Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 8:28-34

Jesus Heals Two Men with Demons

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,[a] two demon-possessed[b] men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

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Last week’s post described the storm on the Sea — lake — of Galilee that struck fear into the disciples. They woke Jesus who ‘rebuked the winds and the sea’ to restore immediate calm. He then asked the disciples why they had so little faith.

Now they have crossed the lake and are in another region, that of the Gadarenes (verse 28). I wrote about Luke’s account of this story in 2013 here and here. Both of those links explain more about the background to this story. Luke’s and Mark’s accounts (Mark 5:1-20 is in the three-year Lectionary) are much longer and record that the man — only one — wanted to become Jesus’s disciple. Jesus told him to go home and tell his friends what happened to him. No doubt he would do better among his own in being a living testament to Jesus’s healing power.

The Wikipedia map at the right shows Gadara and Gerasa. They are inland, but as my posts on Luke’s account explain, thanks to John MacArthur, those were probably the largest towns nearby. In any event, this region was known as the Decapolis, which also included what is now called Kersa. Kersa, MacArthur says, has many lakeside cliffs with tombs. What the Gospels describe is accurate.

Matthew says that there were two demon-possessed men, not one. They had extraordinary strength because of the demons working in them. They had to live away from everyone else, hence the tombs.

The demons spoke when they saw Jesus (verse 29), addressing Him as ‘the Son of God’, asking Him what His business was with them and why He was coming so early. That was a reference to the Second Coming.

Matthew Henry analyses the demons’ words (emphases mine):

Even the devils know, and believe, and confess Christ to be the Son of God, and yet they are devils still, which makes their enmity to Christ so much the more wicked, and indeed a perfect torment to themselves for how can it be otherwise, to oppose one they know to be the Son of God? Note, It is not knowledge, but love, that distinguishes saints from devils

Note, It is possible for me to call Jesus the Son of God, and yet have nothing to do with him. Secondly, It is as true, that the devils desire not to have any thing to do with Christ as a Ruler[;] they hate him, they are filled with enmity against him, they stand in opposition to him, and are in open rebellion against his crown and dignity.

A herd of pigs was feeding nearby (verse 30). How could this be in a Jewish region? Henry surmises:

Probably, lying in the outskirts of the land, there were many Gentiles among them, to whom this herd of swine belonged: or they kept them to be sold, or bartered, to the Romans, with whom they had now great dealings, and who were admirers of swine’s flesh.

He says that as a punishment to the people for breaking the Law in this manner, God allowed demon possession of these two men.

Demons don’t like the thought of dying. They assumed that Jesus would cast them out of the men. So they asked Him to let them continue their existence in the pigs (verse 31). He granted permission, they invaded the pigs and their incredible strength drove the herd into the sea (verse 32).

This should tell us how powerful Satan and his minions are. They bring nothing but destruction and death to souls:

See what an industrious enemy Satan is, and how expeditious he will lose no time in doing mischief …

Note, The possession which the devil gets is for destruction. Thus the devil hurries people to sin, hurries them to that which they have resolved against, and which they know will be shame and grief to them: with what a force doth the evil spirit work in the children of disobedience, when by so many foolish and hurtful lusts they are brought to act in direct contradiction, not only to religion, but to right reason, and their interest in this world!

The herdsmen rushed off to tell the townspeople what had happened to the men, now delivered (verse 33). The townspeople came to meet with Jesus and asked Him to leave (verse 34).

You would think they would be grateful and relieved, but they want nothing to do with Him.

John MacArthur explains:

By the way, this is the first recorded instance of open opposition to the Messiah and it all just mounts from here on.  He exposed them.  They despised him.  He was better than they, greater than they, purer than they, more powerful than they, more holy than they, and they resented that.  And they felt dirty and inadequate in His presence because He was so holy, and they felt impotent

To a believer, rejection of Christ for those reasons is an odd reaction to have. Yet, it is entirely normal. Even God-fearing people in Scripture responded likewise:

We’re right back to Isaiah 6.  “Woe is me.”  Woe, that’s the word of a curse.  Isaiah, the best man in the land, pronounced a curse on himself when he saw God because his unholiness was exposed.  Peter, when He saw Jesus Christ and the majesty of His power, said, “Depart from me for I’m a sinful man, O Lord.”  And last week I told you, when the storm came they were afraid, and when Jesus stilled the storm they were exceedingly afraid.  They were more afraid of the calm than they were of the storm because they knew God was in their boat and they were in awe of God. 

With the Gadarenes:

They saw the supernatural and it panicked them.  They saw One who could control the demons.  They saw One who could control animals.  They saw One who could take the soul of a man and give it back to him as white and pure as the driven snow, and they were scared to death.  They saw God, is what they saw.  I don’t know if they all understood that, but they knew it was supernatural, and men don’t like that.  It makes them uncomfortable: “Give us back our pigs and go away.”  Men can handle pigs; they can’t handle God. The mystery of the supernatural they can’t handle.

In the larger context of the Gospel story, MacArthur says that nearly everyone rejected Christ:

They couldn’t tolerate Jesus because of His perfection.  They couldn’t tolerate Him because of His absolute holiness.  He was so far beyond them that He unmasked them, that He showed the stupidity of their own lives.  That’s why they had to kill Him.  And here it all just begins to build.  They saw Him, they saw the power, they were absolutely panicked in awe of God.  Instead of falling at His feet in worship, they said, “Get out.  Go away.  We don’t want you.”

One would have thought that witnessing His miracles would have had an overwhelming power of conversion on more people. But that wasn’t the case:

… the people who saw the miracles didn’t believe.  They nailed Him to a cross and they’d seen miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.  They still didn’t believe.  That just made them hate Him more and more and more and more.  People think today that if they can just show everybody a pile of miracles everybody will believe.  No, because some people, when exposed in the presence of the awesomeness of holy God, will literally run because they love their darkness. Have you ever picked up a rock and found a whole lot of little bugs under it that have been there for a long time, and as soon as you expose them to the light they just split, try to find a hole?  That’s the way men are.  You expose them to the light of God and they love their darkness.  They’ll go right back into the earth to find it again.  That’s where these were.

Loving darkness is the devil’s work.

May we follow the Light of the World today and always.

Next time: Matthew 9:1-8

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