Jesus drives out demons. People drive out Jesus.
Can you make any sense of it? I can’t and of course, we can easily condemn the actions of our ancestors in scripture given we have the script in our hands. Really, what was wrong with these people?
Let’s recap the situation. There is this demon-possessed man who had run naked and lived among the tombs and hills where he didn’t sleep, wailed day and night and cut himself with stones for what the Bible says was a “long time”. He was so violent, so maniacal that he repeatedly tore off the irons and chains that the people placed on him. Imagine this uncontrollable savage whose eyes would have revealed the demonic torment raging within. Obviously, no one was safe to travel the path that ran past these tombs of terror. No Hollywood special effects needed, this was the real deal. Demons. Not one, not two, but thousands. The Legion. You can read the story for yourself in Matthew 8, Mark 5 and Luke 8.
So, Jesus, fresh from terrifying the disciples by calming the storm with three words, had just arrived to the region of the Gadarenes when this tortured man starts screaming at Jesus. Remember, “even the demons believe and tremble in terror”. (James 2:19). They, the demons, beg Jesus not to send them to the abyss but ask instead to be sent into a herd of pigs grazing on the hillside. So, with his permission, the evil spirits exited the man and entered the approximately 2,000 pigs who then promptly drown themselves.
At this point, the horrified hog handlers book it and they broadcast to fellow farmers and townsmen alike what they just witnessed with their very own eyes. There was no choice between the fight or flight response. Unadulterated, adrenaline-laced fear fueled them as the fled the scene of deliverance.
Out come the people to see for themselves, and there he is! The crazed man is totally coherent. He is sane. He is clothed. He is sitting at the feet of Jesus hanging on every word. Here’s where the story takes a twist. The reaction of the people is not what we would expect. No praise. No worship. No gratitude. No falling on their knees in the presence of the healer. Just dead pigs in the lake, leftover excrement, and fear. Fear. So much fear that they begged Jesus to leave their region. What? Send Jesus away? But, I don’t understand! He just performed a miracle of gigantic proportion! The whole community benefited from this.
Oh, the fear factor. I have an intimate knowledge of fear and the sin that springs from it. I believe it is one of Satan’s favorite tools.
The translation of this particular “fear” from the Greek ephobethesan, is “to be struck with fear, to be seized with alarm” and in this case, “of those startled by strange sites or occurrences”. (Strongs). Let’s look at a couple other instances where this definition of fear is written about.
- The disciples were seized by it just prior to this scene when Jesus calmed the storm. (Mark 4).
- In John 6, it overtook them after Jesus walked to them on water and caused their boat to instantly time travel to the shore.
- The shepherds were hit hard when the angel appeared announcing Jesus’ birth. (Luke 2)
- Peter, James and John were brought to their knees at the transformation of Jesus where our Savior’s face glowed, his clothes became dazzling white, Moses and Elijah appeared, a bright cloud covered them all and God audibly spoke. (Matthew 17 and Luke 9)
Are there any words to describe the terror which strikes at the frail human heart when brought face to face with the supernatural acts of our sovereign Christ? No, for it is at that moment that we become engulfed by our finite and frail humanity and yes, the flames of spontaneous, sinful fear send us fleeing or, as in this case, begging the Savior to leave our territory.
There they were, sending away the solution as they stood ankle deep in pig poop, the disgusting waste of Satan’s evil army. No pigs, no demons, just the leftovers. What is it that made them fear the Sovereign Solution over the remnants of years of torment? What is it that made them fear the Supreme over the damned? Why did they not want more of what Jesus had to offer?
It has been suggested that money drove their fear. Two thousand hogs was a costly loss, and what else was this Jesus going to do; however, I don’t think it was that when we look at the other scriptures where the Greek “ephobethesan” is used.
I think the pure power that pours from our Lord and Savior frightens us in ways we aren’t always aware of. Why?
Maybe because we are always trying to be the ones in control.
Maybe because we are more comfortable with the status quo than we are with being moved out of our comfort zone.
Maybe because when we see how unfathomably great our God is, we realize how small we really are.
Maybe because we don’t believe we are worth delivering.
Maybe because we are actually afraid of what He may ask of us.
Maybe, just maybe, its because we don’t truly know the totality of who it is we worship and serve and because of that, faith gives way to fear.
Sit with this question:
Are you standing ankle-deep in your leftover mess while sending away the solution? Why? What are you afraid of?
Lord, forgive us for sending you, our Sovereign Solution, away. Forgive us for not falling to our knees in worshipful respect and awe at your power. Forgive us for not calling on you to exercise it in our daily lives. In Jesus precious name, Amen.