Luke 8:31-39 “And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.”
Our Lord Jesus has determined to cross the Sea of Galilee because there is a man on the other side in desperate need, and so through a violent storm he takes his disciples and they arrive on the other side.
1. HOW THE LORD JESUS RECEIVED LEGION.
The boat silently grounded on the beach on the shore. No heralds jumped out to announce Christ’s presence. No trumpets sounded to tell the Gerasenes that the great King had arrived in their land, but soon enough there’d be a mighty stir. Then a man comes running towards them, but Jesus didn’t run away. What a sight he was, a mass of bleeding lacerations, scabs, infections and scar tissue. Luke tells us that for a long time this man hadn’t worn clothes or lived in a house, and this is confirmed when Luke tells us that after Jesus had delivered him his neighbours found him “dressed” (v.35). He actually had his clothes on. What a figure he presented, dirty, as wild as a bear, a demonic light in his eyes, terrifyingly strong – this man came running to Jesus, but our Lord didn’t run away. When he got right up to Jesus, he was “shouting at the top of his voice” (v.28). That’s so frightening isn’t it? What a confrontation, the King of peace and this wild man. Could he shout! He had plenty of experience. We know from Mark that “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out” (Mk. 5:5). You would lie in bed and then there would come these shattering cries from the hillside; little children would cry. But here he wasn’t shouting in the hills but a mere foot away from the Lord standing before him, but Jesus didn’t run away. Imagine if I shouted at the top of my voice now – really bellowed – how disturbed you would be, and especially the children. How worried the whole congregation would be about me, but though this man was so near to Jesus and shouting at the top of his mouth Jesus didn’t run away.
You remember when the prodigal son – that evil heart-breaker – returned home how his father ran to greet him. Almost as if the Father didn’t want him to change his mind; as if the Father was afraid his son’s nerve would crack at last minute; as if God doesn’t want a returning sinner to give up the attempt in despair, seeing the old farmhouse in the distance and overwhelmed by the mess he’s made of things and turning away, not making it through the threshold. God runs to the returning sinner to prevent any possible change of mind. The father runs because of the sheer joy that’s in his heart – the old legs running to this filthy one, this one stinking of the pigs, this lost one – and God is welcoming you.
It means for you and me today that we can never say, “The likes of me can never be saved.” We can’t claim, “We’re so unique, so extraordinary, so guilty, so depraved, so full of demons, so covered in bruises and wounds and putrefying sores, too far gone for the Lord to want someone like us.” There was the prodigal son, and here is the Gerasa demoniac and those two men are amongst the worst possible scenarios in redemptive history. We are meeting the most abandoned and the most defiant, the most wretched and the most hopeless, and to one a father runs and kisses him, and to the other the Lord stops and listens so kindly. You see the argument? It is from the greater to the lesser. The chief of sinners may approach the Almighty even reluctantly and with hesitation, he may creep to Jesus, but God runs to him and the sinner is gripped with divine arms of love that won’t let him go. So wherever you or I stand today, in the depths of our own abandonment, formerly dabbling in the occult, whatever the wreckage of the relationships that are behind us, however long the trail of human immorality like the trail that a slug leaves on an Axminster carpet, from wherever you’ve been and whatever you are, there is a very short road to God. Jesus won’t refuse to catch your eye; he won’t look away or run away. You cannot save yourself, but Christ can save you. In the 18th psalm David says of the Lord, “He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me; for they were too strong for me.’
You can come to the holy Son of God without any clothes, full of demons, covered in bruises, wounds and putrefying sores, unwashed, shouting at the top of your voice, “What do you want with me?” Come as an unlovely person and an unloved person, and Jesus will not pretend he hasn’t seen you. The demoniac went straight to Jesus! Just as he was, stark naked and deranged by wickedness. Only after Jesus had dealt with him was he clothed and in his right mind. “Naked come to Thee for dress.” If he’d tarried till he was better he’d have never come at all. Our Lord does not call the righteous. Sinners Jesus came to call. All the fitness he requires from you for you to come to him is that you have seen your need of Christ.
