Matthew 8:18-34

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. [1]

In 1942, C. S. Lewis published his book The Screwtape Letters. Many of you may have read it, and if you have not you certainly should. It is a collection of letters from Screwtape, a high-ranking demon, to Wormwood, a subordinate, about how to cunningly lead someone to Hell. The book warns us not to fall prey to complacency with spiritual realities and with the very active but subtle activity of the demonic realm. People simply don’t take Satan very seriously.

Our culture certainly doesn’t. Sometimes we might hear phrases like, “It brings the devil out in him” when talking about someone’s particular problems. Yet, we are more likely to look for scientific, often psychological, explanations for compulsions, obsessions, disorders, and sin. The world does not particularly like to deal with sin because it implies there are moral categories and absolutes, and perhaps even someone evil behind the evil.

People might be okay with calling a particular disaster “an act of God,” but very few people would talk today about “a deed of the devil.” Few religious people talk that way today. Few people give credit where credit might well be due. This is because most people today, whether they have ever read Lewis’s book or not, miss the point of it. The majority of people may say they believe in some form of God, but few are willing to accept that the devil is real and active.

Yet, in the passage before us we are reminded that the devil and his minions are very much alive. But so is Jesus. We will see with these two miracle stories that Jesus is in control of chaos and of the spiritual realm. We will witness the beginnings of his crushing the serpent’s head, to borrow an image from Genesis 3:15. We will see Christ’s victory over the forces of evil in this world.


Verses 23 through 34 record two miracle stories. Jesus calms the sea, and Jesus controls the demons. He stills the storm of sea and of soul. But there are also two exorcisms. The obvious one is the story with the pigs. But the other, less obvious, is the exorcism of the storm. There are several reasons why scholars view Jesus’ calming of the storm as an exorcism. First, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke these two stories are told together as a pair. That tells us that all three writers believed these stories were to be read together.

That leads us to question why these stories fit together. Many see a linguistic link. The word Matthew uses for the storm (seismos), which literally means “earthquake,” is a term used everywhere else in Matthew only for “apocalyptic upheavals” (24:7; 27:54; 28:2). The idea is that there is something supernatural about this particular storm, a storm that, remember, has experienced fisherman scared to death. This is the perfect storm, a perfectly devilish storm. That’s the idea. It is as if the devil himself is holding the sea and shaking it like it was a fishbowl. So this word for the storm has satanic overtones. But there is also the word Jesus used to command the sea:rebuked.” “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea” (8:26). This is a common word the gospel writers use in exorcism stories when Jesus rebukes the demons possessing people (cf. Mark 1:25, 26; Mark 9:25; Luke 4:41).[2]

So, first, there’s the fact that these two stories are linked together in each of the synoptic gospels. Second, the terms Matthew employs are related to supernatural, demonic activity. Third, the stilling of the storm is an exorcism story due to how Jews perceived the sea. This is why you won’t find many stories about the sea in the Old Testament. The ones you do find usually have dark connotations. Israel butts up against the Red Sea during the exodus. The same is true of the sea in Jonas ‘s story. However, in both instances God controls the sea to save his people. Note that the sea needs controlling. It’s the force with which he is doing battle.[3]

This is how the sea is mentioned in Revelation. In Revelation 13:1, a beast rises out of the sea (Isaiah 27:1). At the end of the book, when we get the picture of the New Jerusalem, can you recall what is missing? “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.[4] There is a river, but no sea. After the defeat of all evil, the sea dried up. God has finally conquered all chaos. What we have here in our passage is a picture of the devil shaking the sea because he wants to stop the work of the Promised Seed who has come to crush his head.


Let’s read verses 28 through 34 together, and I will give you a short running commentary to get us oriented with the scene.

28 And when he came to the other side…. Jesus has come to the other side of the sea of Galilee opposite Capernaum.

…to the country of the Gadarenes…. Jesus has come to the northeast shore of the sea of Galilee, about 6 miles from Capernaum, where they were previously. This is Gentile territory, which explains the pigs. It also takes us back to our lessons in Joshua where we recall that the 12 tribes never fully took possession of all their land. This is still a region where Gentiles worship the demons that lurk behind their many idols.

… two demon possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs…. The tombs are burial caves, the residence of the dead, and, in this situation, of devils. This is one spiritually unclean place. There are pigs, tombs, and demons. If you thought a leper was an outsider these demon-possessed men are the ultimate outsiders and they refuse to let anyone in.

… so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, oh Son of God?’ We’ll return to that title in a little bit. But here is a hint for now: that title connects the two miracles.

30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” Mark tells us there were 2,000 pigs (Mark 5:13). These are likely the entire herd belonging to the people in the nearby town.

And he said to them, “Go.” Jesus gave them permission. In the context of these two stories, we can say he commanded it (the verb is an imperative).

So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. Whatever take we have on the pigs’ death, it is visible proof of Jesus’ miracle.

33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Mark and Luke tell us more about the positive effects upon the men now free of demons. Matthew will focus us on the negative status of the other men of that region.

34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. The last time we read the word “begged” it was from the demons. That is a bad, but appropriate, connotation. These townspeople act quite devilish themselves. They want Jesus away from their region. Jesus had just put a serious hurt on the pig business. A few more exorcisms like that would have wiped out the city’s economy. Like the demons, the townspeople recognized Jesus’ power but refused to submit to his authority – except for these two former demoniacs who remain behind as witnesses to Jesus’ authority.


That’s our flyover of this passage. But you might be thinking what does this ancient exorcism have to do with me? What is the main lesson I’m supposed to get from this?

Are we to realize that demons are real, and, as Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places”? That is surely a good lesson for us to learn. But it’s not the main one.

Maybe the main lesson has to do with discipleship. Instead of being thanked, Jesus is unwelcomed by those who find their religious or economic security threatened. So is the lesson that as we bring the gospel to hostile religions of the world, we should likewise expect rejection then possibly persecution? Yes, that is a lesson also. But discipleship is not the main emphasis of these two stories.

  1. How about the pigs? Is the main lesson something as simple and catchy as “people before pigs”? Unlike the townspeople, are we to care more about the fate of people than what happens to the poor pigs? There is a real lesson in that. We should value people over animals and possessions, even our most prized ones. Certainly, there are folks who don’t want toddlers in their homes because they don’t want them drawing on the walls or coming near the precious antiques. They haven’t learned the lesson of the pigs.

There are people who will not spend their money, use their property, or give up their time to meet human needs because they’re afraid of depleting their assets. They have certainly not learned the lesson of the pigs. People are more important than possessions.

That is a great lesson and it’s good for you to resolve to take the plastic off the couches and let the grandkids enjoy your home. That’s what church and sermons are for – real life change. People before pigs. These potential lessons from the passage are all good lessons, but they all focus on the wrong character in the story. This is not a story about townspeople, or disciples, or pigs, or even the demon possessed men and their liberation.

This is a story about Jesus. Jesus is the central character on which we are to focus. This story is about his identity. It is about his authority.


When we approach scripture, particularly the four Gospels, we approach them with rule number one in mind. Rule number 1: it’s all about Jesus. Rule number 2: see rule number one. Look at verse 27. After Jesus rose and rebuked the wind and waves, the men on the boat “marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this that even winds and sea obey him?’” In other words, “Who is this?

In 14:33, the next time the disciples are in a boat, the time when they see Jesus walking on the water, they will answer their own question, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Peter will also answer this question in 16:15, 16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:17). Another time this question is answered it is by Jesus himself. When Jesus is on trial, the high priest asks, “Tell us if you are… the Son of God.” Jesus answers, “It is as you have said” (26:64, paraphrased). The final time Christ’s identity is straightforwardly revealed comes ironically from the lips of a Gentile, a Roman centurion at the cross. After witnessing the Lord’s sufferings and death, he proclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (27:54).

However, before all those confessions of faith, it is the demons who first announce to the disciples just who Jesus is. While the men in the boat were doubting what kind of man this is, the demons came to tell them. The demons cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?” (8:29a). And there it is. That is the main lesson for us to see this morning: Jesus is indeed the Son of God!

The demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but as James 2:19 instructs, they only shudder. They cannot submit in saving trust. They shudder because their belief is that of recognition but not of acceptance, and they fully realize the consequence of rejecting God. They know that their judgment day is coming. In fact, they are terrified that it might be that very minute.

Even in America today, if you were to ask most people who they think Jesus is, many still might actually say that he is the Son of God. They might answer as if they are answering a trivia question. And most would also be sadly disinterested. Like the demons, they might know the answer, but it means little to them personally.

It is no small thing to say, “Jesus is the Son of God.” That’s not merely a matter of intellectual trivia. It’s a matter of allegiance. If I acknowledge that he is the Son of God in my head, then that information must travel to my heart, hands, and feet. I need to love him, serve him, and walk in his ways. I need to die to self. Jesus came to seek the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead.

