We are Beggars
Jesus, in Mark 4:35, told his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” Chapter five begins when they have reached the other side, to the country of the Gerasenes. The end of this passage explains that Jesus went back to the other side (Mark 5:21). Jesus and his disciples are not merely going to a different city. They cross over the sea of Galilee. The region is disputed but is located on the east side of the sea of Galilee, located near the Decapolis, a group of ten cities situated on the southeast side of the sea of Galilee. As we will see with pig farmers, this region is a majority gentile area, not a lucrative business in Israel. However, chapter five shows Jesus’ ministry extending further than only to the nation of Israel and particularly to unclean outcasts. We should be reminded that just before Jesus’ instruction to go over to the other side, he told a parable of the mustard seed which grew into a tree that birds would make their home. As we pointed out, this parable is used in the Old Testament (Cf. Ezek 31:6, Dan 4:12) to refer to the Davidic kingdom expanding to cover other nations. Today we see an unclean outcast become a gospel preacher.
I. Strong before men (1-5)
The passage starts with Jesus and his disciples arriving on the other side. He is greeted by a man with an unclean spirit. This has not been uncommon in the Gospel of Mark (1:23, 26-27; 3:11, 30). However, Mark goes into a tremendous amount of detail to explain how this man is different from the others. This passage follows Jesus calming the storm, which shows Jesus’ authority over creation. In this passage, we see Jesus’ power over Satan and the unclean spirits. We also need to remember the parable of the Strong man. The strongest man needs to be bound first. This man with the unclean spirit is bound but eventually escapes. Mark explains three things about this man. Firstly, he lived among the tombs (vs. 2-3). When moving into a great neighborhood, the advertised aspects are clean, low-crime rate, and possible amenities. I have never seen an advertisement for ‘great burial grounds.’ Living amongst tombs does not show this man’s height in society but his place outside of society. No one dreams about moving to a cemetery, especially to live!
The second thing that Mark points out is that no one could bind him. Out of all the things Mark explains, he spills a lot of ink to point this out. The end of verse three gives three ‘no’s. In Greek, it reads, “and not with a chain, no longer, no one was able to bind him.” Verse four continues to explain what has happened to the man, “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.” He was too strong and powerful. No chain could restrain him. No shackle could hold him. He was the strong man that no one could bind, even though they tried many times.
The third point that Mark makes is that he would be in the tombs and mountains crying aloud and cutting himself with stones. Many people knew him. The Bible does not mention his name, but he would have had a name given to him by the people in the region. He was an unclean outcast. On the outskirts of a gentile town, in a graveyard. To a Jew, he had many marks against himself. He had an unclean spirit, was a gentile, and lived among dead things which would require a seven-day cleansing to be made clean. He was not only an unclean outcast but treated like a wild animal. The word ‘subdue him’ is commonly used for wild animals that need to be tamed. He was treated more like a wild animal than a man-made in the image of God. One commentator explains this is “one of the most lamentable stories of human wretchedness in the Bible.”
II. Weak before Jesus (6-13)
However, this strong man becomes weak before Jesus. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran to him and bowed down to him. Even from a distance, he knew Jesus was stronger than him. He comes and bows down. This word can mean to bow down in reverent worship or mean the subservient submission of a subject bowing before a king. I tend to believe it is subservient submission within the context. Here this man comes and bows before Jesus. He has not uttered any words, yet the man knows Jesus is stronger than he is. What man could not accomplish with shackles and chains, Jesus accomplishes with silence and his presence. We then see his posture bend towards the ground. He comes in humility of words before Jesus, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Again, a man who is on the outcast of society and a gentile with an unclean spirit proclaims who Jesus is, ‘Son of the Most High God.’ His adjective of ‘most high’ shows the superlative power of Christ above all authorities, powers, and rulers. The most high means there is no one higher; he is the highest. He finally implores Jesus, again showing Christ’s power over all things. He realizes that he has no power to demand anything. He has been told to “come out of the man.”
Jesus then asked the unclean spirit’s name. The unclean spirit replied, “Legion, for we are many.” A modern-day translation might be a brigade, in USA military terms. A Company of soldiers would be about 80-250, a battalion (300-1,000), and a regiment (1,000-3,000). The next level would be a brigade (3,000-5,000). The word Legion is a Roman military term for a group of soldiers up to about 6,000 soldiers. The New Testament uses this term not merely to represent the size of the army and power but is often connected to spiritual power.
Jesus, at his arrest, tells Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:52-53). The word is used not only to depict warfare but Spiritual Warfare. This ‘battle’ with this man with the unclean spirit is not against this man’s physical body but his spiritual. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Jesus, one man, stands before a Legion of unclean spirits, who will win this battle. Jesus has already shown he is the strong man who binds Satan’s kingdom. Will he be able to bind the man who is un-bindable? Jesus does so only with his words. Just as he stood before the wild storm, he now stands before a wild man and, with his words, cast the unclean spirits out.
