Summary: The essentials of the Christmas story are present in the deliverance of the man who had the Legion.
It’s been said that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Now, that’s not always the case. Certainly, in a close relationship, like a marriage, intimate, loving familiarity becomes one of the “load-bearing walls.” It’s what keeps the structure standing upright. It’s what supports the weight and keeps it from collapsing. But familiarity with the second chapter of Luke and the Nativity, I think, has bred in Christians, if not contempt then at least apathy. Every year we dress our kids in bathrobes and tie towels around their little heads and they re-enact the wondrous scene at the stable…and our eyes glaze over.
Couple that apathy with the growing, outrageous commercialization of the season, and we’re in bad shape. A British theologian named Don Cupitt has written that, “Christmas is the Disneyfication of Christianity.” I think we all see that pretty clearly, which puts us in a bad place. It seems our only choice is between that ridiculous marketing event on the one hand, and a story that has lost its power (through rote repetition year after year) to elicit anything more out of us than a yawn on the other.
Now before you drift off to sleep and your wife has to elbow you in the ribs, understand that I intend this message to be just that…an elbow in the ribs. Not enough to injure you, certainly, but intended to wake you up. We’re going to find the Christmas story displayed vividly in a Gospel account that has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. That is, through the birth of Christ and the miracle of the Incarnation, God has journeyed to us, to find us where we are, and to release us from the death-grip of the devil.
Introduce the text, and its context: Mark 5:1-20. Read the text.
Let’s talk a bit about the demonized Gadarene:
1. Dwelt among the tombs
Our culture increasingly dwells among the tombs/is fascinated with death/sees death as exciting (for instance, the current “Gothic” style among teens and the rise of vampire cults.) It goes hand-in-hand with our growing tendency to devalue human life. Despise life, embrace death.
2. Beyond control of all human means. No human tools existed that could hold him or calm him.
Human strength and ingenuity are of no use in confronting spiritual wickedness. Recall the seven sons of Sceva in Acts who tried to confront a demon in their own ingenuity and wound up beaten and bruised and humiliated.
3. Had been robbed of humanity, living like a wild animal in the mountains.
Sin is the opposite of true humanity, if you think Biblically. God created the first man for loving fellowship with Himself. Sin destroyed that. Sin robbed Adam of what it originally meant to be a man. Sin continues to do that: it makes us less than truly human.
4. Self destructive (cutting himself, etc.)
Related to the last point, sin not only makes us less than truly human, but it destroys us as well. The wages of sin is death.
The Puritan preacher Matthew Henry wrote, “He who harms his neighbor will be found to have done the greatest injury to himself.”
5. (vv.6-7) The demons believe in Jesus, and tremble. They are not thereby saved.
Recalls the words of James’ epistle. The demons believe. They know who Jesus is and what He did. That sort of knowledge of factual data does nothing to save them. They remain condemned. The faith that saves us is something much more than mere assent to a set of facts or propositions about the Lord.
6. The legion of demons pleads against “torment.” The time is coming and they know it.
Not only do the demons know Jesus, but the devil knows his time is short. The enemy knows for sure that a time of terrible judgment is coming.
Hell was not designed or created for humans. That many go there is a tragic thing. Hell exists as a place of torment for the devil and his angels. Judgment is coming.
7. “What is your name?” asks Jesus.
Why? This is not for Jesus’ benefit. It is a tenant of witchcraft that says that to know an entity’s name is to exercise power over that entity. Jesus did not need to know the name “Legion” in order to deliver the man. In fact, the opposite is really true. He could cast them out because they knew Him!
He asked their name for our benefit, not His. I’m not suggesting we take the name strictly literally, but understand that to Mark’s first readers, who lived under Roman occupation, a “legion” was the largest division of the Roman military, comprising 4000 to 6000 foot soldiers, along with cavalry. “For we are many,” the enemy says.
With but a word, our Lord commands even a great host of devils. With a word, He created the universe. With a word, He commanded the dead to rise. With a word, He calmed stormy seas. Let me assure you of this: Jesus Christ has a word for you as well, even today.