This is the sixth week in our Summer series we are calling ‘Formerly Known as Christian,’ a series in which we are working our way through the Gospel of Mark looking at the life of Jesus… and we are looking at Jesus’ life to see what our lives should look like if we are going to call ourselves Christians. We started this series admitting that the term ‘Christian’ has lost much of its meaning. We also noted that while ‘Christian’ is still, for the most part, a positive term, it’s a word that has lost influence in today’s world… in fact, polls tell us that fewer and fewer people consider being called a Christian is something positive. But, what most people don’t know is that being called a ‘Christian’ wasn’t something that started out as a positive at all. The Book of Acts, which is the book in the Bible that tells us some of the early history of the Christian Church, tells us that it was in Antioch that people following Jesus were first called ‘Christians.’ Antioch was a very cosmopolitan city. It was the 3rd largest city in the entire Roman empire and the citizens of Antioch, like the residents of many cosmopolitan places, were known for sarcastically making fun of less sophisticated folk… and so, when the people from Antioch started calling the followers of Jesus by the name ‘christianos’ it was initially a condescending, humorous term meant to ridicule the ‘little Christs.’ And we also know from history that it took well over 50 years for the title ‘Christian’ to even be considered slightly positive. ‘Christian’ slowly became a positive word as people throughout the Roman empire met ‘Christians’ and found that these ‘little Christs’ were people who, as we have been saying over the last 5 weeks, were hopeful people; they were people who had good news; they were people who ran toward places of pain; they were people that paid attention; and they were people who consistently lived out the almost unheard of Christian belief that everyone was precious to God. It was this unusually ethical lifestyle of the Christians that turned the name from being a slur that was more often equated with terms like ‘traitor’ or ‘fool’ to a positive name that was respected and honored. And what we are hoping to do through this series is to reclaim this respect and honor that eventually came with being called a Christian. And so, we are looking at the Book of Mark to make certain that at least those of us here at Grace Church will understand exactly what our lives need to look like if we are going to call ourselves by the name Christian. And I don’t know that we could be looking at a better source for finding what being a Christian is all about than the Book of Mark. Here’s why I think the book of Mark is such a great resource: we are told by no less than 3 early church fathers that Mark, the man most often credited with being the writer of the Book of Mark, was Peter’s (who was one of the most important of Jesus’ 12 disciples) translator for years. What these early church fathers tell us is that Mark traveled the Roman world with Peter for years and as Peter told and retold the stories of his 3 years with Jesus, Mark would translate Peter’s Aramaic into Greek and Latin. I don’t think we could have a better source for what it looks like to follow Jesus than Peter and I don’t think we could have a better source for what Peter had to say about following Jesus than the man who spent years translating Peter’s stories. And today’s passage is boiling over with Peter’s message about what it should look like to follow Jesus. So, let’s get right to it. Today’s passage is Mark 5:1-20. You can find it on page 833 in the house Bible. This is a famous passage that is found in 3 of the 4 gospel books: it’s found in Mark, Matthew and Luke. And I think we find this same episode in 3 different books of the Bible because this story tells us something big! This story answers the disciple’s BIG question from the story right before this passage at the end of Chapter 4. That story is the one Dave talked about a couple of weeks ago; the story where Jesus was sleeping in a boat and a storm came up and the disciples thought they were going to drown. It’s the story where Jesus told the wind and the waves to settle down and they immediately obeyed him! And the last verse in Chapter 4 ends with the disciples asking, ‘Who is this man that even the wind and the waves obey?’ Well, today’s passage gives us the answer to their question, but as you may have noticed as we heard in the earlier reading, their question is answered by someone unexpected. Let’s look at verse 1. So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. This was a predominantly Gentile area and this was Jesus’ first venture outside of Jewish territory and into the world of the Gentiles. The fact that Jesus would even go to a gentile area is significant on its own. 2When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the cemetery to meet him. Cemetery isn’t a good translation of the Greek word here. A better word would be tombs. Tombs weren’t long-term, burial places like we think of when we hear the word cemetery. Tombs were generally small caves carved in big rocks and they were places where you put a body to rot… for a year. Then after waiting a year, you’d go back to the tomb, gather up the bones, put the bones in a small, stone box called an ossuary, and then you’d reuse the tomb when the next family member died. Tombs were rotting places and for Jews tombs were as ‘unclean’ as any place could be. Mark then gives us some details about this demon-possessed, unclean man who came from this unclean place. 