2. WHAT LEGION SHOUTED AT JESUS.
Now hear what Legion shouted? “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” (v.28). That’s the craft of Satan isn’t it, to hate and to destroy, and then when summoned before the Lord, to behave like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and whine like a whipped mongrel, whispering, fawning, crouching at his feet, looking into his face and pleading to be left alone? Legion knew that this was Jehovah Jesus. Though the Lord had never been there before, and this man had never seen him, yet the demon-possessed man knew it was Christ. The devils believe and tremble before their God.
In this incident we meet the tensions of two struggling personalities within one torn human being. The man calls the Saviour intimately by his personal name ‘Jesus,’ but notice that he does so at the top of his voice in a kind of howl. It’s just like men today who shout out the name of ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’ as some foul execration, and then can turn on other men, threatening them saying, ‘I know where you live,’ so this demoniac used the name of ‘Jesus’ to try to gain the high ground over Christ. Yet see the difference, because at the same time screaming Legion has fallen on his knees in front of him. Aberystwyth sinners don’t fall at Jesus feet. Not much falling at Jesus’ feet in Aberystwyth on Saturday nights. This demon was wiser than the men who live around us. He was kneeling in homage, and yet at the same time shouting at the top of his voice.
There is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia here. When is it that the man himself is speaking, and when is it that the demons are speaking? Who can tell? He knows that Christ can deliver him because he is the Son of Most High. He knows he is coming to the incarnate God; he runs to him; he kneels before him – that is the man, and yet when he is there he shouts at him, and he is filled with dread at the consequences of deliverance he cries to Jesus, “I beg you, don’t torture me!” (v.28). Surely that is the devil speaking. He fears the torments of hell reserved for him. Yet how strange that the devil should plead, according to Mark in these words, “Swear to God.” Yes! Those are the words he used – “Swear to God that you won’t torture me.” “Take an oath now that you will not torment me!” Maybe it is an ashamed guilty sinner filled with the fear of God who is making the plea. No sinner yields easily to the Saviour. Most men will keep their sins with all their pain and guilt rather than choose new life in Christ. But Legion comes to Jesus Christ, and confesses him, and kneels before him.
What is my point? It is this; how hard it is at times to distinguish between the devil and God. You’re shocked; you think, “Oh, that’s easy to tell.” I don’t think so. The devil can appear as an angel of light. You would swear you’d been listening to a messenger from God, but in fact it’s been the devil masquerading as an angel. You would think that you could tell the difference between a wolf and a sheep, but a wolf can come covered in the fleece of a sheep and at first you’re sure it’s a mere sheep. Peter once pleaded with Jesus not even to think of going to the cross. Standing by, and listening to emotional Peter you might think, “Compassionate Peter! Kind-hearted Peter! Loving Peter! A messenger of God.” It was in fact the voice of the devil using this disciple to deflect Jesus from his mission. No cross; no redemption. No cross; no heaven. “Get thee behind me, Satan,” said Christ to Peter. There are times when it is not easy to discriminate between devil or God. But in areas where we are quite unable to discriminate whether this is of God or the devil in those areas Jesus knows. He will say to many in the great day, “You did many mighty works in my name. How people hung on to your words and said you were the anointed of God, but I knew all along that you were workers of iniquity.”
The harbour master in a little town in Northern Ireland a century ago was a scathing anti-Christian. It was the community in which the evangelist W.P.Nicholson was raised. He would speak to the boys who were on the coal-pier on a Sunday afternoon and tell them they were fools to believe in God, that there was no God. He would challenge God to strike him with lightening, “I dare you to kill and damn me!” he would cry, cursing and blaspheming God in a foul way. Then, when nothing had happened in the following five minutes, he would turn to the teenagers and say, “See, there is no God” as if God would bother with challenges! So he lived his life in scorn of his Creator.
