A busy day in the life of Jesus the Messiah (Lent Devotional Wk2)
*(All Bible quotations taken from the NIV)*
Following Jesus’ election of his twelve apostles (Mark 3:13-19) Mark leaps forward chronologically in his account of “the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). Skipping a number of events that the other Synoptic Gospel writers record (Matthew, Mark and Luke are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because they are best “seen together”), Mark chooses rather to focus in on one particular tumultuous day, a day scholars refer to as Jesus’ “Busy Day”.
Mark devotes the equivalent of two chapters to this one day (Mark 3:20-5:20). This is significant given that the Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the Gospels at only 16 chapters, 6 of which are devoted to the period immediately before and after Jesus death, burial and resurrection (chaps 11-16). Jesus’ “Busy Day” therefore occupies a fifth of the rest of Mark’s Gospel!
The aforementioned passage dealing with the appointment of the Twelve ends, “and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (3:19). This, I believe, primes the reader and is Mark’s segue into Jesus’ Busy Day. It is a day about betrayal and rejection, victory and redemption. For immediately we read that on that morning Jesus’ family “went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind!” (3:21). So misunderstood is Jesus by his family that they trigger an intervention, which they attempt and fail a little later that day (3:31-35).
Also on that morning, Matthew’s Gospel reports that “a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute” was brought before Jesus, “and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matt 12:22-23). Not for the first time Jesus had performed a miracle “a sign” that it was believed only the Messiah, the Son of David, could perform, prompting an appropriate response from the people, “Could this be the Son of David?”
This provoked the Pharisees to finally make a decision concerning Jesus’ identity, to answer the question on everyone’s lips, “is Jesus the long-anticipated Messiah or yet another pretender?” A four-fold witness bore testimony that Jesus is the Messiah (John 5:31-47). The signature of God was emblazened on all he said and did. And yet, because Jesus did not defer to their man-made religious observances, “the traditions of the elders”, they despised and rejected him. That Jesus performed wondrous miracles is never denied, but it is the source of his authority to do so that the Pharisees question. Their verdict; “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons is he driving out demons.” (3:22)
Only that morning Jesus had astonished the crowds by healing a demon-possessed man. Now he was himself accused by the teachers of the law of being demon-possessed. Both his family and Israel’s leadership had rejected his messianic ministry. Truly, as Isaiah had prophesied many centuries before, “He [Jesus] was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). Mark’s emphasis, the national rejection of Jesus by Israel’s leaders, is a pivotal event in the life of the Messiah and a most fateful day for Israel.
Responding to their false accusation that “He has an evil spirit” (3:30) Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: (3:23-27)
“How can Satan drive out Satan?
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.
In fact, no-one can enter a strong man’s house and carry of his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.”
Jesus’ response will become keenly pertinent as we explore events later that day.
Matthew records that the cynical Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt 12:38-41).
This “wicked and adulterous generation” had rejected the light and no further light would be given it, “except the sign of the prophet Jonah”, the sign of resurrection.
Following the mournful encounter with the Pharisees and the misguided and failed intervention by his family, “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things in parables.” (4:1). Stretching into the afternoon, Jesus teaches the large crowd on the lake-shore “many” kingdom parables, 3 are recorded by Mark.
It had been a long, emotionally draining day but, “when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (4:35). They crossed the lake from west to east, from Jewish territory to Gentile territory. Many commentators suggest that Jesus’ reason for doing so was “leaving the crowds behind” (4:36) he sought a solitary place in which to train the disciples. Whilst true, I believe Jesus’ fleeting visit to the region of the Decapolis is far more far-reaching and self-evident. He had an appointment with destiny!
During the crossing, not surprisingly given his exhausting day, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion,” when without warning “a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” (4:37-38). Luke remarks that they were in great peril (Luke 8:23). Whilst they feared for their lives Jesus remained in a deep sleep. “The disciples woke him” and, in an accusatory tone, “said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be Still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (4:37-39).
The runaway prophet Jonah too, during a raging tempest at sea, had “gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep” (Jonah 1:5). The indignant sailors, on discovering that Jonah was the cause of their present desperate predicament, and fearing for their lives, they confront Jonah. “He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (Jonah 1:9-10). Jonah, prefiguring Christ, offers to sacrifice his life for theirs, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12). No matter how they tried the sailors could not save themselves so, reluctantly, the shipmates “took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD.” (Jonah 1:15-16).
Let us remember that earlier on this extremely busy day Jesus had announced to the Pharisees that “one greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt 8:41). Here he proves it! In Jonah it is the LORD God, creator of the sea and the land, who stills the great storm. In the Gospels it is Jesus who does so. Truly, “one greater than Jonah is here!” The LORD, whom Jonah worshipped, now slept in the storm-tossed boat upon the lake. Awoken by the fearful and indignant disciples he with a word completely calms the tempestuous sea. Dumbfounded, his disciples exclaim in astonishment, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” (4:41).
Some of the disciples were by trade fishermen, spending most of their lives on the lake they were expert sailors. Doubtless they had experienced stormy seas before and were familiar with the lake in all its elemental expressions. But this tempest was unusual, semingly unparalleled in its ferocity it overwhelmed these experienced fishermen. But Jesus rebuked the wind. The Greek word for rebuke means “to muzzle”. It was as if the “prince of the powers of the air” (Eph 2:2) had sent the wind, and Jesus, in a dramatic repudiation of the Pharisees’ claim that he is in league with the “prince of demons”, muzzled it like a dog.
Whether the freak storm was of natural or supernatural origin it could not defy the command of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Jesus had demonstrated his power over nature. And Jesus still has the power to calm the storms in our lives. He says, “Quiet! Be Still!” to our storm-tossed hearts and minds. With good reason we can sing, ‘Through the storm, he is Lord of all!’
