Beginning in Mark 5:6 an amazing drama unfolds. Not only is this encounter amazing, but it is full of contradictions and contrasts. The light, life, and power of Christ are distinguished from the darkness, deadness, and comparative weakness of Satan. Towards Christ this man was, at the same time, compelled and repelled; simultaneously running to Jesus and recoiling from Him. He was obeisant before the Lord, but also bargaining with the Lord. We read…
But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, [thou] Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.Never underestimate sin’s grip on the individual (i.e. you). In the last verse that we just read it appears that the man recognizes, at least to some extent, that Jesus is able to free him, but he was also afraid of what that change would mean.
I suggest again that this man’s reactions are not so far removed from our own. While looking at the demoniac it is obvious to see sin’s ironclad grip, but we struggle to see that same stranglehold when the person is fully dressed, speaks in a normal tone, lives in a house, and doesn’t use sharp objects on himself. Nevertheless, sin’s hold is just the same, it may not express itself in an identical fashion, but the end result is alike.
It is also easy for those of us who have been mercifully and graciously saved by Christ to think, “Why wouldn’t a person accept the gospel?” How quickly we forget that sin is a merciless jailer who does not easily release his prisoner. Just think about the person who is held captive by immorality, drunkenness, drugs, or lifestyle. Think about the person who hears the Gospel and the Holy Spirit convicts his heart, but he is living with a woman. She is attractive to him, and he enjoys, maybe even needs, their arrangement. He shouldn’t be with her as he is. He knows that saying “yes” to Jesus means saying “no” to his current situation.
Breaking sin’s vise-grip is not an easy or trivial matter. In fact, you can’t do it.
Christ can. Only Christ is able to command the wind and waves, and only Christ is able to release an individual from bondage to sin. He is able to enter the strong man’s house and spoil his goods. Sinclair Ferguson writes:
No man yields to Jesus easily by nature. Tragically, like Legion, men often hold on to their bondage and evil rather than yield to the pain of transformation by Christ’s power and grace. (Let's Study Mark, Banner of Truth, pg. 64-65)There is nothing superficial about the gospel, and there should be nothing superficial about a gospel presentation. Yes, the gospel is a simple message. “All” that is required is childlike faith, but that “all” is exceedingly significant.
Why else would Jesus say to the right young ruler who kneeled before him asking how he might inherit eternal life:
One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.The rich young ruler was not prepares to follow only Jesus. He wanted Jesus and his other god. Just like the young man mentioned above wanted Jesus and his live-in girlfriend. You cannot have both of them. Which is why the rich young ruler “was sad at that saying, and went away grieved.” If any man is to follow Christ he must deny himself daily, take up his cross, and follow Christ.
The encounter between the Lord and Legion becomes even more bizarre in verses 9-13. This is because of the weird request made by Legion. They begged Jesus saying, “Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.” Christ gave his consent and “And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.”
The swine dive aspect of the story has the tendency to dominate the telling. It shouldn’t, but it doe demonstrate at least three things.
#1 – The Power of Jesus
All things and beings are under God’s dominion; including Satan and his demons. God rules and overrules in all areas of life, including Satan’s malicious lies and attacks, for the good of His people and the glory of His name. Satan and the Savior are not equals. They are not spirit-brothers. There exists no parallel between them. Satan is limited in power, and the authority he does exercise is derived from God. In contrast, Christ’s power is universal and unlimited. He is sovereign; even over Satan.
#2 – The Predilection of Legion
Satan and his demonic host are set on the destruction of God’s creation. Legion was desirous of ruining this man. Christ prevented that, so they sought the destruction of the pigs. Satan is not an advocate. He is the adversary; the Apollyon.
#3 – The Perspective of Deliverance
One man is valued above 2,000 hogs. If you find yourself upset at the image of 2,000 pigs hurtling down the slope and into the Lake, then replace that image with the one from verse 15: "And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid."
Hopefully that perspective will ease your pain.
In verse 14 Mark tells us what we would have assumed had he not told us: “They that fed that swine fled.” You bet they did! These pig-herders ran with vigor for the town. It’s bad enough to lose one or two pigs on your shift, but to have all 2,000 go diving off a cliff will leave a significant dent in the bottom line.
The pig-herders spread the news in the city and the countryside, and everybody came out to see what was done. What had happened to the pigs? That’s what everyone wanted to know. But what has happened to the herd of swine was far subservient to what had happened to the man. The people arrived on the scene to witness something even more amazing than the swine dive. They saw the demoniac; this man who had been possessed and tormented by a Legion of unclean spirits; this man was “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind.”
The man who had been possessed by an aggregate of uncoordinated impulses and evil forces is freed. The crowd of people is struck dumb and even fearful at this sight. While their jaws are dragging the ground the pig-herders recount the story: “And they that saw [it] told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and [also] concerning the swine.”
I am not sure how I would have responded to that news and sight. I’ve tried putting myself into the heads of those people, but I simply do not know what motivated them to plead with Christ to leave their borders. “And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.”
The naked, crazy, mutilated, howling madman is clothed and in his right mind, yet no one uttered, “Thank you” or Glory to God!” No one even asked, “Who are you, and how is this possible?” You would have at least expected some wise guy to say, “We’ll finally be able to sleep through the night without hearing ‘Naked Norman’ howl at the moon.”
Instead there is only silence, and then a request for Jesus to leave. Absolutely no gratitude for Jesus is expressed. Absolutely no welcome to this new man is offered. He isn’t even addressed in the text. There is also no desire and no effort to bring other infirm folks before the Lord. Back in Capernaum, after Christ had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, the entire city and region congregated at Peter’s door. That had been the result wherever Jesus had traveled.
Except for Gadara.
Here they want him to leave. They beg him to depart. The reason why I cannot say for certain. The text isn’t explicit. The reason could have been economical. In one afternoon 2,000 pigs had plunged to their death. Maybe the city fathers speculated that if this Jesus stuck around he’d ruin the whole economy. Perhaps the material mattered more to them than the spiritual. That is certainly possible, and we see a lot of that today.
Or they could have desired for Jesus to leave for the same reason that the rich young ruler walked away in sorrow. They didn’t want to change, and there was no denying the change that Christ had wrought in the demoniac. To acknowledge his change would have been to acknowledge their own need for change; a change that only Christ can create. A change in which they were evidently not interested.