It wasn't your typical day at the beach. Instead of beach umbrellas, lounge chairs and a sandcastle, we have a cemetery, a violent man, the supernatural, outraged citizens and pigs. And I'm pretty flexible, especially about beaches, but I draw the line at pigs on the beach.
This is week four of our Day at the Beach series. We have been looking at events from the Gospels that have happened on and around the Sea of Galilee, which as we have already explained wasn't actually a sea but simply a lake. And we are picking up where we left off last week.
It had been a pretty full day, what with all the teaching, healings and all. Then Jesus and the apostles had gotten into a boat and headed across the lake. When dark came a violent storm suddenly developed and the apostles figured that was the end and woke Jesus up, didn't want him to miss anything. But instead of joining in the panic Jesus commanded the wind and waves to stop, and they did. Amazing, not only was he in control of the physical he was in control of the natural as well. And now morning had come and he was about to show his control over the supernatural.
The group landed at a point identified here as Gerasenes which if we pull up our trusty map was here on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It’s interesting as you study the New Testament and read how scholars try to identify communities by the descriptions given them 2000 years ago.
The first church Angela and I pastored together was outside of Sussex New Brunswick in a hamlet called Hammondvale. To even call it a hamlet was being charitable. There was nothing there, zip, nada zero. Maybe 40 homes and a chapel that had been built a hundred years before. But if you were to read the history of Hammondvale from the 1800’s there was some mining going on, there were a couple of stores and a hotel, a lawyer’s office and several other businesses. And yet 90 years later you would be hard pressed to believe that any of that had ever existed.
That being said, it has been by guess and by golly that we say with great authority that this is the location. Gerasenes hardly existed 2000 years ago and doesn’t exist today, but this is where they figure it was.
And as Jesus and the group landed and came ashore they were confronted with a most unusual greeting committee. I’ll let Mark tell you more. Mark 5:1-2 So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from a cemetery to meet him.
I would suspect that this man had not been selected by the chamber of commerce to greet newcomers to town, he probably wasn't part of the official Welcome Wagon. But listen to how he greeted Jesus and the apostles. Mark 5:6-7 When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!”
Did you catch it? There was something very important in what he said. Let’s read it again. Mark 5:6-7 When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!”
Right there, do you see what he calls Jesus? Son of the most high God. This is one of the first people to recognize and identify Jesus’ true identity and divinity. Up to now we heard him referred to as “Lord” or “Teacher” but this is the first time he is referred to as God’s Son. Interesting.
Some times when I talk to folks and try to get a handle on where they are spiritually they will say “Well I believe.” Well sure, everyone believes something, even if it’s that they believe there is no God. Or they will say “I believe in believe in God” or “I believe in Jesus” Listen to what the Bible, God’s word says James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
And it would appear that this guy knew his fate, and he understood the truth of Matthew 25:41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.’” So he knew that he was destined for an eternity of punishment and torment and yet he still chose to follow Satan. Wow, good thing people aren’t like that. Oh, I guess they are.
If we keep reading the story we see Jesus questions the man, only to discover that there isn't a demon, but many demons. And they beg Jesus to not send them to some distant place, wherever that distant place might have been.
Instead the demons immediately go on the defensive and looking around they see a herd of pigs, so let’s go back to the story. Mark 5:11-12 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. “Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.”
You catch that? The demons had to ask Jesus permission to enter the pigs. And if we keep reading the Bible tell us that Jesus granted them permission and the demons entered the pigs, the pigs charge down the hill into the lake and drown. End of story, right? Well not quite because the pig herders go into town with their story and tell everyone and the entire town turns out to see this Jesus for themselves.
Now before we continue with this story there was another time that an entire community turned out to see the one called Jesus. Maybe you remember it from John 4:39-41 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe.
Not here though, here the reaction is completely different. Mark 5:17 And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. The people of one community begged Jesus to stay and the people of the other community begged Jesus to leave. Interesting.
So what do we learn from the story?
The Reality of Demons
We live in a time and culture that the supernatural seems more like fantasy or fiction then reality. And we are quick to dismiss rather than accept that they may be things that we can’t understand and explain. One commentator that I read espoused the view that the man wasn't actually demon possessed that he just thought he was demon possessed, and his loud screaming startled the herd of pigs who ran down the hill into Galilee. And then Jesus used the death of the pigs to convince the man that the demons had left him and gone into the pigs.
Ok. Guess he never heard that we don’t debate the book. We are reminded by Paul in Ephesians 6:11-12 Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
In Luke 10:19 Jesus called Satan “Our Enemy” and that is echoed by his friend Peter who wrote 1 Peter 5:8 Be on your guard and stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack.
As Christians we often make one of two mistake, either we ignore Satan and demons and pretend that they have no power and are nothing more than myths or past problems, or we dwell on them and give them credit for every misfortune, illness or trouble that enters our lives. Two things you need to know 1) the Devil and Demons are real and 2) I’ve read the back of the book and we win.
