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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:Jesus Christ revealed as the Lord who shows mercy
Text:Mark 5:1-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 98
Hymn 7:9
Psalm 68:1,2,12
Augment Hymn 18
Hymn 8:14 (after offering)
Psalm 81:1-3

Reading & text:  Mark 5:1-20
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


In the world in which we live, power is limited.  No human being or group of human beings has power over the entire globe.  For instance, our Canadian government has power in Canada, but when it comes to the United States or other foreign countries, we have no right to tell anybody what to do.  That works on a global level, but it also works on the level of our everyday experiences.  For example, if you’re a father in the congregation, you have power and authority in your own home.  But you have no right to go into someone else’s home and tell them how to run their affairs.  If you want a technical term for this, we could call it limited or territorial jurisdiction. 


In our text, we see Jesus Christ leaving the boundaries of his homeland, going to the land of the Gentiles.  In doing this he raises the question of whether or not his jurisdiction is limited.  When he was in Galilee, the evil spirits had to obey him.  When he was out on the lake, the wind and the waves had to obey him.  What would happen now that he’s in the region of the Decapolis?  Is he Lord there as well?  That raises the broader question for us as well:  are there any areas in our lives and our experiences where he is not Lord?


We’ll hear God’s Word preached with this theme: 


Jesus Christ revealed as the Lord who shows mercy


We’ll see how this revelation unfolds in connection with:


  1. The demons
  2. The distraught people
  3. The demoniac


Having tamed the wild wind and water in the previous passages (4:35-41), the Lord Jesus and his disciples made their way across the Sea of Galilee.  That brought them to the region of the Gerasenes.  This area was also known as the Decapolis, it was a region made up mostly of Gentiles.  There were a few Jews mixed in, but the majority of the population was of a Greek background.  In the third century before Christ, Greek Hellenists immigrated to this area and established new cities or reestablished older ones.  Decapolis literally means “ten cities” and these ten cities were the major centers of the area.  The region of the Gerasenes was part of the Decapolis and this is where Jesus and his disciples came ashore. 


As they did, the welcoming committee came out to meet them.  It was a committee of one, a man with an evil or literally “unclean” spirit.  At this point, I want you to note what is happening here.  In Mark 1, the Lord Jesus cast out a evil spirit from an Israelite, a child of the covenant.  Later in that same chapter, we’re told that he went throughout Galilee driving out demons from God’s people.  Now we’re outside the land of the Jews and here we encounter Satan and his minions again.  Satan’s work is not limited to the church – he works wherever he can get the opportunity.  He spends more time and effort on destroying God’s people, seeking to devour them like a roaring lion, but he is not limited to them.  As Jesus gets out of the boat, he is confronted with a Satan who knows no borders.


Now it’s important to note that in Greek this man is said to have had an unclean spirit.  The NIV says “evil” but if you look there’s a footnote at the bottom of the page to inform us that it is literally an unclean spirit.  This ties into where the man comes from and where he lives.  He comes out of the tombs – the place of the dead, the place where uncleanness abounds.  Not only that, but he is also a Gentile – one considered to be unclean by the Jews.  Flash forward to Acts 10 and Peter has a vision of a sort of sheet descending from heaven containing all kinds of unclean animals.  He hears a voice telling him to go, kill, and eat.  Peter responds that he’s a good Jew, he’s never eaten anything impure or unclean and he’s not about to start now.  Then he hears the voice a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  Peter comes to understand that this was intended to convey the truth that the gospel is for all peoples, Jew and Gentile alike.  Flash back to our text and Peter is there on the shore of the lake as this man comes, this man who is unclean cubed.  He is three times unclean, unclean with an evil spirit, unclean because he lives among the tombs, and unclean because he is a Gentile.  Now he meets the thrice-holy Jesus.


Not only was this demon-possessed man unclean, unclean, unclean, he was also strong, strong, strong.  Mark relates that there was no one who could bind him, not even with a chain.  It had been tried.  They put chains on his arms and put him in leg irons, shackled him in the most secure way they could.  But it was all for nothing.  Chains couldn’t hold him down.  Leg irons couldn’t hold him down.  No one had the strength to keep him down.  He was like an unclean Samson possessed.  Take note of Mark’s language in verse 4, “No one was strong enough to subdue him.”  This builds up the suspense as to what’s going to happen next.  We’re left asking:  is Jesus strong enough?  And to go further:  does his mercy also extend to one who is unclean three times over?   


