The Gospel of Mark: My Name Is Legion, for We Are Many

Sermon by David Strain on March 31, 2019

Mark 5:1-20

Download Audio

On Sunday evenings we have been working our way through the gospel of Mark together and tonight we’ve come to the opening twenty verses of Mark chapter 5. So let me encourage you please to take a Bible in hand and to turn there with me; Mark chapter 5, verses 1 through 20. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 840.


For several weeks now we’ve been in chapter 4 where Jesus began teaching beside the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us that the people who were attending His ministry were so numerous that He had to make use of a boat. He got into a boat and taught them from the water while the crowds listened from the shore. And the various parables that we were considering in chapter 4 give us a sample of His message to them that day. And then last time, we followed Jesus and His disciples as the sun set on a long day of public and private ministry. They set out to cross the lake to the other shore. And there are several other boats that Mark tells us departed with them, and while they were out on the water a squall suddenly overtook the boat and threatened to engulf them. And Jesus, remember, calmed the wind and the sea with a word, “Peace, be still,” and He brought them to their desired destination.


So now we rejoin the story here in chapter 5. Chapter 5 opens with their arrival in the region of the Gerasenes, in the area otherwise known as the Decapolis, the ten cities. And as soon as Jesus climbs out of the boat, no sooner does His foot touch dry land than He is accosted by this wild, violent figure of a demon-possessed man. And we're going to look at what happens next under four simple headings – one word each. First, in verses 1 through 7, we'll see this man is the embodiment of alienation. He's a desperate, pathetic figure of human alienation and brokenness and need. Alienation. Then in verses 7 through 13, we're going to watch Jesus respond in mercy and grace. Alienation and then salvation. And then in 14 through 17, as the crowds begin to gather, as word spread about what has taken place in this man's life and the impact that it's had, as the crowds begin to spread we're going to see actually their tragic response. Not welcome, not joy, but rejection. Alienation, salvation, thirdly rejection. And then in 18 through 20, as Jesus gets ready to leave, He sends the now restored man, this former demoniac, on mission. So alienation, salvation, rejection, and mission. Those are our headings. Before we consider them together, let's pause and pray. Let us pray.

O Lord, grant to us now we pray the ministry of the Holy Spirit so that we might hear the voice of our Savior Himself, that He might come to us in His holy Word, opening our hearts and minds, changing our hearts and lives for His glory, our good. So we ask all of this in Jesus’ name, amen.


Mark chapter 5, beginning at the first verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“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.’ 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.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, ‘Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.


The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 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. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 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.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.”


Amen, and we praise God for His holy, inerrant Word.


Jesus, we can only surmise from details earlier in the story in chapter 4, must have been quite exhausted as He stepped from the boat upon His arrival in the region of the Gerasenes. He’d spent the entire day before preaching and teaching in public and in private. A friend of mine today was reporting that he has been monitoring his health, you know, using his Apple Watch, and monitoring his heart rate. And he’s a preacher and he noticed that during the time he was preaching his heart rate was in the aerobic range. I should look a lot thinner than this, but there we go! Preaching takes it out of you. Anyone who does it regularly will know that. Jesus spent a whole day preaching and teaching. He was worn out. And when He was finally able to steal a few hours of rest during the crossing, about two-and-a-half hours across the Sea of Galilee that night, He’s asleep in the stern of the boat on the cushion that was there provided. He doesn’t have long before He’s suddenly shaken awake by terrified disciples who accuse Him, remember, of not caring for them because He’s sleeping in the middle of the storm as the wind and the waves crash over the boat.


When they finally get to the far side of the sea at night, Mark says when they left there were other boats that set out with them, presumably the storm being so violent they turned back because there's no mention of the other boats when they get to the beach. And so they reach the beach at Gerasa and there are no crowds there making demands of Jesus. There's no long line of the sick looking for a touch of His hand. There are no Pharisees and scribes trying to catch Him out in some theological trap. Perhaps here, at last, He's going to find some respite.


But look at verses 1 and 2. "They came to the other side of the sea, 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." Immediately a new confrontation meets Him, actually one unlike any that has gone before so far in Mark's account. Notice how Mark describes this poor man. Three times he says he's been in the tombs – in verse 2, again in verse 3 – "he lived among the tombs." Again in verse 5, "night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out." And Mark tells us that he has an unclean spirit. Those are purposeful words. The word "unclean" the Torah said that dead bodies, tombs, rendered a person ritually unclean and they could, in turn, make others unclean by their touch. Once more, this is Gentile territory, the Decapolis, hence the pig farm nearby. Pigs are unclean animals for Jewish people, remember; they're not kosher. This is an unclean land populated by unclean people who eat unclean food. And here's this demon-possessed man who is the very embodiment, the epitome of that uncleanness.


