.9) That is a fascinating and revealing reply. Had this man become obsessed with the marching armies going through his country, totally dominated by that figure? Now that a troop of preternatural invaders had penetrated and taken over his very humanity did he know that he himself had become an occupied person? “My name is Legion.” “That name also tells us that he was an outpost of demonic activity in this world. Perhaps, in this military language, we are meant to catch the fact that Satan’s opposition to the kingdom of God is not haphazard but ruthlessly well organised” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Let’s Study Mark,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, p.65). The hosts of hell are marshalled for battle. The kingdom of hell is not an unruly mob. Is there not some reference to demonic unity in this name? It is a sickening thought that while Christians frequently quarrel we never hear of devils doing so. The Church of God is divided, but the kingdom of darkness appears to be one. Here is the force of Satan. It is not omnipotent, and it is not omniscient, and it is not omnipresent, but it is united and organised. In unity there is strength.
We are often afraid of the devil, but he is never afraid of us. We are told that the Lord cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, but in this man there was an aggregate of evil forces who had taken up common possession in his life and were controlling him. There was a military unit called a ‘telos’ consisting of 2,048 men and this may be the body being referred to. A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 foot soldiers, as well as 120 horsemen. Surely this man must have watched the legions of Roman soldiers marching by, hour after hour? What organisation! What relentless military might! Now an abundance of alien powers had invaded his own life.
iv] Legion was self-destructive: “he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (v.5). Was he trying to drive out the demon spirits? Was he displaying his hatred of the divine image in which men are made? Satan would destroy anything of God’s likeness. Isn’t that a mark and focus of devilish activity, to mar and distort the likeness of God? Think of people today who inflict injuries on themselves with razor blades or who pierce their bodies. Are there not multitudes of men and women who, in the name of the god who has them in his grip, will put on a waistcoat of dynamite. They will get on a bus full of families and pull the string blowing themselves to pieces and killing many others. They will do this serving their god and in hope of the delights with which he will reward them. Paul says, “There is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (I Cor. 8:4-6). There is only one true and living God but in the name of one of those dark powers that fiercely grip men they will kill themselves and kill others. This poor man, Legion, servant of Satan, hated himself. His condition was incurable. He lived his life in hopelessness, anguish and despair.
v] Legion had preternatural strength: “no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet” (vv. 3&4). Some of the people today who are involved with the occult can perform perplexing feats of strength. They seem insensitive to fire. They can endure heavy rocks being placed on their chests, and allow wires to pierce their hands and cheeks. They can endure days without food or drink; they can be buried alive for weeks.
This was the state of the man who lived in the tombs in Gerasa. Now we don’t all live in places like that. Few of us are from homes like that, and none of us is demon-possessed like that man. You see, you can allegorise this historical incident, and you can say that the Gerasene demoniac is the sinner, a type of 21st century sinner, and before we know where we are we are saying to every man and woman – even to the middle-ages ladies of the utmost decorum – we are saying to them, “There you are in the tombs, demon possessed, slashing yourself, utterly unclean.” That is not the message that comes from Gerasa. This man is not “Everyman.” This man is not your run-of-the-mill sinner. This man is what he is said to be, literally, possessed by a legion of spirits. He is not even one of the many demon-possessed men and women who came to Jesus for deliverance during those three years of his ministry. This man is the worst of them all. A legion of demons nest in him.
Legion is abandoned. He is defiled. He is self-destructive. He is derelict. He is beyond the pale. That is what he is. In this incident he does not stand as the spiritual symbol of the ordinary sinner. He stands in Mark 5 as the sinner in the pits, as far from God as a man can be, as far from men as a man can get. His mind, and will, and body all fiercely depraved. He is the extreme. He is thrown out of good company, disowned by his own family. It is this man who came from the tombs to meet Jesus. If ever there was a man whom Jesus would refuse it would be this man. If there were ever a sinner God would reject it would be this man. He is down there with the chief of sinners. He is in the same category as the prodigal son, as Saul of Tarsus, as John Newton, as Colonel Gardiner, as David Berkowitz, the so-called ‘Son of Sam’ but now the ‘Son of Hope’. These are not ordinary sinners; they are men on the lowest rung of the ladder. He comes from the cesspool of uncleanness to Jesus. He comes from the vilest forms of self abuse to our Lord. He comes from utter abandonment by the mankind to Christ.
You can imagine how the angels of heaven surveyed this scene, how all of heaven had seen their Lord sleeping in the boat, waking, rebuking the winds and waves and continuing his journey to the other side of the lake, and this man comes to greet him as he steps ashore – this evil man. All heaven wonders, “What is the Lord going to do with this one?” And they are debating amongst themselves, “Is he the worst? Do you think he is the worst? Was Saul of Tarsus the worst? Was it King David? Was it the prodigal son, or was it this man in Gerasa?” Will John Newton be worse? Will Augustine? Was Legion worse than the ‘Son of Sam’ in his prison cell in New York state today, a man who killed six people and hurt more? The angels are discussing such a scenario wondering what the Lord Jesus will do with this wretched evil man. “Surely he won’t take this man?”
What did men do to him? They took him to the graves. They chained him hand and foot. That is all they could do. Perhaps they thought they were being humane in not stoning him to death, or drowning him, or burning him at the stake. They let him live, but they sought to secure and restrain him. That is all they could do. Nobody in Decapolis could do anything to help him. They couldn’t send for anyone in the world. All mankind looked at this man and they were impotent. “Chain his hands and chain his feet. Put him in restraints. Let him live in the tombs.” That was the best suggestion they could make.
What are the prospects of this man without the intervention of the Son of God? They are nil. They are worse than nil. This man is going to be destroyed for ever. This picture of him in the tombs is fearful enough, but who can describe his state in hell? From demons within him to demons all around him. His appearance before Christ presents us with this scene: demonic depravity is meeting the King of Grace. But who could describe the scene of what might yet happen to him, meeting death the king of terrors, and joining the prince of darkness for ever?
Samuel Porter Jones died a hundred years ago, an American Wesleyan evangelist who preached plain vivid sermons seeking to bring to bear the issues of sin and redemption through Christ on the people of the southern states as they slowly recovered from the Civil War. He used blunt homespun language and addressed the consciences of his hearers. He once told his congregation in the Cincinnati Music Hall this incident. An Alabama minister was called to a field hospital in the Civil War to visit his badly wounded brother. The dying man was an atheist and he refused to talk “about religion.” He said again and again, “Don’t trouble me now, I’m in such pain.” Then Sam Jones tells what happened:
It was the sixth night this preacher brother had sat by his brother’s bedside. Loss of sleep and exhaustion and anxiety had reduced him so much and broken him that, as the wounded brother was lying quietly around midnight, he said to himself, “I will lie down on the cot and rest for a few moments. I won’t go to sleep. I see my dear brother is very low.” And he said, “I lay down on the cot but in a moment I was sound asleep.” While asleep he dreamed that his brother breathed his last, the mouth of the corpse wide open in death. Just as soon as the soul left the body he saw in this dream the devil come in and approach the bed, walking up to his dead brother, and looking down, knew that soul and body were no more united. The preacher said: “In my dream I thought that when the soul of my brother left his body it hid among the piles of wood that I had piled up by the fire to keep the flames going. The devil scented the soul, and started moving around to my brother’s hidden soul. As the devil approached that hiding place the soul flew out of the room; crying ‘Lost! Lost! Lost! Lost!’ And,” said he, “in the distance I heard the wail of my brother’s soul as it hurried out of the reach of the devil, and I could hear the shrieks and screams of my brother’s soul as the devil fastened his talons into it forever and ever. When I woke up, agitated and frightened, the light had gone out, and,” said he, “I jumped up and lit the lamp. I walked up to the bed. There was my poor brother, dead, lying there . . . with his mouth open. I believe God shut my eyes in sleep to show me the scene that presented itself in that room.” That is simple vivid preaching on death, and sin, and the devil, and eternity. Samuel Porter Jones was speaking on the appointed judgment that lay not only before Legion after his death, and this wounded soldier, but lies also before you too, to go where the beast and the false prophet spend eternity, to dwell with all those who have no time for the Son of God.
