“In the Name of Jesus” – Mark 5:1-20
Lent 3 – March 19, 2017
Introduction: awareness of evil
Let’s start today with some of your input on a tough and challenging but important question: When and where and under what circumstances do you become profoundly aware of the presence and the reality of evil in our world?
[Examples: driving past a pornography shop or having something surprise you on your computer or phone; driving past the homeless, drug-addicted, alcohol-addicted on Vancouver’s East Side (or maybe you volunteered at Rain City yesterday and that became an awareness of evil); walking past a psychic or card reader at the PNE; seeing a Mason symbol on the back of a car – because they say it doesn’t matter what you believe; acts of terrorism, even locally; news of gangs and drug deals and overdoses and murders; demon-possession]
How do you respond to the presence and reality of evil in those situations? Whitney Kuniholm says that he remembers a song his mother taught him when he was a child: “In the name of Jesus, by the power of God, the enemy flees.” My mother never taught me that song.
- Mark 5 – A demon-possessed man
Demon-possession – most of us probably have little experience with demon-possession beyond being grossed out by that 1973 movie “The Exorcist.” The ancient people of the region of the Gerasenes were exposed to evil and demon-possession every day. That’s where today’s essential Bible passage takes place. We find the story in Mark 5 as Jesus travels from headquarters in Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile east side of the sea.
In that region, in caves above the sea, lived a man with an evil spirit. He would regularly cry out in a loud voice and cut himself with stones. He didn’t wear clothes, and could tear apart iron chains that bound his hands or feet, and no strong man could subdue him. He was a menace.
When Jesus arrived, the man – that is, the demon in him – came to Jesus, fell on his knees and shouted: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” It’s interesting that, even though Jesus had never been in that region before, this demon could correctly identify the divine character of Jesus. You see, for all his destructive powers, Satan knows who the higher power truly is. Jesus asked his name and called on him to come out of the man. The demon said his name was Legion – which was a Roman troop of 6,000 men. This multitude of demons was destroying the man’s life and wreaking havoc on the area. But then, that’s Satan’s agenda: to capture and destroy God’s creation and creatures. Some people think the devil is funny, some red creature with horns and a tail. But evil is no laughing matter, and every one of us is vulnerable to the attacks and destructive powers of the evil one – as we heard about a couple of weeks ago in the account of Jesus’ own temptation. This man was overwhelmed with evil, with no hope of escape from this legion of demons.
The legion of demons, realizing that they were facing the only one that could control and master them, asked not to be sent out of that region, but instead to be sent into a herd of 2,000 pigs that fed on the cliffs above the sea. Jesus permitted that, and the entire herd then rushed down the bank, into the sea and were drowned.
The townspeople heard what had happened, saw the former demoniac dressed and in his right mind, and became afraid – afraid, I guess, of what they did not know or understand. They were more comfortable with what they knew: “Oh, that’s just how he is.” You’d think they would have cheered and celebrated – no more howling at night, no more danger to the community, no more shameful nakedness running around. Instead, they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region, which he did. The former demoniac wanted to follow Jesus and travel back with Him, but Jesus encouraged him to stay and to go and tell his family of God’s mercy on him. The story ends with these words: “So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”
- Two things to notice and apply
So, there are really just two things to notice in this story and to apply to our lives.
a. Jesus’ power over evil
The first is Jesus’ power over evil.
It’s obvious that Jesus went to the Gerasenes for the express purpose of meeting and freeing this man from the power of evil over him. We don’t hear any other agenda. We don’t hear about any other activity. We don’t hear about any other interactions, or teachings, or healings, or miracles. He expelled the demon and then left. Jesus had come to undo the reign of Satan in our world. Mark’s Gospel begins with a few verses introducing John the Baptist, then 3 verses about Jesus’ baptism, then describes His temptation battle with Satan in the desert. Next Mark documents the calling of the first 4 disciples, followed by Jesus’ first ministry activity – driving an evil spirit out of a man in the Capernaum synagogue. Before Mark’s first chapter ends, he reports another episode of Jesus driving out many demons, not allowing them to speak because they knew who he was. So, in the first chapter of Mark – three significant stories of Jesus battling Satan. Jesus’ main purpose was not just to teach about the kingdom of God, but to establish the kingdom of God in opposition to the influence of Satan in people’s lives. Nothing says it more concisely than 1 John 3:8 – “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” He didn’t just come to heal physical diseases, He came to reverse the impact of sin’s addictive disease in one life after another. He didn’t just live a perfect, obedient life, He died a perfect, obedient death, destroying the power of death itself. That’s why St. Paul could taunt: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? Thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The battle developed as soon as Jesus stepped ashore that day. The man with the evil spirit came to meet him. The evil spirit shouted, “What do you want with me?” It was face to face, head to head, and the demon seemed to raise the white flag of surrender immediately. It knew it was no match for the Lord of all creation.
Let’s apply this to our lives. I began today with the question: When and where and under what circumstances do you become profoundly aware of the presence and the reality of evil in our world? Now let’s make it personal: When and where and under what circumstance are you profoundly aware of the presence and reality of evil in your life? In what ways does the devil most insidiously mess with your life? To what sin are you addicted? I don’t want you to answer this one out loud, but I do want you to think about it (and confess it).
– confession of sins (11:00) –
In Ephesians 6, Paul cautions us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, it’s not just a human battle, but it’s a battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. We can feel little and weak and helpless when we face such a formidable foe.
But I want you to know that Jesus has power over that sin, over that evil, over the tempter, the father of lies. Paul goes on in Ephesians 6 to describe the armour of God that enables us – in the face of such an enemy – to stand. The belt of truth, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit – these things are our defense and our weapon in that spiritual battle. The end result of Jesus’ freeing power in our lives is that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
– forgiveness (11:00) –
As we stand firm in the name of Jesus, in the faith of Jesus, in the refuge and strength of Jesus, we can trust the truth of that song that Kuniholm learned: “In the name of Jesus, by the power of God, the enemy flees.”
b. Jesus’ power to “go and tell”
The second thing to notice and apply is the fact that Jesus empowered the man to “go and tell.”
Jesus had broken the influence of evil in this man’s life. He was radically and wonderfully changed and healed. Jesus didn’t spend a week or two taking the man through a thorough adult instruction class. He didn’t need to. A totally changed life is the clearest and most powerful statement of the Gospel there is. I believe this man could have echoed what Paul would later write in Galatians 2: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” That’s how different a person he had become. It was so obvious, the townspeople couldn’t miss it. And while they were afraid of Jesus and asked Him to leave, this guy was one of them. He was a known quantity. So, Jesus just said “Go back to your family and tell them what God has done for you.” Soon after freeing this man from the power of evil, Jesus filled him with another power, and commissioned him as a missionary to the Gerasenes. WOW! From demon-possessed to missionary in a couple of hours. That rivals and maybe even surpasses the three-day transformation of Paul from persecutor of Christians to preacher of the Christian faith.
Just as an aside – two chapters later, in Mark 7, when Jesus returned to that Gerasene area, He was welcomed by the people instead of shunned, and a deaf and mute man was quickly brought to Jesus for healing. Jesus did heal him with his fingers in the man’s ears, with spit and a touch of the man’s tongue, and with a deep sigh and the word “Ephphatha!” (Be opened!) The demoniac’s witness of Jesus’ works was effective and bore fruit.
Jesus fills us with the same power and commissions us with the same words: “Go to your family, your people, and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.”
Most of us don’t have such a story of extreme spiritual transformation to tell. Some do. But we all have the story of God’s mercy to tell to our family and friends. We all have those addictions to sin, those inclinations to various evils, those moments of weakness when we miserably fail God. And we all have the grace of God to tell – how God, in love, sent His Son to our side of the lake for the express purpose of freeing us from the evils that beset us, suffering and dying in our place and irreversibly sending our demons into the abyss. No condemnation for us… in Jesus. Jesus sends us in His name, with His commission and His power to just tell our story, which is His story. “Go and tell,” He says, for our changed lives are a clear and powerful statement of God’s love for others who are chained by their sin. And all the people will be amazed at the grace of God. Amen.