Luke 8:26-30 “They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 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. 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!’ 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. Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him.”
You will see that this incident occurs as the second of four manifestations of the power of Jehovah Jesus recorded by Luke. We have been shown his power over creation in the stilling of the storm. His power over the devil is manifest in the incident before us; his power over disease in the healing of the woman in the next chapter, and finally his power over death in the raising of Jairus’ daughter. All this encourages us to be lost in wonder, love and praise; “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”
The great question the world addresses to this incident is whether it actually occured. Is it historical? If it is a pious fiction then we are in the realm of Santa Claus delivering presents to everyone or St. George killing the dragon. Then let’s not waste our time thinking about it. Bertrand Russell wrote a book called, Why I am Not a Christian. He was the Richard Dawkins of my father’s generation, a welcome frequent speaker on the BBC even in those days, though it was not by atheism that he became a millionaire. That took our more affluent and anti-Christian age for Dawkins to achieve. Lord Russell referred to the incident before us (which is chronicled three times in the New Testament) as one of the reasons he rejected the Lord Jesus. Russell judged the incident to be unbelievable. Upper classes and the Oxbridge secular mind would, but the ordinary people of our land certainly believe in the devil. We certainly have no time for irrationality and gullibility; that is as great an enemy of Christianity as atheism, yet consider some facts;
i] Let’s acknowledge sadly that the 20th and 21st centuries is also a most credulous age, quite medieval in its gullibility and superstitions. We live in the age of the loony. I have been dealing with a woman who sees a ghost living in her council house. A child will claim to see a vision of a woman dressed in blue speaking to her and soon there are thousands going on pilgrimage to that place. Let’s be careful lest we see the supernatural in every act of bizarre behaviour.
ii] We are living in an age in which millions of people every week soberly claim to have communication with the dead. They get predictions from being the grave; messages are received and advice given and acted on, directing them in how they should live their lives. They believe they are being helped by spirits from the ‘other side.’ We are persuaded that much of the world of seances and fortune telling is quackery, but it is quackery with a sinister and a sometimes inexplicable flavouring. We are unable to casually dismiss the possibility of dark spiritual forces.
iii] We are also living in a world that plays with spiritual powers. It claims not to take them seriously and yet it makes Hollywood movies about them, and buys by the million Stephen King novels concerning the activity of demonic powers. But also there is this, that a fascination with the devil and demons has gone beyond escapism and taken on an avant-garde air; there is widespread innuendo and suggestion about the reality of the spirit world. There are those who dabble in the occult and play games with Ouija boards. There are educated people drawn into that world, not working men, and they are trying to be cute – cute about the devil. You know the current controversy in France that its president Nicolas Sarkozy is demanding the withdrawal from French bookshops of a voodoo doll in his image (complete with a set of pins). It is being sold alongside a manual on how to put the evil eye on the President.
iv] This is also a period when the most unspeakable wickednesses have been perpetrated – genocide, massacres, the abuse of children, suicide bombings on the London Underground and on double decker buses, cannibalism, torture and assassinations. People are looking with concern at the newly elected president of the USA aware of the hatred of evil men towards those of another race. In my own lifetime I have seen the rise of Hitler’s Germany (one of the most educated and cultured nations in the history of the world) with 12 million deaths and Stalin’s Russia with 40 million, and Mao’s China with 60 million.
We are not talking about things that happened 2000 years ago in the Middle East, nor of the events that have happened in recent times in distant places like Rwanda and Cambodia, but men and women of our own continent, and within the borders of our nation. Have not the wild dogs of wickedness been let loose on our land? As this is so, why should this incident describing a single man harming himself under the power of dark influences be unbelievable? Are there not actions in our horrific and destructive world which indicates the activity of a diabolical wickedness? If there is no devil behind some of this then someone with a different name is running his affairs. I say that earnestly and soberly, and would you not be foolish people to dismiss out of hand such a judgment?
The testimony of the Bible is that some occult phenomena are real enough. Please don’t make fun of them. They are the products of beings or creatures which are normally invisible to man, which possess subtle powers. Their activities in the moral and ethical realm are immense. There is the spirit of an age which can sweep swiftly around the globe in some uncanny way. What is acceptable and desirable in Scandinavia today becomes blase in Argentina tomorrow. America sneezes and Wales catches the cold. Drugs, sexual aberrations, fashions, abortion, body piercing, homosexual and lesbian ‘marriages’ and bishops, sensual music can sweep the planet overnight. The devil is the god of the global village, a king of darkness, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience. Of course, Christians are not to fear the visible activities of demons so much as they should fear temptations to sin, but, take heed, we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand preternatual phenomena. That is why Luke records this incident in such detail, and both Matthew and Mark also. They probably knew this man well. “Reckon on the devil’s doings,” they say, “but more so, reckon on the One who has come to destroy his works.”
1. HOW THE DEVIL IS ACTIVE TODAY.
When the Son of God appeared in Galilee there was a massive outbreak of demon possession. It became less evident during the apostles’ time and ever since. We rarely come across this phenomenon during our lives, but we find little comfort from that fact because the devil is not idle. The New Testament makes three things absolutely clear:
i] Men who have not received Jesus Christ into their lives do not have God as their Father. The Lord Jesus spoke to the men of his day and said, “You belong to your father the devil” (Jn. 8:44). It was in their implacable hatred and resistance to Christ that they displayed the family likeness. They were of course utterly indignant at his words. They thought they were religious and moral folk who belonged to the right ethnic group, and so they were safe. “No,” said Jesus, “to your father the devil you belong.” You look indignant; “Are you saying that I am too much under the devil’s sway?” Yes, and what if I am right?
ii] Men who do not follow Christ follow the ways of this world “and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephs. 2:2). The devil says to you, “Don’t believe in my existence. Laugh at me. Ignore the Bible.” 21st century man has no place for religion so why should a weakling like you buck the trend and resist Satan? A live fish can swim upstream, but a dead fish is swept out to sea. When Satan says, “Have no regard for your soul. Don’t think of the Creator and of your own death,” then you will follow his advice because you are the unthinking followers of this ruler of darkness, while all the time you are boasting of just how independent and free-thinking you are – “not like those poor Christian yes-men.” In fact you are a lot of sheep. What Isaiah said has come true, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way!”
iii] Men who can’t see the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are in darkness for this reason, “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cors. 4:4). The devil just uses silence and simplistic slogans even single words such as ‘science’, ‘evolution’, ‘religion,’ and so blinds unthinking men’s minds so that when they hear such words of life and hope as these, “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” they hear nothing at all! “It’s not for me,” they say. They cannot see truth until that blindfold is removed by sovereign grace.
So, my point is this that few men are demon-possessed, but all men show a family likeness to the devil; they follow his ways while he works in their lives, and they are blinded to the true beauty of Christ. Those of you who are not Christians here today, this is your condition – if it is true that God is the author of the Bible, and Jesus Christ is his Son. That is my only premise for saying these things. If God lives then you’d better believe it. You are in a far worse predicament than you thought you were in, and I would be a quack and not a physician of souls if I sought to heal you with a few bland words and an aspirin of religion. Only the life and death of God the Son Jesus Christ can save you from spending eternity with your father the devil and all his hosts. This incredible incident that we have begun to examine today has been written by the Holy Ghost to educate you but more than that, to deliver you from Satan. Listen carefully to this portion of Scripture.
2. WHERE THE LORD JESUS CAME ASHORE.
The storm on the lake failed to drown the Lord of creation and the boat reaches the other side, the region of the Gerasenes – well, that is what the N.I.V. decides is the best translation. You can see the variants in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. The scribes who copied the manuscript of Luke couldn’t agree about the correct name of this place. Gerasa, Gergasa or Gadara. We are so used to referring to the man as the ‘Gadarene’ demoniac that surely I shall slip into that designation as I speak. So what do we know about Gerasa on the south-east side of the sea of Galilee?
i] This is Jesus’ first foray into Gentile territory. It had never been Jewish territory. It was called the ‘Decapolis’ which means ‘Ten Towns’ even though different writers in the ancient world couldn’t agree which were the ten towns being included. So it wasn’t Jewish land and the people weren’t Jews and this explains the fact that they were pig herders. You mustn’t imagine the big domestic white sows and boars we see today. Breeding over two thousand years has considerably enlarged the pig. You must think of snuffling herds of pigs the size of terriers, who like the dogs of that day would scavenge and devour anything they came across including their own vomit. To the Jew the pig was unclean. So unclean Decapolis was a region without the influences of Old Testament covenants, laws and promises. There was no Sabbath rest in Gerasa, no sacrifices and no hope of a Messiah coming to save them and bruise the serpent’s head. This was the dark pagan world where the devil roamed freely, holding the people captive.
