Studies in Mark’s Gospel, Continued

Of Demons, Disease, and Death

Chapter 5

There is a close connection between the events of chapter 5 and the last story of chapter 4 (4:35—41). From a vivid description of a wild sea, Mark moves on to a vivid description of a wild man. From our perspective, both were untamable, but Jesus is seen bring both under His control.

How innocuous are the opening words of this chapter seem—

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.

How much had the disciples grown in their faith as a result of their chastening in 4:40b—

Do you still have no faith?

Hebrews 12:11 had yet to be written, but the disciples would surely have appreciated this verse—

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Jesus and His disciples have finished crossing the lake and entered a forbidding and foreboding land inhabited mainly by Gentiles, as evidenced by the presence of a large herd of pigs, which were considered unclean Jews.

Different translations name the place where this miracle took place differently, but the NIV seems to give the correct name, “the region of the Gerasenes.”

1. Terrifying picture of sin, 5:3—5

The description of this pitiful demon possessed man is a description of the wretchedness of sin and the toll it extracts on those living in it. As Mark describes this man, we see that he is truly the victim of unspeakable demonic evil coupled with human indifference and impotence (Hendriksen).

This poor man once had a normal life but now, demon-possessed, he is reduced to living in “the tombs.” Mark is probably not describing a graveyard but the natural caves or tombs often cut by the Palestinian people into the sides of the mountains. While these shallow caves would provide shelter, the main reason this man lived there was more than likely due to a local superstition that said these caves or tombs were the dwelling places of evil spirits. So this man was probably driven to this desolate area by the locals; it seems like they had once tried to control him but all efforts to do so were unsuccessful. There was no one strong enough to tame this wild man.

2. Confrontation with evil, 5:6—13

Here is yet another example of how other worldly beings—demons—knew exactly who Jesus was. Contrast the certainty of the words of the demoniac with those of the disciples—

“Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4:41b)

The demon-possessed man fell prostrate at Christ’s feet, though not in worship as the KJV suggests. Since the demons knew who Jesus was, they knew why He was there—

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (1 John 3:8)

Though sometimes when people are faced with tragedy or pain they cry out to God for help, this is not what this demoniac was doing. The demons, making use of the possessed man’s voice, were pleading with Jesus not to destroy them. The tormenting demons were begging not to be tormented. In response, Jesus simply said,

You foul spirit, come out of this man. (verse 8, literal)

In fact, this man was infested with many demons. The name Legion, if we relate it with a legion of Roman soldiers, means literally 6,000. Was this man really inhabited by 6,000 demons?

The demons were sent by Jesus into a herd of nearby pigs, and not being able to destroy the man they inhabited, they managed to destroy some 2,000 pigs.

Some people are bothered that Jesus allowed the destruction of personal property. Perhaps one reason why allowed the pigs to stampede to their deaths was that he wanted to give tangible proof to the man and to the townspeople that the demons had, in fact, left his body and that their purpose was to destroy him even as they destroyed somebody’s pigs. Barclay makes this observation—

How could the fate of the pigs possibly be compared with the fate of a man’s immortal soul? There is a cheap sentimentalism which will languish in grief over the pain of an animal and will never turn a hair at the wretched state of millions of God’s men and women. In God’s scale of proportions, there is nothing so important as a human soul.

3. Simultaneous wonders, 5:21—43

In this section (verses 21—43), we have two amazing miracles. And they are presented in a unique fashion in that one interrupts the progress of the other without stopping it. The first miracle represents those who look for help, the second those who must receive help from God through the help of others. One shows Christ’s authority over disease, the other His power of death.

(a) A father’s plea, verses 21—24. Again Jesus is on the move. Mark’s custom is to show Jesus passing quickly from event to event, often in very rapid succession. He and His friends went back across the lake, landing probably in the vicinity of Capernaum.

Jesus was probably in the middle of teaching when He was interrupted by a leader of the Synagogue, no less. Jairus was his name, and apparently he had heard about this wonder-working teacher and saw in Jesus the last chance for his daughter to live. What this Jewish administrator said was truly a statement of faith:

Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live. (verse 23)

He knew that if only Jesus could touch his littler girl, she would recover. There is nothing like a desperate, hopeless situation to activate one’s faith! Jesus did not say a word; He acted, and went with the man to see his daughter.

The second half of verse 24 serves to set the scene for the miracle that interrupts another one.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

(b)  A desperate woman.  At this point in Jesus’ ministry, this was not unusual. We get the impression that this crowd was sizable and unruly; literally pressing into Jesus. This made walking to Jairus’ home difficult if not impossible. In the faceless crowd was a woman with a problem. Undoubtedly, there were many in that crowd that had problems—sicknesses, diseases, and so on—but this woman stood out from the crowd. She had been hemorrhaging for an astonishing 12 years. The duration of her illness, oddly enough, was the same as the age of Jairus’ young daughter. We know the story well—

[S]he came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (verses 27—27)

In the case of Jairus’ all he wanted was for Jesus to touch his ailing daughter. Here, all this poor woman wanted was to touch Jesus. Her faith was not perfect, for she believed she had to physically come into contact with Jesus. But Jesus honored her imperfect faith, and rewarded her by restoring her to perfect health. Notice what Jesus said to her:

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The theological implications of that statement are profound. The word Jesus used for “healed” is sesoken, which literally means “saved.” Here, Mark has chosen his words carefully. This woman was physically healed and spiritually saved in a moment. Jesus then tells her to “Go in peace,” which was a very common Jewish benediction, but here the word for “peace” means “wholeness and completeness of life.” When a person if freed from distress—physical and/or spiritual, they are truly made whole.

(c)   Expert multitasking.  At the moment this formerly ill woman got good news, Jairus got the worse news a father could get: his daughter had died. We wonder what went through the minds of Jairus and the disciples. Had Jesus not been held up helping this bleeding woman, maybe He could have reached the young girl in time to save her life. This is at least implied in this statement:

“Why bother the teacher any more?” (verse 35b)

Though Jesus heard the words of the messengers, He would have nothing to do their faithless negativity. He maintains His cool, and wants Jairus to do the same:

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (verse 36)

So we now know that Jairus was afraid, and what father wouldn’t be afraid? There is no emotion more powerful than fear, and the only thing that will drive out fear is something good:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Jesus wanted this man to think about Him; He wanted Jairus to keep on believing despite the circumstances. And the circumstances were grim at Jairus’ house; another crowd had gathered to mourn the dead child. This boggles the mind of Jesus:

“Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (verses 39—40)

Why did Jesus say that? From Luke’s account, we know for certain the girl was dead. The reaction of the crowd at what Jesus said belied the shallowness of so-called concern; their tears turned immediately to laughter. This time, Jesus would perform His miracle away from the crowd, their superficiality and lack of sensitivity disqualified them from witnessing such a stupendous miracle. There were only 5 witness to this astonishing miracle, and with two Aramaic words, Jesus brought the girl back to life.

Those 5 witnesses were utterly astonished, and their reaction was perfectly normal. Here was cold, lifeless corpse now up and walking around. Barclay makes a wonderful observation—

The great fact of the Christian life is that that which looks completely impossible with men is possible with God.

What Jesus told them is interesting and bears brief comment.

At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this. (verse 42b—43a)

Why did He tell the crowd who saw the girl walking around not to say anything to anybody about what they had just seen? What did this crowd see? They certainly did not see the miracle, only 5 saw Jesus actually bring the dead girl back to life. They could be entrusted with testifying to the healing of Jesus, but the unruly crowd, whose tears turned to laughter in a moment, could not be trusted with telling the Good News.

The last thing Jesus says in humorous but revealing:

[G]ive her something to eat. (verse 43b)

How did He know she was hungry? And why did He make a point of making sure got something to eat? Here we see Jesus, the Man with authority over demons, disease, and death, taking the time to be concerned about a young girl’s need for a snack.  Jesus, Man of Power and Man of Authority. was concerned that this little girl might be hungry.  He provided the miracle, the witnesses now had a responsibility to perform.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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