Going to the Dark Side: Part 1

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Going to the Dark Side: Part 1
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Going to the Dark Side: Part 1

Mark 5:1-20

              What was the purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth? Hint: there’s more than one right answer. In First John 3:8, John answers this question very clearly. In this context, John is writing about the relationship between sin and the child of God. He wrote, “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

              So, the Son of God was revealed so that He might destroy the works of Satan. It seems that John is simply reminding us of what God promised Eve in Genesis 3:15. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Some versions read that the seed of the woman, Jesus, will “crush” the head of the serpent.

              In the Gospels, we see Jesus doing this very thing. Before He began His public ministry He endured a time of temptation in the wilderness. There, Jesus convincingly demonstrated His power over Satan, specifically, by using the written Word of God. In Mark chapter one, on the Sabbath and in the synagogue, Jesus delivers a man from a demonic spirit showing His mastery over the powers of darkness.

              That brings us to our text for this study, Mark 5:1 to 20. Matthew and Luke also record the details of this amazing event. In the biblical record, not since God cast Satan and his angels out of heaven, have so many demons been simultaneously displaced by one divine command!  

              But before we get to our text, let’s consider the larger context. What was happening just before the events of this chapter? In Mark chapter 4, Jesus was teaching His disciples about the characteristics of the kingdom of God. He compared it to the mystery of a growing plant. The farmer plants the seed, but he can’t make it grow nor can he fully explain how it grows. Furthermore, He implied that the kingdom would start as a very small seed, yet it would grow into a large tree so the birds could come and nest in its shade.

              Then, at the very end of chapter four, we have the account of Jesus sleeping during a wild storm on the Sea of Galilee. He was exhausted from a couple of days of nonstop ministry. They had been so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat! So, immediately, after they leave the crowds behind, He falls asleep in the stern of the boat. When the violent storm erupts, He keeps right on sleeping.

              The disciples are struggling to control the ship and their fear is growing. They are facing the reality that this voyage isn’t going to end well, so they awaken Jesus with a cry of despair; “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Jesus miraculously stills the wind and the waves and then the disciples are even more terrified. “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

              That question is left hanging, as it were, in the air. In their understanding, only God, the creator of earth and sea can control such things. And that brings us to our text, Mark 5:1 to 20. Listen to Mark’s record of these amazing events.   

              If the disciples were out of their comfort zone during the storm and with Jesus’ response to the storm, the narrative we just read must have compounded their uneasiness. The unpredictability of nature is one thing, the darkness of the demonic world is quite another! I’ve titled my teaching, “Going to the Dark Side.”

              This incident shows us the STEPS we must be willing to take in going to the dark side.

The First STEP (in going to the dark side) is,

              Crossing Barriers

              Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God in chapter three implied that it wouldn’t be restricted to the Jewish people. This was consistent with Old Testament teaching that saw God’s concern for all peoples and nations, but those who lived in Jesus’ day were convinced that “salvation is of the Jews.” They were God’s chosen people. That was and is true. Yet here is Jesus purposely crossing the Sea of Galilee to Gadara, a place largely inhabited by non-Jews. Do you think the disciples would have set out on this journey if they had known what would happen?

              Gadara was one of the cities of the Decapolis. This area on the eastern shore of the lake was populated by pagans and was a place the Jews avoided lest they become “unclean.” It was an “other side of the tracks” kind of place. The Greek inhabitants of the area were never on good terms with the Jews, and the herd of pigs we read about may indicate their contempt for what they saw as Jewish prejudice. But Jesus had intentionally set sail with His disciples for this place!

              The text says that, after the storm was stilled, they went to the other side of the lake. Was it still nighttime when they arrived? If so, that adds to the eerie surroundings of these events and the theme of darkness. Was the storm a metaphor for the chaos that existed in the life of the demoniac? Was the storm an attempt by Satan to dissuade Jesus from His ministry in Gadara? I don’t have a definite answer to those questions, but they are worth considering.  

              I see some similarities with Jonah’s experience. He was sent to preach deliverance to a group of people whom he despised! Satan didn’t want the Ninevites to experience the love and mercy of God and neither did Jonah. He chose to disobey God (that’s listening to Satan) and run the other way! In his case, God sent the storm to convince His reluctant prophet that obedience was the best path to follow.

