Fear of Spirits

Fear of Spirits

Mark 5:1-20

Transcript (download)

I really enjoyed last week looking at Jesus calming the storm, I feel like God’s message to us in the passage we looked at is so powerful. If you missed being with us last week I highly encourage you to get online and listen to last week’s message, either through our website or Facebook page. On those websites you now also have the option of reading the message transcript, or printing it to read later; so please use that as a resource to stay connected and encouraged as we continue our walk through the life of Jesus. 

This morning we continue in the story that we began last week, the events described in Mark 5 follow immediately after Jesus terrified His disciples by calming the storm. Their minds were spinning after He did something that only God could do, and it gave them great fear that they had misidentified who this Jesus Messiah was.  And after moving from the fear of the storm, to fearing Jesus, the disciples were then given yet another situation that would give them reason to fear.

We have spent many Sundays learning about God’s Kingdom that Jesus announced, and this passage in Mark 5 gives us a little glimpse into another kingdom that exists, a kingdom that is in opposition to, yet under the authority of God’s Kingdom.  I hope that as we look at this very unusual passage this morning, God will give us insight and understanding into the spiritual realm that exists, and that we would understand how to live protected from spiritual harm and protected from spiritual fear.  Let’s read the passage together, Mark 5:1-20.

What an intense night! Jesus, seeking rest, crossed the lake with His followers, they encountered a life threatening storm that Jesus stopped using just His words, and then they all landed ashore in a rural, countryside setting.  I would imagine Jesus was ready to get some real sleep, and the disciples were probably ready for a calm, relaxing night by the campfire- roasting some fish and perhaps debriefing what had just happened on the lake.  But instead of a quiet restful night, immediately upon landing- a bloodied, scarred man wearing perhaps nothing but some underwear, came running down the mountainside, screaming and shouting like a madman. Wow!

The place where they landed the boat was not considered Jewish territory. It was the country of the Gerasenes, a region on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. The Jewish people would not have kept herds of swine; according to the Law of Moses, pigs were unclean and not appropriate for eating.  This region had a different people group, yet like the Jews, they too were under Roman occupation. This region was a part of the Decapolis, meaning 10 cities in Greek, so there were 10 united cities there under Roman rule. And obviously many people in the region would have known about this man, he had caused problems before and the people had attempted to control him several times, binding him with shackles and chains. But because of his demonic influence, he had super human strength.  But that strength came with a price, he lived in torture, night and day screaming, finding no rest, gashing himself with sharp stones- either self-willed to help release the pain, or perhaps demon-willed and completely uncontrolled by himself.  He had been driven out to the countryside either by the demons, or perhaps by the people of the community, banished to live alone in his suffering.

But upon seeing Jesus, it says that he ran up, not to attack and defend his territory as he probably had many times before, but rather this time to bow before the only one who could possibly help him and deliver him from his agony. He probably had never even heard of Jesus, and even if by chance he had heard, he more than likely wouldn’t have recognized Him in the dark from a distance.  But the demons knew exactly who Jesus was, and some of the knowledge that the demons possessed must have transferred to the man’s own mind, and you can imagine the battle taking place inside this man as he bowed before Jesus.  Verses 6-8 are written a little differently, it appears that when this man bowed down, Jesus then started to say “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”, but perhaps before Jesus even finished His command, the demon took over the functions of the man, and using the man’s vocal chords cried out and interrupted Jesus by saying “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!”  Matthew gives us a little more detail to this verse, in Matthew 8:29 he records the demon saying “…Have You come here to torment us before the time?”  “The time” meaning the time of judgement that is coming where not only mankind will be judged for his actions, but even the spiritual forces of darkness will be judged and put to an end.  Revelation 20:10 describes this future event, John tells of the prophetic vision he had and says: “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The lake of fire is the final judgment that awaits the devil and his demonic forces, and all those whose names are not found written in the book of life. (Revelation 20:15)

For now the forces of evil are allowed to exist in this world, but there is coming a day- a day that they themselves fear, where their influence will be completely stopped. We know this day is coming and they know this day is coming. This passage seems to convey that for now, there is somehow some sort of temporary comfort for them, to dwell in a physical body before the day comes where they will be cast into their place of the eternal fire.

I think it’s interesting to note that all of Jesus’s previous miracles are described as being immediate.  Jesus spoke, and it happened.  The disciples had just witnessed Him say “Hush, be still” and immediately the wind died down and the water become perfectly calm.  But here, there seems to be a slight delay, Jesus says “Come out”, and the demon interrupts, and then there is further conversation before the man is freed from the demonic oppression. We know that Jesus has power and authority over all of creation, including the spirit world, but when dealing with men and women who have freewill, His power can be delayed, even stopped. God has set parameters over His own power, limiting Himself in what He can and cannot do when it comes to mankind’s freewill.  For example, as we’ll see shortly, Jesus was prevented from doing many miracles in His hometown due to the unbelief of the people (Matthew 13:58) You see, there are circumstances in which mankind has been given a role in the manifestation of Jesus’s power. We can either be conduits that help His power flow, or we can be obstructions that hinder His power from flowing.

I believe that this man had some part he had to play, even as out of control as he was, even being the victim of a malicious supernatural force- what little fragment of his mind he could still control had to respond to Jesus and want to be freed by Him.

So as the battle raged in this man, as he bowed down, but the demons interrupted, Jesus attempted to connect again with the man by asking his name.  Notice the change of pronouns in verse 9, it doesn’t say that he responded “OUR name is Legion for WE are many”, it says “MY name is Legion, for WE are many.” It goes from the singular to plural in one sentence. I imagine the man, sensing Jesus’s overwhelming love and power, regained control momentarily, desiring earnestly to be freed, and spoke out “My name is…” but before he could say his name, the dark leading spirit inside him took over again and interrupted, saying “Legion, for we are many.” The word legion was a Roman word, describing a large number, for example a legion of soldiers was typically at least 3000-6000 troops. You can imagine the torment of this man if indeed he had 3000-6000 demons afflicting him and attempting to control him.  

But despite their great number and strength, the demons began to realize that they were losing this battle. They could not remain inside the man with him desiring Jesus to send them away. In fear, they began to beg Jesus not to send them out of their territory. Much of the dark spiritual world we do not understand, we don’t have all the details, but there seems to be parameters set upon demons, perhaps territorial assignments in which they are not allowed the same power if they were to relocate from their specific territory. Luke’s account gives us an added detail to Mark’s verse 9, he says “They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss.” (Luke 8:31) So if it is true that demons have assigned territory, and they then break the territorial rules, perhaps they risk punishment including being sent into the abyss, a prison holding place mentioned in Revelation 20. So perhaps in fear of being cast into another territory, in fear of losing influence and power, in fear of being bound to the abyss, in verse 12 we see that they begged Jesus to be allowed to enter into the large herd of swine.

In verse 13 Jesus gave them permission. And I don’t think He said “Yes” to their request out of mercy- I don’t believe there is any mercy available to the forces of darkness that hate God and His son Jesus. In giving them permission to enter into the pigs, there must have been a way in which Jesus was seeking to glorify God. I believe that the demons didn’t expect for the pigs to run off the cliff and drown. They were hoping to hang out in the pigs for a while, at least until they could find other human hosts to inhabit.  I think the stampede was an unexpected effect- the pigs weren’t able to deal with the combining of the demonic influence alongside their animal nature.  So, the demons really didn’t get what they had hoped for, and they were left without a living host, without a vehicle to achieve their purposes.  I wonder if they then had to follow certain protocol, as in perhaps: because the pigs died, they had to then leave the county, or be banished from their territory. Matthew 12:43 says that “…when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.” We don’t understand why exactly an unclean spirit is uncomfortable existing on it’s own, but there definitely seems to be a reason for the demons to fear being without a host.

One might say, “but what about all those pigs dying?” Well, Jesus didn’t command the pigs to jump the cliff, he only commanded the demons to exit the man, and then permitted them to enter the pigs. Again, there had to be a way in which Jesus knew that even in the pigs’ death, God would be more glorified than if Jesus had refused the demons request. Perhaps the people used the pigs for gross, detestable, evil pagan rituals. Perhaps it was more merciful for them to drown than to be subject to the purposes of the people of that region.  Maybe the grand spectacle of the pigs running over the cliff forever burned into the mind of the freed man, and his community, the reality of the evil that he had been rescued from. Surely it intensified the night, leaving no doubt in the minds of the people the reality of the spiritual battle taking place in this world.

Because of what happened to the pigs, that event caused the herdsmen to go back into the city and surrounding country, and tell everyone what had happened.  In verse 15 we see that the people came to observe the events of the night and it frightened them to see the former mad man, sitting down in his right mind, now clothed, acting completely normal. This man that they had feared so much, for so long, who many of them together could not tame with iron chains and shackles- this powerful man was subdued and restored by the power of one man alone, Jesus. It was just like the disciples, they had feared the storm that they could not conquer, and when Jesus conquered it they were filled with even more fear of His power and fear of who He was.  And now the Gerasenes people, they had feared the man whose evil they could not conquer, and when Jesus conquered that evil, they were filled with even more fear of His power and fear of who He was.