Verse 5 concludes the initial description of what the evil spirits have done to this man.  We’re told that he spent all of his time among the tombs and in the hills.  He couldn’t be with the rest of his people.  As he spent his time out in the boonies, he would cry out.  How would this fact be known if it hadn’t been told?  Obviously, he had a reputation for this sort of thing.  The demonic screaming would either be a nuisance or something disturbing, perhaps even terrifying. 


Mark adds one detail that Matthew and Luke leave out in their parallel accounts.  He tells us that the man would cut himself with stones.  Perhaps you know that there are people who still do this today, maybe even some of you have done it or do it regularly.  Those who do this cut themselves with razors or other sharp objects.  It’s called cutting and it’s a form of self-injury that’s easily hidden from others.  People do it for a variety of reasons, but it’s rarely because they’re suicidal.  It can be a coping mechanism for dealing with emotional pain or discomfort.  It can be a means of dealing with unresolved guilt, perhaps an attempt to make amends for one’s sins.  In this particular case, we don’t know, the Bible doesn’t tell us.  The Bible also doesn’t tell us whether it was the demons who forced this behaviour or whether it was the man’s self-conscious choice to do it.  Further, we also should not conclude from this passage that all those who engage in self-injury are possessed by demons.  That would be saying too much.  However, where we find demons in the Bible, we also sometimes find self-injury.  Whatever the case may be, the fact that this man was cutting himself is a picture of a world gone terribly wrong.  What kind of world is this where people intentionally cut themselves and draw blood, where they find relief in pain?  It’s a world in need of a Saviour, our text portrays people living under the effects of sin, people who need a Redeemer.


Now this cutter, this demon-possessed man has an encounter with a Jewish rabbi from across the lake.  Verse 6 tells us that he ran towards Jesus.  Now later on in the account, we’ll hear about how the townsfolk saw the man dressed.  And from Luke we know that he went about naked while he was still possessed.  So in your mind’s eye, imagine this naked crazed man running towards Jesus and his disciples.  He has lacerations all over his body and this one cutter makes no effort to hide them.  Quite likely he’s covered in blood from all his cutting.  Can you imagine being alongside Jesus and seeing this?


He runs at Jesus and then comes to a full stop in front of him and drops to his knees.  Now he’s right in front of Jesus and he starts shouting.  Normally a person right in front of you doesn’t shout.  But this is no normal person.  He shouts at the top of his voice, “What do want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  This is a terse and emotion-filled reaction to Christ’s presence.  He calls him by name – though they’ve never met.  And then he says, “Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”  There’s irony here.  From the parallel passages, we know that this man had been tormented by this demon possession for a long time.  This didn’t start last week, or last month, but he’d been like this for ages.  Day after day of demonic torture.  And now Jesus is being asked not to torture the evil spirit?!  And for good blasphemous measure, a reference to God gets thrown in there too as part of an oath formula. 


All of that was in response to Jesus’ command for the evil spirit to come out of the man.  Here already we see the mercy of Christ and his power.  Jesus goes further and asks him his name.  The reply is that his name is Legion – a legion was a Roman army unit made up of about 6000 men.  That doesn’t mean that there were 6000 evil spirits in this man, just that he was a beehive of demonic activity. 


In verse 10, we find this Legion begging Jesus.  See those words there: “he begged Jesus again and again”?  What does that tell us?  Well, that he had to beg Jesus, that indicates that Jesus has power.  He is Lord on the eastern side of the lake as well as on the western side.  Indeed, “Jesus shall reign where e’er the sun does its successive journeys run.”  There is no limited jurisdiction for the Lord Jesus. 


The demons didn’t want to be sent out of the area – why that is, we can only speculate.  Perhaps because being Gentile turf, this was safe territory for demons.  Perhaps because this was the territory assigned to them.  We can only guess and in the end it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that they have to ask permission from Jesus to do anything.  He is the Lord. 


