Mark 5:1-20

Sermon preached on April 6, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

It's a sad fact that often people don't realize how evil someone is until it's too late. This was true of Adolf Hitler. At first, soon after he came to power, many of the people of Germany, and the rest of the world loved him. He restored pride in many Germans. He turned the country around economically. The great aviator, Charles Lindbergh and his wife visited Germany in the mid-30's and were impressed by the revitalization of the country. In his 'Autobiography of Values', Lindbergh wrote,

"The organized vitality of Germany was what most impressed me: the unceasing activity of the people, and the convinced dictatorial direction to create the new factories, airfields, and research laboratories..."

His wife added, (The Flower and the Nettle)

"I have never in my life been so conscious of such a directed force. It is thrilling when seen manifested in the energy, pride, and morale of the people—especially the young people…"

In March 1936 Hitler marched his troops into the Rhineland and reclaimed this demilitarized zone for Germany. In the next two years Hitler annexed Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia, all without bloodshed. This was very popular with many Germans. This popularity continued after his quick invasion of Poland in 1939 and his successful campaign against France and the Allies in 1940. Germany was master of almost all of Europe. But as time went on, the German people came to see how evil Hitler really was. Some of the were bothered by the persecution and the killing of the Jews. But as the war dragged on people realized that Hitler cared nothing for Germany or her people. He was going to continue fighting even if it meant the complete destruction of Germany. People gradually but surely became aware of what a monster Hitler was. They should have seen it sooner. There were signs of it very early on. But people ignored those signs, to their great loss.

Many people in our society today don't recognize the evil forces that are against them. I suspect that most people today don't even believe that there is a devil. They don't believe in demon-possession. Some people will tell you that the people back then were primitive and that they mistook certain forms of mental illness and conditions like epilepsy for demon possession.

Even though demon possession is very rare today, or perhaps doesn't happen at all—it has much to teach us about the nature of demons. We would all do well to pay attention to their true nature and work because today the strategy of Satan is quite different. Today he doesn't bother many people who have good things: pleasure, wealth, power. Yet the reason he doesn't bother them is to deceive them, to destroy them. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:14,

"Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."

You may not be a Christian and everything may be going well for you—you have a good family life, a nice house, a good job, enough money—but it could all be a deception of Satan to keep you from the one thing you need—salvation through Jesus Christ.

The condition of the demon possessed man is very instructive for us for it shows us what Satan and his forces want to do to us. It shows us what kind of suffering that they want us to endure. They want to oppress us in order to thwart the great purpose for which we were created—to glorify God.

This text has great lessons for us. What these demons did to the man is in great contrast to what Jesus did for him. If it wasn't for God's love, for the work of Jesus—we would all be like this man, like him forever. How we should appreciate our Savior, draw close to Him and praise Him with everything in us.

For those of you who aren't Christians, this shows you not only that you need Jesus to save you, but it shows you what your lot will be like in the future without Him.

Here we see the true nature of demons, how they want to destroy mankind.

Consider first the horrible situation of the man who was under the influence of the demons.

He is said to have had an 'evil' spirit. He was demon possessed. The people had tried to subdue him with chains, hand and foot, but he broke the chains apart. Why would they try to chain him? It was obviously to protect themselves. Matthew's account of this story (Matthew 8:28) tells us that he was so violent that people could not pass that way. They tried to chain him to control him. But that didn't work. He wandered aimlessly in the wild hill country and in the subterranean caves which had served as tombs. He would cry out, testifying to his misery.

One of my worst experiences I've had as a father was when my daughter Patricia was about 3 years old. She got a urinary track infection, started running a fever and I had to take her to the hospital. When we got to the ER they decided that they needed to put an IV in. But the problem was that she was so dehydrated that they couldn't get it in. First one nurse tried, then another, then a doctor tried and they all failed. During it all Patricia would scream and cry every time they poked her with that needle and wriggled it around. She didn't understand why they were torturing her. She was in agony every time they stuck that needle in. It went on for about 45 minutes.

There's a lesson for us here. Every moment that we're not in pain, every time you've experienced happiness and joy (instead of pain)—this is because of God's goodness to you. It's because of God's grace to you in Jesus Christ. So often we think that we deserve good things from God and when something bad happens to us, we wonder, "Why?" But because we're sinners we deserve to be in torment like this man when he was demon possessed. Yet God's grace to us in Jesus is so wonderful that even as great sinners—we enjoy life instead of being in absolute agony and crying out.

This man was in absolute agony. He would cut his flesh with sharp stones, attempting to destroy himself and bring his torment to an end. But even in that he was not successful. He was in a desperate state. He was most miserable. John Calvin says about the demons keeping him among the tombs,

"this wretched man was kept among the graves by an unclean spirit, that he might have an opportunity of terrifying him continually with the mournful spectacle of death, as if he were cut off from the society of men, and already dwelt among the dead."

I saw part of a TV show once about terminally ill people. It showed one woman who only had a month or so to live. It showed her going to a graveyard with some of her family members to pick out the spot where she would be buried. I found it incredibly sad because she wasn't a Christian. She didn't want to die. She wanted to continue to live and be with her loved ones. I don't know how she could do it but she wanted to pick out her grave. But as difficult as it must have been for her—she did it, perhaps because she didn't believe that a place such as hell exists.

But this man was among the graves in a very agitated state. He was continually terrified, signs of death were all about him. Demons hate human beings. Their object is to torment them and make them completely miserable.

The second lesson for us here is that every moment that you have peace of mind, every moment when you can look at the future without fearing the terrors of death and what comes after—you have so much to be thankful to Jesus for. It is only because of His goodness to you that our minds aren't continually tormented by the thought of death and hell. We're sinners. In our natural state we should be terrified of the future. The curse of sin is eternal death. But because Jesus died for us, we Christians have peace with God, we have joy and a great hope for the future. How thankful we ought to be for sound minds that know our future is good.

For you who are not Christians—you need to wake up to this reality. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says,

"It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart."

You're in the utmost danger. You need to consider what your sins deserve—death, death in all its fullness. You're doomed as you are. Absolutely doomed. There are two ways you can deal with it. You can ignore it, not think about it. That will work for awhile but it's the worst thing you can do because that will doom you. Or you can realize what your sins deserve, repent of them and go to Jesus for the forgiveness and receive the gift of eternal life.

The second horrible thing we see about this man is that by keeping him in agony, by terrifying him with thoughts of death—

the demons were keeping him from being what he should have been.

As a demon possessed man, we see him for what sin and the demons made him—it was the very opposite of the purpose for which he was created. We were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

The ultimate goal of the demons was to rob God of glory by stopping people from praising Him.

Men and women were created to worship and praise God and live as creatures made in His image. But the demons here enslaved this man. The name "Legion" perhaps points to this. It's a Roman military term. A Roman legion consisted of between 5,000 and 6,000 men. Thus the name signifies that there are a multitude of demons, possibly thousands. The Romans were brutal in the subjection of Israel and perhaps there is a reference to this in the demon's name. James R. Edwards writes, (Mark, PNTC; p. 157)

"The grip of demons resembled the grip of the Roman legion on Palestine…"

In the Old Testament the Egyptians enslaved and Pharaoh wouldn't allow the Israelites to go so that they would be free to worship God.

That could have been one of the main goals of demon possession. These demons had an all-controlling grip on this man. He was made to glorify God, to praise Him, to honor Him, to give Him thanks—and he couldn't do any of those things. John Frame says that Satan's activity can be summarized, (Systematic Theology, p. 775)

"as mocking the lordship of God…"

God's purpose in creating this man was being thwarted. God's image was turned upside down.

John Calvin says of the demon's request to enter the pigs,

"they are entirely bent on confounding and overthrowing the whole order of nature which God has appointed. But it is certain that they had a more remote object in view, to excite the inhabitants of that country to curse God on account of the loss of the swine."

Some commentators point out that in the Bible demon possession was a phenomenon that occurred almost exclusively during the time of Jesus' earthly ministry. Norval Geldenhuys writes, (Luke, p. 256)

"with the incarnation of the Word, the Son of God, the forces of the devil also, in order to oppose Him as Man and in His work of redemption, endeavored to incarnate themselves in human beings. The Evil One, as it were, also wanted to become man. It is for this reason that demon-possession was such a characteristic phenomenon of the time when Jesus was upon the earth."

