When Pigs Fly

Mark 5:1-20

 

For the purposes of this story today, you need to know two things.  First of all, I am a huge Arkansas Razorback fan.  I know many of you already know this.

Secondly, I went to a Catholic high school in my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Next, I’ll offer up two more tidbits of information for you.  During my time in high school, the Razorback arguably had the best basketball team in the country.

We won the national championship during my sophomore year and finished as national runners-up during my junior year.

Also, I had to wear a tie every day to school.  That’s often how it goes at a Catholic school.  People ask why I don’t wear one much now.  There’s your reason.

 

Okay, so the Razorbacks were really good at basketball.  And I had to wear a tie to school each day.  What do these two things have to do with each other?

Well, for someone who’s used to gym shorts and sweat pants, wearing a tie can be quite uncomfortable.  Therefore, I had to look for other ways to make it enjoyable.

One day, I was at a store looking at ties with my mom.  She noticed one and giggled as she picked it up.  It was dark blue with pink pigs all over it.

She commented on how funny it looked.  I said, “I want that tie.”  “Why?” she responded.  I had found my way to make tie-wearing fun.

“I’m going to wear it every day following a Razorback win,” I replied.  And I did.

We purchased that tie sometime during my sophomore year.  As I’ve already mentioned, the Hogs won a lot of games during that year and the next.

So it got a lot of wears.  I wore it for an entire week when we won the national championship.  I wore it when we won in other sports as well.

I kept wearing it until I graduated.  By the time I finished high school, that tie was a tattered mess.  But it was definitely my favorite.

 

Being the small state that Arkansas is—and considering there are no professional teams of any sport there—the Razorbacks were the only ticket in town.

Folks at school—it was an all-boys school, mind you—always wanted to talk Razorback sports.  And it became known through my class.

If you don’t know how the Hogs did last night, go check out Matt’s tie.  If you see the pigs, you’ll know they won.

So there you go.  That’s kind of a fun story.  But what does it have to do with anything related to Jesus or the Bible or church?

 

Well, I just thought it a very appropriate way to introduce one of my favorite accounts from the Bible—and not merely because pigs are involved.

It’s found in the fifth chapter of Mark—at least, that’s the version we’re going to look at today.  Matthew and Luke also include this story in their gospels.

I’ve been attempting to bounce around and include all four gospels equally in our closer look at Jesus’ earthly ministry, leading up to Easter.

And I know we looked at Mark last week, but this was too good a fit to pass up looking at his gospel once again.

Our passage this morning, which begins with the first verse of chapter five, continues in sequence from last week’s passage found at the end of chapter four.

Jesus, in both passages, is in basically the same region.  And, though perhaps not noticeable at first glance, He deals with similar situations in both passages.

But before we beat around the bush any longer, let’s get to our reading.  I’ll begin with verse one of chapter five.  (Read Mark 5:1-5.)

 

Sometimes we tend to have a problem with keeping the main thing the main thing.

This happens, in my opinion, in regards to this portion of scripture and some scholarly commentary.  Notice where Jesus is—crossing the lake.

You may remember that we mentioned this lake last week.  It was on this lake that Jesus and His disciples encountered that furious squall—and He silenced it.

According to today’s passage, they arrive at the region of the Gerasenes.  Some translations say Gadarenes, and others, Gergasenes.

So which is it?  Well, to address the geography of the situation, the first two regions were many miles from the lake, historians hold.

The Gadarene region was some five-plus miles from the lake, while the Gerasene region was over thirty miles from the lake.

If you know the rest of this story, you know that such a distance from the lake poses a problem for believability considering the events that soon unfold.

The Gergasene region was adjacent to the lake—and includes a steep embankment leading to the lake, unlike the other two—so it seems more believable.

 

But Mark only spends one little verse discussing the region.  And why should we fiddle over something so lacking in importance compared to the rest of the saga?

How can we get hung up on verse one when Mark paints us such a vivid picture of human suffering and enslavement in verses two through five?

You have, perhaps, read accounts of Jesus healing people who were possessed by demons.  But none of them are nearly as descriptive as this one.

And no other demon-possessed person in scripture, it would seem, face the challenges this man faced and suffered in the same way he suffered.

Let’s take a closer look at the details Mark gives us in regards to this poor man.

 

First off, we notice that he lived in the tombs.  This is a most unpleasant situation, to be sure.  He had no home, perhaps because he had been banished from the town.

The demons possessing him made him remarkably strong.  No one could keep him bound.  He tore through the chains on his hands and the irons on his feet.

He cried out often as he roamed the cemetery and the adjacent hills.  Beyond that, he frequently cut himself with stones.

This doesn’t refer to accidental injury related to the nature of the terrain around him.  He was a sick, sick man.

Nothing about him is the way humanity was supposed to be.  Beyond that, he was the epitome of “unclean”.  Think about it for a second.

He lived among the dead, which automatically made him defiled in Jewish culture.

