Jesus and his disciples switched up their back-and-forth trek between the Temple and city of Jerusalem to his hometown in the northern province of Galilee, and 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 grievingly 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, we do see that 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. Quite possibly, he was not clothed at all. 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 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 ownto 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 to most people living ordinary lives. Our own sins seem easy to throw off. But there are so many who live these nightmares daily and nightly, those who cut in secret to express the pain they cannot share for whatever reason.
How did this man get the way he was? We are not told. He may have been abused at an early age when he had not the powers to fight off his attackers, or he may have sinned and kept sinning until his sin enwrapped his soul and he was caught in its inescapable clutch. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that the man was now being “possessed by demons” (plural). It wasn’t any one particular sin, but many sins, or just sin in general. We do not think of sin as this powerful, but it is. And there are entities responsible that suck us in and grip like iron.
There are those of us who are addicted to perversion, addicted to powerful substances that change the brain’s chemistry for life, 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 to the inside of humans caught in the stronghold of the spirit of this world, which is the spirit which fights God. This state is horrifying.
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 him. 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. And this same hope is for all who are trapped in the iron cages of any 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 so we can 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 all that I have prayed 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 Sept 2019: prayer.