January 14, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Victory Over Demons, Sickness, and Death
We last left Jesus and his disciples along with other followers crossing the Sea of Galilee in a storm from Capernaum to the east coast of the lake known as the Decapolis. Translated, Decapolis means ten cities. The Decapolis was an area of ten independent cities founded and populated by the Greeks during the time of Alexander the Great in the area now known as Syria. It was an area mostly devoid of any Jewish influence.
Jesus and his followers would have been arriving on the eastern shore near dusk after a full day of activities in Capernaum. This area, now known as the Golan Heights, was full of caves in the limestone rock, and many of these caves were used as tombs in which bodies were laid. At the best of times it was an eerie place; as night fell it must have been very grim.
Our first scripture story of the demon-possessed man takes place in this area not accustomed to the values and laws of the Jewish people. The final two stories of Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman take place back near Capernaum.
In our stories today, Jesus deals with demons, sickness, and death. In each of the three persons mentioned in our stories, all have been declared hopeless because their needs cannot be met by any human power. The vivid details in each of these stories intends to emphasize the desperate plight of three individuals who are afflicted by calamities which have befallen them without regard for their religious, moral, or social conditions. The demoniac, Jairus, and the woman are needy in the absolute sense; that is, they have no self-sufficiency. They live life at the extremity, at the limit of all human power. Each is in need of the sign of the Kingdom of God.
And so, in each of these cases, we will see the grace of God in each of their lives as they come in contact with the Son of God, who claims victory over demons, sickness, and death. The signs of the Kingdom are Jesus’ actions in response to human suffering. In each case, Jesus becomes their savior from the maladies which have haunted them and changes their lives forever. The demoniac is restored to society. The woman is healed. The little girl is restored to life. This is but a foreshadowing of what Jesus will ultimately do for each of us when we place our faith and trust in him. Would you pray with me?
As soon as Jesus and his disciples get out of the boat on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, they are met by a demon-possessed man who comes out of the tombs. It was a fitting place for this man. The people of that day believed that demons dwelt in woods and gardens and vineyards and dirty places, in lonely and desolate spots and among the tombs. William Barclay writes in his commentary on the Gospel of Mark that “It was also thought that at night and right before the cock would crow at daybreak that demons were specially active. To sleep alone in an empty house at night was dangerous; to greet any person in the dark was perilous, for he might be a demon. To go out at night without a lantern or a torch was to court trouble. It was a perilous place and perilous hour, and the man was a dangerous man.”
The man was dangerous. Look what our scripture says. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. This man felt himself to be possessed, since he often refers to himself in the plural, as if all the demons in him were speaking. When asked his name, he said it was Legion.
Now a legion was a Roman regiment of 6,000 troops. Very likely the man had seen one of these Roman regiments clanking along the road, and he felt that there was a whole battalion of demons inside him. The Jews believed that it was not possible to survive if you realized the number of demons with which you were surrounded. I’m sure this wretched man knew all about this and was certain that a mass of those demons had taken up their residence in him.
But notice how Jesus deals with him. He makes more than one attempt to heal him. In verse 8, Jesus begins by using his usual method, an authoritative order to the demon to come out. For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!’ Next, Jesus demands to know the demon’s name. Verse 9, “Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” It was always supposed in those days that, if a demon’s name could be discovered, the demon’s power was broken. In this case, even that did not prove enough.
Finally, Jesus saw that there was only one way to cure this man, and that was to give him an unanswerable demonstration that the demons had gone out of him. It doesn’t matter whether we believe in demon-possession or not; the man believed in it. Even if it all lay in his disordered mind, the demons were terribly real to him. This man needed deliverance. This is where the herd of swine come in.
Now obviously, this was Gentile territory, since there was a herd of swine. The man felt that the demons were asking not to be totally destroyed but sent into the swine. And Jesus gave his permission. Jesus gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
The witnesses to all of this reported what happened to the other townspeople, especially about the man now sitting, fully clothed and in his right mind, as well as the destruction of the pigs. You would think the townspeople would be filled with joy that the man was now in his right mind. But the townspeople are more concerned about the destruction of two thousand pigs, their livelihood, than the new health of the man. However, Jesus knows that there is nothing more important than the saving of a human soul. Nevertheless, the towns’ people plead with Jesus to leave their countryside. Their routine of life had been unsettled. Like most people, they didn’t want their comfort disturbed, their possessions disturbed, or their religion and beliefs disturbed.