At the command of the Word the tempest had ceased and the lake was becalmed – a nautical term for a marooned sail ship in a vast windless ocean. Only the gentle sound of the oars dipping in and out of the mirror-like lake could now be heard as they headed towards their destination, “the region of the Gerasenes”. (5:1).
Alighting at the other side, Jesus is immediately confronted by a naked and frenzied demon-possessed man sprinting towards him (5:1-20 - in Matthew’s account there are two (Matt 8:28-34)). “When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (5:6-7). Compelled by the power and presence of the person who stood before him, the demon-possessed man is halted in his tracks and driven to his knees, for every knee must bow before him (Philippians 2:9-11).
The man was cruelly tormented in mind and body by evil spirits. Luke comments that he had been in this pitiable state for a long time, dwelling naked in the tombs (Luke 8:27). Matthew adds that he was extremely violent and no-one could pass by that way (Matt 8:28). The demons cared nothing for their host, his naked body bore the scars of self-destructive behaviour for “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.” (5:5). And whilst the demons delighted to inflict torture they feared it themselves, knowing that a time is appointed when they will be cast in to the lake of fire; “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” they cry (Matt 8:29; 25:41).
Mark adds another dimension, the man possessed superhuman strength for, “no-one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No-one was strong enough to subdue him.” (5:3-4). No-one could bind him, no-one was strong enough to subdue him! But the presence of Jesus subdues him, and Jesus addresses the kneeling man, “What is your name? My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” (5:9).
That morning Jesus had been rejected on the grounds of demon-possession. In the evening he confronts a man who is possessed by a legion of demons (5:15). A Roman Legion usually consists of about 5,500 fighting men. The fact that Jesus has the power to defeat a legion of demons would certainly resonate with Mark’s Roman audience – perhaps why Mark chose to dwell on this incident at length, rather than on Jesus temptation in the wilderness. Apparently tied to this geographical location, the demon-possessed man “begged Jesus again and again not to send him out of the area.” (5:10).
Today, on the eastern-shore of the sea of Galilee lies the disputed territory of the Golan Heights. In Jesus’ day it was known as the Decapolis, the “ten cities”. But, in the time of Moses, it was known as the ancient kingdom of Bashan. Og was king of Bashan. He traced his abominable ancestry from the corrupt and gigantic line of the Rephaites, “Only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites”. (Deut 3:11). Og was one of two “mighty kings” that Moses and Israel defeated east of the Jordan (Num 21:33-35; Deut 3:1-13; Josh 12:4-6; Psalm 135:10-12 and 136:16-21). Moses had removed a supernatural Adversary from ancient Bashan, leaving no survivors. In like manner, Jesus would remove a supernatural Adversary from the Decapolis. A different time but the same geographical location! (Moses life and career in many respects is a pattern for the life of the Messiah (Deut 18:15, 18). It is estimated that there are some 50 or so parallels between the two men, echoes of which can be traced throughout the Gospels).
Knowing that their time was up, the demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” (5:11-13). Let us recall that only hours before this incident occurred it was the disciples who were fighting for their lives, for fear of drowning in the lake. But Jesus saved them. The unclean spirits fled into the unclean pigs and hurtled to their deaths, drowning into the lake. This is perhaps a further hint that the violent storm may have been supernaturally inspired, as was the violent man. Their end was perhaps the very one that had been intended for Jesus and his disciples. But Jesus turned the tables on the evil spirits – there is victory in the name of Jesus!
In driving out the legion of demons, numbering in the thousands (corroborated by the 2,000 head of swine), Jesus demonstrated that he was not in league with the “prince of demons”, as his accusers had suggested earlier that day (3:22), but rather he had divine authority to destroy the devils work and set the captives free. That there is power in the name of Jesus!
Following this dramatic power encounter we find “the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind.” (5:15) Let us not forget that at the days beginning Jesus’ family had declared, “He is out of his mind.” (3:21). And, at the days end, we find him righting the mind of a man formerly tormented in mind and body by evil spirits. Naked, captive and driven to self-harm the man was now “sitting there, dressed and in his right mind.” What transformation!
There is great comfort in this. He who becalmed the seething waves and stilled the reckless winds also spoke “Quiet! Be Still!” to the distressed mind and tortured body of this tormented soul. If Jesus can speak peace in to the life of such a one as this he can speak peace to ours also! When inner turmoil troubles us let us fix our thoughts on Jesus, the Prince of Peace. When external circumstances rattle us, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15). He still speaks, “Quiet! Be still!” to the anxious mind and restless heart. There is peace in the name of Jesus!
So dramatic is the transformation that the local population were afraid and pleaded with Jesus to depart from the region. Again, rejection!
The day was drawing to a close but the story was not. The man begs to go with Jesus, but Jesus tells the man, “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 adds a footnote; “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.” (5:18-20).
Earlier that day Jesus had declared,”no-one can enter a strong man’s house and carry of his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” (3:27). In this context Legion is the strongman, for “no-one could bind him….no-one was strong enough to subdue him.” (5:3-4). Jesus had the power to bind the strongman when no-one else could, and consequently he could now raid Gentile territory, rob the strongman’s house, and carry off his possessions.
When Jesus returned to the region of the Decapolis sometime later, the man’s testimony about “how much Jesus had done for him” had been powerful and effective. We read, “Great crowds came to him [Jesus], bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed …… And they praised the God of Israel.” (Matt 15:29-31). “He has done everything well they said.” (Mark 7:37). The testimony of one person who had encountered the redeeming life transformative power of Jesus had made the whole region receptive to “the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1).
1) A Harmony of the Gospels – A.T. Robertson
2) YESHUA: The Life of Messiah from a Messianic Jewish Perspective – Dr Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum