Jesus steps out of the boat onto the shores of the country of Gadara (v2). There on the beach is a striking scene. This man, and possibly more exiles with him, has come to meet him. The calming of the storm of the sea was not an encapsulated experience. The unusual conditions must surely have attracted the attention of those on the outer edges of the the borderlands, especially from the vantage point of the hillside tombs overlooking the Sea.
The powers of this world have surely been disrupted! Something pivotal in the heavens has happened. Who is this Source of superior power? Could it be that he is coming in answer to my anguished cries for help? We don’t know what rationality of thought initiated the men’s approach to the shore, but there they are to greet Jesus. There is purpose in the greeting. Mark’s gospel focuses on the one man yet unnamed.
What happens when they meet? The man falls down to the ground before Jesus, acknowledging a higher power. We cannot assume true worship at this point, but we can see that the first step is taken: the man recognizes and publicly acknowledges that Jesus is Sovereign. Even the demons know who Jesus is. The disciples remain watchful, listening, subdued.
Christ’s demeanor may be inferred by the events of the evening before: Christ asleep in the boat during a violent storm; Christ in calm command as he stills the storm by a word; Christ the teacher, instructing his beloved companions and students in their faith in the midst of chaos. Jesus, the Coming One, embodies all authority. Does His calm speak to your heart in the center of your storm?
The test of the Spirits. Jesus speaks first for he is expecting the man from the tombs (v8). Jesus is not caught off guard. Instead, he identifies himself as Sovereign over not only the physical world, but the spiritual world as well:
“Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
All the strong man’s communication is a cry as the spirits within him shriek: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you by God, Do not torment me!”
The demon powers within know Jesus, even as Jesus’ closest companions are incredulous about him. Though the disciples stand by puzzled and anxious, Jesus and the man, with the spirits inside him, understand each other completely.
“What is your name?” Jesus asks.
A person’s name signifies their character. The question is a deep one.
The man answers, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
This man has split-identities; he is a man divided, and “a house divided against itself will fall” (Mark 3:24-25). The term the spirits use is a military term. The man is held under siege by a power too great and too multiplied to overcome. He is beyond the capacity to break their combined power. Though the people were unable to bind him, he himself is bound from within. He is powerless, helpless, and hopeless. Jesus looks beyond the man’s shameful appearance, with all that it suggests; He understands.
Repeatedly, the man begs Jesus, earnestly implores him, to not torment him by sending the spirits out of the country. What does this request mean? The evil spirits have great success in that country. According to Grotius, there were in that country apostate Jews who had “thrown themselves out of the covenant of God”. They were heretics to the ancient Abrahamic covenant of fellowship with God. The delight of the evil spirits is in their destructive powers; they do not wish to go where the Spirit of God is awakening the spirits of men, as Jesus is in all Israel.
They know that Jesus will not allow them to re-enter the souls of men. That would be out of character of a God of love. So they beg to be commended to the souls of the animals. They are doomed; their time has not yet come for their eternal destruction, but they also know they cannot continue as they have now that Christ has come.
Jesus sends them into the herd of pigs which graze nearby on the mountain. What a sight this must have been for the disciples and for the herdsmen looking on! The true destructive nature of these spirits became horrifically visible to all as 2000 animals race down the steep mountainside under the compulsion of evil and plunge themselves into the sea to die a determined and wasteful death.
This story is reminiscent of the contest of the gods at Carmel (1 Kings 18). God manifested His Sovereignty then, also, so that all could see and know that there is One God and that all would worship Him. Jesus is fulfilling the promise that the powers of this world are subject, not equal, to the power of the Living God. There is no other God, and Jesus is the Promised Messiah who came to do the work of Redemption God had planned from the foundation of the world.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is ONE” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
And Jesus is His Son (John 10:24-30).
I think about this life-giving exchange with Jesus. The spirit in me knows when I have encountered Jesus, too. Even as a believer, daily I either accept or reject the proximity of Christ’s power. We, too, are divided and at war within ourselves. As communities and nations, we are divided and at war. Still, He is the God Who is There. He sees, hears, and still He comes. He is still coming to lives across the globe. He still comes to me and to you.
