Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:28a “And when he was come to the other side into the country of the
Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils,. . .”
Thus begins one of Jesus’ many short-term mission trips. He crossed a stormy Lake Galilee to find and deliver two pitiful, pathetic demon possessed men. These are the only ones He helped on this whole trip. Our Master crossed a sea to save two men. Where have you and I traveled recently to save someone?
Many of us do not have to go far out of our way to find a mission field. We enter one every day, and simply need to open our eyes to see and our hearts to feel. Everywhere Jesus went, He was alert, on duty, ready to do missions and ministry. A special errand seemed to await Him everywhere. The same is true in our lives. Wake up. Look around. Opportunities for missions and ministry are everywhere.
Leaving the boat, Jesus is approached by two miserable men. Civil war was raging inside them. Though possessed by demons, they ran to worship Jesus (MK 5:6). It was hard to tell where the human left off and demons began. Two human beings are dashing to Jesus for help, but only demons are talking. These men were internally divided. In each, two wills were in conflict. One wanted mercy, one expected only torment; one was yearning for Christ, one was pulling away from Him.
The fact these two demented men came running to Jesus proves they were not as wholly given to evil as many saner people are. Who was more demon possessed, these crazed demoniacs or sophisticated Pharisees who crucified our Lord?
Demon possession rarely manifests itself dramatically. The devil loves to hide under a facade of good, but God at times allows dramatic examples of demon possession to break through to the surface. This reveals evil spirits, and lets us see them for what they really are, no matter how they try to hide themselves. In the normal is their primary habitation, but in the abnormal we see their true colors.
After the World War II Nuremberg trials, the results of psychological tests done on Hitler’s henchmen were kept secret for thirty years. The masses wanted to believe they were monsters. World leaders did not have the heart to reveal the truth. The masterminds of the holocaust were found to be psychologically normal. They were men of fine standing, cultured, husbands who morning and night kissed their wives, fathers who tucked their children into bed. On a plaque in the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum, one of them is quoted as saying it was amazing they were able to kill all those people and yet remain civil. One reason more biographies have been written about Hitler than any other man except Jesus is that we struggle to fathom such wanton evil. The story in our text helps us understand a bit better.
Human beings live in two realms simultaneously. What we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel is not our whole cosmos. Around us is another, unseen world inhabited by invisible beings: angels who serve God, fallen angels who serve Satan.
These two worlds intersect within us. “Deep down in the mysterious “subliminal consciousness” there is a gate through which spiritual beings may come into contact with human personalities” (Maclaren). Fortunately, God’s angels minister to Christians (HB 1:14). Unfortunately, all human beings are susceptible to the influence of evil spirits. People are not born neutral. We have within us by birth a sin nature which we later embrace by choice and embellish by habit. We all have an innate propensity, a predisposition, toward evil. Evil spirits seek to resonate with this evil inner nature we all possess. If not held at bay by the Holy Spirit of God, these evil influences enter us through our inner spiritual gate, infiltrate our minds, and take over as much of our wills as we allow. They always go as far as an indwelt person permits. Our repeated yielding to temptation creates opportunity for evil to become more prominent in us through progressive degrees.
“A spirit in rebellion against God necessarily gravitates downward” (Maclaren). Jesus warned of sin’s undertow, “Every one who commits sin is the slave of sin” (JN 8:34 NAS). Many foster their own slavery, becoming victims of their own ungovernable inner forces. Sin indulged long enough becomes sin in charge.
Nevertheless, fear not. Jesus is Master of both the physical and the spiritual realms. On Lake Galilee He brought peace in the physical world. In the land of the Gergesenes He brought peace in the spiritual. This is good news, for often the worst storms of life are in the spirit realm. The storm at sea wasn’t nearly as bad as the storm raging inside these men. Their bodies were dwelling places, haunts, habitations of slimy demons. Real, cruel, living beings had taken up residence in these men. Thought, speech, and behavior were being adversely affected. Their lives were reeling out of control, but Jesus was in control. The very purpose of this story is to prove Christ can rescue people, however far into sin they may sink.
Though evil spirits had certainly gained ascendency over these two, the demons still did not have one hundred percent, absolute control over the men. Evil spirits were tyrannizing, but underneath, two human souls were still able to yearn and call out for release. Both seemed drawn to Jesus by an irresistible impulse.
Not even demons could keep these two pitiful creatures from coming to Jesus. Deep sin can be overruled by a deep sense of need. Deep oppression can be negated by deep desire for deliverance. Human beings are moral agents. Prior choices can make later decisions more difficult, but any sinner can still pick Jesus.
People may often appear hopeless to us. Some are controlled by demons the way these two were; many more are possessed in other, quieter, more sophisticated ways. In either case, there is always hope. These demoniacs were delivered from sin and lostness, as were the refined Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.
Jesus can save profligates and Pharisees. Each equally needs deliverance. In the former, Christ can still calm the madness, and bring back lost inner harmony. In the latter, Jesus can awaken a conscience dead to one’s own peril. Our assigned task is to never give up, to seek to win everyone, even the hardest cases.
Matt. 8:28b “. . .coming out of the tombs,. . .”
A graveyard was an appropriate place for demons to house these two men. A cemetery, as it were, kept the demoniacs nearby. Tombs powerfully symbolize death, the event which serves as our entryway into the realm of spirits. Graves are strong physical pictures of the nether world and of the spirits which inhabit it.
Tombs are trophies of Satan’s victory. He and his evil cohorts caused death in the first place. Living in a cemetery kept the demoniacs constantly mindful of the spectacle and terror of death (HB 2:15). By housing the men here, the evil spirits seemed to say, “You are cut off from the living, as good as dead already. You are, at best, walking zombies, the living dead. There is no hope for you.”
The evil spirits wanted to convince these two that they belonged in the hideouts of robbers and fugitives. They wanted the demoniacs to believe these homes of corruption were a site congenial and appropriate to their wretched minds.
These two men acquiesced in this verdict for a while, but on this day they refused to listen to the evil voices. In one frantic charge they rushed in the direction of help. I urge you to follow their lead. All without Christ are “dead in trespasses and sins” (EP 2:1b). Satan wants you to believe this means your case is hopeless. Do not listen to his lies about the grace of God overflowing toward you. On Easter, Jesus came out of His tomb so that these men could leave behind their tombs of dwelling and that you can leave behind the tomb of your spiritual death.