In your right mind - Mark 5:1-20
Until a few weeks ago, Equatorial Guinea was not well known for producing Olympic swimming legends. That was until Eric the Eel Moussambani jumped into the Olympic pool in Sydney. Eric only began to learn to swim nine months ago, and he learnt in a local river, though only when there were no crocodiles and snakes in the water. He had been invited to the games as a wildcard, but when Erics two fellow competitors were eliminated from the heat for jumping in too early, Eric had the pool and the heat to himself. In swimming the 100 metres Eric broke an Olympic record- the slowest 100 metres ever at 1min 52 seconds. And in fact it was a miracle he even got to the end, because hed never swum that far before without having a break in the middle, hed never been in a swimming pool before, and he was wearing borrowed trunks which he forgot to tie up. And to cap it all his mother thought hed gone to Sydney to play basketball! Eric was a complete no hoper- and yet he will come back from Sydney having gained a place in Olympic legend, and hell live long in the memory of those who watched these games. His story is quite simply a rags to riches story. What started off as a hopeless situation has ended in the most remarkable way.
Now in our passage for today which is Mark 5 vv 1-20, we are confronted with another hopeless situation. A man has been demonised and is living among dead people. As well see he is completely helpless and hopeless. Humanly speaking there is nothing that can be done for him. And yet when he comes face to face with Jesus the situation completely changes. I guess as that man woke up that morning there was no inkling in him as to what would happen. Just the same old routine of moaning, wailing, jumping around, self-mutilation and terrifying innocent passers-by. And yet by the end of the day he was a different man. And all because hed met Jesus Christ. Mark is at pains in his gospel to help us see just what an extraordinary figure Jesus is: Two weeks ago we saw that Jesus was able to heal a man of leprosy instantaneously. Just before our passage Mark describes Jesus as being capable of calming raging storms with just a word. And the verses following our passage show Jesus raising a dead girl. So Mark has Jesus confronting and defeating all the unconfrontables: Incurable diseases, the forces of the natural world, even death itself. Hes able to conquer them all. And yet here he must confront another- and that is evil itself. Is he capable of defeating spiritual forces as well as natural forces? Can his power really stretch to the spiritual realm? Can he really take on the very strongholds of the devil and overcome them? And if the answer is yes, then we can come to no other conclusion than that Jesus is God on earth.
But this passage is not only about Jesus: It is also about us. Because whenever we come face to face with Jesus, he is not the one on trial. We are. What we make of Jesus and how we respond to him shows where we stand with God. So lets look together at this remarkable rags to riches story. And well see three things.
1) The Need for Jesus
2) The Power of Jesus
3) The Response to Jesus
1) The Need for Jesus
And the need for Jesus is made very clear in the opening verses of the chapter. As Jesus steps off the boat onto the shore he is confronted by this demon possessed man. Mark describes him in verse 3: "This man lived in the tombs and no-one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No-one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones." This man was in a desperate situation. For a start he was cut off from people. They had tried to do much for him, but it had all ended in tears. They had tried to control him and lock him up, but hed broken free. No-one was able to subdue him. No doctor could cure him, no psychiatrist could assess him and no prison warden could contain him. No-one could do anything. He would wander around the hills and lived in tombs, probably caves where bodies would be put. He was more at home among the living than the dead. And he was cut off from himself. Quite literally he cut himself. He clearly had no self-respect, no dignity, for he was naked, and no self awareness. When asked his name he simply replies "Legion", a reference to the enormity of the evil within him. And to cap it all he is cut off from God. He comes up to Jesus in confrontational style and begs him not to torture him. Here is a man in desperate need of help. Hes cut off from other people, himself and he opposes Jesus. What can be done for him? Nothing, at least humanly speaking. And the reason? He is totally dominated by evil.
Now why does Mark paint such an horrific picture of this man? Well the reason is he wants us to be clear just how terrible it is to be in the grip of evil. And the devastating truth is that every human being is in the same despicable position. Now we may not be as far gone as this poor man, but the Bibles horrific truth is that each of us are under the control of the devil. We may not show it in such obvious ways, but it is still true. Paul in Ephesians 2 tells the Ephesian Christians that they used to follow the ways of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those of us who are disobedient. Hes talking about the devil and hes talking about every Christian. Now we in the materialistic west find this hard to believe. Few of our contemporaries it seems will believe in a personal force of evil. And yet the Bibles consistent witness is that there is a personal force of evil and he is very powerful. He controls the minds of unbelievers and has them in his grasp. And each of us, before we were Christians, were like this. And it is vital that we see just what a desperate plight we were in, so that we can appreciate all the more the tremendous victory that Christ has won for us.
