Matthew 8: 18-34: Casting Out Devils
(If possible show a picture of a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee.) This is the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where the Lord used often to walk with His disciples. This is just such a boat as the fishermen had in those days, and often when they were not sailing the boats were anchored near the shore. Some of the Lord's disciples were fishermen (Do you remember who?) and they had their boats. See the sail to use when the wind is good, and the long oars for rowing when it is calm, or the wind is against them. Sometimes the Lord went with the disciples in their boats and they crossed to the other side of the sea. Our story tells us of such a time.
It was toward evening on a day when the Lord had been teaching the people. The disciples were with Him in the boat and they turned from the shore to cross to the other side. It is a 'beautiful sail when the wind is fair. The water is bright and clear, and around the sea are the pretty hills that shut it in. There is snowy Hermon far away to the north. But it was evening as the Lord and His disciples set sail. The night came on and with it a storm, for the winds come suddenly on the Sea of Galilee and make fierce storms. The waves grew high and were breaking over the boat. The Lord was asleep on a cushion in the hinder part of the boat. The disciples were afraid and awoke Him. "Why are ye fearful?" He said. Then He spoke to the winds and the sea and there was a great calm. The disciples wondered when they saw that even the wind and the sea. obeyed Him.
And now they were at the other side. The town of Gergesa was near, which stood by the lake at the mouth of a little valley which led up to the hills. There were caves in the sides of the valley that were used as tombs. As the Lord and the disciples came from the shore, "there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way." Evil spirits had power over these poor men and made them fierce, and so strong that no one could bind or tame them. But when they met the Lord the evil spirits cried out with fear; they knew that He had power to send them out. There was a great herd of swine feeding not far away, at a place where the hills slope steeply to the sea. When the Lord said to the evil spirits, "Go," they left the men and entered into the swine. What happened then to the swine, you will see as we read the story. The word went quickly to the city of what the Lord had done, and the people came out to see Him. Were they glad that the poor men were healed? Did they ask the Lord to stay with them and do more such works among them? "They besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts." Read verses 23-24.
There may be some break between verses 17 and 18 of our chapter. Other things may have happened here, and Mark seems quite definitely to connect the story which follows with the day when the Lord sat in the boat and spoke many parables to the people gathered on the shore. (Mark 4:35-41) Recall what you already know about the fishermen and their boats, especially the fishermen who were called to be disciples.
Read carefully the Lord's words to those who thought that they were ready to follow Him. (Verses 18-22) The foxes and birds are the selfish feelings and thoughts which are so apt to make their holes and nests in our minds. While these are there, there is no resting place for the Lord. Another would go with the Lord, but wished first to go and bury his father. The father who was dead means the old natural life in ourselves that is dead because it is selfish and evil. Going first to bury the father means a lingering fondness for the life that we know is dead, and a clinging to it still. You see what the Lord's words mean to us: "Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead." Leave what we know is wrong; leave it at once; leave it wholly.
The calming of the storm shows that the forces of nature are in the Lord's power. It is also a promise of the Lord's power to calm for us stormy, troubled states of mind.
We are now at the eastern shore, the country of the Gergesenes. The ruins called Kersa at about the middle of the shore seem to mark the place. The town stood at the mouth of a little valley which led from the lake up to the highlands above. This probably was the way that was unsafe to pass on account of the fierce men living in the tombs that were cut in the sides of the rocky valley. We can picture the whole scene: the two men possessed by devils, so fierce that none could tame or bind them; the terror of the evil spirits when they felt themselves in the presence of the Lord; the swine near by on the steep hillside; the man healed and safe in the Lord's presence - " sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind." (Mark 5:15.) It is a grand picture of the Lord's power rebuking and controlling the evil spirits who had grown too strong for men to resist, setting men free from their power. It is a picture of the whole work of redemption which the Lord came into the world to do. But how little men cared for this help!
You will wish to add Kersa to your map of the Sea of Galilee, and a line across the sea to it from Capernaum.
1. " Unto the other side." The other side of what? " A certain scribe." What is a scribe? " The whole city." What city?
2. Do the words, " The Son of man hath not where to lay His head," remind you of something which is told us about the Lord's birth in Bethlehem?
3. What other miracle showed the Lord's power to control the sea? (Matt. 14:26.) (See Ps. 107:23.)
4. What did the Lord find on the eastern shore? What did He do? What was the result?
The miracles on the sea and on the eastern shore represent the carrying of the spirit and power of the Sermon on the Mount into still more external states; for the sea is always a type of lower, external states, and so is that farther shore, outside the borders of the Holy Land. The stormy sea represents a tumult of natural and worldly thoughts and feelings, such as may often be aroused in us by influences from hell. We must experience the Lord's power to rebuke the tumult and the unseen influences which arouse it. (E. 419, 514; T. 123.)
The offer of some to follow the Lord, and His words to them, introduced by Matthew at this point, suggest the greater difficulty of allowing the Lord to come with His redeeming power into the most external things of life, into the enjoyment of natural pleasures, of food, of recreation, of rest. Though we have gone with the Lord and felt His power and blessing in some things, it is harder to keep near Him in these external things. When we attempt it we find that the foxes and the birds have their holes and nests in us, and that there is little place for the Lord. We find that there is still a clinging to the things that are dead. But if we are to be truly the Lord's disciples we must follow Him here also, and leave quickly all that holds us back. Here is a test and a time to prove whether we are disciples or not. " And when He was entered into a ship, His disciples followed Him." (A. 6138.)
The Lord was asleep in the storm. Did it mean that the Lord did not care for the disciples' danger, or that He would not help them? Is the Lord ever forgetful? Is He ever careless? Does He leave us in a time of danger? No, and yet it may seem sound does seem so at the time. For He must conceal His presence enough to leave us free, enough for us to realize that we need Him, and to turn to Him and earnestly ask His help. This seeming absence of the Lord in a time of temptation is represented by His sleeping in the storm. He is really nearer than at other times to help us quickly and to give all the help we need. (T. 126.)
The Gergesenes possessed by devils represent ourselves when bodily pleasures and appetites have gained control of us, making us like fierce beasts and swine, driving us to live in the tombs, in ways which have nothing of spiritual life. The Lord alone has power to control these fierce spirits which no man can bind or tame. He shows them in their true light, as swine, and restrains their power. Can we be indifferent to such power at hand to save us from being swine and to make us men? Or, do we prefer the swine, and beseech the Lord to go away and leave us to enjoy them? (A. 1742; E. 659.)