What have you to do with us, O Son of God?
So far Matthew has told us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David (1.16); Immanuel (God with us, 1.23); the beloved Son (3.17); the prophet like (but greater than) Moses (chs 5-7); the Suffering Servant (8.17); and God himself (8.27).
How much of this Jesus’ original hearers understood, however, is doubtful. They are drawn to him (4.24f.; 8.1, 16), they are astonished at his authority as a teacher 7.28f.), and they marvel at his power to calm the storm and sea (8.27), but there is no indication yet that they grasp that he is God’s only Son. Satan does though.
We saw evidence of this in his private confrontations with Jesus in 4.1-11; we see it now as Jesus invades Satan’s territory. It should come as no great surprise that it is demons who first publicly identify Jesus as God’s Son (cf. Mark 1.24; Luke 4.34): the battle is a spiritual one, and as God’s kingdom advances Satan is bound to oppose it in every way he can. He knows that he too is subject to Jesus’ authority and that his time is limited (8.29).
The two Gadarene men have no identity of their own, they are completely possessed. Their speech is the demons’, their homes are graves. They provide a dramatic demonstration of Satan’s goals – “to steal, to kill and to destroy” (Jn 10.10). While total possession like this is rare, demonic oppression is more common.
Satan’s goals, however, remain constant. Jesus, in contrast, came to give people life – in abundance. Pigs were an appropriate host to demons in Jewish eyes, but the gentile Gadarenes were not so impressed. We can only conclude that Jesus was more concerned about the fate of people than animals. These two men had been subject to Satan for too long.
It is telling that as Jesus’ kingdom drives Satan’s back those who should have been best pleased instead “think evil in their hearts” (9.4). Jesus has returned from Gentile territory to his own city, Capernaum, and a paralytic is brought to him by faith-filled friends. As was the case with the leper (8.1-3), faith is met with compassion. Jesus addresses the paralytic tenderly as “my son”, telling him to take heart, his sins are forgiven.
We shouldn’t assume from this (as the scribes probably did) that the man’s paralysis was caused by sin (that would make paralytics of us all, see 7.1). Rather, Jesus deliberately ties his physical healing to forgiveness in order to prove that he has the power to forgive sins.
Jesus not only provides this proof but extends his claim: he is the Son of Man whom Daniel saw in a vision coming on the clouds of heaven. His kingdom is an everlasting one which shall not be destroyed (Dan 7.13f.)
The Gadarene demons were quite correct: Jesus is the Son of God, with all authority (cf. 28.18).
Why do you think Jesus told the paralytic to “take heart”?
Heavenly Father, I praise you that through your Son, my saviour Jesus Christ, my sins have been forgiven and Satan has no power over me. Please help me to worship and serve you as your dear son/daughter; and may your kingdom soon come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen
Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash