“Pastor, why do the demons want to enter into a herd of pigs?
My answer: Beats me. Poor piggies!
“Pastor, why do the pigs run off a cliff?”
My answer: Wouldn’t you if a pack of demons suddenly entered you?
“Pastor, the pigs died, the farmers lost their income. Why would Jesus allow this to happen?”
My answer: Maybe He didn’t want them making demonic BBQ!
“Pastor, why do the demon-possessed men live in the cemetery?
My answer: Because it seemed spookier that way.
I’ve had people ask me some crazy questions about our reading today. But some questions about the bible just can’t be answered with any certainty. And that’s okay! We don’t need the answer to every question about the bible. In fact, most of our questions are usually just distractions, they keep us from asking the most important questions—questions the bible does answer with absolute clarity—questions about how and why Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
Indeed, for all of the interesting things that are mentioned in the Bible, there is really only one reason that God has given His word to man: That all people may come to the knowledge of the truth about Jesus Christ and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). As for you and me and all our questions, Paul writes, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed… how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
So, while our reading today might prompt all kinds of interesting questions about the relationship between pigs and demons (and demonic BBQ), I think there is really only one truth that Matthew wants us to know: Jesus has complete power over the demons.
In fact, the demons don’t even seem to fully understand who Christ is and what He’s up to. Sure, they know that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, they are the very first to confess this in the Gospel of Matthew. Peter won’t make his famous confession about Christ until chapter 16. But even despite the fact that they recognize the divinity of Christ, the demons seem confused as to why the Son of God is running around cloaked in human flesh. “What are you doing here?” they ask. Much like the Pharisees, the demons can’t figure out why God would bring His Kingdom into this world through the strangeness, weakness, and foolishness of Jesus of Nazareth.
The book of James states that the demons know God and shudder at the thought. They shudder because they get the God of power. What they don’t get is a God who would suffer humiliation, rejection and death out of love and a desire to save those who deserve judgement and punishment. Nor can they comprehend why the immortal God would wrap Himself in mortality to accomplish all this.
Notice how, in our text for today, the demons first reaction to Christ is to assume that He has come to judge them. They seem to think that what Jesus describes in Matthew 25 is suddenly upon them—that Jesus has come to separate the sheep from the goats and cast the goats into everlasting fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41). These demons can’t grasp that Christ is there in the Garadenes to save sinners.
Earlier, in chapter 4, when Satan tempts Jesus, he seems to have similar misconceptions about our Lord and His true purpose. All three of the temptations that Satan conjures appeal to Christ’s status as true God and offer a path that would avoid suffering, pain and death. Satan’s temptations are brilliant because what they offer seem like commonsense. After all, who would ever think that the omnipotent God would suffer as Jesus was suffering after 40 days of fasting? That can’t be possible. Basic logic says that one who is omnipotent (all powerful) can’t suffer. Thus, Satan points out the obvious fact that if Jesus really is the Son of God, then it is inconceivable that He should starve because a starving God makes no sense. At the very least, Jesus should use His power over creation to turn rocks into bread. Second, Satan suggests that if Jesus really is the Son of God than there is no need for Him to suffer the rejection of the Pharisees and the crowds that followed Him. The Son of God should be acclaimed by all. So, Satan suggests that Jesus should jump from the temple tower and have the angels catch Him to prove to everyone that He is the Messiah. Third, Satan offers all the kingdoms of the earth to Jesus. This is what the Son of God deserves, right?
You see, Satan has no ability to separate the work of God from the power and glory of God. In Satan’s mind God always equals glory and power, like 1 + 1 = 2. Therefore, if Jesus is the Son of God then He will do these things because that’s what it means to be God! It makes no sense for God to starve. It makes no sense for God to be despised and rejected. It makes no sense for God NOT to wear the crown of every kingdom.
And it’s not just Satan and the demons who are confused about all this. It’s everyone! Paul will later write concerning this: “Where is the one who is wise? … Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:29-22). Even Satan couldn’t have anticipated what Paul would explain in Philippians 2:6-11, that Jesus, “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Satan never really did figure it out. Even at the foot of the cross, we hear Satan still trying to communicate with Christ according to His divine glory and power. Satan speaks in the mouths of those who mocked Jesus and said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross… then we will believe…” (Matthew 27:39-42). That sounds so similar to everything Satan said to Jesus in the wilderness.
Whatever Satan and the demons understood about Jesus, there can be no doubt that they believed they were winning when Jesus died. The Gospels record how Satan entered Judas (John 13:27) and enticed him to betray Jesus. I guess Satan figured that if God was dumb enough to take on mortal flesh, then Satan was more than happy to test that mortality. What better victory could there be than to have God killed? For if there was one power that Satan understood well, it was death.
Satan is the one who brought death into the world by leading Adam into sin (Genesis 3:1-10). That old snake knew as well as we do what the bible says about the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). But how could he ever understand that God “for our sake… would make Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)?
I guess Satan would have to wait until the bible was written to understand all of that.
It’s a good thing that God gave His word to answer these truly important questions.