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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Jesus Liberates Us from Satan's Army
Text:Mark 5:1-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 8:1,2,3                                                                                       

Ps 81:4,5,7 

Reading – Mark 4:35 - 5:20

Ps 56:1,4,5

Sermon – Mark 5:1-20

Ps 40:1,4

Hy 55:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, when a country is occupied by a foreign army, there can be such a strong desire to be free. Think of the Netherlands, occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. Or during the same war, think of the many islands in the Pacific invaded by the Japanese. In more recent times, there have been cities in the Middle East that have fallen under the brutal domination of ISIS. Being occupied like this can bring so much fear and suffering. When you’re under the rule of an enemy, you realize what a gift freedom really is, so you spend a lot of time hoping for liberation.

The problem is that the act of liberation is a difficult thing. In World War II, it wasn’t easy to root out the Germans or the Japanese. It’s also been a slow and bloody fight to free people from ISIS. Liberation is difficult, but when it comes, it’s beautiful.

We see that in the ministry of Jesus. Christ was busy with the work of freeing people. He freed them from the effects of bodily disease and disability. He freed then from the power of death. And then there were others whom He freed from the captivity of the devil. Satan had possessed them, hacked into their life and taken it over, making it absolute misery. But with a simple command Jesus sends the demons away. Jesus speaks about this as “binding the strong man,” and plundering his goods. For too long, Satan has held countless people in his grip. He’s been enslaving them and ruining them. But Jesus has come to set the captives free. This is what we see in chapter 5:1-20, which I preach to you on this theme,

Jesus liberates a man from the power of many demons:

  1. the total misery of the man
  2. the watery demise of the demons
  3. the new command of Christ


1)  the total misery of the man: If you look back into chapter 4, you see that Jesus and his disciples have been out on the water. After a full day’s work, Jesus had said, “Let us cross over to the side” (4:35), and so they had. They had sailed straight into a violent storm, which Jesus had calmed with his words. Now they’ve come to the other side, the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, “the country of the Gadarenes” (5:1).

That detail of location is going to be important for our story. Because it was across the Sea of Galilee, the region of the Gadarenes was isolated from the rest of Israel—in fact, this was largely Gentile territory. And this is a first for Jesus. For months He’s been working around Nazareth and Capernaum, among the people of Israel. But now He’s venturing into land where there were many non-Jewish people, lots of whom were of Greek descent.

And as soon as Jesus lands on the shore, it’s clear He’s got work to do. For there’s a man “with an unclean spirit” (v 2). This is how Mark in his Gospel prefers to speak of demons: not just as evil spirits, but as unclean, or impure spirits. Being unclean meant that you weren’t able to draw near to God, but something in your life first needed to be put right. So if you were possessed by an unclean spirit, your situation before God was almost hopeless.

This man with the spirit shows just how unclean he is, for he “had his dwelling among the tombs” (v 3). These tombs are probably burial chambers carved into the side of the cliffs, and now abandoned. According to Old Testament law, graveyards were places full of contamination, for if you touched a dead body, you were made unclean. Well, that’s where this man lives!

Not only that, but he’s a danger to others, and a danger to himself. First, Mark says, “no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces” (vv 3-4). Notice that people had tried to control him. Maybe initially they’d done so for his own safety, to try prevent him from harming himself. But probably after a while they simply wanted to protect themselves; they chained him up in the wilderness, to avoid having to deal with him and his violence. They tried to bind him, but failed. Imagine his demonic strength, ripping apart handcuffs and leg irons!

So he was a danger to himself: “Always, night and day, he was in the mountains and tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (v 5). We see this with other possessed people during Jesus’ ministry, as they’re tormented physically: the demons would throw them into fire, or try to drown them, or hurt them with convulsions on the ground. In a frenzy of self-injury, this man would gash his naked body with the sharp edges of stones. Satan’s presence had left him an utter wreck, inside and out.

When we look at him, it’s hard to imagine a more miserable man. Dwelling alone, in the hills and tombs of the wilderness. Crying out constantly. Living in filth. Overpowered by an enemy he couldn’t see. He might’ve been unchained, but in every way this man was a slave, a victim of Satan’s violence. Not able to be helped by anyone, not able to help himself.

