When an army meets a solitary opponent, which do you expect to emerge victorious? Fortune may favor the strength found in numbers, but what about God? Regarding the constant clash between His church and the kingdom of darkness, Jesus said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18 ESV). And He would know—not even hell’s legions could withstand Him.
To get the most out of this Bible study, read Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39. But first, ask that the Holy Spirit guide you into the truth available in these passages. Permit yourself to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Remember, God is the best teacher.
Key Passage: Mark 5:1-20
Even though the disciples were in the Lord’s company night and day, they still needed training in order to understand He was a miracle-working Messiah whose every word could be trusted. So in Mark 4:35, when Jesus said, “Let us go over to the other side,” He was about to drive the point home by calming the fierce gale that would cause His men to doubt. Now, on the heels of that stunning miracle, they arrive, as promised, on the other side, where Jesus teaches another lesson—that besides having authority over nature, He is also supreme over the spiritual realm.
With the men still awed by the wind and waves’ obedience to Him, Jesus steps off the boat into another confrontation. The Lord is immediately met onshore by a man who is possessed—not just by one demon but by many.
Consider how the demonized man identifies himself in Mark 5:9, noting that Legion specifically refers to a Roman battalion of between 3,000 and 6,000 men. With such numbers, the conflict may initially appear lopsided, but the verb implore, which occurs three times in verses 7-12, tells a different story. What does that wording reveal about how the demons view Christ? About how they view their own power?
Luke 8:27 says the man hasn’t worn clothes or lived in a house for a long time, and Mark 5:3-4 refers to a strained and possibly abusive relationship with the adjacent town. In what ways do you imagine this deprivation and isolation compounded the torture he was already experiencing on account of the demonic possession?
What verbs describe the townspeople’s actions against the possessed man (vv. 3-4)? Compare with the verbs in Isaiah 61, a passage Jesus uses as a personal mission statement (Luke 4:17-21). Which approach proved most effective, and what does that reveal about how God operates?
Continuing the Story
In a dramatic moment, the demonized man is delivered and sits at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind.
Both gospels describe how the man has been living among the tombs, but Luke specifies that he’d “been driven by the demon into solitary places” (Luke 8:29 NIV). How does that final destination compare to where Jesus sends the man after deliverance (Mark 5:19)? In terms of community and relationships, what does that tell you about the difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness?
Have you experienced a similar movement toward or away from your family and friends? What correlation, if any, do you see between your spiritual health and an increasing or decreasing intimacy with others?
Besides having authority over nature, Jesus is also supreme over the spiritual realm.
After the demons have been cast out of him, the rescued man immediately wants to join Jesus and His disciples. But the Savior instead deploys him as an evangelist to the very people who rejected and restrained him.
In His parting address to the delivered man, the Lord tells him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19, emphasis added). What are the feelings or experiences that you typically associate with mercy? How does this man’s experience of deliverance correspond (or not) to your idea of mercy?
Read Mark 1:23-26 and Mark 9:17-26, and then take a look at Mark 5:7. It’s clear that deliverance, even as an act of mercy and divine intervention, is oftentimes an uncomfortable experience for those who are being delivered. Does that impact how you expect to experience the Lord’s mercy in your life? In what ways?
While mercy is often understood to be the absence of punishment, that’s not to say it isn’t also a confrontation. When God addresses the darkness lurking within His children, it can feel like torture, but on the other side is freedom and purpose.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
Deliverance, even as an act of mercy and divine intervention, is oftentimes an uncomfortable experience for those who are being delivered.
One of the most repeated commands in the whole Bible is “fear not.” On more than one occasion, angels reassured humans with this simple mandate, suggesting that such supernatural visitations were inherently terrifying for mere mortals. But they’re not the only ones to speak these words—we also see Jesus constantly exhorting His timid children to take heart and trust Him.
Yet Scripture also tells us we’re to fear the very one who keeps insisting that we not fear—namely, God Himself (1 Peter 1:17). Why? Because if we don’t fear God, we may find ourselves expelling His presence from our lives.
Reread Mark 5:14-17. The townspeople are clearly more disturbed by the sane man sitting at Jesus’ feet than they were by the demonized one roaming the tombs—why do you think that might be?
Fear compels us to protect ourselves, sometimes in irrational ways. Note what action the townspeople take in response to this deliverance: They demanded Jesus’ departure. Have you ever reacted in a similar illogical manner, distancing yourself from the very thing or person that is helping you? How does misplaced fear lead to such behavior?
The fear of the Lord is a difficult concept to grasp, and while we may not be able to tease out every nuance, it’s important to wrestle with the idea. Consider that fear is often a response to authority or power—that is to say, we’re not afraid of things weaker than us. With that in mind, how is our fear of the Lord an acknowledgment of His omnipotence?
Fear, like shame, connects us to our primal humanity. But unlike shame, fear properly directed toward God brings us closer to the One whose perfect love paradoxically casts out all our terror.
Illustration by Adam Cruft