It has all the elements that are needed to define a story as weird. A cemetery, two violent men, the supernatural and pigs.
The day had started with the Sermon on the Mount the morning before and Jesus had taught those that gathered around the basics of his Kingdom. How to deal with those we love and we those we don’t love. What our responsibilities are with our emotions and our possessions. And at the core always lurked our motives. Why we were doing what we were doing and the impact it would have on God’s kingdom.
After a morning of teaching Jesus made his way back to Capernaum taking time on the way to heal the leper, the Centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother in law. That evening saw him heal even more people and take some more time to teach what being his disciple was all about. And it was through his healings Jesus showed his control over the physical.
And then came dark and as Jesus and his apostles made their way across the Sea of Galilee in an open boat they encountered a storm and is here that we see how Jesus commanded the wind and waves to stop, and they did. Amazing, not only was he in control of the physical he was in control of the natural as well. And now Jesus was about to show his control over the supernatural as well.
The group landed at a point identified here as Gadarenes which was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum. It’s interesting as you study the New Testament and read how scholars try to identify communities by the descriptions given them 2000 years ago.
The first church Angela and I pastored together was outside of Sussex New Brunswick in a hamlet called Hammondvale. To even call it a hamlet was being charitable. There was nothing there, zip, nada zero. Maybe 40 homes and a chapel that had been built a hundred years before.
But if you were to read the history of Hammondvale from the 1800’s there was some mining going on, there were a couple of stores and a hotel, a lawyer’s office and several other businesses. And yet 90 years later you would be hard pressed to believe that any of that had ever existed.
That being said, it has been by guess and by golly that the scholars say with great authority that they know where Gadarenes might have been located. Seriously, it hardly existed 2000 years ago and doesn’t exist today, but this is where they figure it was.
And as Jesus and the group landed and came ashore they were confronted with a most unusual greeting committee. I’ll let Matthew tell you more. Matthew 8:28 When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, two men who were possessed by demons met him. They lived in a cemetery and were so violent that no one could go through that area.
This is week 5 of our “That’s Weird” series here at Cornerstone and we’ve been looking at stories from the Bible that seem a little weird.
So far we have looked at an axe head that floated, a donkey that spoke, a fig tree that got cursed and a Prince who was hung by his hair. All stories that seemed a little strange to me. And understand that for some folks they just roll with it, they don’t see those stories as weird at all.
When I was telling people about the series often they would offer suggestions. And some of their suggestions confused me because they didn’t seem all that weird. So, I guess like beauty weird is in the eye of the beholder.
So let’s go back to the story.
I would suspect that these folks had not been selected by the chamber of commerce to greet newcomers to town, they weren’t part of the official Welcome Wagon. But listen to how they greeted Jesus and the apostles. Matthew 8:29 They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?” Did you catch it? There was something very important in what they said. Let’s read it again. Matthew 8:29 They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?”
Right there, do you see what they call Jesus? Son of God. These are the first people we see who recognize and identify Jesus’ true identity and divinity. Up to now we heard him referred to as “Lord” or “Teacher” but this is the first time he is referred to as God’s Son by someone other than God. Interesting.
Sometimes when I talk to folks and try to get a handle on where they are spiritually they will say “Well I believe.” Well sure, everyone believes something, even if it’s that they believe there is no God. Or they will say “I believe in God” or “I believe in Jesus” Listen to what the bible, God’s word says James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
And it would appear that not only knew Jesus but they knew that Jesus held ,their fate, they understood the truth of Matthew 25:41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. So they knew that they were destined for an eternity of punishment and torment and yet they still chose to follow Satan. Wow, good thing people aren’t like that. Oh, I guess they are.
But note Jesus’ response. He says nothing. Sometimes that is our best response. They knew the truth and he knew the truth, so there was nothing for him to say so he just stood there.
Well the two guys immediately go on the defensive and looking around they see a herd of pigs and well let’s go back to the story. Matthew 8:30-31 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding in the distance. So the demons begged, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.”
You catch that? They had to ask Jesus permission to enter the pigs. Jesus simply spoke the word “All right go” and the demons entered the pigs, the pigs charge down the hill into the lake and drown. End of story, right? Well not quite because the pig herders go into town with their story and tell everyone and the entire town turns out to see this Jesus for themselves.
Now there was another time that an entire community turned out to see the one called Jesus. Maybe you remember it from John 4:39-41 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe.
Not here though, here the reaction is completely different. Matthew 8:34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.
The people of one community begged Jesus to stay and the people of the other community begged Jesus to leave. Interesting.
So, what do we learn from the story?
The Reality of Demons
We live in a time and culture that the supernatural seems more like fantasy or fiction then reality. And we are quick to dismiss rather than accept that they may be things that we can’t understand and explain.
One commentator that I read espoused the view that the men weren’t demon possessed that they just thought they were demon possessed, and their loud screaming startled the herd of pigs who ran down the hill into Galilee. And then Jesus used the death of the pigs to convince the men that the demons had left them and gone into the pigs.
Ok. Guess he never heard that we don’t debate the book. We are reminded by Paul in Ephesians 6:11-12 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
In Luke 10:19 Jesus called Satan “Our Enemy” and that is echoed by his friend Peter who wrote 1 Peter 5:8 Be on your guard and stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack.
As Christians we often make one of two mistakes, either we ignore Satan and demons and pretend that they have no power and are nothing more than myths or past problems, or we dwell on them and give them credit for every misfortune, illness or trouble that enters our lives. Two things you need to know 1) the Devil and Demons are real and 2) I finished reading the book and we win.
