Encountering Jesus: A Madman

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 5:19-20

But he refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.

Mark 5:19-20, rsv

Of all the encounters Jesus had with people, this was surely the strangest of all. Think of yourself now as a bystander when it all happened. For a few moments, you are there! The place – land of the Gerasenes on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The time – almost 2,000 years ago. A fishing boat has just put into shore and several men are making their way up the rugged slope from the lake. High on the forbidding hillside a lone figure watches. Upon his wrist is a battered manacle dangling a short length of chain. His body is gaunt but powerful, mottled with scars and open sores. His wide eyes betray mingled terror and cunning; his hair flies in wild disarray. Suddenly he screams at the top of his voice and begins vaulting from rock to rock on his way down to meet the new arrivals.

The leader of the group waits calmly. This crazed giant is running full tilt. Several of the men move up warily to protect their leader from attack. But now the madman stops abruptly and prostrates himself. “What have you to do with me, Jesus?” he shouts, “Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7).

As you watch, a kind of conversation develops. The leader of the group seems completely at ease. The kneeling figure continues to plead and shout. You see him pointing now to a herd of swine feeding on the next slope. The man called Jesus speaks a word of command. Suddenly there’s a commotion among the pigs. You watch with amazement as they thrash about in frenzy and rush headlong toward the cliff’s edge. In a matter of seconds, all have plunged into the sea to drown. The herdsmen stare in disbelief and then race back to their village.

Meanwhile, the man with the wrist irons has calmed down noticeably. The visitors have found him some clothes and he sits with them conversing quietly. From time to time one of them puts an arm around his shoulder. He smiles warmly. You can scarcely believe the transformation you have just witnessed.

Moments later, the herdsmen return with a number of their fellow citizens. Catching sight of the group seated below, they hesitate for a moment and then begin a cautious approach. They stare with astonishment at the man with the borrowed clothes. He greets them reassuringly. Still visibly stunned, they whisper nervously to each other. Finally, one who seems to be a community spokesman motions to Jesus. He wants to talk.

As they step apart, the man from the city seems to be pleading. He wrings his hands, shakes his head, points insistently out across the sea. Jesus nods and then returns to His followers. They talk among themselves and then walk slowly back to their boat. The changed man goes with them. But when they reach the water’s edge, you notice that Jesus turns and speaks with him. It’s evident that the man wants to go along, but Jesus is shaking His head. A parting follows, prolonged and affectionate. Now you see this former wild man striding confidently up the hill, hurrying to join his countrymen. The men on the shore soon clamber into the boat and start in the direction from which they had come.

Well, there it is. You’ve seen what happened. What does it all mean? A maniac who can’t be restrained kneels to worship a stranger. Moments later, hundreds of swine go berserk while the wild man returns to his senses. The citizens of the land, instead of rejoicing, ask Jesus and His friends to leave. And the man himself, pleading to sail with them, is told to go back home. What a story!


Much here is puzzling, but some things are plain. For one, we learn how much it meant to Jesus to free one human being from the powers of evil. This was a man horribly driven by demonic forces. His daily existence was sheer tragedy. Uncontrollably violent, he was a menace both to himself and his community. In fits of awesome strength, he could tear apart the strongest chains and fetters. He made his dwelling among the tombs, his self-torment a kind of living death. Now think of it – Jesus journeyed across the Sea of Galilee through the fury of a midnight storm to find this man. As far as we can see, there was no other objective for the voyage. Jesus had come a long way for this one demoniac – and the man somehow sensed it.

Evil powers had so captivated this wild man as to inhabit him and speak through him. His personhood had been overwhelmed. Jesus took those malignant powers very seriously. He knew them and was known by them. He had come to destroy this satanic kingdom and to set its captives free. But His hour to vanquish it totally, to spoil the principalities and powers, had not yet come. He saved the man but let the malicious spirits go their way.

Why they should be released upon a herd of animals we cannot tell. But of this we can be sure: their fury against the swine expressed their deepest design against the man. They were set to destroy God’s good creation, especially those made in His image. But the incident makes this far more significant point also: Jesus Christ the Lord, who delighted in all that He had made and called it very good, saw one demented human life as more significant than thousands of animals – more precious than a small fortune in pork.

That speaks profoundly, doesn’t it, about His whole mission? He came from the height of His glory to share our humanness. He visited our planet in person to find us. And He counted us – unruly, scarred and lost – as of more value than all else beside and gave His own life to set us free. I believe it deeply – if you had been the only one of His banished people, the only wandering sinner, the only lost son or daughter, He would have come to die for you.


A second thing we learn here is how much our values differ from His. Those worried, small-hearted Gerasenes resemble us a bit, don’t they? Here was the most marvelous thing that had happened in the history of their community. One of their own people, tormented and abandoned, had been completely restored. What a miracle of God’s grace! How could anyone begin to repay such a wonderful act of power and love?

But watch them as they come out from the city. They are frightened, awestruck, but we sense in them little gratitude. They gape at an amazing sight, but they do not seem to rejoice. There’s that ugly problem of the swine. Two thousand pigs have been lost in this bizarre incident. What affect will that have on the economy of the region? But let’s not judge them too harshly. What if those pigs had been yours? That was a big, big loss. It loomed so large to the people that they couldn’t share in heaven’s celebration over a transformed man.

How like them we sometimes are! Jesus’ teachings are beautiful, we say. We acknowledge His way of life to be noble and good. In fact, it all looks supremely attractive – at a distance. But let His transforming power come too close to home and disturb the status quo in which we live and we are uneasy. “Let’s not go overboard about this Christianity business,” we caution, “After all, we don’t want to be fanatics. Caring for the poor and deprived is all very well, but if it’s going to cost much money, we’d like to take a second look at those programs. There’s a lot of corruption and waste, you know, and probably the ones getting help don’t really deserve it anyway!”

And so it goes. Our economic security is often the sacred cow which not even the Lord is allowed to threaten. There are times when people seem to find it more comfortable and convenient not to have Jesus around. That’s the chilling thing our world said to Him when He came, “No room in the inn for You.” “He was in the world,” writes John, “and the world was made by him and the world knew him not. He came to his own and his own received him not.” In our self will and pride, we humans cried out with all the rest, “We will not have this one to rule over us.” And so we arranged, all of us, to have Him put out of the way.

But now, see His strategy for reaching and winning people like us. For one thing, He won’t force Himself on us, will He? When people hound Him and run Him out of town, He lets them do it. He won’t insist on staying. When they come to arrest Him, He doesn’t resist. When they are bent on getting rid of Him, He doesn’t call down legions of angels to save His life. When we say, “We don’t want You around,” Jesus says, “As you will. I’m on my way.”


But that’s not the end of it. He hasn’t given us up. He sends His ambassadors. He leaves those in our midst who can best reach us with His gospel. Listen to what He said to that rescued man by the lake: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And the man did that. Mark writes, “He went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled” (Mark 5:20). That’s Jesus’ strategy. He makes walking miracles out of marred people and then sends them to tell the world what He has done for them.

And note this: the world for them is not ordinarily far away across the sea. Sometimes the Lord calls us to distant lands to be His witnesses but not usually – at least not at first. The exotic adventure we are looking for may be much nearer at hand. It’s at home with our friends, with the people who know us best. Who could possibly reach the Gerasenes like that man who came back from the tombs? His witness might some day change the whole world, but he would touch most profoundly those who had already known him for years.

Before Pentecost, Jesus had told His followers that they would be His witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth. Remember that? That would surely come, but first there was Jerusalem, He said, Judea and Samaria, the surrounding environs. Their mission field was to start right where they were. And that’s true for us too. If the transforming power of Jesus Christ has made your life new, if He has breathed into your heart His quickening Spirit, don’t look at first for distant challenges, worldwide enterprises. Begin where you are. Let your light shine where God has put you. Seek out those who have known you, to whom the change in your life will be most evident. Be the Lord’s witness to them. Let them hear your story just as this man went to tell the Gerasenes.

Perhaps you’re one of those who hasn’t yet experienced this liberating miracle of faith in Christ, this transforming power of Jesus. Whatever your need, however hopeless your plight may seem, O believe it, He is able to deliver you. He is able to change people in a profound level. Come to Him. Call on Him. Trust Him to set you free. He came to do that, precisely that, for you. He lived, died and rose again to be your Savior. And now Lord over all, alive forever, He sends His Holy Spirit to the hearts of those who call upon Him, giving them the power to be what they could never otherwise be. What a day this is, friends, to commit yourself to Jesus Christ, to receive the gift of His forgiveness, and to live in the new, mighty power of His Spirit, in the miracle of Pentecost and new life!

If you are a believer today, you surely want to show your gratitude to Jesus Christ, don’t you? Like that man from the tombs, you want to be His person. You want to serve the world in His name. You want to go with Him. Wonderful! Now hear the word of the One who makes you whole. Hear His challenge about your life right now: “Go home to your friends,” He says, “and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.”

PRAYER: Father, may every person who shares this broadcast today believe that Jesus Christ is a mighty Savior, that there’s no life that He cannot transform. And may everyone who looks to Him and trusts in Him become a witness to His grace, telling the world what great things the Lord has done for them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.