The demons were right when they addressed Jesus. He was indeed the “Son of the Most High God” and served as an immediate threat to their well-being. And this is why the possessed man ran to Jesus instead of running from him. With but a word, Jesus could have easily cast out demons from a distance (just as he had healed the Centurion’s servant and the Canaanite woman’s daughter remotely) and so seeing Jesus, the man ran quickly to him to beg for mercy on demons’ behalf, hoping to negotiate a favorable exorcism.
What happened next was symbolic and just and beautiful in many ways. From one vantage, we see Jesus granting the demons (Satan’s servants) the ability to destroy themselves through their attempts at self-preservation. We also see a prophetic microcosm as to how God would soon allow Satan to destroy his own kingdom when his servants nailed Jesus to a cross. And another vantage shows us how the demons were allowed to enter into ignorant, unclean animals that were running headlong and over a perilous cliff to show how those who love the world and embrace the devil’s values race blindly to their own destruction.
Regardless of what symbolic image we would prefer to take away from the perishing pigs, the final result is amazing. The once possessed man is free, and through his freedom we are shown how salvation comes upon the once captive soul. We are shown how the redeemed are sobered once they are released from the devil’s grip and reminded that every soul released from hell is released by God’s command.
At the apex of this wisdom is found most prominently a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The One who brought glory to his Father and redeemed his people from a fallen world, used a legion of demons found in one man to demonstrate his great mercy for us.
However, we see the core motivations of the people emerge in their response to Jesus’ miracle. The people’s real care is over the loss of wealth from the drowned pigs and not for the healed man. This once pitiful man who roamed around graves, cutting himself, unable to be restrained by chains, was found by his neighbors sitting at Jesus’ feet with a sober mind. He had lived alone in solitary torment and unspeakable misery, yet now he was healed and the people barely noticed.
The people grew terrified at Jesus’ power, but their fear did not inspire them to glorify God or rejoice that a once raving lunatic was made well. Instead, the people were fearful that Jesus might do even more damage to their wealth and property by performing another miracle.
Now the pigs did represent the loss of a great deal of money, and the town’s economy most likely felt the lost revenue that the pigs would have brought in from the market or at slaughter. But the loss also revealed the hypocrisy of their owners. These pigs couldn’t have been intended the pigs for Jewish use, as Jews were forbidden to touch the animals, let alone eat them (Leviticus 5:2). Yet here are Jewish farmers raising the animals as livestock to be sold. And to whom would the people sell them? In all likelihood, these animals were to be raised and sold to their Roman occupiers.
Now even more ironies arise. The demon possessed men and the townspeople suddenly take on reversed roles. The people asked Jesus to leave them because they were afraid of losing more of their possessions, even though those possessions kept them more dependent upon those who enslaved them. Yet here at Jesus’ feet is a man that had been enslaved by a host of demons (a Legion) who was now free. So the man’s freedom was disregarded by people fretting over the death of a heard of pigs (that held them chained to their earthly captors) and yet it was the possessed man, the one who had just been out of his mind, who could clearly see what Jesus had done.
That Mark would highlight only one of the possessed men should in no way cause us alarm. The details of Matthew, written hundreds of miles from where Mark was penned and in a completely different language, are otherwise well aligned with Mark’s account and give us great confidence that these events did indeed take place. Mark’s focus on just one of the two men leads us to conclude that it is his response to Jesus’ merciful act that captured his interest. And to Mark, this possessed man did do something highly significant in response to Jesus’ command:
“Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19, emphasis added)
And with a smile we realize that this is exactly what the man did, even as Jesus was trying to deflect praise from himself to his Father:
“So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” (Mark 5:20, emphasis added)
A synagogue ruler falls at Jesus’ feet to beg for his daughter’s life, while a ceremonially unclean woman silently stalks Jesus to touch his garment as he passes by. A young girl is critically ill and about to die, while an adult woman, who had lived with her ailment for 12 years, is healed first – though she was in no immediate danger of dying.
When the woman touched Jesus’ cloak, we would have expected Jesus to ignore the incident as he rushed to the bedside of the dying girl. Besides having the more urgent need, the synagogue ruler had come to Jesus first and the unclean woman hadn’t even asked Jesus if she could touch his robe and delay his work. Instead of moving on, Jesus stopped and turned around. We are even told that he was distracted by the touch of this seemingly presumptuous woman who had had the audacity to reach her unclean hand for the ceremonially clean rabbi.
Sensing her deep offense against Jewish ceremonial laws, which had potentially serious civil and social repercussions, it was now the woman’s turn to fall at Jesus’ feet. But Jesus doesn’t even rebuke her. Instead, he praises the woman and commends her faith, and in spite of all the years she had spent on useless doctor’s remedies, it was out of her desperation when she came to the end of herself that her faith in Jesus was born and made her well.
The tension of our story rises as the grim news about the girl’s death reaches the ruler just as Jesus finishes speaking to the woman. The ruler’s daughter is dead and according to conventional wisdom, nothing more can be done, and so the unhelpful messengers tell the father not to trouble the rabbi any longer.
But Jesus again defies expectation and reassures the ruler: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” And this reassurance is meant not only for this terrified father, but for all of us who place our hope in Jesus. For there is no need for any who fear God to fear anything in this world because God himself is always near and he is always ready to help us in our time of need.
The ruler took Jesus’ words to heart because moments later we read that Jesus is raising the little girl from the dead while scornful mourners are wailing outside thinking that nothing else can be done for her.
There are many lessons for us in these two miracles but I would say that two particularly stand out: God’s timing is always right and faith is the true currency of the Kingdom of God. A woman who wasn’t permitted to enter the synagogue on account of her condition was put ahead of the synagogue ruler. A dying girl was permitted to die in order to show the world to see a greater miracle in the greatness of God’s power – and to also do so to strengthen Jarius’ shaky faith. The suffering woman was permitted to suffer 12 years to bring her soul to its knees so that she would reach for Jesus and teach us to be patient in our own trials, no matter how long they last. This girl was permitted to live 12 years to be placed in Jesus’ path to bring glory to God and salvation to her family.
Most remarkably, we see God’s sovereign and providential hand at work, for it is no coincidence that these lives collide. A woman who had suffered greatly for 12 years and a girl of 12 years dies at the exact moment of their greatest need and just as salvation arrives. The year that the woman’s suffering began was the same that the girl was born. The moment the girl dies is the same that the woman’s suffering has ended. Notice also the parallels of these realities to the life of faith and the new birth that is found in Jesus. The girl is born and woman’s suffering arrives. The woman suffers to display her faith at the very moment the girl dies in order to be risen again to life. Faith is Christ is a thing born and suffering comes, yet in death all suffering ends and new life is found through resurrection. God’s wisdom and perfect timing is here on full display as he rescues the lives of both young and old in order to show the magnificence of his glory.