I like working on cars. In fact, at the risk of bragging just a little, I am very good at working on cars. I do feel compelled to tell you, however, that I draw a firm distinction between “working” on cars and “repairing” cars. I am quite familiar with the former, though the latter remains a mystery to me. Our church recently sent some men to Central America on an unconventional mission trip to repair cars. Those men are skilled at fixing cars, not just working on them. I was not invited on that mission trip. About six months ago my car broke down about a mile from my house. I called my wife and asked her to get in her car and meet me beside my car alongside the road. “And honey,” I added with a note of confidence, “bring the toolbox” (can you hear a person rolling their eyes over the phone?). I worked on my broken car for about thirty minutes—tapping this, jiggling that, listening to that thingamajig over there. At the end of thirty minutes I had entirely exhausted my perceived capabilities, and my patience was wearing thin. I retreated home—thereby admitting defeat—and called a friend from church who knows how to repair cars. He graciously offered to come over, tow my car back to my house, and help me work on it. After three evenings I was up and running again. By his own admission, the entire problem could have been fixed in a matter of two or three hours had I called my friend first and not tinkered with the car myself. Before we could begin on the original problem, we had to spend two evenings repairing the extra damage I had done while “working” on the car during those thirty overzealous minutes.
Sometimes I do the same thing in my walk with Christ. When I encounter an obstacle or face some difficulty in life I will exhaust all of my power and skills and resources attempting to fix the problem before turning to the Lord. Usually I only succeed in making matters worse. And then, when I reach the end of my rope—when I am undeniably in over my head—I turn to Him to bail me out. He becomes my last resort rather than my first resort. Mark 4:35-5:43 records four miracles of Christ. Their common thread is that in each case the resources of the people are first exhausted before they turn to Jesus.34 He becomes their last resort. These miracles are designed to authenticate—to prove—the teaching of Christ in the previous section (4:1-34). Remember, in the Gospel of Mark actions speak louder than words. Thus, Mark’s selection of parables (4:1-34) is followed by a series of miracles (4:35-5:43), indicating that what Jesus did (His works) authenticated what He said (His words).
4:35 On that day, when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” 4:36 So after leaving the crowd, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat, and other boats were with him. 4:37 Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. 4:38 But he was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” 4:39 So he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. 4:40 And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?”36 4:41 They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!”
The vivid details suggest an eye witness account, namely that of Peter (see background on Mark). These were experienced fishermen who were frightened and overcome by a squall. They were in a boat on the same lake they had spent half their lives; they were in their element, in their backyard, and yet they were sinking. It would be hard to imagine that before waking Jesus these men hadn’t utilized every skill they had acquired. Certainly they had tried every tool in their aquatic toolbox. Their every resource must have been exhausted. They could find no safety, until Jesus. Perhaps they thought it futile to awaken this carpenter—a dry-land handyman—and ask His assistance in battling these waves. They learned that day that trusting in their own experience and skills accomplished little. Their trust needed to be in Jesus, who demonstrated—proved—that He is Lord over the seas (Psalm 65:7; 89:9; 107:23-32; Job 12:15).
Mark is showing that the closer one’s proximity to Jesus, the safer he is from even the most perilous of danger. A soldier in the Persian Gulf War one said, “Safety lies not in our distance from danger, but in our nearness to God.” The fear of the disciples was unfounded.37 Had they listened to Jesus’ words they would have known that He had said, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” He didn’t say, “Let us go to the middle of the lake and be drowned.” They should have been saying to the howling wind and raging waves, “We have no fear of you, for you can do us no harm. Christ our mighty Savior is aboard!”
Are you facing a storm? Trust in Him before exhausting all of your own resources.