He's come, somehow, to be dominated by evil powers and even though the townspeople have attempted to restrain him, doubtless only adding to his sufferings, verses 3 and 4, he has been endowed with supernatural strength and could not be bound. And so he's left to himself, completely abandoned. His only shelter are the tombs carved into the rock, wandering in the wasteland on the mountaintops, wailing in agony and despair. Notice in verse 5 Mark says he was always "crying out and cutting himself." When we meet people who cut themselves – that's not an uncommon thing – there's a cry for help, there's a note of desperation, of urgency, of some pain that needs to find expression and release. Perhaps that's what was going on. Or perhaps under the influence of these evil spirits, he's really trying to end himself. But either way, this is a startling picture of human wretchedness and alienation. He's all alone. Overcome and dominated by evil power.



And that’s the first thing that I want us to think about together – this picture of alienation. You see, we tend to read this account nice and clean and, you look lovely by the way! And here we are in a nice pretty building, we’re affluent for the most part, educated, polite, nice people. We tend to read this account and we notice the extremity to which this poor man has been driven and we think that we and he have nothing in common. And that’s a serious mistake. If we’re not Christians, that’s a serious mistake.


Imagine for a moment there was some dreadful disease threatening the public health – infectious, virulent – and it's begun to spread through the populace. But people do not yet see it as a threat. They discount it as a danger. There is, in fact, an immunization available that will protect you and your family, but you won't get the shot because you really don't think the disease is that big a deal and you're not likely to catch it or carry it. How might the medical establishment persuade you, change public opinion? How could they get through to you so that you got the shot and stayed safe? Well, one way might be to describe in detail the worst case scenario to show you just how devastating the disease can be.



One reason people will not come to put their faith in Jesus Christ and follow Him is because they don't think they need Him – "People like this poor man in the story, they're the ones who need Jesus, they need rescuing for sure. I'm respectable, well-mannered, educated. I go to church. I'm clean-cut, upstanding. I'm a nice guy. I don't need a cure because I really don't have the disease." Mark wants us to look at this man not at all because he's an extreme case but because the difference between you and him, if you're not a Christian this evening, the difference between you and him is one of degree not at all one of kind. This is the disease of sin, you see, working itself out in a fullness in this man's life to show us just how awful it really can be. Mark wants us to understand if we are not believers in Jesus, no matter how clean and nice and moral we may be, we are every bit as enslaved to sin as this poor man, every bit.


Same Antidote

When Paul wrote to the Colossians, he said to them chapter 1 verse 21, that they were, before they were believers, they were “once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” He’s not describing demonic-possession. He’s not saying they were demon-possessed, but those words could easily have been spoken of this man – alienated, hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. It’s a fine description of the man that met Jesus that night on the beach in the region of the ten cities – alienated, hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. But if you don’t know Jesus Christ for yourself, the Bible says the same disease, the same terrible, destructive contagion rules our own hearts as well.  If you read this passage and you see the alienation and the suffering of this man and you say, “That’s not me. There’s nothing here to say to me,” you’re reading it wrong. You’re missing Mark’s message. This is just an image of how terrible the pathogen of sin can be, the bondage can be. Mark wants you to see that the same pathogen festers inside you too and you need the same antidote, the same deliverance, the same Deliverer that this man found.


In fact, for all your morality, all your education, all your respectability it may just be that this poor man was far wiser than you in the end, if unlike him you will not come running to Jesus. It’s actually fascinating to me that he came running to Jesus. Don’t you think? I mean the demonic powers that are consuming this man’s personality, they’re terrified of Jesus. Aren’t they? Look at verse 7. They tried to force Jesus to leave them alone. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” They’re expecting torment. They know Jesus has come to destroy them, and yet instead of running from Jesus, the man runs to Jesus and falls on his knees before Jesus. What a tragedy it would be, what a tragedy, if one so oppressed, so dominated by evil, knew enough to come to Christ for rescue and we, with all our respectability, will not come to the only One who can rescue us. What a tragedy that would be. That’s the first thing I want you to see – alienation.



Then secondly, look how Jesus responds to this man. In verses 7 through 13, here's salvation – glorious, beautiful salvation from the hand of Jesus Christ. Mark tells us Jesus had been saying to the demonic powers, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirits!" and they, in turn, were trying to make Him leave them be. Then Jesus demands the man's name, verse 10, and the man replied, "My name is Legion." I'm sure that's not the name his mommy gave him! You see what's happened to him? He's lost himself. He's lost himself. "My name is Legion, for we are many." On Friday morning in our minister's meeting, Brister Ware told me – I'm sorry about this Anne Duncan, I'm sorry – my predecessor, Dr. Duncan, was once introduced as Legion Duncan! In his case, it was a malapropism! In the case of this poor man, actually, it's a pretty apt description of his tragic condition.

