The Power of Jesus to Change Lives – Mark 5:1-20 (pt. 2)

Part 1

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.   – Mark 5:1-20 –

ACT II: The Power of Jesus Revealed (vv. 6-13)

In the first act of this story we saw that the power of Jesus is required.  In vv. 6-13 Mark begins the second act.  Here we will see the power of Jesus revealed.  Mark writes, “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.”

Remember how I said that most people steered clear of this area?  Well, apparently the disciples did not know that when they brought Jesus here to rest.  They pulled up, got out of the boat, and fully expected a nice quiet day of rest.  However, this man with the unclean spirit had a different idea.  He constantly terrorized the area and anyone in it, and now he had new people to terrorize.  Mark tells us that he saw them from off in the distance and starting running at them.  What probably happened was that the man was going to terrorize this new group of people just like he always did, but when he got up close he realized who he was about to terrorize.  When he realized that it was Jesus he immediately fell prostrate on the ground before Jesus.

Can you imagine this scene?  This crazy demon possessed guy, who by the way isn’t wearing any clothes, comes running out the mountains screaming at you like a mad man…  I can almost see the frazzled disciples (remember how they spent the previous night) freaking out and running to get back in the boat.  At the same time, however, Jesus calmly stood his ground and prepared to confront the man.

When the man finally stopped screaming, he began to question Jesus.  He wanted to know what Jesus was going to do with him.  Specifically, he was begging Jesus not to torment him.  At this point we need to understand that this was the unclean spirit speaking through this man.  However, what does he mean by torture?  To answer this question it is helpful to look at what Matthew and Luke say about this exchange.  Both of them record that the unclean spirit did not want to be thrown into the abyss.  In other words, the unclean spirit did not want Jesus to exercise eternal judgment on him yet.  This is probably what Mark is talking about here as well.  But whatever the case may be, the important thing to note is why he was begging Jesus.  It was because Jesus had been commanding the demon to come out of him—Mark uses the imperfect tense which tells us that Jesus repeatedly told the demon to come out.  The demon knew that it was impossible to resist the command of Jesus, and so he was begging.

As this demon is arguing with Jesus will hear nothing of it.  He does not respond to the begging, but instead asks, “what is your name?”  There are a couple of tough questions about this question:

  1. Q: Who was Jesus talking to?  Was it the man or the demon?  A: It was probably the demon because that is who he was already talking to.
  2. Q: Why did Jesus as the question?  A: The answer to this question is most likely found in the answer to Jesus question.  You see, the demon speaks up and reveals that this man was controlled by multiple demons.  Jesus knew this already, and most likely asked the question in order to bring out the dire circumstances of this situation.

This demon (there was one demon that was speaking and probably was the leader or representative for the group of demons) said that their name was “legion.”  This is referring to a Roman legion of soldiers which consisted of somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 troops.  This does not necessarily mean that there were that many demons in this man.  However it does mean that there were a lot of demons tormenting this man.  As one author put it,

It was a chilling admission. A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 foot soldiers, as well as 120 horsemen and technical personnel. To the Jewish mind, “Legion” brought an image of great numbers, efficient organization, and relentless strength. A host of evil spirits leered upon Christ from behind the poor man’s wild eyes. It was time for Jesus’ power to be seen in a most unforgettable way.[1]

Even though there were multiple demons it is clear that Jesus had control of this situation.  This is why they continue begging him not to be sent out of the region.  Maybe they prefer to remain in this particular area, because it is the terrain of tombs, skeletons, desertions, death, and destruction.  They feel ‘at home’ here.”[2] Weren’t sure exactly, but we are sure that they cannot do anything without Jesus’ permission.  This is why they ask Jesus to allow them to enter a heard of pigs feeding on a nearby hillside (remember this is a Gentile region).  Again, we don’t know why they want to enter the pigs, but we do know that they needed Jesus’ permission.  They knew the power of Jesus!

In v. 13 Mark tells us that Jesus granted their request to enter the pigs.  As a result, “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.”  This is not an every day occurrence.  In fact, this seems downright strange.  It would be easy for us to wonder why this happened, and why Jesus would allow it to happen.  But we need to notice a couple of things:

  1. The damage that was done to the pigs was minimal compared with the damage that was being done by the demons.
  2. “The demons’ leaving the man and entering into the swine were invisible events, but the frenzied action of the herd was visible evidence of the reality of the transition.”[3]

There are a lot of details in this passage, and they all point to one thing—the power of Jesus.  In v. 4 Mark said that no one had the strength to subdue this man.  And yet, Jesus had no problem subduing the demons and rescuing this man.  He had the power to bring about immediate change.  Think about it.  Jesus stood toe-to-toe with an entire legion of demons, and He won.  In fact, the demons were begging Him for mercy.  They had to obey Him, there was no other option.  Additionally, Jesus was able to completely and instantaneously change this man’s life.

We will see this more clearly in the next few verses, but suffice it to say that this is good news for us.  Jesus has the power to change us.  I love the way Romans 8:1-4 puts it:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Jesus has the power to change us—to deliver us from sin.  The question is how are we going to respond to that power?  In the next two acts of this story we are going to see two different responses to the power of Jesus.  As we look at these responses we need to be careful to examine our own hearts.


[1]R. Kent Hughes, Mark : Jesus, Servant and Savior, Preaching the Word (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989), 120.

[2] Hendricksen, 193.

[3] Hiebert, 134.

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