The strong man is right there as Jesus steps out of the boat onto the shores of the country of Gadara (v2). It has been a remarkable evening! Such a furious squall—and then this unexplainable sudden calm! Who is this who comes here? The man has, of course, seen all this from his vantage point of the hillside tombs overlooking the Sea. The powers of this world have surely been disrupted! Something pivotal in the heavens has happened. Who is this Source of superior power. Could it be that he is coming in answer to my anguished cries for help?
What happens when they meet? The man falls down to the ground before Jesus, acknowledging a higher power. We cannot assume true worship at this point, but we can see that the first step is taken: the man recognizes and publicly acknowledges that Jesus is Sovereign. No healing has taken place yet, and it is clear Jesus is no regular man. The disciples remain watchful, listening, subdued.
We can know Christ’s own demeanor by the events of the evening before. Christ asleep in the boat during a violent storm, and Christ in calm command as he stills the storm merely by spoken word. Christ the teacher, instructing his beloved companions and students in their faith. Jesus, the Coming One, embodies all authority.
The test of the Spirits. Jesus speaks first for he is expecting the man from the tombs (v8). This encounter is why he set out for this particular shore. Jesus is not caught off guard. Instead, he identifies himself as Sovereign over not only the physical world, but the spiritual world as well:
“Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”
All the strong man’s communication is a cry as the spirits within him shriek: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you by God, Do not torment me!”
He, or the demon power with him, knows who Jesus is, even when Jesus’ closest companions are incredulous about him. Jesus compassionately differentiates the spirit of the man as created in God’s image from the corruption that inhabits him. While the disciples look on puzzled and probably very anxious, Jesus and the man, and the spirits inside him, understand each other completely.
“What is your name?” Jesus asks.
A person’s name signifies their character. The question is a deep one.
The man answers, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
This man has split-identities; he is a man divided, and “a house divided against itself will fall” (Mark 3:24-25). The term the spirits use is a military term. The man is held under siege by a power too great and too multiplied to overcome. He is beyond the capacity to break their combined power. Though the people were unable to bind him, he himself is bound from within. He is powerless, helpless, and hopeless. Jesus looks beyond the man’s shameful appearance, with all that it suggests; He understands.
Repeatedly, the man begs Jesus, earnestly implores him, to not torment him by sending the spirits out of the country. What does this request mean? The evil spirits have great success in that country. According to Grotius, there were in that country apostate Jews who had “thrown themselves out of the covenant of God”. They were heretics to the ancient Abrahamic covenant of fellowship with God. The delight of the evil spirits is in their destruction and do not wish to go where the Spirit of God is awakening the spirits of men, as Jesus is in all Israel.
They know that Jesus will not allow them to re-enter the souls of men. That would be out of character of a God of love. So they beg to be commended to the souls of the animals. They are doomed; their time has not yet come for their eternal destruction, but they also know they cannot continue as they have now that Christ has come.
Jesus sends them into the herd of pigs which graze nearby on the mountain. What a sight this must have been for the disciples and for the herdsmen looking on! The true destructive nature of these spirits became horrifically visible to all as 2000 animals race down the steep mountainside under the compulsion of evil and plunge themselves into the sea to die a determined and wasteful death.
This story is reminiscent of the contest of the gods at Carmel (1 Kings 18). God manifested His Sovereignty then, also, so that all could see and know that there is One God and that all would worship Him. Jesus is fulfilling the promise that the powers of this world are subject, not equal, to the power of the Living God. There is no other God, and Jesus is the Promised Messiah who came to do the work of Redemption God had planned from the foundation of the world.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is ONE” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
And Jesus is His Son (John 10:24-30).
I think about this life-giving exchange with Jesus. The spirit in me knows when I have encountered Jesus, too. Even as a believer, daily I either accept or reject the proximity of Christ’s power. We, too, are divided and at war within ourselves. As communities and nations, we are divided and at war. Still, He is the God Who is There. He sees, hears, and still He comes. He is still coming to lives across the globe. He still comes to me and to you.
Worship. We think we can serve “many gods” by entertaining myths, legends, and cultural creeds that entwine like an anaconda and slowly, imperceptibly squeeze the life-breath out of us. Today these ‘gods’ are “chic” and we decorate our homes and habits and conversations with them, but we are like the frog in the kettle. We do not realize the danger we are in, for God will not remain where evil falsehood is entertained. We are in danger of being left alone with our idols, whether credal (global and cultural heresy and paganism) or practical (e.g., pride, greed, materialism, lust, sloth, fear, anger). We can excuse them today, but they come in only to steal and kill. God alone can call out the spirits that war against Him and create havoc in our hearts, minds and bodies. He will not share His glory with another. Jesus would only call the spirits out of this man from Gadara because the man had cried out to the heavens with his whole heart, had run to meet with Him, recognized Jesus’ authority publicly, and made himself available to Jesus for the healing.