ii] It was an area that had been overrun by the Romans for a century. The legions were the single greatest influence there. They were in charge. What they said was done. The people of the Gerasenes were a subjugated people. If they cruised along with the Romans they did all right by the occupying forces, and so local politicians, tax-collectors, servants, garrison-suppliers, and prostitutes prospered. These Roman soldiers marched and fought on a diet of salted pork supplied by the local pig-farmers. Most people were dependent on Rome and yet hated Rome at the same time – “Go Home Rome.” Rome was the devil in their eyes. They were enslaved to Roman might.
iii] Jesus came to the unclean heart of this unclean land. He arrived at the very burial grounds where the bodies of the people who had lived their sad hopeless lives in this place ended up. Jesus was confronting dying and death. A graveyard was also considered a place of contamination to a Jew. Contact with the dead or with graves made a person unclean. So this man who comes scuttling out from amongst the tombs (v.27) is as unclean as you can get.
So we are saying that the man named Legion lived in the worst possible environment. There was no word of God there. There was no freedom there. It was a place of death and uncleanness. You might be tempted to think that there would be no hope for people who lived in a place like that. But the Lord had ordered his disciples to take him to that very place, in the vestibule of hell, away from the great crowds listening to him in Galilee.
3. THE STATE OF THE MAN WHOM THE LORD CHRIST MET.
The man who lived in this benighted place had inherited all its ignorance, but he was not a typical inhabitant of the Gerasenes. He was, in fact, amongst the most evil and depraved of men who lived there, and thus he had opened himself to the entrance of Satan’s hosts. When he ran to Christ he was a fearfully ruined man. The Lord had allowed Satan to half kill this man. How much is he allowing Satan to ruin your life? How much do you allow Satan to ruin your life? In Enfield, Massachusetts, on Sunday July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards addressed a congregation and spoke to them to such effect that a remarkable impression was made on all his hearers. The sermon was later called, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards at one place in his message said this of the state of sinners:
“The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as his goods (Lk. 11:12). The devils watch them; they are ever by them, at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens it mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.” Strong words, but true. Consider the state of this man:
i] Legion was in chains. What signs of this man’s enslavement to evil influences. He couldn’t say, “I’ll go down to the lake and wash. I’ll make a fire and boil some water and shave. I’ll beg for some clothes and get a job and go in a new direction.” He couldn’t because he was a servant of wickedness. His life was dominated by evil. He was a pawn in the hands of sin, and so he was uncontrollable. He never had a plan for a single day. When he got up in the morning he didn’t think, “How best can I live my life, and use my talents today?” He never thought like that. He existed minute by minute; he didn’t live. You think of that great indictment in Galatians 3:22 “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.” So much for your boast to be a free man, sinner! Without Christ you are a slave to unbelief.
ii] Legion was alone. He “had lived in the tombs” (v.27). You may live with your family – not this man. You have friends to greet you – not this man. People don’t run away when they see you coming – they did from this man. His companions were dead bones. His home was a sepulchre. No one else went near the place. Did they drive him away at funerals, throw stones at him and setting their dogs on him? They didn’t want him coming near to them when they brought the dead there. He was the total outsider; the absolute loner, isolated from the rest of humanity.
iii] Legion was possessed by demons. When Christ asked him, “‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion,’ he replied (v.30) That is a fascinating and revealing reply. Had this man become obsessed with the marching armies going through his country, totally dominated by that image? For him that was strength; that was the climax of the human achievement; that was the end of the isolated life, marching in step with others. But now a troop of preternatural aliens had penetrated and taken over his very humanity. Did he know that he himself had become an occupied person? “My name is Legion.” “That name also tells us that he was an outpost of demonic activity in this world. Perhaps, in this military language, we are meant to catch the fact that Satan’s opposition to the kingdom of God is not haphazard but ruthlessly well organised” (Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, p.65). The hosts of hell are marshalled for battle. The kingdom of hell is not an unruly mob. Is there not some reference to demonic unity in this name? It is a sickening thought that while Christians frequently quarrel we never hear of devils doing so. The Church of God is divided, but the kingdom of darkness appears to be one. Here is the force of Satan. It is not omnipotent, and it is not omniscient, and it is not omnipresent, but it is united and organised. In unity there is strength.