However, infidels, like anybody else, die, and in the long old dying a new note came into the harbourmaster’s speech. He actually could be heard crying to God for mercy – to the God he had defied – and then something of his brash self-confidence would return and his tune would change, and he would damn and curse God again. With one breath he’d blaspheme God, but then with the next breath, as pain and thoughts of the grave brought him low, he’d pray to God. He might yell for mercy, screaming to the God he defied, his shouts heard on the street, but then his tune would change again and his scorn for the thought of God would spout forth. His best hope was that he might be snuffed out, and cease to exist. Think of it! His highest expectation was non-existence, that he might be annihilated. Two great internal powers were at work tearing the man apart, his conscience, God’s great monitor telling us all how we’re to live, and sin dwelling in him.
The people looking after him were wearied by this loud long strife, and they complained to the doctor of his anguish and despair. “Can’t you do something?” they asked, for the man with his anguish of soul had become a nuisance to them. In those days they might give a person a sniff of chloroform, and so this was done, administered to him by the doctor. His striving ceased, and he slept. Was that a help or a final judgment? There was no more striving, and no more crying for mercy from a sin-hating God. Today men and women can be given some kind of injection. These are today’s chains from a world that cannot save; it cannot give hope; it cannot provide deliverance. All it can do is bind and restrain and silence with chemicals. “Put him to sleep!”
3. HOW JESUS REPLIED TO HIM.
Legion knelt and shouted, pleaded for escape from torment, and what is the first thing Christ did? “Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man” (v.29). That is how Luke records it, in such a laid-back manner. He doesn’t build up towards a dramatic exorcism. It’s already happened and Luke doesn’t tell us anything about it. He puts it in the past tense; it’s all over. There was no jiggery-pokery. As Luther said of the devil, “One little word will fell him.” Before he healed his wounds, and washed him, and fed him, and clothed him the Lord Jesus dealt with the wicked power that was dominating this man. That is always Christ’s way, and it must be the way of his church. Before you iron clothes you have to wash all the dirt and sweat out of them. Clean them first, and then smooth out the wrinkles, and so it has to be with you. The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses you from all sin. That guilt has to be removed first and then the rest of your life can be put in order.
“Come out of this man,” Jesus had said to the dominating evil influences, and then Christ focuses on the evil that is destroying this man. “What is your name?” he asks, because the devil knew Christ’s name. “Legion,” he said, and Luke tells Theophilus, “Many demons had gone into him” (v.30). When he says “Legion,” is this the man speaking, acknowledging that he no longer knows who he is? Many a man has come to himself when his self-identity has finally been shattered. He says, “Once I thought I knew everything, but now I don’t even know myself. Who am I? I’m a devil and I’m a man.” Such despairing self-understanding can be the beginning of grace. Or is this the demons withholding their names from Jesus and desperately attempting to thwart his power? We don’t need to know. We just need to know that the Lord Jesus knows, and Christ can deliver.
4. HOW THE LORD JESUS DELIVERED LEGION.
How fascinating is this whole narrative. We are told that Legion now began to plead with Christ, and yet quickly the third person singular becomes the third person plural, “he replied” and soon it is “they begged.” What did they beg? Repeatedly they begged “not to order them to go into the Abyss” (v.31). Their whole destinies hung on the words of Christ. Now let me remind you that God has prepared the pit of hell for the devil and his angels. They are now chained, that is, firmly limited and controlled in all their activity; they all know what judgment awaits them and until that time they will do all in their power to destroy the work of God. That is not some apocryphal yarn. I am referring you to the sixth verse of the letter of Jude; “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these God has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6). All those chains of theirs are fastened to the great white throne of God. If the Lord sees one of his children being tormented by a demon above his ability to bear it then God yanks the chain.
