“Jesus has just calmed a storm at sea; he now meets a man with an equally violent storm inside him. We will see that as in the first case so in the second the power of Jesus prevails.…” [Edwards, 153] It is an interesting illustration of Mark’s interest in narrative detail that his account of this miracle is so much longer than the account of the same incident in Matthew and Luke. For example Mark takes 330 words to give an account of this particular incident in the Lord’s life and ministry while Matthew uses only 135 words to describe the same incident.
The textual evidence is confused, but the evidence suggests that there was a town, Gergesa, on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it is this area that is apparently meant. Remains of this town were almost certainly discovered during road building along the lake in 1970.
The wretched condition of this man is described in detail and we are given a sense of the personal tragedy of his life.
As before with other demons, the demons recognize the identity of Jesus and admit, however unwillingly, their subjection to him.
A Roman legion was the largest unit in the army and numbered anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers. There is no point is speculating how many angels can dance on the head of pin or how many demons can inhabit a human being. In any case, as always in the NT, demon possession is portrayed not as a psychological problem but as an alien occupation. [France, 230]
Why did they want to stay in the area? Was it because this was an area congenial to them or simply so as to be at a distance from where Jesus would ordinarily be found? We are not told.
The Law of Moses forbade the eating of pork. The rabbis in typical fashion went further and condemned the raising of pigs. So this was clearly a largely Gentile area. Jesus, in other words, had gone to a place that no Jew would have wanted to visit.
About two miles south of the location of ancient Gergesa there is a ridge running down toward the lake that terminates in a steep embankment.
The moral problem raised by the Lord’s assenting to the destruction of the pigs has often been discussed. T. H. Huxley, obviously no Christian, wrote of this episode: “the wanton destruction of other people’s property is a misdemeanor of evil example.” He in effect accuses the Lord of wrongdoing here. Of course, it wasn’t Jesus who destroyed the pigs but the demons. It is not even clear that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, would have known that the pigs would be destroyed. He was not omniscient as we know in his human nature. But this did as it turned out provide a very important revelation of what demons do and what is the result of their control. To be sure, the loss of the herd would have constituted an economic catastrophe for someone, perhaps for a number of people. Mark does not reflect on that and perhaps we are left to gather that the salvation of one soul is far more important than financial gain or loss, however severe. As Jesus says in Matt. 12:12: “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep or than a pig!”
In any case, there is no question in the demons’ mind that they would be sent away; the only question was: where? Nor is it explained what happened to the demons after the pigs were drowned. What matters is that the man was delivered and the demons had obviously left him.
The people resented the financial loss and they were afraid of the power and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the supernatural power that he had wielded had unsettled them and asked him to leave. Such is far too often the response of people to Jesus. They would rather be left alone than face the reality of God!
The Lord interestingly meekly does as he is told and he leaves the region. It wasn’t his calling to minister to Gentiles in any case and the presence of the crowd and the controversy ruined any hope of a quiet retreat.
Jesus refused the request of the restored man to join his entourage, probably because a Gentile among his disciples would interfere with his mission to the Jews. Remember the Lord made a point of saying several times during his ministry that his ministry was to the Jews and that the ministry to the nations would begin after his ascension to heaven. The fact that the man was a Gentile probably also explains why the Lord did not swear him to secrecy as in the case of previous exorcisms that had occurred in Jewish areas. In this Gentile territory, the Lord did not have to worry about false messianic expectations, he didn’t have to dampen the enthusiasm of crowds so as not to provoke a confrontation with the authorities before its time.
In the event, this is one of the very first instances in the Bible when one man is placed under obligation to tell others about Jesus! And here, as so often later, it will take the form of relating what the Lord had done for him. And notice the interesting alteration of wording. Jesus told him to tell his family what the Lord had done for him. The restored man tells them and many others what Jesus had done for him. This man knows that Jesus isthe Lord!