We are often afraid of the devil, but he is never afraid of us. We are told that the Lord cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, but in this man there was an aggregate of evil forces who had taken up common possession in his life and were controlling him. There was a military unit called a ‘telos’ consisting of 2,048 men and this may be the body being referred to. A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 foot soldiers, as well as 120 horsemen. Surely this man must have watched the legions of Roman soldiers marching by, hour after hour? What organisation! What relentless military might! Now an abundance of alien powers had invaded his own life.
iv] Legion was self-destructive: from Mark we learn that “he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (Mk. 5:5). Was he trying to drive out the demon spirits? Was he displaying his hatred of the divine image in which men are made? Satan would destroy anything of God’s likeness. Isn’t that a mark and focus of devilish activity, to mar and distort the likeness of God? Think of people today who mysteriously inflict injuries on themselves with razor blades. I don’t think they do this under demon influence. Some of them sit and listen to me week after week. What a mystery that you can feel such self-loathing. I brought one home in the last couple of year to bandage his wounds, so cross with him. “Why didn’t you call me?” “I’m sorry,” he kept repeating. “I’m so sorry.” I don’t think the devil is behind except in the most general of ways, but we can bring into the kingdom of God with us such a legacy of self-loathing. This man in the tombs cut himself with stones. Don’t you see this attitude in some of those who pierce their bodies, or who are trapped into some eating disorders, or who will cover themselves all over with tattoos? Are there not multitudes of men and women who, in the name of the god who has them in his grip, so hate themselves and others that they will put on a waistcoat or a corset of dynamite? They will get on a bus full of families and pull the string blowing themselves to pieces and killing many others. They will do this to serve their god and in assurance of the sensual delights with which he will reward them.
Paul says, “There is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (I Cor. 8:4-6). There is only one true and living God, but in the name of one of those dark powers that fiercely grip men they will kill themselves and kill others. This poor man, Legion, servant of Satan, hated himself. His condition was incurable. He lived his life in hopelessness, anguish and despair.
v] Legion had superhuman strength: “though he was chained hand and foot, and kept under guard, he had broken his chains” (v. 29). There are people all over the world, some who are involved with the occult and others who are adherents of eastern religions who can perform perplexing feats of strength. They seem insensitive to fire. They can endure heavy rocks being placed on their chests, and allow wires to pierce their hands and cheeks. They can endure days without food or drink; they can be buried alive for weeks.
This was the state of the man who lived in the tombs in Gerasa. Now we don’t all live in places like that. None of us is from a home like that, and none of us is demon-possessed like that man. You see, you can allegorise this historical incident, and you can say that the Gerasene demoniac is the sinner, a type of 21st century sinner, and before we know where we are we are saying to every man and woman – even to the middle-aged ladies of the utmost decorum – we are saying to them, “There you are in the tombs, demon possessed, slashing yourself, utterly unclean.” That is not the message that comes from Gerasa. This man is not ‘Everyman.’ This man is not your run-of-the-mill sinner. This man is what he is said to be, literally, possessed by a legion of spirits. He is not even one of the many demon-possessed men and women who came to Jesus for deliverance during those three years of his ministry. This man is the very worst of them all. A legion of demons had nested in him. This is highly unusual in the New Testament.
Legion is abandoned. He is defiled. He is self-destructive. He is derelict. He is beyond the pale. He has abnormal strength. That is what he is. In this incident he does not stand as the spiritual symbol of the ordinary sinner. He stands in Luke 8 as the sinner in the pits, as far from God as a man can be, as far from men as a man can get. His mind, and will, and body all fiercely depraved. He is the extreme. He is thrown out of bad company; his own brothers and sisters disown him. His behaviour has destroyed family ties. It is this man who came from the tombs to meet Jesus. If ever there could have been a man whom Jesus would refuse it would have been this man. If there had been a sinner whom God on this earth would reject it would have been this man. He was down there with the chief of sinners. He is in the same category as the prodigal son, as Saul of Tarsus, as John Newton, as Colonel Gardiner, as David Berkowitz, the so-called ‘Son of Sam’ but now the ‘Son of Hope. These are not ordinary sinners; they are men on the lowest rung of the ladder. He comes from the cesspool of uncleanness to Jesus. He comes from the vilest forms of self abuse to our Lord. He comes from being utterly abandoned by mankind to Christ.
