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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC Evening service, 2016-10-09

Text: Matthew 8:28-34

In recent years we have seen increased numbers of pet dogs and cats in Singapore and facilities that are catered specially for them, e.g. There are now 3 cat cafés, hotels or boarding kennels and club houses for dogs, and at least nine 24-hour medical centres that offer CT scan and TCM services only for pets. And medical care for dogs and cats is a lot more costly than what we would normally pay to see a doctor.

But all this is nothing compared to some other countries. In the US 90% of pet owners regard their dogs and cats as family members. Newspaper editors in the US have observed that articles about animal abuse often generate more responses from upset readers than articles about violence directed against humans! In one recent study 573 people were asked who they would save first if their pet dog and a foreign tourist were in the path of a bus that is out of control. 40% said that they would save their dog first!

We see a similar distorted sense of values in the Bible passage under consideration this evening. Two men were wondrously rescued from demonic possession, and yet the people who knew them were far more concerned about the collateral damage from their deliverance. Christ’s power to save sinners was displayed to them so dramatically, and yet they rejected Him just because He allowed the demons to infest their precious swine. To put it succinctly, they preferred pigs to persons, and swine to the Saviour!

Unfortunately they are not the only ones who have such distorted values. To this very day, there are people who dislike this miracle of Jesus. They love all the other miracles of Jesus. But when they come to this one, they keep questioning and debating about the inhumane loss of so many pigs, perhaps even while they themselves are eating roasted pork or ham sandwiches!

Now, I hope that none of us here will fall into this error. I hope that through this miracle we will be more ready to praise the glory of our Saviour than to lament the demise of some animals. In order for us to appreciate fully what Jesus did in this miracle, we shall consider three things: Firstly, Satan’s evil power over man. Secondly, Christ’s victory over Satan’s armies. Thirdly, Man’s responsibility to submit to Christ.

1. Satan’s evil power over man

Sin has brought man under Satan’s power. How powerful is Satan? People often make two mistakes in considering what Satan can do: Either they discount it and think nothing of it, or they become too fearful of it. The truth is that Satan is more powerful than any man, but we need not be afraid of him because Christ is much more powerful than him. This truth is displayed in our text very clearly. Look at v.28 – “And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.

The power of demons is so much greater than any man. It made the men so violent that no one could pass that way. Mark and Luke report that the local citizens had bound these men with chains, but the men broke loose and terrorised anyone who came near to the tombs where they lived. The people were naturally afraid of these two men because of the awesome power of the demons in them. We too should not be so foolish as to think that we can easily help someone who is really possessed by demons. As Martin Luther wrote in his famous hymn, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.”

The Bible tells us that demons have superior strength and intelligence. They can perform great signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Since they are spirit beings, demons can travel across all physical boundaries. Since they have lived long before us, their experience is far superior to any of us. They have lived through all the events of human history, and so they understand how men function and think. And they are great masters of deception. Let this be a strong warning to anyone who dabbles in the occult – you do not know how powerful, how evil and how dangerous these forces are, which you are inviting to control your life. Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour!

Many people have been drawn into the demonic world of the occult because of the power and control that it supposedly gives them – The power to foretell future events and to know all hidden secrets; power to bind the lives of others and take revenge on their enemies. Many today are fascinated with Harry Potter books and movies (The latest is ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’) but through this they begin to explore witchcraft and occult practices. They unwittingly get sucked right into Satan’s web and are unable to get out of it. Anyone who voluntarily puts himself under Satan’s power and invites demons to invade his body is unable to get out of it by himself. Instead of controlling their power to do what he wants, they control him and make him do whatever they want – like blaspheming God, hurting himself and others, destroying property and disrupting the peace. He becomes their slave – a slave of demons.

The two men in our text were fully controlled by demons. And this made their lives extremely miserable. The description given in the accounts of Mark and Luke is that they were just like untamable wild animals – running around naked, crying, cutting themselves with stones and roaming in the wilderness, mountains and tombs. Their condition was a lot worse than the herd of swine nearby, which were well-fed and cared for by men.

We are not told how they had ended up like this. Perhaps they had dabbled in the occult, in sorcery or black magic. Whatever it is, the root cause of all demonic possession is always sin. Sin opens the door for the Devil to influence and take control of the lives of men. This ought to make us hate sin in any form, whether it is found in ourselves or others. Sin brought man under Satan’s power in the Garden of Eden. From the moment that Adam and Eve fell for His temptation to sin, Satan became the god of this world, and he has been blinding the minds of unbelievers to the truth of God.

There is only one Person whom Satan could never tempt to commit any sin – the Lord Jesus Christ! Four chapters earlier, Matthew recorded how the Devil tempted Jesus when He was fasting for 40 days in the desert. Again and again he tried to make Jesus sin, but Jesus resisted him every time without fail until Satan gave up and left. Thus, Jesus demonstrated His power against Satan’s temptations. And here in chapter 8, we see Jesus now demonstrating His power against Satan’s armies.

2. Christ’s victory over Satan’s armies

Just before coming to that place, the Lord Jesus had shown His great power over nature. According to vv.24-27 a great tempest arose as He and His disciples were sailing across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and instantly everything became calm. Through this His disciples learned that ‘even the winds and the sea obey Him.’ Now, as they reached the eastern shore, they would learn another lesson – even Satan’s armies obey Him!

Verse 28 tells us, “And when He was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce…” These two men had never met Jesus and His disciples before. So they came out of the tombs to meet them with the evil purpose of terrorizing them as they had done to everyone. But as they got near to Jesus, the demons inside them immediately recognized who He is, and now they were the ones who felt terrorized! With great fear they cried out, “Jesus, thou Son of God? art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?”

It is interesting that many people refuse to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and they scoff whenever we tell them that He is coming to judge the world one day. But all demons fully believe that Jesus is the Son of God who is coming to judge the world, and they tremble! Every unbeliever should take careful note of this. All demonsfear Christ’s coming tremendously, because it spells doom for them! Luke 8:31 relates that they pleaded with Him not to send them into the abyss, meaning the bottomless pit where the Devil himself will be imprisoned (Revelation 20:3). The demons knew that Jesus had the power and authority to send them there if He desired, and they would have no choice but to obey.

Dearly beloved, as long as you have Jesus Christ in you, there is no reason for you to be fearful of demons. In the name of Jesus, they all have to flee. 1 John 4:4 tells us, “…greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Satan and his armies are actually defeated foes and they know that very well. Therefore we should not give them too much attention. There is no need to worry whether there are demons here, there or everywhere. Some people turn this into an obsession. They attribute every problem in life to demons – sickness, accidents, business failure, or children not doing well in their exams. But doing this gives the demons more credit than they really deserve!

We should focus instead on Christ, and keep praising Him for the complete victory He has won on the cross over all principalities and powers. Listen to what God’s Word says about this in Hebrews 2:14-15 – “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” How wonderful it is to be delivered by our Lord Jesus from our fear of death and of the devil!

Here in our passage we see that even before Jesus went to die on the cross, the demons were already no match for Him. How much more are they no match for Him now, since He has disabled them through His death on the cross! There was no need for long exorcism sessions, strenuously rebuking the demons for hours until they left the victims one by one.

Do you know how long it would have taken for these two men to be rid of them completely, if the demons had to be exorcised one at a time? Well, according to Mark’s account when Jesus asked them, “What is thy name?” they answered, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” In the Roman army, a legion consists of about 5,000 soldiers. If it takes 1 minute to exorcise each demon, it would take more than three days to cast out the whole legion of demons!

But according to v.32 of our text, Jesus just “said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine…” The entire legion fled together at His command: GO! What a powerful display of authority! Once again the disciples would be left wondering, “What manner of man is this, that not only the winds and waves, but even demons obey Him?”

And the violent stampede of the swine that followed would have given this miracle a visual impact. Demons are spirits. Nobody can see them. If they had left the two men without entering into the herd of pigs, the only visible sign would have been the change in the men’s behavior. But how could anyone then be absolutely sure that this change is permanent? Demon-possessed persons sometimes behave quite normally, only to revert back to worse demonic behavior later on. The only way to show that the change in these men is permanent is to make the departure of all the demons fully visible to human eyes. And that is where the rushing of pigs into the sea becomes useful.

