Free to Tell

1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. Mark 5:1-20 ESV

After their harrowing night on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples sailed to the eastern shore, arriving at a region known as Gerasene. It seems unlikely that this would have been their original destination when they had set sail, but the storm must have blown them off course. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, He had orchestrated all that had happened, including their arrival at this desolate location.

The disciples, exhausted from all the rowing and bailing of water they had done during the storm, were probably glad to be on dry land. But before they had time to relax, they found themselves in yet another tense and potentially dangerous situation. Mark records that as soon as Jesus stepped out of the boat, “immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2 ESV). There are no crowds of people eager to watch Jesus perform yet another miracle. There are no scribes or Pharisees dogging His steps and anxiously seeking evidence to use against Him. 

Jesus was welcomed by a greeting party of one. And this man was possessed by a demon. In his gospel account, Matthew describes a second demon-possessed man, while Mark and Luke only mention one. This seeming discrepancy is likely nothing more than Mark and Luke focusing on the one man who exhibited the greatest transformation after his encounter with Jesus. While Matthew records Jesus casting out the demons from these two men, he provides no details regarding what happened next. Yet, Mark and Luke recount that one of the men was dramatically impacted by his deliverance by Jesus.

In an effort to help his readers understand the violent nature of the situation, Mark describes the man with great detail.

This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. – Mark 5:3-5 NLT

His mention of chains and shackles reveals that this man had probably become a threat to the community. Their attempts to bind him had failed and this poor man spent all his time wandering among the dead and despised by the living. Mark wants us to understand the hopeless state of this man’s situation. He was out of control. His life was not his own. And yet, when the man saw Jesus, he ran and threw himself at Jesus’ feet.

when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. – Mark 5:6 ESV

You can almost sense the battle going on within this man. He saw Jesus, and in his desperation, ran to him for help. Somehow, the man was able to recognize that Jesus could do something about his hopeless condition. Probably naked, filthy, and covered in scars, the man must have been a frightful sight to behold. His sudden appearance and shocking condition would have caused the disciples to step back in revulsion and fear.

But as the man kneeled before Jesus, a voice came from his body that was not his own. The demon who controlled him spoke in place of him.

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” – Mark 5:7 ESV

Whatever spark of humanity remained in this man was overwhelmed by the presence and power of the demonic forces that had taken up residence within him. And Mark makes it clear that Jesus knew what was wrong as soon as He saw the man. He didn’t need to hear the demon speak to know that the man was possessed. It seems that as soon as the man had kneeled before Him, Jesus had said, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:8 ESV). And it was this forceful command that had led the demon to speak up.

And just as Jesus had recognized the presence of a demon, the demon had recognized the presence of the Most His God. He addressed Jesus by His proper title and revealed his understanding that Jesus possessed a power greater than his own. In Jesus, the demon had met his match. And when Jesus addressed the demon, demanding to know his name, the demon revealed that he was not alone.

“My name is Legion, for we are many.” – Mark 5:9 ESV

This poor man was being tormented by a host of demonic beings, which helps to explain the extreme nature of his condition. Jesus alluded to this very kind of situation in an address He gave to the scribes and Pharisees. In attempting to expose the unrepentant and adulterous condition of the people of Israel, Jesus compared them to a man possessed by a demon. Even if they could somehow have the demon removed, they would find themselves worse off than before. Their unrepentant hearts would leave them exposed and an easy target for the enemy.

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45 NLT

Mark provides no details regarding this man’s past. We don’t know how he came to be possessed or how long he had suffered under this condition. But his circumstances were aggravated by the presence of many demons. Yet, as plentiful and powerful as these demonic forces may have been, they were no match for Jesus, and they knew it. They begged Jesus not to cast them out, and they allude to the fact that they knew a day would come when God would punish them. They were fully aware that their days were numbered, but had no desire to suffer their future fate prematurely. It is interesting to note that the demon(s) pleaded with Jesus by the name of God.

“In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” – Mark 5:7 NLT

The demons knew that God had a future judgment in store for them. And the apostle John was given a vision of what will happen to Satan and all those who aligned themselves with him. The day will come when Jesus, according to the will of God the Father, will deliver a final blow to Satan and his minions, casting them into hell where they will remain for eternity.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 21:10 NLT

Fearing the worst, the demons beg Jesus to allow them to leave the man and possess a herd of swine. It seems that their greatest fear was that Jesus would consign them to their future fate too soon. Rather than having to face eternal torment, they begged that Jesus would let them take up residence in the pigs. And when Jesus agreed to their request, the results were immediate. The pigs, two thousand in number, suddenly possessed by demons, hurled themselves off a nearby cliff. As Jesus alluded to in His address to the scribes and Pharisees, a dispossessed demon is left to wander until it can find another soul to possess. These demons would be forced to seek out another host to torment.

But the man the demons formerly possessed “was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane” (Mark 5:15 NLT). He had been radically transformed. So much so, that when Jesus prepared to leave, the man begged that he might be allowed to go with Him. But Jesus had other plans.

“No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” – Mark 5:19 NLT

And the man obeyed the words of Jesus, immediately setting off to the surrounding towns and villages, “to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them” (Mark 5:20 NLT). And he had his work cut out for him because the people from a nearby town were upset at what Jesus had done to their herd of swine. They even begged Jesus to leave, fearing that He might do more damage.

It’s interesting to note that Mark refers to several different times in this story where Jesus was approached by those who begged or pleaded with Him. The first instance was when the demons who begged (parakaleō) Jesus not to torment them. The second is when they begged Jesus not to cast them out of the country, but allow them to possess the swine. The third was when the townspeople begged Jesus to leave the region. And the fourth and final instance was when the man begged Jesus to allow him to become His disciple. It’s interesting to note that everyone got exactly what they requested from Jesus, except the man. The demons were cast into the swine just as they had asked. Jesus ended up leaving the region, just as the townspeople had requested. But the man was not allowed to go with Jesus. Instead, he was given a commission to carry the news of what Jesus had done: “tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19 ESV). This formerly demon-possessed man now possessed a calling from Jesus Himself. He had purpose in life. He had a mission to spread the good news of all that Jesus had done for Him. 

The demons were forced to wander until they found another victim. The townspeople could only talk about their loss. But the man who had been healed could use his restored voice to shout the praises of the One who had set him free.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson