John tells us that the number of miracles Jesus did in his earthly ministry was so great that the world could not contain the books it would take to record them all (John 21:25). So, to give us a clear picture of Who our Savior is, the gospels are selective in the accounts they convey. Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac in the country of the Gadarenes is one of those accounts. Scripture includes it to show us that Jesus brings hope even to the most hopeless.
When Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee “into the country of the Gadarenes…there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit” (Mark 5:1-2). Scripture doesn’t say how this man came to be possessed. It’s not important, but his story probably began the same way as that of most addicts. He wanted escape from pain, or he wanted to fit in, or he thought that lifestyle would give him power – or freedom. The beginnings of addiction stories are as varied as addicts themselves, but the endings are all the same. They were enticed with the belief that the rewards would outweigh the risks. They went in thinking they were in control, but like the demoniac, they found themselves completely enslaved by their demons.
Like most addicts, this man of the Gadarenes was beyond human help. “[H]e had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him” (Mark 5:4). These efforts weren’t really attempts at rehab, nor were they attempts at saving him from himself. This man had gone beyond all of that. The chains were just a manmade attempt to deal with a problem that went far beyond this man’s physical struggles. This man terrorized the people of that region and tore up everything around him. Someone who is that destructive to the world around him is torn up even worse inside. Addicts are destructive to themselves and to others. too. Like the demoniac, some of the drugs they use give them terrifying superhuman strength, but that strength is more destructive than helpful. In the end, those things leave them desperate and powerless.
The demoniac lived on the fringes of society. There is no mention of his family. He’d burned those relationships long ago. Instead of living in a home, he lived in the mountains and among the tombs, crying out and doing harm to himself day and night (Mark 5:5). Some addicts can continue to function in society, at least for a time, but eventually, their lifestyles push them off to the fringes where the only “friends” they have are their addictions and their fellow addicts.
The peculiar thing about the demoniacs that Jesus encountered is they were all compelled to bow to Him. This demoniac was no different. Mark tells us he came out immediately to see Jesus. No one else had that kind of power. Jesus pulled him away from his dwelling place amongst the tombs just by showing up. Most addicts know they need help. Many have gone to countless rehab programs in order “get their act together,” but only Jesus can bring true deliverance and His appearance in the country of the Gadarenes was this demon-possessed man’s first real glimmer of hope. The same is true for anyone suffering from any kind of addiction.
The first thing Jesus did was order the demons out of this man, but as with most addictions, withdrawal was no easy task:
(7) And [he] cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
(8) For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
Jesus asked the name of the demon possessing the man because having someone’s name gives you power over them. When Jacob wrestled with the angel, he asked the angel’s name and the angel refused because he outranked Jacob. Jesus outranks everyone. So, the demon answered:
And [Jesus] asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. (Mark 5:9)
If we allow the Lord to be honest with us, He will always identify our problem and deal with it. To make a long story short, Jesus cast the demons out of this man and the people of the region came out to “see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15).
Following his conversion, the man “that had been possessed with the devil prayed Him [Jesus] that he might be with him” (Mark 5:18). When an addict is converted, it’s often a wholesale conversion. They will dive into their new Christian life like they used to dive into their old addiction. It’s a wonderful thing to see, but there are side effects. Like dependent children, they will attach themselves to the person(s) who helped them and where they once used drugs to cope with life, they begin to use people. Jesus did not give this man the chance. It was not that the Lord did not want him to be a follower, but this man had a very special mission. He would be able to minister in a place that Jesus could not. When this man was made whole, the people were afraid “[a]nd they began to pray him [Jesus] to depart out of their coasts” (Mark 5:17). Jesus sent this man back amongst his own people to evangelize them and to teach him to walk by faith and not by sight.
A person rescued from addiction has inroads within the addict community that a preacher or a “churched person” can never have or understand. And when addicts hear the story of one of their own who has been fully rescued, the ones who also want to be rescued will respond. Like the Gadarene man, a former addict has an outreach ministry like no other because he shines as a beacon of hope amongst the hopeless.