Jesus is on the move. He takes a boat to the other side of the sea. Am I on the move? Am I taking the good news to the other side of the sea? Am I ready for what will happen and who I might meet today? What if it is a demon filled lunatic? Will I know what to do?
They came to the other side of the sea, to the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as he got out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met him. He lived in the tombs, and no one was able to restrain him anymore—not even with a chain—because he often had been bound with shackles and chains, but had torn the chains apart and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough 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 (CSB)
When Jesus and the disciples landed on the other side, they encountered two demoniacs, one of whom was especially vocal. This entire scene seems very unreal to us who live in so-called “modern civilization,” but it would not be unreal on many mission fields. In fact, some Bible teachers believe that demon possession is becoming even more prevalent in today’s “modern society.”
We see in this scene three different forces at work: Satan, society, and the Savior. These same three forces are still at work in our world, trying to control the lives of people.
First, we see what Satan can do to people. Satan is a thief whose ultimate purpose is to destroy. We are not told how the demons entered these men and took control, but possibly it was the result of their yielding to missing God’s goal (aka sin). Demons are “unclean spirits” and can easily get a foothold in the lives of people who cultivate sinful practices.
Because they yielded to Satan, the thief, these two men lost everything! They lost their homes and the fellowship of their families and friends. They lost their decency as they ran around in the tombs naked. They lost their self-control and lived like wild animals, screaming, cutting themselves, and frightening the citizens. They lost their peace and their purpose for living, and they would have remained in that plight had Jesus not come through a storm to rescue them.
Never underestimate the destructive power of Satan. He is our enemy and would destroy all of us if he could. Like a roaring lion, he seeks to devour us. It is Satan who is at work in the lives of unbelievers, making them “children of disobedience”. The two men in the Gerasene graveyard were no doubt extreme examples of what Satan can do to people, but what they reveal is enough to make us want to resist Satan and have nothing to do with him.
The second force at work on these men was society, but society was not able to accomplish very much. About all that society can do for problem people is to isolate them, put them under guard, put them on medications and, if necessary, bind them. Often these men had been chained, but the demons had given them strength to break the chains. Even the attempts to tame these men had failed.
With all of its wonderful scientific achievements, society still cannot cope with the problems caused by Satan and sin. While we thank God that society does offer a limited amount of restraint and protection, we must confess that society cannot permanently solve these problems and deliver Satan’s terrorized victims.
This brings us to the third force, that of the Savior Jesus, the Messiah. What did Jesus do for these men? To begin with, He graciously came to them in love, and even went through a storm to do it. Some think that the storm itself may have been satanic in origin, since Jesus used the same words to calm the sea as He did to cast out demons. Perhaps Satan was trying to destroy Jesus, or at least prevent Him from coming to the men who needed Him. But nothing could stop the Lord from coming to that graveyard and bringing deliverance to those men.
And so there is very good news here. Jesus will free us from the power of Satan. Evil will not triumph. Jesus is King of God’s country. Hallelujah!
Early manuscripts are divided between the readings “Gergasenes,” “Gadarenes,” and “Gerasenes.” But the city of Gadara lies about five miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, and Gerasa even farther — about thirty miles — southeast of the sea, whereas this story requires a location having a hillside sloping steeply into the sea. Gergasa meets this requirement. Moreover, the going “away” and preaching “in the Decapolis” fits Gergasa because it isn’t part of the Decapolis (a league of ten cities), whereas both Gadara and Gerasa are part of it and therefore wouldn’t require a going away from the region. Furthermore, copyists would find it easy to substitute the better known cities of Gadara and Gerasa for the relatively obscure Gergasa.
Will Jesus prove himself stronger than this man possessed by an unclean spirit? Jesus has done so with previous demoniacs, but Mark takes multiple pains to stress the unusually great power of this demoniac by indicating (1) the inability of anyone to bind him; (2) the uselessness even of chains on the hands and feet and shackles on the feet and legs; (3) the failure of past efforts at binding him; (4) the large number of those failed efforts; (5) his having torn the chains apart and shattered the shackles; and (6) his having grown stronger in that nobody can now subdue him well enough to bind him again with shackles and chains. This confrontation will test Jesus’ strength, then.
Here is the literal translation:
5:1: And they came to the other [east] side of the sea, [specifically,] to the region of the Gergasenes. 2And when he [Jesus] had come out of the boat, immediately a man with an unclean spirit, [coming] out of the tombs, met him—3 [a man] who had his dwelling in the tombs. And no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain, 4 both because of his having been bound many times with shackles [on his feet and legs] and chains [on his hands and arms] and [because of] the chains’ having been torn apart by him and the shackles’ having been shattered [by him]. And no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 And continuously, night and day, he was yelling and lacerating himself with stones in the tombs and in the mountains.
Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Mk 5:1–43). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 125). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Gundry, R. H. (2010). Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (p. 155). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.