Before embarking upon the story of the messed up man of Mark 5 we would do well to recall the harrowing experience through which the disciples had just come. When the sun sat the previous day the disciples had not lain down in pleasant beds, but upon their master’s bidding had set out on a night cruise across Galilee. After Jesus had fallen asleep one of Galilee’s trademark squalls blew up and these seasoned men of the lake feared for their lives. In the midst of their fear they woke the inconceivably sleeping Jesus and accused him of a mortal indifference. Seemingly unperturbed by the wind or the anxiety of the disciples Jesus rose from his slumber and successfully told the storm to calm down.
The waves subsided and the boat stopped its violent rocking. A pensive quiet settled upon each of them, but not one that kept them from whispering to each other as they bailed the water out of their swamped boat. Chief among their thoughts was this: this fellow had talked to a storm and it had listened. Fear of the man they had set aside everything to follow replaced the squall the lake had just seen. Of course, Jesus was presiding over those rocking hearts as much as he had presided over their rocking boat. That is the way life is.
Safe, but no rest for the weary
Finally, in the Galilean twilight they felt the boat grate and crunch to a stop on the shore. Surely they wanted to lay in the grass and sleep, but such was not to be. Among the nearby tombs was a man possessed of a thousand ill-intentioned spirits, and upon seeing Jesus came running.
You may feel awkward when a beggar draws near unto you, well what about a man possessed with a legendary reputation? What about a naked, screaming maniac running out of the tombs at dark in a strange area? Truth is stranger than fiction they say. These disciples had no sooner hit the shore and begun their settling in than the shouting began. This scarred, naked and disfigured man came rushing over to this bedraggled bunch after. Do not forget the man himself. The storms in that man’s life were not just once off storms on the Sea of Galilee, but were daily, nightly, steady. Tormented he was by the domination of the demons in his life.
Note that the disciples are almost forgotten by Mark as he tells this story. The disciples had a rough start to their night, but they are mainly along for the ride at this point. Jesus had slept and he took care of all things from the naked possessed man to the pigs and the people. The boat the disciples rode in at that point was piloted by Jesus himself.
When God brings events into our lives they will not overcome us. Take them as they come and have faith that God will arrange them as they need to be arranged. These men and us may feel dragged out by life’s experiences, but we must have faith. Look to the way Jesus responded and have faith that God is engineering the circumstances.
Can running to Jesus be a contradiction?
Jesus did not go looking for this man. This man came running to Jesus and upon arriving fell down and began sputtering and groveling. This is the opposite of what I would expect. Since the demons clearly were worried about torture and punishment why would they run TO Jesus and not away?
Answer in the main: we do not know. All is speculation, but speculation is not out of bounds. The reasons considered just need to be recognized as potential rather than rigid and doctrinal.
First, perhaps the demonic element did not have absolute control over the man. Perhaps this man recognized that Jesus could help him in his desperate situation and so came running.
Second, God in his mercy may have had some interaction in the situation. God could have required the demons to drag the man to Jesus. God could have weakened the strength of the demonic so that the man could make his own way over to Jesus.
Third, Dr. Ed Murphy in his book The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare 1 reported a seeming contradiction. The demonic have a deep set anxiety over the presence of Jesus but seem compelled to pay him homage.
Fourth, the demons do not know the appointed time of their punishment and so run to Jesus in an effort to further delay their inevitable future. This one also was from Dr. Murphy’s book.
The demons fight back…a little.
They were not immediately submissive, but argumentative. It seems that in other situations Jesus gave a word and the demonic fled, but here things were the more drawn out. Jesus having recognized this man’s possession by evil spirits spoke first (verse 8) giving a command. In verse 10 the words “again and again” imply negotiation and delay. As they lost their grip they negotiated for the pigs.
The demons were submissive, but it would seem that there was some strength in numbers. In that they had some means to delay their own inevitable. The man was overrun by these evil entities and even Jesus had to work at it while he was a man. Never diminish the power of evil spirits.
What can we learn from the demon’s view on Jesus?
No common ground between Jesus and Satan
The ESV has the group of demons saying, “What have you to do with me?” while the NIV says, “What do you want with me?” What do we have in common? From their speech it is clear that there is no common ground. No reunification is available or sought. The two parties are permanently separated with the demonic acknowledging a clear and permanent strength Jesus held over them.
The demons spoke clearly of Christ’s deity
It is also typical to have the arch-enemies of God to speak clearly of the character and reality of Jesus. The demonic immediately express the Godhood of Jesus. Mankind on the other hand is filled with doubt and will often posit arguments that God is not real, present or powerful.
Ed Murphy quotes from R. Alan Cole’s commentary on Mark 5 saying, “A better reply to the Pharisaical accusation that the Holy Spirit resting on Christ and the spirit of evil were fundamentally one (Mark 3:22) could hardly be found: here was evil itself refusing to acknowledge the Christ as in any way akin to itself.”
It is these things which tie in to my mind and strengthen my belief in Jesus as God. The Pharisees hate him and the demons say things that if they were trying to be deceptive they would want to hide. The demons whose power is clearly beyond that of the Pharisees unhook the Pharisees hypocrisy substantiating the things of Jesus as Christ.
What about the pigs?
We must not decide that the death of the pigs was the fault of Jesus. The herd of demons went among the herd of swine and they agitated them to a watery death.
Why do we so readily assign fault to God? It is subtle, but it is unmistakable. We cannot say that Jesus knew the pigs would run off into the lake. Jesus may know all things now in his exalted position, but he had laid that aside with the incarnation. We must flee the tendency to blame Jesus for the Devil’s doings.
My first thought was not that, though. My first thought was that somehow Jesus was punishing wayward Jews for herding pigs. That would be more typical of a Pharisee than Jesus. The religious leaders were the ones fussing about ceremonial issues. Generally Jesus was upending their traditions with an aim to purify and return the godly intent of spiritual matters. Why would he act any differently here? Another thing, and probably more relevant, was that this was the region of the Decapolis (see verse 20). That was a region of dominated by the Greeks since the days of Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great did not give pig regulations to Gentiles.
Embrace the tendency of God to value human souls
Another objection that some will raise regards the suffering of the pigs. Look at what William Barclay said in his commentary on Mark.
“There are ultra-fastidious people who will blame Jesus because the healing of the man involved the death of the pigs. Surely it is a singularly blind way to look at things. How could the fate of the pigs possibly be compared with the fate of a man’s immortal soul? We do not, presumably, have any objections to eating meat for dinner nor refuse pork because it involved the killing of some pig. Surely if we kill animals to avoid going hungry, we can raise no objection if the saving of a man’s mind and soul involved the death of a herd of these same animals. There is a cheap sentimentalism which will languish in grief over the pain of an animal and never turn a hair at the wretched state of millions of God’s men and women. This is not to say that we need not care what happens to God’s animal creation, for God loves every creature whom his hands have made, but it is to say that we must preserve a sense of proportion; and in God’s scale of proportions, there is nothing so important as a human soul.”
Key points from this passage:
- Go along with Jesus and see what he does.
- Do not try to fix spiritual problems with physical answers.
- God’s doings are his mercies.
- Don’t hide God’s mercies in a cabinet. Put them on display.
- I am not in a different category because I don’t have a thousand demons.
- Don’t chase away the solution.
- Do not blame Jesus for things the Devil does.