              What causes barriers between people in the first place? Isn’t it often fear? We fear what we don’t understand. So, if people are different in their religion, culture, or practices, we tend to avoid contact with them. We know they’re in spiritual darkness and need to hear about Jesus, but we fear that they may misunderstand our motives and react negatively to us.

              What’s on the other side of your sea of Galilee? Are there areas in your community that you consider “the dark side?” Are there people you avoid so you don’t become contaminated by sin? Is Satan putting roadblocks in your way to keep you from reaching out to people who make you uncomfortable? These questions are valid and deserve fair consideration.

              So, Jesus took the first step in going to the dark side; He crossed to the eastern shore of Galilee, a place largely inhabited by people living in spiritual darkness.

Another STEP (in going to the dark side) is,

              Confronting Evil

              Some resource material I read suggested that Jesus was the only one who got out of the boat when it landed on the shore of Gadara. It’s possible but given the length of time it takes for these scenes to unfold, I’m not so sure about that. However, it would fit with the disciples’ concern about being contaminated by association with pagans.

              I mentioned in my previous teaching from the end of Mark chapter four that the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee was less populous than the west side. After several days of intense ministry, I’m sure the disciples were looking forward to some respite from the crowds. But I also mentioned that Jesus had a divine appointment at the end of this voyage. So, the rest they were longing for wasn’t going to happen.

              As Jesus steps out of the boat onto the shore, He is immediately met by a raging lunatic, a man possessed by demons. We can only imagine his frightening appearance.

              He didn’t live in a house like a normal person. Instead, he lived in the tombs. Close to the place where Jesus and the disciples had come ashore, there were tombs carved into the rocky hillside. This was the normal practice for the burial of the dead at that time, but it wasn’t normal for people to live in them. These places were considered unclean, and people usually avoided them. That assured this man was, for the most part, left alone. But not totally.

              He must have been a terror to the community because the residents, according to verse four, had often bound him hand and foot with shackles and chains. But he pulled the chains apart and broke the shackles in pieces. Perhaps there were broken fragments of those previous attempts to bind him lying on the ground as this scene unfolds.

              No one was strong enough to successfully restrain him, and they certainly couldn’t tame him. I’m sure this man was somewhat of a legend, known far and wide across Decapolis and the people avoided him as much as they could.

              Not only did he live in the tombs, but he also practiced self-mutilation. Night and day he roamed the mountains and the tombs, shrieking hideously and gashing himself with sharp stones. I imagine his body was covered with oozing wounds and many scars from previous bouts of demonic frenzy.

              Biblically, these kinds of behaviors are always associated with idol worship and the demonic world. Even today in Shia Islam there is a holiday of Ashura (Ash-or-ah) where devotees flagellate themselves in demonic frenzy until the blood flows freely. The widespread practices of tattooing, piercing, cutting, sadomasochism, transgenderism, and more in our day are all evidence of the powers of darkness! They strike at the heart of what and who God created us to be. The goal of demon possession is to distort and destroy the image of God in mankind.

It causes me sadness and a great disappointment to see professing Christ-followers practice tattooing, piercing, and mutilation of their bodies. These things should have no place among the people of God. If they were done before a person’s new birth in Christ, that’s different. I’ve met people who, after they were converted, regretted practicing some of these things. If you’re engaged in this kind of behavior, Jesus died for your forgiveness and deliverance, and you are not beyond the reach of His grace. He wants to redeem, save, and restore you!

              When Jesus stepped out of the boat, this demoniac saw Him from a distance and came running toward Him. How would you have felt in that situation? I imagine this naked, yelling maniac must have tested the newly recovered confidence of Jesus’ disciples. As I said earlier, one step in going to the dark side is confronting evil. That isn’t going to be easy and most likely it won’t be pleasant either.

              Was the man going to attack Jesus? What was he planning to do? Imagine their surprise when he falls prostrate before Jesus! Even as he falls at Jesus’ feet he is crying out in terror, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you will not torture me!” Here is a graphic example of what James tells us in his letter; You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” Demons get uncontrolled shivers when confronted by Jesus. They recognize they are powerless before Him.  

              Why was this man crying out like this? Verse eight tells us. It was because Jesus had been repeatedly commanding the demons to come out of him. So, the two actions were occurring simultaneously. Jesus’ repeated commands for exorcism were frightening the demons and causing their frenzied reactions. It was a scene the disciples wouldn’t soon forget!

              Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” His reply was, “Legion” because he was possessed by many demons. At the time, a Roman legion was comprised of up to 6,000 soldiers! I don’t necessarily think that means this man had 6,000 demons, but it meant there were many of them. I believe we can safely assume at least 2,000 because that’s how many pigs died as a result of this exchange.

              The goal of the Roman legions was to enforce the will of the Emperor; his word was law. You disobeyed at the risk of your life! The goal of these evil spirits was to carry out the devil’s will of bringing pain, destruction, and chaos into the life of this man. For them to fail in their mission and be sent prematurely to the abyss would incur Satan’s wrath.

              Even though demons are spirit beings it seems they’re uncomfortable being disembodied. Why else would they ask Jesus to let them go into the pigs? Their horror at being sent to the abyss prematurely caused their frenzied request. Perhaps they thought they could temporarily inhabit the pigs until Jesus left and then find new hosts in this pagan community.

              Jesus warned us about this possibility in Luke 11:24 to 26. “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

              This request also tells me that Satan and his demons are not omniscient, that is, they don’t know everything. Would they have kept begging Jesus to send them into the pigs if they had known the pigs would all drown in the sea? I don’t think so because they ended up being without a body to host them.

——————————————— Part 2

              At the insistence of the demons, Jesus permitted them. By His power, Jesus could have sent them anywhere, even back to the abyss. That fact that He didn’t do that tells us He had a larger purpose to fulfill in this interaction with the demons and the residents. John MacArthur wrote, “By granting permission for these demons to go into the herd of pigs, Jesus was allowing them to put on display the true magnitude of their destructive and deadly force. In so doing, He also highlighted the glorious superiority of His own power.” [1]

              What happened next stunned the bystanders! The entire herd of 2,000 pigs went berserk and stampeded down a steep slope and into the Sea of Galilee to their deaths. This was undeniable proof that the demons had left the man and entered the pigs. It also illustrated the damaging power of the demons on a massive scale. Most importantly, it demonstrated Jesus’ absolute authority over them. They had no choice by to comply with His sovereign command!

              We have many warnings in Scripture that evil will increase as we approach the end of the age. Jesus and the apostles spoke about how evil behaviors will “come out of the closet” and into the mainstream of culture as Satan realizes that his time for deception is growing short. I have witnessed this in my short lifetime.

              For those who follow Christ, confronting evil in society today is much more costly than in the past. But we must not shrink in fear. Instead, we need to “put on the full armor of God so we can stand against the devil’s schemes.” We are not struggling against human beings, but against spiritual forces of evil in this world of darkness working through human beings. We must not retreat in the face of opposition but go boldly forward to confront evil in our time.

              Going to the dark side requires us to cross barriers and confront evil.

Another STEP (in going to the dark side) is,

              Choosing Sides

              Not all demonstrations of Jesus’ power are as dramatic as this one. But one thing is sure; when Jesus shows up you can’t be neutral. You can either accept Him or reject Him, but you can’t ignore Him!

              Those who cared for the pigs and witnessed their dramatic destruction didn’t wait around to see what would happen next. They took to their heels in fear and told everyone they saw about what had happened to the herd of pigs. The text isn’t clear about whether they had seen the transformation in the former demoniac. The news spread like wildfire across the whole region. When people heard about what happened they wanted to see it with their own eyes.

              So, they came to see if what they’d been told was true. And sure enough, the pigs were floating in the water. Even more astounding was the man who had been possessed by many demons sitting with Jesus. He was fully clothed, and his mind was completely restored. He and Jesus were conversing together. And they were afraid. This was the same kind of fear the disciples experienced after Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee. It was the realization that they were in the presence of the Holy One.  

              Imagine those who had witnessed these dramatic events retelling them to the curious crowd that had gathered. I see them imitating the behavior of the demoniac, the calm composure of Jesus, and the violent reaction of the herd of pigs. I picture them pointing to the bodies of all those dead pigs floating in the water. It was almost more than one could comprehend.

              And the response? The people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. Why? Was it the loss of the 2,000 pigs? Possibly. This would have been a major shock to the local economy. Those pigs could still be butchered, and the meat used, although it may have glutted the market and caused the price to fall.

              Were these people content to remain in the kingdom of darkness to protect their possessions and the things that were familiar to them? Were they more concerned about their livelihood than the deliverance of this tormented man? Or were they bothered by the fact that they had witnessed a demonstration of power that left them feeling very uncomfortable?

