When Demons Meet the Lord of Peace
Sermon Passage: Mark 5:1–20 | Preached to Sovereign Grace | 06/13/2021
By Peder Kling
Is the Devil Really in the Details?
Today’s story is the kind of story that grabs hold of us 21st century Americans with both awe and curiosity. No doubt—I’m sure many of us are awe-struck that Jesus, as one man, takes on a legion of demons. The image of demons leaving one man into 2,000 pigs speaks for itself.
While this may be awe-inspiring, we have to admit that western Americans like ourselves might also be filled wonder and curiosity at the very thought of demons. We don’t routinely see demons speaking out of the mouths of crazy people—that sort of demonic activity seems to be more common in third world countries where witch-craft and spirit worship are more common. It seems to be different in America. Here, the devil and his army do not seem to be interested in clear, cinematic displays of their power in a culture like ours. Few of us have ever seen a person who is clearly possessed by a demon. It’s a strange concept for us. We are materialists through-and-through, and the devil knows it. So it seems that the devil has taken a more secretive approach in our culture—and, it’s terribly effective in our culture. We are often led to genuinely ask, "Is the devil really in the details, here?".
So, as we attempt to bring this story closer to home for us—here’s the question: just how prevalent is demonic activity in our western, materialistic world? Turn to Ephesians 2 real quick, so you can see this for yourself. This passage reminds us that the devil is in the details of every human life that does not receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. In Ephesians 2 verses 1 and 2, Paul reminds gentile Christians,
you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…
So “dead in sins”, Paul says. And, there’s a walk that goes with that spiritual condition. Paul continues to describe what it looks like to walk as a person who is dead to God—
you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course [i.e., eon/age] of this world, [he describes the ruler of this age,] following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience [the devil] — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…
Do you hear this? We are born in sin, under the authority of the devil “among whom we all once lived”. Then in verse 3, Paul describes the sort of world the devil is after when he says that, “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”.
The devil’s ethic is, “if it feels good and right and beneficial, do it”. Lying or subtle twisting the truth is fine. Laziness, cheating, stealing, sexual promiscuity and adultery, dishonoring or slandering another person—it’s all on the table if it serves your passions and desires. It’s especially on the table if you can twist it in a way that makes it seem morally reasonable.
So let me ask you—does that sound at all familiar to you? Perhaps you’ve seen this in politicians? Perhaps you’ve seen it in culture? Perhaps you’ve seen it at your workplace, in your family—and dare I even say, in yourself? Paul says that activity is altogether demonic. Satan fosters it, plants and waters it, and he loves to watch it grow like a virus upon his victims.
This is the ordinary course of the world right now. I could almost guarantee that most problems you are facing in life right now could be whittled down to a root of someone’s selfish desires, which Paul just described. If you want those problems of selfishness to go away and never come back, the devil and his power over you must be dealt with. This is why it’s crucial that you see Christ’s power over the devil in today’s story. As you struggle with your selfish pride and perversions of God’s truth, it should be a great comfort to you when you hear Paul say in Colossians 1:13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”. Christ’s salvation redeems us from the devil’s power.
Now, having scratched that itch about the devil’s work in the details of our American lives, we must look beyond our curiosity concerning the demonic activity and focus our attention back on being awe-struck at Jesus’s power. That’s really what today’s story is designed to do for us. We are to be awe-struck at his power, and relieved at the mercy and peace he extends to us with that power.
Three Stories about Jesus’s Power and Peace
Today’s shocking story is the second of three consecutive stories which are designed to hit us with Christ’s power. In each of these stories, his power brings peace, while it also inspires fear. Last week, we saw Jesus bring peace to a raging sea by simply rebuking the wind and waves. As you might expect, the disciples responded to Jesus’s power with “great fear” (4:41). This week, we see yet another massive disturbance to peace on earth—a man with a legion of demons. Jesus sent the unclean spirits into the unclean pigs, and a peaceful man is left behind. Verse 15 of our passage reminds us that when the herdsmen saw the man “in clothed and in his right mind… they were afraid”. These gestures of peace that Jesus is doing in these particular stories are no small gestures. They fill people with fear because he is bringing unimaginable peace to impossible situations. Next week we will see Jesus bring his peace upon the most distressing part of this cursed world—death. He literally raises a 12 year old, little girl from the dead.
