This is the seventh message in a series about the “sea” stories of Jesus.
An often overlooked connection to the story of Jesus quieting the storm in part six of this series, is what happened the next morning. Jesus left the boat and confronted a legion of demons that possessed a man and drove the demons out of the man and into a herd of 2,000 swine that then rushed over a cliff into the Sea and drowned. The place where this happened is variously described in the gospels as Gadara or Gerasa. Both of those ancient cities are miles to the east of the Sea of Galilee. The question then becomes where was the place with a seaside cliff high enough for the pigs to take their fatal plunge into the water. The most likely place is Gergesa, known in modern times as the village of Kursi beneath the Golan Heights in Jordan. There is a steeply sloping hillside there and archeologists have unearthed evidence of an ancient harbor beneath the slope. The early Christians honored Gergesa as the site of the pig stampede and a shrine to the miracle exists there to this day.
I am untroubled by this variance in details. The events happened two millennia ago. That means a lot of storms and earthquakes, several empires and many wars have swept through leaving their layers. The important question is whether the story bring us closer to Jesus as I say at the end of the message? That it does.
They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened.They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed (Mark 5:1-20).
Jesus has his reason for wanting to cross the sea. He always has his reasons
It came to him praying alone on the mountain in the night — no, not alone, for the Father was with Him, listening, sorting, guiding, replenishing, loving his only begotten Son.
The wind coming sweet and cool off of the Mediterranean shifted to the east. He felt the change and raised his head. There was a sulfuric taint of evil in the gusts — the sour breath of an old adversary.
“He’s here,” he told the Father. “I need your strength.”
He felt the Spirit rise within. The Father turned the page on the answer written on the Son’s heart, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech 4:6).
“The men,” the Father reminded him, “the men are out on the water.” Jesus had sent them out there. He saw them there with the eyes of his Father. They were faithfully heading where he had told them to go, but the wind blew hard and furious and they were straining at the oars against the swells.
Jesus knew the disciples were trying, but were so very tired. “Father, I must go to them now,” he said. “Yes, Son, go now and remember that I am with you always.”
Water, the stuff of life, as daunting as it is necessary to the world of humans, yields its molecules to his footsteps as it did at the beginning, when he swept over its face with the wind of his Creative Spirit (Gen 1:1-2). He always loves walking on the water — no limits, no boundaries, just the unrestrained delight of the Creator with the elemental materials of his art.
On that occasion, it saddened him that the disciples didn’t expect him to show up wherever they were. But he just called out, “It’s me, don’t be afraid,” and climbed into the boat. Immediately, they reached their goal because we are always where we are supposed to be when Jesus is with us.
Still, Jesus knows the enemy is lurking on the other side of the sea moving in and out of the margins of life where he is always to be found using the shadow of death as a cover, wreaking havoc and destroying lives. Jesus set sail with the disciples once again to cross the sea and take the battle to the enemy.
That’s where they were headed when the storm hit them so hard. Jesus again smelled the foul evil when he awoke. He rebuked the wind that carried the scent and put it in its place.
The storm had blown the boat south and east, where the dawn breaks clear and calm. The sun flames up and over the ridge and sets the sea on fire in front of them. It silhouettes Jesus sitting in the prow, watching the colors change on the sandstone cliffs ahead and the desert mountains beyond.
Clothes cling damp and cold and water sloshes around their feet reminding the crew of the disorienting night-terrors of wind and wave now banished. The only sound is the quiet, efficient dip and splash of experienced oarsmen.
The disciples do not speak. They are grateful and relieved to have survived the worst storm any one of them had ever seen. “Peace! Be still!” still echoes in their amazed minds competing with the residual shame of their panic and Jesus’ question, “Where is your faith?” The rhythmic rowing helps them to think and sort out their mixed emotions.
Jesus has said nothing since he flattened the waves for them. His gaze is fixed on the shore. What does he see?
As the shadows retreat before the rising sun, a cemetery is revealed, tombs cut into the sandstone bluff. Otherwise it is a sere, nondescript landscape without the mercy of shade or dwelling.
The top of the cliff appears to move from a distance. The stench hanging in the still morning air offers a clue as to what is up there. Swine, hundreds of them, are milling about and rooting furrows in the dirt. No wonder the earth is bare of vegetation.
The sight of the swine draws a murmur of disgust from the disciples. This is not something to be seen in Israel. Why has Jesus brought them to such a God-forsaken place?
As soon as the hull scrapes to a halt in the rocky shallows, Jesus, lifts the hem of his robe, and steps out into the water. He wades to the beach through the fetid brown froth of pig offal draining into the sea. He is undeterred, the Creator of the world, now its Savior, on his mission to displace death with life. No mess is going to stop him.
A keening, feral wail greets him. Like the rasp of a viper’s scales, the sound immediately conveys the angry threat of an ancient enemy. The disciples instinctively stiffen and tighten their grip on their oars.