Today that gives us comfort and hope because we know that the devil and his armies are on a short chain.  They can harass us, but they cannot destroy us.  They cannot destroy God’s work in the world, no matter how hard they try.  Satan may be strong, but Christ is stronger.  The evil one may have bruised Christ’s heel, but Christ has crushed his head. 


At this point in the narrative, the attention shifts to a herd of pigs.  Notice that the theme of unclean is coming into play here again.  We had a man filled with unclean spirits, among an unclean people, living in an unclean environment.  Now we have these unclean animals feeding on the hills nearby.  And again the demons beg Jesus, asking him permission to go and possess the pigs.  He gives that permission and off they go.  Instead of being consigned to wander aimlessly, they have a new home.  Perhaps not as good as their old home, but it’s still home.  But only for a short while.  Whether because of the demons or in reaction to the presence of the demons, the whole herd runs headlong off a cliff into the lake and there they drown, all two thousand of them. 


There were witnesses – the men taking care of the pigs.  They ran off, literally they fled, as if running from a serious threat to their well-being.  Everywhere they went, town and country, they reported what they had seen.  The result was that also on this side of the lake, Jesus started drawing a crowd.  However, this crowd wasn’t interested in what he could do for them.  They just wanted to see for themselves what had happened. 


They came and saw the man just sitting there at Jesus’ feet – the image here is one of a disciple humbly learning from his teacher.  Not only was he calmly sitting, he was also fully clothed and in his right mind.  You might think that this would astonish them and that they might be joyful at the restoration of this man who had suffered so much.  But what we find is a different reaction:  fear.  Fear was what the disciples had when Jesus tamed the wind and waves.  Now when Jesus tames a wild man or rather a wild collection of spirits, fear is again the reaction that arises.  We’re going to be seeing more of that word as we continue going through Mark.  Jesus makes certain people afraid.  But why?  Why are they afraid of Jesus?  With these Gerasenes, it seems to be because Jesus possesses a power greater than evil.  And as for where Jesus stands on the good/evil spectrum, they simply don’t know.  A power greater than the evil they’ve encountered could still be evil.  In fact, the destruction of all those pigs might mean that he is in fact more evil.  Whatever the case might be, it is certainly true that the Lord Jesus has great power, even greater power than a legion of demons in the land of the Gentiles.  He is the Lord of lords, whose power knows no limit, no borders.


Loved ones, Jesus is Lord and King.  He rules over angels and demons, Christians and non-Christians, moderns and post-moderns, men and women.  The Lord Jesus rules over the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the simple and the wise, the living and the dead.  And he is Lord over every aspect of our lives individually.  Every single part of our life belongs to Christ and is under his rule.  He’s not just the king who is some distant figure head ruling over the universe, he also rules over our clothing, MP3 player, web browser, refrigerator, debit card, television, and car horn.  Everything!  Our text calls us to recognize his unbounded Lordship and live in a way that matches that recognition.  Jesus Christ is the King whose kingdom stretches everywhere. 


But these distraught Gentiles don’t know this, can’t see this, can’t comprehend.  They heard the story again about the pigs and the demon-possessed man.  Then they began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.  He was just too much of a wild card, he put them outside of their comfort zone and they reacted.  Commentators will often say that they cared more about the pigs than the one who had the demons.  That may be part of it.  But do you really think that everyone who came out to the lake had a share in the 2000 pigs?  No, compassion for oppressed people just didn’t fit with their agenda, their way of thinking.  It wasn’t high on their list of priorities.  As he does everywhere, the Lord Jesus was turning their world upside down with his unbridled power and mercy and they couldn’t handle it.  They wanted the status quo back.  All of this, of course challenges us today.  Beloved, begin with seeing your Saviour here and what he does.  Believe in him as Lord and Saviour again this morning and then take the next step and ask the question:  where is compassion for the oppressed on the priority list for us, for those who have union with the Lord who shows mercy here?  In what sorts of radical, turning the world upside down ways are we extending mercy to the downtrodden? 


The Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave and he was about to, when the man comes back and begs to go with him.  “Begs.”  That’s the fourth time that word is used in this passage.  The third time was in verse 17 where the Gerasenes beg Jesus to leave.  Now the man is begging too, but begging to be able to be with Jesus, which is Mark’s way of saying he wants to become a close disciple of Jesus along with the twelve.  The begging again points to Jesus’ Lordship – people are always looking to him for permission. 


Surprisingly, this is the one request in our text that gets a negative response.  The Lord Jesus refuses to add a disciple number 13.  It was not the man’s calling to be a disciple and then later on an apostle.  Instead, the Saviour sends him home, to his family and friends.  Christ instructs him to speak with them about how much the Lord has done for him and how mercy was shown to him.  The man recognizes that the Lord here means Jesus, because in the last verse we find him going out to tell everyone, not just his family and friends, but everyone in the Decapolis about what Jesus had done for him.  Christ has revealed himself to this man as the Lord who shows mercy.  He is the God who is stronger than Satan, he is the one people go begging to.


Now there are those who say that this man was really the first foreign missionary in the New Testament.  That’s saying too much.  Yes, the Lord Jesus sent him back to his family, but he didn’t send him out to the Gerasenes as a nation.  That’s one aspect of it.  The other is that he was not sent to proclaim Jesus as the Saviour of sinners, but simply to tell of what Jesus did for him in sending out the demons.  Perhaps he would have said more, perhaps in sitting at Jesus feet for that short period of time he heard the gospel message, but the text doesn’t tell us that.  He was sent home with a simple recounting of what Christ had done.  And that was all that was needed at this moment.  There’s no doubt that through this the ground was being prepared for the sowing of the seed after the ascension of the Lord Jesus.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             


Here too we see Jesus revealed as the Lord who shows mercy.  The Gerasenes were not exactly the most welcoming people.  But yet he shows mercy by leaving a disciple behind to prepare the way for the gospel in the future.  His design is to include people from every tribe, nation and tongue in his kingdom and that mercifully includes even the Gerasenes.  For us, as those who have union with Christ, his glorious cause must engage our hearts as well.  If we don’t have a heart for the lost and confused, then we should be taking a look to see if we have a heart of stone or a heart of flesh.   


The end result of all that takes place in our text is a familiar refrain in Mark:  people were amazed.  It was a miracle that a man who had been in such a condition could be restored to a normal life.  It’s a picture of what the Lord Jesus does in all broken lives.  Listen to the way C.S. Lewis described himself before his conversion:  “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose.  And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.  My name was legion.”  That is a broken life.  That broken life underwent a renovation project by Jesus Christ and whenever that happens, it is truly miraculous and we, like the people in our text, should be amazed.  In the Canons of Dort we confess that God works in an amazing way, and that “According to Scripture…regeneration is not inferior in power to creation or the raising of the dead.”  It is truly amazing!  Reflecting on it, using this passage as a guide, leads us to be more impressed with our God, more passionate about our love for him, more eager to live for him and his glory.  Apart from Christ’s work, we are the wild man, thrice unclean.  Apart from Christ, we are the devil’s pawns.  Apart from our Lord Jesus, we are hopeless, helpless and hell bound.  But when we and others believe in him, not only are we saved from the wrath to come, but more importantly the worth of our God is magnified.  He receives more praise and glory.   


Loved ones, our text leads us again to consider Christ, to direct our eyes to him in faith.  He is the Lord who shows mercy, Almighty God filled with compassion for lost and broken sinners like you and me.  Continue believing in him and you will have much to tell about what he has done for you, the mercy he has had on you. 


Let us now pray:


O God of mercy and compassion,


Without you we would be hopeless, helpless and hell bound.  We thank you for the love you’ve shown in giving your only begotten Son for sinners like us.  We’re grateful for the revelation of Jesus in our text as the Lord who shows mercy.  Lord Jesus, thank you for delivering that demon-possessed man and showing us your power and love.  Thank you for bringing hope to the broken.  Help us with your Holy Spirit to believe in you each day and to live thankfully in recognition of your Lordship.  Help us also so that we are those who show compassion and mercy to the oppressed.  Open our eyes to the needs of those around us, both physical and spiritual needs.  Break our hearts for the lost and confused.  Make our hearts tender and compassionate like yours.  And we pray that the end result of all that would be more amazement at your grace, more of us and others being impressed with you, more people being added to your kingdom.  We pray in your name and to your glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, AMEN.   

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

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