I know what you may be thinking, how can we be so irreverent, comparing the Son of God to a pig! I don’t mean to be too much of a ham, but I think you’ll find this idea to be quite tasty, if I have the chops to pull it off. Though it’s a meaty message, it has the potential to blow your house down. Before you turn up your snout at my pig puns, I’ll get on with telling the tail.
The Wild Side of Grace
In the last devotional, we heard Jesus say, “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35). We learned that Jesus wants to take us from the side of the “law” to the side of “grace,” passing through a storm along the way. Now that we’re through the storm and on the other side, we enter the wild world of grace. Our passage begins, “They came to the other side…” (Mark 5:1). We’re entering a fantastic world, where things aren’t what they seem to be and anything can happen. More precisely, the things we would never expect to happen, happen. This is an important distinction for those who think they’ve figured out what God is like and who ends up on top.
The Most Terrifying Man
It all starts in the land of the Gerasenes when a crazed man rushed out of the tombs toward Jesus. If you had to score this guy on a “dudes I wouldn’t like to meet in a dark alley” scale, then he would get high marks in all the categories. He was incredibly strong, able to break the shackles and chains they attempted to bind him with; he was mentally insane, evidenced by his cutting himself with stones and crying out in a loud voice; and, he was evil, being possessed by many demons. This guy scored a perfect ten in the three major categories of a terrifying monster: strength, lack of sanity, and satanic possession.
As you would expect, he was no match for Jesus, who commanded the unclean spirit to leave the poor man. The man fell down on the ground before Jesus and begged him not to torment him. Jesus asked the man, “What is your name?” to which the demon responded, “My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9). As it turns out, Legion was a community of about two thousand demons.
If it weren’t crazy enough, here’s where the story gets really interesting. Legion, “begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country” (Mark 5:10). They wanted to continue to live in the land of the Gerasenes, which was an area on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. They wanted to stay in that area and continue to find hosts to enter and destroy, just as they had done to the man.
Pause for a moment and think, for this is where most people fail to pick up on this first clue on the meaning of the story. The demons want to stay alive in the land of the Gerasenes. If you were Jesus, who not only had power over demons, but also hated what they did to people, would you grant them their wish? Would you let them continue to live in the land of the Gerasenes? If so, then why did he cast them out in the first place?
And Now for Some Pigs
“Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, ‘Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.’” (Mark 5:12). Legion, who wanted to stay alive in the region, begged Jesus to let them take a herd of pigs as their host. That seemed like a good compromise to them: they would leave the man alone, but would also get to continue to live.
“So he gave them permission” (Mark 5:13).
What? Is Jesus going soft on satan? Rather than seeing this as Jesus compromising with the devil, let’s keep reading to see what happened.
“And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.” (Mark 5:13). The demons got their wish, the pigs did a pork roll into the sea, and the man returned to normal. The pig herdsmen, “…came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid” (Mark 5:15).
Pigs Can’t Fly, But…
But pigs can swim. Did you know that? I grew up on a farm and my neighbors had both pigs and a pond. I can testify that pigs can swim, especially when they get hot, which seems to be all the time. If you don’t believe me, then just google it. In fact, pigs are very strong swimmers, which begs the question, “Why did they drown?”
Put this fact of porcine nauticality alongside our previous observation that the demons begged Jesus to keep them in the region so they could continue to live in another host, and you’ll begin to see what was happening. Jesus, as you probably guessed, was not about to compromise with the devil; he wasn’t going to give them their wish and allow them to take another host in the land of the Gerasenes. When he gave them permission to enter the pigs, he knew something they didn’t know.
The Noble Pig
Legion thought they won the case, because they got to enter the pigs, but Jesus knew the stout heart of the noble pig. You see, many people think the demons overwhelmed the pigs so that they hoofed crazily toward the sea to die, but that understanding doesn’t make sense, given that the demons wanted to continue to live in the land of the Gerasenes. If they wanted to continue to live, once they got their wish, then why would they have driven the pigs to kill themselves? Even more, if pigs are such good swimmers, then how did they drown?
It’s better to see that the demons underestimated both the character and capability of the noble pig. The pigs were in cahoots with Jesus; just as Jesus had power over the storm, so did he have power over the herd. The pigs didn’t lose control, but the pigs maintained control and ran to their deaths. They did it by sacrificing themselves in the sea. Even though they could swim, they chose to die, rather than allow the demons to continue to haunt the land.
Foreshadow the Cross
A sacrifice was made, a man was freed, and demons were destroyed. These are the elements of the cross, given ahead of time, in this titillating story.
