Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 13, 2014
And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
— Matthew 8:28-34, ESV
“The Running of the Bulls” is a popular tradition in Pamplona, Spain. A dozen or so stout bulls with long horns are loosed to run a marked course from one end of town to the other, and hundreds of humans enter the course to try to outrun the bulls. At least two hundred of the runners are injured each year, some severely, and since the tradition began, fifteen people have been killed by an angry bull.
An alphabet of adjectives describe those who participate in The Running of the Bulls. Adventurous, brave, and courageous come to mind. So do dumb, dumber, and dumbest. But I have found in the Gospels an event more dangerous than The Running of the Bulls. It is The Running of the Pigs, as told by Matthew (and also Mark and Luke).
The place where The Running of the Pigs took place was a village called Gadara, part of a ten-town collective community known as Decapolis (which means ten cities). It was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, featuring at least one steep bank that dropped into the water. There was a big, spooky graveyard there, too, and nearby was a profitable pig farm.
The presence of the pigs proves that this was a village inhabited by Gentiles, probably Syrians who had settled there to take in the advantages of the sea. Pigs were, of course, unclean animals in more ways than one to the Jews. No Jewish village would have contained a pig farm, and no Jew would have tended pigs unless forced to by slavery (like the story of the “prodigal son” in Luke 15).
Further proof that this was a ministry episode to Gentiles is found in the ending provided by the other Gospel writers, Mark and Luke. They include the fact that one of the delivered demoniacs wanted to take up traveling with Christ and the Apostles. But at this stage of Jesus’ ministry, it would not have been appropriate to travel between Galilee and Judea with a Gentile in tow, so Christ commissioned him to stay and evangelize his own people in his home town.
The setting of the story serves to speak of at least one central gospel truth. Jesus reaches out to all people. But, as we see here and in everyday life, all people do not reach back.
Great stories, like The Running of the Pigs, not only have strategic settings. They also include peculiar people. This story has four groups: Jesus and His disciples, a pair of demon-possessed men, the demons who possessed them, and the employees and owners of the pig plantation.
Jesus and His disciples were on a getaway. Rests and retreats are important to God, who invented the concept of a Sabbath (and a sabbatical) as a gift for man. I take vacations, religiously. Yet some of my best times of worship (perhaps because I don’t have to hear myself preach?!) and witnessing (perhaps because you are forced to talk with strangers) have been on vacations. Christians should always make even rests and retirements ministry-centered, not me-centered. Jesus took the time on this respite from the crowds to personally minister to two persons who, by the way, were in desperate need of ministry.
The two men had one common problem, and it was a doozy. Their lives were completely taken over by demons. Again, while Mark and Luke give some detail as to the aftermath of one of the men, they nor Matthew give us any backdrop by which to begin to understand the depths of these dudes’ dilemma. I doubt seriously that they were clean-cut, hard-working, God-fearing gentlemen one day, then naked, dirty, demon-possessed men the very next day. Drug addictions and overdoses inevitably start with casual and experimental use. Extramarital affairs usually begin with subtle but intentional flirtations. A godless life is arrived at after a Sunday or two without godly worship, which becomes a month or two, then a year or two, until one cannot conceive of spending a Sunday morning in a house of God. Then, the devil has got you. And you don’t have to be crazy or possessed for this to be true. The devil loves running and ruining the lives of normal people.
Speaking of the devil, he and his demons are real personages, too. They are created beings who rebelled against God, not unlike every member of the human race. They are extremely intelligent, unlike most members of the human race. Their conversation with Christ reveals an understanding of the identity of Jesus and the ultimate reality of their fate. I suppose their main mission in life is to keep as many members of the human race as possible in their camp until the end. There is no remedy for fallen angels, who cannot comprehend repentance and redemption. But there is salvation for fallen humans, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Last, and perhaps least, comes the crowd who funded The Running of the Pigs. Instead of rejoicing in the deliverance of their two townsmen, instead of thanking Jesus for His miraculous ministry, instead of valuing the great effect the person of Jesus had on two persons, they all asked Jesus to leave town. This demonstrates that most people care much more about their pigs, their pleasures, their penchant for making money and using it the way they want to, than they do their fellow man, even the man who was, is, and always will be God. It seems, at this stage of His ministry, that Jesus was turning from one superficial crowd to another.
I suppose if there were any innocent bystanders in this story, it would have to be the pigs. PETA would no doubt have been quite upset with Jesus for the wholesale slaughter of the swine. The townspeople certainly were not too happy with the Lord, as we can plainly see. These poor pigs were just living life, not doing anything obvious for or against God and the gospel, until one day they were swept away with the devils to their destruction.
Let me say that again. These poor pigs were just living life, not doing anything obvious for or against God and the gospel, until one day they were swept away with the devils to their destruction.
Not all rock music is satanic, as suggested by some fundamentalist Christians, but some of it is. Van Halen recorded a song bluntly entitled, “Runnin’ with the Devil.” That’s what the two men were doing at the first of the story, and that’s what the pigs were doing at the end of the story, runnin’ with the devils. Are any of you runnin’ with the devil? Well, if you’re not runnin’ with God in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as taking your place with the bride of Christ, which is the church, you may as well be runnin’ with the devil.
To participate in The Running of the Pigs, all you have to do is value your own personal space, personal belongings, and other personal preferences, more than Jesus. You just live your life, not doing anything obvious for or against God and the gospel, until one day you will be swept away with the devils to your destruction.
Let me say that again. If you value anything in your life more than God and the gospel, even though you don’t do anything obvious for or against them, then one day you will be swept away with the devils to your eternal destruction.
Thank God there is an alternative to The Running of the Pigs. It is the gospel and the word of God, the kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is genuine commitment to Jesus Christ and responsible membership in His church. If you’ve never stepped in line to follow Him, repent and believe today. If you’re stepping a little out of line these days, be warned by this passage and get back in the boat with the Lord. And the next time you see some poor sap injured in Pamplona at The Running of the Bulls, remember, it could be worse.