Terror On the Hillside.
Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20
“And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.” – Mark 5:17 NLT
Jesus and His disciples had been sailing across the Sea of Galilee to the eastern shore when they encountered the severe storm. He miraculously calmed the storm with a word from His mouth, leaving His disciples “absolutely terrified” (Mark 4:41 NLT) according to Mark’s account. They couldn’t believe what they had seen Him do. They talked among themselves, saying, “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41 NLT).
Clarifications, Not Contradictions
With the sea calm and their minds in turmoil, the disciples finish their journey and land on the eastern shore near the region of the Gerasenes. While Matthew calls the place Gadarene, there is really no contradiction between the two accounts. Recent archeological finds have revealed the remains of a former village called Gersa near the area where Jesus and His disciples would have landed. Nearby are ancient tombs and a steep, cliff-like feature as described in the story. This village would have likely been part of the region overseen by the much larger city of Gadara, which would have meant it was in the region of the Gadarenes. Mark and Luke may be describing the region based on the people who lived there, the Gerasenes; while Matthew is using the name of the people who oversaw the entire region. In either case, we are dealing with a area occupied primarily by Gentiles in Jesus’s day, which would explain the presence of pigs, considered unclean by Jews. Another apparent contradiction is that Matthew’s account speaks of two demon-possessed men, while Mark and Luke talk about only one. More than likely, there were two, but one was more prominent and memorable than the other. He was the one whose demon called himself “Legion” when Jesus demanded he reveal his name. Mark and Luke provide greater detail than Matthew, but the stories are the same and the endings are virtually identical.
These two men were both possessed by demons. As a result, their lives were miserable, forced to live in isolation in a graveyard, avoided by all those who knew them, because of their violent behavior. Yet, when Jesus arrives, they come out to meet Him. Mark describes one of the men as having supernatural power, giving him the ability to snap any chains that anyone managed to place on him, and the strength to break shackled and bonds with ease. No one was strong enough to subdue him, so everyone simply avoided the area in which they lived. But as Jesus and the disciples disembark from their boat, these two demon-possessed men come out running and screaming down the hillside toward them. You can only imagine what they must have looked like to the disciples. Their appearance had to have been shocking. They would have been filthy, probably naked, with wild hair, long beards, and untrimmed nails. The poor disciples had just recovered from their ordeal at sea to now encounter two demon-possessed madmen running straight for them. Mark tells us they bowed before Jesus and one of them 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!” (Mark 5:7 NLT). I would love to have seen the faces of the disciples as all this was taking place. They were probably standing behind Jesus, like a group of children hiding behind their father. Or perhaps they had backed off and stood at a distance as Jesus dealt with the situation. But they had to have been scared and confused by the whole situation.
But the disciples weren’t the only ones who were scared. The one demon who spoke to Jesus revealed that there were actually many demons in the man he possessed. And they all feared Jesus because they knew who He was. They acknowledge His as the Son of the Most High God. They knew He had power over them, so they begged Him to send them into a herd of pigs rather than send them back to hell. Jesus obliges and the demons leave the two men and take possession of the pigs, causing the entire herd to go crazy and cast themselves off a nearby cliff into the sea. Again, think of the looks on the faces of the disciples as all this came down. As if the demon-possessed men were not enough, now there were pigs involved, which were unclean to all Jews. This must have been like watching a horror movie to these poor men. But again, they were not the only ones experiencing fear.
The poor herdsmen, having seen what had happened to the two demoniacs and, more importantly, to their pigs, ran back into the village and the surrounding countryside telling everyone what they had seen. Soon a crowd gathered. By now the two men were fully clothed and in their right minds. The pigs were long gone. Mark tells us, after taking stock of the scene, the people were all afraid. So they began to plead with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. What an interesting response. Here were two men who had once been demon-possessed and now they were completely healthy and whole. But the people were afraid. While at one time they had feared the demoniacs, now they feared Jesus. He was an enigma to them. He was like nothing they had ever encountered before. He obviously had power. They were seeing the proof of it right before their eyes. But He scared them. His very presence had disrupted the status quo of their lives and caused them anxiety. They preferred things the way they used to be. They were more upset about the loss of the pigs than they were joyful over the new-found freedom of the two men. So Jesus and His disciples got back into the boat and left. And He would never return to this area again.
As the disciples sailed away with Jesus, leaving the townspeople standing on the shoreline, they had to have been blown away by all they had seen. Not only did Jesus have power over the physical elements, He had power over the spiritual world. Even Satan and his demons knew who Jesus was and they feared Him. They had to submit to Him. This had been quite a day for the disciples. They had a lot to process and think about. Their knowledge of Jesus was expanding each and every day. Their understanding of Him was increasing at a rapid pace. And they weren’t exactly sure what to do with Him. Like the people back on the shoreline, they were wrestling with all kinds of issues. Jesus was rocking their world. He was turning everything on its head and disrupting their comfortable world. Which is what He still does today. Coming to Christ is one thing. Growing in Christ is another. Peter reminds us, “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). The disciples were growing. They were learning. They were re-learning much of what they thought they knew about the Messiah. And it was proving to be a fearful, faith-stretching process. Their knowledge of Jesus was growing, and so was their faith.
Father, continue to stretch my faith and increase my understanding of just who Jesus is. I want to grow in my salvation. I want to have to wrestle with the reality of who He is and what He is capable of doing in my life. Don’t let me get comfortable with the status quo, but continue to stretch me – even if it scares me or makes me uncomfortable. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men