10. Discerning the Positive in the Negative (Mark 5:3-4)

One of the great stories in Mark’s Gospel is found in chapter 5 – the restoration of the Gerasene demoniac! Several features stand out, including the details that Mark provides in his lengthy introduction (one quarter of the entire story), the dramatic confrontation with the demons, the awesome change in the man (vs. 14-15), and the identification of Jesus as “Lord” in vs. 19-20.

Undoubtedly in his introduction Mark stresses the untamable power in this person. Under the control of unclean spirits he dwells among the dead (an unclean place), his screams echo in the hills, and he disfigures himself with rocks. People had made many efforts to bind him, but none succeeds because this man who is bound by the unclean spirits will not submit to or recognize merely human power.

In this context Mark affirms that “not even with chains no longer no one had the power to bind him” (literal rendering of 5:3b). Normally in English usage repeated negatives cancel each other out, reducing their effect. Not so in Greek. Piling up negatives like this increases their emphasis and heightens their impact. The repeated, desperate efforts of people, probably family and friends, perhaps religious officials, are mocked by this person’s diabolical power. The hopelessness of this individual’s case could not be expressed more strongly. Relentlessly Mark continues by reporting that “many times” attempts were made to bind his hands and his feet, but the chains and fetters were smashed and broken. This man’s superhuman ability renders him ‘untamable’.

And then he meets Jesus. The prior story describes how Jesus has tamed the winds and the waves on the sea of Galilee, to the total surprise of his followers. What will he do when faced with this new challenge – an uncontrollable, demonized man? As we read the story, Jesus’ power is attacked at every turn, but in the end he emerges in full control. In vs. 15 as a result of Jesus’ action, the man is sitting, clothed, and in his right mind! What previously we as readers knew to be impossible through these repeated negatives in vs. 3-4, now suddenly is a reality – the man’s bondage to satan is broken. He is tamed by Jesus and released to be free in God’s service.

As the story concludes, the man petitions Jesus to join him as a disciple, but surprisingly Jesus refuses. Instead he commissions him to return to his family and “tell them what great things the Lord has done for you” and explain the mercy experienced. Who is the Lord, the one who exercises power? Mark leaves us in no doubt. The last verse (20) tells us that the man obeyed and announced in his region “what great things Jesus had done”. Jesus is the Lord! The equation is clear. He has power to do the impossible. At Jesus’ command the untamable person is tamed without any chains. What seemed so negative turns into a huge positive, as Jesus demonstrates his ability to challenge and overcome the most powerful forces of evil and reverse the effects of satan’s work in human lives. This is God’s mercy at work.

Application: as you reflect upon this story of Jesus,

  1. identify the habits, the relationships, the circumstances that bind you and prevent you from moving closer to Jesus and obeying His Spirit;
  2. despite their power and despite previous attempts to deal with them, ask Jesus through his power to release you from these spiritual millstones;
  3. define specific action that you will take with God’s help to break away from these evil influences;
  4. thank God for His mercy in helping you.

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