Sunday, April 29, 2012


Destructive Demons Dominated

Gospel Reading: Mark 5: 1-20

We usually have bad associations when we encounter the words dominate, domineering, or dominant. They bring to mind people who are not very pleasant and who may abuse authority. We do not like the husband who dominates his wife, or the domineering boss, or the dominant professor.

However, sometimes we find these words to be just the right ones to describe things we like. We sometimes admire domineering generals such as George Patton and Douglass MacArthur. We like it that the United States is the dominant world power.

In Mark 5:1-20 we find Jesus dominating, domineering, and dominant in relation to destructive demons. And we will be wise to give hearty thanks that He is, for, if He were not, there would be no hope for us.

I. The Destructive Nature of Demons

Jesus’ encounter with demons apparently took place after He calmed the storm so that He and His disciples could safely cross the Sea of Galilee. He landed on the eastern shore of the lake, which was Gentile territory and immediately was confronted by a man who was demon possessed. As we have noted before, the writers of the Gospels mean actual possession by a demon or demons when they describe someone as demon possessed. They seem to know that illness is something different, that even a brain disease such as epilepsy is something different, and that mental illness is something different from demon possession. We need look no further to know the cause of the man’s behavior than the fact of demon possession.

Mark vividly describes the life the man lived. He lived among the tombs. Whether he chose to live there in his deranged state or lived there because he had been banned from society, the scene is hopeless and depressing. The man lived among the dead. We might say that his life was a living death. He was also uncontrollable. He was not capable of self-control and the attempts of the people of the region to bring him under control had proved unsuccessful. It seems at one time they had been able to restrain him, but he had grown stronger and more recently all their attempts to subdue him failed. He could not be controlled even with shackles and chains. He pulled the chains apart and broke the shackles into pieces. The fact that they tried to control him probably indicates that he was a danger to others. Perhaps he attacked people as they walked along the roads and the countryside of the region. And he surely was a danger to himself. He sat among the tombs, and shrieked, and bruised himself with stones. He lived a miserable life and engaged in self-mutilating, self-destructive behavior.

The cause of this was that that he had an evil spirit. In fact He was not possessed by one evil spirit but by many. When Jesus said to the man, “What is your name?” the response was, “My name is Legion for there are many of us.” Obviously, as they possessed the man, so they possessed his voice, and the words of the man were the words of the demons. A legion was a Roman army unit. It consisted at full strength of 6,000 men. The fact that the demons call themselves “Legion” does not indicate the precise number of them that possessed the man, but rather that like a Roman legion they were a large group who acted in concert with one another. The man was controlled by a large army of demons. From the way he behaved, we can surely say that they are a destructive force. Their presence had a destructive effect on the man’s personality, his behavior, his relationship with others, and even his relationship with himself.

Now we might ask ourselves if we have anything to learn here other than some things about the kind of demon possession that existed when Jesus was on earth. None of us seems demon possessed, and it is doubtful that any of us has seen a bona fide case of demon possession. So are we really detached from this story? I think not. I think it has something to do with us personally and corporately. We are not possessed by demons, but we do know what it means to be controlled by Satan. Apart from Christ, we all are naturally enslaved to the devil. In John’s Gospel Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8: 34). He went on to tell them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8: 44). The Apostle Paul states the same truth, as he writes to Christian about what their condition outside of Christ was: “And you were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature the children or wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2: 1-3).

Outside of Christ we are all under the power of the devil. We are sinners who sin against God but who in our sin also destroy others and ourselves. We cannot be brought under control by ourselves or by others. We are slaves of sin and have no power to free ourselves. Our nature is like the devil’s, and we do what he wants us to do. Our life in sin is a hopeless and helpless life, a living death.

II. The Dominating Power of Jesus

As destructive as the demons were and as control of the man as they were, what dominates this passage throughout is the dominating power of Jesus. There is never a point at which the demons are a match for Jesus. They are at a disadvantage from start to finish, and they know it.

