Kurzi - Casting our Demons

Reading: Mark 5.1-20
We were on our way from Capernaum to the Golan Heights. We came towards a memorial of some sort – it was all in Hebrew.

The bus stopped and let us out. Our guide told us the memorial was to Israeli soldiers who had died here in a battle with the Syrians in 1963. Eli, our bus driver, was in the Israeli force fighting right here. She then explained that this is the only spot around the Sea of Galilee where the herd of pigs could have rushed headlong down into the sea.

Marked on the map as Kurzi, there are other remains of interest which we didn’t have time to visit – including the remains of the largest Byzantine monastery in the Holy Land.

Later, on the winding road down from the Golan, we could see across the security fence into Jordan. A town identified as Gadara was pointed out to us. It is on a small stream a distance back from the Sea of Galilee.

The manuscripts give us a number of possible names. Gerasa, Gadara and Gergesa are all possibilities which experts have tried to locate.

It would seem that "the region of the Gerasenes" may cover a fairly wide scope – and especially if the inhabitants weren’t Jews (Jews didn’t keep pigs, v. 11!).

Jesus and his disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat. They were met by "a man with an evil spirit".

There are those today who would simply equate his condition with what we would call a mental illness. At the other extreme, there are some who identify different evil spirits for every kind of illness and therefore needing to be cast out. One reviewer has observed in certain popular writers what he calls "the return of the medieval mind."

Those who have carefully studied the words used about the healing ministry of Jesus have concluded that Jesus saw a difference between mental illness – requiring healing – and demon-possession – needing a spirit to be cast out.

Personally, I have always thought of "demon-possession" as the devil’s work gone wrong. It’s hardly a good advertisement! Of greater concern is the person who is sanely insane – cold and calculating, fully functioning.

This man certainly didn’t come into this last category, though the spirits within him recognised Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and feared his judgment (v. 7).

The demons were cast out and went into a large herd of pigs which "rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned" (v. 13b).

The pig-herders reported "in the town and countryside" what had happened. The people came out to see and were afraid because they saw the man "sitting there, dressed and in his right mind" (v. 15). In an odd way, although the man had been a cause of major anxiety to them over a number of years – they had tried, without success, to subdue him with chains (vv. 3-4) – it was a shock to see him now healed. This healing had economic consequences for them, and they asked Jesus to leave (vv. 16-17).

As Jesus left to go, the healed man wanted to come too, but Jesus told him, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you" (v. 19).

A number of years ago, I saw a film in which Christian psychiatrists, counsellors and youth workers were expressing their concern about the consequences of young people dabbling in the occult. These professionals were beginning to find cases of demon-possession occurring again in western society. One phrase from the film has stuck in my memory, "If it responds to little blue pills, it’s not demon-possession."

Perhaps our biggest danger is over-simplification. We live in a fallen world. This has affected the physical well-being of our humanity, and we all share in that brokenness in various ways. Our spiritual state can affect our physical health. It is also possible to be afflicted by "depression" and "oppression" which fall short of outright "possession".

We need to be especially careful not to go around applying labels to people. Jesus, who had perfect knowledge, treated all people with sensitivity and compassion. He had come "to destroy the devil’s work" (1 John 3.8).

Here’s a practical word for us – "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you" (James 4.7,8).

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you came into this world to destroy the work of evil and to make all things new. Even when evil destroyed you, you won the victory. We thank you and praise you. Help us to be sensitive and caring towards all who are still troubled by the work of the evil one. Enable us to point them to you, that in you they find healing and peace. Amen.

Broken Chains

No chains
could hold his body,
for chains
held his mind,
his emotions,
his will,
his spirit -
of darkness,
of bitterness,
He had no use
for others,
nor they
for him.
He lived
and feared.

Then Jesus came
and saw him
and loved him
and healed him.
His chains
were broken,
no more,
no more.

Lord Jesus,
you see
the chains that bind-
in you
we are set free!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin Blue Care Devotions, 9 October 2001
More photos of Israel are available here.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

Back to Sermons