Mark 5:9–20

How did people respond to Jesus’ liberation of a demon-possessed man? Not with celebration, but with terror. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul explains why as he continues his exposition of the gospel of Mark.


This morning we will continue with our study of Mark’s gospel in the fifth chapter. Last week we only made it part way through the text, and I said that, God willing, we would finish that text this morning. It seems that God, indeed, is willing. So, we will read once more this morning from Mark 5:9–20, and I would ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God:

For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?”

And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.

Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.

So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.

And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.

He who has ears to hear the Word of God, let him hear. Please be seated. Let us pray.

O Lord, we ask for Your help, that we might understand the depths and riches of the content of this passage, that our eyes may be opened to the majesty, authority, and deity of our Savior. For we ask it in His name. Amen.

Christ the Creator

Last week I mentioned that I am convinced Mark’s purpose in relaying this incident from the life of Jesus immediately after the stilling of the tempest on the Sea of Galilee was not to teach us a psychological message about peace descending upon our spirits when we come close to Jesus, although that, of course, does happen. Rather, the focus in this passage is on the revelation of the person of Christ.

The church’s confession, historically, is that Jesus is vere homo, vere Deus—truly man and truly God—having two natures in one person. In ordinary circumstances throughout His earthly ministry, the deity of Jesus is veiled by His humanity. But there are moments when His glory bursts through and His divine person is made manifest. I believe that is what we are seeing in both the episode of the stilling of the storm and sea and of His authority over the demonic world.

One commentator I read on this passage pointed out, much to my delight, that the common theme between Christ’s stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee and His redemption of this demon-possessed person is found in Christ’s power over the threat of chaos. The wildness of the waves, wind, and tempest threatened destruction, and the wildness of the demons from hell threatened to destroy the man whose body they inhabited, and they both represent the destructive forces of chaos.

The overwhelming testimony of the New Testament is that Christ in His divine nature was not only present at creation but was the acting agent of creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through Him, and nothing was made that was made apart from Him.” The Scriptures tell us that all things are by Him, for Him, and in Him, so that the New Testament portrait of Christ is a portrait of the cosmic Christ, the One who, along with the Father and the Spirit, was involved in the original creation of the universe.

Cosmos over Chaos

I cannot help but think back to the popular public television series hosted by Carl Sagan, the late astrophysicist from Cornell University. The title of that program and the best-selling book from his pen was simply Cosmos. On the very first page of Sagan’s book titled Cosmos, he stated that science seeks to understand the external world. He said the assumption of scientia, science, is that the world we are trying to know is cosmos, not chaos.

Sagan was getting at this: if the external universe were ultimately chaos, it would be impossible to know anything about it because ultimate chaos is irrational and, therefore, unintelligible. So, the metaphysical assumption of all scientific inquiry is that the object of our inquiry is inherently knowable and intelligible. For it to be intelligible and open to scientific exploration, it must ultimately be ordered. It must be cosmos, not chaos.

This is why I am somewhat surprised and amused by the contemporary issue of intelligent design being a notion that has nothing to do with science. Yet, without pleading a religious interpretation, previous scientists have understood that the assumption of design is a prerequisite for science and to have unintelligent design is an oxymoron. It is like postulating accidental order. If it is accidental, it is not orderly. It is chaos.

In these episodes in Mark, we see Christ manifesting His authority over the threat of chaos. It drives us back to the original description of creation. In the Genesis account, we see the description that the world was without form and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. In Hebrew categories, what Genesis describes as tohu vavohu is the threat of chaos, the threat of emptiness, formlessness, and darkness.

It is against that picture of the threat of chaos that Genesis tells us, “And God spoke, and He said, ‘Let there be light.’” The eternal, omniscient One with supreme intelligence triumphs over any idea of chaos at the very beginning of the work of creation. That is the One we see when Jesus confronts the forces of hell that are committed to the chaotic.

Jesus Sends Out the Demons

Jesus sees the man in his misery, knows that he is possessed by demons, and says, “What is your name?” The answer is, “Legiōn, we are Legion, for we are many,” borrowing the term used in the Decapolis for the Roman military units stationed there. A legion of soldiers was 5,600. That does not mean that the devils within the man were saying, “We are 5,600 demons,” but in the popular parlance of the day, the term “legion” metaphorically came to mean an innumerable host.

So, the demons say: “We don’t have one name. Our name is Legion because there is an abundance, a multitude of us.” We noted last week that the demons begged Jesus earnestly not to send them out of the country. I speculated last week, looking at Matthew’s gospel, about the phrase, “Do not torment us before the time.”