Identity. I also think about names. This man was not a believer until he met the Christ; then he yielded and became a child of God. Once the evil spirits were banished, he was given a new name, and he had a new Master. My name is who I am. I may be called one thing by my parents and friends, but only God knows me for who I really am. As a believer, according to Isaiah 65:5, I belong to Him. But there is a terrible war of ownership that happens each moment: will act in accordance with the Name He has given me, or will I act traitorously and deny His authority and love over me? I feel this war inside when I reject the hearing or the reading or the considering of the Word of God, when I reject the still small voice calling inside of me to “come out from among them and be clean“. I cannot serve God and man, self, or the spirits of this world; I choose one or the other daily. I must ask the important question: What is my name? Whose am I? To whom do I give allegiance?
Freedom. I also see, from the man’s misery and the swines’ destruction, that all sin destroys. Though it begins small and can be hidden in its infancy, “Behold your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Sin and its effects cannot stay hidden for long. It grows stronger and entrenches into habit until addiction exposes the sin for what it is and for who sits now in command over that part of life, or over all of it. What is destroying me today? What have I given foothold to that has taken over and destroyed that part of me I try to hide from others?
The man, being made in the image of God, designed by God to rule with Him forever, wanted release; but the spirits held him down. He could not save himself. He cried out blindly to the Power that was outside of himself and that must surely be over the powers of evil he faced, and that Answer came! He still comes (Psalm 51:17)!
I am overcome with worship of God in this. Jesus came to us because we could not come to Him. He lived among us, visited us, and identified with us right where we lived, in our miserable condition, just like He visited the man from Gadara.
Jesus had heard his cries. Jesus answered those cries with the authority over heretic demons that only the Sovereign Creator of the World could wield. Further, our Christ went on to die in our place so that all of us—in all time, location, gender, creed, race, age, and personality—can be set free from sin’s bondage.
Our God is not aloof. Our God is not one of many. Our God is real, tangible in the works that He has done and still does in the lives of so many. Our God is all compassion and deep, deep, sacrificial unconditional love.
My proper response is to do as the Strong Man from Gadara did, and fall to my knees in grateful humility.
I praise You, Father, for You are greater than I! Praise the Son, for You are greater than this physical world in its fury and storm, greater than all other powers of this world, greater than the power of death and demons and Hell. Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit for Your power is enduring Love. I owe my life to You and I give it with all my heart. Lord, come to me and help me! In Christ’s Name, Amen.
The End of the Story?
We have now reached the climax: the man has been exorcised of the evil spirits within him. The herdsmen are too amazed to speak. Instantly, they disappear down into the Yarmuk Valley and back up into the city heights to tell all the townfolk what they had seen.
But what of the man? The story is not yet over! What changes have happened? What happens when the village finds out? What transpires between the man and His new Lord and Savior? How are the disciples processing all this?
Join me for the last post in this trillogy as we sit at Christ’s feet and learn more from this powerful, historic event: The Strong Man of Gadara, Pt. III.
© Sept 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com. Revised for clarity Sept 2019.
See BibleHub Bible Atlas for a description, location (then and today), and history of this region and the location of the events in this story at https://bibleatlas.org/gadara.htm. The modern location is the ruins of Umm Qeis, Jordan. The local center (Gerasa) show ships on their ancient coins, which give evidence that the Sea of Galilee did reach further into that area long ago. The “land of the Gerasenes” is a reference to the local center while the “land of the Gadarenes” refers to the superior city of that region (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; BibleHub.com). Also see a description of Umm Qeis and its history at “Gadara (Modern Umm Qeis or Qays” at whc.UNESCO.org
FURTHER INFO ABOUT GADARA/Umm Qays, Jordan
Gadara (Umm Qays). The Decapolis city of Gadara (modern Umm Qays), with its spectacular panoramic views overlooking the Sea of Galilee, is the site of Jesus’ miracle of the Gadarene swine, where he sent demented spirits out of a man who lived in tombs at the entrance to the city. Jesus sent the spirits into a herd of pigs that ran down the hill and drowned in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). A rare five-aisle basilica from the 4th century AD recently was discovered and excavated at Umm Qays. It was found to be built directly over a Roman-Byzantine tomb, with views into the tomb from the interior of the church. It also was located alongside the Roman city gate on the road from the Sea of Galilee. This distinctive arrangement of a church above a tomb clearly was designed to commemorate the very spot where the Byzantine faithful believed that Jesus performed this miracle. (from “Gadara (Umm Qays)/The Decapolis“, archeomedproject.eu)