Many years ago, my previous pastor had the opportunity to exercise one of his great loves and took part in a Shakespeare play. I believe it was Hamlet. While he did that, I had the opportunity to share during our Wednesday night services. I did a series called “Wednesday night at the movies,” where I took stories and imagined them as different movie genres. I used the passage we look at in this post as an example of a horror story. While I didn’t emphasize that in my study today, the most intense horror was that the people of the town were so scared of Jesus that they asked Him to leave. Today, think about all the amazing things that happened in this story and use those thoughts to reflect on the love and grace of God.
1. And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
I believe that this story is a continuation from the end of chapter 4. After crossing the Sea of Galilee, which featured Jesus calming the storm, they arrived in the country of the Gaderenes, an area on the eastern side of the sea.
2. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3. Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: 4. Because that he 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. 5. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
They arrived close enough to a graveyard, an unclean place, that a man who lived among the tombs came out to meet them. It would be easy to guess that he wasn’t welcomed in polite society, given his residence, but the description shows someone with almost superhuman strength, because of the unclean spirit that indwelt him. Chains and fetters couldn’t hold him, he couldn’t be tamed, and he was the guy you hear about in the ghost stories, howling at the moon and cutting himself with stones. In short, he wasn’t the kind of person anyone wanted to be around, which was why the town’s folks drove him out to the graveyard. One question about this situation that I’ve never heard discussed, but that came to mind is, did Jesus land there by accident – driven off course by the storm of the night before, or did Jesus plan to arrive there to care for this man? My belief is that this was a deliberate encounter, arranged by God, to bring the good news of the Kingdom to this man. If you’ve ever been in an uncomfortable situation, that might be a good question to ask, although, if the situation has come about because of your sin, or someone else’s sin, that might temper your response. For example: “I found all this money,” might be because God was blessing you, but, if you found the money because you broke into a bank vault, I wouldn’t attribute that to God.
6. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, 7. And 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. 9. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. 10. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.
When the demons who infested the man saw Jesus and recognized who He was, they caused the man to run to Him and worship Him. I find it interesting that demons recognized the divinity of Jesus. Living in the spiritual realm, they recognized who the spiritual powers were and they realized who Jesus was. Their worship wasn’t church worship with songs of praise and an amazing sermon; their worship was to run to Him, and, recognizing His spiritual authority, they bowed their knee. At the same time, while they recognized who Jesus was and His position of authority, they sought separation. They demanded, in the name of God, that He should leave them alone. This, apparently came after Jesus had commanded them to leave the man. They weren’t going to give in too easily. Then, Jesus asked the name of the demon. Back then, the idea that knowing a person’s name gave you power over them. Even today we recognize the power that’s in a person’s name and how knowing it can change a relationship. Even though the demon recognized who Jesus was, knowing His name and His association with the most high God, they sought that separation and we see that in the demon’s response: “My name is Legion: for we are many.” He didn’t give a real name, just a description – perhaps meant to intimidate Jesus? I don’t know about that for sure, but he sought to deny Jesus’s authority over him by noting that he and his buddies were strong. Of course, the fact that he begged not to leave the country showed that he recognized who Jesus was and His authority over him (them?).
11. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. 13. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.
If the proximity to the tombs weren’t bad enough, this land was close to a herd of swine. I don’t know about you, but I think this part of the story is hilarious. The demons prayed and Jesus answered their prayer. The result of this answered prayer, though, was their destruction. Their prayer was, “don’t leave us wandering in a spiritual netherworld, send us into the pigs so we can inhabit them.” Jesus told them, in effect, “Go for it.” He answered their prayer. (I just want to emphasize that.) The bad news for the demons was that their presence drove the pigs to do something to escape that possession and they ended up jumping into the sea. I don’t know if the man had been inhabited by two thousand demons, or if the minute one pig got possessed, it started a stampede, but while the pigs were unclean to Jesus and the disciples, they were made even more unclean to each other and they stampeded to their death.
14. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. 15. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. 16. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine.
Though pigs are unclean to Jews, they were a food source to the Gentiles and some had been watching over them as they fed. The swineherds ran back into the city, and started talking about what had happened. I can just imagine the conversation between the herdsmen and their owners: “Uh boss, you’re not gonna believe this, but the pigs stampeded, jumped off the cliff, and drowned.” That caused a bit of commotion and some of the town’s folks came out to see what had happened. When they came out, they found the pigs gone and Jesus and the wild guy sitting having a nice conversation. As they tried to figure out what had happened, some of the swineherds must have been babbling about the events, and that caused a reaction. They feared the power of Jesus, who did for this man through love what their force could never do. They were, perhaps a bit angry about the financial loss of the herd of pigs, giving no thought to the man freed from demons. They might even have been worried that Jesus might punish them for the way they treated this guy who now seemed like a friend by sending the demons back into them. Whatever the case, they decided to take action.
17. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. 18. And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. 19. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. 20. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
In the mind of Jesus, the life of one man was more important than the lives (and economic impact) of two thousand pigs. The town’s people weren’t too sure about that and they begged Jesus to get out of town. So, after a short stay that involved healing a man possessed by demons and killing a couple thousand pigs, Jesus and the disciples went back to the boat. The guy formerly known for being demon-possessed asked Jesus if he could join with them. Perhaps he thought that he’d be unwelcome in the town because of his association with Jesus. Whatever the reason he had for wanting to walk with Jesus, Jesus gave him a different job and told him to go back home, perhaps in the face of opposition, and tell people what God had done. In short, he was to tell of the goodness of God, the one true God, to people who considered Jews to be dogs. The guy went back to his home area and started talking about Jesus. Amazing things happen when we talk about Jesus and the people who head the story of the amazing things that God had done and the grace that He showed this man were amazed. Perhaps they were ready for the good news of Jesus that the disciples spread after the resurrection.