We have already looked at that, but now we see the actual negotiations going on. The demons were begging Jesus earnestly that He would not send them out of the country. We mentioned the large herd of swine feeding near the mountains. So, all the demons begged Him again saying, “‘Send us into the swine that we may enter them.’ And at once Jesus gave them permission.”

We mentioned last week the reason Jesus did not send them to hell: because it was not the time and place in redemptive history to do so. The demons said: “Don’t make us leave the country. There, see those pigs, Jesus? Put us in the pigs. We will come out of the man, but give us a host for our parasitic pleasure. Let us go into the swine.” Jesus said, “Very well.”

Dominion over the Animals

Was this “unkind to animals” week in Palestine? Keep in mind that Jesus has the authority to do this in His divine nature. As the Lord God omnipotent, He can do with the swine, the acts of His creation, whatever He pleases according to His own sovereignty.

But there is another element in this text that we often overlook, particularly in this day and age. Even in His human nature, Jesus as the second Adam has dominion over the earth. Man created in the image of God was given the task of naming and taming the animals. The animal kingdom is here not to rule over human beings, but they are here to be ruled by human beings.

Jesus’ actions are a dramatic manifestation of man’s dominion because Jesus is obviously willing to sacrifice the lives of two thousand pigs, as valuable as they may be in and of themselves and to the economy of the region. Jesus is saying: “There is a human being here, a creature made in the image of God, who is being destroyed day and night by demons. I must put them somewhere, and whatever it takes, I’m going to redeem this human being.”

So, before we cast aspersions at Jesus’ lack of compassion, keep in mind that it was His compassion that drove Him to destroy the pigs for the sake of one human life. That is how valuable human life is. It is only in a culture of death where human life is denigrated, not esteemed, that people begin to value animals more than people. If you go to India, you’ll see people starving on the street while worshipping cows that could be feeding them. That is what happens when the world gets topsy-turvy and pigs become more important than people.

Beloved, a herd of two thousand pigs was a big herd and extremely valuable in the economy of that day. The Roman soldiers liked their pork. It was a lucrative enterprise to feed the swine and sell them to the Romans. But when the people saw what happened, they ran away. They told everybody in the city and the country, and the people went out to see what had happened.

The Presence of the Holy

When the people came to Jesus, they not only saw Jesus, but they saw the man who had been demon-possessed by the legion of demons. Instead of screaming and cutting himself with stones, they see him sitting calmly, clothed, not in shreds and tatters, and in his right mind. They see the fruit of the redemptive touch of Christ. They see a human being rescued from the ravages of hell. They see something that they never in their wildest dreams expected to see.

What was their response? Remember, I keep drawing parallels between this and the storm that came before it. When the people from the town came out to see what had happened, they saw the absence of the swine, and they recognized the person who lived in the tombs and cut himself with stones seated, clothed, in his right mind. So, they decided to have a party. Like the prodigal son, he who was lost is found. He who was destroyed is redeemed: “Let us celebrate. Let us invite Jesus into the city.” No, that is not at all how they reacted. How does Mark describe their reaction? They were afraid.

Why would they be afraid of somebody who changed raving savages into calm, sedate, rational people? It is the presence of the holy. When the Holy One is manifest amid unholy people, the only appropriate human response is dread, terror, and fear.

Then the people began to beg Jesus once more. This is the third time that we read of begging in this text. What were they begging Jesus for? They were begging for the same thing I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Peter begged for at the draught of fishes when Jesus manifested His power on that occasion. Do you remember what Peter said? “Depart from me, for I am an evil man.” That was the response of the people from the town. They came out. They saw Jesus. They saw the man. They were terrified, and they said, “Jesus, leave, please leave.” They begged Him to go away.

Then in verse 18, when Jesus got into the boat, the one who had been demon-possessed started begging. We see it again. But what was this man begging for? He begged Christ that he might go with Him: “Let me be part of Your entourage. Where He leads me, I will follow. Wherever You go, Jesus, that’s where I want to be. Please, let me go with You.”

Where Jesus gave permission to demons, He denied permission to the man who had been restored. He said: “No, you can’t go with Me. Go back home, and when you get there, tell your family, your friends, and everybody in your community how the Lord has had compassion on you.” So, he departed. He went to the Decapolis, and he proclaimed there all that Jesus had done for him, and the people marveled.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.