Mark 5: From lost cause to overwhelming victory

Application

When I was a freshman in high school, I helped a student-led Bible study at our school that would eventually evolve into a local chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. For two years after it began, the group often consisted of a total of two or three people, including the two of us who organized the thing. My junior year, when we were repeatedly pushed out of our meeting place by different activities, we finally ended up meeting in what may have been the most remote part of the entire school. No one went down there, and for several weeks, our attendance was myself, our faculty sponsor, and maybe one other. As the leader, I was compelled to contemplate allowing the group to simply fade away and try again another time. And so, one night before our meeting, I did something that I would never recommend anyone doing: I gave God an ultimatum. If we did not have 7 people, including myself, at the meeting the next morning, it would be the last meeting. The group was a lost cause.

Mark chapter 5 continues Mark’s pattern of rapid-fire action with Jesus arriving across the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Gerasenes (called the Gadarenes in Matthew) after calming the storm the night before.  And as soon as he steps off the boat, he is confronted by a man possessed by so many evil spirits that he was called “Legion.” Driven mad by the demons that tormented him, this poor man had been bound with chains from time to time in a futile effort to restrain him and protect himself and others. When those efforts had failed, he had been compelled – either by the people, the evil spirits, or a combination of the two – to live in the local cemetery, where he ran around naked day and night, slashing himself and harassing passersby. As time went on, though, fewer and fewer people came to check on him until, finally, no one came at all. This man was a lost cause.

Immediately after Jesus left the demoniac on the far side of the lake, we are catapulted back into Galilee, where a large crowd waited. Swarmed immediately by a throng of people, it was all the disciples could do to push their way through the mass to secure the boat. And then, suddenly, out of the crowd emerged a man, out of breath and bearing a frantically desperate expression on his face, who cried out for Jesus’ attention. His daughter was dying, and this well-known and highly-respected synagogue leader had put aside his mandatory skepticism, disregarded the pride of his position, and left his little girl on her deathbed for the slight chance that Jesus would be able to reach her in time. To his great relief, Jesus agreed to come with him to see the girl, but before they could push their way through the crowd, Jesus came to a screeching halt. Someone had touched him, and he wanted to know who it was. I suspect that Jairus was begging for Jesus to keep moving, but after he remained still for several moments, a woman finally appeared and confessed. For twelve years straight, she had been bleeding as though having her period. Every doctor in the area had tried to help her, but in the end, nothing had worked. She was diseased, ostracized, unclean. This woman was a lost cause.

With the distraction of the woman finally put aside, Jairus tries again to lead Jesus to his dying girl. As the group finally reaches the edge of the crowd, though, he is horrified to find a servant standing there with a grim expression on his face. Because Jesus had stopped to deal with that woman, they were too late. His daughter was dead. Jairus’ little girl was a lost cause.

Three lost causes in one chapter. All within just a day or two. Talk about a discouraging, disheartening series of events!

And yet, in each case, Jesus did something amazing. For the demon-possessed man, he commanded the evil spirits to come out, and the man was restored. For the bleeding woman, he said simply, softly, that her faith had healed her, and it was so. And for the little girl, though everyone knew she was dead and there was absolutely no hope remaining for her, Jesus brushed off the ridicule, took her by her hand, and raised once more to life.

Suddenly, these lost causes aren’t nearly so depressing anymore! In fact, if anything, these lost causes were transformed in one supernatural blink of the eye into overwhelming victories! And suddenly, we have reason for hope, regardless of whatever hopeless situation we may find ourselves in!

Here’s the thing. In business, the law of diminishing returns is well known. If the cost to repair something is greater than its value intact, it is simply discarded. Thus, insurance companies “total” cars that need only a few tweaks. Corporations discard equipment that has merely deprecated until they can’t write it off their taxes anymore. And entire businesses close because it would cost too much to return to profitability.

But people aren’t businesses.

When it comes to people, in Jesus’ book, there is no such thing as a lost cause. If He has the power to drive out a legion of demons, restore after twelve years of bleeding, and raise a girl from the dead, He has the power to fix whatever is going on in your life and anyone else’s. Sin. Broken relationships. Hopelessness. Sickness. Sadness. Hurt. Loneliness…

And the list goes on and on and on.

The application of this revelation is two-sided. For the person struggling with [your situation here], it provides hope of restoration. And for the person trying to minister to [their situation here], it provides hope that a difference can be made and encouragement to combat the discouragement which comes from countless failed attempts. Jesus has the power to transform the lost causes of our lives into tremendous victories.

For the record, I believe this is largely true for churches, too.

So about now, I bet you’re wondering what happened with the FCA chapter. The very morning after the night I dropped that ultimatum, that there would be 7 kids at the meeting or it was over, when we started at 7:30 am (which, for the record, is an agony for a high school student), if I recall correctly, there were 14 kids present. By the time I was a senior, the group was averaging in the teens on a weekly basis, and we had seen a number of people make life-changing decisions for Christ. In the years since, several from that group have gone into various forms of ministry, including youth ministry and missionary work, and I stand amazed every time I hear from one of them of the power of our Lord to save and change even the most broken of lives. To God be the glory!

Notes

  • (1-5) This demoniac was really in quite the predicament. Not only was he possessed by an evil spirit which had driven him mad, but he was compelled to live among the tombs, which was nearly universally taboo. Clearly, the people of the area had given up on him; they didn’t even try to chain him anymore to keep him from hurting himself.
  • (7) It occurs to me that this demon knew that Jesus was the Son of God. This is interesting because so many have asserted that Satan did not fully understand who Jesus was. And yet, here, one of his horde knew exactly who Jesus was.
  • (11-20) The area of the Gerasenes was populated largely with Gentiles, so a herd of pigs wasn’t exactly unheard of there. However, I would point out that the people of the area were more concerned with the loss of their pigs than the healing of this man. I would like to think that we would celebrate healing, regardless of the cost, but I guess that would be naive.
  • (21-24a) It’s interesting that Jairus would come to Jesus. As the synagogue leader, he would have been the chief skeptic. More, he would have had servants and synagogue members that he could have sent while he himself stayed with the girl. For this man to go, himself, was to (a) acknowledge that Jesus was indeed legitimate, (b) humble himself to get up and go, and (c) leave his dying daughter in what could have been the last moments of her life. Certainly, Jairus’ actions were extreme! What would happen if we would do the same things he did?
  • (24b-34) The interruption of the woman with the bleeding into Jairus’ situation is notable for a number of reasons. I would, however, point out that she was, again, a most despicable creature. Like the demon-possessed man, she would have been compelled to live in virtual exile, shouting “Unclean, unclean” every time she went anywhere so that people would know not to touch her. And if, by chance, she should have touched someone, even accidentally, it would have been a terrible fiasco: the person would have been incensed because now he/she was unclean and unable to touch anything or anyone or do any business the rest of the day. I suspect she was expecting this sort of reaction from Jesus when he turned, but when he didn’t yell, and even bid her peace, that was when the real healing came.
  • (36) Jesus was a master at saying only what needed to be said.
  • (39) Jesus was also a master at speaking truth, even when it seemed ridiculous.
  • (41) What a horrible thing! The people in the house had given up on this girl. She was dead. And as such, anyone who touched her would be unclean. Jesus, however, didn’t hesitate to walk straight into the room or touch her, all while people were laughing at him just outside.
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