This is the man Jesus meets when He lands on the shore. You can be sure it was a neighbourhood that most people avoided, and the man probably hadn’t seen anyone for a long time. So when he sees Jesus “from afar,” he runs toward him (v 6). It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s possible that he wants to attack Jesus.

Being rushed by a naked and violent maniac would be a terrifying thing, but instead of a clash, there’s a sudden pause. He’s forced to his knees in front of Jesus, and Mark says that he “worshiped him” (v 6). The Greek word here is commonly used to describe the activity of worship, but literally it means, “he went down on his knees.” The man falls down in front of the Lord, and he can’t go further. There’s an instant recognition that this Jesus is someone great, someone to be feared.

That comes out in what the man cries, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God that you do not torment me” (v 7). This is similar to what other demon-possessed people cry out to Jesus, like the man in the synagogue in Mark 1. And they cry out like this because the demons all know that they have a “best-before” date. For now they’re free to roam the earth. But there is coming the day that they’ll receive their final punishment from Christ. And here He is already: the great Enemy who has come to destroy the works of the devil.

For now Jesus won’t torment this demon, but commands him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” (v 8). The spirit already knows he has to go, but then Jesus speaks with him for a moment longer: “What is your name?” (v 9). Why does He ask? This could be a way to show the great power Christ holds, for the demon’s name will reveal that Jesus isn’t just casting out one spirit, but many. It might also be for the benefit of the man, to show how seriously he’d been in the devil’s grip, and how gloriously free he will be.

The spirit answers Jesus, “My name is Legion; for we are many” (v 9). This is how awful the man’s situation had been: he’d been under the control of not just one demon, but many. And it’s a suggestive word that the demon uses. A legion was a large unit of Roman soldiers, usually numbering around 6000 troops. In the conquered Palestine of Jesus’ day, that word “legion” spoke of a hostile strength, oppression, even brutality. Everyone had seen these massive units of soldiers in armour, known for their fighting ability and near unstoppable power. “My name is Legion.” It’d be like a demon saying today, “My name is ISIS.”

No wonder this man’s misery has been so complete. He’s been occupied by a foreign power, an entire army of demons. They’ve been unspeakably cruel to him, keeping him captive, trying to destroy him, making his life a living hell. This is a demonic possession in the extreme.

Now, it’s hard for us to understand the power of demons. And maybe this man’s situation is even harder to relate to because of how extreme it is. But it’s just a severe form of what Satan is always doing, in the life of every person. He’s trying to be lord of our life instead of God. That’s the same, no matter who we are, no matter where we are: Satan is trying to ruin us, control us, and drive us away from God. This is what John says in his first letter, “The whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (5:19). The whole world! Anyone in this world who hasn’t been delivered through faith in Christ is still subject to the devil’s occupying power.

So Satan still has his methods of controlling us. There are temptations that are intensely strong in luring us and pulling us. There are sins we commit that are so difficult to stop because we’ve done them so long. And we should know that any sin has the power to trap us, where it’s hard to break out of it.

And sin can certainly be a lot like the misery experienced by the man in our text, cutting himself with rocks, injuring his own body because of the demons inside him. For today too, think of how sin can be so damaging in our lives. Satan can lead us into behaviours that are completely self-destructive. There are the obvious examples. One self-destructive lifestyle is when people drink too much, and they destroy their bodies. Or when a person takes drugs—the news today is full of stories of people who are ruining their lives through taking pills or shooting up, overdosing and dying horribly.

But we can think of less extreme examples of how sin destroys us. A person who lives in bitterness towards others and God can slowly become consumed by her angry thoughts, her resentment. After a while, it’s almost impossible to see anything good or positive. That’s sin, being destructive. Or a person who gets addicted to internet porn can become trapped in the constant desire to see more, and can lose the ability to have normal relationships. A person who always covets the money or the looks or the abilities of other people can become stuck in empty desires, where nothing is enough, and when even having more doesn’t satisfy.

