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The power of Jesus trumps everything else.


"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again." What a perceptive parable of our generation. We live in a society in which everything nailed down is coming loose. Things that people said could not happen are happening. Thoughtful-though-unregenerate people are asking, "Where is the glue to reassemble the disintegration and disarray?" The famous author Eugene O'Neill has one of his characters say it graphically: "You cannot build a marble temple out of a mixture of mud and manure."

But we continue to try. Man is almost insanely committed to the proposition that he has all the answers. We build sand castles only to discover the inundating tides of reality washing them out to sea. Then we usually seek someone to blame. I saw an intriguing piece of graffiti in the city of Philadelphia some time ago. Scratched across the wall were these words: HUMPTY DUMPTY WAS PUSHED.

What is the greatest need of a decadent and deteriorating society? Power. A plethora of individuals make promises they cannot perform. They don't have the resources or the power. Long on promises, short on production. Reason? They don't have the resources. They don't have the power. This is not so in the life of Jesus Christ.

In Mark 5, Jesus confronts the problem of demonism. Here's a case study of this condition. In verses 1 to 5, notice the characteristics of demonism. In verses 6 to 13, there is a confrontation between Jesus and the demon, with remarkable insight for living in the age in which God has placed us. In verses 14 to 20 are the two-fold consequences of that confrontation.

First are the consequences relating to the townspeople, who were bent out of shape over what happened. Second are the consequences in the life of the cured demoniac, who became a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Dante could not have painted the scene any more graphically than the first five verses of this chapter. It has all of the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Jesus had gone five miles across the lake to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. This area was not heavily populated, but there were ten cities called the Decapolis. It's into that area that Jesus moves. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.

Four characteristics of demonism

I want you to see the four characteristics of demonism displayed here. Missionaries in many parts of the world can tell you graphic, incredible stories of the powers of demonism. In the last ten to fifteen years, more of these characteristics are showing up in America than in all of our history before. Wherever there is a strong presence of the Word of God, demons do not prevail. In a pagan orientation, these characteristics appear.

The first characteristic of demons is uncleanness. They are evil and filthy, both physically and morally. It's not an accident that wherever you see demonism, you see filth, squalor, rubbish, and dirt. I do not think it's an accident that with the rise of Satanism and the occult in America, you also see several other characteristics increasing: drug abuse, pornography, sexual perversion, and obscenity. I don't think many of us would ever have expected to see what appears today on the television screen.

The second characteristic is isolation. This man lived in the tombs. Withdrawal is characteristic of demonism—being cut off physically and emotionally from others.

The third characteristic is superhuman strength. I remember hearing the stories from missionary friends, many of them my students at the seminary, who would tell me of the almost unbelievable strength of people who were possessed by demons. Here you have it in the biblical account. No one could bind him, not even with a chain. He tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. They tried to restrain him but were incapable of doing so, not for lack of human effort but for lack of human ability.

The fourth characteristic is self-destruction. Night and day this man cried out among the tombs and in the hills. He cut himself with stones, wandering and crying. I know a student with an IQ of 160 who, by his own testimony, was moving in the direction of demon possession. His stories could absolutely compel me to throw up. He had repeatedly tried to take his own life. One day he told me, "Prof, I went to every human source I knew to get rid of the forces that were controlling me. It was only when Jesus Christ entered my life that I was delivered from those self-destructive forces."

Satan is intelligent. He does not go for the people at the bottom of the pile; he goes for people at the top. He goes for people who can be good tools in his hands to accomplish his purpose. I remember a liquor ad using the phrase, "the man of distinction," to describe the person who drank their brand. I came from an alcoholic home. I spent my childhood years chasing my grandfather from tap room to tap room to see if I could lift the pay envelope out of his back pocket so we would have something to live on the rest of the week. Nobody can ever convince me that liquor produces a man of distinction—a man of extinction, perhaps, but not of distinction.

Five crucial insights about demons

In verses 6 through 13, we come to the confrontation. I want you to see five crucial insights about demons. First, when the man saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. The demon recognized Jesus. The name of Jesus is the only name that will shut the demon's mouth.

Second, the demon shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" Demons recognize Jesus' deity. Some university scholars don't have a clue as to who Jesus is, but no demon on the face of the planet is in the dark on that subject. Whenever they appear in the narrative, they always address Jesus in terms of deity.

Third, the demon also said, "Swear to God you won't torture me." Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit." The third insight is that demons are afraid of their final doom. They are asking to come out because they do not want to go to the abyss. They know that's their destination.

