The King’s Authority over Nature and Demons (Exposition of Matthew 8:23-34)

In this morning’s text Jesus confronts two great fears of the ancient Jews: the storms of the sea and the demonic.

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.  (24)  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.  (25)  Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”  (26)  But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  (27)  So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”  (28)  When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.  (29)  And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”  (30)  Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding.  (31)  So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  (32)  And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.  (33)  Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.  (34)  And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.

I.    The King’s Authority over Nature, vv. 23-27.
In verses 18-22 we read of two encounters with potential disciples as Jesus made His way to the boat. In verse 23 He arrives at the boat and enters it along with His disciples (Mark 4:36 tells us that other boats were with them). The boat would have been a small fishing boat, not a ship, yet large enough to carry approx. 12 people. In other words, this boat was not an ocean liner. Jesus and His disciples enter this boat for a trip across the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea of Galilee was actually a large lake 8 miles wide and 13 miles long from North to South. It is located 680′ below sea level. Bible commentator Robert Mounce says that, “The high hills that surround it are cut with deep ravines that act like great funnels drawing violent winds from the heights down on to the lake without warning.” (78). This is exactly what happened on this occasion as the Bible describes “a great tempest” which suddenly arose on the sea. The Greek word is the word for earthquake, seismos, indicating the violent nature of this earth shaking storm. This storm shook the world of those on the boat that day. It was so bad the text says “the boat was covered with the waves.” This language has the picture of a boat surrounded by waves which are higher than the boat. This was a serious storm!

I can imagine the scene in the boat as everyone is panicking and doing whatever it is that sailors do when they get in the midst of a storm.  They instinctively begin to look around for Jesus only to find him sound asleep in the midst of this storm.  This speaks volumes about the level of human exhaustion that Jesus was experiencing at this point.  Have you ever been so exhausted that you could sleep through anything?  You wake up in the morning and there are trees and pieces of houses scattered throughout your community and you think, “There must have been a storm last night.”  Think about Jesus’ hectic schedule of teaching, traveling, and healing.  Jesus is fully human and His human body was fully exhausted.  Jesus was so much human that He needed sleep, but He was so much God that He could wake up, wipe the sleep from His eyes, and rebuke the storm and it would obey Him!

So the disciples awake Jesus saying, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”  But before Jesus rebukes the sea and wind, He first rebukes the lack of faith of His disciples.  He calls them “Cowards!” when He asks “Why are you fearful?”  Then He calls them “Little-faiths” oligopistis.  It’s important to note as Matthew Henry has, that Jesus “does not chide them for disturbing Him with their prayers, but for disturbing themselves with their lack of faith.”  Jesus wasn’t upset to be awakened, He was disappointed in their lack of confidence in the protection and providence of God.  This was not a discouragement to prayer, but to unbelief.

Then Jesus arose and speaks to the wind and sea as if to living beings.  He rebuked the winds and the sea.  He essentially says, “Sit down and shut up!” Here Jesus is asserting His Kingly and Divine authority!  Can you imagine standing and shouting into a storm, “Stop it!”?  You would be put in the looney bin.  But when Jesus rebuked the storm, it immediately stopped and “there was a great calm.”  What a contrast this must have been.  One moment the wind was howling, lightning was flashing, thunder was crashing, the rain was pounding.  Then Jesus speaks.  And everything stops immediately.  One commentator said that the image is of the sea becoming  as a “glassy-flat surface and not a breath of wind” (Nolland, NIGTC, 372).

This is the power and authority of Jesus Christ.  He has authority over disease, distance, and disciples, but here He is shown to have authority over the deep!  He is the ruler of the winds and waves.  There is nothing outside of His authority.

This event causes the disciples to be amazed and ask, “Who is this man, that even the winds and sea obey him?”  The answer of the Old Testament is that only the LORD God can calm the winds and waves.  We see this in Psalm 107:23-32 and in Psalm 89:8-9,

O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD?  Your faithfulness also surrounds You.  9 You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them.

Only Jehovah God rules the raging sea!  Only He can still the storm. This miracle of calming the storm is yet another proof that Jesus is no mere man.  He is the Son of the living God.  What the disciples only raise as a question, is answered by demons two verses later.  This brings us to the next incident recorded by Matthew . . .