We can go on. Sin is destructive. Leaving God’s good path for life will never end well. For this is what the power of sin is like: it’s captivates us, and then ruins us. Sin promises a lot, and might be nice for a while, but it will lead to misery, every time. For where does sin finally bring us? To death!

Beloved, all of this means that we need to be real about the power of sin in our lives, and our need to repent from sin. We also need to know that it’s only in the power of Christ that we can be delivered. That demon-possessed man was utterly lost until he met Christ, because no one else could help him. Every human effort to control Legion had been futile: chains, leg irons, isolation—none of it had worked. That too is realistic, for the power of sin is beyond us to resist. Sometimes we think that we can control our temptations through positive thinking, getting more sleep, putting internet filters on our devices, or something else. These things can be very good, and they can help. But because sin begins inside of us, and because the devil’s power is terrible, we will still fail if we only depend on our own resources. We must go to Christ!

This is what Hebrews says about the work of Christ, “Through death He destroys the one who has the power of death, the devil. Christ delivers all those who through their fear of death were subject to slavery” (2:15). Christ alone has the power. He alone can deliver. So ask the Lord for strength to fight sin. Ask him for a heart that repents daily. Christ can free us from captivity, because He has come to destroy the work of the devil.


2)     the watery demise of the demons: The spirits are about to be evicted, and they’re worried about where they’ll go. So Legion begs Jesus “that He would not send them out of the country” (v 10). Apparently, even demons need a place to live! Jesus speaks about this in Luke 11, that when an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it wanders through deserted places until it finds a place to rest.

So why doesn’t Legion want to leave the area? In a way, this was a good spot: it was desolate, there were old tombs, and there were people to torment. One commentator suggests this line of thought: If good angels love to dwell in heaven in the glorious presence of God, isn’t it natural that the fallen angels want to live in a place of death and disorder?

And Jesus will allow it. Seeing a herd of pigs, “All the demons begged him, saying, ‘Send us to the swine, that we may enter them’” (v 12). This is a bit strange, as demons don’t normally want to possess animals. But Legion might’ve seen this as a chance to cause some quick destruction before going on to other victims. What’s more, this might be a way to turn people against Jesus—which is in fact what happens.

Jesus allows the spirits to go and enter the pigs. You can get a sense of how numerous and how powerful these demons were, because immediately they cause about 2000 pigs to run down a hill and into the sea, where they’re drowned.

A couple things about that. Sometimes people read this story and worry about the poor little pigs. Wasn’t this cruelty to animals? But the point of the story, of course, is that the man is delivered from Satan. The fate of the pigs can’t be compared to that of the possessed man.

A second complaint about the loss of the pigs concerns their owners. Surely they were Gentiles, because it was forbidden for Jews to raise pigs. Even so, wasn’t this unkind to the owners? This would’ve been a huge financial loss—thousands of dollars’ worth of bacon, down the drain. But again, the material cost isn’t so important. And in a few minutes we’ll see how these owners had a lot to learn about what’s truly valuable.

This miracle is another display of what Jesus came to earth to do. And once more, Jesus is going directly against what people expect. The people of Israel hoped for liberation from the occupying power, those oppressive Romans. It’s not hard to see how this miracle could become a symbol for getting rid of the Romans. The Jews liked to call the Romans “pigs,” because they were unclean and despised. And there went a whole “legion” of them, straight into the sea!

But Jesus didn’t come to fight the Romans. His fight isn’t against flesh and blood—just like ours isn’t—but it’s against the spiritual forces of evil. Later in his life, Jesus will even subject himself to the Romans and their instruments of torture, because this is how He’ll defeat the devil. Christ will let his enemy do the very worst to him, in order to free his people. This is how He’ll bring a different kind of kingdom, one of peace and healing, justice and mercy.

We get a glimpse of that in our text. Jesus shows that He’s greater than all the hosts of darkness, and they have to do exactly what He tells them. And those demons running into sea is only a foretaste of their promised demise. For at the end of time, John tells us, “The devil will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). Then the judgment of the devil and his followers will be complete.

If we needed it, our text give another reminder of what happens to those who remain under the devil’s control: there is no future in sin, but only certain death. It might not look as dramatic as in our text, a rushing headlong into hell. No, as one author put it, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Which means we need to be warned against the slow creep of sinful habits in our life, the gradual compromise, the loss of zeal—things we might not notice, things we might connect to the devil’s work, but things which can kill.

The unrepentant will die, but those who seek the Lord are set free. See how the man of Mark 5 receives a new life. No longer does he dwell among the dead. No longer is he ashamed and unclean and out of control. Now he can go on his way, restored and renewed. This is the power of Christ. By his defeat of the devil, Christ gives us a new day—a new life. No more shame. No more guilt. No more futility. But He gives us freedom, and joy, and forgiveness.


3)     the new command of Christ: As you might imagine, this miracle causes quite a commotion in the region of the Gadarenes. 2000 dead pigs floating in the sea is enough to get any village talking. Word spreads to the owners, who come to see what’s happened. Mark says, “They came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid” (v 15). There can be no doubt about it: this is the same man, clothed, acting normally, sitting with Jesus.

How should the townspeople have reacted? Jesus has just delivered this man from total misery, and in a sense He has delivered them all from the terror of demons. So verse 17 says, “Then they began to plead with him…” They begged him—to do what? Heal their sick? Stay with them a while? Preach the Word? No, they plead with Jesus to leave!

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, and it won’t be the last. Christ unsettles people with his message. His message means that we’re going to have to change, and give our devotion to someone else. And no one wants their routine of life upset. “Please don’t disturb me!” the sinner says, “Leave me be. I’m happy the way I am.” That’s how deceptive sin can be. Life and freedom are available, and we don’t want it.

As for the man who’s been set free, he wants to stay with the One who has saved him. And he can be a disciple, but in the particular place that God has put him. Where he was, standing on his own two feet and leading his new life—that’s where Christ wants him, where he can do the most good.

Christ gives him a new command, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (v 19). I call this a new command, because it’s different from the silence that Jesus has been commanding all along in Mark’s Gospel. “Keep it to yourself, and don’t tell anyone,” He’d been saying to anyone that He healed up to this point. This is because He didn’t want an overreaction from the crowds. It’s different this time, probably because of where this miracle takes place. Recall that this was a more remote region. There was little risk that a sudden crowd of people would threaten his ministry before it was time.

And see the great mercy of Jesus: He still wants this community to know him, despite their indifference and hostility. He places among them a missionary who can speak about Jesus from his experience. The liberated man was a living, breathing, and walking demonstration of what Jesus can do.

Jesus gave him work to do, and that’s what the man did. “He departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him” (v 20). He spoke about Christ not only in the village where he lived, but in the whole region. Mark refers to the Decapolis, which was a league of ten cities east of the Jordan; these were essentially Greek cities that had been founded centuries ago in the land of Syria. In this Gentile territory, the word of Jesus begins to spread.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? This is his first journey into Gentile lands, and already He starts scattering the seed for a future harvest. This newly-redeemed man will start preparing the way for the work of the apostles. Because within just a few years, the message of the crucified and risen Christ will indeed go far beyond Israel, to the Greeks, and to all the world.

Out of love for Christ, the man stayed where he was, and he told people “what great things the Lord had done” for him. That brings us to our own task, beloved. If we’ve been delivered by Jesus from the devil’s power, if we’ve received a new life from Christ, shouldn’t this be our activity too? Christ has done great things for us! He brought us away from the kingdom of darkness, and into his kingdom of light. He saved us from sin and shame, and He’s given us something to live for, now and always. That’s something we should talk about. That’s something we should share with others.

Like for the man of Mark 5, fulfilling the command of Christ begins at home. It begins where God has put you today: in your family, and in your church. But then on your street too, among your neighbours—right now they’re captive to the devil, so this is something they need to know. Tell it at your work. And at your school. Tell them what great things the Lord has done! Christ has set us free from the power of the devil, and He has made us his own forever. So He will do for all who seek him truly!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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