At the end of Mark 4, Jesus had been teaching and healing, and He and His disciples took a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. A huge storm blew in, but Jesus was a heavy sleeper. (Remember, when someone says, “Be more like Jesus,” napping on a boat is a legitimate option.) The frightened disciples woke Jesus, He spoke to the storm, and the sea became calm.
So the disciples have had this terrifying and harrowing experience on the sea, and they’re freaked out because Jesus just spoke to the weather and it listened, and where do they come ashore? A graveyard. It is probably still night. And they begin to hear screams in the darkness. And out of the tombs comes a naked man with superhuman strength who is screaming and gashing himself with stones. This is some creepy stuff!
The wild man comes running up to Jesus, and Jesus, sensing that the man was demon-possessed, commands the unclean spirit to come out – like He has many times before. But the man claps back at Jesus, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torment me!” (Mark 5:7). (Notice that what he doesn’t do is come out of the man.)
So Jesus commands the man to identify itself, and the man responds that he is called “Legion”, because there were so many demons possessing him. (A legion was a Roman regiment of 6,000 troops.) This cadre of demons is clearly powerful. They do not come out immediately. Instead, they beg Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of pigs; Jesus permits, and the herd of 2,000 pigs runs into the lake and drowns.
No one was more surprised by the mass suicide of pigs (sooey-cide?) than the herdsmen, and they ran and reported all over the place what had happened, and the people came to see for themselves. And when they came, they saw this wild man – whom they called “Legion” because of all the demons in him – sitting down, clothed, in his right mind. Amazing! And then the herdsmen told how the pigs all jumped in the lake. And the people’s response was to worship and follow after Jesus, right? No, they begged Him to get out of town!
What a tragedy! The Savior of the world is right there in their midst, and they’re crying over lost bacon! And you know what? When they said, “Jesus, we don’t want you here,” He got back in His boat and left. What a tragedy. Who knows who all may have been healed, who may have been saved by Jesus’ ministry in that region. We may never know the ripple effects of rejecting Jesus instead of receiving Him.
As Jesus was getting into His boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged Jesus to take him with them. But Jesus said no. Instead, He tells the man who was once called Legion, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (v.19).
Mark tells us the man’s home was the Decapolis, a region that was essentially Greek in population and culture – they had Greek gods and Greek temples and Greek art, and they were devoted to the Greek way of life. And here comes the man who was called Legion – who roamed the graveyard naked, screaming and cutting himself – and he is clothed and in his right mind, telling the story of how Jesus radically redeemed his life. And the people were amazed.
I have heard all my life the stories of great missionaries – Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Amy Carmichael, E. Stanley Jones. Can you believe that the first missionary Jesus sent to the gentiles was a wild man called Legion? Now that is a great missionary story. And if Jesus can take the man called Legion and commission him to carry the Gospel, surely He can use you and me.
~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair