Jesus and his disciples headed out across the Sea of Galilee toward the pagan country of Gadara.
This is the setting for the “Storm Story” (Mark 4:35-41). It is night and a furious storm descends upon the waters of this inland sea. Jesus is asleep in the boat, and the disciples have to wake him. Incredulous, they cry out to Jesus to wake and do something! “Don’t you care that we are about to die?!”
Jesus rises, speaks to the wild winds and waves and the storm immediately calms in response to his command for peace. “Who is this man” they wonder, “that even the winds and the waves obey him?”
This story is important prelude to the story of the Strong Man from Gadara. Jesus revealed to his disciples a few key principles:
a) Jesus has supreme command over himself that he could sleep during the most tumultuous and dangerous of circumstantial upsets,
b) the disciples’ own understanding of who he is was shakable and weak, and
c) Jesus, indeed, was in command of the natural elements. He is Sovereign over this world and stronger than all that is in it. Jesus is more than mere man, a truth the disciples were just beginning to comprehend.
The Strong Man of Gadara. Arriving on the far shore by morning, as soon as Jesus steps out of the boat, he is approached by the guardian of that shore: a man with an unclean spirit comes out of the tombs to greet him. This is made more vivid with the description of the man which follows. We have certain facts about the man that are important to consider.
First, he had an unclean spirit, which means that his spirit was not of God or anything like God’s; in fact, his spirit was anti-God. All that God is or claims to be, this spirit is not. If God is love, this spirit is hate. If God is faithful, this spirit is the epitome of deceit. If God is merciful, this spirit is brutal and merciless. If God is pure, this spirit is entirely spoiled and putrid. If from God flows springs of living waters, this spirit is thirsty, dry, cracked and barren desert. If God brings life, this spirit brings death. The spirit is that part of man that animates him and drives his motives and behaviors. He was, in a word, evil.
Second, we see that the man lived in the tombs with the dead. We cannot imagine this in our day and time, but the idea here is that he, himself, lived in a kind of perpetual death, isolated from the rest of the world, isolated from all the living. The tombs are light-less—dark, filled with rotting or rotted bodies, and no doubt stunk. Hear the sea winds shrieking as they continually sweep the hillside, night and day, unable to enter fully into the cavities of the tombs, whistling their lonesome, empty and perpetual attempts.
Third, we see he possessed an uncommon strength. “No one could bind him anymore, 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” (v3-4). This description shows a progression which is important to note. At first, he had been able to be bound, but he grew stronger and his rage increased so that the people feared and gave up on trying to bring order out of his chaotic life. I am reminded of the power of addicting sin. Those who cared about him at first grew weak, and the power of addicting sin grew stronger. Weakness turned to fear, and the strength of sin turned into total, crazed possession.
Fourth, we see the wretched condition this man endured. “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (v5). Cutting to provide relief from intense emotional and mental pain is not new. This is the utmost agony of spirit, such that he is driven to destroy his own flesh to ease the pain. Who is there to provide counsel and comfort? He is alone, alone, alone in his intense grief. This man may be pictured as scarred, weeping all alone in the vast, lonely hillside grieving, cutting himself with the stones that lay about, his virtually naked body streaked with blood and open, striped wounds. He is on his knees, on his face, rising in horror and pacing the hillside in one continual panic attack.
Fifth, he was not properly clothed, as inferred from verse 15. No doubt what clothing he had was ripped and soiled and shredded to rags from wear. He certainly lacked the outer garments that were considered modest attire. Quite possibly, he wore only a loin cloth, or was not clothed at all. The point we are to consider is that he had fallen to the lowest level of human society with no one who was even able to care for him, and he could not care for himself. His covering of decency, in every form, had worn thin and finally had fallen off his body leaving him exposed to all and to the elements.
This is a picture of a human entirely without hope, without motivation, without strength of his own to fight down the total possession which sin in general had placed on him. He had no way out, no power in himself to throw off his bondage and be free and normal and human. He lived in a sub-human nightmare that never ended.
Can we identify? This may seem like an extreme situation. Our own sins seem easy to throw off. But there are so many who live these nightmares day and night, those who cut in secret to express the pain they cannot share.
How did this man get the way he was? We are not told. He may have been sinned against—abused when he had not the powers to fight off his attackers. Or, he may have invited sin by dabbling in occultic worship, sinning and committing crimes until his sin enwrapped his soul and he was caught in its inescapable stronghold. But we are not told this. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is not the man’s history, but his present state. The man was now “possessed by demons” (plural). We don’t think of sin as this powerful, but it is. Sin is our human condition of rebellion against God. It is disobedience. We want our way. But we are peons of clay. There are greater powers about us that war for our souls. Without God’s forgiveness, there is no remission of sin. We are left without defense against the enemies of God. Sin is not just an idea floating about harmlessly, but it is personal, and carries the death penalty both now and for eternity. However this man had become wrapped in the effects of sin and engaged with the beings of darkness, it is this state of darkness for which Christ came.
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of darkness, a light has dawned.”(Isaiah 9:1-7; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:14-15; Matthew 4:12-17).
There are those of us who are addicted to perversion, addicted to powerful brain-changing substances, addicted to attention and sex, addicted to power and greed, addicted to self-harm and gluttony, addicted to fear, addicted to a simmering internal rage—and we are bound up in the relentless guilt of it all just as powerfully as this man. He is a vivid, external picture of what happens as we are caught in the stronghold of the spirit of this world, the spirit which fights God. This state is horrifying. But the Light has dawned! There is HOPE in this Jesus Christ of Nazareth!
In the next post, we will see what happens when the strong man from Gadara meets Jesus.
Lord, I read your Word and yet sometimes it doesn’t get below the surface of my daily life. The condition of my heart is the obstacle. Let me feel your compassion as you step out of the boat and encounter this man. You planned that meeting just as surely as you planned the storm of the previous night. You planned for that morning to be the first day of the rest of that man’s new life of freedom and joy. Such miracles abound here daily if we have eyes to see what takes place before the dawn. Lord, give me power over my own sin with the power you have won for me in your cross and Resurrection! I am not helpless when you are on my shores. When you come to me in the morning as I read your Word and speak with you in my heart, there is healing, hope and restoration. You are Hope for all who are trapped in the iron cages of addiction. I lift up to you special ones right now in prayer for their release. Some of us are unaware of our bonds. Save us, Lord, from this evil deceit. Open our blind eyes and stony hearts! Then move us to go and tell others of the hope you have brought us so that others will be amazed at your compassion and mercy and power for life. Let this prayer be so in the power of Your Name and for your own glory forever, Amen.
called “the land of the Gerasenes”; also Gergasenes, or “the land of the Gadarenes”. “An important Hellenized town, one of the Decapolis, and south-east of the Sea of Galilee” (Strong’s Concordance), and inhabited mostly by Gentiles (ref. Josephus, in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon at http://www.BibleHub.com).
© August 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com.
Revised Feb 16, 2020.
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