Kingdoms in Conflict

I saw a picture of an allegedly Russian submarine passing through the Bosporus, possibly in violation of an international treaty. Recent events in Asia have raised international tensions, and some may be testing the US, which has certainly projected its power and influence. Matthew 8:28–34 gives you a glimpse of a greater power struggle between two kingdoms.

Recognize the conflict between the kingdoms. The demons are part of the forces of darkness. The text leaves you with some unanswered questions. Some manuscripts have variant readings on the location. Gadara was a town not too far from the southeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the area where Jesus landed was apparently under its control. The parallel accounts (Mark 5:1-17 and Luke 8:20-37) are longer, and mention only one demon possessed man. Remember that each of the Gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, selected his material for his own purposes, and includes details relevant to his purposes. The whole issue of demon possession raises questions. In the Scriptures, most of the recorded cases of possession occur during the earthly ministry of Jesus. It is almost as though Satan is giving mock imitations of the incarnation. Evil spirits, apparently other fallen angels, enter and control the bodies of people, who were made in God’s image. We are not told why Jesus allows the demons to enter, and then destroy, the pigs. Be cautious about questions of demon possession today. Don’t evade responsibility—exorcism doesn’t replace the need for repentance. Satan is a real enemy, and must be taken seriously. At the same time, do not attribute omnipotence to him. Remember, as this passage reminds you, that he is a defeated enemy. The demons are representatives of the spiritual forces opposed to Jesus. Their destructive, negative purposes are evident in the violence displayed by the two men, and in what results when they enter the herd of pigs. There they carry out the destructive action from which they had been hindered in their possession of the men. “When Christ appeared on earth, this ‘prince’ [Satan] concentrated his power against him, not only by assaulting him personally and persecuting him relentlessly, but also by surrounding him on all sides with demonic forces in order to thus break down and resist this work. The (demon-)possessed in the New Testament were not ordinary sick folk. . . . The exceptional features of the (demon-)possessed are that out of their mouths speaks a subject other than themselves, that this subject recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, is totally hostile toward him, and leaves the patient only at Jesus’ command (Matt. 8:29, 31; Mark 1:26, 34; 3:11; Luke 4:34, 41; 8:2, 30; Acts 16:17–18; 19:15).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, pages 189–190).

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Even the Wind and the Waves Obey Him!

Perhaps, given all that fills the news cycles, it seems that your life is caught up in a perfect storm. While you can be comforted by what you read in Matthew 8:23–27, the purpose of the Apostle in writing is something far bigger than making you feel good. He writes to confront you with the authority and power of the Messiah

Jesus reveals himself as the Lord of the universe. Jesus rebuked the storm. Matthew is focusing your attention on the character of the Messiah. His power and authority are evident. Matthew has introduced the boat trip across the Sea of Galilee in v.18. It appears to be a specific boat he enters, and he is accompanied by his disciples, v.23. The stilling of the storm is followed by demonstrations of Jesus’ power over demonic forces (8:28–34) and sickness (9:1–8 — which includes his authority to forgive sins). Matthew describes the storm with a word that elsewhere refers to earthquakes, such was the violence of the wind and waves. The seas were covering the ship, i.e. it was disappearing into the troughs of the waves. Through it all Jesus sleeps, until he is awakened by the urgent cry of his disciples, the very terseness indicating their alarm, “Lord, save! We perish!” At Jesus’ rebuke, the storm became completely calm. It didn’t just blow itself out. Rather, the violence of the waves was replaced by an immediate stillness. Remember that some of the disciples in the boat were professional fishermen from that region. What amazed them more than the terrifying storm was the authority that stilled it so suddenly. “[T]his miracle of the sea. . . irresistibly focused the attention upon the transcendent person with whom the disciples had to do. . . .” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, p.138).

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“Follow Me!”

How would you respond to a volunteer eager to be part of the church? Look at Jesus’ response to would-be followers in Matthew 8:18–22.

Why do you want to follow Jesus? Motives for following Jesus vary. Large crowds followed Jesus, Matthew 8:16; 8:1; 4:23-25. Motives surely were varied. Some came with true faith (8:10; 9:2). Many came seeking healing for themselves or others. While this is a legitimate reason, it alone is not enough. (Note the popularity of the health and wealth gospel today.) Some may have been simply curious, or caught up in the excitement. Others may have had motives of self-advancement (was that true of Judas?). Matthew challenges you to look at your motives for following Jesus.

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He Took Up Our Infirmities

What kind of healing would you have sought from Jesus if you had lived while he walked the earth?Look at Matthew 8:1–17 before you answer.

Trust your compassionate Lord. Recognize the compassion of Jesus. Jesus’ compassion is seen in his healing three unlikely candidates: a leper, the servant of a Gentile, and a woman. Matthew may not be trying to convey exact chronology, but grouping examples of miracles. Leprosy in Biblical days may not be identical with the modern disease described by that name. It not only caused physical suffering, but also enforced isolation from society. A leper was unclean. But notice Jesus’ willingness to reach out and touch the man, v. 3. Hear the compassion reflected in, “I am willing!” He is willing to cleanse. A similar compassion is evident in Jesus’ willingness to enter the home of a Gentile (v. 7—an act which the rabbis believed made one ceremonially unclean) to heal the paralyzed servant of the Roman centurion. The mere touch of Jesus’ hand brings healing to Peter’s mother-in-law. Matthew 4:23 summarizes Jesus’ early ministry. Having given a sample of Jesus’ preaching (Matthew 5–7), he now shows you some of his miracles. They are a visible form of the good news of the kingdom. “When our Lord came down to earth He drew heaven with Him. The signs which accompanied His ministry were but the trailing clouds of glory which He brought from heaven, which is His home.” (Benjamin B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, p. 3).

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