Mark 5:1-20

William Temple, a Bishop in the Church of England in the mid-20th century once wrote:

“It is clear that the Church only fulfills its function as the Body of Christ if it is constantly thinking how those outside are to be won inside. The preoccupation of the Church should be with those outside; but very few Church people have any conscious sense of responsibility with regard to people who are detached from the Church. As we look round at our brother clergy, or think about the reasons for this, we recognise that we are eagerly absorbed, perhaps inevitably, in maintaining the life of the congregation that is already secure, and not thinking very much about those who are completely detached… Yet the church ought to be concerned with bringing the Gospel of Christ to bear on the lives of other people, and bringing them to accept Him as their Saviour and King. We must change the direction of the thoughts of the Church, and the frame of mind of the clergy and the people.” (William Temple, “Evangelism,” March 1936)

In the passage this week, Jesus and the disciples go on a “mission trip.”  Now certainly up until this point they were on mission with Jesus.  However, this trip across the Sea of Galilee will take them into new territory.  They will leave the mostly Jewish crowds to enter a region that was predominately Gentile (non-Jewish).

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.    Mark 5:1

Remember Jesus and his disciples had spent the evening sailing across the Sea of Galilee and were caught in a violent storm.  By the power of his word alone, Jesus instantly calmed the storm which filled the disciples with greater fear in the presence of Jesus than in the presence of the storm.  Now they have arrived at the destination on the other side.  Perhaps it is the next day but it is possible that they have arrived before sunrise since the journey would not have been much more than 5 miles.

And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.    Mark 5:2

Life with Jesus must have been interesting.  They no sooner make it to dry land when they are met by yet another man with a demon.  If you are keeping track, this is now the third account of Jesus casting out a demon (c.f. Mark 1:25; 3:11).

3He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4for 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. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.  Mark 5:3-5

The disciples go from being caught in a violent storm to being confronted by a violent man.  He lives in a graveyard, perhaps in insolation, though it is possible that there were others who shared his condition who gathered in this place as well.  Consider the levels of “uncleanness” in which this man existed.  First, he is possessed by unclean spirits which in itself is bad enough.  But second, he also lives amongst the tombs which would have made him unclean if he touched any of those graves — and it’s hard to imagine that he did not (c.f. Number 19:16).  And finally, as we will see in just a moment, he was surrounded by unclean animals (c.f. Leviticus 11:26).

His condition is serious and getting worse.  Apparently at one time he could be restrained by being tied up but now “no one could bind him anymore (v.3).”   This is an awful situation for this man.  Bible commentator James Edwards is right to observe: “Mark’s description is more fitting of a ferocious animal than of a human being (Mark, p.154-155).”  No amount of human intervention has helped.  They have tried binding him even with shackles and chains but nothing is effective.  Night and day he lives in misery crying out and cutting himself.   This is a clear picture for us of what Satan and his demons desire to do.  Jesus puts it this way in John 10:10: “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  This is exactly what is happening to this man.

6And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7And 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.” 8For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”   Mark 5:6-8

Jesus deals directly with the issues that are before him.  He is barely off the boat when he is confronted with this man.  And notice he does not wave a wand or recite a spell, he simply commands the unclean spirit with the power of his word: “Come out of the man!”  In response the man falls down before Jesus and as we’ve seen before makes a true confession of who Jesus is.  In all three of Jesus’ encounters with the demonic, the demons make a true confession of Jesus.

And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  Mark 5:9

We find out that this is not one unclean spirit but many as he is identified as “Legion.”  A legion was a military term to describe a unit of up to 6000 soldiers.  This is quite a force that has come to occupy this man.

10And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”    Mark 5:10-12

What follows is a somewhat bizarre exchange.  For some reason the unclean spirits suspect they might be sent out of the country and ask instead to be sent into a herd of pigs.  If anything, this exchange reveals how little we know about the dealings of the demonic.  Why do they want to go into the pigs?  If the pigs die, where do they go from there?  Can they torment animals who have no soul in the same way they can torment people?  If they can enter pigs, can they enter other things as well?  Some commentators believe the storm in the previous passage was demonically fueled.

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 drowned in the sea.    Mark 5:13

Jesus grants their requests to enter the pigs.  And what is the result?  Two thousand pigs rush down an embankment straight into the sea and are drowned.  Indeed, Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened.  Mark 5:14

Don’t miss this detail.  This was not some wandering wild group of pigs.  They were part of a herd.  And the herdsmen to whom the pigs belonged have just suffered a great loss. They quickly leave the scene and spread the word of what has just happened.

15And 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. 16And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs.  Mark 5:15-16

The disciples were full of fear after Jesus calmed the storm on the sea.   These people here are full of fear after Jesus has calmed the storm within this man.  The unclean spirits did not respond to the efforts of men to bind them but they immediately obey Jesus.  And now this name sits before the people, not only free from the unclean spirits but “clothed and in his right mind.”  Jesus removes not only the penalty of our sin but the stain of our sins as well.

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.  Mark 5:17

When Jesus has earlier performed a miracle, people flock to him.  The crowd is so great at certain times Jesus has not even had space to eat.  Here the response is quite different.  They beg Jesus to leave.  They have witnessed the sign, but have missed the reality to which the sign pointed.

18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19And 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.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.   Mark 5:18-20

Sadly Jesus honors their requests and gets back into the boat to depart.  Since Jesus won’t stay, the man who was once under the power of demons begs to go with Jesus so that he might be with him.  We are not given the reasons Jesus denies his request but see that Jesus has in mind for him to do something else.  In other healing miracles Jesus has insisted on silence (c.f. Mark 1:44) but here he tells the man to go and make known what the Lord has done.  He doesn’t tell the man “Go to seminary,” or “Go learn evangelism theory.”  What is most required for us to be an effective witness for the Lord, is to have an experience with the Lord.

And see here once again that the Gospels portray Jesus as God.  The man is told go “tell how much the Lord has done for you.”  And the name went and told “how much Jesus had done for him.”

Interestingly, the man went to the Decapolis where everyone marveled at what he said.  Jesus will later go to the Decapolis himself (c.f. Mark 7:31-37) where he will be surrounded as usual by a crowd.  Perhaps it was this man who paved the way for Jesus’ ministry in that region.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you were to make a movie scene of this passage, what details would you be sure to include?  Who is present?  What might they be thinking?  What emotions might they have?
  2. What was life like for the man with the unclean spirit?
  3. How does Jesus’ healing of this man compare with the stilling of the storm in the previous passage?  Note as many similarities as possible between the two accounts.
  4. Why do you think Jesus allows the unclean spirits to go into the herd of pigs?  How might this visible exorcism have benefited the man?
  5. In what ways is this man similar to us and our need for Jesus?  In what ways has Jesus clothed us and put us in our right mind?
  6. Why do you think the people do not want Jesus to stay?  (In the past large crowds have come to Jesus after he performs a miracle.)
  7. What task does he give the man in verse 19?  Jesus instructed the leper not to tell others that he had been healed by Jesus.  Why the opposite command to this man?
  8. How can you grow in your ability to go and tell your friends  how much the Lord has done for you?  What specifically can you do to always be prepared to give the reason for the hope within you?


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