Thoughts on Matthew 8:28-34
There were men “so fierce, no one could pass that way” along the path Jesus chose to go after disembarking from the boat that had just miraculously survived a horrible storm. There’s no way to know for sure, but I suspect there must have been some kind of warning – whether verbal, by signage or simply by legend – that dangerous demoniacs roamed this area. Only the Gentile pig herders dared enter that part of the countryside.
Immediately upon recognizing Jesus, the men, controlled by the demons, acknowledged Jesus for who He was (and is) – the Son of God. They could have said, “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Jesus, the teacher” or “Jesus, from Capernaum,” but they didn’t. In fact, up to this point in the Gospel, the only other time Jesus’ status as God’s son was overtly confirmed was by God the Father himself when Jesus was baptized by John. So here we have demons, whom James says believe in the Son – and tremble – openly and publicly proclaim a truth that has been disputed by men since the moment Jesus first appeared on Earth.
The second truth the demons confirm is that of impending judgment. They ask Jesus if He has come to torment them “before the time.” They knew what they had coming. They didn’t argue it, but simply stated it as a determined course of action. So as with the truth of Jesus’ relation to God the Father, this truth of judgment is disputed. Yet, it is confirmed over and over in the Bible by Jesus, prophets, Apostles, and even demons.
In Matthew’s account of this story the demons didn’t even give Jesus time to rebuke them and cast them out. It seems like Jesus walks up on the scene, the demons, knowing their future destruction and present inability to resist, acknowledge Jesus’ deity, accept their impending doom without argument, and then volunteer to leave the men if Jesus would but grant them to enter the swine. Jesus speaks literally one two-letter word in this whole version – “Go!” However, Mark’s account contains more details, including the fact Jesus was commanding the demons to come out as well as asking the name of the demon(s). The demon(s) replied, “My name is Legion, because we are many.”
What happens next would likely please any Jew who heard of it – a herd of 2,000 unclean swine plunging to their death into the Sea of Galilee. However, in the region Jesus was in, the Decapolis, the Gentiles there were none too pleased as is revealed later in this passage. Before that though, it’s interesting to note the main thing the herdsmen told of when they ran back to the city to spread the news of that days’ events was not the loss of what was likely their entire livelihood, but rather that the crazy men were in their right minds because of the demons fleeing them at the command of Jesus.
At this point the Bible says, “all the city came out to meet Jesus.” However, their reaction reveals the destruction of the swine was more important to them than the freeing of the two men from their demon possession – they begged Jesus to leave their region. In other parts of Palestine, the people flocked to Jesus to be healed and hear Him teach; but here, they wanted nothing to do with Him. So, as chapter nine, verse one shows, Jesus respected their request, as foolish as it was, and got in the boat and went back home. These people valued their swine more than the presence of the Son of God.
Mark spends time describing what took place between Jesus and how at least one of the men begged Jesus to allow him to remain with Him. Jesus doesn’t allow this, but said, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you.” Rather than argue or complain that Jesus refused his request, Mark 5: 20 states that he obediently went and proclaimed in the region of the Decapolis what Jesus had done, and, it says, “and everyone marveled.”
How does this story about demons and swine apply to us? It should make us think of our own lives and what we have or care about that is worth more to us than the very presence of Jesus in our lives. When we choose to listen to or watch things that Jesus wouldn’t, we choose them over Jesus. When we get angry or argue with our spouses, children or others, we are valuing our pride and ambitions over the presence of Jesus. Our prayer needs to be that God would take, forcibly if necessary, the idols, attitudes and desires in our hearts that we value more than the presence of our Savior. What are the “pigs” in our lives?