This is an edited manuscript of my sermon for February 15, 2015. It’s based off of Luke 8:26–39 As we come to the end of our Journey towards Lent we meet Jesus as he sails into Gentile territory. I have to say, if TV was around back in the first century, this story would probably have been a cross-over episode. Jesus travels away from his usual territory into an area not inhabited by his people, and never even really gets off the beach. It’s like “This week, on The Gentiles, Jesus guest-stars.” Even so, what happens in this passage is important.
Now, the “Gerasenes” actually describes the people who lived in and around the city of Gadara – a city few miles from the southeast banks of the Sea of Galilee 1. In crossing the Sea of Galilee Jesus was traveling into a fully Roman world. As he got off the boat he was immediately accosted by a demon-possessed man.
Imagine the scene. The disciples were already likely to have been skeptical about the trip, and suddenly this wild-looking man (wearing no clothes whatsoever, by the way) comes screaming out of some nearby tombs. I think I would have been like, “Well, that was nice, let’s get back into the boats, Jesus, this place is a bit much.” I mean, who knows what someone like that could do to you! And yet, the man was not there to threaten either Jesus or his companions. In fact, the man recognizes Jesus’ authority. He proclaims Jesus as the Son of the Most High God and begs Jesus for mercy. The demonic presence didn’t want to be thrown into the abyss (that is, be destroyed). I mean, here it was out in Gentile territory thinking it was safe, and suddenly Jesus showed up. It must have come as quite a shock (though I’m really not at all sympathetic, to be honest).
Luke is quick to tell the readers the man had a back-story. He was more than just “the demoniac.” He’d suffered as he was for many years, and seems to have been repeatedly captured and chained in order to protect the man from himself. Somebody cared about him enough to do that, which makes his repeated escapes into the wilderness all the more tragic.
Jesus asks the demon’s name. Why? Well, it seems he does so to confirm the man’s plight – is this a demonic presence or not? The response comes back in the affirmative when the name Jesus is given is “Legion.” Luke explains that the demonic presence within the man was actually made up of many evil spirits. Confronted with the confirmation of the man’s plight and demonic pleading Jesus actually shows some mercy. The demons are permitted to enter into a nearby herd of pigs (unclean spirits into unclean animals), who then rush off a steep bank and drown in the waters below.
Why did Jesus allow that to happen? All I have is speculation, because Luke doesn’t explain it, but I wonder if Jesus wasn’t giving the demonic spirits both a chance at mercy and enough rope by which to destroy themselves. The demons took both the chance and the rope – and did themselves in. The madness of evil is that it doesn’t know how to cope with mercy and grace, it sees both as weakness. At any rate, the immediate impact is that the former demonic gains back full control of his faculties.
The secondary impact emerges through the men who had been shepherding the pigs. Can you imagine what that must have been like for them to see this wandering Jew speak calmly to a dangerous man, and then all the sudden have your livelihood marching off to its collective death? Probably pretty traumatic! So they went back to the town and told everyone what had happened. As a result the neighborhood freaks out. They all go out to see what had happened (and if the herders were actually telling the truth). What they were confronted with truly frightened them. The Demoniac was sitting at Jesus’ feet (where a disciple would sit), fully clothed and obviously in full control of his mind. Other witnesses came forward and confirmed the story the pig herders had shared, and the people were even more afraid. After all, if Jesus’ first act of healing had led to such huge loss, what might his second act cost the people of the town? They beg him to leave, and he does. The former demoniac also pleads with Jesus to be allowed to travel to Galilee with him, but Jesus refuses. Instead the man is left behind, as a witness (vs. 38-39)
Let’s be clear, this man wasn’t abandoned by his savior, but instead sent back to his home, where he could tell others all the incredible things God had done for him. In this way, a region which wouldn’t even let Jesus off the beach would continue to have a testimony of the salvation God was bringing through the Son. And that’s exactly what the man does – he tells the story of what Jesus did for him to the entire city. What a testimony he had to share!
What’s this to do with us? Of all the people who make up this story I think w’ere most closely aligned with the former demoniac. We’ve experienced, maybe recently and maybe years ago, something which God has done in our lives. Perhaps it was something small, perhaps something huge, but God has done something in our lives which keeps us striving after Jesus. Many of us, like the man in Luke 8, have begged Jesus to be allowed to travel alongside him. We want to be where the “great things” are happening – the great conferences, or festivals, or big melodramatic churches with all sorts of programs – but instead Jesus has told us, “No, you have to stay behind.” We have to stay behind in region where religious devotion is rated far below midget football, cheerleading, and soccer – and somewhere just above clipping one’s toenails. A region where the power of God has been displayed, and has not met a response of fear as much as a stifled yawn. Yet we know Jesus cares for these people. How do we know this? He has come here and healed some as a testimony, and then sent out witnesses to keep the message moving. Those witnesses, are us – as well as all the other churches in the area. We’ve been set here to go out and tell everyone all the things Jesus has done on our behalf. The question is, will we commit to the mission Jesus has given us – or will we stay here, and wait for Jesus to show up again? Amen.
- Yes, I had to look that up. ↩