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Thoughts from the Gadarene Cemetery

First, the disclaimer: I have yet to visit the holy land. I am not sitting among archeological tombs near the east shore of Galilee thinking about events that happened there long ago. Be that as it may, I have been studying the account of Jesus and the demon-possessed men who once lived in that cemetery.

In comparing the records of three Gospels, I am struck by the fact that there were two demon-possessed men. Mark and Luke only tell of one. Matthew says there were two. Jesus obviously delivered both from the legion of evil spirits. Yet, the Scriptures almost ignore one of those men. We don't know what happened to him after Jesus sent his tormenting spirits into a herd of hogs.

We know plenty about the other Gadarene demoniac. We know he rather quickly availed himself of clothing and sat at the feet of Jesus. In that culture and time, sitting at Jesus' feet meant he was listening to Him teach. In addition to being fully clothed, the Bible tells us he sat there in his right mind. He had become a changed man and a believer. The power of Jesus in his life was so wonderful that he wanted to get in the boat and travel over to the Jewish side of the lake with Him. Jesus didn't take him along though. Instead, He sent this new convert back to his hometown to serve as a missionary. He changed from a slave of the devil to a missionary of God's Son in a few short hours. It's a beautiful story.

But we still haven't answered the question about the other guy, the one Matthew tells us was there too. I suppose some people would try to find an error in one of the ancient manuscripts that turned one man to two. Others might use this seeming discrepancy as an excuse to read Scripture imprecisely. There is another, better, explanation, however. Simply stated, this second man received Jesus' release from the demons, but chose not to become a follower of Christ. One man was set free and believed in his Deliverer. The other, apparently was set free and walked off.

We don't know the rest of these men's lives, but the likely outcomes are worth considering. Presumably, the one man lived under Jesus' promise: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). The other, apparently chose not to come to Jesus. Perhaps these other words of Jesus are relevant: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:43-45a). With that legion of demons drowning their four-footed homes immediately, the one who didn't care to pursue a further relationship with Jesus could have found himself in serious trouble. We don't know, of course, but the potential is scary.

Luke describes the Gadarene demoniac prior to Jesus' coming like this: “. . . and was driven of the devil into the wilderness” (Luke 8:29b). Of Jesus, we read: “And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). Two men were driven out into the wilderness by spirits. One was sent there by an evil spirit. The other was sent there by the Holy Spirit. One man cut himself with rocks and cried out in agony. The other, facing Satan himself in intense temptation, refused to use rocks in any way that dishonored God. One man came back to the tombs devastated. The other was helped by angels from Heaven. Both were human beings impacted by the spirit world. One was driven by a hate-filled spirit. The other was driven by the Spirit of God, and “God is love” (from 1 John 4:16).

Of course, it was with the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus eventually drove away the spirits who tormented the other man, but the contrast is more than one of power, as great of contrast as that is. There is also a contrast of character. All of us are shaped by the spiritual realm. The outcome of that shaping will depend on which spirit we yield to. As Paul wrote: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). No one consciously chooses to be destroyed by the devil and his angels. They only choose to go along with them. Many people do struggle over the conscious choice to surrender themselves fully to the leading and control of the Spirit of God. When they do choose Him, they find not destruction, but abundant life.

Spiritually, we all face the wilderness as it were. The question is in whose company and power will we enter it?

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