Jesus and his disciples had just crossed to the eastern side of the lake. Almost as soon as Jesus got out of the boat a man who was filled with what the Gospels tell us is a “legion” of demons began running toward him. A Roman legion at this time was made up of around 6000 individuals including soldiers, officers and support staff. This legion of demons made the man incredibly dangerous. He lived in the tombs on the shore long enough that Mark tells us the locals used to be able to tie him up but now they couldn’t restrain him even with chains. We can therefore assume he was very powerful. He not only terrorized people who came near the tombs, but we learn that by this time he was naked and would roam screaming through the tombs and cut himself. The tomb’s atmosphere would add to the locals’ sense of fear associated with the man. We make horror movies about people like this. This wild, powerful, naked, wounded, demon possessed man was rapidly approaching Jesus. If the disciples noticed, and I’m certain they did, they would have been afraid for themselves and their master.
From the world’s point of view Jesus and his disciples should have been afraid and run away, but the kingdom of God has come in Jesus and our understanding of power and authority changes. This story first strikes me because it shows Jesus’ incredible power. Surely 6000 demons would be willing to try and fight Jesus, but the demons know Jesus is so powerful that they are the ones who are terrified. They are so afraid that they do not even get the man to try and hide in the tombs. When the man sees Jesus “from a distance” he runs and throws himself at Jesus feet, and the demons pleaded with Jesus not to torture them.
Jesus commands the demons to leave the man, and he then permits them to go into a nearby herd of pigs. The locals soon learned what was happening and came running. When they arrived, they must have noticed some 2000 dead pigs in the lake, and they also saw the once demon possessed man dressed, seated and in his right mind. This change scared them even more than the man did not so very long ago, and as a result they begged Jesus to leave.
Jesus and his disciples were soon getting back into the boat to leave the area. As Jesus got into the boat, the man he had just freed from the demons came and pleaded with Jesus to let him go with them. We often see Jesus telling people they should be willing to set everything aside and follow him and so the man’s request seems perfectly reasonable. Compare this man with those who said they were willing to follow Jesus but wanted to wait for a more convenient time. Jesus would not let the man join them. Instead, he told the man to go home to his family and tell everyone how the Lord had mercy on him. Mark then says he went and told folks in the Decapolis all that the Lord had done for him. The Decapolis was a region to the South, not far from the tombs where the man had been living.
I had always imagined Jesus refusing the man with an instructive tone of voice. Viewed in this way Jesus’ words could be a disappointment. Now I imagine the scene in a different light. The man begs Jesus to join the group of folks who follow him everywhere. He is willing to go, and he would be eager doing this. But out of his deep love, Jesus sees the man needs something more to complete his healing. He needs to go home. So now I imagine Jesus with deep tenderness telling the man to go home, using words that flame this man’s desire to be reunited with his family. God’s love is definitely amazing!
This man had left home because of his demons, or at least because of what he was doing that exposed himself to them. Now that he was free, Jesus sends him back home. The man was so moved by the Lord’s love in setting him free that he was willing to travel with Jesus anywhere. Now think about how Jesus expresses love to him and also to his family by sending him home. Whether his family knew where he was or not, they must have had a good understanding of his horrifying and hopeless condition. I do not think for a minute Jesus sent the man back home because it was a good marketing move for the kingdom. It was pure love. Imagine the beautifully moving scene as this man who had been lost returns home to his family. Jesus cleansed him, and he’s ready to re-enter society with a completely different viewpoint and purpose.
- I am amazed by our Lord’s calm power. An army of demons couldn’t even shake his love and care for this man. Think about this. There is no situation or problem you or I will ever face that will begin to test our Lord’s strength. He is more than able to love and care for us every moment, and this is what he intends to do.
- It is equally true that we can do nothing that will stop the Lord from loving us and desiring to set us free. No one is beyond the Lord’s ability to love and heal. The man in this story was literally filled with so much demonic evil he was barely human, and yet Jesus because of his infinite love rescued him. He is able to set us free from all of the devil’s work. Remind yourself and others of this as you grow in living as one of Jesus’ disciples. Begin looking at others as those the Lord loves and wants to free.
- This may strike you as unusual, but Jesus was even gracious to the demons. They were terrified in Jesus’ presence, but they were also afraid to leave the area. In an act of kindness even to demons Jesus permits them to enter the nearby herd of pigs. We really have no idea what happened to the demons once the pigs drowned, but that seems to be information we do not need to know.
- Above all consider how great the Father’s love is for us (1 John 3:1). The story of Jesus’ encounter with this man demonstrates Jesus’ love. Remind yourself of his love as you go to sleep, when you wake and throughout the day. Thank him for his immeasurable love. Continue this until you begin to sense his love for everyone.
- The appropriate response to the Lord’s saving love is to live in it and share it with others. Every one of us has a mission which is to share the Lord’s love and power in those places where he leads us. The man in this story went home not just to complete his healing but also to do the work Jesus gave him. He may ask us to go far away to share his love; he may ask us to stay where we are; he may even send us to the mission field we once called home as he did with the man in this story. Wherever you and I are is our current mission field, but at the same time we must be sensitive to his leading as he may lead us somewhere else.