The Power of Jesus to Change Lives – Mark 5:1-20

Today I want to jump back into the book of Mark.  It has been a while since I posted on Mark, so I am looking forward to getting back into it.  Toaday we are going to pick up where we left off, at the beginning of Mark Chapter 5.


One of the most difficult things in the world to do is change.  In general, there are very few things that are easy for us to change.  Whether it is our circumstance, our status, or something about ourselves we don’t like, it is just hard to change.  Ask an alcoholic, or a junkie, or someone with anorexia!  Change is not easy.  We all know this.  We all have things in our life that we want to change about ourselves, but we just can’t seem to do it (i.e. lying, bad language, lustful thoughts, hateful thoughts, gossip, etc.).  Plain and simple, change is hard.  But thankfully Mark’s Gospel addresses this issue of change.

Beginning at the end of Mark chapter 4 and running all the way through chapter five Mark focuses on the power of Jesus.  In 4:35-41 we saw Jesus’ power over circumstances.  Now, in 5:1-20, we are going to see that Jesus has the power to change lives.  As we look at this account it will be clear just how powerful Jesus is.  The only question is how will we respond to that power?

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

As I mentioned before, this passage is all about the power of Jesus to change lives.  Specifically Mark gives us four acts of the story that all point to the power of Jesus.  In the first act we will see that the power of Jesus is required (vv. 1-5).  In the second act we will see the power of Jesus revealed (vv.6-13).  In the third act we will see the power of Jesus reviled (14-17).  Finally, in the fourth act, we will see the power of Jesus recognized (vv.18-20).

Act I: The Power of Jesus Required (vv. 1-5)

The first thing that we see in this passage is that the Power of Jesus is required.  Beginning in v. 1 Mark writes, “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.”  If we go back to 4:35 we will see that Jesus was crossing over the Sea of Galilee to get a break from the crowds.  After quite an adventurous journey Jesus, with His disciples, arrived on the shores of the eastern side of the sea the next morning.  Mark tells us specifically that they landed in “the country of the Gerasenes.”  There is a great deal of confusion concerning exactly what area the exact location that Mark is referring to here.  Some of the manuscripts that we have preserved for us even use a different spelling.  Your bible probably even has a footnote about it.  Additionally, Matthew refers to the area by a different name in his account of this same story.  Despite the confusion, we can be relatively confident that both Mark and Matthew are referring to an obscure town that is also known by the Arabic name “Kersa.”  This town fits the description that both gospel writers provide for us, and was probably known to the Jews by both of the names.  It is important to note that this entire region, including this town, was predominately Gentile.

In v. 2 Mark continues the story by telling us that “when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.”  Literally, as soon as Jesus got out of the boat and stepped into this small serene by the sea shore, things went from serene to just plain crazy.  A man with an unclean spirit—a demon—immediately met Jesus from out of a tomb!  Luke adds even more craziness to the picture when he tells us that this guys wasn’t wearing any clothes (Lk 89:27).  As one author put it, “It would seem that out of the tombs he streaked downhill to meet the new arrivals.  A “streaker” indeed was he!”[1] Do you have an idea of how crazy this must have been?  There was a naked maniac running down the hill at Jesus and His disciples.  However, this was not just some “ordinary maniac.”  Mark makes it clear that this was a demoniac; he had an unclean spirit controlling his actions.

It is worth noting that in Matthew’s account two men with unclean spirits are mentions.  However, this is not a contradiction with Mark’s account.  Remember, it would have been impossible for Mark to record every account of Jesus’ life (cf. John 20:31). In his account Mark is simply focusing on the story of the more severe case.  In fact, Mark gives us several details that show us just how severe this case of demon possession was:

–          He lived in the tombs which were unclean according to Jewish law.

–          The town’s people tried to restrain the man with chains.  There were no mental hospitals.  They weren’t interested in helping him; they just wanted him under control.

–          The people were probably scared of him, but they simple were not able to control him.  They did not possess the strength.

Because of all of these things, this man ran free outside of town in the mountains.  And under the control of the demons, He would habitually scream hideously and hurt himself.  Looking at the details of this case, it was clearly a sever case.  There was nothing that anyone could do to help this man, and stop the demons.  In fact, Matthew 8:28 tells us that most people simply steered clear of the region.  There was nothing that anyone could do, and so every simply stayed as far away as possible.

Obviously this is a case where change was needed.  And it is a radical example of our inability as human beings to bring about significant change.  This man had lost complete control of his own life, and there was nothing that anyone could do to help him change.  We may not be in the same extreme circumstances that this man was in, however because of our sin we are all in need of a change that we cannot bring about.  Romans 3:12 tells us that “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  That includes you and me.  So, not only was a change necessary in the life of this demoniac, but it is also necessary in our lives.

Maybe you are not a Christian, and you just cannot let go of your life of sin.  You cannot turn away from your rebellion and have a relationship with God.  Or, maybe you are a Christian who does have a relationship with God, but you just cannot seem to get past this one particular sin.  Whatever the case may be, many of us are in need of a desperate change that we simply cannot make on our own.  In this sense, the man with the unclean spirit is a perfect illustration for our own inability.