Worship. We think we can serve “many gods” by entertaining myths, legends, and cultural creeds that entwine, constrict and slowly, imperceptibly squeeze the life-breath out of us. Today these ‘gods’ are “chic” and we decorate our homes and habits and conversations with them, but we are like the frog in the kettle. We do not realize the danger we are in, for God will not remain where evil falsehood is entertained. We are in danger of being left alone with our idols, whether credal (global and cultural heresy and paganism) or practical (e.g., pride, greed, materialism, lust, sloth, fear, anger). They come in to steal and kill. God alone can call out the spirits that war against Him and create havoc in our hearts, minds and bodies. He will not share His glory with another. This man had cried out to the heavens with his whole heart, had run to meet the Savior, recognized Jesus’ authority publicly, and made himself available to Jesus for the healing. This is true worship.
Identity. This man was not a believer until he met the Christ; then he yielded to the Lord’s transforming power and became a child of God. He was given a new name, and he had a new Master. Only God knows me for who I really am. As a believer, according to Isaiah 65:5, I belong to Him. But there is a terrible war of ownership that happens each moment. I will act in accordance with the Name He has given me, or I will act traitorously and deny His authority. I feel this war inside when I reject the hearing or the reading or the considering of the Word of God, when I reject the still small voice calling inside of me to “come out from among them and be clean“. I cannot serve God and man, self, or the spirits of this world; I choose one or the other daily. I must ask the important question: What is my name? Whose am I? To whom do I give allegiance?
Freedom. I also see, from the man’s misery and the swines’ destruction, that all sin destroys. Though it begins small and can be hidden in its infancy, “Behold your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Sin and its effects cannot stay hidden for long. It grows stronger and entrenches into habit until addiction exposes the sin for what it is and for who sits now in command over that part of life, or over all of it. What is destroying me today? What have I given foothold to that has taken over and destroyed that part of me I try to hide from others?
Our God is not aloof. Our God is not one of many. Our God is One God; real, tangible in the works that He has done and still does in the lives of so many. Our God is all Mighty and Sovereign, and yet He is a God of compassion and sacrificial, unconditional love.
The man, being made in the image of God, designed by God to rule with Him forever, wanted release; but he could not save himself. He cried out blindly to a higher Power than himself, higher than the powers of evil he faced, and that Answer came! He still comes to us through Jesus Christ, His Son (Psalm 51:17)!
My proper response is to do as the Strong Man from Gadara did, and fall to my knees in grateful humility.
I praise You, Father, for You are greater than I! Praise the Son, for You are greater than this physical world in its fury and storm, greater than all other powers of this world, greater than the power of death and demons and Hell. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit for Your power is enduring Love. I owe my life to You and I give it with all my heart. Lord, come to me and help me! In Christ’s Name, Amen.
The End of the Story?
The man has been exorcised of the evil spirits within him. The herdsmen are too amazed to speak. Instantly, they disappear down into the Yarmuk Valley and back up into the city heights to tell all the townfolk what they had seen.
The story is not yet over! What changes have happened? What happens when the village finds out? What transpires between the man and His new Lord and Savior? How are the disciples processing all this?
Join me for the next post in this series: The Strong Man of Gadara, Pt. III.
© Sept 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com. Update Feb 16, 2020.
See BibleHub Bible Atlas for a description, location (then and today), and history of this region and the location of the events in this story at https://bibleatlas.org/gadara.htm. The modern location is the ruins of Umm Qeis, Jordan. The local center (Gerasa) show ships on their ancient coins, which give evidence that the Sea of Galilee did reach further into that area long ago. The “land of the Gerasenes” is a reference to the local center while the “land of the Gadarenes” refers to the superior city of that region (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; BibleHub.com). Also see a description of Umm Qeis and its history at “Gadara (Modern Umm Qeis or Qays” at whc.UNESCO.org
as quoted in Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, BibleHub.com
FURTHER INFO ABOUT GADARA/Umm Qays, Jordan
Gadara (Umm Qays). The Decapolis city of Gadara (modern Umm Qays), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is the site of Jesus’ miracle of the Gadarene swine, where he sent demented spirits out of a man who lived in tombs at the entrance to the city. Jesus sent the spirits into a herd of pigs that ran down the hill and drowned in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). A rare five-aisle basilica from the 4th century AD recently was discovered and excavated at Umm Qays. It was found to be built directly over a Roman-Byzantine tomb, with views into the tomb from the interior of the church. It also was located alongside the Roman city gate on the road from the Sea of Galilee. This distinctive arrangement of a church above a tomb clearly was designed to commemorate the very spot where the Byzantine faithful believed that Jesus performed this miracle. (from “Gadara (Umm Qays)/The Decapolis“, archeomedproject.eu)
PHOTO: “View on Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel” by Zeromancer44 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)] at Wikimedia.org