A Roman legion is probably what the reference is to here. A Roman legion is about 6,000 foot soldiers, 120 horsemen, and technical personnel. It probably isn’t being used here in a formal, technical sense, but simply to give us an indication of how utterly overwhelmed his personality and psyche has come to be by this extraordinary demonic occupation of his life. It’s an indication of the bewildering array and variety of forces beneath which his psyche, his consciousness has been submerged. The man has lost himself – his own name, his own identity – amidst a legion of wicked powers. And Jesus is resolved to deliver him from his wretched state.



And then comes one of the more mysterious moments in the Gospel records. Sometimes it gets people a little upset. The demons begged to be sent into the herd of pigs nearby, about 2,000 pigs. The pigs rush down the steep bank and drown in the sea. Oh, the poor pigs! When you give up eating barbeque, then you can talk to me about the poor pigs! What’s really going on in the story? What are we to make of it all? The unclean spirits go into the unclean pigs and they’re drowned in the sea. It’s a picture of judgment. Isn’t it? This is why Jesus came – to destroy all the works of the evil one. It’s a picture of judgment. The man is set free and the powers of evil are destroyed. That’s what’s going on. Uncleanness, like sin itself, is thrown into the depths of the sea. It brought to mind Micah 7:19; what a beautiful passage. Do you know it? “He will again have compassion on us. He will tread our iniquities under foot. He will throw our transgressions into the depths of the sea.” Our sin is gone. Believer in Jesus, your sin, your guilt is gone. Now that Jesus has come, evil is overthrown, Satan and his servants defeated. The victory belongs to Jesus in the cosmic conflict between Christ the devil. The seed of the woman has triumphed over the seed of the serpent. He has crushed his head. The battle belongs to the Lord.


Well when the crowds arrive, upon hearing what has happened in verse 15, they find the man who had been Legion, sitting there clothed and in his right mind. Here’s the point I want you to grasp. It’s really not that hard to see. Look at the remarkable change between who he was and who he now is, now that Jesus has come. He was naked, cutting himself, wandering and wailing in agony and despair among the tombs, unclean. The picture an epitome of human alienation from God and from man. And now that Jesus has come, here he is, clothed, sitting in his right mind, restored and whole at last. Come to Jesus, find Jesus, and the oppressive yoke of slavery, the slavery and bondage of sin will be broken forever in your life. Not that sin is gone – you will wrestle with it until Jesus comes or you go to be with Him again – but its mastery and domination and control will be broken forever when Jesus becomes Lord in your heart. Come to Jesus and the alienated will be reconciled, the guilty are pardoned, the demonized are delivered, the dominion of sin is overthrown, the demons are drowned and the man sits there clothed and in his right mind.



Sometimes people will look askance at you when they learn that you’ve become a Christian. “He’s lost his mind,” they’ll say. “He’s been brainwashed. Those Bible-thumpers have really gotten their claws into him. Who would fall for that Jesus stuff?” But the truth is, they’re the ones still alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. You are clothed and in your right mind at last, now that Jesus has broken in and begun to set things right at last. Some of you may know well, though perhaps not to the degree that this man endured, what it means to feel the enslaving power of sin. The message of our text is – there is freedom for you in Jesus Christ. There is freedom. He came to set the prisoners free. He can set you free if you’ll come running to Him tonight. Alienation then salvation.



Then thirdly, notice rejection. Look at the tragic rejection of the crowds. It’s awful, isn’t it, as word gets out about what happened. The pig herders are obviously unhappy, with some reason I suppose. Their livelihood, they’ve watched their livelihood run down the hill and drown themselves in the sea – 2,000 pigs. The sight of the demon-possessed man, clothed and in his right mind, only furthers the sense everyone seems to have of Jesus’ extraordinary power upending the status quo, radically overturning their lives and everything they think they know. Verse 16 says they were afraid when they saw the man and heard about the pigs. Verse 17 says they began to beg Him. They begged and continued begging that He would depart from the region. They really don’t want Jesus around. For sure, the demon-possessed man had caused them all sorts of grief, I suppose, when he’d been living among the tombs, raving and howling at the moon. They’d tried to restrain him several times. But can you see, they seem to be even more afraid of this man restored than the man alienated and broken and overwhelmed by evil. And even more afraid of the one who has rescued him. Now that he is healthy at last they are horrified. It’s fascinating; stunning to see. Isn’t it?


