We are working our way through the Gospel of Luke because we want to “walk with Jesus”. We want to watch Him, listen to Him, and learn from Him. Each week we have been challenged in our discipleship.
This morning we turn our attention to a controversial text. It is controversial for a number of reasons. This text is simply dismissed as fiction by those in the so-called Jesus Seminar. They reject anything that has supernatural elements in it. Their conclusions are not based on scholarship but on an anti-supernatural bias. As we will be able to see, this text also raises the ire of animal rights groups. This text is just too odd for some Christians to handle.
The encounter takes place in land on the east side of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Most modern versions say they were in the region of the “Gerasenes”. In the King James it says “Gadarenes” In most Bibles there is a text note (a little number that directs your attention to the bottom of the page) that points out that translators aren’t real sure what town is being referred to. Another option is Gergesenes. Personally, it doesn’t make much difference to me. [see map]
It is likely this was a Gentile (non-Jewish) area which will account for the pigs we meet later in the story. As you recall, pigs were considered unclean by the Jews. There is no explanation as to why Jesus decided to come into this particular territory. It appears that he wasn’t in town for very long. It’s possible He came all this way for the express purpose of ministering to the man He encountered as soon as He got out of the boat.
One Man’s Torment
When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. [27-29]
As Jesus was getting out of his boat we are told a violent, naked, and demon-possessed man came toward Him. As you may remember demons are fallen angels who work under Satan. Their whole purpose is to defeat the work of God.
(Many scoff at the notion of demons. I think that is foolish. Micro-biology has made incredible discoveries concerning the human cell and DNA. Our bodies are much more complex than we realize. Astronomy teaches us that there is a much bigger universe out there than our eyes can see with even the most powerful telescope. From just these two disciplines we learn that there is more to the world than what we can see. I hope this help you keep an open mind to the idea that God is telling us the truth in the Bible about a spiritual world that is beyond our senses.)
What is demon possession as we find it in the Bible? It is to be taken over, enslaved, and controlled by evil supernatural forces. As we look at the cases of demon possession in the Bible there are several things we notice: 1) The people tend to have disregard for personal dignity in nakedness. 2) They often engage in destructive behaviors. 3) They are often uncontrollably angry. 4) They (the Demons) recognize the authority of Jesus and react with hostility. 5) The demons speak in a voice different from that of the person they occupy. 6) They often have extraordinary strength.
Now, enter into the world of this man. This possession made him an outcast. He was violent and had terrified the people in town. He was so terrifying that they kept him chained and under guard. He was so strong that he broke the chains and escaped to the caves outside of town. These caves may have been used as burial sites. [picture]
Don’t miss the horror of this man’s life. I wonder if he recognized the uncontrolled nature of his life. I wonder if he was held hostage inside his own body. He was a person people pointed at, feared, and made fun of. He was dismissed as crazy. No one took him seriously. He is the kind of person we want to “put away” so that we do not have to deal with him. He was condemned to an animal-like existence. Regardless of how the man came to be demon possessed I shudder to imagine the horror of his life.
Now picture this man in a cave watching as the boat containing Jesus and the disciples moved toward shore. As the boats lands the demoniac charged toward them in a way that would terrify even the stoutest of heart. Imagine being a Quarterback with a 300 pound linebacker running toward you in his football gear and you aren’t wearing any protective equipment. Or imagine a large pit bull angrily charging at you with his teeth barred. This is what it must have been like for the disciples.
Jesus however, did not react with fear. He was confident of His power over the spirit world and stood waiting for the man.
When the demons in the man saw that this was Jesus they stopped charging and brought the man they had taken over to his knees. The demons said, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Remember, the book of James tells us that “even the demons believe and tremble.” (James 2:19)
Don’t miss the significance. The army of demons that were in the man bowed before the authority of the Son of God. Satan is powerful and he seeks to do us harm, BUT, he must still submit to the authority of the Lord! There is nothing, nothing, nothing, that is outside the authority of the Lord! It is an important reminder that there is nothing in your life or mine that He cannot overcome.