What a great day it will be when for ever these demons will be banished in hell. God will pick them up by their chains and will hold them over the bottomless pit and let them go. There will then be no more tempting and seducing the children of men, no more dressing up as an angel of light to deceive us, no more coming into our Sunday services and distracting us, no more bringing our past sins to our attention, no more disturbing our devotions, no more laying traps for us, no more leading multitudes astray, no more going through Christ’s fields at night sowing his tares. John Bunyan spoke of the ‘Imp of the Perverse’ who would make intrusive thoughts arise under the most spiritual preaching. Think of it! None of that vexing of our hearts and minds again, but Satan and his hosts justly sentenced to be locked into hell’s prison, wrapped up in their chains for ever and ever, hell without end. Little wonder that just the thought of that makes devils fear and fly.
So this is the voice of the demons, and not one of them wants to be driven out of this man. They want to remain there within this man called Legion in Gerasa. “Let us stay here in our nest,” they cry. But Christ can as easily cast out a legion of demons as he can cast out one. They don’t have a vote in the matter. There is the total silence of Christ, and, realising they must vacate the man, they beg Jesus to send them even into the Gerasa pigs. Then they could remain there, staying in the swine, any place better than hell. They got what they desired – the pigs as their hosts. A great herd of 2,000 swine are there and the demons enter them, but they also got what they deserved. The pigs, soon to be slaughtered and eaten, behave like lemmings, immediately rushing down a steep bank into the lake and are drowned. Thus the demons immediately enter that destined place of woe never to trouble this man again.
4. THE JUDGMENT THAT CAME UPON THE DEMONS.
There are a number of lessons to learn from this:
i] Note the destructive malice of these demons; their ultimate goal is to destroy whatever they inhabit. The devil cannot elevate; he cannot sanctify; he cannot purify; he cannot exalt; he can only destroy. Those influences that think it is cute to get involved in the occult then think again!
ii] Note the enormous power that Christ has over thousands of demons. “They begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss” (v.31), they trembled and pleaded and shouted out before him. “Please, please, please, please don’t!” but he did. Who are you dealing with? He is gentle Jesus meek and mild to all who love him, but he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah to everything that is of the devil. He doesn’t say a word to the demons, but they know that from that moment on their reign of damnation over this man was over. Christ the liberator has come. At his nod the devils entered the swine and perished. Sinner, cry mightily that divine Power might save and keep you for ever!
iii] This man’s life had been ruined by these demons. He was a captive to pain and loneliness and shame. Might he not fear a repetition of that terrible life? “Might they not come back and inhabit me again dominating my life and destroying my soul? They know me inside out. Might I not lose this great deliverance?” Christ calms his fears by what happened to the swine. In their destruction the Lord demonstrates that those would never trouble him again. He sends them all into the swine and they are gone for ever. Yes, he would wrestle against principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world as every Christian must, but now, knowing what an infestation of demons can do, and filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, he was prepared for the long battle on his way to glory. Are you prepared? Are you clothed with the whole armour of God?
iv] Why are we not instantly delivered from the temptations and seductions of the devil? Why don’t we know a life freed from the devil’s devices? Because it is not the time. We have to wait until the great day of judgment. This visible destruction of these demons in the life of the demoniac in Gerasa was a pledge to the watching apostles, and a symbol of triumphs over the devil which are yet to come. They will come firstly on the great day of Golgotha (the D-Day of accomplished victory over the devil when Jesus spoiled principalities and powers triumphing over them openly), and finally in the judgment at the end of the world (the V-Day of ultimate victory over sin and Satan). We do not yet see all demons put under Jesus feet, but all are chained to him.
v] The people of Decapolis thought that the Romans were the number one enemy. They wanted to see their legions drowned in the sea. The sea in their minds was the place monsters came from, and Rome was the monster of all monsters. There was only one place for Rome – under the sea. However, the Lord Christ is telling them that our first battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Have you seen that? Our first fight is not with Arab terrorists, or with any kind of imperialism. It is against spiritual wickedness in high places. Your chief enemy is Satan and all his works, and if you don’t destroy him then he will destroy you. Here is a man who shows us what happens when the devil gets hold of a man, how he can make his life on earth a foretaste of hell. Are there not people we know and many we have heard of whose lives are just like that? They disdain our God, and our view of the reality of Satan, and yet what a mess they have made of their lives. Don’t they need deliverance? This great incident tells us who can deliver you from Satan’s power. That is why the Saviour came into the world.
