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Tombs, demons and self-mutilation. Cries, protest and fear. What is your name? Let them all go. Stampeding pigs! What happened here? Calm, clothed and sane.
When Jesus had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs. No one could bind him; neither could anyone tame him. Always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. He cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me."
For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!" Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He answered, "My name is Legion; for we are many." Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.
Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them." At once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned.
Those who fed the swine fled, and told it in the city and in the country. They went out to see what had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.
Mark 5:2-15 NKJV, condensed
We might call him a madman, but he was actually a madhouse. His name was Legion, as in a troop of 6,000 Roman soldiers, and he was demon-possessed. Legion's body, mind and spirit had been infiltrated, claimed and controlled not by just one, but by many demons. Night and day they tormented him and whipped him into a whirlwind of electrifying emotions, unruly activity, and agitated outbursts. According to local belief, demons were in the army of Satan; their role was to fight against God and destroy everything good God had created.
By the time you read to the end of this story, you will note that Jesus made the troublesome night crossing from Capernaum to this Gentile region for one reason only. He came to save this lone man whom no outsider could tame or bind. Legion broke those external cords. But he was helpless to defend himself against the chains of bondage within. The cries of this self-mutilator had echoed thirteen miles across the Galilean waters and touched the heart of Jesus.
The disciples were in awe of Jesus because he had muzzled the wind and stilled the tempest at sea. Soon they would witness a similar miracle on land. They had just been chided for their fears. Now they would see "Fearless" in action as he stepped out of the boat and into the boneyard where few, if any, would choose or dare to go.
Legion saw Jesus coming and ran to meet the rare intruder. In a confusing scene, Legion worshiped Jesus! At this point in his ministry, no one, not even the Twelve, was thinking of Jesus as God's Son. Yet in Mark's writing, demons always acknowledged the divinity of Jesus. They bowed their knee to a higher power. When Jesus was a baby he had been worshiped by three foreigners, wise men from the East. Now in this story, Legion is the next person to do so. Isn't that weird!
Their conversation seems convoluted. Maybe Mark wrote it that way to fit the twists and turns of the story. Jesus spoke first, "Come out of the man!" Next the man shouted his line, "What have I to do with you!" More literally, "What do we have in common?" Implied answer, "Nothing! So leave me alone. Don't mess with me!" Then in a begging tone, "By God, don't torment me!"
Had he ever been a soldier in the Roman Legion? Maybe at some point in his life he had been mistreated by the occupying army. Or felt condemned by guilt because of some act of brutality he had committed. We do not know what started the tempest within him, but we do sense his terror at the threat of restraints. To counteract his fear, Jesus asked him his name. Legion thought of himself as many, not single but plural! All who knew him agreed. Except Jesus who was not willing to concede defeat. In his mind, Jesus could see Legion whole, unified and purposeful--the way God intended for him to be.
Which demon shouted as he ran to met Jesus? Which one worshiped? Which one protested? Which one feared Jesus would hurt him? There was a tangled mess to sort through and unravel. Did Legion want to be normal? Evidently not. His demons were familiar old friends. He was accustomed to living with them among the dead in the ragged limestone cliffs. Gripped by the fear of imminent change, he begged Jesus not to send his demons far away.
Jesus came not to possess Legion, but to set him free. He walked with him through the labyrinth of his troubled mind, back to the point where he, like every one else, was formed in the likeness of the Most High God - born and adorned with the stamp of God upon his life.
Mark was impressed with the part of the story about the pigs and the drowning of the demons. I am impressed with the description of Legion--sitting, clothed and in his right mind. All three behaviors are the opposite of the wild man Jesus encountered when he came ashore. Legion had done a complete about-face. Sitting implies peaceful rest. Being clothed attests to the transformation of his entire image. In his right mind means the war was over, the enemy silenced.
To borrow a refrain from Genesis 1, the evening and the morning were the first day of Legion's rebirth. And it was good. Reclaimed by the mercy and grace of his Creator, Legion was given a new beginning. That's good news for us also. If it could happen to a person as far gone as Legion, it could happen to each and every one of us. No one is beyond God's reach nor separated from his love.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Share one little story about your name.
Legion was both a frightening and a frightened man. How can that be? Is that a typical combination? Explain your answer. Do you ordinarily think of frightening people as also being frightened?
Years ago, a comedian popularized the phrase, "The Devil made me do it!" Is there any truth in that statement or is it just a silly phrase? When you do things you wish you didn't, who/what makes you do it?
When you have half a mind to do something, does it usually get done? Why? Or why not? How does faith in God help to unify your thinking?
Does your life feel like a battleground for competing forces? Do you believe any of your issues are a struggle of good vs. evil? Who is winning?
Did you ever witness a transformation take place in someone's life? Describe what you saw and how it happened.
I skipped over the stampeding pigs even though Mark gave much space to it. Discuss the importance of that part of the story?
Why was Legion not eager to be healed? Why would he be reluctant to be separated from his demons? Is there anything in your life which is hurtful to you, yet you do not wish to part with it? Have you ever parted with something hurtful in order to move on? If so, share what you can from that experience. Name one way in which you are like Legion?
Jesus gave Legion a chance to make a new beginning. That's like being handed a clean slate. How likely is it that God would do the same for you?
There's something missing from this story. Legion needs a new name, one that reflects his new identity. What new name would you suggest?