‘Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.’ Matthew 8:34 NLT
This verse comes at the end of the story, where two men possessed by demons were set free. The Gospels give slightly different accounts, but some facts remain the same. We don’t know whether there was one man or two, but however many there were, they were in a terrible spiritual state and violent. Mark’s Gospel describes it like this:
‘He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.’ Mark 5:3-5 ESV
The man lived in a cemetery, more at home with the dead than the living, and no one could go through that area. The local villager who wanted to go and mourn his dead quietly couldn’t visit those parts because he was terrified.
Jesus, on arriving in the locality and in a short space of time, had miraculously cast out the troubling demons and set the man (or men) free. The demons had come out with loud protestations, and our Lord had given them leave to enter a herd of pigs, which proceeded to run terrified down a steep hillside and straight into the sea. They were all lost. The herdsmen fled, not into the sea, but into the local town, telling everyone what had happened. The entire population of the local village came out in force and begged Jesus to leave. They would rather have their demon-possessed violent men living in the local cemetery, preventing villagers from visiting the graves and burying their dead in peace than have this peaceful man who controlled demons amongst them. Why, we ask?
It is the old story of the familiar against the unfamiliar. We don’t like change. Here is a story full of the glorious changing power of God. We read later in the Gospel that the villagers found the demoniac:
‘sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.’ Mark 5:15 NLT
We love the old rather than the new. I hear of lives, again and again, having difficulties at home after they have been converted. They have stopped drinking, swearing, or being a bigot, but their partner has preferred the old person to the new person. It is strange and doesn’t make sense.
Christ makes all things new. He makes everything better, fresher, cleaner, happier, clear and whole. We must learn to welcome the new. We must demonstrate the changes in our lives with joy so that others may not be afraid and ask Jesus to leave them alone. What responsibility is upon us to transmit the joy of salvation!