You can imagine how the angels of heaven surveyed this scene, how all of heaven had seen their Lord sleeping in the boat, waking, rebuking the winds and waves and continuing his journey to the other side of the lake, and then this man comes to greet him as he steps ashore – this evil man. All heaven wonders, “What is the Lord going to do with this one?” And they are debating amongst themselves, “Is he the worst? Do you think he is the worst? Was Saul of Tarsus the worst? Was it King David? Was it the prodigal son, or was it this man in Gerasa?” Will John Newton be worse? Will Augustine? Was Legion worse than the ‘Son of Sam’ in his prison cell in New York state today, a man who killed six people and hurt more? The angels are discussing such a scenario wondering what the Lord Jesus will do with this wretched evil man. “Surely he won’t take this man?”
What did men do to him? They took him to the graves. They chained him hand and foot. That is all they could do. Perhaps they thought they were being humane in not stoning him to death, or drowning him, or burning him at the stake. They let him live, but they sought to secure and restrain him. That is all they could do. Nobody in Gerasa could do anything to help him. They couldn’t send for anyone in the world. All mankind looked at this man and they were impotent. “Chain his hands and chain his feet. Put him in restraints. Let him live in the tombs.” That was the best suggestion they could make.
What are the prospects of this man without the intervention of the Son of God? They are nil. They are worse than nil. This man is going to be destroyed for ever. This picture of him in the tombs is fearful enough, but who can describe his state in hell? From demons within him to demons all around him and no deliverance. His appearance before Christ presents us with this scene: demonic depravity is meeting the King of Grace. But who could describe the scene of what might yet happen to him, meeting death the king of terrors, and joining the prince of darkness for ever?
Samuel Porter Jones died a hundred years ago, an American Wesleyan evangelist who preached plain vivid sermons seeking to bring to bear the issues of sin and redemption through Christ on the people of the southern states as they slowly recovered from the Civil War. He used blunt homespun language and addressed the consciences of his hearers. He once told his congregation in the Cincinnati Music Hall this incident. An Alabama minister was called to a field hospital in the Civil War to visit his badly wounded brother. The dying man was an atheist and he refused to talk “about religion.” He said again and again, “Don’t trouble me now, I’m in such pain.” Then Sam Jones tells what happened:
“It was the sixth night for this preacher to have sat by his brother’s bedside. Loss of sleep and exhaustion and anxiety had reduced him so much and broken him that, as the wounded brother was lying quietly, around the midnight hour, he said to himself, ‘I will lie down on the cot and rest for a few moments. I won’t go to sleep. I see my dear brother is very low.’ And he said, ‘I lay down on the cot but in a moment I was sound asleep.’ While asleep he dreamed that his brother breathed his last, the mouth of the corpse wide open in death. Just as soon as the soul left the body he saw in this dream of his the devil come in and approach the bed, walking up to his dead brother, and looking down, knowing that soul and body were no more united. The preacher said: ‘In my dream I thought that when the soul of my brother left his body it hid among the stack of wood that I had piled up by the fire to keep the flames going. The devil scented the soul, and started moving around to my brother’s hidden soul. As the devil approached that hiding place the soul flew out of the room; crying ‘Lost! Lost! Lost! Lost! And,’ said he, ‘in the distance I heard the wail of my brother’s soul as it hurried out of the reach of the devil, and I could hear the shrieks and screams of my brother’s soul as the devil fastened his talons into it forever and ever.
When I woke up, agitated and frightened, the light had gone out, and,’ said he, ‘I jumped up and lit the lamp. I walked up to the bed. There was my poor brother, dead, lying there . . . with his mouth open. I believe God shut my eyes in sleep to show me the scene that presented itself in that room.’” That is simple vivid preaching on death, and sin, and the devil, and eternity. Samuel Porter Jones was speaking on the appointed judgment that lay not only before Legion after his death, and this wounded soldier, but lies also before all of us too, to awaken us, let we go where the beast and the false prophet spend eternity, to dwell with all those who have no time for the Son of God.
This man in Gerasa came to Jesus Christ. No one else could help him. What could deal with this man? What can deal with you? Nothing but the power of the Lord of glory. Only he can rescue and redeem and save man. The one who can speak to the winds and waves and they obey him, he can speak to the power that is destroying your life and deliver you from that. It is all by the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who trust in him. The Lord who saves us is the Lord who will keep us and without him our life will be ruined and eternity spent with all those who oppose and hate the Lord of glory. O that your eyes were enlightened to see the problem and appreciate its depths, and then to know the power which holds us, which will never let us go!
9th November 2008 GEOFF THOMAS