They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many. ” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
—Mark 5:1-20, NIV
We can examine this passage to learn something of the authority and identity of Jesus. We observed that in this exorcism, as in all the exorcisms that Jesus conducted, He omitted the invocation of God, which is normally an essential part. The people were invariably amazed, but not at His success—for the Pharisees routinely exorcised demons. The controversy that followed Jesus’ exorcisms invariably revolved around the means by which He pulled it off; the people, not having heard an invocation, were amazed that Jesus possessed the personal authority to boss demons around, but the Pharisees, who realized that such a personal prerogative necessarily implied divine power, theorized instead that Jesus had mumbled an invocation of Satan under His breath.
Jesus only refuted the latter view, implicitly teaching His divinity.
Having that lesson under our belts, let us look at the demon-possessed man. In doing so, we’ll pull in some details from the parallel account in Luke 8:26-38.
Here was a man in terrible shape, a violent mental case that you or I would have avoided at all cost. He refused to wear clothing or to live in a house; he lived naked in a cemetery, screaming and yelling at all hours of the day and night. Whether he was a danger to others or just frightened people to death, we can’t know, but he constantly injured himself with rocks. All attempts to restrain him failed: he was very strong and no one was able to overpower him. People were so afraid of this man that they had attempted to chain him down, maybe while he was asleep, but he was so strong that he broke the chains! Imagine what it was like to live in that neighborhood! Imagine how parents would warn younger children to stay away! Imagine how the older children would dare each other to approach him, how they would gang up and taunt him or throw rocks at him, and then run away! Imagine how pious people would studiously avoid him, because his nakedness was an offense against the Jewish Law! Imagine the embarrassment the community felt when visitors came, and how helpless the local rabbi must have felt! Imagine how cold and hungry and tortured this poor man must have been, who lived as an outcast without proper food, clothing, shelter, or any form of companionship, who must have been tortured day and night, not only by his affliction, but by his rejection.
Then Jesus came.
Many times the first reaction we have to Jesus is fear: fear of rejection, fear of condemnation, fear that all the secrets of our heart will be laid bare, exposed to public view and ridiculed. The moment we see a minister or any other person carrying a Bible, we are instantly wracked with feelings of guilt and we lash out as the demoniac did. We accuse them of coming to condemn us, to torment us, to harm us, and we ask them, please, let’s not discuss religion today. Or perhaps it is the other way around: some nonbeliever senses that you are a servant of Jesus in that strange way that nonbelievers detect and flee the presence of God. They immediately lash out against you, accusing you of intolerance or bigotry or some other such thing! How often do you fail to discern the real problem, how often do you take it as a personal attack and respond in kind?
The demoniac of the Gerasenes was crazy, he was naked, he was maniacal, he was violent, he was a threat to all around him and to himself; He could not bear the truth about himself and now he feared that Jesus would rub it in and make it worse! The best defense is an attack, so the demoniac attacked Jesus, accusing Him of wanting to torment him and make his misery even worse!
Jesus understood what was really wrong. He responded to the man’s need and not to his accusations; He did not reprimand the man or moralize with him or condemn him in any way; He simply healed the man and made him whole.
Lent is the season in which we do our spiritual housecleaning. It is the time when we clean out behind the refrigerator and vacuum under the chairs. This is the time we find out what a horrible mess the attic has become and make embarrassing discoveries in the backs of closets and under the bed and in other neglected places in our souls. Self-examination is so frightening that many people have very theological reasons why they won’t do it: the most common one is the theory that they did that once back when they were fifteen years old, when they received the Lord. Back then, umpty-ump years ago, Jesus forgave them and the matter is settled, they say. However, if that were true, then why do they hesitate, if all they will find is forgiveness and light? Why would they hold back from an experience that could only be uplifting and joyful? Like the demoniac, they fear the approach of Jesus. They fear they might find something that would show them to be immature, or a phony, or immoral, or unpalatable to Jesus in some way. Something that—dare we say it?—might cause Jesus to cast them away! How often do our hearts dread what our theology tells us cannot be!
In some way we are all the demoniac of the Gerasenes: we fear Jesus, because we think that by hiding the truth of our innermost self from Him, we shall avert His rejection. We laugh at Adam, who hid his nakedness from God, yet we hide our nakedness just as nervously.
We who read the gospel accounts are confident as the story unfolds that Jesus will not harm the man. We have seen Jesus in similar situations before, and we know that His reaction is to have compassion and bring healing. We have less excuse than the demoniac had for fearing Jesus when He comes to our secret place—where we dwell in the graveyard of our past, where we wander about naked, where our lusts cannot be restrained, where we scream in terror at our shortcomings, where we beat ourselves with rocks over what we could have been and should have done.
Let Jesus into that secret place, and have no fear: He will cast out your ‘demons.’ He will give you not just the guts to admit you were wrong, but also the strength of character to put things back in order. He will restore your dignity, and leave you at peace.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
—1 John 1:8-9, NIV