At times, believers seem to expect God to do something miraculous to “prove” himself to others. Unfortunately, people who aren’t looking for God will often reply, “Go away and leave us alone.”
Job, chapter 21; Mark, chapters 5-6
Mark 5:1-20 (NLT):
Jesus and a demon-possessed man
So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from a cemetery to meet him. This man lived among the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles – as he often was – he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”
Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?” And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.
A herd of pigs and a crowd of people
There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.” So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.
“Leave us alone”
At the beginning of this passage, Jesus encounters a man who was demon possessed. In fact, everything about the man demonstrated his horrible state. He lived among the burial caves and could no longer be restrained. Whenever “society” tried to restrain him, he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
Until Jesus came along. Verse 2 tells us that this man came out to meet him. But when he spoke, it was the demons who did the talking. “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” The man was drawn to Jesus, but the demons didn’t want anything to do with Jesus. They didn’t want to stay in Jesus’ presence, because they knew that they were subject to Jesus’ authority. But they didn’t want him to order them “into the Abyss” (see Luke’s account of this story, Luke 8:31). They just wanted Jesus to leave them alone.
“Go away and leave us alone”
The demons ask Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of pigs. Personally, I don’t read too much into the fact that they were pigs (unclean animals to Jewish people). It’s not like Jesus came up with the idea to send the demons into the herd of pigs! That was the demons’ idea. But Jesus agreed. Jesus did not send the demons into the pigs; the demons went there on their own once Jesus allowed it. And once the demons entered the pigs, the whole herd of pigs ran down into the lake and drowned.
Well, as you might imagine, the herdsmen were freaked out about that; they fled to the nearby town and surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. They’d never seen anything like that before! And they probably were concerned that no one would believe that story about how they’d lost 2,000 pigs!
A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, wanted to see and hear about what happened. They saw the man who had been demon possessed, fully clothed and perfectly sane. You might think they would be amazed, or at least intrigued, but that – but no, they were all afraid. And after a little while, the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.
Application: “Go away and leave us alone”
This story is a good reminder to us that obvious demonstrations of God’s power do not automatically draw people to God. If people were actively seeking God, or were even open to God’s work, those demonstrations might result in a positive response. But when people are set in their ways, and not interested in making room for God in their lives, even miraculous displays of power will not draw them to God.
Even Jesus recognized this; in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man begged Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham responded, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even in someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31, emphasis added).
The sad reality is that if people have hardened themselves against God, even a demonstration of God’s power probably won’t move them – unless it impacts them personally. In today’s passage, the crowd didn’t care about the man who was demon-possessed; they were more worried about the pigs. But the man who was delivered didn’t want Jesus to leave him alone; he begged to go with Jesus! The point is that we need to look for ways that God is at work in particular people, and seek to join God there – instead of looking for miracles and hoping that somehow people will respond to them.
Father, it’s hard for us at times to grasp the fact that people could ignore miracles and continue to deny your work – but it happens. Instead of grasping at “big” miracles and hoping to see crowds of people come to faith, help us to recognize the “little” miracles that you do every day. Help us to see how you’re working in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. Alert us to the opportunities that you give us to connect people with you through the things that you’re already doing.
Thank you for reminding us that we don’t have to figure out a way to reach people; you’ve already done that. We need to be aware of our part in your work, and be open and available to you. Help us to live in ways that point people to Jesus! May we live in ways that don’t cause people to say, “Go away and leave us alone.” Amen.