              Remember what I said earlier? “When Jesus shows up you can’t be neutral. You can either accept Him or reject Him, but you can’t ignore Him!”

              Jesus warned His followers it would be this way. In Luke 12:51 to 53 Jesus said, Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

               These people decided they didn’t want Jesus in their community. You can make the same decision today; you have that freedom. But you can’t choose the consequences of your choice. They are built into your decision.

              Just like the people of Gadara, the behavior of most unbelievers today isn’t as extreme as the demoniac. But regardless of their behavior, every human being is a sinner. I suppose there were lots of “good people” in that community, people who took pride in their culture, their heritage, and their citizenship. But when they rejected Jesus, they chose the temporary over the eternal. Jesus wanted to give them freedom from sin just like He had given to the demoniac.

              Going to the dark side requires us to cross barriers and confront evil. It also requires us to choose sides. Today, you have the opportunity to choose sides. Which side will you choose?

The Final STEP (in going to the dark side) is,

              Commissioning Witnesses

              In response to the request of the crowd there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus prepares to leave the area. As He is getting into the boat, the formerly demon-possessed man keeps begging Him, “Let me go with you.” We can surely sympathize with his desire. Jesus had delivered him from a life of misery and degradation. Gone was the constant torment of a deranged mind and the pain of his mutilated body. In many ways, his existence was worse than that of an animal. Out of gratitude, he was ready to follow Jesus anywhere.

              But Jesus denied this man’s pleading. Instead, He said to him, “Go to your home, to your own people, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and that He had mercy on you.” Maybe that seems harsh to us. Shouldn’t he have had the opportunity to be with Jesus for a while to grow in his faith and understanding? How was he going to survive as the only Believer in this pagan community?

              We can take comfort in the fact that Jesus knows all things. He knew this man and how he would respond to Jesus’ command. Jesus gave him the hardest assignment possible – go home to your family and friends and be My witness there. That was his commission.

              So, the man went off as Jesus commanded. He shared his story throughout that whole region of Decapolis, telling anyone and everyone who would listen to all that Jesus had done for him. What happened after that? We don’t know, that’s the end of the story for us.

              But we can be assured of at least two things. First, this promise was given by God to the prophet Isaiah. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there,
but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void (empty), but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Everyone who heard his story was amazed, and I’m sure some of them were transformed too.

              Second, we can also be assured that as this man recounted the story of his miraculous deliverance over and over again, his love for Jesus and his gratefulness for His mercy grew deeper and deeper. Jesus said, “To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” The reverse is just as true. The one who is forgiven much, the same loves much.

              The challenge many of us face is to realize just how much we’ve been forgiven. We tend, like the crowds there on the seashore that day, to compare ourselves to others whom we consider the worst of sinners. We’re not nearly as bad as the demoniac! We see our behavior as respectable, and we don’t engage in many of the sinful practices that are prevalent all around us.

              But when we open our hearts before the holy presence of Jesus, we gain a deeper understanding of our own depravity. Our pride, our self-righteousness, our refusal to forgive others, our bitterness toward those who have wronged us, our insistence on our rights, and a host of other things show us just how much we need the mercy and grace of Jesus. Jesus came over to the dark side to save you and me too.

              You will recall that some of Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples just before His ascension to Heaven were – But you shall receive power… and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus’ command to them was similar to the command He gave the former demoniac; your witness begins at home.  

              And Jesus has given you and me that same commission. Maybe you think your story isn’t dramatic or compelling. Not many people have a story like the demoniac. But every born-again child of God has a redemption story to tell.

              You and I can testify of the peace we have in our hearts knowing that our sins are forgiven. We can tell others how God has given us a purpose for living that goes beyond ourselves and beyond our time here on earth. We can share with them how He has given us victory over habits that are harmful to our bodies and our relationships with other people. And the list goes on. In all of this, we need to assure them that these things are true, not because we’re good people, but because Jesus has set us free from the power of sin.

              Going to the dark side isn’t easy and it isn’t comfortable, but Jesus hasn’t called us to an easy and comfortable life. He has called us to cross the barriers, to go places we don’t want to go. He has given us the power through His Holy Spirit to confront evil and to call people to choose which side they will be on. And He has commissioned us as His witnesses; first at home and then into the wider world.

              All the while, we must remember, that Jesus left the glorious light and glory of Heaven to come over to the dark side to rescue us. May God give us the courage to follow His example.


[1] MacArthur, John New Testament Commentary p. 246

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