High king of heaven, thy victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys, oh bright heaven’s sun? Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, oh ruler of all.
Read Mark 5:1-20. There is so much in this passage, so try to take your time and really soak it in. Read slowly, or repeatedly, or both. Try to imagine the scene as best you can—use your imagination. Remember what has just happened in the preceding chapters. Mark words, phrases and ideas that keep coming up, and mull them over. Don’t rush through this part—it’s way more important than reading my reflections! If you have time, write your own reflections on the passage before reading my feedback. And if you feel like it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Jesus is in the midst of a very busy season here. He’s been teaching in a home, in the synagogue, on a mountain, and by the sea, and now he’s just stepped out of the boat when “immediately” a demon-possessed man confronts him. The man is probably naked or only partially clothed; I draw this conclusion because later, after he has been delivered from the oppression, of the signs that he was back in his right mind was that people saw him clothed (v. 15). He probably smells bad, not only because he hasn’t bathed, but because his body is covered with scratches from being shackled and chained, as well as self-inflicted wounds. I imagine him grunting or screeching, at any rate, difficult to understand and communicate with. And he comes to Jesus, aware of who he was and tormented by the battle waging within.
I have never understood why Jesus sent the demons into the herd of sheep. As a child, when I would hear this story, I always felt sad for the poor pigs. Why didn’t Jesus just banish the spirits? Why did the pigs have to bear the brunt of their evil?
Tonight, as I’m reading and considering it, I think it is because this was a key teaching time for Jesus, and I think he wanted to make a very clear demonstration of not only the evil power of the “unclean spirits,” but also his own power over them. If he had just sent them away, the people in that town might have been unimpressed. By sending the spirits into the pigs, he got their attention—and they asked him to leave. But Jesus, in this season of his ministry, is drawing some very clear lines in the spiritual sand, and I think this act of deliverance, and how he went about it, was all part of that demonstration of his power.
Jesus is teaching his disciples—the twelve apostles, as wells as the countless others who were following him at this point—about the kingdom of God. But the main point of this passage, at least for me tonight, is in verse 19. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
People can argue about theology and doctrine. Your friends might disagree with what you believe to be true about God. But the one thing that no one can trump you on is your own testimony. No one knows better than you do how much the Lord has done for you. No one has a better handle on how he had mercy on you. And as Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God, I conclude that part of being in God’s kingdom is telling others about God, and specifically, about what God has done in your life. No one can argue with you on that. When it comes to your testimony of God’s grace, you will always be right!
I’m not really a big fan of standing on a street corner and shouting about God. I’m sure that it has been effective in some cases, but I am much more of a “relationship” person. I am perfectly willing to share about God, but it has to feel like the right moment. And one of the “right moments” is often after you have experienced some tremendous grace that others know about. Perhaps you have been ill, or had financial struggles, or you’ve been spiritually oppressed, and God has set you free. This is the perfect time to tell others about God’s mercy in your life! If they can see a change in you, like they could see the change in this man, they will want to know what caused it.
The people in the town where this man lived knew he was a mess. They knew about his nakedness and mutilation. And when he was discovered to be clothed and in his right mind, people knew something had to have happened. It was into this that Jesus instructed the man to tell them “how much the Lord has done.” And the text tells us that he did. “He went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.”
And what happened?
“Everyone marveled.” This is the goal—that others marvel at God’s mercy.
Do you have a story to tell that points to the mercy of God in your own life? Of course you do. Be ready to share it. You might not share it often, but when the door opens up, God might work through you, through your experience of God’s mercy, to encourage others and lead them to “marvel.” Think about the man with the unclean spirit. After Jesus delivered him and he was in good shape, the one thing Jesus asked of him was to share with others what God had done. The same is true for us. The world needs to know that there is hope and that grace flows from God, even into the “tombs” of society. Will we be ready to share the hope we have with a world in desperate need of goodness, truth, and beauty?