The Lord of the Spirits – Mark 5:1-20

by Roger McCay
1 August 2021
Sermon Passage: Mark 5:1-20
Link to Audio Version

A couple of years ago we had the privilege to visit Israel. Walking in those places where Jesus walked and where Biblical heroes of the faith walked, the Apostles, the Mary’s, David, Elijah, and so forth, was surreal in some ways. But it was very grounding in other ways: touching the earth of the land with my hands; feeling a touch of spray from the water of the Sea of Galilee, with the breeze, as we puttered around in a boat; swimming in the Dead Sea; sitting on the steps that Jesus walked up and down, as he went into and exited the temple; standing on the Mount of Olives and looking over at Jerusalem…; gazing upon the place where Jesus was crucified; going into a tomb, which may have been the one in which Jesus was laid and in which he arose, so is now empty. Well, there was so much packed into one short trip it was pretty overwhelming.

One particular place we visited (that I remember well) was on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, which was where the incident, in our passage today, took place. I’ve got some pictures from there. It’s beautiful as you look over the sea towards the west, and with the flora around the area. But it’s marred by the signs and barbed wire—the signs reading in both Hebrew and English, “Danger, Mines.” So, there is the road we travelled on to get there and a little sightseeing area off the road to which we were limited, because of the danger of the landmines all around. I see in that a metaphor for life, as we know it, in this world.

And considering the Fallen Condition Focus of the sermon today, it is no stretch of the imagination to see how (despite the beauty of the world in which we live) people, who are struggling with troubles in their life can, feel as if landmines are all around them. And, perhaps, they have been blown up by one—either literally or figuratively. Maybe it’s struggles in a marriage, or work, or stress over what the future might hold. What to do? Or it could be the struggle with sin of whatever sort. We get hemmed in. We become afraid of the wrong step. We feel damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We want to do well, but we fail. We want to do right, but we sin. We get caught up in our imperfections, and stress. And I’m just scratching the surface. Yet, such things are part of the human condition in a sinful world, which are why anxiety and depression are rampant in our world, even despair.

Counseling has thus become a big thing. It has become the norm for people to have a therapist of some sort. And such counselors do good work, in helping folks. Mary Ellen, for example, does a wonderful service for our community, in the number of folks she helps each week with the Christian counseling she provides. And it’s okay to ask for help. It’s a good step.

Now, as a pastor, for many years (going back to long before I came to MPC) I’ve provided spiritual care, what some call “counseling,” … I’ve provided spiritual care for hundreds of people—individuals, couples, and families who were desperately struggling with various troubles. Often, and you’ve probably heard me mention this before, I’ll ask them early on if they had prayed to the Lord about their troubles. And often they answer, sometimes sheepishly, “No.” Over and over I’ve gotten this reaction, even from professed believers. And I wonder, “Why come to me before going to Jesus?” I am not the Christ. He is.

Yet, this is a very real phenomenon. It can be that when we are plagued with dark troubles (even what some might even call “inner demons”), we try all sorts of things to solve them—self-help programs, counseling, and such. However, we can forget to go to the one person who can surely help us in our trouble—Jesus Christ.

In our passage today, the “inner demons” of the poor fellow here are very real, personal, and evil demons, not just figurative. We are, too, shown why we should run to Jesus, when we have troubles. The answer is grounded in the person of Jesus; his power; his grace; his judgment; and his hope.

The demoniac was a particularly pitiful man. Although he had been granted superhuman strength in his demonization (something, by the way, which is idolized by many); A Faustian deal? Maybe? … despite his superhuman strength, he spiraled into a downward tumble, overcome by evil. The man had been driven from society: was living in the tombs of the dead; was running around naked; and crying out, probably with screams and curses. He was immersed in filth and stench and was self-mutilating, by cutting. This man was a miserable wreck, cast out from society, driven from his home, and utterly alone (at least in regards to human company).

Then comes Jesus. Look at vv. 6-7:

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.”

What a picture. This horror of a man ran and fell before Jesus. Something magnetic about Jesus drew him; something that overwhelmed the thousands of demons, who seemingly had total sway over the demoniac; something grounded in the person of Jesus. The second person of the Trinity, the Savior, the Son of God, was coming. He came with the intent to save this man. And the pull upon the man was irresistible. Thus, the man ran and fell down before Jesus.

