The Strong Man of Gadara, Pt. V

Mark 5:1-20

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. 

(Mark 5:18-20 NIV)

            When I was a child in middle school reading my Bible through, I could not comprehend what I thought was a harsh decision on Jesus’ part. I imagined this man, now so clean and whole and gentle and “in love” with Jesus and pleading with him to not leave him alone to fend for himself.  He wanted to at least go with Jesus and be part of the work of ministry as a fellow disciple.  How can Jesus turn this man away?

            After all, he had been through years of physical, emotional and mental pain, isolation and ridicule, and brutal treatment from society as he knew it. This was no hopeful scene to return to!  Even if this man had family back in the city, following Jesus was more to him than even his own flesh and blood.  Perhaps he was alone in the world. The people might single him out for even more abuse than before!  How in the world could Jesus leave this man all alone without human support? Is this how Christ works?  

A few observations

            Upon prayerful reflection, though, God opened my eyes to see better and helped me to understand.  

            “Go home.”  When a leper was healed (by Jewish law), he had to show himself to the priest to verify that he was healed. Only then could he could come from outside the city (where he lived in quarantine in the equivalent of the city’s landfill) and return to his family members and a comfortable bed and home-cooked meals, to his former employment and social circle.  He could now be admitted and accepted, for his defilement was recognized to be cleansed and remediated. 

            Jesus’ seeming rejection was actually an invitation to total restoration.  Where once he had been cast out with no home, he was now restored and home was accessible. Emotional repairs were now possible, human touch to be enjoyed.  It would be difficult, certainly.  But the end would be far more satisfying than if he had left those open wounds unhealed.  We need closure in our relationships in order to be made completely well.  Jesus offered this.  It is a kindness of our God that he asks us to return to our “homes” and reconcile in the newness of our faith.  

           “Tell what has happened to you.”  What had happened was a miracle.  It needed explaining, highlighting the contrast between the power of darkness and the power of Light.  What are evil powers?  What is it really like to be bound by them?  What is it like to be rid of them?  What Jesus is asking the man to do is to correct the lies his culture believed simply by sharing what Jesus had done for him.  He would be an apologist for truth, for he now had truth to tell.  He, too, had been bound by deceit and falsehood due to ignorance about truth, but now he had intimate knowledge and a changed live to verify that truth. He is to be a minister of Truth.  

            “Tell of the mercy you have received.”  Truth is not enough. We encounter truth all day long, but we often reject it in favor of our own preferences. The man was not just different on the outside; he was changed from the inside out.  Jesus had forgiven him his sins.  This is true mercy.  To have healed his outer pain and not have touched the core issue of humanity’s greatest need, the man would be subject to re-occupation by more evil than before:

24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” 

(Luke 11:24-26 NIV)

            Instead, Jesus healed the man’s heart.  This man came to know Jesus personally, as Savior, Healer, Counselor, and Friend.  The man had more to tell than a mere miracle of personal, familial and societal restoration. The man was now restored to the One True God for all eternity because of His Son, Jesus Christ.  He was free!  And whom the Lord has set free is free indeed!  (John 8:36)

            The purpose of Jesus in sending this man home was to share the good news (the “gospel”) that they, too, can receive this healing, for “all we like sheep have gone astray, everyone to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).  His hometown could get on normally with a restored man regaining his home and employment within society.  But his hometown would never again be the same because a man in their midst had encountered the One True God and found Him merciful.  He had found what all humans are looking for—peace with God. 

            The man was going home to be a son, a husband, a father, a citizen and apologist, but moreover, this man would be the first evangelist, the first carrier of the Light of the World to a land steeped in darkness.  He would carry the hope of Peace and Calm to a land swamped in storm. He was not returning to isolation, but to the hope of a greater light and life than ever before!!  

Did he obey Jesus?

            “And the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis”.  Yes.  Much can be said about this in its application for us today, but suffice it to say the man loved God so much that he captured the mission of Christ in his own heart and carried it out for love of His new Master and Lord.  

Into the Decapolis – “The War of Worldviews”

            The Decapolis was a league of 10 major Hellenistic (Greek) cities bordering the area east of the Sea of Galilee, one being Gadara, and one being Damascus, the capital of Syria, to whom they were all directly answerable.[1] The people in these cities were wealthy, protected by Roman authority in all matters civic and religious, and independent. They had little use for the Jews of the west, for there was in this area a historic “war of worldviews” between the Jews and the eastern Greeks which were remnants of the Seleucid empire. 

             Bible teacher and Holy Land tour guide, Ray Van Der Laan, tells us that the earlier “Maccabean revolt… was in large part a reaction to the attempts of these Greek-thinking kingdoms to convert the Jews to their own pagan values and practices.”[2] [3] The Jews wanted to convert the pagans and the pagans wanted to Hellenize the Jews.  Much prejudice reigned on both sides, though there was much mixing, or “bleedthrough”, of culture as well. Greek had become “the language of the economic world” (even in Jewish Palestine), and the Jews in the Decapolis had grown weak in their zeal for pure theology. The Greek culture was wealthy and their culture sparkled in its wealth. To resist, the Pharisees added stricter laws to keep the Jewish people from theological and cultural degradation, while the Sadducees actually invited pagan humanism. Judaism was “outdated”, while tolerance for paganism was new and politically and culturally ‘correct’. As Van Der Laan points out, this polarized the Jews into either extreme legalism, radicalism, or retreatism on the one hand, and wholesale dilution by integration on the other.  If this sounds familiar, it should. 

            Into this stew of ideas this man from Gadara went forth with his personal testimony of the mercy of God above all creeds, races, and prejudice. Not just merely a credal apologist, he was a traveling evangelist! No longer was the good news of Jesus Christ limited to the east coast of the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, but the personally verified hope of God was now spreading eastward into the world at large! No longer was the good news of Jesus Christ a Jewish phenomenon, both Jews and Gentiles were now forced to look at something higher and more deeply personal than mere cultural worldview.  They were forced to contend with the truth of the Savior of the World.  

“Decapolis and Surrounding Region”.  This map from Biblemapper 3.0 at BibleHub.com, under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

To what result?  

            “The people were amazed.” According to the original Greek word used here, they “marveled; held in wonder; admired” what they heard. They did not know Jesus and feared Him; but this man they DID know, and now no longer feared him. They listened.

            Let’s think about that for a minute.  It is a slogan in Christian circles that our lives as believers are the only Bible many will ever read.  Our words may be the only Words of Life that many will ever hear.  At first, the Gadarenes withdrew from the blazing purity of Christ Himself.  He was too big for them to comprehend, too frightening for them to remain.  But this man was approachable. He manifested a changed life.  He had sane words where once was insanity.  He had a calm demeanor where once was rage and wretchedness.  They were firsthand witnesses of Christ’s power not just over the evil spirits of the world, but over the human condition—over the human heart.  

            They were in awe, but were they convinced? For that we need to slip ahead in the narrative of Christ’s journey.  

            Mark 7:31-37 tells us that Jesus later returned to the area. There is a different reaction this time.  “Some” people come to meet him, bringing with them at least one deaf and practically mute man.  They beg Jesus to “place his hand on him” for healing. At least some believe Jesus, as Healer at the very least.  

            There is much to learn about the nature of this deaf-and-mute man’s healing (v. 33-35), but after Jesus healed him, Jesus “commands” them all to not tell anyone. It seems that the more Jesus implored them, the more they insisted on discussing it among themselves.  They were overwhelmed with awe:  “He has done everything well,” they said, “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute to speak.”  

            Matthew tells us a bit more in his gospel account:  

            “Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.  The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing.  And they praised the God of Israel.”

Matthew 15:29-31 NIV

            This, Matthew tells us, is the general setting for the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (v.32-39), the crowd numbering 4000 men, “besides women and children”! [4]

The Story Ends…or does it?

            The Strong Man from Gadara, once strong in his own strength and in utter despair, has become strong in the strength of the Lord instead. He has life overflowing and eternal security and peace with God.  His personal joy has now overwhelmed an entire region.  Our story of this one man’s healing ends here in one sense, but it continues to this day as more and more come to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy, and restoration of fellowship with God.   

The Return of Jesus Christ

            As Jesus returned to the Decapolis, because our Lord never meant to leave the strong man friendless and alone, He is coming again to earth.  He has not left us alone in this world, either, but has given us the power to go and do all that He did and more by telling others how Christ has healed us as well.  We use our talents, gifts, education and training, through the power of His own Spirit in us, to heal minds and bodies in His Name.  

            He is coming back to set at right, once for all, all that is wrong in the world.  He is coming back to permanently punish evil and reward the godly, those who have received Him as Lord and Savior, claiming His blood alone as the cleansing for all sin. The news is spreading to every corner of the earth and lives are being changed.  Including mine.   

            What about you?

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.  

(John 10:10 The Message Bible)

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”

So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

(Revelation 1:4-8 NIV)

 “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.  And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. 

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 22:16-20 NIV
“Look, He is coming with the clouds…and every eye will see Him…” (Rev. 1)

© Sept 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com. This ends the series on The Strong Man of Gadara.


Footnotes:

[1] Though there came to be more than 10 cities admitted into the league, the league continued to be called the Decapolis. 

[2] “The Maccabean Revolt …was a Jewish rebellion, lasting from 167 to 160 BCE, led by the Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire and the Hellenistic influence on Jewish life.” –“The Maccabean Revolt”, Wikipedia.com

[3]A Far Country, Decapolis“, by Ray Van Der Laan, ThatTheWorldMayKnow.com

[4] But why are these two accounts different: Mark’s “some” and Matthew’s 4000?  Mark ignores the numbers and selects a representative few to keep his account focused on who Christ is showing Himself to be, while Matthew paints the full picture. Matthew’s gospel is for a Jewish readership; the numbers count to verify the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ miraculous healing and “compassion” (v.32) and, quite possibly, that this good news was cross-cultural, and not an isolated and solely Jewish situation. We can safely assume, then, that the larger number was present. Matthew also counts two demon-possessed men, while Mark focuses on the most significant man’s story. For more on gospel variances, see “Bible Contradictions Explained: 4 Reasons the Gospels ‘Disagree’“, ZA Blog, September 19, 2017 at ZondervanAcademic.com

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