These three stories are designed to strike us dead with awe at Jesus’s power and authority. Mark’s gospel is beginning to show us exactly how powerful Jesus is, and how serious he is about peace reigning in his kingdom. By “peace”, I mean what Hebrews often mean by “shalom”. We aren’t talking about “just getting along” like a bunch of hippies in the 70’s. We aren’t talking about the “peace of mind” that your psychologist can give you with secular behavioral therapy. We are talking about God restoring his creation to the glory it had before the curse. If Jesus is truly going to be the king and Savior who restores us from the curse—these three stories provide heavy-hitter marks of the curse that he must have power over, or we will have no hope. Creation (last week), demons (today), and death (next week)—no human king can touch these chronic problems of this age. And as we look upon Jesus in these stories, we see that a simple verbal command will suffice. Christian—this is your Lord and Savior, who gave himself up for your salvation.
Discovering The Lord of Peace
So, let’s press deeply into this story of the demon-possessed man so we might see just how powerful Jesus is, and how serious he is about his kingdom of peace. I see three movements in this story, and we can relate them all to Jesus’s peace and power.
1. The Demonic Destruction of Peace
2. Jesus’s Solution for Peace
3. Several Responses to Jesus’s Peace
The Demonic Destruction of Peace: Meeting the Demoniac
In today’s story, we see a shining example of how the devil can destroy any semblance of peace that we have in God’s creation. And, let me say here that God has established a common peace on earth that is commonly available to all people in all places. Theologians call this God’s “common grace”. For various reasons that we won’t go into right now, God has not given Satan free reign to do limitless destruction. Nor has God completely wiped all of his blessings from the face of the Earth. You could remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In an infinite number of ways, God continues to graciously bless those who hate him and sin against him. He gives the allows his enemies to exhibit patience and common charity toward humanity. He gives food and water. He doesn’t allow the devil to destroy everyone with a legion of demons. It’s shocking, if you really think about it.
Yet, God’s common grace is grace, not a right. If God wills according to his purposes, he can lift his hand of protection from any person he chooses, at any moment, and let the devil fill that person with a legion of demons. At any moment, God can permit the devil to destroy a man’s life like the devil destroyed Job’s life. We are entirely at God’s mercy and protection, whether we love God or not.
Now, I bring this up to illustrate that the man Jesus met in our story was destroyed by the devil. He is a picture of what the devil could do to all of us if God would permit it. And I will add—this man is a macro-scale picture of the same misery that the devil is seeking to bring into our own lives. In this man, we see what we could look like if we gave into every demonic temptation, and if God lifted his hand of protection from us. Hopefully this perspective brings this demoniac’s condition a little closer to home for us.
So, let’s get to the point. How did the demons destroy peace in this story?
Read about this man’s misery with me in verses 2–5,
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.
That’s outright misery. I hardly see any picture of God’s common grace upon this man at all (I suppose he's not dead). But I want to point out that he wasn’t just an annoying man lurking in the shadows of the tombs. He really did cause problems. The people tried to shackle him for a reason. Matthew’s account of the story actually tells us he was “fierce beyond measure, so that no man could pass along that road” (Matt 8:28). Perhaps a sign was put up on the road. Instead of saying “caution: cattle”, it said “caution: demoniac”. He was a danger to people. At every turn, this demon was seeking to torment and harm people.
Why do you suppose the demons were doing this? Do they take pleasure in it? Do they just hate people, that they need to torment them?
Demons Hate You Because They Hate God
What you need to remember about demons is that they are at war against God, not you. Their hatred is principally focused toward God. They aren’t afraid or threatened by humans. This is all about God, not us—and, it always has been. In Isaiah chapter 14, starting in verse 12, we get a glimpse into the original conflict that occurred before Satan and his demons fell from their privileged place in heaven. Satan wanted to be God. He wanted to be worshipped and praised. So God casts them out of his presence—but, Satan is still seeking to be worshipped. In Matthew 4:8–9 when Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness, we actually see a snapshot of this ancient conflict. Do you remember how the Devil’s temptation climaxes?
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
There, the devil really shows his cards. And, when God is getting all the worship, the devil’s rage and jealousy boils with a vengeance that destroys everything that declares God’s praises.
And, here’s the irony and humor in all this. God created everything to worship him. Theologians have called creation a “theater of praises to God”. You could think of Psalms 148, where the refrain is essentially (paraphrased) “let everything praise the Lord—sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, fire and hail, snow and mist, mountains and trees: praise the Lord!”. Can you imagine the devil’s rage when God threw him into a theater of praises to God? It’s salt in an open wound.