3. NOTE HOW THE LORD JESUS RECEIVED LEGION.
The sea is calm, and the boat silently beaches on the shore. No heralds jump out to announce Christ’s presence. No trumpet blows to tell the Gerasenes that the great king has arrived in their land, but soon enough there’ll be a stir. A man comes running to the beach, and Jesus didn’t run away. What a sight he was, a mass of bleeding lacerations, scabs, infections and scar tissue. Luke tells us he was naked, and Mark confirms this when he says that after his deliverance his neighbours found him “dressed” (v.15). Dirty, as wild as a bear, a demonic light in his eyes, terrifyingly strong – he is the man who came running to Jesus, and Jesus didn’t run away. When he got right up to him, “he shouted at the top of his voice;” (v.7) that’s what we are told. Isn’t that frightening? Could he shout! He had plenty of experience. We know that because we are told that “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out” (v.5), but here he wasn’t shouting in the hills but a foot away from the Lord who stood before him, but Jesus didn’t run away. Imagine if I shouted at the top of my voice now – really bellowed – how disturbed you would be. How frightened the children would get, and how worried the whole congregation would be about me, but though this man shouted at the top of his mouth Jesus didn’t run away.
You remember when the prodigal son – that evil heart-breaker – returns home – how the father runs to him. Almost as if the Father doesn’t want him to change his mind; as if the Father doesn’t want his nerve to crack at last minute; as if God doesn’t want this sinner to give up the attempt in despair, seeing the old farmhouse in the distance and turn away, and not make it through the threshold. God runs to anticipate any possible change of mind. God runs because of the sheer joy in his own heart – the old legs running to this filthy one, this one stinking of pigs, this lost one – and God welcomes him
It means for you and me today that we can never say, “The like of me can never be saved.” We can’t say, “We’re so unique, so extraordinary, so guilty, so depraved, so full of demons, so covered in bruises and wounds and putrefying sores, too far gone for the Lord to want us.” There was the prodigal son, and here is the Gerasa demoniac and they are the worst possible scenarios in human history. We are meeting the most abandoned and the most ugly, the most wretched and the most hopeless, and far from the Lord running away he talks kindly to him. You see the argument? It is from the greater to the lesser. The chief of sinners comes to God and God runs to him and he is welcomed, and wherever you or I stand today, in the depths of our own abandonment, and dabbling in the occult, whatever the wreckage of the life that’s behind us, however long the trail of human immorality behind us, from wherever you are there is a road to God. Jesus won’t run away from you. You cannot save yourself, but Christ can save you. In the 18th psalm David says of the Lord, “He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me; for they were too strong for me.”
You can come to the holy Son of God without any clothes, full of demons, covered in bruises, wounds and putrefying sores, unwashed and unloved. That is what the demoniac did. Straight to Jesus! Just as he was, stark naked and deranged by wickedness. Only after Jesus had dealt with him did he get clothed and in his right mind. “Naked come to Thee for dress.” If he’d tarried till he was better he’d have never come at all. Our Lord does not call the righteous! Sinners Jesus came to call. All the fitness he requires is to see your need of Christ.
Now hear what Legion shouted? “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” (v.7). That’s the craft of Satan isn’t it, to hate and to destroy, and then when summoned before the Lord, to whine like a whipped mongrel, and crouch at his feet, and look into his face and plead to be left alone? Legion knew this was Jehovah Jesus. Though the Lord had never been there before, and this man had never seen him, yet the demon-possessed man knew it was Christ. The devils believe and tremble.
