Mark 5:1-20, 6:6b-13, 30-32
February 23, 2003 © 2003, J.W. Carter
And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. 2And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: 4Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. 5And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. 6But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, 7And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. 8For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. 9And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. 10And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. 11Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. 13And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. 14And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. 15And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. 16And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. 17And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.
We are in the center of an 8-lesson series entitled, "The Cost of Bold Discipleship" and is based upon the Gospel of Mark. We have looked at Jesus authority to call us as disciples and the necessity for us to respond in obedience. We have seen that an obedient response is not a call to ease, but to one of difficulty as we find ourselves in conflict with a world that despises the gospel. This lesson will provide us with some guidance in how we can put faithful and obedient action behind our promise of obedient discipleship.
The lesson starts in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5. Here we find Marks account of the healing of the demoniac. (Note that Mark and Luke identify the one, Matthew states that there are two individuals who are healed, where Mark and Luke refer to the man from Garesa, Matthew refers to the men from Gadara. Both of these towns were part of the Decapolis, ten small cities in the area east of the Sea of Galilee. There is no conflict in these accounts, each writer simply focuses in on part of the event.) This passage illustrates a lot of the great value that Jesus sees in the life of a single individual, and the powerlessness of Satan to interfere with Jesus saving grace towards each person. The demons recognized Jesus right away and begged that they not be tormented, or face the final judgment yet. They begged of Jesus to mercilessly let them enter a herd of about 2000 pigs. How many demons were there if they could enter 2000 pigs? Note that the pigs provide us with an indication of just how many demons this man (or men) were dealing with. Do we, as Christians have to deal with demons, agents of the unholy spirit of evil? Yes, we do, and we do so every day, but may not recognize their names. What are some of these demons? Some can be named as anger, greed, lust, envy, jealousy, sorrow, pride, hate, bigotry, despair, depression, rebellion, etc. It is no surprise that we find the demoniac in such pitiful condition when the scripture reveals that he was being controlled by thousands of demons. Our postmodern sensitivity and penchant for liberal animal rights philology might cause us to decry the torture and destruction of 2000 pigs, completely missing the message that they died for. Somehow, the man, tortured by these demons, by Gods grace was surviving the ordeal, though barely. When the demons entered the pigs, their madness lacked the mans ability to reason, and they stampeded down the hill, over a cliff, and into the sea.
What is the difference between the control that Satan had over this man, and the control he has over any unsaved individual? Without Jesus, Christians were subject to the influence of these spirits that we listed. However, with Jesus, what happens to those spirits? When a Christian relies on the power of the Holy Spirit in life, we find the influence of evil overwhelmed by God's purposes for good. A spirit of anger is replaced with a spirit of forgiveness. What happens to a spirit of hate? The Holy Spirit replaces it with a spirit of love. Likewise we see the replacement of greed with generosity, lust with refocused desire, pride with humility, bigotry with love, depression with peace, despair with hope etc. When Jesus saves the Christian, He performs this same work of exorcism. Where there was any list of these unholy spirits, Jesus replaces them with the Holy Spirit who has power. Against the power of the Holy Spirit, the demons of Satan are impotent.
Realizing this, what should be our response to God? Our response should be one of thanksgiving, praise, and the submitting of ourselves to His Lordship over us. Take a look at the response of the healed man in the next couple of verses.
And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. 19Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. 20And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
When the man requested to follow Jesus, what was Jesus response? Jesus rejected the man's request to follow him. We might find this a little perplexing since Jesus has been calling people to follow up to this point. Instead, Jesus charged the man with a specific mission as he commissioned the man to go to his family and be a testimony of Gods grace. The Decapolis was an area outside of Jesus primary center of ministry, and through this event, the Gadarene demoniac became the first missionary. It is interesting to note that on other occasions when Jesus would heal someone He would charge them to keep silent, and not tell anybody. This pattern of secrecy is referred to by theologians as the "Messianic Secret," and is evident in all of the gospel writers, and particularly in Mark. However, in this case, Jesus gave no such command of secrecy? Why? Answering this question can answer the question of the messianic secret in the first place. The time for Jesus fulfillment of his purpose had not yet come, and if the Jews recognized Him for what they were expecting Him to be, they would have mobbed him and stirred up a rebellion against Rome. There was no such threat among the Gadarene Gentiles. This man (or men) was a Gentile.
Jesus authority over us as Lord, also gives Him the authority to require obedience from us. As with the man healed here, we were healed in a very similar manner, and have been commissioned to a similar task. What does Jesus expect of us Christians? Christians are to be a witness for Jesus, and serve one another in love.
And he went round about the villages, teaching. 7And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
Jesus went around teaching in the Galilean villages. Previously, He attempted to teach in the area of Nazareth, his home town (vv. 1-6a). What was the result? The unbelief of the people limited His ability to do a "mighty work" there (v. 5), and He was only able to heal "a few sick people." So, Jesus returned to Galilee, to the area that would be the center of His ministry. Jesus had called his disciples, and had been teaching them. Now, he commissioned them with a task. What was it? He "sent them out with authority over evil spirits."
Two questions: (1) has Jesus commissioned you and sent you out? (Yes: Matthew 28:19-21), (2) do you have power over evil spirits? (Yes: the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart and life of every believer, and against Him, demons have no power. God has given to each Christian opportunities for ministry in His name. He gave specific instructions to the disciples for the task at hand:
And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: 9But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
This sounds like a mission trip! He was sending them out with the minimum requirements for the journey. When my wife and I were called to go to White Russia (Belarus), we were told to bring high-energy food and a few liters of water. We were told that we would not know where we were staying, whether we would be fed. We did not know if we would be able to bathe. If we brought a little food and water, we could take care of ourselves until a home was found for us. This is not dissimilar to the charge that Jesus gave to the disciples.
Why were they told to take only a staff and the minimum of clothes? The allowance of the staff is interesting. A staff, or a long, hard stick, had several purposes. It could be used to poke at any wild animal that would threaten them. You might do the same when you go for a walk. I used to carry a golf club, a small bat, or a hard stick for the same purpose as I would walk through a neighborhood that had many stray animals. Thankfully, I was never in need of using such a weapon. The same weapon discourages the opportunistic thief. However, could God protect the missionary disciples from the animals and thieves? (Of course.) Then why did he give them staffs? Many people overlook that Jesus also armed the disciples with swords when they left the upper room for the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knows our fears, and does not expect us to become instantly all wise and knowing, courageous and confident in Him. Jesus showed His love for them when He allowed them the staff, so that they could walk without fear. He also allowed them sandals, so that they could walk with comfort. Walking barefoot was common in their culture. By going with no food, no bag, and no money, Jesus did expect that they would be going on faith, and would be dependent upon those to whom they were sent to minister. When people would see them without food, a bag, or an extra tunic, they would be obligated, in their tradition, to invite the stranger into their home. These invitations would be opportunities for the spread of the gospel that would otherwise not have taken place.
When we went to White Russia, we found ourselves completely dependent upon those to whom we went to minister. As it turns out, a family took us in that lived in what was previously a government apartment building, one of the better accommodations that any others in our group received. When we arrived at their home at about 11:00PM their time, six hours late, we were greeted with a table spread with a large meal; a meal that was opened with a toast to our safe arrival.
And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.
What was the purpose of this command? Jesus instructed that they were not to be shopping around for accommodations, instead they were to develop relationships with the people with whom they stayed. Our 10 days in the homes of Vladamir and Julia Gorbachev** ultimately resulted in life-changing experience, and planted a seed for the gospel. They initially greeted us at their with a firm and strict statement: "No God." They knew that we were part of a religious group, and did not want us bringing our church dogma into their home. They were astonished when, on the third day there we invited their daughter, Olga, to spend the Summer with us in America. We had quickly built a close relationship with them and their best friends, Sergei and Christine Putin**. We also arranged for their daughter to come to America for the Summer. By the end of a week they started asking questions about our faith. Christmas arrived in our second week, and they asked us to tell them the Christmas story. It was at this point that I gave them all Bibles and reading assignments. By the time we left they promised to read their assignments. Over the next two summers their daughters came to live with us in America. In the second summer, all three of their daughters lived in our home. I was able to lead Katya to Christ in the bedroom where she slept just a few days before her return home. Olga also heard the gospel and heard Katyas prayer of commitment, but if she responded, she kept it to herself. Katyas letters to us are now filled with her statements of Gods blessings and scripture verses. Both of the families have opened their previously hard hearts to God, all as a result of a relationship built on a 10-day visit.
True and meaningful evangelism comes from the establishing of relationships. When a Christian develops a truly loving and caring relationship with a non-Christian, there is no way that God's love can be hidden. (Matt. 5:14 ff.) All people are looking for the peace and love that characterizes a faithful Christian, and when that is seen, doors can open to share the gospel. A wonderful completion of the relationship takes place as the non-Christian comes to faith, and the resulting relationship becomes deeper and more meaningful than it ever was. Though it has been a few years since our 10-day stay with our Belarussian friends, we still correspond, and fully expect to continue to do so for many years.
And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city. 12And they went out, and preached that men should repent. 13And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
As the outreach director for a 450-member Sunday School, I used to go door-to-door in a formal visitation program on Tuesday nights. I would often pair up with Bob Matthews, our minister of music. New to the task of cold-door evangelism, I could hide behind his experience, familiarity with the community and his confidence in his faith. One day when we visited a home a large man was very rude to us at the door. Rather than respond by becoming upset, when we got to the end of the sidewalk while walking away, Bob stopped and clicked his heals together, laughing. He suggested I do the same. Needless to say, I asked him what that was all about. In the culture of Jesus day, when a Jew would cross the border of a foreign land into his own, he would brush off all of the dust and dirt he collected there. They felt such a close relationship between God and land, that they felt that by bringing in the dirt, they were bringing in their foreign Gods. It was common for them to carry a bag of dirt from their homeland with them when they traveled. This was the tradition from which the command to shake the dust comes from. It is a testimony of the power of their God, and the powerlessness of the gods of the pagans. Bob simply pointed to this scripture, and illustrated Jesus' instruction to shake the dust from our heels as a testimony of this man's apostasy.
The missionary disciples went out preaching that people should repent, driving out many demons and anointing sick people with oil and healing them. When we minister in Jesus name, we are commissioned to do the same tasks. We are to go out and drive out demons. How do you do this? Remember the list of demons we looked at earlier in this study. When someone is suffering from loneliness, what can we do? When someone is suffering from hunger, what can we do? When someone is caught up in anger, what can we do? For every one of these thousands of demons, the Holy Spirit has the answer, and we carry that answer with us everywhere we go. To hold back the healing power of the Holy Spirit from a suffering world is both selfish and sinful, yet we hold back without reservation. We are afraid to teach repentance. We would rather stay away from those who need to turn their lives around. God has given his Spirit of Compassion to be used like the disciples oil to anoint and heal the sick that are all around us: not just those who are sick physically, but more significantly, those who are sick spiritually; those who are suffering simply because they do not know the remedy for their pain. Though Satan is powerless against the Holy Spirit, when a Christian is not relying on the Holy Spirit, Satan is empowered in his/her life. Fear and selfishness creep in, and the Christian's testimony is damaged. Christians have been given the power to cast out demons, and anoint and heal the sick. This might not typically involve miraculous healings, but it certainly includes all manner of lesser ills, so it is inappropriate for the Christian to feel powerless because his touch does not heal cancer. That touch from a Christian will still chase away thousands of demons and cure thousands of ills. Christians need to be out there touching people.
And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. 31And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. 32And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.
Probably, none of us has often engaged in ministry to the point of exhaustion. Actually, if we do engage in ministry to that point, we are doing something wrong. Most likely, we are trying to work in our own power, or we are trying to do ministry that someone else should be doing. If all Christians were actively engaged in the ministry that they have been called to, we would not see Christians burn out from overwork. What causes people in the most active people in the church to sometimes drop everything and quit? They simply get discouraged and tired of being the 10% of the church that does 90% of the work. Those who are most engaged in work inside the fellowship of the church are usually also those who are most engaged in the ministry outside of the church that we are all called to. This doubles their exhaustion.
We are not expected to work to the point of burnout. Jesus often would get away from the masses of people to have a time of quiet, a time of rest, and a time of prayer. Likewise, when the disciples gathered themselves together after this missionary effort, Jesus took them to the side for a time of rest. If we are all obedient to the call of Christ to be ministers of the gospel, we will not find the work exhausting, but exhilarating. Then, when we find need for rest, rest must be taken so we can be refreshed and ready to go back to the task with excitement and expectation.
I was once called to drive about 5 hours from our home to the Atlantic coast to help someone in need. It was a friend who had driven 800 miles down from upstate New York to pick up their father and move him, and his possessions back with them. We did not arrive back home until about 3:00AM on Sunday morning, causing us to come to church and Sunday School quite exhausted. The displeased pastor told me through his sermon that it was wrong for people to come to church tired because of ministry outside its doors. He firmly stated that we should come to church "refreshed and ready to serve." What do you think of this statement? I stated my disagreement with this pastor, explaining that Christians should be coming to church exhausted from ministry and ready to be refreshed and better prepared to return to being the salt and light to which we were called. The pastor did understand my point and belied his shortsightedness.
What are some ways we can find rest? Our church attendance should be a time of both physical and spiritual rest. Certainly, there are tasks that we take on within the fellowship that at times can be exhausting and might be less so if more members were actively engaged, but for the most part the main focus of our coming together is for strengthening and rest. It is very easy for me to sleep after attending church services, because I leave the assembly so relaxed. We should also find a place and time to have individual prayer, Bible study, devotion, and physical rest. People who do this on a regular basis find their lives radically changed by the practice.
We have been called to minister to others, to step out in faith, yet not without the resources we need. We will find not exhaustion, but rest and peace, and the blessing of seeing the effects that the gospel of peace has on those that God has called us to minister to.
** The names of our Belarussian hosts has been changed to protect their privacy.