He was possessed by an unclean, evil spirit—actually, several of them.  Finally, he was in an unclean Gentile region.  We’ll pick up clues to that regard a little bit later.

All in all, this is perhaps the most pitiful person we will encounter in all of scripture.

He is alone.  He is godless.  He is violent.  He is self-loathing.  He is mentally unstable.

Who he truly is seems to be completely shrouded by the plethora of demons that have the run of his body and mind.  He is completely irrational and rudderless.

In truth, this man is the human version of the storm we find at the end of chapter four—the storm that we covered last Sunday.

Jesus has entered this Galilean region near the lake, and it would appear the region wants nothing to do with Him.  You could say the devil has a hold of this area.

Even nature—be it weather or humanity—is doing its best to drive Jesus away.

Just as Jesus confronted the storm, the possessed man is now about to confront Him.  Let’s pick back up with the reading in verse six.  (Read Mark 5:6-10.)

 

Immediately, we see who is in charge of this situation, and the demons know it as well.  The man, controlled by the demons, falls at the feet of Jesus.

This is clearly an act of submission, as is the subsequent request.  The demons, shouting through the man, begin begging Jesus.

They show that they know who He is—the Son of the Most High God.  They plead with Jesus not to torment them.

It would seem that Jesus had already begun the process of exorcism.  Jesus, surprisingly, takes a breather to engage the demons in conversation.

 

He asks for a name.  The demons reply, “Legion, for we are many.”  Whether or not this is an explicit reference to the Roman military unit, we don’t know for sure.

But a Roman legion consisted of between 5,000 and 6,000 troops.  We don’t have specific numbers, but there is every reason to believe this is a mob of demons.

This poor man is now the home to a swarm of deadly spiritual parasites.  And they beg Jesus not to torment them.

Specifically, they ask not be sent away from the area.  It would seem that they consider the region home.  Luke has a little bit different take in his gospel.

He says that the demons begged Jesus not to send them “into the Abyss”.  This is generally held to be the final destination of destruction for Satan and his minions.

 

In any case, we know this much is true.  There are many of these demons.  They know who Jesus is.  They fear His authority and His power.

What’s more, we know that this man is in the sorriest of sorry states.  We cannot overstate this fact.  He is lost, and he is destructive—to others and to himself.

Let’s see how the drama unfolds as we continue our reading with verse eleven through verse fifteen.  (Read Mark 5:11-15.)

 

Enter the swine.  There’s our first major clue that we are in a Gentile area.  Jews have nothing to do with pork, as that is considered unclean meat.

The demons, desperate for an escape route, plead with Jesus to cast them into the pigs, rather than expel them from the area and into that aforementioned Abyss

Curiously, Jesus gives them permission.  Now this is most interesting, and we could spend a large chunk of time dealing with all the ramifications.

As you probably picked up from our reading, this heard was roughly two thousand in number, and the entire herd died as a result of the demon possession.

First of all, this might cause some problems for us—especially those of us who like animals.  This hardly seems fair for those poor pigs.

Jesus doesn’t strike me as an animal hater, so why do this?  Why go along with the request of demons?  Beyond that, what about the economic impact?

Herds are valuable assets today, and that was probably even truer in that time and place.  This is a serious financial setback for this community.

What are we to make of all this?

 

Firstly, we could take a few minor things into account.  For instance, the demons going into the pigs gave credence to a couple significant points.

First of all, this man truly was demon possessed.  The shift of the demons from the man to the pigs verify this.

Secondly, the number of demons possessing this man was significant.  There were enough demons to drive a herd of two thousand pigs off a cliff.

Can you imagine this scene?  The sights and the sounds would leave even the most hardened unbeliever wide-eyed and slack-jawed.

But even if we take these considerations into account, do they still justify the killing of all these pigs?  Granted, it was the demons and not Jesus who destroyed the herd.

But Jesus did acquiesce to their request to be sent into the pigs.

 

Well, here’s another fact to consider.  The author of this gospel, Mark—along with the authors of the other gospels—are silent as to the “why” of Jesus’ actions.

Look at our passage again.  Mark gives us no insight.  To be sure, we might be tempted to ponder.  It seems a worthwhile question, to say the least.

But remember what we talked about in regards to which region this happened in—remember all the Gerasene, Gadarene, and Gergasene discussion?

Mark spent one verse on naming the specific region, then moved on to nineteen more verses of narrative.  The same is true here.

We get one verse regarding the pigs dying, and then no more.  No reasoning.  No conjecture.  No debate.  Apparently Mark wants us to focus on something else.

 

Now, if we are going to make it part of our belief system that we believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, we have to trust something here.

We have to trust that Mark, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has given us everything we need right here.  And what is it that Mark thinks we need to hear?

The main point is found in verse fifteen.  The townsfolk hear about the goings on down by the lake.  They run out to see what has happened.

And the first thing they notice is the man.  We don’t know his name.  Call him “Steve”, if you like.  But there he is.

