I want to begin by thinking about stories. Since the beginning of time there have been certain common themes that run through our stories. We have love stories, comedies, and tragedies – or the mixture of all those in one known as romantic comedy. But across all those kinds of movies, there are two themes that almost always show up: good and evil.
Think about your favorite movies. In Braveheart, Scotland and William Wallace are good, while England and King Edward are bad. In the Chronicles of Narnia the kids and Aslan are good, and the witch is bad. Even in Disney movies, this is true. In Aladdin, Aladdin and the genie are good, but Jafar is bad. Don’t act like you don’t know about Aladdin.
You always want the good side to win and most of the time they would.
So when we begin to talk about Jesus and when we begin to talk about God people sometimes think in the same categories. They think of the universe as a cosmic battle between God and the Devil. And like all of our favorite stories, we’re anticipating the end to see who wins. Is Jesus just an agent of good that we hope wins? Is Jesus just another character in the story?
Well in the Gospel of Mark we get lots of opportunities to see Jesus interact with the forces of evil face to face. So we’re going to look at a story and try to answer this question. And I would contend that there is a battle going on between Jesus and the forces of evil, but it’s not a fair fight. Let’s open up to Mark 5.
Around this time in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had been teaching and large crowds began to gather and listen to his teaching. When evening came they got on a boat and sailed away. This is the story where the windstorm comes, the disciples panic, and Jesus calms the wind with His words, “Peace, be still.” So they were met with extreme opposition in the seas and Jesus took care of it. As soon as they start to relax they are now met with more opposition.
Let’s read the text, starting at verse 1.
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 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. 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. 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 to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 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. (Mark 5:1-20 ESV)
I. Jesus Encounters the Demon Possessed Man (5:1-6)
So as soon as they step out of the boat they’re met by this man with an unclean spirit. Unclean spirit is basically just another way of saying demon. This man who met them was possessed by a demon. The description the text gives of him is chilling.
He lived among the dead. He prefers the company of the dead, to the company of the living. He had superhuman strength, so much so that no chains could restrain him. He just broke them. He was always screaming and crying out. He was physically harming himself, beating himself, cutting himself. This man is disturbed.
It’s kind of hard for us to imagine this kind of demonic torment in our day. One, because many of us have stopped believing in the supernatural. And secondly, because most of us haven’t seen demonic torment in person. But I want you to use your imagination with me for a minute.
What would we do if we saw this man? You’re driving home one day and see a brother living in the graveyard, screaming in pain and torment. I know me. I’d be calling some kind of authority to snatch him up. We would institutionalize him. He’s a danger to himself and to others and he’s not in his right mind. He needs help. Well the people in the country of the Gerasenes didn’t know what to do with him. They tried to chain him up, but it didn’t work. I’m sure they were scared our of their minds.
There are people like this in our day, who are literally tormented like him. With voices in their heads, and violent tendencies, who cut themselves. We classify it as mere insanity or depression, but I’m sure in many of this cases, not all, but many of these cases it is demonic oppression. And similar to the towns people in the story, we don’t know what to do with them other than try to subdue them and keep them from hurting themselves and others. We just have more advanced ways to do that now. We have institutions and psych wards with rooms with padded walls and medications.
The cause for his craziness is more than just some trauma that altered his state of mind. Evil spiritual forces have taken over his body and are torturing him! He doesn’t like living like this. He is being oppressed. He is captured, being held prisoner, tortured against his will.
Demons Oppose God and His Purposes
Do not be deceived brothers and sisters. Demons are real. They’re spiritual beings. They’re evil and they work against God’s purposes. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has a lot of run-ins with demons. He has a very similar incident in chapter 1. And most of the time in the Gospels demons are oppressing people and attempting to destroy God’s creation. With this particular man, they are dehumanizing him. They are trying to destroy the image of God in Him. Demons seek to undo and hinder God’s purposes in the world. And God has, in His sovereignty, allowed these evil forces to be at work.
Demons’ work doesn’t only look like this kind of possession and torment though. As a matter of fact, believers indwelled with God’s Spirit cannot be possessed. Still they are at work attacking us. They tempt us to sin. They spread false teaching. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul calls false teaching the doctrine of demons.
Demons are responsible for much of the evil in the world. Of course we’re still responsible where we yield to their influence. And they are the enemies of the living God.
The Man Runs to Jesus (5:6)
Back to the man. So the demonic forces are too strong to fight off. No one has been able to deliver him. He’s been in the tombs as far away from people as possible. But when he sees Jesus off in the distance he runs to Him and falls down before Him.
