Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:34c “. . .out of their coasts.”
They wanted to be totally rid of Jesus–not only gone, but gone far far away. Satan was surely thrilled. Their terrible request produced one of the Bible’s most haunting scenes. It is hard to imagine anything worse they could have asked for.
Many still want to ban Christ. A move is even afoot to replace B.C. (before Christ) with B.C.E. (before common era), in deference to all religions. History itself has to be rewritten to accommodate mankind’s dislike for Jesus. Everyone has the dreadful right to send Jesus away. Woe to whom He grants this request.
The Gergesenes had a chance to make a loud and clear statement on the value of persons over animals and money, of the spiritual over the material. However, having been touched in their pocketbooks, they felt touched to the quick. Jesus had committed sacrilege, having put His hand on their most cherished idol, money.
Theirs was the sin of a commercial society, a sin Western capitalists must ever be wary of. They were concerned more with business than with salvation. People have long been refusing Jesus because they prefer swine over a Savior.
We talk often of the many who do not come to Christ because they refuse to give up illicit sex, drugs, and other highly visible vices. I wonder how many don’t come because they know it will affect them financially. Jesus did not speak into thin air when He asked, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (MT 16:26a). He knew many would need the reminder.
Christ, always honest and straightforward, granted the Gergesenes a dramatic portrayal of what following Him entails. It has a positive side (two healed demoniacs), but also a difficult side (2000 dead pigs). Both sides are equally real.
The Gergesenes saw two saved, healed men, and saw their lost money. Do not minimize their financial loss. It was hard on them. But the command to follow Jesus always entails confronting tough calls, making difficult value decisions.
Following Christ entails wonderful benefits–including Heaven, deliverance from Hell, a personal relationship with Jesus, forgiveness of sin–yet is also always accompanied with soul-searching tests, including the forsaking of sin, and the total abandonment of one’s sovereignty. Being saved always involves a certain degree of difficulty. There is always a hump to get over. Zaccheus had to overcome selfishness, the rich young ruler had to give up his obsession for money, Paul had to abandon all his self-righteous attempts to earn his own salvation. Something of value always has to be given up to enter the kingdom. This may be your day to enter. What are you being asked to forsake in order to follow Jesus? Could anything in your life ever be important enough to keep you from deciding for Him?
Sacrificial living has to continue throughout the Christian life. Every step of progress made by a believer requires surrendering something of value. It entails a willingness to take up our cross with ever increasing acquiescence. The love of money is a stumblingblock to not only unbelievers, but also believers. Ever be asking, are we holding our wealth for Christ or instead of Christ? We say we want God to bless others, we claim we want to see the nations won to Jesus, we profess we want people to be saved at all cost, but our words often only have meaning if the result does not harm our wallets. We want others helped, but not to our hurt.
If we love stuff more than people, we can never draw closer to Jesus, for where He reigns, a primary objective becomes ever heightening sacrifice for the good of others. People matter more and more, and we have to live increasingly for them as well as for Him. Often we resist this rising level of sacrifice. God help us let money and possessions go, so long as people are being rescued from demons.
Verse 34 plays a pivotal role in Matthew. This book is not haphazard. It is very structured, carefully planned. To this point, Matthew’s Gospel has given us story after story illustrating Christ’s power. It seems unlimited. But now, all of a sudden, that seeming limitlessness comes to a screeching halt. We see here the one God-allowed limitation–human will. This is the first public rejection of Jesus in Matthew. From this point on, the gathering storm will intensify. In this latter sentence, do we find a foreshadowing of what is about to happen in our own land? It behooves us to see and imitate how Christ responded to the rejection of Himself.
Matt. 9:1a “And he entered into a ship, and passed over,. . .”
Jesus did not resist them. He could tell they truly meant what they were saying, and took them at their word. He heard their prayer, granted their request, and left. “I think I see the departing sail–love, hope, and peace melting away upon the distant horizon” (Spurgeon). Meanwhile, on the shore, as the townspeople see the boat departing, they return to life as normal. “Okay, let’s get back to work.” “Who’s going to pay for my dead pigs?” “How are we going to recoup our loss?”
The mission trip is over. It would be easy to mark it off as a failure, but a closer look will yield a different verdict. Victory is written all over this mission trip. It was a success for several reasons. First, two were saved. Never underestimate the value of one soul saved. An elderly preacher labored the final years of his life to keep a struggling church alive. On his last day as pastor, as he left the building, awaiting him down the road a ways was the only convert he had won in many years. The lad was Robert Moffatt, who later became the great missionary to Africa. Heaven rejoices over every new convert (LK 15:10). We should, too.
Second, the trip produced a missionary to the Gergesenes. One of the demoniacs tried to get in the boat and leave with Jesus. I don’t blame him. I would have wanted to leave, too. If they rejected Jesus, what chance did the demoniac have? Also, he loved this One who had healed him and wanted to be near Him. “Just let me be close to Jesus.” How sad when we lose our first love. Jesus told him, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee” (MK 5:19). Jesus left an effective witness among them. Hopefully some would later change their minds. The demoniac obeyed, began preaching, “and all men did marvel” (MK 5:20). That morning a maniac; that afternoon a messenger. We all have a story to tell. When was the last time we told it to a prechristian?
Third, the trip provided a chance for Jesus’ compassion to be revealed. He did not call down fire from heaven or pronounce anathemas on them. He could have sent the Gergesenes down the hillside to destruction after their swine, or could have returned to Heaven in disgust–the very idea of creatures rejecting their Creator–but He instead showed absolutely no anger at being repulsed. He quietly yielded to their request, responding to their insolence with meekness and love.
Jesus later returned to the land of the Gergesenes and worked miracles (MK 7:31ff). He refused to let their hatred drown His love. Oh that we could help prechristians appreciate Jesus’ vast goodwill toward them. Would He who died for us want to make our lives miserable? Opening a heart to Jesus is like opening a prison door and stepping into freedom. Coming to Christ is like stepping out of Dorothy’s dull gray house into the full color of Oz. Jesus, a perfect gentleman, never forces Himself on anyone. He has us come as dear, cherished friends or not at all.
An ocean of love awaits repentant sinners. I pray we believers won’t drive them away by our lack of compassion. Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) made a remarkably accurate prediction near the end of his fruitful life. He believed as western culture sank deeper and deeper into sin, Christians would confront two ultimate challenges. First, we would face the test of no compromise. Convictions would become harder to hold, but have to be retained at all cost. Second, we would face the test of compassion. Could we watch the world slip farther away from our beliefs and still love it? Anger is easy. The test is loving as Christ does.