In Mark 5 the people in the country of the Gerasenes had a similar problem. They had a man who was a danger to himself and others. They had no psychiatric units and no lithium to give him. They tried to chain him up and shackle his feet, but he was so strong that he could break the chains and shackles. The Bible tells us that he was demonized with a legion of demons, i.e. a thousand demons. In our modern world we don’t often think of demons getting hold of a person like that. We prefer to use the term “mental illness.” But mental illness, like all illnesses, is the work of the old evil foe.
But what I want us to understand today is that the devil is after all of us. The only difference between us and the Gerasene demoniac or Adam Lanza is the intensity of the attack. The Bible says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12 ESV). Every time we sin the devil is involved. Temptations have him as their source. When we pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” a better translation is “deliver us from the evil one.”
Now there are some things we can learn from the story of the Gerasene demoniac that can be helpful to all of us. First, he lived an isolated life and that is one of the devil’s major tactics. He wants to isolate us. He wants us to think that we are the only one with our particular struggle. We think that if anyone else knew our private struggle they would not want anything to do with us, so we have to keep them hidden. But hidden sins are all the more powerful because they are hidden. The devil has greater access to us when we are alone. It’s the old adage of divide and conquer.
Secondly, the Gerasene demoniac hated himself. He spent his time cutting himself with stones. We hear how cutting has become a trend among many young people today. It is a form of self-hatred. This kind of self-hatred is demonic but so are all forms of self-hatred. That’s why addicts keep torturing themselves with drugs, alcohol, pornography, food, spending and the like.
Thirdly, the Gerasene demoniac could not be held by chains. There is nothing on earth that can subdue the devil. You can put someone in a straight jacket or a padded cell, but that does not hold back the devil.
I saw another way we try to control the devil and that is through the law. When we talk about the law from a Biblical basis we are talking about all the admonitions that are in the Bible that tell us what we should and should not do. But the Bible also says, “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:21b-22 ESV). The law imprisons us – and our human nature keeps trying a jail break. But it never succeeds. Just telling someone how to live does not make the demons go away. If anything it makes them rise up all the more.
Fourthly, when Jesus came to the Gerasene demoniac his first reaction was that Jesus had come to torture him. That is why some people avoid Jesus when He comes to them. They think that He has come to whip them into submission. They avoid Him like the plague. They don’t want to come to church because they think the church is just going to beat them up because of their sins. And indeed some churches have become like the Pharisees and do just that. But that’s not Jesus. Jesus comes to set us free through the Gospel.
The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The Bible says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14). The law is powerless to change us because of the devil’s hold on us, but the Gospel comes along and tells us that the debt has been cancelled and the law with its legal demands has been nailed to the cross.
Fifthly, the Gerasenes themselves didn’t want Jesus to hang around. Get out of here they were saying. The world will always find the message of the cross offensive. That, too, is the work of the devil. The Bible says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). The world would much rather lean on science than faith. Even though the message of the cross is Good News the world does not want to believe it because they don’t want to believe in a real devil. The few occultists around who believe in the devil believe that he is the good guy. But most don’t believe the devil even exists and so the only answer to the Adam Lanzas of the world is to enact more and more laws and higher and higher doses of lithium. They find it offensive to believe that Jesus could have set him free.
Finally, when Jesus sets us free, it is our natural desire to want to follow Him. The once demonized man wants to join Jesus and his merry band of men. But Jesus tells him that He has something more important for him to do, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). When you receive the Good News and Jesus sets you free from the devil’s snares, it is your joy to tell your friends what He has done for you and how he has had mercy on you. Mercy means that we did not receive what we deserved. Instead of more laws and more punishment, Jesus saw us as needing His love to set us free. Now that is Good News.