This passage gets a little tricky here because the demons speak through this man, but I think the text leads us to believe that the man was in control when he ran to Jesus. He sees Jesus, and knows that maybe Jesus can do something about these demons that torment him. Maybe Jesus can free him from the oppression. He sees the possibility of relief and runs at the chance.
We can learn something from the demon-possessed man here. He didn’t know how anyone could deliver him, but somehow he knew who could deliver him. Some of us need to come to this same point of brokenness, where all we can do is run to Jesus. We need to stop looking to our will power, to our money, to our friends and we need to run to Jesus! Jesus calls, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest for your souls.” We don’t know how we’ll be delivered, but we know who can do it.
It’s similar when dealing with folks who are mentally unstable. Don’t stigmatize them, hate them, ridicule them and laugh at them. We should have compassion on them. More than anything else, they need to be delivered. We should serve them holistically, use medication if needed, but point them to Jesus for deliverance. And pray for them to meet Him. They need an encounter with the Lord. Medication can subdue us, and counseling can help us think more clearly, but only Jesus can make us whole.
Let me draw your attention to another part of the scene.
II. The Demons Speak (5:7-13)
As soon as the man falls before Jesus he cries out, “What have you to do with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” The text says he cries that out because Jesus was saying, “Come out of him you unclean spirit.” This shows us that this is the unclean spirit inside of him speaking.
Now we’ve already established that Jesus and the demons are not on the same side. Jesus is the Son of God and demons are against God’s purposes. So let’s try to put this into perspective.
This would be like during a war. And let’s say a foreign country has some POWs and the US troops come in to save them and the prison guards say, “Ah US Army? Man what you doing here? Can you just let us do our thing please? Please don’t hurt us!” Wouldn’t that be crazy? It’s like, “Isn’t this a war? Shouldn’t you be fighting instead of begging?” But this reveals that this isn’t a normal war. There’s something different about this battle.
So we are going to look at four things this encounter with Jesus reveals about the demons and their relationship to Jesus.
1. They know who He is
The demons don’t have to ask who this is standing before them. As soon as the see Him they recognize Him to be Jesus. They say He is Jesus, the Son of the Most High God. They don’t just call Him by name but they recognize His status.
This actually sounds a lot like Peter’s confession in Matthew 16 that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the living God.” The demons actually just proclaimed the truth of God. And they have more keen insight into eternal things than the townspeople and all of the people around. They know. Yet, they rebel.
Which I think shows us a frightening truth. Brothers and sisters, you can know who Jesus is, without knowing Jesus. You might come to Summit Church every weekend. You might be in seminary. You might listen to every podcast and read every theology book. But don’t assume because you can say who Jesus is, that you KNOW Him.
Knowing Him has to do with deep, intimate relationship – interacting and loving and trusting at a deep level. Knowing about Him is nothing more than memorizing facts. Memorizing facts is not what God has called us to do. And God is not impressed with your book smarts. You can say true things? Good for you; so can the demons.
James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” If your knowledge of God hasn’t led to a changed life, you are no better than demons. True faith shows up.
2. They know He will oppose them
He says, what have you to do with me? Basically, why are you here? Leave us alone! They know that Jesus, the Son of the Most High God has come to bring the Kingdom of God. They know Jesus has come to do away with all evil and to make all things new. They know that includes their destruction. They know that in the end they will be destroyed and Jesus Christ will reign.
3. They know He is more powerful than them
They say that their name is Legion. This is meant to show that there are many of them. In Rome a Legion was five to six thousand soldiers. Also, we see how strong they are. We’re talking at least 5,000 demons. Yet, they plead for mercy.
There’s no reason for fear if you are more powerful than your enemy or if you even have a chance.
Have you ever seen dudes who talk a big game and walk around in circles but you never see them fight? People usually know when they have absolutely no chance to win. This is what we see here. What we see is a weak, defeated enemy begging for mercy.
4. They know that He is their authority
They realize that they have to ask for his permission. You don’t ask for permission from your equal. All throughout the Scriptures evil forces need God’s permission for anything. Think about the story of Job. Satan needs God’s permission to touch Job and is only allowed to do as much as God will permit.
They can’t go anywhere or do anything without the permission of Jesus. Can you imagine what our world would be like if God didn’t restrain them? If they had it their way they would torment all of us like they did this man. But God doesn’t allow them to and we should praise Him for that.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities —all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16 ESV)
These demons were made through and for Jesus. They are rebels, but are still used as pawns in His grand plan to show Himself off.
The power of the word of Christ is really on display here. Just like the scene before with “Peace, be still.” We see the authority of the Word of God. Jesus is God and when He speaks and commands it must be done. He doesn’t ask, He commands. The Word of Jesus is more powerful than the heaviest artillery. The Word of Christ is powerful! It holds the universe together!
In the story before this He showed His Lordship over creation. The story after this He shows His Lordship over sickness. Jesus is Lord of all. And He mercifully delivers.
Brothers and sisters, we have to believe with firm conviction that Jesus is truly the Lord of Lords. The Bible teaches that there is absolutely nothing exists that is not under the authority of Jesus Christ. There is no tree, no sound, no insect, no animal, no atheist, no Muslim, no Hindu, no angel, no demon, no devil that is not inferior and under the authority of Jesus the Christ. God may allow rebellion for a time, and He may allow them to go on apart from His lordship for a moment, but Jesus WILL make all things new and He will bring all things under His feet.
III. Jesus Delivers the Man (5:14-20)
By his powerful word Jesus has delivered the man. He has cast out the demons.
When the people see him he was sitting there clothed and in his right mind. In a moment everything changed. The last time they saw him he was bruising himself and continually screaming. Now he was as normal as you and me.
By His mercy Jesus restored this man. Jesus has come into the world to restore His creation that is so marred by sin and death. He is reconciling all things to the Father.
And He shows mercy to this man and delivers Him. This man, though He was oppressed, was a sinner like you and me. He didn’t deserve to be delivered.
But Jesus doesn’t deliver based on what you deserve. He doesn’t wait for you to earn it before He acts in mercy. Jesus is merciful because Jesus is merciful. He is loving and cares for His creation.
There is no spiritual being so strong, no sin so strong, nothing that surpasses the power and authority of Jesus. Because all of creation is subject to Him. And when He does deliver, He does it out of His own mercy, kindness, and grace.
Jesus can deliver us from absolutely anything: sin, addiction, depression, pain, abuse, bad marriage, whatever it may be. Jesus is your healer and your deliverer. It may look hopeless, but we see the delivering power of Christ here.
IV. The People Respond (5:17-20)
Not only has the demoniac had an encounter with Jesus, but the whole town has. Many of them witnessed the whole event, and the others heard about it. How does everybody respond to their encounter with Jesus?
The townspeople were afraid! They had never seen such power and authority. Maybe they’re angry that their pigs ran off the cliff. They didn’t know how to respond to him! They actually beg him to leave!
Many people today don’t like Jesus. He disturbs their normal pattern of life. Jesus tends to make people uncomfortable. Little comfy Jesus in a box doesn’t exist. If you’re looking for Him, you’ll keep searching your entire life. He shakes things up. He demolishes darkness and calls us into the light.
The former demoniac responds with gratefulness. He wants to follow Jesus and begs to be with him. Jesus tells him to stay and tell others. He obeys Him. This is the right response to an encounter with Jesus.
When was the last time you told others what the Lord has done for you? What He’s delivered you from? Doesn’t have to be dramatic like demonic possession, but it’s good. Could be deliverance from a particular sin struggle. Could be overcoming temptation. Could be healing from sickness. Or just telling others how He’s saved you. Tell others!
We see here that it is possible for us to witness the power, grace, and authority of Jesus and to still not be a disciple. Some respond with confusion, others with hostility, some with just mere applause. None of these are the response God calls for.
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)
Though Jesus won many battles against the enemy during His time on earth, His ultimate defeat of evil happens at the end of Mark’s Gospel. He clenched the war at the cross. It appeared as if He had been defeated for a moment. But He would rise with all power.
At the cross Jesus put these demonic forces, or rulers and authorities as Paul calls them in Colossians, to open shame. He embarrassed them. He showed everybody how weak they are. He erased their influence. He dealt the final blow- in advance.
Now all of their rebellion is in vain. Almost like the republican primaries. There was no way the other guys could win, but they kept pushing along deceiving themselves. These demons continue to rebel against God, though they’ve clearly already been defeated. He began the work promised of old. And when He returns He will finally defeat His enemies.
Only by responding to His work on the cross with repentance and faith do we get to benefit from the authority, power, and triumph of Jesus. He is the Lord of all. Examine your own hearts and see how you respond to this Lord.
This is the kind of Lord that I want to follow. One who is a deliver, a King, a Lord, a Ruler, and a merciful Savior. The Good News demands a response.
This weekend, evil happens to be at the forefront of our minds. A horrible act of evil took place in Colorado. We should grieve. We should be angry. But we should not wonder whether or not God will triumph in the end. The final blow has been struck.
Jesus has triumphed over evil at the cross. Run to Him. Fall before Him. Trust Him. Follow Him. Praise Him. Tell Others.