Chance Encounters: Darkness Defeated
Topic: Christ's Love & Power Scripture: Mark 5:1–5:20,
What were you scared of as a kid? We all had something, right? Maybe it was spiders or other kinds of bugs. Creepy crawlers skittering across the floor or the walls. How many of you are the designated bug killers in the house? Yeah, same here. It’s not a job I like but I take it on the chin for the safety of my family. If it wasn’t bugs, maybe you were scared of storms. Storms can be unsettling at any age, but when you’re a kid, your imagination can run wild. After any big thunderstorm, Isaac usually ends up asking Caitlin or me if there’s a storm outside for a few days. Bugs, storms…there are other things too, but there’s one thing that I think is common to most of our childhoods: darkness. What kid isn’t afraid of the dark at some point in their life? When we’re little, our imagination runs wild with what could be hidden in the darkness.But as we grow older, we need our imaginations less and less. Our eyes take in the monstrosities of the darkness in the everyday world we live in. On the evening news, in social media, even in private conversations with neighbors and loved ones…we see darkness. And in truth, it often scares us more than the things we used to dream up as children. When we turn to the pages of Scripture, we find that darkness is always set in terms of that which opposes the love and goodness of God. It represents chaos, ignorance, deceit, death. And in several places, darkness describes a supernatural enemy. An enemy that appears in our chance encounter this morning. We’re in Mark 5:1-20.
There’s no getting around it, this is a chilling story. Even those of us who are super familiar with the stories we read in the Bible are likely made uneasy by this one. We’re used to the supernatural element, to a degree. We have heard the stories of feeding thousands, giving sight to the blind, even walking on water. But this is different. This isn’t a fantastic sight to behold and to share with others. This is unsettling, uncomfortable, and – if we’re honest – scary.
We enter the scene as Jesus is getting out of a boat. Actually, this is right after Jesus had calmed the storm and commanded the wind and waves to be still. And we read that when Jesus got off of the boat that a man came out of the tombs to confront Jesus. But this wasn’t any normal person. We’re told that this man had within him an impure spirit. Other translations use words like unclean or evil. The term we might be more familiar with is possessed. And this possessed man had been living in what is essentially a graveyard. It only gets more bizarre as we’re told that this possessed man had an unnatural strength and that no one could hold him down. Even more, he was strong enough to break chains that were used to try and subdue him. And night and day he would roam around the tombs screaming at the top of his lungs and cutting himself with stones and anything else he could find. And when he approaches Jesus, it only gets more unsettling.
This terrifying and plagued person runs right up to Jesus and begins shouting in his face, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Don’t torture me!” Jesus demands that he tell him his name. And he says, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” This just gives you chills. In my undergrad, I took two years of Greek. I actually wrote a paper on this passage. I can remember reading this passage in the original language for the first time. In fact, I went over it again in preparation for this message. It is the only instance in the New Testament where the same voice changes from singular to plural. The way it is written in Greek - highlights that there were multiple voices talking. It was enough to give me chills more than 10 years ago, and even this week, when I read it again.
Through this text the Greek alternates between using two definitions for what has possessed this man. Unclean spirits…and demons. Unfortunately, the movie industry has grabbed hold of the idea of demonic possession and blown it way of our proportion. Too many movies have come out that seem to do nothing but glorify and magnify the power of the demonic. That is not what we are supposed to do. We aren’t supposed to elevate evil and revere it as some kind of unstoppable force. But I’d also caution against the other side of the pendulum to where some say there is no evil, no demons, no Satan. To say that these are simply manifestations of our own sin or the evil in our hearts is to make, in my opinion, as costly a mistake as affording them too much power. When I look at Scripture and the response that Jesus had to these forces, I don’t see him advertise or overestimate the demonic, but He certainly doesn’t ignore them, or claim they don’t exist. He defeats them.
We can’t miss what his very first reaction is, when he sees Jesus. This man, these demons, all run to Jesus and beg him not to torture them. All that power that we’ve read about. All the fear associated with this person. All the strength and terror. It’s gone when brought before Jesus Christ. There is nothing that these demonic forces can do in the face of the Son of God, other than beg for mercy. This presents us with a powerful reality that we cannot afford to forget. We are reminded in the book of James that the demons know God and fear Him. In this case, we see it firsthand. When Jesus steps off the boat and commands the evil within this man to come out, those evil forces know who it is, that is commanding them. When Jesus demands that these spiritual forces name themselves, there is not any hesitation, there is no back-pedaling or pompous response. These creatures immediately speak their name and they return to begging.
Now, this is by far the strangest chance encounter we’ve come to so far. And that’s saying something, considering what we’ve already seen. But I think we can all agree, that compared to a short guy climbing a tree, some friends dropping a buddy through a roof, and even a miraculous healing…this one is different. Every chance encounter gives us an incredible glimpse into the person of Jesus, but hopefully they have also revealed something to us about our own relationship with Christ and about our own call as followers of Jesus. And bizarre and eerie as it may be, this chance encounter does the same thing. We are given a glimpse of how reaching and perfect the power of Christ is, and what it can do in the life of one consumed by darkness.
In short, we learn that Christ is powerful. It’s a seemingly obvious truth that I feel we’ve somehow lost sight of. We can sing about Jesus. We listen to stories about Jesus. We even do things in the name of Jesus. But answer this question to yourself: Do you believe Jesus is powerful? I mean, really and truly powerful? You see, I think a lot of us fall into making a mistake about the way we think about Jesus. There are some people who read the accounts of Jesus we find in Scripture, and they attempt to explain away the miraculous and supernatural. What a sad, disappointing mistake to make when looking at and thinking about the person of Jesus Christ. The supernatural elements are beyond their comprehension. The healings, the miracles, commanding the wind and the waves, and beings like angels and demons…all of it is too much for some, so they explain it away. That’s tragic, but I don’t think that is what we fall victim to. Instead, I think it is much more likely for us to turn Jesus into a beloved character out of our favorite story. We read and hear about Jesus like we do the fictional characters in our favorite books. And while we can be awed by what we hear and inspired by what we read, we can be tempted to think that Jesus is just like the fictional heroes we love. But that’s just not true. Jesus is not a character in a story. Jesus is the story. He is our story.
I told you that I think it’s a mistake to underestimate forces of spiritual evil or to attempt to deny their existence. With that being said, I don’t think many of us can look at what happened to the man in our text and find a lot of common ground. While some of us may speak with strange and dark voices when being woken up too early, I don’t believe all of us are plagued by the same possession this man endured. But I do believe that this chance encounter addresses something all of us come up against in some way, at some time, in some form: darkness.
This man was oppressed by a darkness that ultimately consumed him. It ruined who he once was and alienated him from everyone and everything in his life. It took him to dark places, places of death and sickness. As human beings, we see brokenness all of the time, but there is also deep brokenness within us. It is as malicious as it is duplicitous. And it can go by many names. Addiction, disorder, obsession, depression…these and more are forces of darkness that oppress us. They seep into our worlds, into who we are, and twist us into people we never wanted to be. We make decisions we would never have made before. We create bonds and relationships with people and objects that further infect us.
This passage reveals to us the power of Christ and His desire for us. It is not His will for us to writhe in darkness. In this passage, we meet a man so dominated by darkness that he is unable to make any plea for help. It is instead, Jesus, who takes action and intervenes. He speaks against the darkness that has no power compared to His and He banishes it from the one who is suffering.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Serious issues like depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and addictions are not matters to be taken lightly. I am not suggesting that you simply pray about it. God provides many sources of hope in our lives. It is not simply you and Jesus against the dark forces in front of you. Christ surely possesses the power to banish all darkness and overcome it, but often, as we see through the narrative of Scripture, our God employs the compassion and gifts of His children to do His will in this world. I believe that sometimes, maybe even often times, our God uses the giftedness and skills of those He has created, to help us leave the darkness we are in. This includes teachers, counselors, friends, pastors, doctors, and more.
This passage speaks to us about the power of Jesus Christ. He is so mighty, so powerful, that the very forces of evil tremble before Him, begging for His mercy. Is that the same Jesus you see? It is that Jesus that wants to pull us out of the darkness and free us from our captivity. In His time on earth, Jesus never encountered an individual who was hurting or lost or broken, and left them as He found them. He always brought healing and restoration and hope. Jesus reveals to us the heart of God and it is clear that it is not God’s desire for us to remain in darkness.
So what darkness are you trapped in? What has you shackled? Can you see it for what it is? Do you recognize the darkness? This passage tells us that Jesus does not desire any to stay in darkness. Addiction, obsession, depression, fixation, disorder…all of these things are darkness. They cloud our minds and rob us of joy and truth. They tell us lies about ourselves and about others. They promise us what we desire, but leave us without anything of value. They whisper promises of pleasure, acceptance, or release, but they leave us chained and alone and broken.
Not everyone’s darkness is as severe as the man’s in our passage. Peer pressure. Worry and anxiety. Low self-esteem. Sometimes the things we think of as minor actually hold the most power over how we live our lives. None of those things are more powerful than Christ.
Maybe you don’t find yourself trapped under a crippling darkness at the moment. Maybe yours is a story of freedom. Then I believe you are a part of another person’s story of freedom. Whether it’s as a family member, a friend, a brother or sister in Christ, or a professional…you have a part to play in God’s defeat over darkness.
It’s important for us to revisit what happened to the man of our passage after this ordeal. After the voices had been silenced and the pigs had gone for a dive. Verse 15 tells us that the people came to where the scene took place, and saw the man who had been possessed, and saw that he was dressed and in his right mind. The NLT says that he was “perfectly sane”. This man was restored. His darkness was defeated. And the first thing this man does is ask Jesus if he can come with Him and Jesus tells him no. Jesus asks this man to return to his family and to tell everyone what God had done for him. And the scene ends with us hearing that this man traveled the entire region, telling everyone he could find what God had done for him, and that all the people were amazed.
We have a responsibility. If we are in darkness, we are called to the light. Through the power of Christ and through the skills and giftedness of others, we are called to leave darkness behind in defeat, and be found in the light of Christ. And when we find ourselves in the light, regardless of what we have endured, we are called to share the power of Jesus with everyone we encounter. Not keep it private. Not hide it. But to offer hope and inspiration to any who would listen, that there is a God who is powerful and miraculous and wonderful, and this God offers us life and light. We receive the unimaginable joy of telling the world that our Savior is true and strong, and that through Him, we have seen darkness defeated.