Once upon a time, in a life far, far away…
My family moved to a south St Louis neighborhood when I was a child. We lived there for about a decade. As you might expect, I have a wide assortment of memories of growing up there – some good, some not so good.
But in that mixed bag of memories, there are those that are both good and bad at the same time. A block away from my house, there was an ice cream factory. It seemed to be a rather unusual place – tucked away in a residential neighborhood. Nevertheless, once we discovered it was there, we would go to the door and knock – over and over again. When (if) the door opened, we’d ask for a popsicle. The vast majority of the time, an employee would pull one off the line and give it to us.
When the plant closed, we were greatly disappointed. However, we found ways to amuse ourselves that were not exactly beneficial. We found a way to climb up on the roof. We didn’t do anything except sit up there, but it was an adventure.
Then things got a little riskier. One day, there were three of us sitting on the roof. One of my friends thought he saw a police car. We ran to the place we climbed up. One person climbed down. The other two – well – we jumped. If you look in the picture at the building tucked behind the two most visible, that is the roof from which we jumped into a back passageway. Thankfully, nothing was broken when we landed!
I think of those adventures sometimes. I recognize my own foolishness. (Yes, things got a little worse when some other young people discovered what we were doing. They took a little minor trespassing to a whole new level!) Our lives could have been changed forever had we been caught or injured. That said, to be completely honest, I’m glad to have those memories!
Where exactly am I heading on this blog post?
After Jesus came down from the Sermon on the Mount, there were miracles. There were incredible healings and demons were cast out. The momentum was growing as more and more people longed to believe that He might be the long-awaited Messiah.
And then He left.
That’s right. Contrary to expectations, Jesus got in a boat and they set off for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. … Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. Matthew 8:18, 23-24
What in the world? Why would He do that?
As we consider the paradox that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, our finite minds can stumble a bit. We can’t fully grasp how that works.
But we don’t need to do so.
We simply need to walk in faith and trust. We need to know that every step He took while He was on this earth had a clear and distinct purpose. He set sail for the other side because that was part of the Divine Plan.
While they were in the boat, crossing to the other side, a tremendous storm broke out. The Greek word used to in the text is “seismos” which reminds us of a seismograph used to measure earthquake intensity. The storm was so furious that those who were in the boat thought they were going to die. [NOTE: We don’t know who was in the boat, but a safe assumption includes Peter, Andrew, James and John. They had left their hometown area and had all been called to follow Jesus. Bottom-line: These men not only knew how to sail; they were also familiar with this particular body of water. If they were afraid, it was BAD!]
Oddly enough, there was one person in the boat who was not afraid. And He wasn’t afraid because He was sleeping! When they woke Him, I’m sure His words and actions made no sense:
[Jesus] replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8: 26-27
Somehow, this Rabbi had authority over nature. He spoke and revealed His power. And when He did this, Jesus didn’t question their sailing ability. Instead, He challenged their weak faith. And please don’t forget a few verses prior to these. Jesus had been AMAZED at the centurion’s – a foreigner – faith.
Jesus revealed the extent of His power and authority another way when they arrived at the shore. So that we can grasp the best understanding of what is happening here, I’m going to paste below a blending of the narrative from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
When Jesus got out of the boat at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. [two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him.] This man lived in the tombs for a long time, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had had not worn clothes or lived in a house [and] often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. [They were so violent that no one could pass that way.] Matthew 8:28; Mark 4: 1-5; Luke 8: 26-27
If you’ve never tried to picture this scene, try it. In my opinion, it would have been incredibly frightening! This man (or men) were most likely dirty, scarred (both from the chains as well as living outside), and screaming. I would have wanted to get right back in the boat.
But Jesus doesn’t do that.
“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time? I beg you, don’t torture me!”” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to order them to go into the Abyss.
There are all sorts of avenues we could explore here, but I think the simple points are enough. Legion recognized Jesus as the Son of God. There was no doubt that this “many” was fully aware of who He was.
And THEY were appropriately afraid.
What is the Abyss? If we seek to interpret Scripture with Scripture, we can turn to Revelation 9. Here we see the ‘bottom-less pit’ referenced as well as a name “Abaddon”. The ‘star’ that had fallen is a way of saying Satan. If we keep looking at a variety of verses, it’s pretty clear that Legion does not want to go to hell – a lake of fire and brimstone.
Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen to earth from the sky, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. … Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer. Revelation 9: 2, 11
Think about this for a minute. Even the demons don’t want to go there! Luke 16 even gives us a picture of the rich man who is begging for just a drop of cool water. That’s a seriously difficult destination!
When we jump back to the text, we read:
Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He gave them permission, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, about two thousand in number, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then they pleaded with him to leave their region because they were overcome with fear. So Jesus got into the boat and left.
Matthew 8: 18, 28-34; Mark 5: 1-17; Luke 8:28-39
Now, we know one thing very clearly about pigs. According to Jewish Law, they were considered unclean animals. The fact that there was a pig farm in this heavily Jewish area in interesting. Historians tell us that Pompey the Great founded the Decapolis, or the Ten Cities, intentionally. He wanted the Jewish people to be bothered by it.
As a result, it’s interesting to wonder why Jesus even wanted to go over here in the first place. However, as we remember that Jesus is the second person of our Triune God, we can see what purpose this had in accomplishing HIS purpose. He was proving that He had power over creation as well as over demons. And this wasn’t just one demon. Two-thousand pigs equals two-thousand demons.
In his Biblical Imagination series, Michael Card encourages us to wonder further about the demonic connection. Could Legion have been the one to cause the storm? Did Legion know Jesus was coming so they attempted to kill Him before He arrived? Is that why is was such a ‘seimos’?
In a remarkable twist, it was Legion who ended up perishing in the Sea.
How do we respond?
If we look at the response of those in the text, we see that those tending the pigs ran back to town. Obviously, there is a very clear two-fold reason for this. First: They are freaked out and afraid. 2,000 pigs just ran off the cliff. Second: They were responsible for these pigs. How do you explain this to the owners other than to get them to come out and see?
When the townspeople came out, they saw a small group of Jewish people. They saw the formerly demon-possessed, now sitting fully clothed and acting like a normal person. And they were afraid.
We can think of this in a few different ways. In a normal way, we can understand their fear. It made sense. But then, if we think about this in relationship to faith, we have to ask another question: Why didn’t they worship Jesus?
That’s a BIG question.
Let’s flip the question to our own lives.
Why don’t WE worship Jesus?
If you are a faithful church attender, that may sound peculiar. But worship is not going to a building. You may offer up your worship corporately while you are there, but to put worship in that box is like eating only the peel of an apple.
Worship is a lifestyle. It is recognizing God at work around you. It is seeing how He is moving through your life and the lives of others. It is giving Him the glory, honor, and praise.
Worship is easy when life is good. In fact, we may even forget to worship because life is good. Our minds aren’t considering the One responsible.
But when life isn’t going well, when our livelihood is at risk (like 2,000 pigs being lost), or when we see something we don’t understand or like… Worship is more challenging.
There is a gift God gives us that I’ve called spiritual hindsight. It’s the ability to look back and see how God has been at work in our lives. It’s the ability to look back, see the memories, and remember how He protected us, guided us, loved us. If we are willing to stop during the storms, remember how faithful God is, then we can wait for the wind and the waves to calm. We can wait for the boat to safely reach the shore. We can wait to see that no one can stand against God.
And we can take the next step forward in faith.
God is good. All the time. Even when we have to jump off the roof. All the time, God is good.
Trust in that Truth.
Yours in Christ,