Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:33-34a “And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the
city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the
devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus:. . .”
News of this remarkable incident reached town before Jesus did. His fame always preceded Him. The herdsmen, responsible for the well-being of 2000 hogs now dead, told in minute detail what had happened. They wanted everyone to know, they were not to blame for this, the death of the pigs was not their fault.
The fact the whole town came “to meet Jesus” indicates the story had been told in such a way as to place all responsibility on Him. Every citizen knew Jesus had driven wildness out of demoniacs and into pigs. No one else is in view. All attention is focused on Christ. Amen. This is what we would expect to happen after a miracle this powerful and wonderful. Surely they are coming to worship Him, to beg Him to stay. They will obviously rejoice over two men cured and set free, and will implore Jesus to come heal their sick neighbors and family members.
Matt. 8:34b “. . .and when they saw him, they besought him that he would
depart. . .”
Surely not! Power, mercy, healing, and love stood incarnated before them, yet they rejected Him–no praise of Jesus, no bringing the sick to be healed, no asking Him to stay, no rejoicing over deliverance. Angels in heaven rejoice over sinners who repent (LK 15:10), but demons and the lost don’t. My father-in-law was the first of his family to be saved. He ran home from a revival meeting, his feet barely touching the ground, but when he told what had happened, no one rejoiced. He said they would have been happier had he stayed home and baled more hay.
With the Gergesenes, the demons accomplished their objective. They destroyed the pigs, Jesus took the blame. After the pigs died, where did the demons go? Not far. They found welcome homes in the local citizens. The demons are now in the cold, calculated, business-minded townsfolk. Madness has come over the locals. They are as possessed as the demoniacs had been. People supposedly sane are offering an insane prayer, asking the kind Healer to depart. They are echoing the demons, who had said, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus?” The literal words of the demons and the locals differ, but the message is the same, “Christ, we want nothing to do with you. Leave us alone.” Like the demons, the people felt nothing in common with Jesus, and did not want Him to interrupt their affairs.
The Gergesenes did not ridicule or persecute Jesus. They just asked Him to leave them alone. Their indifference to Jesus shocks at first, but further consideration reminds us this sin is common. People often deem God an interruption they don’t want to be bothered with. The only prayer some folks ever offer is the devil’s prayer, “What do you and I have in common, Jesus? Depart, leave me alone.”
People want to leave God alone, and be left alone by God, but this is not our decision to make. God is the Creator, we are the clay. He determines the ground rules, and decides what His creatures are to do. The almighty omnipotent One has given us a direct order. He commands all people everywhere to repent, for someday He will judge the world based on their response to Jesus (see Acts 17:30-31).
People are free to disobey this command, but not free to escape the frightening consequences of disobeying it. If our telling Him to depart becomes decisive and final, it results in His final and decisive telling of us to depart (MT 7:23).
For a creature to rise up in rebellion, daring to dictate to the Creator, is unthinkable, yet happens all the time. The principal root of all sin is the decision to deny God His rightful role. He is Sovereign, Lord, Master, Ruler, but human beings want to be their own god. Shirley MacLaine, the actress who became an early leading proponent of American New Age thought, once stood on a beach screaming, “I am god! I am god!” What she was brazen enough to yell publicly, most people practice privately. Satan’s temptation of Eve remains effective, “Ye shall be as gods” (GN 3:5). Sin is birthed in wanting to control, to have our own way.
For the Gergesenes, the sudden intrusion of Jesus into their lives threatened to disrupt their own predetermined routine. They feared He might force them out of their self-determined comfort zone. They did not want to be disturbed from the life they had on their own chosen for and by themselves to live. Breaking through this stubborn impasse is the crux of what it means to become a Christian. Submitting to Jesus requires admitting our life is no longer our own, no longer under our own jurisdiction. Conversion necessitates rethinking our whole philosophy of life. We have to acknowledge we have been wrong every minute of every day of our whole lives. This is difficult, and the vast majority will not do it. They refuse to yield to a God other than their own selves, opting instead to remain their own god.
The Gergesenes feared Jesus would become a menace. Yielding to Him could be very dangerous. What if this happened again? Who would compensate the pig owners? Whose pocketbook will be rifled next? They decided two delivered demoniacs were not enough compensation for 2000 drowned swine. Caring more for devil-destroyed pigs than for Christ-restored men, the townspeople unanimously decided Jesus had to go. They meticulously counted the cost of His staying, but forgot to count the cost of His leaving. They hurt only themselves.
When Christ is cast off, who is the loser, Jesus or the one casting? As Ben Franklin was dying, he had his nurse find an old picture of Jesus and hang it on the wall at the foot of his bed. Ben, who was raised in godliness, but turned his back on it, died looking at a picture of the Savior. I hope Ben is in heaven, he’s one of my favorites, but if to the end he continued to cast off Jesus, who was the loser?
I read of a well known, highly educated man who spent his life attacking Jesus and Christianity. In his final days the fear of death haunted him. He talked to himself while walking back and forth in front of a picture of Jesus. He would stop from time to time and address the portrait, “You were only a man! Should I worship you? No, I will not, for you are only Rabbi Jesus.” At other times he would say, “What do you say? That you came from above? You are dreadful, but only a man after all.” The most pitiful times were when he would groan, “Are you really the Son of God?” These scenes were repeated day after day after day until the miserable man finally dropped down dead (Gray and Adams). Who was the loser?
Theories abound as to the meaning of Melville’s “Moby Dick.” One of the most plausible interpretations is based on Melville’s own comment in a letter to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom the book was dedicated. “I have written a wicked book and feel spotless as a lamb” (Michael Rogin, “Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville,” NY: Knopf, 1983, p. 142). Moby Dick may have been written to depict man’s obsession to cast off God. Ahab and his crew picture evil men, the white whale pictures Jesus, the battle is engaged for three days. Even in the face of death, Ahab’s hatred for the whale, man’s hatred for Christ, is so great that to the end he spews venom, “To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” In the end, the whale lives on, all the crew but one are killed. Who is the loser?
Hear words of love, dear friend. Beware the god-complex. If you think you do not need Christ, you think too highly of yourself. If you think Jesus will not help you, you think too lowly of Him. The disease of sin becomes incurable not because it is too resistant for the remedy, but because the remedy is thrown away. Deliberate, determined, and final rejection of Christ is the sin for which no pardon is provided. Till then a pardon is available, but His forgiveness can be rejected.
Would a drowning man throw away his life-jacket? Would a poisoned man pour his antidote on the floor? No, of course not, yet this is exactly what people do when they reject Christ. The Gergesenes expelled the only One who could expel from them the sin leading them to destruction. Do not follow their example.