In this incident we meet the tensions of two struggling personalities within one torn human being. The man calls the Saviour intimately by his personal name “Jesus,” but notice that he does so at the top of his voice in a kind of howl. Like men today threaten other men by saying, “I know where you live,” so this demoniac uses the name of ‘Jesus’ to try to gain control over Christ. Yet at the same time screaming Legion has fallen on his knees in front of him. Kneeling in homage, and yet shouting at the top of his voice.
There is a spiritual schizophrenia here. When is it that the man himself is speaking, and when is it that the demons are speaking? Who can tell? He knows that Christ can deliver him because he is the Son of Most High. He knows he is coming to the incarnate God, and he runs to him, and he kneels before him – that is the man – yet when he is there he shouts at him, and he is filled with dread at the consequences of deliverance he cries, “Don’t torture me!” (v.7). Surely that is the devil speaking. He fears the torments of hell reserved for him. Yet how strange that the devil should plead, “Swear to God.” Yes! Those are the words he uses – ” Swear to God that you won’t torture me.” “Take an oath now that you will not torment me!” Maybe it is an ashamed guilty sinner filled with the fear of God who is making the plea. No sinner yields easily to the Saviour. Most men will keep their sins with all the pain and guilt rather than choose new life in Christ. But Legion comes to Jesus Christ, and confessed him, and kneels before him.
How hard it is at times to distinguish between the devil and God. You think, “That’s easy.” I don’t think so. The devil can appear as an angel of light. You would swear you were listening to a messenger from God, but in fact it’s a devil masquerading as an angel. Peter once pleaded with Jesus not even to think of going to the cross. Standing by and listening to emotional Peter you might think, “Compassionate Peter! Kind-hearted Peter! Loving Peter! A messenger of God.” It was in fact the voice of the devil using this disciple to deflect Jesus from his mission. “Get thee behind me, Satan,” said Christ. There are times when it is not easy to discriminate between devil or God. But in areas where we are unable to discriminate Jesus can. He will say to many in the great day, “You did many mighty works in my name, and how people hung on to your words and said you were the anointed of God, but I knew all along that you were workers of iniquity.”
The harbour master in a little town in Northern Ireland a century ago was a scathing anti-Christian. It was the community in which the evangelist W.P.Nicholson was raised. He would speak to the boys who were on the coal-pier on a Sunday afternoon and tell them they were fools to believe in God, that there was no God. He would challenge God to strike him with lightening, “I dare you to kill and damn me!”, he would cry, cursing and blaspheming God in a foul way. Then, when nothing had happened in the following five minutes, he would turn to the teenagers and say, “See, there is no God.” As if God would bother with challenges! So he lived his life in scorn of his Creator.
However, infidels, like anybody else, die. Then a new note came into the harbourmaster’s speech. He actually could be heard crying to God for mercy – to the God he had defied. Then, on this death-bed his tune would change, and he would damn and curse God again. With one breath he cursed God, but then with the next breath he prayed to God. He might yell for mercy, screaming to the God he defied, his shouts heard on the street, but then his tune would change again and his scorn for the thought of God spouted forth. His best hope was that he might be snuffed out, and cease to exist. Think of it! His highest expectation was that he might be annihilated. Two great powers were at work tearing this man apart, his conscience, God’s great monitor telling us how we are to live, and sin dwelling in him.
The people looking after him were wearied by this loud long strife, and they complained to the doctor of his anguish and despair. “Can’t you do something?” they asked, for the man with his anguish of soul had become a nuisance to them. In those days they might give a person a sniff of chloroform, and so this was done, administered to him by the doctor. His striving ceased, and he slept. Was that a help or a final judgment? There was no more striving, and no more crying for mercy from a sin-hating God. Today men and women can be given some kind of injection. These are today’s chains from a world that cannot save; it cannot give hope; it cannot provide deliverance. All it can do is bind and restrain and silence. “Put him to sleep!”
Legion knelt and shouted, pleaded for escape from torment, and what are the first words Christ says to him? “Come out!” he says. He is addressing the alien force of wickedness within him: “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” (v.8). Christ can distinguish between soul and spirit, bone and marrow, remaining sin and the new man in Christ, human being made in God’s image and demon from the pit. Christ knows whom he addresses. He focuses now on the evil that is destroying this man. “What is your name?” he asks as the devil knows Christ’s name. “My name is Legion, for we are many” (v.9). Is this the man speaking, acknowledging that he no longer knows who he is? Many a man has come to himself when finally his self-confidence has been shattered. He says, “I thought I knew everything, but now I don’t even know myself. Who am I? I’m a devil and I’m a man.” Such despairing self-understanding can be the beginning of grace. Or is this the demons withholding their names from Jesus desperately attempting to thwart his power? We don’t need to know. We just need to know that the Lord Jesus knows, and Christ can deliver.
4. NOTE HOW THE LORD JESUS DELIVERED LEGION.
How fascinating is this whole narrative. We are told that Legion now began to plead with Christ: “He begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area” (v.10). Now we know that God has prepared the pit of hell for the devil and his angels. They are now chained, that is, firmly limited and controlled in all their activity; they all know what judgment awaits them and until that time they will do all in their power to destroy the work of God. “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these God has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6). All those chains of theirs are fastened to the great white throne of God. If he sees one of his children being tormented by a demon above his ability to bear it then God yanks the chain.
What a great day it will be when for ever these demons will be banished in hell, no more tempting and seducing the children of men, no more dressing up as an angel of light to deceive us, no more coming into our Sunday services and distracting us, no more bringing our past sins to our attention, no more disturbing our devotions, no more laying traps for us, no more leading multitudes astray, no more going through Christ’s fields at night sowing his tares. John Bunyan spoke of the “Imp of the Perverse” who would make intrusive thoughts arise under the most spiritual preaching. Think of it! None of that vexing our hearts and minds again, but Satan and his hosts justly sentenced to be kept in hell’s prison, wrapped up in their chains for ever. Little wonder that just the thought of that makes devils fear and fly.
Now if it were merely the man who was making this request when he begged not to be sent out of the area then he would have been pleading not to be treated as the Gerasene men had treated him, driving him out of their area into the tombs. That is an unlikely interpretation. Rather, this is the voice of the demons and they don’t want to be driven out of this man. They want to stay there in Legion in Gerasa. They don’t want to be sent to the sea’s depths or the desert places or the ends of the earth. “Let us stay here in our nest,” they cry. But Christ can as easily cast out a legion of sins as he can cast out one. They don’t have a vote in the matter. There is no response, and realising they must go, for he has spoken, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” they then beg Jesus, “Send us even into the Gerasa pigs, let us go into them. Then we can stay here, staying in the swine.” Any place would be better than hell. They got what they desired – the pigs as their hosts. A great herd of 2,000 swine are there and the demons enter them, but they also got what they deserved. The pigs, soon to be slaughtered and eaten, behave like lemmings, immediately rushing down a steep bank into the lake and are drowned. Thus the demons immediately enter that destined place of woe never to trouble this man again.
What do we learn from this? There are a number of lessons:
i] Note the terrible malice of these demons and their ultimate goal which is to destroy whatever they inhabit. They want to destroy the creation of God, but they themselves are destroyed.
ii] Note the enormous power that Christ has over thousands of demons. They tremble and plead and shout before him. He doesn’t say a word but at his decree they enter the swine and perish. Sinner, cry mightily that divine Power might save and keep you for ever!
iii] This man’s life had been ruined by these demons. He was a captive to pain and loneliness and shame. Might he not fear a repetition of that terrible life? “Might they not come back and inhabit me again dominating and destroying my life? Might I not lose this great deliverance?” Christ calms his fears by what happened to the swine. In their destruction the Lord demonstrates that they will never trouble him again. He send them all into the swine and they are gone for ever.