Here is the life of one man. It was a ruined and destroyed life until he met Jesus Christ who delivered him. The Saviour healed him, and yet that Saviour, at the end of Mark’s gospel, is himself going to end his days on earth like Legion. He will be lacerated and bleeding. He is sent by men as an outcast and an outlaw outside the community of living people to a place where a mob shouts vile accusations against his tortured self, taunting and mocking him. He will be crucified, fastened to a cross and torn apart. He ends up dead with a tomb as his home. The wickedness that had fallen on Legion will fall on the Holy One, and all that will be in order that Legion, and millions like him, might be forgiven and washed and cleansed. The Lord Christ came to share the hatred and shame of people whose lives were being ruined. He stood in solidarity with the Gerazene demoniac when he hung on Calvary to save him. He let the enemy do its worst on his own body on the tree, taking the full force of evil, in order that Legion and all his brothers and sisters – you too? Yes sinner you – and me too? Yes me too, that we might be freed and go at last to heaven saved by his precious blood. It was at that very moment on Golgotha that the devil was the happiest he had ever been, having helped to kill the Son of God, and thent Christ cried, “It is finished,” and then Christ sprang upon Satan and his legions and utterly routed them. Hear Satan shriek! The very hour that seemed to mark our Lord’s defeat became the time of his eternal victory. So Satan has been defeated, but let us take a defeated Satan very seriously. He is now more dangerous because fatally wounded, and seeking everywhere whoever he might devour: he is our vigilant enemy.
Deliverance was the gift Christ’s blood had bought which could be freely given to Legion in lieu of Golgotha’s triumph-to-be. It is offered to all the world in the gospel. The power of the new covenant was once evident in Gentile Gesara. The most unclean man in the place was the person who was washed, delivered, justified and sanctified. The no-hoper was transformed by the love of God. It is the pattern we see in the New Testament. The Prodigal Son; Saul of Tarsus – the most cruel of the Pharisees; Simon of Samaria, the leader of the occult in that country; the woman possessed with a spirit of divination in Philippi, the Philippian jailer; those in Caesar’s household in Rome. The men and women least likely in our thinking to be saved are given deliverance and eternal life through Christ alone. So isn’t there hope for you, if you will go to Christ?
You don’t have to slay the lambs any more,
You don’t have to put the blood on the door.
Somebody’s taken the place of the lambs.
He is the great I AM.
Jesus is the great I AM. Jesus is the great I AM.
Jesus has taken the place of the lambs.
Christ is the great I AM.
Break out of your magic circle by entrusting yourself to the Lord Christ alone. Jesus is the only protection against the power of the devil. Trust in him. Sit under his mighty word. Confess that without the blood shed on Calvary’s cross you remain in deep deep trouble. Turn from your sinful ways and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