[1] Hendricksen, 188.


Book Review: Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: a model of faith and thought

jonathan edwardsOver the years I have developed an interest in the work of Jonathan Edwards.  It all started when a got cheap damaged copy of Religious Affections.  From then on I was hooked.  I began reading as much Edwards as I could, and then I started reading about Edwards.  Of course, it is not hard to find material on Jonathan Edwards.  From bible teachers to secular scholars it seems like everyone has a book out about the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards.  In fact, there is so much material on Jonathan Edwards that you have to watch out for some “false information” (i.e. Edwards showed no emotion in the pulpit, all he did was read from a manuscript).  For this reason I was pleased when I saw that Douglas Sweeney had written a book on Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: a model of faith and thought.

Sweeney is a Church History professor at the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School–in other words he is really smart. In my estimation it is safe to say that Sweeney is an expert on Edwards.  He is not just some guys who has read a lot about Edwards and wants to weigh in (like I would be if I wrote an Edwards Bio).  Sweeney has read Edwards!  His letters, sermons, books, laundry list…  You name it and Sweeney has read it.  And this certainly comes out as you read this book.

At this point some of you may be a little put off by my introduction to this book.  You just want to read about Edwards, you don’t want to have to be a scholar.  Well, don’t worry.  This is the perfect book for you.  Sweeney’s content is accessible to all readers.  This book serves as an excellent introduction/overview into the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards.  Sweeney provides biographical details, family history, academic contributions, and even mixes in some fun stories to resurrect the life of Edwards for his readers.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is Sweeney’s own interpretation of Edwards.  Everyone has a different interpretation of Edwards’ ministry.  Some see him as an dictator of a pastor that typifies the evils of puritan New England.  Others see him as the almost infallible American theologian.  Sweeney is a bit more balanced than either of these views.  He presents Edwards as a brilliant man who was used by God despite his evident failures.  Sweeney is not afraid to present the good and the bad (he even tackles the issue of Edwards owning slaves, which is something that most biographers do not tackle).  It is also interesting to note that Sweeney sees Edwards’ most significant contribution to the theological world as his work on the Holy Spirit.

I loved every page of this book because it helped me to better understand Jonathan Edwards and how God used him.  It also challenged me.  In Sweeney’s words:

The task that faces those who would look to Edwards for help today is not to search for a time machine that we can use to live in his world, but to live in our own world thoughtfully, appreciatively and lovingly, and to ask ourselves how we can apply his insight in our time. (31)

Title: Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: a model of faith and thought.
Author: Douglas Sweeney
Reading level: 3 out of 10 – Only a few difficult words or concepts; accessible to all
Pages: 208
Citation: Footnotes
Publisher: IVP
Year: 2009
Price: $14.00 at IVP

The Practical Uses of Google Earth

google earthMany of you are familiar with google earth.  It is a program made available by google that allows you to see satellite photos of almost any place on earth.  For the most part, google earth is used as toy (i.e. time waster).  However, I have found a couple of very useful applications for google earth.

First, google earth is helpful for bible study.  I have never been to Israel, but I can see the topography through google earth.  Now I know that it is not the same, but at least it is something.  My bible geography professor pointed out this application to me.

running trailSecond, most frequently I use google earth help me track my running.  There are a ton of sidewalks and trails around my house, but there are not a lot of mile markers.  This makes is difficult to track how far I run.  Additionally, a lot of these trails are off the road making it impossible to track the distance with my car.  This is where google earth comes in.   Using the “ruler” tool I am able to map out my runs and track my distances.  This allows me to keep track of my training schedule, and run some new paths every once in a while.

Maybe these uses of google earth might be helpful for you, or maybe you have a better use for this pretty amazing tool.  Whatever the case may be, using google earth more effectively will allow you more time to play solitare while you are on the computer…

No Cheesburgers & Fries?

This month’s runners world contained an article about the Perfect Diet for Runners.  Unfortunately it did not reflect my diet very well.  However, there were a couple of hints that I think I could add to my diet.  First, it said to enjoy the meat you eat.  I can do this because I eat cheeseburgers.  But I think that they had something different in mind:

Flex Tip: Enjoy the Meat You Eat
As athletes, we sometimes forget that food is more than fuel for our runs. “Remember that one of the great joys of eating with people is the social and emotional nourishment,” says Blatner. Many runners have bonded over a breakfast of pancakes and sausage following a morning run, or celebrated a great race finish with friends and a steak dinner—and there’s no reason to stop. Following a flexitarian diet is all about being flexible, so you don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying meat.

The second theme from this article that I enjoyed was peanut butter. I am a big fan of peanut butter. Here is one of the snacks suggested in the article:

Late July Mini Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers
WHAT IT IS: A bag of these bite-sized crackers contains 120 calories, 20 grams of carbs, and 2 grams of protein, making them a great prerun snack.

Tell me that doesn’t sound good…