The following article is excerpted from a sermon delivered at the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland It is part of a sermon series based on the Gospel of Mark.—Editors.
Isn’t it wonderful to be a Christian? Today we’re going to explore more about Jesus, and we’re up to Mark 5.
To understand Mark 5, we have to examine briefly the closing scenes of Mark 4. Notice particularly verses 40 and 41: Jesus was in the process of crossing the Sea of Galilee, and a storm frightened the daylights out of His disciples. Jesus calmed the storm and said, “ ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ ”
In verse 40 Jesus asked two important questions. The first: “Why are you so afraid?” The word translated “afraid” is a rather negative word, a challenging word. A more accurate English translation would be “cowardly” or “timid.” Implied in this question is a not-so-subtle rebuke: “Why are you being cowards?”
We should also notice the tense. Your Bible likely translates this as “Why were you so afraid?” But it’s actually in the present active: “Why are you so afraid?” When Jesus asked this question, all was calm. But He doesn’t ask, “Why were you afraid?” but “Why are you so cowardly?”
Hence Jesus’ second question: “Do you still have no faith [confidence, trust, commitment]?” Verse 41 goes on to describe the disciples’ terror in detail. Mark used the word phobos, from which we get the English word “phobia.” When the word is used twice, side by side—“Why are you absolutely terrified, totally controlled by fear?” —the meaning is: “Why are you in awe, absolute awe and respect?” This describes their experience. They were in total fear, but at the same time they were in absolute awe and respect of Jesus.
Jesus says, “Don’t you have any faith?” And they couldn’t even say, “Yes, we have faith; we believe.” Instead, in their fear they could say only, “Who is this?”
This is the question of the entire book of Mark: Who is this Man? Who is Jesus? You recall the opening words of Mark, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, NKJV).1 This is the emphasis, that Jesus is the Son of God.
The climax of Mark’s gospel is the cross. As we stand before the cross in Mark 15, contemplating who Jesus is, we have these words: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’ ” (verses 37, 38).
This is the experience Mark wants his readers to have: to recognize this beautiful Jesus, who could say and do what He did, live the life He did, die the death He did; to have confidence in this Son of God. Jesus wasn’t just a noble martyr. Jesus remains the Son of God.
Mark leads to this point very carefully. On two occasions in Mark’s Gospel the Father acknowledged Jesus as His Son: at His baptism (see Mark 1:11) and at the time of the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-7).
There are two other times. Demonic spirits referred to Jesus as the Son of God (see Mark 3:11). And in Mark 5, a demonic spirit identifies Jesus as the Son of God (verse 7).
So Mark 5 is all about providing evidence, powerful, compelling evidence, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
At the same time, as well as revealing the identity of Jesus, Mark 5 explores human fear. We humans can be afraid of a lot of things. Some people are afraid of flying in airplanes. Some are afraid of heights, confined places, dogs, sharks, and snakes. Some people are afraid of crowds, water, mice, death, failure, poverty, even success.
In fact, people can be afraid of Jesus. That’s the point of Mark 5.
Some people are afraid to believe in Jesus Christ. Some are afraid because of the demands that belief will place upon them, their choices, their preferences, their lifestyles. Some opt for agnosticism, or alternatively, some choose just to seal themselves off from the gospel. Some Christians, some Seventh-day Adventists, can be afraid of Jesus.
Mark 5 has some examples of this fear. Verse 1 begins, “They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.” This was Gentile territory, about five miles from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. As we read what happens next, it makes sense: a man living alone, living in graveyards among the dead, people keeping pigs in deserted places. It fits with the geography of Mark.
“When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 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. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (verses 2-5). According to Mark, this is Jesus’ first journey to minister among Gentiles. And notice who’s there to welcome Him!
Today when a dignitary arrives in a foreign land, the red carpet is rolled out. There are salutes; military aircraft do flyovers; it’s a big deal. Jesus arrives, and Satan is there to greet Him. Satan, in the form of a truly frightening individual, a man controlled by undiluted evil. No chains could bind him. Day and night he runs around screaming, cutting himself with stones. I imagine those cuts were infected. It must have been a ghastly scene.
“When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!’” (verses 6, 7).
This man has some recognition of Jesus, some understanding of His identity. He calls Jesus Son of the Most High God. But then he asks, “Are you going to torture me?” He understood Jesus’ identity, but not His character. Jesus is not into torture. This mad, wild man runs and grabs Jesus by the knees. It could have been quite intimidating. But Jesus shows no fear.
This man is not inhabited by one demon, but by a legion. But this legion of evil spirits is completely subservient to Jesus. They beg Jesus. In addition to fear, begging is a frequent theme in this chapter, begging and desperation. There’s also healing in this chapter: fear, begging, and healing.
This legion fears Jesus because of His power as the Son of God. But there’s no need to fear Jesus. They beg to enter 2,000 pigs. Jesus grants their request.
Imagine the noise and commotion of these 2,000 pigs heading down that slope. Imagine the pounding of their trotters hitting the ground as they run, the squeals, the terror. One animal out of control is frightening enough. Imagine 2,000 at the same time! We can begin to imagine the chaos, the turmoil, the perpetual storm day and night that lived in that man’s body, mind, and heart. Imagine the relief he experienced.
“Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead [or beg] with Jesus to leave their region” (verses 14-17
Let’s unpack the fears of these people. There was no indication in the text that the people feared the man when he was possessed by the legion. They probably kept away from him. Their fear really started when they saw the man healed, dressed, and in his right mind sitting with Jesus. It was similar to the calming of the storm. Yes, there was fear among the disciples as the boat was being swamped, but the real fear came after Jesus calmed the storm.
In The Desire of Ages Ellen White described the experience of this man after he was healed: “Meanwhile a marvelous change had come over [this man]. Light had shone into [his mind]. [His] eyes beamed with intelligence.” His countenance, so long deformed by the image of Satan, suddenly became mild. Bloodstained hands were quiet. She describes his glad voice as he praised God for his deliverance.2
The Gentiles were similar to the disciples. The disciples feared Jesus after the calming of the storm. The Gentiles feared Jesus after the calming of this man, and they begged. Two thousand demon-possessed pigs weren’t as frightening as one rescued man. The people asked Jesus to leave them alone.
This miraculously restored man became the first public evangelist. The healed man, a Gentile, begs Jesus, “Can I come with You?”
Jesus said, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what . . . the Lord has done for you” (verse 19). The Bible goes on in Mark’s account and tells how the man went throughout Decapolis, and all the people—Gentiles—were amazed.
This man hadn’t heard one sermon from Jesus. He hadn’t observed one Sabbath. He hadn’t been to one Sabbath school; he probably wasn’t baptized. And he goes to 10 cities, Gentile cities, and people are amazed. Can we be afraid of what God asks us to do?
“When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live’ ” (verse 21-23).
Mark makes it perfectly clear that Jesus has crossed back to the Jewish side of the lake. He uses the word “synagogue.” You won’t find pork chops in synagogues. This is the western side of the lake.
Once again Jesus is greeted by begging, a different kind of begging. Jairus was a leader of the synagogue. He says, “Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live” (verse 23).
This synagogue leader even tells Jesus how to heal his daughter. This man is used to being in charge, and it comes through. It’s not just a twenty-first-century thing: we like to be in control, even when it comes to Jesus.
Sometimes we have to relinquish our “in charge” attitude and learn peace, and let God do what He does best. Yes, we have to come to God—as this synagogue leader did. Put our petitions before Him, but let God be God.
“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ ” (verses 25-30).
Can you imagine Jairus managing this delay? “Come to my home, Lord. Death’s door is opening for my little girl. Come and touch my little girl so she can be healed.”
Jesus hadn’t just stopped for this woman; He’d stopped quite a few times to meet, greet, heal, comfort, and encourage people. Now this delay! Imagine the father’s frustration: “Just hurry up, will You? Please come!”
According to this man, the last thing Jesus needs is another problem. We can imagine this synagogue leader putting his arm around Jesus and trying to hustle Him through the crowd. But Jesus can tell the difference between a touch of manipulation and a touch of desperation.
But why was Jesus so adamant about knowing who touched Him? Why confront this woman? Why bring out such a private thing? Again, I refer to The Desire of Ages: “After healing the woman, Jesus desired her to acknowledge the blessing she had received. The gifts which the gospel offers are not to be secured by stealth or enjoyed in secret.”3 This woman was a witness that Jesus was the Son of God, and this had to be brought out.
After she was healed, the woman was still afraid. “Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, and told him the whole truth” (verse 33). When somebody tells you the story of an illness, it’s normally a long story. When somebody begins with “Back in 1968,” you know you’re not going to get the executive summary.
Poor Jairus. You can imagine him thinking, Lord, this is a mature woman. My little girl, she’s young; she has so much living to do. Please, Lord, hurry! Come now!
Then Jairus receives the news: “ ‘Your daughter is dead.’ . . . ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’ ” (verse 35).
Now Jesus addresses Jairus for the first time. Until now He hadn’t spoken to him. Notice what Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid” (verse 36). Now is not the time to be afraid. All Jairus’ expectations were gone, smashed, broken. Jairus was now vulnerable. The Son of God could now do something with this synagogue leader, so He says, “Just believe” (verse 36).
Jesus takes this man and a select group of disciples—Peter, James, and John—and they go off to Jairus’ home. There’s the commotion. Jesus draws the mother of this little girl in, closes everyone else out. Jesus takes that little girl’s hand and says, “ ‘Talitha koum!’ . . . ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’ ” (verse 41).
Sometimes we ask the Son of God to heal us. But God, in His infinite wisdom, gives us something even more: a resurrection. People get sick again after being healed, but a God-given resurrection is eternal! Sometimes our loved ones fall asleep. This is the time to trust the Son of God. There will be a resurrection, and it will be eternal!
After Jesus stilled the storm, there was fear. After Jesus healed of the legion-possessed man, there was fear. After Jesus healed the woman, she came fearfully to Jesus. After Jesus took the little girl by the hand and raised her, there was no fear. Instead, there was ecstasy (Greek: ekstasis); there was a resurrection!
Mark wants us to know that there is no need to fear this Jesus. There’s no need to push or pull Jesus into the image that we would like Him to be. He is the Son of God, and the Son of God will not be limited by our vision. Because we’re in a growing relationship with Jesus, we understand and decipher more and more about Him. We can’t begin to imagine the great things He has in store for us; they’re beyond our imagination. And sometimes God needs us to get out of His way so that He can do what He has to do. And that leads us to acknowledge Him as the Son of God. And that leads us to be ecstatic; fear replaced with ecstasy.
Would you like to put your fears in Jesus’ hands, to put your life in Jesus’ hands? Would you like to begin a relationship with Jesus? Jesus, the Son of God, takes our fears and gives us ecstasy!
Anthony Kent is an associate secretary of the Ministerial Association of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.