In verse 9 is the fourth insight: Jesus asked, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion." (A legion was a Roman army regiment of about 6,000 men, about 1,200 horsemen, and a number of technical specialists who went along with the regiment.) "My name is Legion," the demon replied, "for we are many." Notice the multiple personalities. Notice the change between persons. It's hard to tell who is talking. Is the man talking, or are the demons talking? (Furthermore, the demons begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. They knew the destination. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. I don't know about you, but I find a lot of humor in this passage. Every time I come to this, I want to roar. Twice the demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs." They do not want to be disembodied spirits.)

The fifth insight is that Jesus is always in control. Don't forget it. You may need it. He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out, went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

There were two dramatically different responses to the power of Jesus

What are the consequences? Did the townspeople came out and express gratitude? Did they come out and say, "Praise the Lord! What a wonderful blessing upon our community! Here's a man we couldn't control no matter what we tried to do, and here's the man who cured him. Let's make him the president." Not exactly. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and people went out to see what had happened. You can imagine them saying, "We've got to go out and investigate this."

In verse 10 it says that 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. It's an interesting Greek word that is used here of the people: it's the same word from which we get the word awesome. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man. When they heard about the pigs, they asked Jesus to leave their region. Pigs are more important than people. They're not concerned about the soul of this man. They are concerned about the swine because they were hit in the most tender part of their anatomy: their pocketbook. Whenever you see in culture a conflict over the welfare of an individual versus the wealth of the many, the wealth of the many will always win out over the welfare of the individual.

What about the demoniac? Look at verses 18 and 20. As Jesus was getting into the boat to leave, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus said, "Go home to your family and tell them two things: how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you. So the man went away and began to tell in Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed."

Three final principles

We've seen the story. What's the significance? I want you to jot down and remember three things. Number one, here's a story in which we see the power of Satan demonstrated. We get two insights on that subject. We see the power of Satan in the demoniac before the miracle, and we see the power of Satan in the townspeople after the miracle. C. S. Lewis, in his excellent book The Screwtape Letters, says there are two equal and opposite errors into which we can fall about demons. One is to disbelieve in their existence, and the other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. Lewis says demons are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. I've been in areas where people are so inordinately focused on the power of Satan that a focus on the power of God is lost.

Satan is powerful. Never underestimate him. But he is not all-powerful. In 1 John 4:4, John writes, "The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." Satan has limitations. If you don't believe Satan is limited, you need to read the opening chapters of the book of Job again. We are shown something that Job never saw: a conversation between God and the devil. The only time the devil could touch Job was when God gave him permission, and God always limited Satan.

Now understand, as you study the New Testament, you'll see that Satan is both a roaring lion and an angel of light. He's a roaring lion, and we see it certainly here, and we see it in our society and in a variety of settings. But I've often thought as I worked on skid row, particularly when I was a college student, that guy lying in that filth in that gutter is a poor advertisement for Satan. I had a mentor who once said, "Hendricks, whenever you look for the devil, look at the religious scene." It's the last place in the world you would expect to find him. Because he's an angel of light, Satan specializes in deception. His purpose is always to divert, destroy, and distort the image of God in the person who is possessed and controlled by him.

In college I helped at Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. On one occasion an invitation was given, and a lot of these individuals staggered forward to a little rail at the front. The mission executive pointed to me and said, "Son, lead that man to Jesus." I knelt beside the man and put my arm around him. He was not wearing Chanel No. 5—more like Sewer Gas No. 9! I had the privilege of leading that man to Jesus Christ. Twenty-three years later at a Bible conference in Michigan, a man walked up to me and said, "You won't remember me, but I'll never forget you. You were the person who led me to Christ at Pacific Garden Mission. Now I'm the head of a mission organization with missionaries in seventeen countries." My friends, that's what the grace of God can do. Satan will ruin an individual, and he really doesn't care how he does it. It is only the Savior who can redeem him.

We need to understand not only the power of Satan, but also the power of God. Look at the before and after. The demoniac was restless before; after, he's sitting quietly. Before, he's naked; after, he's clothed. Before, he's totally out of control; after, he's in his right mind. That transformation is impossible apart from the power of God. In his grace, God provides instruments to help us solve our problems: parents, pastors, counselors, and friends. There is always a beautiful blending between the human and the divine in God's economy.

But sometimes the problem is hopeless. It was with this man. Then what? Even all of the people with their resources and concern and desire to help cannot come through. In contrast to Satan, God's purpose is to make men and women whole. Someone said "the glory of God in man is man fully alive." "I am come that you might have life," Jesus said. Are you fully alive this morning? That's the power we sing about in "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name."

