Today, let’s talk community. Let’s talk free will. Let’s talk wishing, hoping, begging. And let’s start with Mark 5:1-20. Here we read of Christ’s encounter with an… unpleasant man:
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. | Mark 5:1-5
What’d I tell you? Unpleasant, right? Well, as unpleasant as this demon-possessed man was, Jesus did not withdraw from him. Rather, He engaged this tormented man in conversation and relationship – right there, in the midst of all his unpleasantness.
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.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. | Mark 5:6-10
This man, whom Jesus takes the time to converse with, is possessed by not one, not two, but a LEGION of demons. And in case you’re wondering, the term “legion” generally referred to a unit of 3,000 – 4,000 men in the Roman army (although in this passage, it seems the number is closer to 2,000 – v.13).
If ever there was an example of our God investing in and caring for His children as individuals, this is it. I wonder how the people of the Gerasenes felt about this demon-possessed man. From v.2-5, it seems they tried to help/subdue him for a while but then gave up when they found he was too strong for them. But Jesus stepped right into this man’s hopeless situation and restored his free-will, regardless of the cost:
Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 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. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 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. | Mark 5:11-15
This man had been out of his mind and enslaved to a LEGION of demons for… well, who knows how long. And immediately, instantly, he was freed of his torment, released from his captors. He couldn’t free himself, but Jesus could – and DID! Can you imagine how he must have felt? It was probably the best day of his life! But how did the community react?
And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. | Mark 5:17
They wanted Jesus gone. And since there’s no mention of it in the Bible, I think it’s safe to say there wasn’t any “rejoicing” going on. These people had just witnessed a powerful miracle in the life of this once-possessed-now-right-minded man! For days and maybe years, they heard him crying out on the mountains, they saw him cutting himself with stones. And then BAM – just like that, Jesus heals him! But there’s no mention of rejoicing. No mention of celebration. No mention of restored relationships with this man. No mention of corporate thankfulness or praise to God. Only one thing is recorded about this community: that they BEGGED Jesus to leave their land.
Whether they said this out of fear or selfishness, materialism or anger, we do not know. But I think we can agree on this: It is both heartbreaking and revolting that a community would behave in such a way.
Sadly, I say this fully realizing that I am guilty of much the same. How often I fail to rejoice in the blessings of others! How often I fail to mourn in the sorrows of others! Do I LABOR in prayer for my community? Usually not. Instead, I go through a rehearsed prayer, skillfully intended to “hit all the points” with utmost efficiency and as little extra time as possible. I cast a wide net with my prayers, hoping to check-off as many items from my list as I can.
I wonder if you find yourself guilty of the same thing?
Brothers and sisters, may we be less task-oriented and more heart-oriented in rejoicing with our community, in weeping with our community, in praying for our community. I once heard someone say that our knees should be bleeding from the amount of time we spend knelt in prayer before our Heavenly Father. My question is this:
Are your knees bleeding?
The people begged Jesus to leave. And guess what?
He got right back on that boat and left.
Friends, understand this: Jesus isn’t going to force you into a relationship with Him. If you’d rather walk away, you can. The choice is yours. But just a word to the wise: be careful what you beg for. These people begged Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, to leave their land. They got exactly what they wanted. But I doubt it was at all what they truly needed.