In this passage the demons say Jesus is the Son of God, but the disciples see it! I want all of us to see it as well. I want us to see in verses 23-34 that Jesus is the Son of God because he acts as only God can act. He rules over creation. He judges evil. He saves his people.

First, Jesus rules over creation. His sleeping in the boat shows us his humanity. He was a real living breathing person. He got tired, so he fell asleep just like all human beings need rest. This passage shows us something of his humanity and of his deity. He sleeps and he commands the wind and the sea. Even his sleeping shows not powerlessness but the fullness of his absolute rule. Only someone who has everything under control can sleep during a storm like this.

However we choose to interpret the sleeping, we will let that issue rest for now. This passage is alive and in our face proclaiming Christ’s divine power.

In the Bible only God controls the sea. Consider Psalm 89:8, 9: “O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD . . .? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (cf. Psalm 107:23–30; 65:5–8), or Job 38:8–11, where God speaks about the “prescribed limits” he has put on the sea: “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.”[5]

In our text, note that Jesus doesn’t pray to God the Father to stop the storm. He addresses the storm directly. Jesus says to the waves, “Stop it!” Like obedient dogs, they lie flat. Creation recognizes its Creator’s voice. This is a picture of what the apostle Paul says about Jesus in Colossians 1:17, “all things hold together… by the word of his power.” Have you ever known any human being who could stop an apocalyptic storm simply by telling it to shut up? That’s power! That’s authority! That is something that only God could do.

Only God can rule over creation. As God, Jesus does just that. But the second point to notice is that only God can judge evil. And Jesus does exactly that. The demons know and fear this, which is why they scream in terror at the mere sight of him. They know that Jesus is the appointed judge who will judge at the appointed time. As we say in the Apostles’ Creed, “one day he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

This judicial role confirms the fullest meaning of “Son of God.” Jesus’ reaction to the demons here is a hint of the judgment coming to them on that great judgment day. Notice what happens. The demons entered the pigs, but the pigs don’t just go about their business being pigs. Rather, they stampede off the cliff and into the sea. The same sea that almost swallowed up Jesus and his disciples. But unlike the disciples, the demons go into the sea and disappear into its depths. With one little word (“Go”), the demons are judged by God the Son.

Jesus proves to be the Son of God in that he (1) rules creation, (2) judges evil, and finally (3) saves his people. In chapter 8 our Lord saves the leper, the slave, the woman, and countless others in Capernaum from their illnesses. He saved the disciples from drowning. He saves the demon-possessed men from their demons. He shows himself to be the Savior.

These smaller saving works in chapter 8 point to the cross in chapter 27. Back in 1:21, when Mary learned that she would bear a son, the angel Gabriel announced the nature of her son’s mission, “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” That salvation from sin did not happen when Jesus stretched out his arms to still the sea, but when he stretched them out on the cross to die in our place for our own sins.

The title “Son of God” is used of Jesus nine times in Matthew’s Gospel. This morning we covered all but one of those places. The one other use of the title comes while Jesus is hanging on the cross and those who passed by him called out in derision, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (27:40). Just like the devil when he tempted Jesus in 4:1-11, those passing by think that if Jesus really is the Son of God, he will manifest his identity through worldly power. On the contrary, since he is the Son of God he will stay on that cross, because it is on that cross that he will save his people from their sin. There he performs the ultimate exorcism.

Here is the beauty of the gospel: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1st John 3:8b). That is what happens on the cross at Calvary. It is the ultimate exorcism! The chaos of creation, the powers of evil, and our sins have been rebuked and exercised on the cross. Christ is victorious over evil – the evils of sickness, sin, chaos, death, and Hell. Each time we gather around the Lord’s table to commune with him, we celebrate that very real and most important exorcism. In Christ, by means of the faith in him that he gives us, we have passed through the sea of chaos and entered the calm waters of his loving care.

We must take Satan seriously. But we must also take Jesus seriously. We must ask ourselves what sort of man is this? This is the Son of God who rules creation, judges evil, and saves his people, and is the one to whom all allegiance and adoration is due. So let’s close with this proclamation of the crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended, and glorified Son of God:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might … To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.[6]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 8:18–34.

[2] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Preaching the Word) (p. 222). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[3] Id.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:1.

[5] O’Donnell, 227.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 5:12–14.