"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 cutting 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'" (Mark 5:1-20).
This has become my favorite account in Scripture, outside, of course, of Christ’s death and resurrection and all that good stuff. It’s one of the most powerful encounters of Jesus’ life and ministry. Here we find Him in a Gentile region, and as He arrived on the other side of the sea, who should meet Him but a maniacal demoniac. This wasn’t much of a welcome party. This was what He got, though. To be fair, however, this was what Jesus had come to do, as Mark makes so clear throughout his Gospel. Jesus had come to forgive sin, silence Satan, and kill death. Here we see all three bound up in one as this hopeless, self-harming, isolated, beast-like man found in Christ forgiveness, freedom, and new life, marked by the death of a herd of pigs.
Imagine the scene as this man greeted Jesus. He came, in all likelihood, naked, as those who knew him were surprised to find him not only in his right mind, but clothed. In fact, they weren’t just surprised, they were afraid. Who was this Jesus, who could do such things? This was, after all, the man they’d bound in chains, again and again, with no success. This was the man who’d lived among the dead, in the tombs, howling through the night, cutting himself with stones, and generally making his lost condition known, a herald of the hell that rightly awaits all by our first birth.
This man, this one-man welcome party, hurried to Jesus and fell down before Him. The demons were desperate. While no one else seemed to realize it, they knew who it was that stood before them. And so we get one of the earliest and most clear confessions in all of Mark’s Gospel of who Jesus is, and this is the man it comes from, a man crawling with demons, Legion. He confessed, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7).
Jesus and the devil stood toe to toe again, as they had when He was tempted in the wilderness. And, as then, Jesus wasn’t playing. He was a man on a mission, and that mission was the devil’s demise and freedom for his tormented captives, for all of us. These demons came with a prayer, or the closest thing such damned spirits can have to a prayer. They begged to be sent into a herd of pigs instead of back to hell. Keep in mind, this was a Gentile region. No good Jew would keep a herd of pigs. They weren’t yet free, on that side of Good Friday, to enjoy the gift of bacon. Pigs were unclean animals. Keep that in mind when you read about the prodigal son tending them when he hit rock bottom. And yet pigs were better than hell.
Jesus consented. He sent these unclean spirits into unclean pigs and what happened? They ran down into the sea and drowned. Imagine the scene! Imagine the herdsmen watching! How would they explain what had happened to their bosses? Thousands of pigs sprinted into the sea and drowned, their bodies piled, perhaps a temptation for children to try hopping from one to another, as children are wont to do with stones in a creek. This was no game, though. This was a crushing blow to the economy. This was a terrifying sight. This, together with the demoniac, clothed and with his wits about him, was too much. And so they did the worst thing sinners can do: they begged Jesus to go away. These who had previously bound the insane now became insane themselves and chose to remain bound, sending freedom away.
But not the one sane man in town. He begged Jesus to go with Him. He’d been set free. The world had been given back to him. And yet what did Jesus say? He said, in essence, “Vocation.” This man didn’t need to go with Jesus to follow Him. No, this man was free to follow Jesus where he was, as who he was, his shackles broken, his mind restored, his image being renewed in Christ’s own.
I’m guessing you’re dressed as you’re reading this—but that’s not really my business, I suppose. I sure hope you’re not harming yourself, but don’t we all harm ourselves when we sin? It’s our destructive nature as the fallen. Perhaps you have howled through a few nights, even if silently into your pillows. I’m guessing you’ve felt alone at some point. I’m rather confident you know what it feels like to be bound, weighed down and held back by sin, guilt, broken trust, unfulfilled hopes, life in a fallen world.
Be free, friends!
Jesus has come and He has come as your preacher. He proclaims you free, His own, the baptized. He was bound to the cross to break all that binds you and to give the world back to you again, a free gift, a place to live in Him and under His mercy. Even more, He gives you new clothes to go with your new life—His righteousness, an imputed gift, from Him to you, so that now you live, not to find love, but as one loved, not to be free, but as one perfectly free in Him. So, should you have a taste for it, grab some bacon and know the demoniac’s joy, the joy of the only sane man in town that day.