No longer is he roaming the graves wildly and loudly.  Instead, he is sitting calmly and quietly.  No longer is he all alone, with no one daring to approach him.

Instead, he sits at the feet of Jesus—and Jesus appears perfectly at ease with him.

No longer is he tattered and battered.  Instead, he appears dressed and clean.  No longer is he a threat to others.  Instead, he is in his right mind.

But that’s not all there is to verse fifteen.  There are four little words that wrap up that verse, and they are very significant words—“and they were afraid”.

We’re back to talking about fear again.  You may remember last week that, though the disciples were fearful of the storm, something else terrified them.

They were actually more fearful of Jesus after He calmed the storm.  The same is true here.  I’m sure the people were fearful of Steve, or whatever his name was.

But they had grown accustomed to him, it would seem.  To be sure, they stayed clear of him, but all in all you might assume he had become the town mascot.

But something supernatural has changed Steve, inside and out.  Change is scary.

The power that could do something like that is scary.  Sin and strife and disaster are scary things, to be sure.  But, once again, we see that God strikes more fear.

 

The question, of course, is this.  What will that fear motivate you to do?  Will it motivate you to run and hide, as Adam and Eve did?

Will it motivate you to reject God, as the Pharisees did?  Or will it motivate you to trust in this great and mighty God?

Let’s take a look at their response as we wrap up our reading.  (Read Mark 5:16-20.)

 

Just as quickly as the townspeople noticed Steve and grew fearful of the change that had occurred, they now turn their attention to the pigs.  Where are they?

The herders are spinning an incredulous yarn about what this man—this Jesus standing by Steve—did, not only to Steve but also to the pigs.

And, just as the demons pleaded with Jesus not to send them out of the region, the townsfolk now plead with Jesus to send Himself out of the region.

They reject Him, and we don’t completely know why.  We can certainly speculate.

Clearly, they suffered a great economic loss and likely blamed Him.  Clearly, He could do something no one else could do—restrain and cure Steve.

That made Him different, and we all tend to have an aversion to that which is different.  It almost seems as though they don’t like what Jesus did.

Could they actually be more concerned over the loss of the pigs—and their assets—than over the plight of a human?  Might we ever be guilty of the same thing?

Jesus would never be guilty of such a thing.  We don’t know why He sent those demons into those pigs, but we do know this.

Jesus cared deeply for this broken man.  No matter how valuable that entire herd of pigs was, Jesus viewed that man as infinitely more so.

 

And that brings us back to our newly healed friend.  Our passage concludes with Jesus getting back into the boat to leave the region.

Much as He went along with the request of the demons to enter the pigs, so He goes along with the request of the townsfolk to get the heck out of their region.

And Steve begs to go with Him.  Oh, that we could appreciate what Jesus has done for us in at least some small way as he did.

Sadly, whenever Jesus gets too close for comfort, I think at times we react as the townspeople did.  Jesus, however, tells him that he may not come with Him.

Once again, we could speculate on various reasons.  For one, this man was likely a Gentile, which could have compromised Jesus’ mission among the Israelites.

But, the more important reason is that Jesus had a plan for this man.  He sends him back to the people of his region.

“Go home to your own people,” Jesus says.  What a blessing it is for this man, to know that he might actually have a home other than the cemetery!

Not only is he to go home, but he is also to tell the folks back home how much the Lord has done for him and how God has had mercy on him.

And he does just that.  He goes and testifies in the Decapolis—known as “The Ten Towns”—which is a highly Gentile region.

And our passage concludes by saying that all who heard him were amazed at his testimony—and by what God had done in his life.

 

Do you see what happened here?  Jesus just commissioned and sent out a preacher.

In fact, this was the first one that Jesus sent out.  Yes, this woeful, pitiful, wretched man—this Gentile man—was Jesus’ first missionary.

The people of the region may have thought that they expelled Jesus from the area, but Jesus was still very much alive there—and so was His message.

Jesus was present in the person He sent out.  He was present in the testimony of this man who once was as lost as one could get, but now was found.

 

People may try to remove Jesus from our schools and our public places and other various arenas, but the presence of sold-out followers of Jesus Christ in those places shows their efforts to be futile.

I’m tired of hearing about how Jesus has been forced out of our public schools.  As long as teachers and students who follow Christ are going there with His mission in mind, Jesus will be there.  His love and His truth will shine through.

 

Look, we could argue all day about which was the specific region where this happened, or what justification is there for the plight of these pigs, or any other number of contentious questions.

You know the point of this story.  Jesus is God Almighty.  He has the power to destroy and dominate demons—even legions of evil forces.

And add to that this.  Jesus cares for even the most pitiful of us.  He touches us.  He makes us whole.  And He alone can do it.  Everything else is just window dressing.

 

Has He touched your life?  Has He revealed Himself to you?  Does His presence and His truth make you uncomfortable—perhaps even a little fearful?

And most importantly, what will you do about it?  How will you respond to Him?

You ponder, as I pray.  (Pray.)