Where My Demons Hide, Part 1 (Mark 5:1-20)

Trinity Church
Where My Demons Hide, Part 1 (Mark 5:1-20)
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Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Mark 5:1-20

Where My Demons Hide

Introduction:

This is one of the more puzzling passages in the NT; it leaves us scratching our heads with multiple questions. For example:

  • What were the events in this man’s life that led him to become demon possessed and live out such a miserable life?
  • We never learn this man’s name. Why is it that Jesus asks the demon what his name is, but he doesn’t ask the man what his name is?
  • The passage indicates that the demon possessed man is filled with thousands of demons. Why so many demons in one man?
  • And of course, perhaps the biggest question is: What’s with the pigs? We all grew up loving the cute little pigs in our stories: Wilber, Piglet, Miss Piggy, Porky Pig, Babe, and the piggy who went to the market. But here, all those pigs and 2000 more crash into the sea and die! What’s going on with the pigs?

Hopefully, we will answer most, if not all, of these questions.

This will be a two-part sermon series:

Today, in Part 1, we will look at this story from the political perspective. This is a story about politics, government, and the kingdom of God. (Big picture—we won’t cover all the details of the passage in this first sermon)

And then in Part 2, we will look at this passage from the personal perspective. We’ll see that this story is about God’s relentless pursuit to bring healing to your brokenness.

Two Questions:

  • How is this story about politics?
  • What are the implications for today?

How is this story about politics?

What if, I told you a contemporary version of this story? For example:

Jesus arrived in Washington DC and walked over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As soon as he arrived, a naked, homeless vet approached him and yelled at Jesus. He was demon possessed and these demons tortured him. Jesus asked the demon his name and he said, “My name is ‘Military Industrial Complex’—for we are powerful.” Nearby was a heard of elephants and donkeys, and Jesus cast the demon into them. The herd was then taken to Guantanamo Bay Detention camp where they perished.

You might not understand it all. But you’d have a good idea that there are some strong political undertones.

Christians in the first century were similarly aware that this story is making a political statement.

How do we know that? Here are four clues:

The Region:

In v.1 we’re told that this story takes place in the region of the Gerasenes. This region was on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire which meant that it was filled with multiple military outposts.

Also, it was populated by retired Roman soldiers who were given land here as payment for their service.

The point is: This region had a strong association with the Roman military.

The Demon Possessed Man

In v.2-5 a man who is possessed by an impure spirit rushes out to meet Jesus. Both the people and the demons in this area have brutalized, bound, and oppressed him.

In v.9, Jesus asks the demon his name. The demon(s) replies: “My name is Legion for we are many.” There are multiple demons taking residence in this man.

What’s significant is that they use the name “Legion.” Why Legion? He could have said my name is multifarious, or numerous, or millennia.   

But he doesn’t. He says, “My name is Legion.” Why that name?

Because “Legion” was a Roman military term. It referred to a regimen of 6000 Roman soldiers.

  • Just as Israel was occupied by Roman soldiers. This man was occupied by Legion.
  • Just as the Christians who originally read Mark’s Gospel were persecuted by Roman soldiers. This man was persecuted by Legion.

In the Bible, tyrannical governments—like the Roman Empire—are animated and influenced by spiritual forces of evil.

  • Legion represents those evil spirits.

And this demon possessed man is a picture of the people oppressed by the Roman Empire.

New Testament scholar, NT Wright says, this man “embodies the dehumanizing oppression of Rome.”

The Herd of 2000 Pigs:

In v.11, the demons beg Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of pigs.

Today, people in America who hate cops, refer to them as “pigs.” The Jews did something similar with the Romans.

Why? A couple of reasons:

First, Romans ate more pork than any other meat. They thought the Jews were weird for not eating pork and so they made fun of them for it. Rome would even counterstamp Judean coins with the symbol of a boar. The Jews, in turn, made fun of the Romans for indulging in so much pork by calling them pigs.

Second, the Tenth Legion of the Roman army used a boar or a pig as its emblem. It was on their banners, their shields, and even their uniforms. The Tenth Legion with its pig insignia is the Legion that attacked Jerusalem and destroyed its temple in 70 AD.

For the Jews, it was appropriate that the demon named Legion was cast out into a herd of pigs.

It’s a highly symbolic event.

The pigs drowning in the sea:

One of the defining events in Israel’s history was when they spent 400 years as slaves in Egypt.

  • Like the man in this story, they were exiled, bound, and oppressed.
  • Then God liberated them, just as Jesus liberates this demon-possessed man.

When God liberated Israel from Egypt, he triumphed over Israel’s oppressors by drowning Pharaoh’s army in the sea. After this event, in Exodus 15, Israel sings: I will sing to the LORD for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.

Jesus does the same thing here. The pigs, who represent Israel’s oppressors, are hurled into the sea, and destroyed.

Commentator David Garland writes: “Jews would have hailed the swine’s destruction as a token of God’s ultimate vindication over the powers of oppression.”

When we look at these 4 clues, it’s apparent that Jesus is not merely casting demons out of a man. He is engaging in a highly symbolic act. He is making a provocative political statement about who is really in charge.

What Are the Implications for us Today?

This passage is intended to re-shape and recalibrate our view of political power and the Kingdom of God. It does that in the following 3 ways:

Recalibrates our Hope

By sending Legion into the pigs who then crash into the sea and drown Jesus is signifying that all earthy kingdoms, governments, rulers, and leaders are subservient to Him. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

When we see corruption, lies, oppression, and the lack of value for life —we remember that Jesus is on the throne. All that happens now is under the reign and rule of Christ.

But it also reminds us that we are still awaiting his return. Jesus cast out demons and some pigs down in the sea. But Rome remained in power and continued to persecute Christians.

  • It’s a reminder we will not achieve a utopian society this side of eternity.
  • This story foreshadows a coming day—when Jesus will cast Satan into the abyss forever—but it has not yet arrived.

We live in the “in-between.” Christ has absolute sovereign authority and power now—but we wait for the return of the King.

So, for now, we wait in hope. We long, and yearn, and pray for his return.

Recalibrates our Mission:

After Jesus casts the demon into the pigs and restores the man who was possessed—we see two opposite responses to Jesus.

One the one hand, we see people who don’t want Jesus messing with their economy or their institutions. In v.17 it says: “Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” Keep Jesus out of our culture!

Today we see people like this on the right who want to guard crony capitalism. And on the left, we see secular liberalism who want social justice. But what both have in common is they want to keep Jesus out of it!

On the other hand, you have the man who was demon possessed. V.18 tells us: As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.

  • “Take me away Jesus! Take me to the other side of the sea to the Promised Land. I don’t want anything to do with this place!”

Today, many Christians take this approach.

  • “It’s all so corrupt, let’s retreat and withdraw from culture and politics.”

But in v.19 it says: 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.”

This is a beautiful reminder of our mission as Christians.

Each Sunday, we worship. We are shaped and formed as we confess, receive forgiveness, sing, pray, and partake of the sacrament. And then God sends us home, he sends us to our jobs, he sends us out into our relationships—to be the embodiment of Christ’s mercy to the world.

Jesus says, “Stay. Now that you have been reshaped and restored, be an agent of restoration right were you live.”

Recalibrates our Message:

Notice, not only is this man to embody the mercy of God in his community, but Jesus also gives him a message: v.19 Tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.

He is commissioned to proclaim the message of God’s mercy.

This is not just his commission. It belongs to all of us. And it especially belongs to the church. The church is charged to proclaim the message of God’s mercy.

The question I want to ask is what does that look like in regard to politics?

People sometimes expect the church to include in its message a statement about political issues.

“Make a statement about Black Lives Matter, or the COVID lockdowns, or Jan 6 storming of the capital.”

Every other institution is doing it—from the entertainment industry, to corporations, to professional sports. We expect the church to make a statement as well.

Let me say a couple things about this.

  1. We will address certain topics from time to time—but for the most part we are not going to issue statements or constantly address them in our sermons. Instead, the place where you most likely hear these issues addressed is when the elders pray. We will lament and cry out to God for mercy.
  2. The NT, thought it was written in an emotionally charged political environment, rarely makes blanket statements on political issues. When Jesus was asked his position on whether or not Jews should pay the Roman Imperial tax, Jesus said, Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. It was a subversive answer. An answer that went deeper than just taking a side.  It made you think more deeply about your life in relation to God. We should try to do the same.   
  3. We live in a day when politics has become the new reality TV show. And we are all inundated with it 24/7. We want to be relevant as a church and show how the gospel applies to all areas of culture. But sometimes we just need a break. We need time and space at church to look at our own hearts, confess our sin, and do what Jesus told this man to do: Focus on the mercy of God to you. We don’t want our church calendar to revolve around the news cycle.

This man was given a message. It’s the message of the church—see how much God has done for you. Look at his mercy. And the place we see that most clearly is on the cross of Jesus Christ.

In Mark 10:42-45 Jesus tells his disciples: You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (He’s talking about Roman military leaders) 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”