MARK 5:1

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The fifth chapter of Mark is made up of just two stories, or three, since the second account (the raising of the daughter of Jairus) is interrupted by the healing of a sick woman. But first, a scary scene in the Gerasenes.

5 They went across to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes.

Jesus had been preaching and teaching by the Sea of Galilee (really just a large lake) for many months. He and the disciples had been through a storm, taking all night to cross a few miles of lake, and Jesus had just calmed that storm, with the result that his followers who experienced this miraculous act were left wondering, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4:41). Now they were arriving across the water to the east or southeast, a remote corner in Gentile territory. Luke says it was “across the lake from Galilee” (Luke 8:26).

Matthew calls it “the region of the Gadarenes.” Gadara was a large city across the river Yarmuk, some four or five miles away, and would have been well-known to the Jews. Mark and Luke, writing mostly to Gentiles, call it “the region of the Gerasenes,” probably because Gerasa, though quite a bit further away, would be better known to them. Today that city is known as Jerash in modern Jordan, about ten miles east of the Jordan River and about midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Gerasa or Jerash is not mentioned in the Old Testament because it was founded in the time between the Testaments, either by Macedonians in the days of Alexander the Great or later, by Antiochus Epiphanes, in his attempt to reconcile himself with the neighboring Gentiles (1 Maccabees 1:10-13).

Whichever name is given to the place, it was only to the eastern shore of the lake that Jesus went, not the more distant cities that gave it its name. When the American Navy Lieutenant William Lynch traveled there in April, 1849, he was impressed by Gadara, some four hours walk (or donkey ride) straight down from the lake, yet a day and a half on the water because of the many meanderings of the Jordan there. He was especially impressed by the hot springs, but he also thought that the magnificent tombs there were “where our Lord performed a miracle” (Official report to the Secretary of the Navy, chapter 9). It is refreshing to see the faith of a Christian man permitted to stand in an official report to his government. But whatever the Lieutenant’s opinion, we must remember that the Gospel writers tell us that this event happened on the shore of the lake (Mark 5:13) and not ten miles to the south.

Jesus didn’t go there for hot springs, or for a bacon sandwich, or to see magnificent tombs. He went there for a singular reason: to find and heal a man who needed his help. This place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee was Gentile country, but more than that, it was the land of sinners who did not know God. And in this land, who would be the best person to tell people about Jesus, to show God’s love and compassion? We might think that a priest or prophet would be a good choice, or that Jesus might possibly leave one of his disciples behind. But our Lord had other plans. There was a better witness, a witness everyone would recognize throughout the Gerasenes. After all, what were the Gerasenes really famous for? Who or what overshadowed the talk of their town lately even more than their famous hot springs? The crazy man! The wild man down by the sea shore. The man possessed by a demon, the one that even chains couldn’t hold! That was the man Jesus wanted to go see. That man, like all mankind, was a part of God’s plan.

So are you. Your town, your city, your house, your apartment might not seem like God has you in mind right now, but we could ask Elijah how things looked for him in the cave with birds bringing him scraps of food (1 Kings 17:6), or we could ask John how things looked for him in Herod’s dungeon (Matthew 14:3), or we could ask Paul how things looked for him in the final days and hours of his life. In fact, Paul wrote to us about that very thing: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). There is no place so grim, so filthy, so falling down that the Lord will not bring us up. There is no backwater cave so remote, so deeply in the land of unbelievers, that God does not know where you are or does not have your soul firmly in his grasp. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said, “of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Remember, O Christian, that when you face the Lord on Judgment Day, it will be because of your faith in Christ, not the record of your sins, that will be on the Lord’s mind. “If you, O Lord, kept a record of my sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness” (Psalm 130:3-4). You will be thrilled when Christ calls you forward, and when an angel turns to you and smiles, saying, “The Lord wants to see you.”

The rest is everlasting life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – Mark 5:1 A Scary Scene in the Gerasenes

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