Frank Retief was pastor at St James Church Cape Town for 31 years, having planted the church in 1968 with his wife Beulah. He became the Presiding Bishop of the Church of England in South Africa until he retired in 2010. Frank remains active in ministry through preaching, teaching, pastoral work & writing, and has authored a number of books.
Mark 5:15 “When they came to Jesus they saw the man who had been possessed by demons sitting there, dressed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.”
Our generation of people is used to seeing pictures of the weird and the wonderful. Movies and special effects have left us largely expecting the spectacular and also sadly we have been so spoiled that at another level, it is hard to impress us any more. But this story in Mark 5:1-20 takes some beating. It is a bizarre story to say the least and we need to know what it is we should watch out for and what we need to learn.
First, it is helpful to remember that the area Jesus visited described in v1 was a Gentile area, not a Jewish area. The presence of pigs and the unearthly cries of a man possessed by evil spirits and living amongst the tombs would have been experiences common to the darkness and superstitions of many Gentile communities.
Then notice how the evil spirits in the man respond to Jesus. They bow before him and express fear of him (vs 6,9). This is because the world of darkness knew that with the arrival of Jesus the game was up. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and although not destroyed yet, Satan is in principle overthrown and faces a frightening judgement from God.
Next comes the request to enter the pigs and the permission given by Jesus. The pigs all perish in the lake and the people of the area are dumbfounded. Why did this story play out like this? It is all so strange. Why did Jesus go there? How do the evil spirits recognise him? Why does he silence them? Why give them permission to enter the pigs? These and many other questions arise from this passage. But these questions are not Mark’s aim here. What he wants us to see is how people responded to Jesus.
You would think that poor frightened people who had lived with a madman terrorising them for years would be grateful for what Jesus did. Perhaps they would invite Him into this village and plead with Him to bring His power and His light and deliver others? Nothing of the kind! They asked him to go! Read v 17. Isn’t this a strange response? A Saviour appears but He is turned away! But this is in principle no different to many people today who see the wonderful difference Jesus makes in the lives of others, yet find within themselves a strange fear of him and therefore turn their backs on him.
Do you know people like that? Pray for them that God will open the blind eyes and soften the hard hearts.
At least one person welcomed Jesus and would have stayed with him – the man who was delivered. But Jesus gave him the same command He gives you and me once we have experienced His power “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.”
Prayer: “O God, how hard our hearts can be. Nevertheless have mercy O Lord and save those near and dear to me, who even now are lost and in darkness. Do it for Jesus’ sake and may He receive all the Glory. Amen”