As Jesus was getting in the boat to leave, the former demon-possessed man begged to go with him. But Jesus said to him, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you. Jesus wanted this man to be a witness in this Gentile region for Christianity. He was to be a living, walking, vivid, unanswerable demonstration of what Christ can do for us. The unanswerable proof of Christianity is a re-created human being. This man would be the first seed in spreading the news of Jesus in a mostly Greek region. And so, Jesus heads back across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum after a victory over the demons.
Soon after landing, Jesus meets Jairus, one of the synagogue rulers. On his way to Jairus’ house to see his dying daughter, Jesus is approached by a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. We know from scripture that this poor woman had tried many remedies. The trouble was that not only did this affect the woman’s health, it also rendered her continuously unclean according to Levitical Law, and shut her off from the worship of God and the fellowship of her friends.
The physicians had had no success with the treatment of this woman’s case, and she had heard of Jesus. But she had this problem, her trouble was an embarrassing thing; to go in the crowd and to state it openly was something she could not face, and so she decided to try to touch Jesus in secret. She touched one of the tassels on Jesus’ clothes, and found herself cured.
Here is a woman who came to Jesus as a last resort; having tried every other cure that the world had to offer. So many people have come to seek the help of Jesus because they have reached their wits’ end. They may have battled with temptation until they could fight no longer and stretched out a hand, crying, “Lord, save me!” Folks, why is it, that we use Jesus as our last resort instead of using him all of the time as our first support. No one should need to be driven to Christ by the force of circumstances, and yet many of us come that way, thinking that we have more power than he. But know this, Jesus will never send us away empty.
Jesus’ words to the now healed woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” It is our faith in Jesus that frees us from eternal suffering. Jesus is victorious in the face of sickness.
Jesus is victorious over demons and over sickness. And in our last story, Jesus is victorious over death. Each story builds to this climax of Jesus, giver of life. Rev. Ray Stedman was the long-time pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California and author of several books. He tells the story of a time when he and his wife were driving through Oregon with his little daughter, Susan. She had developed a fever the night before, when they were staying in a motel, but it didn’t seem serious. As they drove along, all of a sudden, the little girl went into convulsions. Her eyes turned up, her body began to jerk, and she obviously was in great danger. Stedman’s heart clutched.
He stopped the car, grabbed Susan, and stumbled across the road to a farmhouse that happened to be visible nearby. It was about six in the morning, but the frantic father thundered on the door. When a woman appeared, he cried out, “My daughter is very sick, she’s in convulsions. Do you have a bathtub where we can put her in warm water?”
The lady was so taken aback she hardly knew what to say. She motioned down the hall, and without waiting for any words, Stedman pushed the front door open, went down the hall, and started running water in the tub. Later he called a doctor and arranged to take his daughter to him for an examination.
It all turned out all right, but Stedman never forgot that moment when it looked as though his daughter was going to die. Later he found out this farm family had the only bathtub and the only phone for miles around!
This is the same emotion that drove Jairus, that agonized father, to Jesus, the fear that his little one, who had blessed their home and filled it with sunshine for twelve years, was to be taken from them.
As Jesus, Peter, James and John follow Jairus to his house, they hear the loud wailing, alerting people that death had struck Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter. The mourners hung over the dead body, begging for a response from her silent lips. They beat their breasts; they tore their hair, and the rent their garments, as was the Jewish way.
When Jesus enters the house and tells the crowd that the girl is only sleeping, they laugh and scorn him. They know death. Look at the contrasts here. There is the despair of the mourners and the hope of Jesus. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” There is the unrestrained distress of the mourners and the calm serenity of Jesus. Jesus is calm, quiet, serene, and in control. He takes the little girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” And our scripture says, “Immediately the girl stood up and walked around.”
Jesus has perfect confidence and trust in God. The worst human disaster can be met with courage and gallantry when we meet it with God. They laughed at Jesus to scorn because they thought his hope was groundless ad his calm mistaken. But the great fact of the Christian life is that what looks completely impossible to us is possible with God. They laughed him to scorn, but their laughter must have turned to amazed wonder when they realized what God can do. There is nothing beyond facing, and there is nothing beyond conquest, whether it is demons, sickness, or death, when it is faced and conquered in the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, through these three stories we learn that ministry occurs everywhere, on every side of the sea, whether it is Jewish or Gentile territory, and throughout the whole creation. Ministry includes everyone: Gentiles, women, little girls, all God’s children, even rulers of the synagogue. Ministry is forever; no one is hopeless, not even the insane, the terminally ill, or the dead.
The power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit brings about victory in our lives when we put our trust and faith in Christ. So, knowing all this, how has Jesus brought about a victory in your life? You need to tell someone. It is your story. It is your Christian witness.