The virtue is greater than the vexation

Introduction.  The subject before us is the authority of Jesus Christ over all the works of Satan. There are many such encounters recorded for us in the New Testament Documents. Mark’s account is perhaps the most dramatic in the NT (cf. Matt. 8:28-34 & Luke 8:26-39) except for possibly the judgment of the ‘Great Whore’ of Rev. 17:1ff. It’s chilling to read of such contests between the kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of Light when we consider the access Satan may yet seek against of any of us. Notwithstanding, it’s exceedingly important that we understand that Jesus set us up to overcome him in any conquest, no matter what. It should be noted that all such accounts in the Gospels occurred because Jesus initiated the confrontation. He intentionally picked this fight amongst many others and won, till he chose the ultimate match that happened at the Cross. That victory permanently altered the geo-political landscape of Satan’s power, and that’s left him in a very rattled and compromised position. Also, Judgment Day is coming.  

               Lest we get too intense right off the bat, let’s remember that I am of the tribe of Sven and Ole.  So Sven went out for a walk. He got to a river and saw Ole on the opposite bank. ‘Hey, Ole’ he shouts, ‘How can I get to the other side?’ Ole looks up and down the river and shouts back, ‘Sven, you ARE on the other side!’ And so it was with the wild man of Gadara, on the other side of sanity.  

               I. His Condition.  Our setting is that Jesus left ‘a great multitude’ (Mark 4:1) in search of one guy. He will cross the stormy Sea of Galilee to find him and he does. This man has been a massive problem to nearly everybody. He is known everywhere in the region of Gadara, scaring the hell into residents and travelers by his lunacy. Local authorities have tried to prosecute him, bind him, and tame him but he can’t be bound because of super-human strength. Think of that! He’s naked, lives in the tombs, is preoccupied with death and is constantly wailing night and day in torment. His volume is so loud it echoes everywhere in the quiet of evening. He is ritualistically cutting himself with stone or stone knives, which is apparently being required of him. He must offer his own blood to propitiate who knows what (cf. the false prophets of Baal in I Kings 18:28). The living reality of this man was scarier than any horror movie you’ve ever seen, more than The Exorcist, and more than Abbot and Costello In the Basement of Count Dracula. 

II. His Cry.  His bondage is overwhelming and unsolvable. It is horrific to think that one man could be so important to the dark side, that they would invest so much into this host. We are not told how the wild man of Gadara got like this. Did this come upon him from a bitterness at God? Was there a hideous lie about God he’d believed? Was there some great disappointment? Was there a betrayal? An encroachment? An enemy’s awful deed? Some great failure or shame? We don’t know how the enemy got in but he is a master opportunist.  

               The enemy’s plan is simple: establish a beachhead in a life through the pathway of sin or a lie to incrementally gain more and more control of the person. Really, we may only go back to Gen. 3:15 to realize that Satan hates that man was made in the image of God, and that there will come a certain Man who will do him in, ‘the Seed of the woman (i.e. Christ) will crush the head of the seed of the serpent (i.e. anti-christ). Therefore, if Satan can corrupt all men with sin and unclean spirits he thinks he can stop the ancient prophecy. He wants to fundamentally mar the image of God in man, to invade his life as to make it intolerable, and then make him commit suicide by his own hand. If the center of man’s personality, his personal sovereignty, can be so violated with the unclean spirit, to the point that the unthinkable happens and the devil speaks through him and without permission, then that man could be impaired and confused enough to take his own life. He has become convinced of his own wickedness to the point that he is tormented by his own existence. Now he is vulnerable to the suggestion that only a blood sacrifice can atone for his condition, his own. So, he wails and cuts himself. He has profound rage-monster personality issues that give him strength to snap chains but not control his own thoughts. Perhaps Satan copies God who freely gives his Spirit which creates freedom.  So, the devil in his perverted way, assigns unclean spirits to overrun a man and bring him into bondage.    

III. His Creator. Jesus crosses Galilee and steps out of the boat with his disciples. He is now on the devil-man’s turf. They hear the wild man’s outcry which is unintelligible, haunting, and full of anguish. Though there is so much demonic control over his life, you would think he would not be permitted to meet Jesus. But the dark side cannot overcome his will to get to Jesus! Think of that. If the devil could have, he would have never allowed this meeting under any circumstances – but he could not. That’s an amazing and surprisingly positive point about him. And it leads to this question: How did this sociopath even hear about Jesus in the first place, and from whom? Or did he just know?

              The account moves on quickly. Suddenly they hear the beat of feet at wide open throttle rushing upon them – and then the naked man’s legs give out and. . . and. . . he is on his face in worship of Jesus! But he can’t get out any of his own words, only the sound of the way too loud guttural wretchedness: “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not” (Mark 5:7).  Strange. Here the devil is trying to defend its survival against an Opponent it already knows it can’t beat, but it bluffs, repeating his Name. Apparently it thought that if it could name Him, it might have a chance of power over Him. Is all this ruckus simply because Jesus had said, “Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit” (v. 8)?  At this point Jesus is so in charge and begins his intel gathering. Jesus: “What is thy name?!” Devil: “My name is Legion: for we are many” (V.9). 

              Some questions arise.  Did Jesus know there were so many devils here? Did he already know its name? Did he just want to make the unclean spirits grovel and then yield its name as he established his dominion over them? We don’t know, but what we do know is that everything Jesus did or said was for our instruction as followers of the Lion of Judah.

              There is an eschatological element that has come into our account, i.e., something that is related to the future and to the study of last things.  Notice: the spokesman devil pleads with Jesus ‘by God not to torment it’ in v. 7. Can you imagine? This is so unfitting that it would try to appeal to God and to Christ about this. But the statement from the devil’s mouth reveals a mystery that it knows: there comes a Day of vengeance of our God, a coming Day of Judgment, and that this same Jesus whom it just addressed as Deity is coming back as Warrior and Judge. The beast, false prophet, and dragon and all their followers will be thrown live into the lake of fire for eternity (cf. Rev. 19:19-21 & Rev. 20:10). Another witness to this piece of eschatology would be a different devil in another place, who said to Jesus, “Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know who thou art, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). The dark side intuitively recognized Jesus as their Creator and Judge and bowed the knee – which our Lord would not allow to speak again. They know that their whole dark kingdom is going to be totally destroyed by Jesus and us. This reminds us of Phil. 2:10 – “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, of things in earth, and things under the earth”.

              The devils push the panic button while attempting to cut a deal with Jesus about the terms of an unconditional surrender. It is mysterious: why did Jesus go along with this, they being allowed to enter into the pigs?  It raises even more questions: Is there a bad welcoming party to any devil who gets cast out of ‘his hood’ to try to survive under another wicked god-father devil? Is there some unwritten law in deviltry that entitles one devil one kill, so that the Legion (symbolic for a really big number) enter into the swine and 2,000 pigs thunder down the cliff and die? And doesn’t this act alone show the clear intent of the unclean spirits for their hostage in the first place?

IV. His Charge.  So complete is the wild man of Gadara’s salvation that the town-folk who come out to see this spectacle find him “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (v. 15).  He’s had just one encounter with Jesus! They are so freaked out by this that they implore Jesus that he would just leave.  But our healed man pleads with Jesus that he only “might be with him” (v.18).  What an apostle he would have been, beyond any of the ‘sons of thunder’! Yet Jesus denies him. But Christ sent him in apostolic fashion into his mission immediately; nothing more is needed in way of preparation.  We would have demanded he take some twelve step program to further rehabilitate him. He should go to seminary after that and will also need a degree on psychology of course. And certainly he needs time to learn basic manners. But not Jesus; only this commission: “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (v. 19), and he went ‘preaching’ (cf. Greek Text κηρύσσω, to proclaim, apostolic preaching). But we would say, ‘Jesus, maybe his old buddies are the ones who got him into trouble in the first place; are you sure about this?’ Yup. Without a doubt in this world, he’s ready right now!  And you?

              Now let’s turn to the most difficult part of this whole study as we ask, how must I live?


1. Jesus demonstrates his power over unclean spirits by virtue as their Creator – “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Col. 1:16).

2. He also sets forth his authority over wicked spirits by virtue of the Cross – “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15). Not only this, but notice a further development of the Resurrection: before the Cross, at Jesus’ temptation the devil shows him all the kingdoms of the world and promises him all its ‘power’ or ἐξουςία if Jesus just worships him, for he can give it to whomever he wants (Luke 4:6-7). So the devil had authority to do a lot. But after the Resurrection Jesus proclaims, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). Hi ho, now the devil has no authority to do anything, even though he does a lot of bad things. This is why we can cast him out.

3. What the wild man of Gadara did not know while he was still under the lies of his demonic tormentors was that he did not need to shed his blood. Now he had a Man who would soon redeem him by being the blood sacrifice for him at the Cross. This blood is the origin and foundation of our authority over Satan – “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:14).   

4. Christ’s compassion: The Gadarene was alone. The institutions had tried to fix him but had completely failed. Today the same secular agencies follow a bewildering cultural narrative that can only present the psych ward which can in no way address the dark side. But Jesus sought, found, and healed him when he wasn’t even asking – “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

5. When Jesus took your place at the Cross, he conferred a great value upon you. You must never violate that worth by taking your own life, devil-driven or not – “For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

6. The devil could not stop the wild man from getting to Jesus. Nor can he stop you; but remember, like the devil man wanted freedom, you have to want too – “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).  

7. The virtue is greater than the vexation, every time! Believe that. – They came to Jesus “that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all” (Luke 6:18-19).

8. If you are a believer in Jesus but are oppressed, stand up in the devil’s face! – “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

9. If Christ is sending you ‘in his Name’ to deliver another, remember your weaponry – “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (II Cor. 10:4), and remember your armour – “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11).

10. Do Jesus’ works, i.e. enter into his on-going ministry of deliverance – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12).

11. Understand eschatology: Through the Holy Spirit you are to bring a foretaste of the end of the age, in this case a portion of the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom – “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit . . . discerning of spirits” (I Cor. 12:8, 10).

12. Jesus said at his Ascension – “These signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils” (Mark 16:17).

13. The devil-man was consumed with himself. Jesus searched him out. No one was ever looking for him. Now he “met Him face to face, and he felt the wonder of his grace” (this is from a great old song, He’s Everything to Me). He got his mind back that moment! “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” [cf. the Greek σωφρονέω of II Tim. 1:7 & Mark 5:15].

14. The deliverance of the wild man of Gadara is a sign and a wonder. The sign is that the wild man represents more than himself; he stands for the human race. I am like him. As I read this it’s happening to me! The wonder is that the foremost truth about his deliverance is not just the absence of devils, but even more the revelation of who Jesus is! “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood . . . . I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:5, 8).     

Tim Halverson

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