Imagine that I have an accident and break my arm. And so I reluctantly head off to Casualty. And after a number of hours I get to see a doctor. And I get him to take a look at my arm, to examine the way the arm is facing the wrong way and isnt working. And he says to me: "Oh dont worry. Just take a few aspirin and itll be fine!" Well you can imagine my shock cant you? I know Ive broken my arm, but the doctor hasnt spotted it. Hes given the wrong cure! It is vital that the diagnosis is correct so that the right cure can be given. And the diagnosis of the human problem is that we are under the sway of the devil. You see no political program, no social change, no education policy, no sporting achievement even will solve our countrys problems ultimately speaking. They may help, but they will never solve it. Because the real problem, the heart of the problem is a spiritual one. We are under the control of evil. Our very hearts are evil. They are opposed to God. We are in a desperate situation and like this man we are completely helpless and without hope. And its vitally important for us to see this because unless we see our friends and relations who are without Christ in this situation, then there will be no incentive to reach them with the glorious liberating news of the gospel. As we saw a few weeks ago, those without Christ have spiritual leprosy, and here we learn they are locked in evil, hopeless and helpless in eternitys perspective. And we were once the same. And that is why we need Jesus. Because only he has the power to break those spiritual fetters which bind us. Which brings us onto to our next point.
2) The Power of Jesus
So in the face of this desperate evil and this hopeless human tragedy, how would Jesus fare? Everything else has failed, what about Jesus? Well lets see first of all who is in charge throughout this whole story. It is very clearly Jesus. Have a look at verse 6. The man comes up to Jesus and falls on his knees and says to him: "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you wont torture me!" Now those are not the remarks of an all conquering spirit. It is Jesus who is firmly in the driving seat. As so often in the gospels, it is the evil spirits who acknowledge most readily who Jesus is. They know full well that he is the Son of God. And they know full well that he has the power to cast them out. They are begging him not to torture them, knowing very well he could do just that! And Mark tells us that Jesus had already given the command to the spirits to leave the man. If you like they are begging him during their final death throes. Jesus is very clearly in charge. And as the story goes on it becomes clearer. In verse 10 they beg Jesus again and again not to send them out into the desert. Again they know Jesus could do just that. And then in verse 12 they beg Jesus to send them into the pigs which are feeding close by. "Allow us to go into the them," they say. So Jesus allows them.
Now at this point it is worth pausing, because some of these things may sound very strange to our ears. Were not given any reasons why the demons wanted to go into the pigs or not to go into the desert. Perhaps they wanted a host to dwell in as opposed to being condemned to the waste lands. The NT doesnt give us many answers to the question of demons. But it does tell us enough to know that personal evil forces do exist and are opposed to God and his people. And the destruction of the pigs is a sign to us of just how destructive evil can be. Many people get upset at the ruthless destruction of a herd of pigs. Surely Jesus wouldnt have done that, they say? Isnt he being cruel to the animals? Well no doubt the RSPCA would have something to say about it. But Jesus is teaching us not about his attitude to nature, rather Satans attitude to people. It is a huge visual aid to help us to see just how destructive evil can be. If they hadnt gone into the pigs they would have found some other poor villager to terrorize. And Satan is always opposed to God and his people and his creation. His aim is to destroy Gods work. And he will do it in people and the world around us. Remember how desperately scarred the image of God was in that demonised man. He is the worse case scenario. And that scarring is evident in each of us. Jesus job is to restore the image and he does that here.
So what is the result for the man? Well in verse 15 we find him sitting, dressed and in his right mind. He has been restored. He has got his mind back. Hes human again. Thats the power that Jesus has. And notice that following Jesus according to Mark does not mean abandoning our minds. It means gaining them. Jesus gave the man back his dignity and humanity. And that is one of the effects of Jesus saving work. He has answered all those questions we were asking. He has got the power to rescue this man from such a terrible condition. And hes got the power to rescue the whole human race from the grip of the evil one. Thats the lesson that Mark is teaching us. Not only can Jesus defeat leprosy, storms and death. He can also defeat evil. But it is on the cross that Jesus ultimately does it. You see this miracle here in chapter 5 is really a foretaste of what happens at Calvary. On the cross Jesus defeats the powers of evil by taking human sin on himself and dying and rising again to show his ultimate power over evil. But if we think that is good then the best is yet to come. Because the victory of the cross is in itself a wonderful foretaste of something even better. The complete annihilation of all evil in the world and in our hearts. And the Bible makes it clear that that great day will happen when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. And then his victory will be completed.
June 1944 was a very significant date in the history of the Second World War. It was the month of the D Day landings on the beaches of Northern France. It marked the beginning of the end. The Allied forces began to push back and defeat the occupying forces and gradually it was beginning to dawn that victory was in sight. But it would take another year of hard slog and great cost before victory was finally declared on the 8th May 1945, the day that was VE Day, Victory in Europe. Well the great spiritual D Day has taken place on the cross. There Jesus has defeated sin and evil once for all. The victory is assured. And yet the battle rages on. Sin and evil are in their final death throes. There is no doubt about the outcome, but VE Day is ahead of us when Jesus will finally and fully declare victory. And for now he offers us new life and forgiveness, freedom from the effects of evil in our lives, just as he did to that demon possessed man. And there is the sweet smell of full victory on the horizon. Thats the power of Jesus.
3) The Response to Jesus
But then finally we come to the response to Jesus and we might be tempted to think that the response to Jesus would be overwhelming. Surely having seen such a great miracle as this, everyone would be flocking to Jesus. But that is not the way it turns out. In fact, there are two very different responses to Jesus.
a) The Response of the villagers- How did the villagers respond? Well in verse 15 we are told that when the people saw the formerly demon possessed man sitting up and sane and dressed in clothes, they were afraid. They fear what they dont understand. They were afraid of the demons and the man and when the man with the cure comes they are afraid of him too! And it seems they are more interested in the loss of their pigs than they are about their neighbour who has been saved. They are far too materialistic for their own good. Their priorities are on this world, rather than seeing and acknowledging the amazing Saviour who is standing in their midst. Now in one sense they are right to be afraid. They have witnessed the power of God at work in one of their own. And yet that fear is not coupled with obedience. Instead they ask Jesus to leave. In fact they are really no better off than the demons themselves. The demons acknowledge Jesus as Gods Son. At least they recognise this fact. And yet it has no impact in their lives. And here in this chapter is one of the saddest verses in the whole Bible. Verse 18, Jesus gets in to the boat to leave. You see Jesus will never force anyone to follow him and at the end of the day he will yield to our own desires. And sadly for these villagers it was to have nothing to do with Jesus. And he gave them what they wanted. And that is the worst judgement of all.
Now it may be that you are here just thinking through the Christian faith. Well Id encourage you to keep doing so. But dont whatever you do give God the final shove out of your life. Because he may well answer your prayer, and that would be the most horrific judgement of all. Rather accept his tremendous offer that he gives here. Hes offering rescue and forgiveness. A fresh start and a new life. Hope for the hopeless, rescue for the lost.
b) The Response of the Man- But the response of the man is very different. He is responding to that incredible love that Jesus showed him. Everyone else had written him off. They were all too concerned about their own lives and pigs to bother with him. But Jesus stopped and loved him and the man wants to give his life back to Jesus. Notice now the man is begging Jesus again. But this time is not to leave but to go with him. Such is the incredible turn around he has had. And do you notice that it is the mad man that is asking Jesus if he can come with him, whilst the so called sane folk have asked Jesus to leave. Gods foolishness is wiser than mans wisdom! But Jesus has a job for this man to do. Verse 19: "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." Now we might say. Hang on a minute Jesus, this guy needs training up. He needs an evangelism course, he needs a good dose of Bible study before he can do that. A bit unwise dont you think? But how does the man get on? Well he does very well. For a start he understands exactly who Jesus is. Do you notice his message? Verse 20 he tells everyone how much Jesus had done for him. Jesus is that Lord. He is God. And the man is delighted to tell everyone. And all the people are amazed. Only he could have reached his friends and family. And all he did was tell what Jesus had done. And that is the essence of all evangelism. It is simply telling what Jesus has done.
I read a story recently about how two men were travelling in a rail carriage and suddenly one of the men started to convulse and rant and rave. The other man quickly got up pinned him to the ground and calmed him down. While the sick man was recovering the other man told his worried fellow passengers the story. "We had been soldiers in Korea during the fifties. One day we were being attacked and the I was wounded. So this man picked me up and ran to safety. But just as we were getting away a bomb exploded and we were knocked out. The next thing I knew I was in a hospital and the other soldier was nowhere to be seen. Well the years passed and I recovered. And years later I discovered that this man was still alive, but he was in a terrible condition. He had received permanent fits after the explosion as a result of shell shock and needed constant supervision. So I decided to sell my house and leave my job and commit myself full time to serving and looking after him for the rest of his life. Hes did that for me. There is nothing I wouldnt do for him." You see Jesus has given us a new start, he rescued us. There should be nothing that we would not do in return for him.
And that is the challenge of these final verses. When we realise just what an incredible thing it is that Jesus has done for us, then well be only too keen to say to Jesus let me be involved in this great work. And yet there is plenty for us to do. Many of our friends and family dont believe. Many in this parish dont know Christ. So our response to Jesus needs to be like that mans He simply told people what Jesus had done for him.
Well Eric the Eels is a rags to riches story. And yet every Christian has a tremendous rags to riches story of their own to tell. Of how once we were in need of Jesus, of how we experienced the power of Jesus in our lives and of how we were able to respond to him like this man. Well lets take up the baton where that man left off and delight follow Christ with joy and wholehearted devotion.
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