5. THE JUDGMENT THAT WAS MADE BY THE PEOPLE OF GERASA.
If this were a fairy story, some pious fiction, designed in order for your jaws to drop open and your going glassy-eyed and unthinking about Jesus then you can see it doesn’t end in the right way. If this were a fable then it would end with all the people of Gerasa, seeing this man transformed, clothed, and in his right mind, bowing to the ground before Jesus, every man jack of them becoming a Christian and a big church being planted by the sea with demons cast out every week. That is not what happened. It is not like much of the professing church; it wants to sell Jesus to people, so they advertise him as a problem solver, not a problem creator. They want to picture Jesus as a source of peace in troubled times, not as a cause of conflict. They want to present him as a superb negotiator for troubled communities, not as someone who divides communities, but that is exactly what happened the day Jesus arrived in Gerasa. When the people saw hundreds of dead pigs floating on the surface of the lake, and the former demoniac rational, clear-thinking, sane, pure, sensible and responsible adoring Jesus of Nazareth they were not pleased. They were scared stiff, that is, they had the most unpleasant goose pimples all over their bodies accompanied by stomach cramps. They were short of breath and “overcome with fear” (v.37). They were afraid (v.35). Why couldn’t Jesus have done what he did differently, in a nice private sensible way, taking the man behind a tall pillar out of sight and emerging with him five minutes later a transformed man? Then everyone would have been impressed and interested and they would have brought other people for Jesus to help.
Why was it done like this? Because they needed to know, as you need to know, the scale of the problem facing the whole world. It is a supernatural problem. We are of our father the devil; the god of this world has blinded our eyes. We are battling against the activities of the ruler of the darkness of this world. This is a life or death struggle for our eternities; there are only two doors out of life; one is marked heaven and the other is marked hell, and all of us are going to go through one, and those were the lessons that were brought home to these people. They needed a supernatural and sovereign deliverance, not a little chat with Jesus in private. Jesus came into this world to reclaim it for God and to rescue it from enemy occupation by Satan and his demons. Jesus’ coming arouses mighty resistance from the realm of demons. There never was such demonic activity in this world as when our Lord walked on earth. Jesus’ coming divides people between those who continue to side with sinful powers and those who side with Jesus. So if you enlist in Jesus’ army and follow him, you’d better be ready for conflict. There are great and eternal rewards in following Jesus, but there are also risks and losses. God may give you many blessings, but he may also take away some things and disrupt relationships that are important to you.
The response of the people of Gerasa was a united request to, “Get out!” They were absolutely one in their plea. “All the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them” (v.37), and he did. I didn’t think Jesus acted like that. Maybe you’ve imagined Jesus all of your life as a helpful, harmless person. Maybe you thought he was always weeping and helpless, pleading with people to take him, but here, notice, he didn’t ask them to change their minds. We are told that there was no hesitation on his part; “So he got into the boat and left” (v.37). Have you ever thought that one day Jesus will have had enough of your saying, “Please don’t bother me today, Jesus,” and he’ll stop bothering you from then on. He’ll leave you all to yourself and the devil. If you try to hold on to your own life on your own terms, you’ll lose it. You will forever cut yourself off from the Lord and his blessings. That is a terrible price to pay.
Count the cost of following Jesus, count the cost of not following him. How does it work out? Then count one more cost: the cost to Jesus of coming into this world to rescue you from the devil and to make you his own. If you think the Lord demands a lot from you, keep in mind that he has given far more than he demands. The Jesus who calls us to give up everything for him is the same Jesus who gave up everything for us, and he had a lot more to give up. Jesus left his place in heaven at his Father’s side to become a tiny baby. He gave up his position of power to become a weak human being. He gave up life and he tasted death for us. He did all that for pathetic know-alls like you and me. What have you done for him?
6. THE REQUEST THE MAN MADE TO FOLLOW JESUS WAS REFUSED.
He begged Jesus to take him with him in the boat, but Jesus sent him away. These were his words, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you” (v.39). It was natural for him to want to stay near his great deliverer, but Jesus sent him home, to stand up and take responsibility for himself, and not hide behind Jesus. The transformed demoniac was not one of those whom Jesus told to follow him as a preacher. Let us be contented to be where the Lord has made it plain we must be. Maybe Aberystwyth is not the centre of the universe, but it is the centre of the universe in which the Lord has set our feet. Tell them “how much God has done for you.” What did the man do? Have you seen it? He “told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (v.39). What Jesus does, God does. If you want to tell people what God has done, tell them what Jesus has done. God’s saving power is known in the work of his Son Jesus Christ.
23 November 2008 GEOFF THOMAS