Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on September 3, 2017
“Demons Dread Seeing Jesus In You”
Scriptures: Luke 8:26-39
According to a 2017 Washington Examiner Poll, 90% of Americans believe in God. At the same time, only 57% of Americans believe in the devil. Talking about belief in the existence of a devil among educated Americans today is deemed social and intellectual suicide. That was no less true in 1947 when Oxford instructor C.S. Lewis expressed his opinion about the devil. Lewis stated, “If, by the devil you mean a power opposite of God, who is self-existent from all eternity. My answer is ‘No. ’ However, I believe in angels and I believe some of these, by the abuse of their will, have become enemies of God.” Lewis continued by warning us of the two opposite errors which people make concerning devils. On error is to disbelieve in their existence. The other error is to believe and have an excessive, unhealthy interest.
Some people might find some intellectual satisfaction in dismissing the concept of devils. As a Christian, I find it intellectually and spiritually unacceptable to disregard the major exorcism accounts in the Gospels (Luke 4:31-37; Luke 8:26-39; Mark 7:24-30; Mark 9:14-29). Because Jesus believed in evil and demons, let us take a closer look at this encounter between Jesus and the Gerasenes demoniac.
Read Scripture: Luke 8:26-39
A man often walked through the cemetery on his way home from work. One night, unaware that a new grave had been dug along his path, he tumbled in. For some time he struggled to get out of the 7-foot deep hole. Finally, he gave up and settled down for the night. A few hours later, a farmer who was out possum hunting was walking through the cemetery and he, too, fell into the grave… unaware that anyone else was already in the grave. The first man listened for a few minutes and then reached over, laid a hand in the farmer’s shoulder and said, “You can’t get out of this grave.” But the farmer did!
To the Jewish people of Jesus’ day, merely touching a grave was a sacrilege that left the offender unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16). The demoniac of the Gerasenes lived in a graveyard. He did not just wake up one day to discover, “Hey… I’m demon possessed!” Nor had he been born with the condition. Sometime in this man’s life he had made a conscious decision that he wanted to be free:
- Free from God’s influence.
- Free from life’s restrictions and responsibilities.
- Free to do whatever he wanted.
Now, as a man possessed by many demons, he became free. No chains could contain him. Nor was he bound by social conventions. In turn, society no longer wanted him. Sadly, complete freedom cost him more than he ever imagined.
The disciples had successfully sailed across the Sea of Galilee after Jesus had commanded the storm to subside (Luke 8:22-25). As they disembarked from their boat, a wild man, buck naked, comes running up to Jesus and starts screaming at the top of his lungs, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me?” (8:28).
It doesn’t take much insight to realize that this man had serious problems. He was “living in the tombs,” which is the Bible’s way of indicating that his existence was already a living death. The man had been a bizarre fixture in the community for years. His self-destructive behavior and tremendous strength were legendary. There were no drugs to sedate him or mental hospitals to confine him. This man was uncontrollable.
But his condition was more than mental illness, as difficult as that may sometimes be. His trouble was demonic activity. The Greek word for his condition (diamonizomai) means “having many demons for some time.” Some people have a small degree of demonization, perhaps a strong oppression or temptation. But this poor fellow, for whatever reason, had been almost totally taken over by demons. Upon seeing Jesus, he began “shouting at the top of his voice” (v.28) for he knew about Jesus. It is unlikely that the demonized man had ever attended any of Jesus’ meetings, but Jesus was already well-known in the spirit world. These evil spirits understood better than the Pharisees and chief priests exactly who Jesus was – “Son of the Most High God” (v. 28).
Evil spirits spoke through this tormented man, pleading, “I beg you, don’t torture me (Jesus).” Jesus’ mere presence created tremendous spiritual stress within the demoniac. The demons who had made their home within the man for many years, feared losing their grasp. What a paradoxical scene – demons begging the Son of God for mercy!
Jesus asked the man, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, “because many demons were in him” (v.30). Typically, asking a demon’s name was the ancient exorcism practice to acquire control over them. But that wasn’t Jesus’ purpose. Jesus requested the information to better know what was going on in this tormented man’s life. If you imagine the torment a single terrible sin or destructive habit can cause, what would it be like to be bombarded by thousands of them? Ponder the irony of this eerie scene between Jesus and this troubled man: demons are pleading not to be tormented. Yet, they have tormented this man for years. Jesus fully understood the pain, destruction and hopelessness of this demon-possessed man.
The demons recognized Jesus’ power to determine their fate, so the Bible says, “they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss” (v. 31). In the New Testament, “the Abyss” is the place for the antichrist (Rev. 11:7), evil spirits (Rev. 9:1,20), and where Satan will be shut up for a thousand years (Rev. 20:7-10). Knowing Jesus’ identity and power, the demons begged Him to send them into a nearby herd of pigs, to which Jesus consented (v.32).
Upon entering the pigs, a bizarre happening occurs where the pigs stampede down a steep bank into the lake and drown (v. 33). Some people find the destruction of the pigs disturbing and are concerned about the economic loss for their owners. However, neither the pigs’ fate nor the owners’ economic loss is the saddest element in the story. The most troubling aspect is the reaction of the townspeople upon seeing the former demoniac sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed, and in his right mind (v. 35). The man had been the communities’ freakish figure for years. His bizarre appearance, self-destructive behavior and tremendous strength were legendary.
Upon finding the former demoniac clothed and in his right mind, the townspeople acted out of fear rather than thanksgiving. They had witnessed a miracle, but all they saw was the destruction of their pigs. So, the Luke tells us, “All the people… asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear” (v. 37). How tragic! They had witnessed a miracle – a man’s life restored; evil defeated – yet, all the owners of the pigs saw was the destruction of their revenue stream. We may understand owners being upset because of their lost pigs, but how does that compare to a man receiving new life?
What of the rest of the townspeople who “asked Jesus to leave them” (v. 37)? Why were they so afraid (v. 35)? Hadn’t Jesus just removed the community terrorist? What was it about Jesus that prompted the townspeople to insist that Jesus get into His boat and leave? It was the presence of Christ’ holiness that frightened them! Before the healing, the townspeople could point to the demon-possessed man and proudly say, “I’m thankful I’m not possessed like him!” His demoniac’s destructive, abhorrent behavior made their sinful actions look trite. It’s always more gratifying to diagnose the terrible evils other people do and the destruction they cause. But more damaging is the evil and sin that blends into our culture, and deceptively weaves into our own lives.
The townspeople were thankful to Jesus for freeing them from the terror of the local demoniac. However, the last thing they wanted was for Jesus to confront the evil operating in their lives. They recognized how evil plants a foothold in a person’s life in subtle ways; such as pride, power, pleasure, prestige, apathy and despair, each one destroying your relationship with God. After witnessing Jesus’ holy power, they feared that Jesus now would confront their evil. Their only defense was to insist that Jesus leave their community (v.37).
There was one person who was unafraid of Jesus: the man who was once demon-possessed. As Jesus got into the boat to depart, he begged to join Jesus (v.38). That is the transformation which the Holy Spirit causes in us when we see Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Jesus is no longer a stern judge who sends us to hell. Instead:
He is our loving Savior who desires for us to grow in His love and share it.
He is the One who sacrificed Himself on the Cross to rescue us from the clutches of demons, sin and evil which plant fear and destruction in our lives.
He is the One who opens up Heaven to all believers through His resurrection from the dead.
He is the One who will return one day to unite us into His Eternal joy.
Jesus denied his request to join Jesus’ band and gave the former demoniac a more important task to perform, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you” (v.39). The man was ready to perform the commission that Jesus Christ gives to every Christian: “Tell others what I have done for you.”
As Jesus’ boat pulled away from the shore, I envision the former demoniac standing on the Galilean shore waving good-bye. Tears are running down his cheeks into his beard, due to his sorrow at Jesus’ departure. But they also are tears of joy and love. He turns and climbs the steep bluff back to the town in which he will live once again. He begins a new life, not following his own preferred choices. He climbs up the hill to help his own people find the new life which Jesus makes possible. It is the beginning to a new life for a man once known as “Legion” (8:30). He must have performed his mission well because Church tradition tells us that the site of this miracle became one of the earliest Gentile churches. The Holy Spirit transformed the fear of the townspeople into faith in Jesus Christ.
What does the Holy Spirit want to do in your life?