The day had been long and tiring. Jesus had taught and healed in the hot sun by the sea shore all day long. The crowd had been immense, forcing Him to balance precariously from a fishing boat while continuing to teach in parables. He was spent.
Night was fast approaching, so Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and push off to the other side. The crowd was not anxious to leave Him; many hopped in their own boats to follow, more out of curiosity than actual need. Jesus was exhausted. He promptly went to the helm and fell fast asleep on a borrowed, fishy-smelling pillow.
Hidden in the inky blackness of the night sky, a storm was brewing over the Sea of Galilee. It swept in from out of nowhere, taking the disciples by surprise. Though many of them were seasoned fishermen, this storm was like nothing they had ever encountered. Bailing felt more like backpedaling; the boat was beginning to sink.
They rushed to their Master and were dismayed to find they had to physically shake Him to wake Him up! But, when He did, He did the incomprehensible: He rebuked the storm. The disciples were taken aback. Not only had the storm completed dissipated at the sound of His voice, He had actually treated it like it was alive – an entity of its own, not just a weather phenom. Who is this Man?
Arriving at the other side of the shore, the shaken and weary disciples trudged through the coast to drag the borrowed boat on to land. Jesus joined them in the shallows. A mundane task in the quiet morning was rudely interrupted by the sound of shrieks coming from the hillside.
They all turned to see what could possibly be making the racket. A man, completely nude, with broken chains hanging around his wrists, unkept hair nearly to his waist, and a scraggly beard, was charging towards them, screaming obscenities – and calling Jesus by name. Now, who was this man?
The man stank; he was covered in bruises, bleeding and scratched on almost every orifice of his dirty body. He was thin, almost famished. While he looked quite aged, the disciples wondered if that was merely from living in a cave or in the sun for an unknown amount of time. His entire being shook, foam slipping from the sides of his mouth, as he slid in front of Jesus, face to the ground. He addressed Jesus by name, but simultaneously refused to look Him in the eye. With his face to the ground, a raspy, otherworldly voice, quaking with palpable hatred, asked, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”
The disciples glanced around at the weary travelers who were still hauling in their boats from the previous night’s excursion across the waves. They couldn’t help but wonder if this was the show they had followed Jesus to see – first a violent storm being stilled for no reason and now a crazy man begging Jesus, Who had so far done nothing except walk ashore, to leave him alone. A show it definitely was; the question was now, how would it end?
Jesus could have asked anything. He asked for the man’s name. A pause. Then the raspy, obnoxiously loud voice answered, “Legion.” In their Roman world, the word ‘legion’ instantly drew mental images of at least 3000 soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, armed to the hilt and ready to fight. A few disciples took unintentional steps backward. A host of demons were in this man; it was unimaginable.
The man’s voice changed then from one, distinct tone to what seemed like hundreds, if not thousands, of different voices speaking simultaneously. The demons were begging Jesus not to destroy them. They knew Who He was and the power He wielded over them. And they were terrified.
The man looked up at the hills and pointed. Everyone swiveled to see what he was pointing at. Only then did the silent onlookers hear – and smell – the thousands of pigs milling about on the hillside above the lake. All of a sudden, their presence, which hadn’t even been noticed yet, was all-consuming. The stench, the grunting, the stamping of little hooves on the ground – it was all everyone could hear aside from the slapping of waves on the untethered boats.
“Send us into the pigs.”
The crowd held their breath. Jesus nodded. With His consent, the man began to shake violently and was flung like a lifeless toy onto the beach. Shrieking was heard and the atmosphere tangibly cooled, as if a north wind had gusted around them.
Then, the pigs began to shriek. Their calm grunting had turned into mass chaos. Thousands of swine could be heard for miles shrieking, stampeding. The quiet morning was shattered as they took off for the cliff. Completely unorganized, the pigs flung themselves off the edge and into the deep waters and rocks below. The onlookers who were still standing in the shallows quickly dashed either into their boats or onto the shore as the red, defiled pig blood began to wash towards them.
Before they all reached the shore and long before the events had fully registered with the astonished disciples, more shouts were heard. A crowd came running from the village having been told by the herdsmen that their entire livelihood was lost. They pushed and shoved their way towards Jesus. They ignored completely the fact that the man who had terrorized their town for years was sitting, in his right mind, clothed and having a sane conversation. They stuck their accusatory fingers in the air and adamantly demanded Jesus leave immediately.
Calmly, the Master rose from the rock He had been seated on and motioned to His followers to begin to push the boats back out to the water. The newly healed man clung to Jesus’ robes and begged Him to come, too! “No,” He responded. “Go home to your friends, and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been.”
As quickly as their morning began, it was now over. The morning sun still sparkled on the lake and stomachs still begged for breakfast as they began to row back across the water to where the journey had began less than 12 hours before.
One man. He did all of that – for one man. If He pursued this man that hard, just imagine how He is pursuing you.