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Tuesday
Jul232019

The Power & Authority of Jesus

Mark 5:1-20.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, July 21, 2019.

Many scientists do not believe there is such a thing as a spirit realm. They hold to a materialism world-view and they would not accept that a human has a true spirit, much less that there are spiritual entities other than human.  The basic line of thought is that ancient humans couldn’t explain disease and mental illness and so they came up with the idea of spirits, both good and bad (the bad being demons).  The problem with this is that is presents the false idea that we now understand everything about the human body and mind. 

As advanced as our technologies are, the human mind still presents a difficult puzzle to scientists.  There are clinically trained psychiatrists who have come to the conclusion that some cases that they have encountered cannot be explained by a problem within a person’s mind.  Things such as: the knowledge of individuals and things outside of the person’s ability (even very private things), speaking languages not learned or even encountered,  and especially aggravation at talk about and the person and work of Jesus.

Of course the opposite error does exist.  Some religious people treat all strange activity as demonic.  Many “exorcisms” gone awry have resulted in the death of people, and I am not just talking about within Christianity.  As believers in the One who is Truth, we must not cast aside the recognition that demons are real.  Yet, we also must not let fear rule our hearts and label every mental illness or strange sickness as demonic activity.

Today we will look at a passage that makes it clear that though demons do exist, they must flee before the power and authority of Jesus Christ.

A demon-possessed man approaches Jesus

Our story begins with a demon-possessed man that meets Jesus and his disciples at the shore as they get out of their boat.  We should remember that, at the end of chapter 4, Jesus and his disciples were boating across the Sea of Galilee from the Galilee region (NW part of the sea).  During this trip a huge storm occurred threatening to destroy the boat and them.  This story is what happened after that scene.  Another point to recognize is that all three synoptic gospels have these stories back to back.  They are integrally linked in the minds of the apostles.  This has caused some to see a supernatural aspect to the storm scene. 

The Scriptures do not state that this is the case.  However, it is quite possible.  In the story of Job, Satan is allowed to “touch” Job.  Of the several catastrophes that occur two seem to be natural disasters:  fire falls from heaven upon the sheep and shepherds, and a great wind destroys the house in which his adult children are feasting, killing them all.  Regardless of whether or not the above conjecture is correct, the message is the same.  Jesus is greater than anything that may come upon us in this life, whether natural or supernatural, period.

So, just where are they landing with their boat?  If you look at all three gospel accounts (Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 8), you find a difference in the name of the area in which they land.  On top of this, there are also some textual differences within the manuscript evidence.  Is it the area of the Gadarenes, Gergasenes, or the Gerasenes?  It is most likely that these are variant terms of the same or overlapping areas.  The Gadara area would include all of the southern part of the Sea of Galilee.  So that gives us a rough estimate of where they were.

Immediately upon their beaching f the boat, they are met by the demon-possessed man.  This guy is in a terrible condition of which we are told about up front in the story.  Not all demon-possession manifests in a way that is so violent and socially adverse as this guy.  This man represents the “crazy person” picture of possession.  We are told initially that he has an unclean spirit, which is a synonym for a demon.  Notice that the term “demons” is used in verse 12.  He lived among the tombs rather than in a regular house of that time, most likely due to being driven out of town.  He was out of his mind crying out, cutting himself with stones and naked.  When it talks about crying out here, it is not talking about tears, but rather loud screams and words that may or may not have made sense.  The people of the area have often tried to restrain him with shackles and chains.  However, he would break these chains and tear off the shackles.

The strength he demonstrated could be called super-human.  However, it is unclear how much of the power is simply the demons pushing him to exert more energy than a person would normally push themselves.  Also, I’m sure the strength of the metals in that place and at that time are very weak compared to what we would have today.  However, we should also recognize that these people had restrained many others before.  This guy was unrestrainable in a day that knew how to restrain some pretty strong guys.  The overall picture is that this guy is a menace to the area and has been driven out of the city and into the tombs, or at least has gone there of his own accord.  Also, we see that he is a very tortured individual.  The demons are not his friends.  They have brought him to a horrible and low state.

The demons resist leaving the man

The writing of this scene is a bit choppy, but one can follow it.  It seems the man approaches Jesus and Jesus first commands the spirit to come out of the man.  It is then that the demon begins to speak.

Now we must deal with an unfortunate translation in verse 6.  The man is not worshipping Jesus as the English in the KJV, NKJV, and RSV states.  The word most of the time does mean to worship. However, at its base it means to prostrate one’s self before another as if to kiss their hand in obeisance.  Thus, the better picture is that the man has ran up and fallen down in front of Jesus, looking like a fiend (no clothing, cuts all over his body, not in his right mind, hair probably a knotted mess, etc.).  Jesus recognizes the unclean spirit and commands it to come out. 