Now, let me ask you this: where did God design his praise and glory to shine through most brightly in all of creation? Where is the image of his glory most visible in all of creation, that Satan would be most annoyed by it?
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Whether you worship God or not, God’s image is stamped upon you in a way that cannot be found anywhere else in creation. You very existence objectively glorifies God. The image of God in you is not hard to find. Just think of the ways our Bibles distinguish you from other creatures in this world. You were created to exercise dominion over God’s creation, other creatures were not. You were created with an eternal soul that reasons, thinks, and feels—other creatures were not. You fall in love and marry for intimate companionship as God designed, other creatures do not. Without going into all the details—all these things are a reflection of God’s perfections and glories in you. He exercises dominion over the cosmos. He thinks, feels, and reasons. He exists in perfect companionship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—“God is love” (John 4:8). When the devil sees these attributes of God’s glory and perfections shining through you, he hates you because he hates God.
So what do you suppose a demon is going to do when he sees you bearing God’s image, and benefitting from it? He’s going to wipe that image off you. Any sense of godly goodness, truth, beauty, innocence, and love in your soul will be assaulted because it all reminds the devil that God is in charge, not him.
Demons Make God's Image-Bearers Unrecognizable and Rotten to the Core
So look at this demoniac. The demons have stripped him down to be hardly recognizable as a human person. He’s cutting himself, hurting other people, living among tombs, and getting shackled. Luke’s account of the story tells us that, “for a long time he had worn no clothes”. He’s been naked for a long time. The picture we get of him is something like a modern-day monster. Some people look at a man like this and say “he’s lost his soul”—he is literally is acting like an animal with rabies. It’s as if the demons have stripped the image of God right out of this man, and tormented him with every evil thought and desire known to man.
And, let me just point out—there is no reason to believe the man in this story resisted everything the demons moved him to do. The story never says that the man was “tormented”, or “held against his will”. When your soul is attacked by Satan, and you do not have the grace of God to fight—you are filled with demonic lusts and desires. You become perverted. Light is darkness, and darkness is light. Some have suspected that the demons drove this man to the tombs in order to torment him among the dead—but, for all we know, this man found pleasure among the dead with demonic lusts and desires. Even today, people with twisted desires wear dark clothing and skulls all over their bodies because they are more amused by death than they are of life. On the news, you may even hear how some of the most deranged people keep dead bodies in their homes—we call them necrophiliacs. Think of men like Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson. Our world calls it a mental condition, but it’s a picture of what happens when God’s common grace is lifted from a person, and demonic lusts and desires are taken in.
You could take the man’s nakedness as another example. Some people [e.g., John MacArthur] have suspected that the man’s nakedness is yet another reflection of the man’s demonic perversion. Demons have had a history of sexual perversion in the Old Testament—it’s one way to assault God’s pure image of innocent love and intimate companionship. I’m sorry to be crass, but—I fear to imagine all the things this man did to people when they crossed his road. This man was an animal.
I’m not mentioning all this simply to get us thinking about plausible interpretations of this passage. The passage doesn’t say whether the man was engaging in perverted desires with the demons, or if the man was genuinely being tormented against his will. It could go either way in this passage. But, I bring this up in order to remind you just how powerful the devil is when he lingers with the sinful desires of our flesh. Our modern-day necrophiliacs and pedophiles and transgendered people who reject their God-given gender remind us that demonic activity isn’t always an act of outright oppression, but inward perversion. Satan is the author of lies, and he can get us to believe some of the most twisted lies. When he does, he gets us to smite the image of God placed upon us. He gets us to forfeit God’s blessings of life and truth, in exchange for death and lies. And whether we volunteer for it, or if a demoniac is controlled against his will—misery always ensues.
Now how does this serve as a warning to us, as we consider this terrifying example of demonic activity and perversion? Well, I remind you again—
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked… following the prince of the power of the air…3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…
The passions of our fallen and sinful flesh are ugly perversions of God’s truth, beauty, and blessings. They are demonic to the core, and they are ugly, and we must take them seriously with a war-time mentality. We might be repelled at the thought of a naked mad-man living among dead bodies, cutting himself and destroying other people. But this image should be a picture in your mind of what you are flirting with when you flirt with slight perversions of the truth, regardless of how innocent they seem. Your sin is that repulsive to God, and the desires of your flesh do lead to that kind of destruction if you give yourself over to them. Get specific with yourself—pray that God would set you straight and help you fight your anger, your discontentment in God, your bitterness, your arrogance, your sexual deviations, your laziness, your approval or indifference to godless. Without God’s grace—either his common grace or his saving grace—we are powerless over them. So, plead to God in Christ, that he might help you see death in these things, and life in knowing him.
So, we’ve seen the demonic destruction of peace. Let’s now consider Jesus’s solution for peace.
Jesus’s Solution for Peace: Meeting a Restored Image-Bearer
What was Jesus’s solution to peace for this man? The answer is quite simple. He showed up. He arrived—and that was enough. Did you notice how the legion of demons were terrified simply at his presence? They knew who he was, and they saw no point in running away or hiding. Verse 27 tells us that the man met Jesus, literally, “when Jesus stepped out on land”. It’s almost as if the demoniac was waiting for him.
That’s ironic, isn’t it? Demons know it’s futile to run from God, and from his Christ. There’s no hiding from God, or from his divine son Jesus Christ. The demoniac’s first words to Jesus, he addresses him as “Jesus, Son of the Most High God”. This is the Son of God whom they knew from their former existence in glory before they rebelled and were cast out with Satan—co-equal with the Father in power and in glory. So, they knew Jesus was aware of them, and that his arrival meant their demise.
These demons had better theology than Adam and Eve who hid themselves in the garden. They had better theology than we do when we try to hide our sin from God—or when we lie and suppress the truth of our sin. Fighting God never works. Your sin will find you out—and, the demons knew this. So, it seems that they just cut to the chase and ran to Jesus with a plea for a lighter judgment. Some pastors have even suggested that Jesus called them by his Spirit to the shores for this encounter even before he arrived, and they obeyed. That might explain why the demoniac met Jesus immediately as he stepped out of the boat. It’s hard to say.
So, the demoniac shows up in obedience to Christ. Mark even tells us in verse 6, “when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him”. The King James Version gives us a more literal translation when it says “he ran and worshipped him”—the word is proskuneo. It means to fall on your knees and face in humility before someone of great authority like a king, or God himself. You kiss their feet if you can. This is a legion of demons, we are talking about here. Perhaps it’s a reminder to us that “every knee shall bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord”. It’s inevitable.
And sadly, it will be a miserable experience for many, and this legion of demons is an example of that. Notice that they beg him to be merciful to them in his judgment. “Have you come to torment us?!”. In Matthew’s account of the story, the demons say “Have you come to torment us before the time?”. That is—they knew their judgment was coming, and they were optimistic that the time had not yet come. They wanted to continue their evil work of peace-destroying deception in the Decapolis. Verse 10 says that they “earnestly begged him not to send them out of the country”. They had more hearts to deceive and destroy. This, of course, is when Jesus permits the demons to enter the pigs, per their request.
It’s hard to know why the demons wanted to enter the pigs—and, why Jesus permitted it. Perhaps the demons thought that they could deal a good blow to Jesus by striking the people with a huge economic loss in pigs. But as we will soon see—the people weren’t angry about the pigs when they asked Jesus to leave. They were afraid of Jesus’s power.
Jesus’s Peace: “Sitting, Clothed, and in his Right Mind”
Now, this is all leading up to the resolution of Christ’s peace in the story. Jesus shows up, the demons flee at his command. What’s left? Verse 15 describes what the townspeople saw when they came to see for themselves. They saw “…the demon-possessed man… sitting there, clothed and in his right mind”. He was sitting, clothed, and in his right mind. Think of these specific details Mark mentions. The man was “sitting”. People who are sitting at Jesus’s feet are routinely described in Mark’s gospel as Jesus’s spiritual family whom he calls to himself and redeems (Mark 3:34–35). They sit at his feet to receive him and learn from him—in contrast to the crowds who selfishly push up against him for his power and momentary healings. The man sits there—and as we might imagine, he “begged [Jesus] to be with him” (verse 18). His heart had been softened and changed to love and desire Jesus. He was born again. But then, get this—he’s clothed. Where did he get those clothes from? I suppose this is conjecture, but I imagine it was Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is restoring the man’s integrity and innocence—this is a man made in God’s image, designed to love and cherish the sacred gift of intimacy. Jesus cares deeply for this, and provides for the man. Then, of course—he’s not just sitting before Jesus and clothed. He’s “in his right mind”. His soul was fixed on Jesus who redeemed him from the devil. Jesus had “delivered [him] from the domain of darkness and transferred [him] to the kingdom of [the] beloved Son” (Col 1:13). There’s a spectacle of peace for you.
