Jesus Encounters: Jesus and Legion - True Compassion

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Jesus Encounters: Jesus and Legion - True Compassion

by I Gordon

Jesus encountered some interesting characters in His journeys but it could honestly be said that none were so interesting or full on as the one in the story before us today. We are going to look at the passage in Mark 5:1-20 which speaks of Jesus' encounter with a man called 'Legion'. At this stage let me just say that it is a wild adventure in more ways than one! In fact, if you think you have heard some pretty full on 'before and after' testimonies of people saved by the Lord, I'd say you should still leave a slot free near the top for this one! So let's start the story with a gentle lake cruise and see where things progress...

Mark 5:1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.

So first things first... Where is this? Where is Gerasenes? The 'lake' mentioned is the sea of Galilee and the specific area of the Gerasenes (or Gadarenes in some accounts) is often associated with that area given to the tribe of Gad on the east side of the Jordan River. You may remember that when the inheritance of Israel was given out in the times of Joshua, Gad was one of two tribes that stayed on the east side of the Jordan because they liked the look of the land. In the time of Jesus it was an region inhabited largely by Gentiles. So straight away we see that Jesus was going out of His way on this trip. So I guess the first question is why? Did Jesus just want a trip on the lake? Was He looking for some rest and relaxation away from the masses or was there something more specific to this little get away? Well, here comes someone that may have (or be) the answer.

Enter 'Legion'... the tormented one

Mark 5:2-5 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. (3) This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. (4) For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. (5) Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

We learn quite a bit about the tormented life this man was living in this passage and none of it is easy reading. The gospel of Luke adds a little more information saying: Luke 8:27 And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. So we could sum up this man's current existence by the following characteristics:

  • He was possessed by evil spirits (and they were many as we shall soon see)

  • These spirits gave him supernatural strength (he couldn't even be bound by a chain!)

  • These spirits drove him towards destruction, violence and self harm (he would even cut himself with stones)

  • He had uncontrollable behaviour being not in his right mind and lived naked

  • Though he had a family and a home but was driven by an inward force to live among the dead in the tombs (contrary to Jewish law)

This is a terrible picture and a terrible state. I asked the question why Jesus would go so far out of His way to take this excursion out into the Gerasenes and here is your answer. It was for this man Legion. Can you remember the parable that Jesus spoke of a Shepherd leaving the ninety nine sheep to go find the lost one? Well here it is in practice in the life of the great Shepherd. He was willing to go right out of the way to find and restore this very tormented lost sheep. It speaks to us of compassion does it not? Jesus was the only hope for this man. There was none other. And filled with love and compassion Jesus was willing to go out to this one to set him free. He still does the same today. But lets not jump ahead of ourselves too far just yet! It is interesting that this man, under the direct influence of many demonic spirits, was able to command such supernatural strength so as to break iron chains and fetters. You may also remember the story of Samson who demonstrated similar strength under the power of the Holy Spirit:

Judges 16:7-9 Samson said to her, "If they bind me with seven fresh cords that have not been dried, then I will become weak and be like any other man." (8) Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh cords that had not been dried, and she bound him with them. (9) Now she had men lying in wait in an inner room. And she said to him, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" But he snapped the cords as a string of tow snaps when it touches fire. So his strength was not discovered.

So a man can be influence by the Holy Spirit or an evil fallen spirit. But contact with fallen spirits is specifically forbidden in the Bible and for good reason. Mankind, in various religions and rituals, has tried for thousands of years to harness the power of 'the spirits' but ultimately finds that demonic sprits have no good intensions toward us. Speaking of the enemy, Jesus told us that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and this poor terrorized destructive man before us is a graphic example of all that the enemy seeks to do. But here comes hope... even for a man such as this!

Even the demons believe... and tremble!

Mark 5:6-7 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. (7) He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!"

Interesting reaction! Did the man still had some control and want to be free? It seems so for he is able to throw himself down at the feet of Jesus. But it isn't long for the growling, shouting voice of the spirits within him to start speaking. They know who Jesus is. They know of His power. They know He is the Son of the Most High God. The demons believe and tremble (Jam_2:19). And they know of their end. Mathew's account adds a little more information here were the demons say 'have you come here to torment us before the time?' They know there is a time coming. They know they will face judgment and torment. But they also know that that time is not yet.

Mark 5:8-9 For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" (9) Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many."

Jesus then addresses the demons within this man and asks their name. The initial response in the singular saying 'My name is Legion' but then add the slightly eerie 'for we are many'. It is not of course eerie for the Son of God for all authority and power is His. But their name is still quite telling for the state that this man was in. John MacArthur writes the following concerning the name  'Legion' - 'A Latin term, by then common to Jews and Greeks, that defined a Roman military unit of six thousand infantrymen. Such a name denotes that the man was controlled by a large number of militant evil spirits, a truth reiterated by the expression "for we are many." '

Now we don't know how this man got into such a state but it is worth asking in general terms what can open the door for oppression or possession by evil spirits? The age in which we live is seeing an increase in the fascination and practice of the occult. Drug use is reaching epidemic levels among our youth. At the the same time the New Age (which is simply old age Hindism) becomes more main stream within the Western world. All of these practices can lead to an altered state of consciousness where the person is no longer in control of their mind and body. Thus, all of these things can lead to demonic influence and oppression. All forms of the occult are forbidden in the Bible and for good reason... the forces behind then don't come to liberate and bless but to kill and destroy!

The demons seek a home... but not for long.

Mark 5:10-13 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (11) A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. (12) The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." (13) He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

The demons in this man Legion ask, of all things, to be sent into the nearby herd of pigs. This is, to them, far preferable that being sent into the Abyss. Jesus gives them permission. There are a few quick points to note here:

1. They needed permission to even enter into the swine. This shows that they can't just indwell whatever or whoever they want. There has to be an opening or permission given.
2. Jesus has full authority over the demonic world. Some Christians get afraid of demons but we should always remember that 'Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world' (1 John 4:4)
3. Demons always seek a body to dwell in. It seems that their destructive nature can be more fully expressed through a physical body. Luke 11:24 "When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' "
4. We see the true intention of these demons the moment these demons enter the pigs. They immediately destroy the pigs and their temporal home!

Jesus delivers the man and is no longer welcome!

Mark 4:14-17 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. (15) When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. (16) Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man--and told about the pigs as well. (17) Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

Here we have a slightly odd reaction. When the town's folk see 'Legion' dressed and in his right mind, they are happy? Amazed? Speechless? No... they were afraid! Sometimes we get afraid of having or allowing the Lord Jesus to have full control of a situation because we don't know what will happen. Things can change and we don't always like that. They actually began to plead with Jesus that he would leave them! If the Lord Jesus isn't wanted He will leave. If He is wanted He will come and dwell. The other point to consider in regards to this is that these people had just lost all their pigs so that would have come into their thinking that they wanted Jesus gone. But we should remember that if they were still Jews, or partly Jewish, then they weren't meant to be in the pig business in the first place! So they may have preferred their worldly compromise, and the temporal benefits that brought, than they did obedience!

Conclusion - The greatest ever testimony?

Mark 5:18-20  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 family 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.

The man at the start was in torment, darkness and dwelling in the place of death. By the end he is reunited with his family, has a hope and new purpose. At the start he could break his physical chains but was bound by his spiritual ones. By the end, all chains had been broken by the power of Jesus! At the start he was naked and wretched. By the end he is clothed with the righteousness of Christ (plus normal clothes thankfully!) What a testimony! In a way it is the story of us all that have seen our own nakedness (spiritually speaking) and the position of death that we exist in, yet have found righteousness, hope, forgiveness and a new life through the wonderful salvation given us by the Lord.

And what did Jesus ask in return of this man after finding salvation? Something very simple and natural. 'Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you'. Is this not what is asked of each of us that has experienced God's mercy and grace? It is the normal thing to do is it not? If we have found hope and forgiveness, then shouldn't we want others to know where to find this as well? Now, your testimony may not be as radical as a man who had a 'legion' of demons within him.  If you haven't been snapping chains and dwelling among the dead in your pre-Christian life, it's ok! Don't let that put you off! Whatever your story is, give honour to God in it and He will use it for His purposes. Go to your family and friends and tell them of how God had mercy on you!