3This man lived among the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. 4Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. This is a pathetic picture… the gospel of Luke also tells us that he was naked. The rabbis of the day had said there were 4 signs that a person was crazy: if they slept where the dead were buried; if they ran wildly around at night; if they tore their clothing off and if they destroyed anything that was given to them. The evil spirit in this poor man was causing him to do all four of these things! And it is also clear from what Mark says that the local people had been trying to control this man for a long time. Verse 6When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. Just to be clear here, the word that gives us ‘bowed low’ only means he knew he was in the presence of someone important; it doesn’t necessarily mean that he was being genuinely respectful. And then we get the answer to the disciple’s earlier question about who Jesus is. 7With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.” Okay, first to the disciples’ question. They’d asked, ‘Who is this man that even the wind and the waves obey?’ The demon inside of this man knew the answer to their question. He screamed out that ‘Jesus is the Son of the Most High God!’ … and yet, even though he had called Jesus by a name that spoke to Jesus’ high position as God’s son, what he was essentially saying to Jesus was, ‘Bug off, Jesus and leave me alone! And he even adds, ‘In the name of God, don’t torture me!’ This demon was so afraid of getting tortured in the same ways he’d been torturing this poor man that he stupidly appealed to God to stop Jesus. 9Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?” In the ancient world it was believed that knowing someone’s name gave you power over that person; it meant that you could directly put a spell or a curse on them and this demon wasn’t having this! So, he lied to Jesus! Look at what he says. And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” A legion was a Roman army division of 6,000 men. His name wasn’t Legion. I believe this demon was trying to scare Jesus by telling him there were thousands of demons in this man… in other words, ‘You are out-numbered Jesus!’ Now, I am unsure how this works but clearly there is some supernatural way for an individual to become so taken over by the darkness that multiple spirits can reside in one person. But how many spirits were actually living in this man is unclear. We can’t trust demons to tell us the truth… but we do know there were more than just a few because all of the nouns and verbs related to the demons go from singular to plural from this point onward. 10Then the evil spirits (plural) begged him again and again not to send them (again, plural) to some distant place. They didn’t want to be sent to some far-off place where there wouldn’t be any people… to torture! 11There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12“Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.” 13So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. We could say a lot about these pigs, but let’s just leave it at this this: this freaked out everybody! 14The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. Everyone in the crowd knew this man: he was that uncontrollable man who lived in tombs… he was that man who ran around naked… he was that crazy, physically powerful man who broke chains and shackles… but now that man was sitting still, clothed and in his right mind and everyone in that crowd was afraid! ‘Afraid’ isn’t a strong enough word… ‘terrified’ would be better. 16Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. The crowd first sees the man then they get an eye witness report about Jesus confronting the demons and, as the Greek literally says, ‘concerning the pigs.’ And what do they do? 17And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. The word that is translated ‘pleading’ here is the same word that is translated ‘begging’ earlier when the demons were begging not to be sent to some distant place. Think about this: These people were this close to Jesus, the Son of the Most High God… the one who controls both the natural world of the wind and the waves and the supernatural world of demons… they were this close to someone who’d just proven that he could repair the most broken life possible… and they begged him to go away! And Jesus gives them what they wanted immediately. 18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. (everyone is begging Jesus for something). 19But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” Jesus says, ‘Tell your family what the Lord has done for you.’ Can you imagine that reunion? But look at what this man does! 20So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region (this was a big region, by the way) and began to proclaim the great things Jesus (not just the Lord, but Jesus specifically) had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them. Again, I’m not sure that Amazed is a strong enough word.
This is a story of great victory, a great victory of the power of the Holy Spirit that was resident in Jesus over the power of the demonic world. It was a great victory of life over death. A great victory of healing and repair over destruction and devastation. And through this story of great victory we can learn some very important things about Jesus, about the forces of darkness and about what it means to call ourselves followers of the Son of the Most High God… what it means to call ourselves Christians!
Let’s start with the forces of darkness… those being the devil and his fallen-angel minions… and I know that much of what I am about to say may seem scary at first… but hang on. The first thing that this passage tells us is that these forces are out to destroy whatever they can. Peter, Jesus’ disciple, wrote 2 letters that are a part of the New Testament and near the end of his first letter Peter, the same Peter that told this story to Mark, wrote these words: Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour! And my goodness, this story proves that Peter had seen what it looks like when the devil devours someone first hand! We must never forget that the dark forces in the spiritual realm are working overtime to ruin any part of God’s creation… be that mankind or the world that God made for mankind. They hate us and all that God does for us and they only have one goal: to make life miserable. They are out there! This passage also tell us that demons do have great strength… and that they use their strength to create chaos. ‘Chaotic’ would be a good way to describe this man’s life while he was under the control of these demons. Nothing good ever come from the strength of the darkness; when you see big time chaos of any kind you can be fairly certain where it ultimately started. Chaos is what they do. Something else that we can see in this passage is that one of the primary tools of the dark forces is lying… lying to get out of trouble, lying to get others into trouble, lying to confuse things. This demon didn’t want to tell Jesus his name because he feared judgment and so he lied hoping he could scare Jesus. But this leads us to something else very important that we can learn from this passage, something that should overshadow all of the scary things we’ve said about demons. The truth is that these demons couldn’t scare Jesus! They knew he was in control and despite their attempts to fight against Jesus’ power and authority they had to obey his commands. They had no choice. And they still don’t. They are simply pretenders to power. Their destructive work was completely overturned by the power and authority of Jesus. We have nothing to fear. But while we have nothing to fear, this passage shows us that the demons live in constant fear of having to take their own medicine; they don’t want what they dish out. They know they are headed for final punishment and they are living in the unending fear of the day that Jesus eventually says, ‘Enough is enough!’ So, from this passage we see that the demons, the servants of the devil, are destructive, chaotic liars; they are pretenders to power who live in the real fear of their day of judgment. That is the worst of it… Jesus on the other hand, knows all about this enemy and from what we can see in this passage, he isn’t the least bit afraid of one demon or 6,000 demons. In fact, this passage tells us is that Jesus’ strength is beyond measure, it is strength that is controlled, by the way; his strength, and this is really important, leads to sanity, order and peace! Just think of the difference between this man when he was under the power of the demons and his post-exorcism calm. We are never told in this passage how this man came to be so possessed in the first place… we are never told how long he had suffered in this way… We are only told that Jesus, with just a few words, utterly changed his life. This passage shows us that Jesus, the one that we serve, is powerful, he is in charge, he is caring and gracious, and he has but one purpose in his heart and on his mind: to free everyone from bondage and give us peace.
And so, what does this passage tell us about ourselves? What does it tell us about how we should live our lives if we are bold enough to call ourselves Christians? Well, first it tells us that we have an enemy… a known enemy, by the way… an enemy that is powerful when given the opportunity to exert its will in the world… an enemy that will lie and deceive and destroy in any way that it can. We should expect to see this enemy’s work all around us. But it’s an enemy that has no power over us as the children of the Most High God. That is where we need to start! Christians are people who live in the power, authority and the freedom of Jesus’ victory over our enemy. Secondly, this passage tells us that we are to be people of the truth… we are to be people that can be counted on to be honest and truthful all of the time… in every circumstance. Christians are people who speak the truth. This passage also tells us that we are to be people who bring calm… bring sanity… bring peace into the world’s desperate situations. Christians are people whose very presence should overcome the chaos. But for me, more than anything, this passage tells us that if we are truly followers of Jesus we will be people who proclaim what Jesus has done for us. This formerly demon-dpossessed man wanted to follow Jesus… literally go with him in the boat, but Jesus said, ‘No, you have a much more important task: go tell your family about God’s mercy toward you.’ And this is the biggest of lessons for me from this passage: If I am someone who calls himself a Christian, then it makes sense that I will be someone who obeys Jesus… and this passage says obedience isn’t simply being a good person, someone that others find trustworthy or honest or kind. These things are all important but the bottom line is this: If I am going to call myself a Christian I must also be someone that proclaims the great things that Jesus has done for me. What I’ve found is that people are often surprised by kindness and honesty; they may even be taken back a bit by my unexpected concern for them. But the only time that people are truly amazed is when I tell them that all of the good that they may see in my life comes from God’s mercy… when I tell them about all the great things that Jesus has done for me. My proclaiming the power, the authority, the grace and the mercy of Jesus is the tell-tale sign that I am a Christian. Here is some of how Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus on the day the church was born. Peter loudly proclaimed for thousands to hear, ‘God raised Jesus from the dead and… and now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us… So, let everyone know for certain that God has made this Jesus to be both Lord and Messiah!’ This is the Jesus we proclaim. This is the Jesus who brings truth and peace and healing and sanity to our desperate world… and if we are followers of Jesus… if we are truly Christians, how can we not proclaim all of the great things that Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, has done for us?