5:1 So they came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. 5:2 Just as Jesus was getting out of the boat, a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 5:3 He lived among the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 5:4 For his hands and feet had often been bound with chains and shackles, but he had torn the chains apart and broken the shackles in pieces. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5:5 Each night and every day among the tombs and in the mountains, he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 5:6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him. 5:7 Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God—do not torment me!” 5:8 (For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of that man, you unclean spirit!”) 5:9 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 5:10 He begged Jesus repeatedly not to send them out of the region. 5:11 There on the hillside, a great herd of pigs was feeding. 5:12 And the spirits begged him, “Send us into the pigs. Let us enter them.” 5:13 Jesus gave them permission. So the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs. Then the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake, and about two thousand were drowned in the lake.38
5:14 Now the herdsmen ran off and spread the news in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 5:15 They came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind—the one who had the legion—and they were afraid. 5:16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man reported it, and they also told about the pigs. 5:17 Then they asked Jesus to leave their region. 5:18 As he was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with him. 5:19 But Jesus did not permit him. Instead, he said to him, “Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that he had mercy on you.” 5:20 So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed.
Rather than put up any sort of fight, the demons surrender to Jesus at once. Thus far in this text, the wind, the sea, and the demons have all obeyed Jesus. On the other hand, the townspeople—perhaps more concerned about their swine and their economy than one man’s restored health—request that Jesus leave their region.
Two surprising features surface in this pericope. First, Jesus refused this man to follow Him.39 Second, Jesus doesn’t prohibit him from speaking openly about the miracle (remember, the “Messianic Secret” is a prominent theme in Mark; see background on Mark). Why would Jesus refuse to allow him to follow and then permit him to speak openly? By accompanying Jesus he would only have his own words to depend on (“this is what I used to be like but now I’m different . . .”). Jesus knew that his witness would be much more powerful among those who had known him as a demoniac. By going to his own people in the Decapolis (the “10 cities” in that region), the former demoniac would be talking about Jesus to the very same people who had chained his hands and shackled his feet. He would explain the miracle to the very same people who had heard him cry out day and night among the tombs and in the mountains. He would proclaim Christ to the very same people who had watched him cut himself. In the Gospel of Mark, actions speak louder than words. The man went away in obedience to Jesus and declared the message of which he was the living proof.
The out-of-control demoniac resembled the chaotic, raging storm in the previous section; likewise the stillness of the demoniac after his exorcism corresponds to the stillness that follows Jesus’ meteorological miracle. It is difficult to understand the precise meaning associated with the title “Legion” (in military, it indicated a squad of 6000 soldiers). In the least it conveys possession by a number of demons rather than just one. Perhaps the number of pigs that were destroyed (namely, about 2,000) indicates the precise number of demons involved. The herd that drowns itself, coupled with the possessed man’s self-destructive behavior of cutting himself, suggests that the purpose of demon possession was the destruction of its host. And every thinkable resource had been exhausted trying to restrain this man possessed by this “Legion.” Nothing worked until Jesus.
The demoniac was living a life of confusion; he was out of control. Harry S. Truman once said, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” I tend to think that if Satan cannot convince someone to reject God and a life of righteousness—and there are many he cannot convince—then his next-best strategy is to confuse them. He seeks to confuse our lives and spin them so out of control that we are rendered ineffective in our relationship with Christ.
Are you living in confusion? Trust in the Lord before exhausting all your resources to figure it out. Let Him sort out your life and offer you peace.
5:21 When Jesus had crossed again in a boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him,40 and he was by the sea. 5:22 Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came and when he saw him he fell at his feet. 5:23 He asked him urgently, “My little daughter is near death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be healed and live.” 5:24 Jesus went with him, and a large crowd followed and pressed around him.
5:25 Now a woman was there who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. 5:26 She had endured a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet instead of getting better, she grew worse. 5:27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 5:28 for she kept saying, “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 5:29 At once the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 5:30 Jesus knew at once that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 5:31 His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 5:32 But he looked around to see who had done it. 5:33 Then the woman, with fear and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 5:34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
In characteristic form Mark tells a story-within-a-story: The encounter with the hemorrhaging woman is couched within the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. The cause of the woman’s loss of blood is unrevealed. However, if her condition resulted from a uterine discharge then she was not merely in pain, but also in a chronic state of ritual impurity (Lev. 15:25-27). In that case she was prevented from leading a normal social life; she was never invited to parties, and no one could embrace her to comfort her from her pain.