The wail repeats and rises to an inhuman shriek. Swine scatter in grunts and squeals. A wild thing runs out of the tombs toward Jesus. It is a nude, skeletal wraith of a man, streaked with blood and excrement, hair matted with filth, howling obscenities and curses.
Jesus stands his ground. The screamer pulls up short. The disciples stare, horrified, speechless. Jesus’ unflinching gaze sees through the poor wrecked man to the evil spirits residing within. He loves the man, but hates the sin that has robbed him of his humanity.
The enemy has distorted the image of the Creator in the man beyond the recognition of any but the Creator himself. Jesus has seen his children yield their will and freedom to Satan’s deceptive blandishments. They have received nothing but enslavement and pain in return — and death.
Satan, is a taker and a user who compensates for his lack of creative power by sending his rebel minions to invade and feed off of human souls until they are no more than husks, putrid within and disfigured without. Those so possessed are dead even before they realize that they are dying.
Death is Satan’s ultimate achievement. The tombs in the bluff and broken, grieving hearts are his monuments.
Jesus won’t have it. He hates death. It is an offense against heaven. You can check the record. Jesus never encounters physical death on this earth without restoring life. He intends to show that Satan is a poseur and his vaunted power is a cruel hoax. “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning”, he tells the disciples on another occasion (Luke 10:18). “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Jesus will not co-exist with Satan in the universe or on this earth. Jesus is no moderate. He is ruthless when it comes to dealing with Satan and putting down the rebellion he leads against the sovereign grace of God.
The ravaged body and the soul of the man are only distractions. Jesus knows what is responsible for this damage and what it will take to root it out. He speaks with the same calm, but firm authority that stilled the sea last night — “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
Jesus’ spear thrust of truth strikes home. The man runs toward Jesus, bows down, and screams out a craven plea to be left alone. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7).
The demons in the man know who Jesus is and recognize his authority. They pay homage to the Most High God. They make a solemn appeal to Jesus to show compassionate tolerance in the name of God by leaving them alone. In a word, their ploy is “demonic.”
The manipulation of compassion is a cruel evil because it seeks to seduce the good. Well-meaning believers often fall hard for this temptation by enable evil with a glibly pious, “It’s for God to judge this person and not me. We don’t know what this person has suffered in the past. We shouldn’t increase her pain by insisting on honesty before God and before the community of faith.”
When compassion enables evil, misery has found the “company” it notoriously “loves.” The lie grows and takes over in the absence of fidelity to the rule and guidance of God, another word for which is “sin.” With the lie, comes death for the lie cannot be sustained forever.
Jesus watched heaven ripped apart by the rebellion of Satan. He knows the damage that results from selfish “leave me alone to have my own way” pride. While love sets no conditions and honors choice and freedom leading to peace, selfishness always insists on control and inevitably will lead to coercion and violence. Love creates relationships and is the essential ethic of the kingdom of God. Selfishness denies and destroys relationships and therefore cannot be tolerated in the kingdom of God. True compassion always stands against evil. It does not succor it.
It is of no consequence to Jesus that the demons believe in God. After all, the demons originally came from the side of God until they chose the way of pride over the way of love and worship. Their envious competition with the Creator is not to be mistaken for worship.
“Even the demons believe–and shudder” (Js 2:19b) Belief is only meaningful as it is acted upon and the demons have seduced and destroyed life. They pollute and tear down souls, rather than bless and build up.
Jesus “outs” the unclean spirits with a piercing question, “What is your name?” he asks the man.
“My name is Legion, for we are many,” comes the reply.
The line is clearly drawn for the onlooking disciples and swineherds alike. Jesus, the Son of the living God faces the forces of hell, cringing and begging not to be made to leave the country. Jesus has no intention of extending the demons the mercy of deportation. He is going to destroy them where they are.
The demons ask to enter and possess the pigs rooting around them. In demonic relativism, a pig is as good as a man and a man no better than a pig.
Jesus says, “Why not? You will die thinking that way.” Jesus, as sovereign Lord, permits the demons to leave their human host and possess 2,000 pigs which promptly run off the cliff into the sea and drown. Evil indulged plays out to its one and only conclusion — death. This dramatic illustration will never be forgotten.
Jesus clothes and comforts the formerly demon-possessed man. He sends him off to tell his testimony to his friends and neighbors who know him best.
The swineherds, who value pigs more than humans, are unmoved by redeeming grace. They beg Jesus to leave before he does any more damage to their economic interests. He honors their choice. He’s accomplished the reason why he crossed the sea.
He climbs back in the boat with the disciples and they shove off.
It may be my imagination, but I see Jesus smiling as he watches Peter and John and the rest of them fastidiously trying not to touch the bobbing pig carcasses with their oars. “They will learn,” he thinks, “what really matters is having me in the boat with them.”
In next week’s message, Peter goes fishing and finds grace.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.
One thought on “A Word of Grace – September 4, 2012”
Very blessed by your writings, thank you for sharing.
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