And their hearts we so hardened- you would think that they would have rejoiced in the restoration of this man, but instead of gladness and relief they chose to focus on their fear. And their fear was not a healthy, reverent, awe-filled fear of Jesus, but rather a selfish, self-protecting fear focused on preserving their culture and evil ways. In result of a man being spiritually freed, a large herd of swine was lost. I’m sure the people feared that they would perhaps lose even more if Jesus stayed and spiritually freed more of them. Perhaps they realized that Jesus would not stop at any cost in order to free someone from bondage in this life and from bondage in the life to come.

So they asked, even begged, Him to leave.  And without resistance, that’s what He did. I’m sure the reaction of many today isn’t much different. How many people in this world feel that if Jesus were to stay in their lives, they would in return lose something else they held more dear to? What people don’t realize is that what Jesus offers is worth so much more than any loss of anything in this temporary life. But when they ask him to depart, he does.  As I mentioned earlier, God has set parameters over His own power, limiting Himself in what He can and cannot do when it comes to mankind’s freewill. Alexander MacLaren says, and I quote: “The tragedy of life is that we have the awful power of severing ourselves from His influence. Christ commands unclean spirits, but He can only plead with hearts.” You and I have the power to resist Him, to lessen His good work in our lives.  We block His power when we value other things in this world more than we value His presence in every area of our lives.   

As Jesus was leaving, the man He freed was the only one in that community that realized the significance of who Jesus was. And he didn’t want for Jesus to leave his side. In verse 18 we see that he implored, begged to come along with Jesus. But Jesus wanted instead for this man to follow Him not physically, but to follow Him spiritually.  To follow Him in the work of Jesus, the work of announcing God’s goodness and mercy. And seemingly without resistance, without hesitation, the man obeyed and went away proclaiming “what great things Jesus had done for him”, and the text says “and everyone was amazed.” (5:20) Perhaps this man was one of the first missionaries, sent out by Jesus to proclaim to his own people the work of the Most High God through His son Jesus. He was sent out to prepare the people’s hearts. Mark later in chapter 7 verse 31 makes sure to mention that Jesus returned to the region of Decapolis, and because of this man’s testimony, perhaps they received Jesus with warmer hearts than they did during their first encounter.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for this man to do this work- he had a bad reputation after all, and the people probably knew very little about the one true God. Being outside of Israel, the society was more than likely very immoral and against God’s ways. But there he went, back to the society in which he had been outcasted, the place where his pain begun, back to the place where people knew him to be someone else. Why? Because in obeying Jesus he experienced the most freedom he had ever experienced in his life!

God wants you to be free, living in obedience to Him, unhindered by fear or demonic influence. He wants us to be aware of the spirit world around us- aware of it’s reality, but not necessarily consumed by it or too overly focused on it. C.S. Lewis mentions in his book, The Screwtape Letters, that “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils [demons]. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves [the demons] are equally pleased by both errors.”

There are many unbelievers in this world that are under the demonic influence. They may not shout and scream like the man from Gerasene, perhaps that is a more probable characteristic with multiples of demons, but in comparison, can you imagine what being influenced by 1 or 2 demons might look like? The oppression might be a little bit more subdued and quiet, the control and influence might not be as easily noticed, but the people are still living under Satan’s control, accomplishing his purposes. So you might ask, how do I protect myself against that type of power and control?  

The presence of Jesus in you is your only defense. His spirit dwelling in you is stronger than even a legion of demonic forces. Live life in such a way that you do not hinder His spirit from having full reign in every area of your life. Know that demonic spirits exist. Know that they can possess men and even animals. Know that their control leads to nothing but pain and agony. Know that their goal is to drag down as many as possible into the Lake of Fire. But do not fear them- know that Jesus has conquered their kingdom. Know that their end has already been determined. Know that even they understand Jesus’s Lordship and authority. Know that if Jesus is in you they have no choice but to flee when you say to flee.

Church, guard the territory God has given you. Do not let the enemy have any opportunity in your life. (Ephesians 4:7) Do not open the door to demonic influence in any way. Be on guard as to what you watch, what you read, what you listen to, the thoughts that come to your mind, what you choose to believe. Guard yourself by living life is such a way that no matter where you are and no matter what you are doing, the presence of Jesus would not have any reason to leave, and evil spirits would not have any authority to influence.