Demons are diametrically opposed to the salvation of mankind. Herman Bavinck writes, (RD, vol. 3, p. 189-190)

"When Christ appeared on earth, this 'prince' [Satan] concentrated his power against him, not only be assaulting him personally and persecuting him relentlessly, but also by surrounding him on all sides with demonic forces in order to thus break down and resist this work."

When Jesus was here, Satan and his forces became especially active in trying to take people as far away from God as they could. William Lane writes, (Mark, NICNT; p. 180)

"This account, more graphically than any other in the Gospels, indicates that the function of demonic possession is to distort and destroy the image of God in man."

These demons were trying to make this man, who was originally made (in Adam) in the image of God—so disfigured miserable that instead of bringing praise to God—he would be an absolute disgrace and a cause for mocking God.

Now I ask you—which of the two are you going to choose? Do you want to be like this man while he was demon possessed—or do you want to one of the ones that will stand with Jesus on the last day who will be like Jesus, pure, holy, undefiled, renewed in righteousness, holiness and knowledge? (Ephesians 4:24) Do you want to be with Jesus and hear Him say to you, (Matthew 25:34)

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared
for you since the creation of the world."

This man was most miserable. He was under the control of these demons. He couldn't help himself. Other people couldn't help him. Humanly speaking, his condition was hopeless.

But the arrival of Jesus changed everything.

He came to set the man free to praise God. He restored him and made him whole. After the demon left him he was

"sitting, clothed and in his right mind."

More than that, he wanted to serve Jesus and told others the great things that Jesus had done for him.

What a contrast to the coming of the demons to posses human beings! Satan and his forces want to destroy the image of God in you and keep you from God and His salvation. Jesus, on the other hand, comes to deliver.

How Jesus arrived is amazing. If you look at the end of chapter 4 you'll see that during the night a violent storm came up and the disciples thought they were all going to perish. They woke Jesus up and He calmed the storm. There was something unusual about the storm. It was so violent that even seasoned fisherman were terrified. It could have been an attempt by Satan to kill Jesus and His disciples. But Jesus rebuked the storm and showed His power over the dark forces. William Lane writes, (Mark, NICNT; p. 178)

"The subduing of the sea and the wind was not merely a demonstration of power; it was an epiphany, through which Jesus was unveiled to his disciples as the Savior in the midst of intense peril."

Then, Jesus lands right where this demon possessed man dwelt, by the tombs. James R. Edwards says, (Mark, PNTC; p. 155)

"This is a place where no one would want to go for any reason. Contrary to all reason and expectation, however, Jesus goes there."

What happens when Jesus arrives? The demon possessed man ran and fell on his knees in front of Him. This is remarkable. It's a confirmation of what we saw last week that even the wicked, the objects of wrath, prepared for destruction—were created 'for Christ' and will give Him honor and glory. They will submit to Him. They will bow to Him. This man, even under demonic influence, kneels before Jesus. James R. Edwards says, (Mark, PNTC; p. 156)

"The Greek verb for 'fell on his knees,' proskynein, denotes prostrating oneself before a person to whom reverence or worship is due…"

He then shouted at the top of his voice, (Mark 5:7)

"What do you want with me, Jesus,
Son of the Most High God?
Swear to God that you won't torture me!"

James R. Edwards writes, (Mark, PNTC; p. 156)

"In Judaism, 'Most High God' is an epithet emphasizing the transcendence and exaltation of Israel's God over pagan gods and goddesses and rival powers."

The demon possessed man acknowledges who Jesus is, the Son of the Most High God. He acknowledges that Jesus has power over them and that there's nothing they can do to resist Him. There is nothing but submission.

What power Jesus has! The demons submitted to Jesus right away. They knew that Jesus had authority over him. They begged Him not to torture them.

Note this well. Demonic forces and the devil are not independent of God. They are not gods. They do not possess in themselves great powers. Herman Bavinck notes that the Reformation brought back Biblical teaching about this. Stressing, (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 188)

"the absolute sovereignty of God, it could not view Satan and his angels, however powerful, as anything other than creatures who without God's will cannot as much as move."

That's exactly what we see in our text. There is complete submission to Christ. Christ shows His complete sovereignty over the demons and their fate.

There's a lesson for us here. C. S. Lewis wrote,

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them."

Demons are our enemy. But they are a defeated foe. It could very well be that Jesus greatly limited, or even stopped these demons from being active on the earth. We need to see this in the context of Jesus' larger work. In Mark 3:23f Jesus responded to those who said that He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Jesus said that a house divided like that cannot stand. Then He said, (Mark 3:27)

"In fact, no one can enter a strong man's house and carry off
his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man.
Then he can rob his house."

Jesus, by His ministry and His work has bound Satan and the forces of evil. In that section in Matthew's gospel, we see that Jesus also said, (Matthew 12:28)

"But if I drive out demons
by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom
of God has come upon you."

Jesus ushered in the kingdom. The words of Revelation 20:1-3 fit this perfectly.

"And I saw an angel coming down out
of heaven, having the key to the Abyss
and holding in his hand a great chain.
He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil,
or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed
it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations
anymore until the thousand years were ended.
After that, he must be set free for a short time."

Robert H. Stein writes, (BECNT)

"Mark probably intends his readers to see in the destruction of the swine the destruction of the demons as well… Jesus has judged the demons! What will happen in the final day (Rev. 20:10) has proleptically happened to the demons called Legion, whose destruction is visualized by the fate of the swine."

Jesus is Lord. He came to defeat Satan and his forces. 1 John 3:8 says,

"The reason the Son of God appeared
was to destroy the devil's work."

This man was under the complete control of the evil one. But Jesus delivered him. He restored him to his right mind. He became a believer in Jesus and went and told everyone about Him. He was able to praise God and delight in Him.

There are two things that all this means.

First, if you are not a Christian, you are wide open to the power of Satan.

Satan or another demon can't posses a Christian. A Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. Satan can't come and push the Holy Spirit out. No. The Spirit is God and He is stronger and more powerful and has authority over demons. John Frame writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 775, n. 7)

"I do not believe that a demon can possess a believer in Christ, because the Holy Spirit indwells that person. Although believers do sin, Paul says that 'sin will have no dominion over you' (Rom. 6:14), and a demonic possession would certainly be one form of the dominion of sin over a person. So although we are often tempted to sin by Satan and his followers, we always have, by God's grace, the power to say no to them (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8–9)."

So those in Christ are safe from demon possession. But those who don't believe in Christ are in danger from Satan and the demons. Demon possession seems only a remote possibility. But there are other ways that Satan can destroy you.

The greatest harm they do is in blinding people to the glory of Jesus so they don't recognize Him and believe in Him.

We see this in the people who came out to see what Jesus had done. Verse 17 is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. After the people learned what had happened, how Jesus had cast the demons out of the man and into the pigs,

"Then the people began to plead
with Jesus to leave their region."

That is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. Satan had blinded their eyes. As the apostle Paul said about unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 4:4,

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers,
so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of
the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."

The people of that region were blind to the glory of Jesus.

If you're not a believer in Jesus you're vulnerable to the forces of evil. You have no protection from them. You can't even see the glory of Jesus and His wonderful love on your own. Human beings are helpless on their own against Satan. This man was helpless on his own. The people tried to bind the man with chains but they failed to restrain him. That's what human power is like when faced with Satanic evil. It's powerless. You need Jesus to save you like He did this man.

Only Jesus can save you. Ask Him to open your eyes so that you can see His glory. Ask Him to give you faith so that you can believe in Him. You need to do this now, before it's too late.

Secondly, for Christians,

how wonderful it is that in Jesus you have freedom to serve Him wherever you are, whatever your situation.

You can serve Jesus and show others what God is like. It's only because of the grace of God that you're not like this man when he was demon possessed. How merciful God has been to you. How zealous you ought to be to serve your Savior and thank Him for the free deliverance that He has given you.

I think that sometimes our hearts are not in serving Jesus because we have our own ideas of how we would like to serve Him. This man wanted to serve Jesus by going with Him. And who can blame him. But Jesus told him to do something else—to go back to his family and tell them. He served as Jesus wanted him to.

We must serve God where He wants us, in whatever situation He has placed us. Whether it's in sickness, in jail, in prison, in a job that is not the best, in an unhappy marriage, in a situation where you have children that wear you out, etc., etc. We ought to be passionate about showing others what God is like in whatever situation He has placed us, because in that situation there is freedom—freedom to serve Him, to reflect His glory—to enjoy Him.

May God give us such zeal to glorify Him wherever He places us.