II.    The King’s Authority over Demons, vv. 28-34.
In these verses Jesus demonstrates His authority over demons.  He is not only Sovereign over all disease, distance, disciples, and the deep.  He is also Sovereign over all demonic forces.  There are at least two kinds of people who have trouble with this story.  The anti-supernaturalists and the animal rights activists.  The anti-supernaturalists don’t believe in the reality of demons.  As a certain commentator named Filson stated it, “Obviously the story uses patterns of thought not satisfactory to modern men, who would call these demoniacs mentally deranged.”  In other words, men and women living in a modern age don’t believe in demons and certainly not demon-possession.  Instead we call mental illness what the uncivilized peoples of the past called demon-possession.
I don’t deny that there are certainly diseases that can be classified as mental illness and that people in the past may have characterized all mental illness wrongly as demon possession.  But there was and is such a thing as demon possession.  The devil is real, demons are real.  If you really believed this you wouldn’t play around with witchcraft and the occult.  You wouldn’t take so lightly the celebration of “Halloween” as a glorification of witches and the occult.  Demonic forces are not something to be trivialized or taken lightly.   And its all around us in our culture, television shows and movies which glamorize witchcraft and wizardry.  These are matters which Christians should not take lightly, since these are the very Demonic powers which brought sin and death into this world and which Jesus Christ came into the world to destroy!   We have a problem when a preacher seems over the top who is opposed to the devil and demons.  Christians ought to be able to agree that the devil is bad!  I know that we don’t like to be negative, but we should be able to come to a consensus on this point!

As Jesus and His disciples disembark from the boat, they are met by two demon-possessed men.  In Mark and Luke’s account of this event only one demon-possessed man is mentioned.  But this is no contradiction because as I heard Hollie Miller say a couple of weeks ago, “If there was two, there had to be one.”  But seriously, we often speak of seeing one person of prominence when in fact we saw more than one person.  We say, “I saw the President today.” when in reality we saw the President, the Secret Service and a number of other dignitaries.  But we speak of seeing one.  Obviously, one of the demon-possessed men was more prominent than the other, the leader of the two.  These men were dangerously violent men.  Dangerous to themselves and society.  They lived among the tombs.  According to Mark and Luke, these men could not be bound, even with chains.  These demon-possessed came answer the question posed by the disciples on the boat.  They recognized Jesus and rightly address Him as the “Son of God.”  What the disciples wondered on the sea, these demons answer.  “Who is this?”  It is the “Son of God.” This is a powerful confession.  James tells us that the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).  These demons are certainly trembling at the presence of the King.  They not only know who Jesus is, but they also know why He came.  1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”  But this faith is insufficient for salvation.  More than knowledge of Jesus is required.  Complete trust in who He is and what He has done is required.  The demons ask the question, “Have you come to torment us before the time?”  They know that a day of judgment is coming for them.  But they thought they had more time.  They were expecting the judgement on the last day when the Son establishes His eternal Kingdom.  They now learn that with the coming of the Son of God into this world, the Kingdom has already come.  Jesus said in Matthew 12:28,”If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  He did and it had!  There was and is still a future day of judgment when the devil and all the demons will be cast into the Lake of Fire, but for these demons, judgment day had now arrived!

Jesus sends these demons out of these two men and into an entire herd of pigs.  He commanded the demons, “Go!” and they went.  This demonstrates Jesus’ authority over demons.  That with a single word He can dismiss them to judgment.  The demons enter the swine and we see their destructive power.  This is a powerful illustration of the destructive purposes of the devil and the demonic.  This should be another important caution against taking the demonic too lightly.  Demons will attempt to destroy you just as they destroyed these pigs.

These verses are what causes the animal rights activists to be upset.  They read this passage and all they can say is, “Poor piggies!”  They are more concerned about pigs than people.

In verse 33, the pig herders go and tell everyone in the town what happened and “the whole city came out to meet Jesus.”  Surely they are going to invite Him to set up a tent and hold a week long crusade!  No, they beg Him to leave!  These people were merely upset that they had lost money in the destruction of the pigs.  As D. A. Carson said, “They preferred pigs to persons, swine to the Savior.”

Cf.  Acts 16, demon-possessed girl and Acts 19, Demetrius the silversmith.

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