The Unfortunate Pigs
The next part of this story leaves us filled with questions. Jesus asked the man his name and he told Jesus his name was Legion because many demons (we don’t know how many some suggest 2000 because of the number of pigs) had gone into him. Why did Jesus ask his name? We can only guess. One suggestion is that Jesus did this for the benefit of those who were present so they could identify the man’s problem. He wanted people to see that this was not a bad man . . . he was possessed. Maybe this object lesson was Jesus’ way of preparing the community for the man’s restoration to normal life. Also, by identifying the fact that there were many demons Jesus showed that He has authority even over an army of demons.
The gang of demons knew Jesus was going to cast them out. They knew that the heart of the Lord would lead Him to rescue this man. They knew they could not stand before the Holy One of God and they deserved His judgment. They accepted these facts and asked that they not be sent into the Abyss, or the place of the dead. Interestingly, the deep water of the Sea of Galilee was also called the Abyss.
Jesus, for some reason, granted the request of the demons. So the demons entered the pigs and we are told the whole herd rushed down a steep hill and went into the water and drowned. Mark is the one who tells us how many pigs there were (2000).
We are filled with questions, aren’t we? Why did the demons want to go into the pigs? Why did the pigs run into the sea? What happened to the demons after the pigs went into the sea? Is the message that the demons could not escape judgment? Did this have something to do with Jewish food laws? We don’t have answers to these questions.
John Calvin suggested that the demons caused the pigs to run into the sea in order to turn the townspeople against Jesus. He suggested that Jesus allowed the demons to go into the pigs in order to test the townspeople to see whether they valued people over profit. It’s a plausible suggestion.
Whatever the answer to these questions we cannot be overly sidetracked. Our focus needs to be on the man who had been a prisoner in his own body and the man who set him free. Look at the change in the man. In verse 34 we are told that when people came out to see what had happened they found the man “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind.” Jesus had given the man’s life back to him.
What a wonderful deliverance! What a powerful Savior! Can you see that this man’s story is really our story? If we see ourselves through the lens of God’s holiness we see that we too were naked and imprisoned by the power of sin. On the cross, Jesus did for us as He did for the demoniac. He silenced the accusations of the Devil. He satisfied the demands of justice. Our sin debt was erased and we were set free. We who were once imprisoned and tortured were given our lives back.
Two Different Responses (38-40)
The story continues with the different responses to what Jesus did. After the pigs were lost in the sea (which would have been a significant financial loss) the owners of the pigs ran to town and told everyone what had happened.
Let’s stop here. What do you think these men reported? Did they talk about their great losses or did they report the great miracle? Did they talk about the superiority of Christ or did they talk of Jesus as one who was destroying their economy? Human nature being what it is (we tend to see the world as if everything revolves around us) I suspect their report was negative. They were angry rather than grateful.
When the people came out of town (did they come out as a lynch mob or as curious onlookers?) They saw the crazy man. He was no longer crazy. The man who had terrorized the townspeople was now dressed and sat before Jesus soaking up every word He taught. This man responded to Jesus with gratitude and devotion.
The people reacted differently. Instead of celebrating the deliverance of this man we are twice told the townspeople were afraid (35, 37). The first time the word used indicates they had a fear that made them want to run away. The second time we are told they had mega-fear. They were afraid of Jesus. They were undone by His great power. Rather than find security in His power, they asked Him to leave! They told the Son of God that He was not welcome in their town.
The Demoniac begged Jesus to let him go with them. He wanted to become part of the apostolic band. Maybe he was afraid of a relapse when Jesus departed. Maybe he simply wanted to spend more time with the One who had changed his life forever.
These responses are the same we see in the world. Some people feel threatened by Jesus. They don’t like the way He exposes their sin. They are afraid of His authority. They will do everything they can to get Jesus to “leave”. They enact laws, they write books, they slander His precious name, they hold public rallies, and they ridicule His followers. Their goal is simple: they want Jesus to leave them alone.
Others recognize that the Lord Jesus as the one who has set them free. They respond to His power by running to Him. They submit to His authority and want to walk with Him the rest of their lives. Jesus tells us the same thing He told the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” The Lord tells us to give our testimony, to tell others about the transformation that has come to us because of Jesus.