I want to treat this history as an illustration of the revelation of salvation in Jesus Christ. If we ask, interrogate the providence of God, why there should have been so much outward demonic activity during the ministry of the Lord Jesus, outward activity we do not find elsewhere in the history of the Bible or at least very much, we would certainly answer that, by this means God provided an opportunity to reveal, to demonstrate the power Jesus Christ has to deliver sinners from bondage to evil and to the evil one. But the same point can be looked at from another direction. In this way, in these great demonstrations of Christ’s power over the demonic realm, the nature of salvation itself is also revealed, described, and illustrated.
What you have in the account of this man’s deliverance from a terrible bondage is a picture of the salvation of everyone who is ever saved by the grace of God and the power of Jesus Christ. We can see every man before his conversion in this man possessed by the demons and we can see every man after his conversion in the circumstances of this man once he has been delivered. You see here painted in the boldest, brightest colors the transformation Christ effects in the lives of all whom he saves. I know that we should look at this history this way – as a picture of our salvation and anyone’s salvation – because the Bible teaches us that until they are subject to Christ’s rule all human beings are subject to the Devil’s rule and control. It may not be as evident as it was in this man’s case; it may not manifest itself in ways nearly so crude and grotesque; but the bondage of ordinary people is just as inescapable and just as deadly as it was for this man.
We read, for example, in John 8 that the Lord told the polite, urbane, religious leaders of his day that they were sons of the Devil and subject to his will. They gnashed their teeth at Jesus for saying that, but that is what the Son of God knew about them and what they did not know and would not admit about themselves. And in Ephesians 2 Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that before God called them to himself they followed the ways of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. Which is to say that the Devil is having his way with those whom Christ has not yet called to himself.
Now, you don’t see many unbelieving people running about unclothed, living in cemeteries and acting deranged. The Devil is too clever for that, hardly wishing to advertise the malevolence of his rule and the pitiable state of all who are subject to him. As Samuel Rutherford once put it: “I love a rumbling and raging [Devil], rather than a subtle Devil.” That is, the more the Devil shows his true self the easier he is to see, to hate, and the more desperate men and women will be to escape his control. For this very reason the Devil’s control is usually exercised secretly, surreptitiously, subtly. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day people do not suspect or know that he is their father and that they are in his grip and doing his will. But, the Scripture says, the bondage is just as real and the results just as deadly as in the case of those whom the Devil makes to cry out and cut themselves. And so Jesus’ deliverance of this man from bondage to the demons is a picture of salvation, for in the salvation of Christ everyone is delivered from bondage to the evil one.
What is more, in this particular incident and very dramatically so we have a man who is not only delivered from the power of the Devil but becomes, as a result, an eager devotee of Jesus. He wants, in fact, to be his full-time disciple, a servant of the Lord like the Twelve were servants of the Lord. Though this was not to be his calling, we are left with a view of this man sharing his story about Jesus Christ with anyone who would listen to him. “Come and let me tell you what the Lord has done for me,” became the beginning of many, many conversations. In other words, this man wasn’t merely healed, he was saved! The man who had been violent uncontrolled, who lived alone alienated from everyone became one of the Christian church’s first evangelists. He had a new calling. That too is the nature of salvation.
Here was a man out of his mind, running naked about the countryside, unkempt and unclean, living among the dead, a scourge and terror to all those who lived nearby, and a source of great sadness and fear to his family. But once Jesus delivers him we see the same man in sound mind, sitting quietly fully clothed, and then going off into the town to tell others what the Lord had done for him. What an almost perfect picture of salvation he gives us! The Scripture says if any one is in Christ he or she is a new creation – and we can see that in this man, that completely new creation, that new beginning, and that new life.
Interestingly, the Bible usually teaches us what salvation amounts to and what it means with illustrations or by examples. We are, to be sure, taught the theology of the new creation and the new birth and the new heart. But we know what that all means in flesh and blood through the illustrations provided in the Scripture. Actual conversions, actual accounts of sinners coming to Christ, and of their lives being changed root and branch for God and for good – that is what apparently we need if we are to understand this reality aright and so that is what we are given in the pages of the Bible.
You have, for example, the conversion of Zacchaeus, the tax‑collector in Jericho, whose life was turned upside down by his encounter with Jesus. A selfish thief became in a moment a humble man who delighted in generosity to others. Or you have the account of Lydia and the jailer in Philippi. And, of course, you have above all, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to become the Apostle Paul. It has been pointed out that more space is devoted to the account of the conversion of the Apostle Paul in the NT than to the account of the resurrection of Christ. There are four separate accounts of Paul’s conversion given to us in Acts and Romans. That is because Paul’s conversion is a supreme example of conversion because his conversion shows us so clearly what conversion is, what coming to faith in Christ does for a person, and how it changes him or her and what it leads to.
Now these sorts of conversions – Zacchaeus and Paul for example – are of the striking, larger than life, sudden, and very dramatic variety. Most people don’t come to Christ so suddenly or dramatically, but some do, and these kinds of conversions, like this man inhabited by a legion of demons, are best for showing us what conversion really is.
In such a sudden, dramatic deliverance, in such a conversion, what the Puritan Thomas Goodwin called an “election‑conversion,” God shows us how great a power has been exercised to save a sinner and also how great a deliverance has been given to one who was in bondage. We can see so clearly how different the “before” is from the “after,” how impossible it is that a man or woman, boy or girl could bring such a change to pass by himself or herself, and how such a complete change of nature and of mind overtakes a person and what it produces in a person.
Now the world, of course, also hopes to see people change. We spend billions of dollars on “personal change” every year, from diets to alcohol and drug rehab, from adult education to prison, from financial management seminars to counselors and therapists. The world hopes that people will turn over a new leaf or make a new beginning. But we do not see this man, who had been inhabited by Legion, turning over a new leaf; nor do we see Paul or Zacchaeus making a new beginning. That is not what has happened to these people. Not at all. Conversion is as different from turning over a new leaf as changing one’s clothes is from changing one’s heart. In biblical conversion a person’s entire nature has been transformed; they have been made into new people – the same body, the same personality in many ways, but radically transformed from the inside out. And out of that comes an entirely new and wholly different life at its root and principle. As Goodwin, again, once put it: “conversion is the total change of a man’s chief end.” It isn’t one thing or another thing that changes; it is everything that changes in a way. [Cited in Whyte, Fraser of Brea, 22] This man once served the Devil – whether he knew it or not – and now he serves Christ the Lord. He once loved sin and now he loves righteousness. He is has new interests, new concerns, new powers. No man can re‑make his nature. God alone can do that. This man who lived among the tombs could not escape the demons or gain control of them. He was entirely subject to them. But Christ had but to speak a word to set him free. His life was transformed in every single respect. That is what conversion always is: the sovereign work of divine power, setting a sinner free and giving him a new life.
From the time of Holy Scripture to the present the Christian church has continued to witness this phenomenon and from that time to this spectacular, dramatic, sudden conversions have provided illustration of the nature of salvation. We can think of any number of those paradigm conversions throughout history – conversions like that of this man whom Jesus delivered from Legion, or Paul or Zacchaeus.
There was the conversion of Augustine in the garden of that villa outside of Milan in A.D. 386, when, as he tells us, in a moment, as his eyes fell upon a verse of Scripture, “all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” There was the conversion of Luther when the light suddenly dawned in his heart that sinners are made right with God not by their own righteousness, but by that righteousness which comes from Christ as a gift, received by faith alone. When that truth, by the Spirit of God, came flooding into his soul, he says: “I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. This passage of Paul [the just shall live by faith] became to me a gate to heaven…” [Bainton, p. 65]
There was the conversion of John Bunyan, which he told three times over in his immortal books: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Holy War. There was the conversion of John Wesley as he sat in the balcony of a Moravian church in London, listening to a man read the preface to Luther’s commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. There was the conversion of Charles Spurgeon, when on a snowy Sunday, he was diverted to worship in a strange, almost empty church, and heard a layman, substituting for the minister who never arrived, tell him personally and directly to “look to God for salvation…for there is no other.”
In our own century there have been others. The conversion of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the up and coming medical doctor, who was to become the great preacher of the mid-20th century; the conversion C. S. Lewis, so brilliantly told in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy; that of Charles Colson, also wonderfully told in his book Born Again; and that of Eta Linnemann, the German theology professor who became a Christian after years as a skeptical professor of biblical studies. She speaks of her experience in words that this man on the lakeshore could have used: “[God] immediately took my life into his saving grasp and began to transform it radically. My destructive addictions were replaced by a hunger and thirst for his Word and for fellowship with Christians.” [Historical Criticism of the Bible, 18]
We could name any number of others. Charles Wesley has told the story of his dramatic conversion in his hymn “And can it be that I should gain.” John Newton has given us his conversion in “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.”
All of these are memorable to the church because they were dramatic, almost larger than life experiences and because they led to so much in the lives of these particular Christians. But even among them there were great differences. Some were brought to Christ by a direct human instrumentality, as Spurgeon, others in reading the Scripture, as Augustine, others while alone with their thoughts, as C.S. Lewis. Some came very suddenly, others only after months or years of the Spirit’s preparation of their hearts and lives. “The Holy Spirit enters the hearts of some with a pin and others with a sword,” said Thomas Hooker.
And, of course, there are still more differences to be observed in the experiences of all of God’s people. Some are delivered to new life in Christ while still in their infancy, others while little children, others in their youth, others in the adulthood, and a few even on their deathbeds. Many are brought through preaching, many through the reading of Christian books, many through the witness of friends. Many come slowly and others quickly and dramatically. I look out over this congregation and see many who, like myself, were made to be new creations before we knew what a new creation was or before we knew that we needed salvation. But I see many others who came to new life in Christ in a sudden moment of powerful illumination as the Lord drew near and shed light into your heart and delivered you from bondage to sin and death, the bondage in which you had formerly lived you now saw even though you had not understood it to be bondage before.
These differences matter not. They are the spice of Christian life and the demonstration of the genius of our God who can find a new way to deliver every single one of that great multitude who are being saved by his grace. But, different as the outward circumstances of salvation, of our conversion may be, the substance is the same. What happened to this man inhabited by a legion of demons, what happened to Paul, to Augustine, is what happened to me and to many of you, and what must happen to anyone if he or she is to be saved and to have eternal life. Like this man, we were all at one time doing the will of the ruler of this world, the spirit now at work in those who are disobedient. And we were delivered or must be delivered from that bondage to a wholly new and better and happier existence and from that hateful association with the evil one himself into communion, fellowship, friendship, and family with the Son of God himself.
Now, let me conclude by drawing to your attention two aspects or characteristics of this change that are particularly highlighted in this episode. First, it is a great change; a drastic change. The change was so great in this man’s case that it terrified the citizenry of that place. He had been chained hand and foot, and even then they hadn’t been able to control him; and now he is walking about town, with love in his heart, telling them what the Lord had done for him.
And the same point is made by the pigs. What do they show us? Well, they show us what forces were in control of that man and what was at work inside of him before he encountered Christ. As soon as those same demons who had been in this man were set loose in these pigs, they rushed to their destruction over a cliff and all of those demons had been inside that man exercising an influence in that man before that. The pigs serve to show us the death and the destruction, the hatred, the restless evil purpose which had dominated this man but from which he has now been entirely delivered.
All Christians still sin, they very much do. And there remains in their lives the remnants of what they were before. But, there has come this great change, this drastic change, which is really, actually like the change that came over this so fortunate man when the Lord delivered him: a change from night to day. It must be so if they have been delivered from forces so dark and inhumane as these forces are!
And there must be that change in you, if you are rightly to believe that you are saved and right with God. Look at the world around you and the people around you, and then look at yourself. Can you see a great difference, a different point of view, a different set of loves and hates, a God‑ward orientation to all your life, a devotion to Christ for your salvation and, like this man after his deliverance, a desire both to be with him and to serve him in the world. That is not the way of life in the heart or in the behavior of an unbeliever or of people who are still subject to the evil one and his influences. But it is the spirit of all who have been delivered from bondage by the Lord Jesus Christ.
As one theologian put in long ago: “It is rather difficult to convince someone that a statue is alive when it remains absolutely motionless or that a drunk is sober when he is staggering from wall to wall.” Unbelievers live characteristically. They don’t think or speak or act like Christians. And, in the same way, there should be no difficulty detecting the difference Jesus has made in you. Christians can struggle at precisely this point. They are discouraged by their sins and failures. They think a real Christian would certainly have done much more than I. But then perhaps they have never seen or they have forgotten the tombs, the chains, the way of life before Christ delivered them. They don’t really see how different they are and this is why it is so important for believers to be noticing the life of unbelievers and comparing their own to that.
And then, in the second place, I call your attention to the glory, the divine splendor of this change, this deliverance. How beautiful and happy and wonderful it is! In one of his sermons, Robert Murray McCheyne said this:
The conversion of a soul is by far the most remarkable event in the history of the world, although many of you do not care about it. It is the object that attracts the eyes of the holy angels to the spot where it takes place. It is the object which the Father’s eye rests upon with tenderness and delight. This work in the soul is what brings greater glory to the Father, Son, and Spirit, than all the other works of God. It is far more wonderful than all the works of art. There is nothing that can equal it.
Well said! The world knows nothing like this! It is so wonderful, what God does and what comes to pass in human lives by this divine grace and power. I don’t know how many times I have sat enthralled at our dinner table especially on a Sunday afternoon listening to an account of the great change that came over someone as a result his or her encounter with Christ. We have prayed recently for the Bergeys, Mission to the World missionaries in France where Ron is a seminary professor. Some of you know their stories. Francine was a rebellious young Jewess who angrily left her homeland of France vowing never to return, completely alienated from everything that had belonged to her life before, until suddenly and wholly unexpectedly in far-off Jerusalem she encountered Christ just like this man did by the Sea of Galilee and was transformed as he was. A young woman who had nothing but scorn for Christianity and nothing but scorn for France was suddenly a lover and follower of Jesus. For years now she has lived in France, gone back for the sake of the good news she heard and to tell others what the Lord had done for her. Tell me that conversion, this new creation is not a glorious thing, the most glorious thing that ever happens in the world and it still happens today.
Devils destroy what they control the only pleasure they ever get is bringing someone under their destructive power. But God purifies, renews, beautifies, makes glad, gives peace, and sets the purposes of the heart and life on all that is highest and best. I tell you, you don’t have to have run unclothed through the countryside and live in tombs to be in bondage to the evil one. And, in the same way, you don’t have to have been delivered exactly in the same way this benighted man was to be a new creation in Christ.
Some of you, in a group this size I am morally certain that some of you, are still in the grip of the evil one. You are no match for him. You will never escape and then it will be too late to escape. Look to Christ Jesus. He can do for you today the same thing he did for this man in the grip of many demons those many years ago, and he will. “He who comes to me,” he said, “I will never drive away.”
I can knock at the door of your heart, others can urge you to be reconciled to God, but Jesus Christ alone can come, insert a key, open the door, and drag out by the hair the forces of evil that are now controlling your heart and mind.
If you are a Christian, think carefully this Sabbath day, of how much and what a great thing the Lord has done for you. See yourself in this poor accursed man and then see yourself in him again sitting there fully clothed, pleading to go with the Lord, but humbly and meekly accepting his instructions to tell others what the Lord had done for him.
But if you cannot say that you know that you have been delivered as this man was; if you don’t really know what you would say if you were told to tell others what the Lord has done for you, then don’t let the sun go down this day without crying out to Jesus to set you free and to give you the same happy message that this man was given to share with all who would listen to him speak. “Come; let me tell you how much Jesus has done for me.”