The Gerasene Chamber of Commerce would not have been happy. A man named Jesus and a few of his followers had just sailed to their shores. But before Jesus could get out of the boat all of the way and put his feet on the ground, the craziest man in town runs up to greet him.
This wasn’t what typically comes to mind when you think of some guy who’s a little off. This man didn’t walk around pushing a shopping cart talking to himself. His condition was more severe. The gospel writer Mark lets us know pretty early on why the man was so crazy. He was demon-possessed (Mark 5:2).
Mark gives some frightening details about this man who came to meet Jesus.
He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. Mark 5:3-5 (ESV)
Mark is very graphic. The man standing before Jesus lived in a graveyard. People tried to contain him with chains but he kept breaking them. No one in town had the power to control this man. All throughout the day and night, he would scream and cut himself. It sounds like something from a Stephen King novel.
But none of those verses are the scariest one in the Bible.
The man begged Jesus for mercy. Most likely, the request was one part the man wanting relief from Satan’s torment and one part the demon not wanting to face the power of God. And then Jesus asked a strange question.
And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark 5:9 (ESV)
A legion was a group of 6,000 Roman soldiers. Mark is not necessarily saying that this man was possessed by 6,000 demons but we can be sure that it was more than one. The man’s reply was something similar to, “We don’t have a name. We have 6,000 names.” So whether it was 100 demons or 6,000, let’s be honest, this was a scary situation.
But it’s still not the scariest verse in the Bible.
The demons begged to stay in the community before being cast out of the man. Strangely enough, Jesus granted their request. I told you that the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t like this. The demons were sent into 2,000 pigs which they forced to run off of a cliff and into the sea. If you were the guy in charge of looking after those pigs that day, you were scared. If you happened to be fishing in sea when you saw 2,000 pigs jump off of a cliff and into a watery grave, you would have been scared too.
But still, those aren’t the scariest verses in the Bible.
The pig farmers couldn’t keep this news to themselves. They told the city folks and the country folks about what the strange visitor did to the town lunatic and their pigs. Sure enough, everyone came to see for themselves. Mark’s description of the town’s reaction to the changed man is very peculiar.
And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. Mark 5:15 (ESV)
This was the first time that the people in the town were ever described as being afraid. Mark never said that they were afraid when the demon-possessed man cut himself, screamed or broke chains. Only when they witness the transforming power of Jesus are the described as being afraid.
Even still, that’s not the scariest verse in the Bible.
But Mark 5:17 is.
And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.
These folks never seemed to have a problem with the evil of up to 6,000 demons possessing one man. They never cried out in protest at the fact that those demons wanted to stay in their town once Jesus evicted them from their host. No, but when they encountered the holiness of God, they just couldn’t take it. So they asked Jesus to leave.
It is possible to excuse evil, ignore evil and indulge in evil to such a degree that evil becomes comfortable. Yes, even the most horrific evil. And when that happens, the only thing left to frighten us is the pure holiness of God.
The Gerasenes decided that day to reject the one truly good thing they had ever seen. Six thousand demons were welcomed in their town. The one true God was not. And that’s frightening.
The church is surrounded by evil. We live in a culture that promotes evil, funds evil and even goes so far as to call evil good. God doesn’t keep us here to blend in. Rather, he keeps us here to resist and expose evil.
As Jesus was leaving, the formerly demon-possessed man had an obvious request. He waned to go with Jesus. Wouldn’t you? But Jesus didn’t allow him to. It’s funny. He granted permission to the demons when they asked to go into the pigs but not to this new follower when he apparently wanted to be the 13th disciple. Why?
Jesus had a mission for the man who had just been made new. He wanted the man to tell others about God’s mercy. And no one can tell a story better than the person who it happened to. No one can lead others to marvel at God quite like a man who himself marvels at God.
Mark 5:17 is the most frightening verse in the Bible because it reminds us of how comfortable we can become with evil. It confronts head on our tendency to settle for some of the devil and none of Jesus. It shows us how similar the American church is to the people in that town. We are okay with Jesus from afar. But when he starts to contradict the evil that has grown so dear to us, we kindly ask him to leave.
In a lot of ways, I’m afraid that he has granted that request.
And that’s really scary.