Just as Jesus would sacrifice himself in order to free people from sin, so did the pigs sacrifice themselves to free the man and his country of the horrible demons. Just as Jesus didn’t rely on his powers as God to save himself, but set them aside, emptying himself (Philippians 2), so did the pigs not rely on their powers to swim, but set them aside, in order to die in the sea. What a vivid image of how God takes our sin and plunges it into the heart of the sea (Micah 7:19)! And that’s no hogwash.
Things Aren’t What They Seem
Finally, let’s see how this story applies to our lives. First, in the country of grace, things aren’t what they seem to be. Remember, everywhere Jesus goes, he’s trying to demonstrate to the religious leaders of his time that they are misleading the people and do not understand the grace of God, because of their insistence on keeping the law. Jesus uses a pig to show that God is not what we make him out to be; in fact, God is wholly other than we expect. We cannot manipulate God into being the kind of Being we think he should be. Many people remake God in their image in order to support their personal agendas. But God is wild, like a pig, and will not be remade according to our desires. Further, most people don’t realize when they encounter God, in the first place. We don’t encounter God in the holy times, the good times, the predictable times; rather, we encounter God in the mud and mire, the worst times, the uncharted moments of our lives, when things are the messiest.
The religious leaders of the day believed the pig to be ceremonially unclean, one of the vilest creatures imaginable. It’s no wonder that in the land of grace, Jesus chose to represent himself in the pig, which is the least predictable, lowest, and least likely representation imaginable. In the same way, God shows up in your life when you least expect, through a means that is both humble and humbling. God is not in the thing that seems the closest, but that which seems the farthest. As we’ve seen, Jesus is constantly using words, ideas, and events that confuse us, harden our hearts, and keep us from figuring out God on our own, in order to get us to realize salvation does not come from our abilities, but from his grace.
Yes, Christ our pig is an emblem of grace, because it’s Jesus as we would never expect, doing for us what we could never do, in a way we would never recognize. Christ as pig is a precursor to Christ on the cross, for “he had no form or majesty that we should desire to look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-3). Just as the Pharisees despised the pig, so would they despise Jesus.
And if the idea of Christ as pig is something you find yourself despising, then it’s probably closest to the truth.
The demon-possessed man is the human counterpart to the pigs. Just as pigs were considered unclean, unusable, and unlikely, so was the man. Just as the pigs were an emblem of grace-given, so was the man an emblem of grace-received. Remember, he was the farthest from what you would expect to be a citizen of heaven, for he was insane, demon-possessed, and a force of destruction. Yet, Jesus loved this man and had mercy on him (Mark 5:19). Likewise, you are no “worse” than the man possessed by two thousand demons; if God loved him and changed his life, then be assured God loves you and can change you.
Name Your Demon
This brings us to a second application, tell Jesus the name of your demon. When Jesus first met the man, he asked him, “What is your name?” (Mark 5:9). I find this to be an important question for all those who struggle to overcome sin. We need to be able to give a name to our demons and then tell it to Jesus. If you want Jesus to break the power of the sin in your life, then you must begin by being honest and vulnerable with him. Name your demon. What is possessing you? What are you struggling with? This is the first question Jesus asks you and the first way you can find healing.
Porn. Gambling. Envy. Self-pity. Lying. Bragging. Self-hatred. Prostitutes. Bestiality. Violence. Abuse. Foulness. Hypocrisy. Addiction. Alcohol. Drugs. Stealing. Gossip. Manipulation. Idolatry. Greed.
Tell Jesus the name of your demon(s).
Jesus has said over and over in Mark’s gospel, “if you have ears to hear…” This is his way of telling you that you need a new kind of hearing to understand what he’s saying. It’s not the kind of hearing you’re used to, where God is predictable, controllable, and fashionable. We’re used to hearing the demonic message: if you do good, then you will earn God’s favor; if you do bad, then God will condemn you.” Again, that’s the message our ears are most attuned to hearing. Jesus wants to give you ears to hear the message that the ordinary person can’t hear, can’t tolerate, and can’t imagine. We need new ears to hear the new message, “If you try to earn merit with God, then you will be condemned; but, if you name your demon, bring Jesus your sin, then he will forgive and accept you, for God loves you, just as you are.”
Christ our pig. He took your demons into himself and ran headlong to the cross, where he put aside his power of life in order to embrace the weakness of death for you. Perhaps today, Christ our pig is the gospel message you’ve finally been able to hear.
- If the demons wanted to continue to live in the land, then why would they force the pigs to kill themselves? If pigs can swim, then why did they drown? What do you think of this interpretation?
- Have you ever felt like too much of an outcast to be accepted by God or used by him? How does the story of the demon possessed man help you see otherwise?
- If you’re struggling to find a mission in life, consider what Jesus told the man in verse 19. How could you do the same? What was the reaction of the people who heard the man?
- Name your demon(s). Tell the name to God. Be completely honest. If this doesn’t ease your conscience, then name your demons to a trusted person in your life.