Why? Why not run away? Well, consider the anguished cry of the demoniac. What did he call Jesus? “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” The demoniac, via the demons, knew who Jesus was. Thus, considering his wretched state, he was utterly terrified that Jesus would then call down judgment. But in the presence of Jesus, with Jesus’ intent to save this man, he could not run or hide. For how do you hide from one who is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father?”[1]

Verses 8-9:

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.”

Despite the demons’ efforts to wiggle out of Jesus’ command (attempting a surprising spell of reverse exorcism—which is what some think he was trying), the demons within this man did not have a chance against the power of Jesus. The demonic sorcery (calling Jesus by name in order to compel him “by God” to do something—if that was what it was doing) was a joke. In response to this challenge by the demons, Jesus asked the demon his name. The demoniac avoids the question and gives a description, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Despite the demons’ diversion, we learn exactly what Jesus was facing—thousands of demons (a Roman legion had about 6000 men, then of course were the 2000 pigs they were cast into)—thousands of demons. So, an army of demons had a grip on this pathetic man, and this army was attempting to battle against the Lord. Like they could ever stand before the power of Jesus, the Lord of the Spirits among everything else.

Verses 10-12:

10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”

The demons attempt to compel Jesus in v. 7 failed utterly, so they tried a different tactic. They begged two things of him. The first was for him to not send them out of the country. There could be many reasons why, for this. Perhaps it was because they had claimed the place as their dominion. Indeed, it was Gentile country—pagan. And the demons could easily hold sway among people who did not know the Most High God. Secondly, the demons begged Jesus for an alternative to being driven from the country—for him to send them into the pigs. What a weird thing to ask. But there it was.

And notice, in v. 13, the judgment of Jesus. Jesus grants Legion’s petition. So, what was the result of this boon? Second part of v. 13: “and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.” The judgment of Jesus was to allow the legion of demons to go their own way—a way that led to destruction—a pathetic end, squealing in a herd of pigs, all the way to death in the sea.

Further down, we also see the judgment of Jesus in vv. 16-18a:

16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat….

Presumably, these folks were upset at the loss of income the pigs represented. And, it seems like Jesus was just a little too disturbing to them. They liked the status quo. Jesus was clearly someone who could cause problems, would rock the apple cart. So, they asked Jesus to go away.

And did you notice his judgment? He got into the boat. He left them—granting their petition. What a tragic picture. The Savior sailing away, leaving those who had rejected him in their sin and who were doomed without him. Jesus had the authority to judge; Jesus had the power to judge. Therefore, Jesus pronounced his judgment on both the demons and the people of the city and country.

This brings to mind Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth by unrighteousness.” How is that wrath revealed? The apostle says, “God gave them over.” He repeats this judgment three times: “God gave them over”—to the lusts of their heart (v. 24); dishonorable passions (v. 26); then in v. 28: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a corrupted mind to do what ought not to be done.” Upon those who reject God, who turn him away, God gives them over to their sin. He grants their petition. He abandons them to it. For sin is its own punishment. And that is exactly the judgment that Jesus met upon Legion and those who rejected him, there upon the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

But then, there was the man who had been possessed with demons. This man received the grace of Jesus. Now, why do you think Jesus ordered the disciples to head to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the area of the Gerasenes in the first place? My thought is that it was for a simple reason: Jesus knew there was a soul in terrible anguish. He knew this man, knew him and loved him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6; Rom. 8:29-30). So, Jesus went to him to save him. Jesus found him, redeemed him from his sin and trouble with demons. He set him free, bringing salvation to his soul.

After the dust settled, there was peace and one more disciple of Christ—a Gentile at that. Verse 15: “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.” “Sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.” What a contrast to the miserable wretch who had been a barracks for an army of demons. From chaos to peace. From one of the lost, to being found, to sitting at the feet of Jesus—the position of a disciple (Luke 10:39). Even more, consider Mark 3:34: “Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers!’”

What had this man done to deserve the salvation and the peace that Jesus brought him? What had he done to become one of the family of God? Not a single thing! It was all Jesus. Jesus sought him out across the sea, going into Gentile territory. Jesus drew the man to him by his very being. Jesus confronted the man’s demons. And Jesus saved his soul.