The unclean spirit begged Jesus not to send him out of the country. Again, we need to see the unclean spirit’s position. He has gone from power to begging. There is a great difference between demanding, asking, and begging. The words in the sentence might be similar, but the question posed is drastically different. There is a significant difference between a CEO demanding something to be done to a colleague asking if something could be done and someone begging for something to happen. The request is that they would not leave the country. Here Jesus does respond, yet he is still powerful over all things. He does carry out the appeal but for his glory and honor. The unclean spirits are cast into a herd of pigs which throw themselves into the sea. The battle of Jesus versus the Legion is over. Jesus proves himself to be the strongest man who can bind the strong man.
III. Beggars before Jesus (14-20)
The last section shows two different reactions from the crowd and the man who had the unclean spirit. They have different requests from Jesus, and they have different responses to Jesus. However, they both come to Jesus begging him. Just as the unclean spirit did before in verse 10, now both the crowd and the man who had the unclean spirit have different reactions to what they have asked. The question comes up again about who you say Jesus is.
a) Crowd begs Jesus to leave (14-17)
The herdsmen see their profits run into the sea. They run and tell the city and the region about what had happened. And like a car accident that you cannot look away from, the crowds come to see what has happened. They are not amazed at the flying pigs but at the man who they had heard screaming night and day, who roamed around the tombstones near the mountain. The man which some of them had tried to bind with chains and shackles. The man who was too powerful for them to tame. That man was sitting there, clothed and in his right mind. To us, this is an amazing story. However, to the people in the region of Gerasene, this man had a name. This man was seen and heard frequently. We see transformations of homes on HGTV or makeover shows. We love seeing the house that has been neglected, the untamed garden, the tattered floors, and the walls. The sum of the TV of transformation is building to one moment, which they tease you at every commercial break. The moment when the transformation is shown to the homeowner. They turn and are amazed, their jaw drops, their two hands are placed on their cheeks, and excited.
However, the crowd at Gerasenes sees this transformation before their eyes, and their reaction is not amazement but fear. Like the disciples in the boat as they saw Jesus Christ’s authority over the storm stand in reverent fear, so to the crowd stood in fear of Jesus Christ. To them, they only saw a regular man, as we will see in chapter 6. However, we know the man before them was the son of God. “For by him, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16). The crowd is so amazed that they ask Jesus to depart from their region. The unclean spirits ask if they can not be sent out of the region, but now the crowd wants Jesus to leave.
b) The man begs to stay with Jesus (18-20)
Finally, this man who woke up that morning in a graveyard, met Jesus and his life was radically transformed by the Word of Christ. As he saw Jesus hopping into the boat, ready to leave, he did not know what else to do with his life. He was unclean, outcast, out of his mind, and homeless. He comes up to Jesus and begs that he might be able to follow him. Previously Jesus told his disciples to follow him, but now he is asked by this man if he could be one of his disciples. The man who was demon-possessed wants to be with Jesus. This is one of the marks of a true disciple (Mark 3:14). However, Jesus’ response stands out to us. He tells him that he cannot come and be his disciple. But Jesus tells this man something that can be hard for anyone to hear, “No.” The reason for not allowing this man to be his disciple is difficult. Jesus in Matthew 10:5-6 commands his disciples not to go to the Gentiles or Samaria but only to the lost sheep of Israel. Although we might not be sure exactly why Jesus said no, we are often reminded that God’s ways are not our ways.
However, the following line should be even more of a shock to us. Jesus commands this man to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.” Previously, he had told people not to say anything to anyone (Mark 1:25, 44, 3:12). Yet this time, he commands this man to proclaim the great things that God has done for him. He also tells him to proclaim the great mercy which God has shown to him. Jesus explains his actions are twofold, one for the glorious work of God, but also ‘how much,’ the simple work of casting out the demons appeared has numeral effects on the life of the man. His life was transformed drastically. The man also is to tell his friends the mercy which God had shown him. The work of God is always merciful. Remember Mark 4:35, Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” They go across to the other side and leave, following Jesus casting out the unclean spirit. Jesus initiated the trip to go to the other side. They make this long trip which was tedious conditions to go from one side to the other, all so that Jesus would cast the unclean spirit out of this one man. What great mercy was shown to this man? He is commanded to tell others of what God has done and the mercy shown to him. This man went away and began to proclaim. This man who once roamed a graveyard became the first preacher in the gospel of Mark. He was a preacher sent by Christ. He was a gentile proclaiming what God has done to other gentiles. Once people heard of this man’s proclamation about how much Jesus had done for him, the people were no longer terrified, but everyone marveled.
We all come to Christ as beggars. This passage, like last week, shows Christ’s power of all things, natural and spiritual. On a slip of paper on the desk in the room where Luther died were found his last written words, “We are beggars. This is true.” The unclean spirit, the crowd, and the man who was possessed all begged Christ. No matter who you are, the richest man or woman on earth. The poorest, weakest, strongest, or whoever it is, you come to Jesus meek and mild yet, he is the one we come begging to. We are all equal, as John Flavel explains,
“The soul of the poorest beggar that cries at the door for a crust is, in its own nature, of equal dignity and value with the soul of the most glorious monarch that sits upon the throne.”
We come to Christ on our knees. Even clothed in flesh, Christ has power and authority overall. We should know our need for him, but also his great strength. This would help us to fall on our knees as beggars. As we will see in chapter seven, a true beggar will beg even for a morsel or crumb.