If you are facing an impossible situation today, then perhaps you need to come to the power of God. Somebody in the sixth row says, "Look, you don't know me. If you really knew me, you'd never make that kind of statement. I'm deeply scarred with filthy habits and uncontrollable desires. I'm beyond hope." I wish the demoniac were here. He would say, "I beg to differ with you. There is hope in one person, and his name is Jesus." He may use a variety of means to accomplish his purpose, but never forget the ultimate answer to your problems is a person.

There's one final lesson: this is a story that teaches me the power of witnessing. I did not say the power of evangelism. One of our problems is we've never learned to distinguish between evangelism and witnessing. Evangelism is a gift given to a select few. Witnessing is the responsibility of the many. In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, "You will be my witnesses." Do you know what witnessing is all about? Just what you have here. Jesus says to the man, "Go home and tell them what God has done for you and how great is his mercy." What a story he had to tell! You don't think you have any less, do you?

My closest friend, Ray Stedman, just went home to be with the Savior. Ray and I were classmates at seminary. We used to sit by the hour under a pecan tree on the campus and develop what he called nutty theology. We would think about our ministries and what God had called us to do. At Peninsula Bible Church, Ray implemented that philosophy, and I stayed at the seminary and taught it. On one occasion, Ray was preaching through 1 Corinthians and came to that remarkable passage in 1 Corinthians 6:9. It says, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were."

When Ray came to that point, he said, "I want to do something I've never done before in my life. How many of you in this auditorium were saved out of those characteristics? Stand to your feet." The place froze. He said it seemed like an eternity before an 86-year-old woman in the back stood. It broke the ice. One after another, hundreds of people got on their feet. In that crowd was a pagan student invited by his friends to come to church. He was sitting there, reading through this list. One after another, people stood to their feet. He looked around, and the tears started down his face. He said, "Man, these are my kind of people." Through that experience, he came to faith. Later he came to seminary and is now in an effective ministry for Jesus Christ.

Richard Halverson, chaplain of the United States Senate, said it so clearly one day: "Howie, if I ever build a church again, I'm going to put across the front of that church these words: FOR SINNERS ONLY." The church is not the community of the perfect. It's the community of the forgiven, people just like these people in Corinth, just like this demoniac who came to faith.

As a witness, tell what God has done in your life. The best place to begin is with your family. It's the hardest place, isn't it? I find it easy to witness to other people, but to the family? Isn't it interesting that Jesus forbade this man to go with him? Why? Not because he didn't have what it takes to be a disciple, but because a disciple is one who is willing to go wherever God wants him to go and to be whatever God wants him to be. So the former demoniac becomes the first evangelist to the Gentiles in Decapolis. One man's obedience opens ten Greek cities to the gospel.

I find a lot of Christians get bent out of shape because they're living next door to pagans. One woman said to me, "I don't even let my children play with the neighbors. They're liable to hear cursing." I said, "Lady, how long do you think it will be before your kids are exposed to that kind of language?" I happen to believe kids are a lot more perceptive than some adults. They are very capable of seeing the difference. Don't sell them short. After I spoke to a group of men recently, a man came up to me, sobbing. He said, "I'm the only Christian in our company." I said, "You mean God Almighty entrusted that outfit to you?"

Every time I get around a group of laymen like you—those of you up close can see—there's drool all down my front. That's why I have to get out of the "cemetery." I've been teaching there for 43 years. If I stayed around a seminary all the time, I'd dry up and blow away. I've got to get out around some hells and damns to be convinced this is life. I look at you who live, move, and have your being with these people. Those of us in the ministry are paid to be good. You people are good for nothing.


Don't miss it. Some rejected Jesus. One man received him. Do you remember those verses in the opening of John's Gospel? "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet, to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God." You either receive him or you reject him. John Oxenhan wrote a beautiful poem, GADARA, A.D. 31: "Rabbi, be gone! Thy powers Bring loss to us and ours. Our ways are not as Thine. Thou lovest men, we--swine. Oh, get you hence, Omnipotence, And take this fool of Thine! His soul? What care we for his soul? What good to us that Thou hast made him whole, Since we have lost our swine?" I leave you with one question: What do you value the most? Things, like swine? Or people, like the demoniac?

© Howard Hendricks 1993
Preaching Today Issue #119
A resource of Christianity Today International

Dr. Howard Hendricks is chairman of the Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also involved in ministry through books, publications, radio, and video.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Four characteristics of demonism

II. Five crucial insights about demons

III. There were two dramatically different responses to the power of Jesus

IV. Three final principles