The “power” that goes out from Jesus may give a hint about the entire chapter—Jesus has the power to accomplish that which you and I cannot. No one could control the storm; no one could control the demoniac; no one could heal this woman. Like the sea and the demoniac, others had tried to fix the problem with no success. All of her resources had been exhausted. She had spent all of her money on several doctors, but after 12 years her illness only grew worse. She had no relief from her pain, until Jesus. C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Problem of Pain: “Pain is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.”
Is that how you live? Must you do everything in your own power before turning to invite His?
Jesus confronts every crisis situation with power and He overcomes.
Don’t cope with pain on your own. Trust in Him to offer you relief through your pain.
5:35 While he was still speaking, people came from the synagogue ruler’s house saying, “Your daughter has died. Why trouble the teacher any longer?” 5:36 But Jesus, paying no attention to what was said, told the synagogue ruler, “Do not be afraid; just believe.” 5:37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 5:38 They came to the house of the synagogue ruler where he saw noisy confusion and people weeping and wailing loudly. 5:39 When he entered he said to them, “Why are you distressed and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” 5:40 And they began making fun of him. But he put them all outside and he took the child’s father and mother and his own companions and went into the room where the child was. 5:41 Then, gently taking the child by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” 5:42 The girl got up at once and began to walk about (she was twelve years old). They were completely astonished at this. 5:43 He strictly ordered that no one should know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The delay caused by the hemorrhaging woman proved fatal for Jairus’ daughter. Mark picks up this story with an abrupt message that Jairus’ only daughter had died.41 Jesus had the power to calm the sea, to exorcise the demons, and to heal the woman, but certainly death would be too difficult to reverse. The people who bring the devastating news suggest that involving Jesus further would simply prove futile. Every resource was exhausted. No hope remains, until Jesus. After reassuring Jairus, Jesus raises the girl from the dead in front of a select and captive audience.
Have you experienced a tragedy? Have you found hope in Him to sustain you through that tragedy?
We conclude each lesson with one verse from the passage we’ve studied. We refer to it as a “meditation verse” to leave a broad range of uses: mediate, reflect, memorize, reread, etc. Our meditation verse for this lesson is Mark 4:41.
They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!”
34 Three other themes find their expression in today’s text. First, faith is a central component in three of the four miracles Jesus performs in this passage. Second, the notion of fear will appear repeatedly in this passage, especially in response to the miracles of Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, fear and awe are not inappropriate responses when the supernatural power of God has come near. Three times in this passage folks will respond to a miracle with fear. By way of preview, the very last verse in the Gospel of Mark (16:8) likewise portrays folks as fearful after learning of a miracle (namely, the resurrection). Finally, look for Christ’s compassion. Jesus will be ministering to hurting people in this passage. While these are not the primary subjects of the lesson, I invite you to look for these and consider their implications for your life.
35 Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are taken from The NET Bible.
36 This is the first of many rebukes Jesus will hand to his disciples on account of their denseness (see also 7:18; 8:17, 18, 21, 33).
37 Two different words for “fear” are used in 4:40-41. Jesus accuses the disciples of δειλόσ (4:40), meaning cowardly fear (used elsewhere in the New Testament only in Matthew 8:26 and Revelation 21:8). The disciples then respond with φοβέομαι (4:41), meaning paralyzing fear. In the Gospel of Mark, responding to the power of God with “paralyzing fear” is not altogether inappropriate (see also 5:15, 33; 16:8).
38 This event has caused some to surmise a “Gadarene Swine Law”: Just because the group is in formation does not mean that the group is on the right course.
39 The man asked if he could “be with” Jesus, the same language used of the disciples in 3:14.
40 On the eastern shore the people asked Jesus to depart; on the western shore the people flocked to Him.
41 The professional mourners misunderstand Jesus to be speaking literally when he says that the girl is sleeping. Instead, with that expression Jesus hints at the fact that the girl will awaken. Luke, however, makes it clear that the girl was in fact dead (Luke 8:55). Luke also provides the colorful detail that this was Jairus’ only daughter (Luke 8:42).