|THOSE WHO DWELL IN TOMBS
Series: The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Fifteen
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 20, 2018
Last Sunday we began looking at Jesus leading His disciples on a field trip across the Sea of Galilee. This morning we’re looking at part two of that field trip. Mark 5 - starting at verse 1.
Verse 1 is The Setting - where the field trip part two takes place: They [Jesus and His disciples] came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.
Let’s make sure we’re all up to speed on when and where we are.
First - the when.
Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of God - the everywhere and everywhen of God’s creation that the sovereign God has total dominion and authority over all of that - including us. Which is beyond our ability to fully understand. But Jesus has been using parables - taking what’s familiar to our lives to explain what is not familiar to us - the kingdom of God in all its Godly kingdomness.
The point of that teaching - what Jesus has been trying to get His disciples to take deep to heart and to grab the reality of for themselves - is that the kingdom of God is at hand - right here - right now - in Jesus. Which demands a response. Meaning a total life transforming change towards God and how they do life. How we do life with God as citizens of God’s kingdom.
Teachers take their students on field trips for more than the entertainment value. Right? So - like any good teacher - Jesus takes His disciples on a field trip.
Part One of the field trip - what we looked at last Sunday - field trip part one was the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The boat getting blown around by the wind and tossed by waves and taking on water and the disciples panicking in fear. And Jesus rebuking the wind and telling the sea to be still. And the wind and the sea obeying Jesus because Jesus is all of the power and authority of God’s kingdom is right there in Jesus born into the flesh and blood of our humanity.
Which is the point of field trip part one: Jesus - God - is in the boat. You don’t need to fear the storm or whatever else comes up against us in life. To by faith follow Jesus is to live in the power of God’s kingdom in this world.
After the when of after field trip part one - Mark gives us the where of field trip part two. Jesus and the disciples reach the other side of the Sea of Galilee - the eastern shore - which is the country of the Gerasenes. Which most maps label as the “Decapolis.”
Which is Greek. “Deca” - Greek number ten. “Polis” meaning “city.” “Deca polis” because there were essentially 10 cities in the region that were Greek. Which you can see there on the map.
After Alexander the Great conquered Palestine - back in the 330’s BC - these ten cities were set up by the Greeks to be everything Greek. Greek government - Greek courts - Greek temples - Greek theaters - Greek schools - Greek sports - Greek money - Greek armies. Everything Greek. Even Greek people. Meaning the area was mostly inhabited by people the Jews considered to be unclean and ungodly pagan and perverse Gentiles.
Which is where Jesus takes His disciples for field trip part two.
Going on at verse 2. Would you read with me?
And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.
What Mark is showing us in these verses is The Bondage of this demon possessed man.
Jesus probably landed near what today is the resort town of Ein Gev. Which looks like this today. Which fits the geography of what’s recorded here. Just east of Ein Gev there’s a steep rise going up to over 1,500 feet to what at that time was the Decapolis town of Hippo. There were caves in the area that were used as tombs.
As Jesus steps out of the boat this demon possessed man comes up to Jesus. If the disciples thought the storm was something to be afraid of this man is way more terrifying.
This man is living among the tombs. In what were caves in the hillside used to bury dead people. Like crypts in a cemetery.
About a week ago somebody posted on Facebook “Would you spend a night in a cemetery?” The question gets asked because even today a lot of people think the same things as they thought back then. The Jews considered a cemetery unclean - moral filth - unholy. The Gentiles considered it haunted - a place of darkness and evil - dangerous.
This guy is living in zombie land. He lives among the dead.
And he has supernatural - demon empowered - strength. No one can overpower him. No chains can bind him. No shackles can restrain him. People tried to restrain him. Maybe they were trying to help him. But no one had the power to subdue him.
Mark adds that night and day - out in the tombs and the mountains - he’s screaming and howling - mutilating his own body. Luke adds that he was naked. He’s living like a savage beast. Living apart from humanity and what it means to be human.
There’s a horrendousness in that that goes beyond understanding.
Sometimes we try to make sense out of evil - the work of Satan and his minions. People make jokes about the Devil - some guy in red suit with a pitch fork and pointy tail.
Sometimes we think of Satan as being like some bad guy in a movie or a book or TV. Kind of like Darth Vader or Kylo Ren. There’s some limit to his wickedness - some explanation for why he acts like that. There’s still some good in him. Some possibility of redemption.
But Satan and his minions are more like the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel. Remember The Dark Knight? There’s a quote from the Joker that touches on the kind of senseless depravity that’s Satan inspired evil: “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical… They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just like to watch the world burn.”
Pure - Satan inspired - total wickedness is irrational. Evil on a level that we - by God’s grace - that what we don’t fully understand.
This man is a pawn of evil powers. He cannot control himself. He cannot be controlled by others. But he’s bound - powerless against the evil forces that have taken control of him.
His condition seems hopeless. He is destined to be bound to a world of hopelessness and anguish and despair. There’s no way out.
He is totally alone - isolated from humanity - from his family - from his true self. Howling and mutilating himself.
In some pretty unnerving ways this man is a vivid - in our face - example of what we see going on around us. Maybe not to the same degree. But what’s behind the curtain of what we do see. The same irrational wickedness - Satan and his minions - that - apart from Christ - that holds humanity in bondage. That we open ourselves up to as we allow ourselves to dabble in sin.
By - what can only be understood as an act of God’s grace - as Jesus steps off the boat, this man approaches Jesus.
Verses 7-13 record The Deliverance of the demon possessed man. Would you read with me starting at verse 7:
And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before Him. 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.”
For He was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged Him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”
So He gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
“What have you to do with me” is a Hebrew idiom that has the idea of “Why have you come? What business do we have to conduct together?”
There are two “business agendas” in conflict here.
Jesus Who’s bringing God’s kingdom of deliverance - God’s salvation and release from bondage - life eternal with God.
And the other “business agenda” is Satan and his kingdom of evil and bondage and eternal death. Which is the business these demons have been conducting and abusing people with - including this possessed man.
“Business is good. Jesus. What are you doing here?”
“Son of the Most High God” is a powerful title describing Who Jesus is and why Jesus has come.
“Son” meaning - God the Son - the second person of the Triune God. Jesus is the eternal God in the flesh and blood of our humanity. The one and only begotten Son of the Father - Jesus - the one anointed - consecrated and set apart - the only one able to fulfill and accomplish the will and plan of the Father. His agenda. His work of redeeming mankind.
“The Most High God” was used in the Old Testament by Gentiles to acknowledge the superiority of Israel’s God.
While the crowd on the west bank and the disciples on the field trip - while they all struggled to understand Who Jesus is - the demons recognize Him immediately. The man - possessed - falls before Jesus as one would before a king - a sovereign - because there’s no denying Who Jesus is and the kingdom work of the Son. Business is about to take a turn for the worse.
“I adjure you by God, do not torment me” is literally “Swear by God that you won’t torture me.”
There is fear in that.
Jude helps us to understand that fear. Jude writes: “And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged.” The demons are fallen into sin angels - angels in rebellion against God. Satan being the greatest of these. Angels who had a God given role within God’s kingdom - who turned from that and followed Satan. “...God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the day of judgment.” (Jude 1:6 NLT).
They know - with the coming of Jesus - the kingdom of God at hand - that the power and the potential of the kingdom is being unleashed in the lives of mankind - and their days are numbered. With judgment their days of roaming the earth and binding and destroying - that all’s coming to an end.
The fear is that Jesus is about to unleash that now. A foretaste of the judgment that’s coming.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t answer the plea for mercy. Jesus is on a field trip - teaching - conducting kingdom business. Jesus asks the question: “What is your name?”
Answer: “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
A Legion was a Roman military unit that in the first century could include upwards of 6,000 soldiers. Does that mean there were 6,000 demons possessing this man? There were 2,000 pigs. Does that mean there were 2,000 demons?
The exact number possessing this man isn’t really what’s important. We get that there were a lot of them.
Legion is descriptive of an occupying military force. What’s here is Satan’s army of terror and death. Satan’s demonic army of cruelty - and destruction that’s occupied this man.
The point is that there’s virtually nothing left of this man who’s living in horrendous circumstances and bondage. A living death that even Hollywood can’t picture. Evil on an irrational rampage.
“Out of the country” - verse 10 - going on with the discussion - “out of the country” is more than just moving to the next county.
According to Luke’s account they wanted to avoid the “abyss.” “Abyss” is a word that literally means “bottomless.” Which - in the New Testament - the “abyss” is the place where the unrighteous await final judgment.
Mark’s emphasis on “country” helps us to understand their desire to avoid judgment and to keep on conducting business where business has been good. Here in the Decapolis.
The demons offer a compromise. The great herd of pigs innocently grazing on the hillside. Irony of unclean demons entering unclean pigs may be intentional. The irrationality and strangeness of what takes place is intentional.