This man was possessed, or oppressed or something by the enemy. I don’t know a lot about demons, haven’t spent a lot of time studying them and don’t intend to. “But Denn” you say “It’s important.” This is what I know. The word Demon is mentioned 89 times in the bible, the first being in Deuteronomy 32:17 They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God, to gods they had not known before, to new gods only recently arrived, to gods their ancestors had never feared. And the last being in Revelation 18:2 He gave a mighty shout: “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen! She has become a home for demons. She is a hideout for every foul spirit, a hideout for every foul vulture and every foul and dreadful animal.
The term evil spirits is used 38 times, Devil 41 times and Satan 67 times. If you combine them you get a total of 235 time that demons, evil spirits, the Devil or Satan are mentioned in the Bible.
The Name Jesus is mentioned 1552 times, Christ is mentioned 560 times, Holy Spirit 138 times and God 5271 times. For a total of 7,521 times. 235 times vs. 7,521 times. So who do you think we should be focused on? The bad guys or the good guys. And again I know we can’t ignore the reality of spiritual warfare and demons and evil spirits, they are there, but let’s not obsess over them.
His Trip Was Intentional there appears to be no other reason why he went other than to deliver this man and speak to the people of the area. Gerasenes wasn’t a popular tourist spot, as far as we know none of the disciples came from there so they probably weren’t just going for a visit.
Early on Jesus defined his ministry this way Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free,”
He was in Gerasenes to free the oppressed and release the captives. During his brief visit there he completely turned the world of this man upside down. He had been isolated from his community and his family. His life wasn’t even his own instead he were at the mercy of these demons and Jesus sent him free.
You see sometimes we get focused on reaching communities and miss the fact that happens by reaching people. With an entire world to reach, Jesus sailed across Galilee, through a storm to make a difference in the life of this one man.
We will change this community one person and one family at a time. So who is there in your life that needs you to reach out to them that they may be set free?
Jesus Did What He Went to Do I understand that there is a battle to be fought but the reality is the war has been won. The demons knew that, Jesus knew that and you need to know that Here is your promise for today. Romans 8:38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
Let’s personalize it and read it together Romans 8:38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate me from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither my fears for today nor my worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate me from God’s love.
Do you believe that promise today? Do you want it to be a reality in your life? God is in control and he wants to be in control of your life. We can get into all kinds of discussions about who can be oppressed or possessed by demons and who can’t be but I really think a lot of it comes down to a personal choice.
If you are one hundred percent committed to God there will be no room for demons in your life. They can’t be in his presence. Jesus had just landed in Gerasenes and the demons knew they couldn’t stay. That’s why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:21 You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.
And why James tells us in James 3:10-11 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?
And so the demons chose to go into the pigs but notice what happened the pigs didn’t want them either, they would rather drown then have a bunch of demons in them. So what happened to the demons, don’t know but from what I understand water wasn’t what they were looking for. Check out Matthew 12:43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Now I’m thinking that if the desert is where a demon would prefer to go then a lake wouldn’t even be a close second.
So that battle was won, and here is the good news for you today, the battle for your soul has already been won. Jesus fought it and won it two thousand years ago when Satan tried to nail righteousness to a cross, but Jesus defeated him with his resurrection and won the battle right then and there and all we have to do is accept what he has done for us.
Not Everyone Was Happy We kind of figure that the demons weren’t happy, that’s kind of the nature of the beast, what with being demons and all. Probably weren’t the life of the party and that doesn’t even take into account the entire pig thing. We alluded to this earlier but the last verse of this passage says Mark 5:17 And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.
So what was up with that? Some people feel that they were upset because of the loss of their pigs, others contend that the people were afraid of Jesus and his power. But if it was the first reason they weren’t the only people to put material possessions over a relationship with Christ.
Some people will never come to the point of accepting the Lordship of Jesus because they are afraid what they will have to give up in order to do that. Whether it’s their possessions, or their money or their will and desires. But they don’t understand what they are losing. Jesus warned us in Matthew 16:26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
There is no evidence that Jesus ever returned to Gerasenes in the remainder of his ministry. They rejected Christ and sent him away and he left. Do you ever stop and wonder what would happen if God respected your wishes and just left you alone?
And I know that at this point some of you are wondering What About the Pigs? The pigs? Oh right the pigs, they drowned. Oh you’re upset because this pigs drowned? You’re supposed to be happy because this man got his life back.
You understand that the pigs should not have even been there right? Under Jewish law there was no reason to have pigs, you couldn’t eat them, you weren’t supposed to touch them. Leviticus 11:7-8 The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you. In the Old Testament people that ate pigs were not considered the best folks to hang around with Isaiah 65:3-4 All day long they insult me to my face by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens. They burn incense on pagan altars. At night they go out among the graves, worshiping the dead. They eat the flesh of pigs and make stews with other forbidden foods.
It was a shame what happened to the pigs, ok I have nothing against pigs, especially wrapped around scallops, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture. And don’t even get me started on how so many of the people who are so vocal about protecting baby seals are just as vocal about allowing unborn children to be destroyed. You don’t want to go there.
Forget the pigs and understand that this story reveals that there is a supernatural battle that is being waged for the souls of people and if you want to be on the winning side then you have to choose. And with that I leave you with the challenge of Joshua who stood before the people of Israel and said Joshua 24:15 “. . . choose today whom you will serve. But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”