iv] This visible destruction of these demons is a pledge and a symbol of triumphs over the devil which is yet to come, in the great day of the cross (the D-Day of accomplished victory over the devil) and the final judgment at the end of the world (the V-Day of ultimate victory over sin and Satan).
v] The people of Decapolis thought that the Romans were the number one enemy. They wanted to see their legions drowned in the sea. The sea in their minds was the place monsters came from, and Rome was the monster of all monsters. There was only one place for Rome – under the sea. However, the Lord Christ is telling them that our first battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Have you seen that? Our first fight is not with Arab terrorists, or with so-called American imperialism. It is against spiritual wickedness in high places. Your chief enemy is Satan and all his works and if you don’t destroy him then he will destroy you. Here is a man who shows us what happens when the devil gets hold of a man, how he can make his life on earth a foretaste of hell. Are there not many people we know whose lives are just like that? They disdain our God, and our view of the reality of Satan, and yet what a mess they have made of their lives. Don’t they need deliverance? This great incident tells us who can deliver you from Satan’s power. That is why he came into the world.
Here is the life of one man. It was a ruined and destroyed life until he met Jesus Christ who delivered him. The Saviour healed him, and yet that Saviour, at the end of Mark’s gospel, is himself going to end his days on earth like Legion. He will be lacerated and bleeding. He is sent by men outside the community of living people to a place a mob shouts vile accusations against his tortured self, taunting and mocking him. He will be crucified, fastened to a cross and torn apart. He ends up dead with a tomb as his home. The wickedness that had fallen on Legion will fall on him, and all that will be in order that Legion, and millions like him, might be forgiven and washed and cleansed. The Lord Christ came to share the hatred and shame of people whose lives were being ruined. He let the enemy do its worst on his own body on the tree, taking the full force of evil, in order that Legion and all his brothers and sisters – you too? yes sinner you – and me too? – that we might be freed. It was at the very moment that the devil was the happiest he had ever been, having helped to kill the Son of God that Christ cried, “It is finished,” and then Christ’s soul sprang upon Satan and his legions and utterly routed them. Hear Satan shriek! The very hour that seemed to mark our Lord’s defeat became the time of his eternal victory. So Satan has been defeated, but is now more dangerous because fatally wounded, and seeking whom he might devour: he is our vigilant enemy.
Deliverance was the gift Christ’s blood had bought which could be freely given to Legion and is offered to all the world in the gospel. The power of the new covenant was once evident in Gentile Decapolis. The most unclean man in the place there was the person who was washed, delivered, justified and sanctified. The no-hoper was transformed by the love of God. It is the pattern we see in the New Testament. The Prodigal Son; Saul of Tarsus – the most cruel of the Pharisees; Simon of Samaria, the leader of the occult in that country; the Philippian jailer; those in Caesar’s household in Rome. The men and women least likely in our thinking to be saved are given eternal life through Christ alone. So is there not hope for you, if you will go to Christ?
You won’t have to slay the lambs anymore,
You don’t have to put the blood on the door.
Somebody’s taken the place of the lambs.
He is the great I AM.
Jesus is the great I AM.
Jesus is the great I AM.
Jesus has taken the place of the lambs.
Christ is the great I AM.
God grant you all a share in the fruits of that sacrifice too. Cry that the conqueror of Satan will deliver you from the kingdom of darkness and take you into his glorious kingdom. Whatever you do, don’t try to destroy the black magic you’ve dabbled in with white magic. Don’t start lighting candles and swinging censers and putting your confidence in rituals of men in fancy dress religious costumes. Break out of the magic circle by entrusting yourself to the Lord Christ alone. Jesus is the only protection against the power of the devil. Trust in him. Sit under his mighty word. Confess that without the blood shed on Calvary’s cross you remain in deep deep trouble. Turn from your sinful ways and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1st June 2003 GEOFF THOMAS