Jesus knew what would happen. It’s all part of the field trip. Jesus - with divine authority - gives the demons permission to occupy the herd.
This must have been amazing and terrifying at the same time.
If you’ve ever heard a pig squeal - imagine 2,000 of them squealing and rushing in mass terror into the sea. Then thrashing around in the water in a single mass drowning - driven by demons into suicidal madness. And then silence - that lingers as the last pig slips beneath the waves.
Jesus knew what would happen. He’s leading the field trip. Maybe we miss some of the impact of the carnage and destruction because we’re sitting on cushy chairs reading through something most of us have read through before.
But the disciples who witnessed that carnage are seeing it for the first time - seeing first hand the irrational evil that has confronted Jesus in the wilderness - in the synagogue - at His home - in His travels. They’re seeing Satan at work - first hand. Satan who is the source of disease and disaster and discord and death and decay. Satan who hates the work of God and desires that all of what God has created - all of what God desires in and for His kingdom - for us - Satan desires all to be consumed in his irrational evil and destruction.
The image - the silence - is profound. That impact - the lesson - should not be lost on us. The horror of what it means to be bound by Satan. The authority of Jesus to deliver us - to save us and free us from all of that.
Verses 14 to 17 are The Response - what comes as a result of what we’ve just witnessed.
Would you read with me the next part of Mark’s account.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.
The herdsman who we’re watching over the pigs - who we’re watching the stampede and carnage - fled - literally ran in terror. And in what probably took place over a number of days they went all over the place reporting what they’d seen.
Which results in a large crowd of people coming from all over the Decapolis to see for themselves what had happened.
The word in verse 15 “saw” is the Greek word “theoreo” which is where we get our word “theorize.” Meaning they gathered the facts and tried to understand what they’re seeing. What does all that mean? How are we suppose to respond to all that?
There’s this large mass of rotting pig carcasses that’s washed up on the shore. Then there’s this man that was probably well known - and avoided. That they’d heard screaming and howling in the hills and tombs during the night and day. Terrifying as that must have sounded.
Now this man who is clothed - sitting - rational in his thoughts and speech - a wreck of a human being completely restored who’s sitting at the feet of this Jewish rabbi from the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
Those who had seen what had happened - who’d been there - tried to explain to the newcomers what it was that they’d seen. What had happened to the demon possessed man and the pigs. Which - looking at the results - it was hard to avoid the obvious reality of what had happened.
At the cost of a few thousand pigs Jesus has redeemed this man from his horrific and hopeless circumstances. Restored him from being an outcast and despised. Restored his dignity and humanity. Restored him to a new life.
The people of the Decapolis are seeing all that and they’re trying to theorize what all that means. What that might mean for them. How to respond to all that. As they’re processing all that their response tells us something about them.
Rather than responding by faith they respond in fear. At one point they feared the demon possessed man. Now they fear Jesus. Not a fear of respect and worship - reverential awe. But heart level terror. Rather than embracing the possibilities of what God might be offering to them - rather than by faith surrendering to their creator there’s rejection motivated by fear.
Their response is to beg Jesus to leave the Decapolis. Beg - here in Greek - means to implore - to urge strongly. Driven by fear, there’s passion and urgency to their begging.
These are Greeks - Gentiles - living in a culture that is far from God. In their own way they’re bound by Satan and his minions. Their response is to retreat from God - to hang onto what’s familiar.
Which is how many people respond to what God offers us in Jesus. Sometimes we respond like that. With fear rather than faith. Wanting to go on with our lives as they are - trying to somehow manage our issues - all of that being painful and sometimes really messed up. But at least all that is known to us.
We see what God may be opening up to us but rather than stepping forward by faith - trusting God that what He desires to do in our lives - that that may actually be even better for us - we hold back. We turn from God rather than to God.
There’s a sobering reality check in that that we need to make sure we don’t pass by. To hang on to what binds us - whatever those issues might be - to not move forward in faith trusting God for what He has for us - is to remain bound by our fears. Which in reality means choosing to allow ourselves to remain bound up and under the influence and power of Satan.
Verses 18 to 20 bring us to The Purpose of Jesus’ field trip part two.
Would you read verses 18 to 20 with me.
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.
Jesus didn’t have to leave. He could have stayed despite the begging of the people. Jesus wasn’t one to run away from confrontation if that confrontation suited His purposes. Jesus left because it was time to go. It suited Jesus’ purposes to leave.
Before Jesus leaves - as Jesus is getting back in the boat - the set free redeemed man begs Jesus to go with Him. Same word for “begged” - urgently - passionately - you changed my life - begged Jesus to follow Jesus wherever Jesus was going.
