Jesus Has Compassion for the Unclean and Authority Over Spirits

Author: Pastor Noah Toney

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” -Mark 5:1-5


     After calming the storm and rescuing the disciples, Jesus arrives in the Gentile territory of Gerasenes. It is easy to look over the names of people and places when we read the Bible. But this one is significant to the original audience. This location is meant to shock and awe us as we encounter Jesus. If Galilee was a border town, and Jesus and his disciples have spent the whole night crossing the little sea to get to the other side, then they are no longer in Israel. They are in the land of the Gentiles. This is meant to grab our attention because, at Jesus’ time, the Jews disdained the Gentiles. They wanted nothing to do with them, and here the Messiah, the true and better King of Israel, gets in a boat and goes into the land of the Gentiles. That should capture our attention.


Jesus Had Compassion on the Unclean


     From this passage, I want you to see the absolute love and compassion of the Savior for those considered unclean and unwanted by society. When Jesus gets out of the boat, he is immediately met by a man who comes out of the tombs with an unclean spirit. This meant that this man was ceremonially unclean. 


     Allow me to give an aside about the Bible and cleanliness. Have you ever heard the phrase “Cleanliness is next to godliness?” Believe it or not, those words are not in the Bible. However, the Old Testament has a lot to say about being clean and unclean. In the Old Testament, many laws define those who are clean and those who are unclean. This is not so much about us as it is about God. In fact, the book of Leviticus says, “you shall be holy for I am holy” over and over and over and over again. The word "holiness" occurs 90 times in 27 chapters. What does that tell us? The reason that we should seek to be holy is because God himself is holy. 


      This is where the laws about cleanliness come in. To the Jewish mind, there are only two categories, clean and unclean. To be clean means that you have obeyed and kept God’s ceremonial and purity laws, and now you can go and perform the necessary worship of God in accordance with the law. To be unclean is to be defiled in such a way that you have to perform cleansing rites and purification and specific baths to be considered clean again. Whatever an unclean person touched would also be regarded as unclean. The laws of cleanliness are very strange to us as westerners, but these laws are fundamental if you want to understand the culture of Jesus’ day. 


     Why does it matter? This story shows that Jesus came to save the unclean. I cannot over-emphasize this. We have no understanding of the Jews’ prejudice toward those considered outsiders.


      One commentator calls this man a quadruply unclean man. 

           This man is in an unclean land (Mark 5:1,12)

          This man is an unclean gentile

          This man has an unclean spirit (Mark 5:2)

          This man lives among the tombs (Mark 5:3)


     This man is in bad shape; he is living among the dead. This man apparently had supernatural strength. He was able to break shackles and chains. He has an unclean spirit. He howls like a dog and cuts himself with stones night and day. All his friends have abandoned him because no one could subdue him. Of course, this person was unclean and rejected in his own culture but let us be honest, someone like this today would also likely be rejected and disowned by those around him. If I met someone living in a cemetery and howling around, cutting themselves with supernatural strength, I might have the propensity to stay away from that person. And yet Christ Jesus would show him radical compassion. Let us learn from our Lord and King compassion. 


Jesus Subdues the Unruly


And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him.”- Mark 5:3-4


     Mark wants us as readers to notice the absolute unruliness of this man. He had been bound with shackles and chains, but over and over again, he would break them with supernatural strength. This man was the lost cause of the town; no one had the power to subdue this man.....until he met Christ. 


And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.“- Mark 5:6-13


     This unsubduable man with an unclean spirit, the same man who cannot wear chains without ripping them off, at the mere sight of Jesus from a distance, falls to the ground in submission to Jesus. Before Jesus, this man was wild and unruly; he was like an animal, unsubdued and crazy. But when he encounters the person of Jesus, he is subdued. Everything has changed for this man. I can’t help but think of my own heart. This is all of us who are Christians. Before we encounter Jesus, our hearts are unruly; we were chasing desires seeking meaning in this life. Our hearts were chasing things to fill the giant hole in our hearts; we were all like this unclean man. But when we encounter the person of Jesus, the only option is submission. Jesus, at his very presence, settles our souls; he is the answer for the dark night of the soul that all men and women are searching for. Jesus is the great master of the heart. When your heart sees Jesus for the first time, it is like he captivates your will. There is nothing else to do except fall down at his feet in reverent worship. 


     Look at what happens. This man falls at the feet of Jesus, and he cries out to Jesus, saying, “what have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, Do not torment me?”  Commentators are split on who is speaking in this encounter; many believe the demon is speaking, while others believe the man is speaking alone. Look at what is said; I think this is the unclean spirit speaking. He calls Jesus the Son of the Most High God. This unclean spirit knows precisely who Jesus is. Chapter four ends with the disciples standing around wondering, “who is this man that the wind and the waves answer to him” but for this unclean Gentile man, he comes up and professes precisely who Jesus is. Not only does he know who Jesus is, but he is afraid of who Jesus is. He begs Jesus not to torment him. 


     Jesus being in total control, asks this unclean spirit for his name? and he says: “my name is Legion, for we are many.” Many people have interpreted this in many ways. A Legion is 5,600 troops in the Roman army; it was the largest unit of military power. A legion was an absolute force to reckon with. Some scholars have concluded that it shows how Jesus, the King of Israel, will purge Israel of the Romans like he does this man, but I am uncertain. This word, also at a more superficial level, could mean mob. The point is, this man has not one but many, many demons in him. And look what Jesus does. Does he flinch? Does He shudder in fear in the face of many enemies? No, but he says, “come out of this man, you unclean spirit.”


     This mob of unclean spirits realizes that they are done; they are entirely under the thumb of the total sovereign King of the universe. They are only awaiting their destruction. These demons, knowing their defeat, plead to Jesus to be cast into a nearby herd of swine. (This is another hint that they are outside of Israel because pigs were considered unclean, and Jews can’t eat pork). Jesus gives these spirits permission, and they depart immediately into a herd of pigs and rush down the shore into the sea, ultimately to their destruction. 


A Picture of Conversion


The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but 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 everyone marveled.”- Mark 5:14-20


     This is the perfect picture in the Bible of conversion. The people from the nearby city have heard what has happened and they come to see it with their own eyes. They come to see the man, who once was unclean, who once was unruly, who once was howling around like a wild beast cutting himself. And when the city finds him, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind. This is a totally different man than he was at the beginning of this story. This is the radical picture of conversion. When Jesus finds each and every one of us, we are, as Ephesians tells us, “by nature children of the wrath of God.” We are his complete enemies; we hate Jesus Christ. In fact, we can do no other except hate Him. Romans 5:10-11 says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”  


     We were enemies, living among the dead tombs, living in a foreign land, surrounded by worthless things, hindered by our own dead desires. Yet when Jesus the King speaks to us, we are changed. We see him for who he is, and we love him. Our hearts are radically altered and transformed by the gospel. We no longer love dead things, we no longer are tormented by our own choices, but we find radical freedom in Jesus. At the feet of Jesus, we are clothed in his righteousness, and we are found not crazy but in our right mind. This is amazing.


     This man begs Jesus to allow him to come with him, but Jesus gives him a different command. “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 everyone marveled.


     This new man goes to the nearest city, and he tells everyone what the God of Israel had done for him. He goes into this pagan Gentile town and becomes the first missionary to the nations. He goes to the ten cities in the area, and from town to town, he proclaims the wondrous works of God. This is what our response should be upon conversion. When you realize how much you have to be thankful for in God, it only motivates you to tell others about the great work that he has done in your heart.