But Jesus’s mission of peace in the region was not over yet. Even though Jesus would permit the demons to remain in the region, Jesus sent this restored man as an ambassador of peace to the region to combat the legion of demons who once consumed him. In verse 19, we are told that Jesus denied this man his request to follow him in the boat. Verses 19 and 20 tell us Jesus’s words to the man—
“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” [Then we are told] And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
Jesus’s kingdom of peace was advancing—even as it is to this day. Even in your own life, Jesus’s powerful work of salvation will continue to restore you after his perfect and glorious image of righteousness, joy, and peace. “He who began a good work in you will carry it out to the day of completion”. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus satisfies God’s wrath against you and offers you eternal life through his word and Spirit. Just like this man, you can sit at Jesus’s feet rather than anxiously fret about in this messy and destructive, demon-ridden world. And as you do, Jesus will continue to clothe you with a brighter spectacle of his glory and peace, and he will renew your mind to love his truth, promises, righteousness, and beauty.
So we have seen demonic destruction of peace, and we have seen Jesus restore peace as he restored this man to his right mind, and sent him off as a beacon of hope to the entire region. Let’s close with a brief consideration of how people responded to Jesus on that day.
Considering the Several Responses to Jesus’s Peace
Consider the response of the townspeople who asked Jesus to leave after they saw what he did. They asked him to leave—can you believe it? It’s at this point when many preachers will say, “the lesson to be learned here is that you shouldn’t be like the townspeople who rejected Jesus for ruining their material wealth”. It might seem that the townspeople asked Jesus to leave because they blamed Jesus for destroying 2,000 sheep. No doubt, that’s a great loss.
But not a single gospel mentions that the townspeople were angry at Jesus for killing their sheep. No doubt, I’m sure it was on their minds—perhaps after things settled a bit. But, where was their immediate attention and focus? It was on Jesus! Verse 15 tells us that when they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man restored, “they were afraid”. They were terrified at Jesus, who simply commanded peace to this man with his words. This was the same man who they couldn’t restrain with their shackles and chains. The thought of this kind of power residing in their small town terrified them. So, they begged Jesus to leave.
How Can People Deny Jesus's Obvious Works of Peace?
Perhaps some of you have been confused at the way people reject Jesus even though Jesus’s power brings such wonderful peace. When I worked in a Christian drug and alcohol rehab center, I saw Jesus transform countless men in a way that was comparable to this demoniac. Yet, I also saw some men reject Jesus even after they had seen him work so powerfully in some of their friend’s lives. I often thought about why these men seeking recovery wouldn’t simply trust Jesus after seeing their friends’ undeniable transformation.
Then one day as I was listening to a counselor talk to a group of 75 men, it made sense to me. The counselor asked these men, “how many of you are afraid of what a sober lifestyle might entail?”. It seemed at that moment that every single man raised their hands. They were afraid of the unknown. They were afraid of letting go of their sin and lusts, to exchange it all for a lifestyle of truth, goodness, and beauty. They knew that lifestyle would bring powerful change and blessings—but, they feared the thought of it.
You see, unless the light shines directly into you, you will always be afraid of the light and reject it. It’s powerful. It’s unknown. It involves renouncing your lusts and passions for a foreign lifestyle which, at best, you are not ready for. It involves submitting to an extremely powerful God whom you have sinned against, and whom you do not know. The only way transformation will ever happen is if God gives you an unmistakable taste of his grace and power so that you might say, “I want more”.
That’s exactly what happened to the demoniac. This man unexpectedly received Jesus’s power and mercy—and his response was pursuit, not fear. Of all the people on the shoreline that day, he was the only one begging to be with Jesus. He had tasted the goodness of Jesus’s life-giving power. He wanted more. The others had merely witnessed it and trembled with fear of an unknown power.
So—have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good, that you might pursue him? If your desire for God is lacking, plead with him for a fresh word and understanding of his glory so that you might desire him. Read his word, fellowship with his saints, and pray fervently. Through Christ, God promises meet you and satisfy you through these means, as he awakens you to his grace, mercy, and power through Jesus Christ.
So, today we have seen that (1) the demonic destruction of peace is real, and at work in everyone who does not receive Christ as savior and Lord. We have also seen (2) Jesus’s solution for peace. When he shows up in power, every force of evil is disarmed and his mercy establishes peace in the hearts of his people. Finally, we have seen (3) responses to Jesus’s peace. If you don’t know it first-hand, you’re going to fear it. May God continue to shine his light and mercy into our souls, that we might desire and worship him forever.