Undeserved grace; irresistible grace; saving grace; free grace—the grace of Jesus. Eph. 2:4-5:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

In light of the Lord’s grace, there is hope. Verses 18-20:

18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 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.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Having been blessed with the matchless, marvelous grace of Jesus, the man heard and answered Jesus’ call to follow him. The man had been reborn from death to life; he believed; and he was now a disciple of Christ. So, appropriately, he “begged” Jesus that he might be with him.

Yet notice how his petition was denied, whereas the demons and the peoples’ petitions were granted. In the denial of his boon, the man was directed towards the specific way he was to follow Jesus. Although he desperately wanted to be with the Lord, a disciple like the twelve, this man’s discipleship was to be of a different sort—a calling to be later followed by Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the denial there was grace, love, and blessing. For the Lord tasked him with a mission: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” In Gentile territory, in the Decapolis (a group of 10 cities), the man became the first witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles—the first evangelist to the Gentiles! Freed, restored to his friends and family, he proclaimed the mercy of God—the hope of Jesus.

What of those who rejected Jesus? Was there hope for those who sent Jesus away? Well, final judgment had not been met out. Jesus tells us this in John 12:47-48. His initial coming was not to bring that judgment—that will come at his final return. And, the Lord does change bad soil to good soil. So, perhaps, some of them later heard and later believed. 1 Cor. 6:11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Donald English challenges us with this question: “In how many ways are people, individually and corporately, living lives which in one form or another reflect the particular elements or the overall state of the man called Legion?”[2] In all areas of life, people are awaiting the power of Jesus to set them free. They are waiting for us (his disciples) to bring them the good news; to tell them “how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” But, are we doing that? Or, are we hiding in the church, and at church functions, and in our nice bubble of the Christian subculture —avoiding them; us vs. them?

English observes:

The sense of God’s transcendent power in the midst of society, expressing itself in lowly liberating love, is not known because his disciples, the chosen avenues of that powerful love, are largely absent. … Such absence from the world’s stage may reflect failure on our part truly to live out the heart of discipleship as Mark portrays it (and as Legion experienced it), the total commitment of life, the risking of everything, in trusting ourselves to God in Jesus Christ. Much of our search for more secure ways of being Christian may in fact be escapes from the raw reality which Mark communicates.[3]

Brothers and sisters, we are to engage our culture at every level  (wherever you are; wherever you can reach), and we are to tell them about Jesus. Are you doing this?

Now, if you have not yet trusted in the Lord to save you, answer his call to follow him. The scriptures tell us that if you do not know Christ as Lord, you are ensnared in the trap of the devil (2 Tim. 2:26). While you may not be living in tombs (you may even be living in a mansion), your condition is no better than the demonized man on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Run to Jesus. Fall at his feet, by putting your trust in him.  Receive the freedom and salvation he brings!

Brothers and sisters, as you will testify, the troubles of sin are not confined to those who are not disciples of Christ. Although we have experienced the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, we at times are overwhelmed by our sin and troubles. This is so often due to our trying to understand evil; to deal with evil with our own means, our human strength, our human wisdom. Yet, if you try to deal with these things in your own strength, you will not prevail. The evidence of this is in our very lives. Observe. Do you ever feel out of control? Do you struggle with internal drives that you can’t get a grip on, that (perhaps) you know are damaging to you, to your friends and family? Are situations in your life just more than you can handle? Do you have “inner demons” that plague you; that impact every aspect of your life—sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly? Do you feel like you’re in a minefield?

If you try to solve these things on your own, you will not prevail. You will be defeated. The solution to sin is not found in our own human resources. The only real solution is found in Jesus Christ. Run to him. Run to the Lord of the Spirits. Find the power to stand against sin and the devil, in his mighty power, girded with the armor and weaponry of God, and on your knees in prayer (Eph. 6:10-18). For, as we are told, our struggle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, [and] against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).” You cannot defeat them on your own. The Lord gives us each other to help, sure. But most importantly, he gives himself.

Jesus, Lord of the Spirits, defeated an army of demons with a word. This same Lord who sought out the demonized man, seeks you out, sets you free, and calls you to discipleship. In the person of Jesus; his power; his grace; his judgment; and his hope; we find peace. Because Jesus comes to us in our troubles, we must run to him.


[1] From The Nicene Creed.

[2] Donald English, The Message of Mark: The Mystery of Faith, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 112.

[3] Ibid.