There seems to be a pattern with people who fall from grace dramatically. It is usually not an immediate thing. It generally just don’t go from doing great in their walk with Jesus to having illicit affairs or writing scholarly articles denouncing church attendance overnight. There usually is a long history of problems, whether public or private that slowly detach that person from a good and faithful walk with Jesus and send them step by step down the road that leads to their fall. While those around them might not notice a problem while it is building it, after the explosion it is often easy to look back over the previous months or years and see the pattern of compromise and disobedience in “little” ways that lit the fuse for the big one.
One such pattern in Scripture is subtly played out in the accounts of Jesus casting out the demons from the man who has become known as the Gadarene demoniac. There is a nickname that I would not want stitched onto my bowling shirt, if I had one. The compromise and disobedience that seem to be present everywhere in this short account of a miracle worked by Jesus Himself go back as far as the early entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land in the Book of Joshua and set the stage for their asking Jesus to leave their land despite clear evidence that He is the Messiah. Choosing sin repeatedly has consequences.
As you are likely aware, in the accounts Jesus comes into the land of Gad and is encountered by the man (Matthew says there was two but Mark just focuses on the one) who has been living in graveyards. He confronts Jesus and here is Mark’s version:
6When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. 7With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”
9Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.
Stop here for a second. Gad was one of the tribes of Israel, right? They were under the Law and part of the Nation that God commanded to not eat swine. So what in the world was a herd of 2000 pigs doing there? What do you think the spiritual condition of the tribe of Gad was at this point? Mark continues and tells us.
13So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
14The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. 17And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.
So let’s recap what just happened. A man who they apparently all knew and who had been horribly demon possessed for many years, to the extent that he was harming himself and breaking iron chains came out to face Jesus.
Jesus does a great miracle and casts out the demon in a way that is obvious for all to see. The formerly chain breaking madman is just sitting there hanging out while they all stare in wonder…..BUT…because Jesus messed with their pigs they plead with Him to go away and leave them alone. Yikes!
What in the world is happening here? Why does Jesus kill a bunch of pigs and why do they plead with Him to leave as a result?
The seeds for this encounter were sown back in the Book of Numbers when the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. Going back a long ways but it is important.
At this juncture, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh asked Moses if they could not have land across the Jordan but rather settle where they were on the other side of the Jordan. Even though the Israelites were given land on both sides of the Jordan, the crossing of the Jordan symbolized the entering in to the heart of the Land itself and their original allotment was to the west of the Jordan. They want a different plan than God laid out.
The stated reason for asking for this land short of the crossing is important. It states that they had lots of cattle and they looked at the land and thought it was good for cattle. Rather than wait and let God allot their land for them, the tribes chose for themselves based upon their own criteria of success – who cares what God’s plan was, they wanted fat cattle, our equivalent of a fancy car or big house.
God grants their wishes and the tribes stay on the other side of the Jordan. Problems almost immediately occur and it is just a short time later when the other tribes almost make war on the East of the Jordan tribes in Joshua 22 because they are not in the Promised Land. Their choice based upon their own judgment and desire for wealth has already begun to have consequences.
Jumping forward to the time of Jesus and there is no sign of the cattle, they had been the first tribes carted off to captivity when Israel was invaded by the Assyrians so this makes sense, but the same desire to prosper regardless of God’s plan seems to be clearly on display. A herd of 2000 pigs is obviously a large and prosperous one, they are living large. It is also a large abomination to the Lord for an Isrealite, abomination times 2000.
The people residing in Gad don’t seem to have any objection to such a large herd being present. It is most likely their livelihood.
What is so important and awesome to see is what Jesus does in response back in Mark. By sending the demons into the pigs, an action that He surely would have known would have resulted in the death of the pigs – He is God after all – He is both challenging them and offering them freedom.
Jesus is challenging them because He is well aware of what those pigs mean to the people of the area and how attached they are to their wealth. Choosing wealth over God has been a problem in the area since Numbers. By performing such an open and obvious work that could have only been performed by the Messiah but resulted in the death of their pigs, Jesus is in essence asking them a question. Which is more important to you, your wealth or your Messiah? Do you want to trust in your desire for wealth or in your God?
It is a question that we face on an everyday basis in big ways and little ways. When we have the opportunity to witness to a client who may take offense at any mention of God and hold it against you and your business relationship with them, which is more important? When we are asked to participate in an event at work that violates our beliefs but would get us ahead in the company, which is more important? If God asks us to leave our employment and serve Him across the world, which is more important?
Jesus also offers them freedom through the death of the pigs. Think about it, Jesus in a moment takes away all 2000 of the things that had been open and notorious evidence of their sin and throws them into the sea.
Knowing the pull that possessions and wealth have upon us, Jesus removes that temptation completely in a way that allows them to be out from under the weight of it without any contribution on their part. They would not have been able to get rid of the pigs, they were too far gone into their sin and disobedience so Jesus does it for them and offers Himself instead. Yes, you had your false idol, wealth in the form of pigs before, now you are free of that bondage and free to receive your Messiah. Bacon tastes good, but the Messiah offers eternal life – which do you want people?
Have you ever had this happen to you? You really would give anything for that job or that boyfriend or that house and you don’t get it and you feel terribly crushed as a result. Later you realize that what you longed for would have been the death of you. That your walk with Jesus would have been totaled by getting what you longed for. Yeah, me too.
The saddest part about these passages is that there is no happy ending for the people of Gad. The guy who was freed from demon possession is ok, but the remainder of the people beg Jesus to go away…and He does. Jesus doesn’t stay if we beg Him not to.
The pattern of what seem like small compromises and minor disobedience add up over time until the whole area is filled with demon possessed guys and prohibited animals. It no longer looks like God’s land. When Jesus comes to fix it, He is told that He is not needed and begged to go away. We are good as is Jesus – We got this!
How many of us do the same? We have been compromising and been disobedient for so long our lives are filled with the demon influenced and the idolatrous to such an extent that we look nothing like God’s people. We are chasing the same buck or watching the same stuff as the nonbeliever and when Jesus comes to us and offers us freedom, what do we answer?
Go away Jesus, I need those pigs to support myself. Those pigs were everything to me. How could you destroy what I made my idol? Just go away, I am comfortable in my sin.
Or do we invite Him to stay and show us His better way?