Human Nature

It really shouldn't be all that surprising though when you think about human nature. People are like this. Haven't you found that to be true? I once heard Alistair Begg put it something like this. He says, "We say we want our husband to be set free from his terrible porn habit. We say we want this friend to be delivered from that bondage or that loved one to be delivered from that slavery. But when Jesus finally erupts into their lives and sets them free so that they are free indeed, if we're not Christians we're actually not that pleased. In fact, we may even be horrified. We're fine with the freedom but we don't really want Jesus into the bargain. For non-Christians, it seems having Jesus in our loved ones' lives is worse than having sin enslave them." Now, why is that? Perhaps it's because now they can't hide their own bondage nearly so easily as once they did now that Jesus has begun to hit rather closer to home. And we can't have that. If you come to know Jesus, if you come to know Jesus don't be surprised when the world acts like this. There's hostility often to Jesus and to those whom Jesus rescues. Don't be surprised.



And let me say to you, if in your own heart tonight you find this same sort of discomfort, the same sense of unease at the power of Christ at work in others that the crowds are displaying in our text, if you find you become hostile and unwilling to face the Gospel message yourself, can I plead with you to see what’s really going on. The power of sin within you is doing everything it can to hold you under its sway. That’s what’s really going on. The sense of discomfort you feel at the power of Christ to bring freedom is a testimony to the fact of how badly you still need that power. And so instead of begging Jesus to leave you, like the crowds in the story, instead of fear and a desire to get as far away from Jesus as possible, why not do what the demon-possessed man actually does and come running to Him. Come running to Him rather than from Him. Your heart endures a bondage only He can break, but He can break it if you’ll come and see His mercy.



Alienation, salvation, rejection and then finally, briefly, mission. While the crowds are begging Jesus to go away, the man that Jesus restored begs to go with Jesus that he might be with Him. That’s the desire of the heart of every new Christian. They want to be with Jesus. One of the markers, you know, that grace has broken in and set you free – you want nothing so much as to be with Jesus. But in verse 19, notice Jesus won’t permit him to join the group of apostles, the disciples gathered around Jesus. Instead, he gives this man a mission of his own to fulfill. Do you see that in verse 19? Look at verse 19. “‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the ten cities, in Decapolis, how much Jesus had done for him and everyone marveled.”


So what if Christ has set you free? Now that you are free indeed, what do you do? How should you respond? What do you do with grace that has renovated and is renovating your life from the inside out? I don’t think you can do any better than follow the instructions that Jesus gives to this man to the letter. Go home and tell your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you. That’s what you should do. Go to your friends. Start there with the people you know already. The Lord’s given you a mission field. Go to your friends, tell the people you know, share what He has done for you in Jesus. Tell them of your bondage and of the great Deliverer and His great deliverance. When Jesus takes us from alienation into His salvation He does it so He can send us out on mission. You are here to spread the honor and fame of His name to the ends of the earth. That’s why you have been rescued – to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus has done for us.


Alienation – that's our condition, every one of us apart from Christ. It's a difference of degree, not of kind, between us and this man. Alienation. Salvation – Jesus, however, can set us free. He is our only Deliverer. He overthrows evil and sets the captives free. Come and trust in Him. Rejection – get ready, if you do follow Jesus, this will be the world's reaction, sometimes from people who are very close to you. "Get away from me, weirdo! I don't like this Jesus. I like the old you better than the new you." Get ready. Rejection. And mission – why were you rescued? You were rescued to proclaim His name, to declare His praises, to declare the excellencies of Him who brought you out of darkness into His marvelous light to tell your friends what the Lord has done for you and how He has had great mercy on you. Go make disciples. Go tell your friends. That's one of the evidences, you know, that Jesus has come to capture your heart. You can't keep Him to yourself. Has He captured your heart?


Let’s pray together.


Our Father, as we bow before You, we praise You for Jesus. What a Savior. What a Deliverer. We bless You that there is no case so extreme, so difficult that His grace cannot break the bonds that hold us enslaved to sin and set us free. Some of us have been praying for witnessing to people for years and we see little evidence of change, and we wonder if their case is simply too difficult. Help us, please, to find comfort in the story of this demon-possessed man who, when he met Jesus, even at such an extremity of bondage, the greatness of Christ brought him into true freedom at last. And help us, therefore, to press on, proclaiming You grace to the world, confident that there are no strongholds of darkness that Your light cannot penetrate and dispel. And we pray for one another. Some of us have become Christians recently. Help us not to be surprised when the world reacts like the crowd reacted to this man in the story. And please will you send us, deploy us, help us, all of us who love and follow Jesus to feel His call to go make His name known, to tell among our friends what the Lord has done for us and how He has had mercy on us in Jesus Christ. And we pray for those who are here tonight, or who may yet hear this message, who do not know Jesus. Please, will you show us, show them, the truth depth of their remaining condition, their bondage to sin, and then show them the only One that can set them free and then let them do what the man in the story did – let them run to Jesus and fall on their knees before Him and O, Lord Jesus, would You give them deliverance. For we ask this in Your holy and precious name, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

Print This Post