When Jesus arrived the man immediately came running up to Jesus and fell down before Jesus. It does not seem that he came so much willingly or happily as that he came because he was compelled to come to Jesus. And, he fell down before Jesus, not because he wanted to worship Him, but because he had to acknowledge Jesus’ superiority. Of course, the man’s actions are the evil spirits’ actions, so they, too, are coming to Jesus against their wills and acknowledging his superiority without any desire to submit themselves to Him. But Jesus is in control, and they cannot resist His authority.

He went on to say, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The man and the evil spirits within him know the true identity of Jesus in a way that goes beyond the apostles’ understanding of Him. They call Him the “Son of the Most High God.” The term Most High God goes back to the Old Testament.  It was the way pagans referred to the God of Israel when they wanted to acknowledge His unique nature and status. In the world of polytheism they called Him the “Most High God.” If they were not ready to say that He was the only God, they at least acknowledged that the LORD whom Israel worshiped was the greatest of all and superior to any other god. Since Jesus is in Gentile territory, we would expect the man through whom the demons speak to refer to the God of Israel as “Most High God.” And they acknowledge Jesus as the Son of Israel’s LORD, the Son who has the nature of the Father, the Most High God. But, though the man speaking for the evil spirits knows the reality of Jesus’ true identity, he is acutely aware that Jesus and he, possessed by evil spirits, are on opposite sides. He really wants nothing to do with Jesus, preferring that Jesus go away and leave things as they are.

He goes on to try to bind Jesus by an oath: “I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” Remember the demons are speaking. When they seek to bind Jesus not to torment them, it appears they are asking not to be evicted from the man. When we lived near Washington, D.C., we got used to seeing furniture near the curb. We were not used to this and did not know what it meant. But then we learned that this was what happened when people were evicted from their apartments. The owner moved the renter’s stuff out and changed the locks on the empty apartment. We could see how people would think of eviction as torment. The evil spirits do not want to lose their home in the man. But there is probably more going on. In Matthew’s account the demons say, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29) What they probably were expressing is their fear that Jesus may be planning to torment them in the way they know they will be tormented when the Day of Judgment arrives. They fear they may begin now to experience the torments of hell.

But the demons cannot resist Jesus’ will. His word assures that they are about to be expelled from the man. Through the man they ask that they not be driven out of that territory. They request permission to enter a herd of pigs. Jesus gave them permission. They entered the pigs and immediately the pigs rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned. There were 2,000 of them. Now modern readers sometimes have trouble with this. They wonder about the destruction of the animal life when it would not be used for food. And they wonder about the financial loss to the owners. But Jesus does not seem to have any concern about this so-called moral problem, nor does Mark show any interest in it. Neither should we. When we see the pigs plunge into the sea and die, surely we should see how destructive these evil spirits are. It also shows us how powerful the demons were that they could destroy a whole herd of pigs and what enormous power Jesus had and exercised in getting them out of the man. And, as the man sees the demons enter the pigs and the pigs drowning in the sea, he has objective evidence that his true problem was possession by evil spirits and that he is now entirely free of them.

When the people of the town came out to see what had happened they saw this man as transformed. He was no longer tormented so that he ran about shrieking. He was sitting as a calm and rational man would. He was now wearing clothes. The implication is that in his previous state he would not wear clothes. And his mind is no longer deranged because of foreign control. He is in his right mind. The power of Jesus totally dominated the demons and freed the man from all the destruction they had caused in his life.

We too can take encouragement from the power of Jesus. Surely the Jesus who can so dominate demons and restore a human life to its normal state can do that for us. Jesus died and rose again to gain for us the forgiveness of all our sins. But He also died and rose in order to make us new men and women. He restores in us the broken image of God. He recreates in us the knowledge of God and His will. He renews us in true righteousness and holiness. Anyone, who wants this kind of salvation, may have it. Jesus will give it to you. But you should also know that Jesus grants forgiveness only to those whose lives He will then begin to change.  He will recreate in them the image of God.

This power of Jesus assures us as well that, when we face temptations, Jesus has the power to strengthen us. It is not necessary for us to fall into sin every time the devil targets us for temptation for Jesus can empower us to say no to sin and to overcome the devil. This power we see in Jesus can also give us the patience and perseverance to endure the trials that come to us. Even when we feel a flood of tribulation is overwhelming us, Jesus can give us right minds that do not panic, nor give up their faith, but go on in the strength that Christ provides.

III. The Deferential Request of the People and the Man

We have seen this power of Jesus destroying the works of the devil. We will be curious to see how the man and the people of the region respond to this powerful Jesus. We find that both made deferential requests of Jesus. They knew they could not demand anything of One with such authority, but both begged a favor of Him.

The herdsmen ran away when they saw what had happened. Probably what was in their minds was to get to the owners of the pigs to tell them what had happened to the pigs and to explain that they were not responsible for it. Soon the word spread in the city and the countryside. The people came out to see what had happened. There they saw a remarkable sight. There was Jesus and the man now restored to normalcy. Others, who had been there, in addition to the herdsmen, reported the exciting events.

But the people reacted in a way that may surprise us. They begged Jesus to go away from their region. They did not want Him there. Why? Part of it may have been the consternation of the owners of the pigs at their loss. If Jesus’ presence could mean financial loss, they did not want Him to stay. It is still the same with many who, if they realize that Jesus will become Lord of their material possessions and monetary wealth, will want nothing more to do with them.

But there is more. Mark tells us that, when they saw Jesus and the man clothed and in his right mind, they were afraid. The presence of such power scared them. The power displayed in such changing of a life made them highly uncomfortable. It is this way with Jesus. He is not a non-threatening personality. In fact there is no more threatening person than Jesus. And we may feel especially threatened if we sense He will change our lives radically. The people preferred to keep things as they were than to risk having this powerful, life-changing Jesus in their midst. So today there are many who want some should of what Christianity promises but do not want to have dealings with the real Jesus made known to us in the Gospels. Nor do they want Jesus to interfere and to change way of life that has become comfortable for them. Better to have Jesus to leave you alone, they think, than to have Him take over your life and make changes.

The most scary thing is that Jesus granted their request. If they did not want Jesus around, He would not stay around. He got in the boat and left their region. That means they were left as they were, without Jesus, and now with their hearts further hardened against Him. We ought to fear nothing more than we fear having our hearts hardened against Jesus and His leaving us alone.

With the man himself we see something very different. As Jesus was getting in the boat, the man also begged a favor of Jesus - that he might be with Jesus. He wanted to be one of those who followed Jesus wherever He went. But Jesus denied His request. Why? As it turns out, Jesus had something else for the man to do. We should remember, as we come to Jesus and make requests, particularly about how and where we will serve Him, if He says no, it is because He has something different, and in the big picture, something better for us to do. We should not feel rejected or neglected when we do not get what we ask of Him. As Garth Brooks sang, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Jesus gave the man his assignment. He was to stay behind represent Jesus on in that region. Jesus sent him home with the command to go to his friends and “tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.” The man was faithful to the assignment. He went and began to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him in the Decapolis – region that included ten cities. Soon the news of what Jesus had done had spread over a large territory because of the witness of this one man. And, if people did not come to faith, they are least marveled at what they heard about the merciful power of Jesus displayed in this man’s words and life.

This is one of the things Jesus has assigned to us to do in this world. We are not all called to be preachers or evangelists, but all of us can testify to how much Jesus has done for us and how He has shown us His power to save. If we want our church to grow, then we need to remember the importance of “word of mouth” testimony. As we talk about what the Lord has done, we can tell people of how we continue to experience the power and mercy of Jesus as we worship together in church.

How thankful and confident we should be, knowing that Jesus is the dominating Lord who uses His dominating power to help His people and show them mercy. He uses His great power to destroy the works of the devil. In His power is our salvation from sin and our protection from the devil and every evil thing.


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