At this point, the demon has some protests, or at least, a short dialogue takes place.  The first statement of the demon is really a question.  It essentially means what do you want with me, or why are you bothering me.  This area is not considered part of Israel at the time.  No Jew worth his salt would be caught dead there, and so, the people in this scene are most likely gentiles.  The question is on the order of asking why Jesus is “out of his territory.”  Secondly, the demon demonstrates the knowledge of who Jesus is.  He addresses him as Jesus, Son of the Most High God.  Notice that Jesus normally would not let demons talk, at least when he was in Israel.  However, here we see that Jesus interacts to some degree with the spirits.  Why would he do so here, but not in Israel?  When he was in Israel, Jesus didn’t want demons for his P. R. speakers.  I would think that here in this Gentile land the only Israelites are his disciples and they are already convinced that he is the Messiah.  These Gentiles are not thinking to themselves that Jesus could be the Messiah.  Most likely, they are not even aware of what that is.  Yet, Satan and his spirits knew exactly who Jesus was, but they did not know what he was there to do.

This demon asks Jesus if he is there to torment him.  Matthew 8 adds the phrase “before the time.”  So, what is this about?  The book of Revelation speaks of a time when Satan is to be cast into the bottomless pit.  Perhaps the demons will also have that fate.  Regardless, we know that all evil beings will be cast into the Lake of Fire when the New Heavens and the New Earth are created by God.

These spirits have clear knowledge of this coming judgment. However, they also seem to have the idea that it isn’t time yet for their judgment.  To them, Jesus is here early.  This adds to the fear of these demons.  What is he doing?  Is he throwing us into the bottomless pit/Lake of Fire early? 

Jesus asks the spirit what its name is and is told that it is “Legion.”  This is clearly not a proper name, but rather a nick-name, or better a nom de guerre.  He is possessed by many demons, whether that literally means thousands or not is irrelevant.  The demons protest that they do not want to be sent out of the region (vs. 10).  We are not told why.  Most likely they believe they have a sweet deal in this area and are able to have their way.

However, they suggest an alternative.  In their fear, they beg Jesus to give them leave to enter a herd of pigs that are nearby.  We are told that there are 2,000 pigs.  It is unclear why they ask this, and also why Jesus permits it.  It would probably be foolish to speculate too much.  However, several things are clear.  The spirits demonstrate the same violence and torment in the pigs as in the demoniac.  The pigs “go crazy” and stampede down the hill into the sea and drown.  Thus, the spirits are released into the area desperate to find another person to inhabit and have gotten away from Jesus.  Later, the disciples of Jesus would come back into this area and most likely have to deal with them again.

The people of the region are afraid

The swine-herders become the heralds of what happened.  We are not told into what city they go, but it is most likely a nearby small village.  Eventually a crowd from the area gathers at shore in order to see this spectacle.  Then the story is recounted for them about Jesus freeing the demon-possessed man and the death of the pigs.

Alongside of this story, is the reality of the man himself.  He is clearly the same man they had feared in the past, most likely with cuts still visible on parts of his body.  However, he is not ranting and stark raving naked.  He is fully clothed and in his right mind.  These evidences powerfully testify to these first century people, but it also powerfully testifies to us 21st century people.  If our psychiatrists had an one ounce of the ability Jesus had, we would not see nearly as much mental illness in our society.  I am not saying all mental illness is the result of demonic possession.  It is often just the natural result of sin, both ours and that of others.  However, Jesus healed people as well as casting out demons.  We should learn from the only one who demonstrated mastery of both, instead of scoffing at the testimony of these eye-witnesses.

There are two responses recorded here.  The first is from the people of the region.  No doubt, they can appreciate the freeing of the demon-possessed man.  However, they also may see Jesus as just another spiritual threat.  If he is stronger than a legion of evil spirits than what would he do to them?  Also, the destruction of 2,000 pigs was a heavy economic hit.  Can we afford any more actions of such a man in our country?  Regardless of all their thoughts, they plead with Jesus to leave. 

It is easy to be fearful and afraid of spiritual things because we don’t understand them and can’t control them.  However, this is the point.  Evil spirits are fearful, but the power of the Holy Spirit is greater than them.  When we believe in Christ and have his Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we have nothing to fear from such spirits, even a legion of them. 

The Holy Spirit is pure and clean.  He does not control people, torment them, and abuse them.  He works gently and kindly within us to encourage us in the right direction.  He enables and empowers us as we act in faith and trust in God’s Word.  You have nothing to fear from the Holy Spirit, and, when He is living within you, you have nothing to fear from those evil spirits that roam this world looking for people to inhabit and torment.

The second response is that of the man, which is quite different from the people.  The man wants to follow Jesus and become one of his disciples.  However, Jesus gives him a different mission.  This Gentile man is not who God has to become an apostle in Israel.  Rather, he is to tell that Gentile region his story and how Jesus set him free from a legion of demons.  Imagine what it was like when a decade or two later the disciples of Jesus came into that area.  They would find many people open to the gospel because of what they had heard from this man years earlier.  His activity would be a kind of “pre-evangelism” that would prepare the inhabitants of the region to receive the Gospel later.

As we leave this story, I pray that, instead of being freaked out about spiritual things and pushing Jesus away, you will become excited about the one who has complete authority and power over all spiritual beings.  We need not fear the demons of darkness when the Lord of the Light has come. 

Power & Authority audio