Casting into the sea is used several times in Scripture as a picture of permanent riddance of a problem. For example, when the Israelites came out of Egypt, Pharaoh’s armies and chariots were cast into the waters of the Red Sea, never to pursue them again. When the prophet Micah assured his people that God would forgive their sins and would remember them no more, he said, “He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19) Isn’t this also a picture of the permanent removal of our sins that Christ has accomplished for us on the Cross? He has cast all our sins into the depths of the sea! How wonderful it is to realise that all our sins have been paid in full and can never be used against us anymore!

How then should we respond to such a wonderful deliverance? If the Lord has dealt with our sins so graciously and mercifully, surely we should submit fully to Him.

3. Man’s responsibility to submit to Christ

At least one of the men who were delivered from demons submitted fully to Christ. This is recorded in Mark 5:18-20 (let us turn to this passage and read it) – “And when [Jesus] was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed Him that he might be with Him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.” How about the other man? We don’t know what he did because nothing is mentioned about him. But this man’s response is highlighted in order to teach us how we should respond as sinners saved by grace.

He was so full of gratitude to Jesus that he wanted to follow Him from then onward. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with the Lord who had liberated him from the bondage of demons. But Jesus directed him to go back to his home and testify to his own friends since they would be the ones who know what he was like before, and would be able to see the amazing change that has taken place in him. What a powerful testimony of God’s grace and power he would be to all of them.

But this man did more than what was required of him. Verse 20 says that he proclaimed his testimony in Decapolis, which is a large region of ten Greek cities east of Galilee, stretching from Damascus in the north to Philadelphia in the south. This man’s gratitude to Jesus compelled him to tell not only his friends, but the people of Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him.

Dearly beloved, how willing are you to tell your friends how much the Lord has done for you, and what great compassion He had for you? Perhaps we have lost the sense of wonder which we had when we saved – Try to remember how Jesus came into your life, cleansed you, renewed you. Remember how He gave you peace, joy, eternal hope and comfort. We should always be willing to share our personal testimony of the great difference that God’s love has made in our lives!

In contrast to this man who was delivered from demons, we see a very different response from the people of the city who heard what had happened and rushed to the scene of the miracle. They are mentioned in verses 33-34 of our text – “And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw Him, they besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts.”

These people should have been very thankful that Jesus had delivered the two demon-possessed men. He had finally solved a problem they could not solve. None of them could subdue or keep the demon-possessed men from running wild and terrorizing everyone who came to the visit the tombs, because they were too strong to be held by chains. Besides that, if they realized what great power Jesus had to save these men, they should have welcomed Him into their city and brought out all their sick, demon-possessed and disabled people to be healed and delivered by Him. But instead of doing this, they were hostile to Him. They persuaded Jesus to leave and depart from their coast.

Why did they do this? It was because of the loss of the swine that drowned in the sea. They feared losing a lot more than their swine alone. In the ceremonial laws of the OT, swine were considered to be unclean animals, which was a symbol of spiritual uncleanness. The people of the city were too comfortable with spiritual uncleanness. Knowing how Jesus had removed the unclean animals and spirits, they feared that Jesus would now proceed to remove all the sinful things which they loved. Although these people were not possessed by demons, they were possessed by their own sins, which made them reject the only One who could rid them of all their sins.

And through their rejection of Christ, they also proved themselves to be just like swine. As 2 Peter 2:22 tells us, “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. All the benefits which they had received from the miracle proved to be like pearls cast before swine – trampled on and despised by them (Matthew 7:6).

Perhaps this may have been the reason why Christ had granted the demons their request to enter into the swine, knowing full well that this would cause the entire herd to die. It was done in order to expose the distorted values of these people, and to show their just condemnation for rejecting Him. How can anyone prefer pigs to persons, and swine to the Saviour? This is truly unthinkable!

But we too may be guilty of doing this. I think that this should move us now to reflect on our own values. What should you value most in life? Christ or swine? For us, the more appropriate questions would be: Christ or money? Christ or popularity? Christ or convenience? I hope we will all respond today by saying, “Take the world, but give me Jesus!”

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25