Jesus - in response - commissions this man. Along with a redeemed and restored life - Jesus gives this man a new purpose in life.
“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He’s had mercy on you.”
Jesus leaves this Gentile - Greek - believing - God transformed - man in the Decapolis to evangelize his unbelieving and fearful countrymen and family.
“I was bound - hopelessly enslaved by evil. Jesus released me from my bondage. Jesus set me free. Jesus restored my humanity. He gave me my dignity back. He gave me my mind back. He gave me life. He’s given me purpose - to tell you what He’s done so that you will follow Him too.”
How powerful would that be to hear from the man who actually had all that happen to Him?
Mark records that this man did what Jesus told him to do and that everyone marveled. They were amazed - impressed. There was a very favorable response to this man’s testimony. This man’s testimony would be the means of leading others to salvation in Jesus - leading others to become followers of Jesus.
Field trip part two is about the potential of the kingdom. The parable Jesus told about the mustard seed being really really small. Seemingly without a whole lot of visible potential. And yet - as Jesus tells the parable - that seed grows into a large plant that provides shade and branches for nests.
We looked at that parable two Sundays ago.
The point of the parable is that the kingdom of God is like what happens to the mustard seed. It has seemingly insignificant and weak beginnings. But gradual unrelenting growth will happen. And one day it will be seen as great and powerful.
Which may be surprising to some. But that’s the potential of the kingdom. The kingdom of God at hand which is about the working of God in and through the lives of those who will respond by faith and trust Him with their lives.
Jesus started as one - the seed of the kingdom sown into the field of this world. Jesus began by calling a few disciples who would follow Him. After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension a group of about 100 became Spirit-filled witnesses. Within 40 years the gospel of the kingdom had reached all the great cultural centers of the Roman world and a whole lot of out-of-the-way places besides.
The gospel of the kingdom that has spread - gaining followers in every race on every continent and influencing every sphere of life. The good news of Jesus that’s why we are here today.
Speaking as a Greek. What Jesus did for that Gentile Greek man is powerful.
Processing all that…
Take away number one: We’re all born hopelessly enslaved to sin. The Bible tells us that we emerge from our mother’s wombs as slaves to the evil that rules this world. We confirm that by our own acts of sin.
Paul writes to the Ephesians: “And you were dead in the 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 children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
We may not see ourselves with the same desperation as a demon possessed man - bound - alienated - savage - devoid of humanity - hopeless - living among the tombs. But evil is evil. Satan is Satan. Same irrational wicked business agenda. And apart from Christ, that’s who we are. What binds us isn’t a question of degrees but the reality of bondage and separation from God.
Paul goes on: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4,5)
Take away number two: God can redeem any person in any situation at any time.
What could be worst than the horrendous circumstances of this possessed man - living death. Whatever you’re going through can’t be worse - even if it seems like it. If God can restore that man’s life he can restore ours.
Whatever you’ve done to yourself or however far you’ve walked away from God - even as a believer. Or the marriage you’ve ruined. Or the lives you’ve reduced to chaos. The people you’ve harmed. The relationships you’ve totally messed up.
God can redeem any person in any situation at any time. In Christ He offers to do that. We can’t do that. Others can’t do that. God alone can do that. And God - in Christ - offers to break the power of sin over our lives and set us free.
Redemption - what God offers us through Jesus’ work on the cross - God’s redemption urges us - begs us - to respond with faith. When God sets us free from what binds us - which He has through Jesus’ work on the cross - we need to respond with faith - not fear. To respond by obediently following God into what He has set us free for.
Any wrecked life can be restored. But we need to respond by faith and trust God with our lives - wherever and whenever and whatever He might lead us into.
Take away number three: When God redeems us He gives us new life with purpose. God can use any redeemed person to make an amazing difference in the lives of others. That’s God using us in the potential of the kingdom.
Whether you’ve got a redeemed from horrendous circumstances kind of testimony or you’ve got a “I was saved from a horrendous life of sin at the age of one” kind of testimony - salvation is an undeserved act of God’s grace. Redemption is about what God does for people hopelessly bound by sin like you and me.
God desires to use you and me to reach out to people living in bondage and fear who need to know the hope that we have because of what God has done for us. That’s why we’re here.
Whatever the experiences of our lives - wherever we are in the process of following Jesus - God wants to use us to bring glory to Him and to influence others to find the healing and eternal life that we have in Him.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2: Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Mass