These two men were possessed or oppressed or something by the enemy. I don’t know a lot about demons, haven’t spent a lot of time studying them and don’t intend to. “But Denn” you say, “It’s important.”
This is what I know. The word Demon is mentioned 89 times in the bible, the first being in Deuteronomy 32:17 They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God, to gods they had not known before, to new gods only recently arrived, to gods their ancestors had never feared. And the last being in Revelation 18:2 He gave a mighty shout: “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen! She has become a home for demons. She is a hideout for every foul spirit, a hideout for every foul vulture and every foul and dreadful animal.
The term “evil spirits” is used 38 times, Devil 41 times and Satan 67 times. If you combine them you get a total of 146 time that demons, evil spirits, the Devil or Satan are mentioned in the Bible.
The Name Jesus is mentioned 1552 times, Christ is mentioned 560 times, Holy Spirit 138 times and God 5271 times. For a total of 7,521 times. 235 times vs 7,521 times. So who do you think we should be focused on? The bad guys or the good guys. And again I know we can’t ignore the reality of spiritual warfare and demons and evil spirits, they are there, but let’s not obsess over them.
His Trip Was Intentional there appears to be no other reason why he went other than to deliver these men and speak to the people of the area. Gadarenes wasn’t a popular tourist spot, as far as we know none of the disciples came from there, so they probably weren’t just going for a visit. Early in his Ministry Jesus defined his mission this way Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free,”
He was in Gadarenes to free the oppressed and release the captives. During his brief visit there he completely turned the world of these two men upside down. They had been isolated from their community and their family. Their lives weren’t their own instead they were at the mercy of these demons and Jesus sent them free.
You see sometimes we get focused on reaching communities and miss the fact that happens by reaching people. With an entire world to reach Jesus sailed across Galilee, through a storm to make a difference in the lives of these two men.
We will change this community one person and one family at a time. So who is there in your life that needs you to reach out to them that they may be set free?
Jesus Did What He Went to Do I understand that there is a battle to be fought but the reality is the war has been won. The demons knew that ,Jesus knew that and you need to know that Here is your promise for today. Romans 8:38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
Let’s personalize it and read it together Romans 8:38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate me from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither my fears for today nor my worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate me from God’s love.
Do you believe that promise today? Do you want it to be a reality in your life? God is in control and he wants to be in control of your life. We can get into all kinds of discussions about who can be oppressed or possessed by demons and who can’t be but I really think a lot of it comes down to a personal choice. If you are one hundred percent committed to God there will be no room for demons in your life. They can’t be in his presence. Jesus had just landed in Gadarenes and the demons knew they couldn’t stay. That’s why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.
And why James tells us in James 3:10-11 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
And so they chose to go into the pigs but notice what happened the pigs didn’t want them either, they would rather drown than have a bunch of demons in them. So what happened to the demons, don’t know but from what I understand water wasn’t what they were looking for. Check out Matthew 12:43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Now I’m thinking that if the desert is where a demon would prefer to go then a lake wouldn’t even be a close second.
So that battle was won, and here is the good news for you today, the battle for your soul has already been won. Jesus fought it and won it two thousand years ago when Satan tried to nail righteousness to a cross, but Jesus defeated him with his resurrection and won the battle right then and there and all we have to do is accept what he has done for us.
Not Everyone Was Happy We kind of figure that the demons weren’t happy, that’s kind of the nature of the beast, what with being demons and all. Probably weren’t the life of the party and that doesn’t even take into account the entire pig thing. We alluded to this earlier but the last verse of this passage says Matthew 8:34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.
So what was up with that? Some people feel that they were upset because of the loss of their pigs, others contend that the people were afraid of Jesus and his power. But if it was the first reason they weren’t the only people to put material possessions over a relationship with Christ.
Some people will never come to the point of accepting the Lordship of Jesus because they are afraid what they will have to give up in order to do that. Whether it’s their possessions, or their money or their will and desires. But they don’t understand what they are losing. Jesus warned us in Matthew 16:26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
There is no evidence that Jesus ever returned to Gadarenes in the remainder of his ministry. They rejected Christ and sent him away and he left. Do you ever stop and wonder what would happen if God respected your wishes and just left you alone?
And I know that at this point you are all wondering What About the Pigs? The pigs? Oh right the pigs, they drowned. Oh, you’re upset because this pigs drowned? You’re supposed to be happy because two men got their lives back.
Now I got to this point in my message and realized that I hadn’t quoted anyone, so, Alfred Hitchcock said: “These are bagpipes. I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.” You’re welcome.
You understand that the pigs should not have even been there right? Under Jewish law there was no reason to have pigs, you couldn’t eat them, you weren’t supposed to touch them. Leviticus 11:7-8 The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you. In the Old Testament people that ate pigs were not considered the best folks to hang around with Isaiah 65:3-4 All day long they insult me to my face by worshipping idols in their sacred gardens. They burn incense on pagan altars. At night they go out among the graves, worshipping the dead. They eat the flesh of pigs and make stews with other forbidden foods.
It was a shame what happened to the pigs, ok I have nothing against pigs, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. And don’t even get me started on how so many of the people who are so vocal about protecting baby seals are just as vocal about allowing unborn children to be destroyed. You don’t want to go there.
Forgetting the pigs understand that this story reveals that there is a supernatural battle that is being waged for the souls of people and if you want to be on the winning side then you have to choose. And with that, I leave you with the challenge of Joshua who stood before the people of Israel and said Joshua 24:15 . . . choose today whom you will serve. But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”