I think there are a number of important lessons in this text. I have four. First, we are reminded that Satan and Demonic power are real. I wonder if the whole pig massacre was designed for the express purpose of driving home this point. Were it not for the pigs people might conclude that Jesus simply healed a man who wasn’t really possessed, just mentally troubled. The rushing of the pigs into the Sea showed that this was something supernatural going on.
We don’t know how the man came to be demon possessed but the Bible warns us repeatedly not to dabble in the occult. Séances, fortune telling, astrology, and Satanism are all extremely dangerous. When you get involved in such things you are inviting demons into your life. If you are involved in such practices you need to stop immediately. Turn to the Lord and ask for His healing and His protection!
We should respect the power of the demonic while at the same time remembering that demons are not equal in power to the Lord . . . they are under His authority! As believers in Jesus Christ we need not fear the Devil! We should be cautious and respectful of the Devil and his army but we need not be afraid. As John wrote, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Second, we are reminded that some problems are supernatural in nature. I do not want you to think that I believe every psychological problem is a case of demon possession. However, sometimes the problem is spiritual. It may be the result of demonic influence, it could be caused by guilt (Satan is the accuser of men), or an unforgiving attitude, jealousy or any number of other things that are spiritual problems. We need to consider the possibility that a problem may not be physical. When you feel tormented or enslaved turn first to the Lord and seek His deliverance. You might even ask others to pray for you.
Third, this passage is a message of hope even to those who seem most hopeless. It is sad that there are many who are more upset by the pigs that died than about the man who was possessed. Animals are certainly wonderful gifts from God, and we should care for them, but this passage reminds us that animals are not people. Jesus valued people above animals.
There are many people in the world, and maybe in this congregation today who feel like the demoniac. They would love to be loved as much as someone’s pet. Unfortunately, they believe they are beyond hope. They feel trapped in life and maybe believe their life is out of control. They have been pushed aside by society and they believe there is nothing that can be done.
Perhaps as you sit here or listen to this message on the radio you wonder if the grace of God could possibly help you. Read this story very carefully. Jesus got into a boat, crossed the Sea of Galilee (facing a storm in the process), he cast out the demons from the demoniac and then got back in the boat and sent back across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came all that way for one man whom the world had tossed aside!
Does Jesus care about you? You bet He does! Jesus came all the way to earth for you. He went all the way to the cross just to prove His love for you. Does Jesus care about the homeless, the poor, and the imprisoned? Does he care about those with learning disabilities? Does Jesus care about those who made big mistakes in their lives? He does. And this story proves it.
If you feel like you are one that has been cast aside or labeled by society, understand that Jesus sees you differently that the rest of the world. He does not focus on your failures, your limitations, or flaws. Jesus focuses on your potential! He sees what you were created to be. He sees what you can become through His transforming grace and the power of the Holy Spirit He gives to all who believe.
Don’t send Him away! Welcome Him. Turn to Him. Surrender to Him. Like the demoniac sit before Him, learn everything you can from Him and being willing to follow Him anywhere. Jesus can make us new. It is His transforming power, rather than our well-intentioned resolutions, that will set us free.
Finally, it follows that if Jesus looks past the scars in people . . . we as His followers, should do the same. It is easy for us to push the poor, needy, and the hungry to the side in our lives. It is tempting to ignore the pain in the world. But that is not what we are called to do. Jesus encourages us to feed the poor, visit the imprisoned, take care of widows and orphans. He wants us to help relieve suffering in other parts of the world in His name.
I wish I could give you a plan for how we can do that in an effective manner. I don’t have such a plan. Maybe you do. And if you do, maybe we can work together to reach out to hurting people in the name of Christ. What I am sure of is that we must value people more than things. We must pray that God would help us to not look past those who have been pushed aside by the rest of the world.
Jesus showed us something important in this account. If we truly want to walk with Jesus . . . we need to learn to respect and rely on His power. We must see the world and those who are in the world, with His eyes. If we do this we will learn to treasure those around us even as we learn to trust Him even when the dogs are coming after us.