Sermon preached on Luke 8:26-39 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 01/02/2022 in Novato, CA.
Last week I mentioned we had started into a new section that went through the rest of the chapter. It’s a section showing the power and authority of Jesus. Last week we saw Jesus’ power and authority over nature as he calmed the storm. This week we see his power and authority over demons. This again reveals something of the identity of Jesus as God come in the flesh. It also reminds us of the reality that continues to be for us – the reality that there are spiritual forces of evil in this world who are at work against us. We ought not to turn a blind eye to this reality. Yet, as Christians we are also reminded that we have one entirely more powerful than them in our hearts. So then, let us dig into today’s passage as we consider such things.
We begin in our first point to consider the state of this demon-possessed man. The setting from last week’s passage was that Jesus and his disciples were on a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Now, in our passage they land on the opposite side of the lake, in the land of the Gerasenes, opposite of Galilee. Remember, Galilee was the northern territory of Israel. Israelite territory at that time was the region of Judea in the south, with the region of Galilee in the north, with the Samaritans in between in the region of Samaria. But all that Israelite land would all have been west of the Jordan River. At that time, the Jordan River would have been the eastern border of the Israelite regions. The Jordan River flows through the lake in the north known as the Sea of Galilee. And so then, Jesus and disciples had started on the west side of the lake in the Galilee area and taken it to the east side of the lake. This is my long-winded way of noting that they are no longer among Israelite territories. Now, they are in the broader region known as the Decapolis that ran roughly along that eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, including the land of the Gerasenes. This was an area full primarily of Gentiles. Not only does the geography tell us that, but the fact that there was such a herder of pigs here does too, as pigs were were ceremonially unclean to Jews.
So then, Jesus right away encounters this man who was so afflicted and demon-possessed. Notice the poor man’s estate caused by this demon somehow inhabiting him. He was naked. Of course, God had given us clothes after our fall into sin and in our shame and we realized we were naked. So, this man is left uncovered and exposed by the demon. He was also not living in a home but among the tombs. In other words, he is habitating among death. How fitting for a demon to want him to dwell there. It says that this man had been repeatedly seized by the demon in some way, verse 29, which may mean that it was causing him to have some seizures or go into some frenzied fits. He apparently was then giving cause for concern when this happened, either for himself or for others, because it says that they then bound and shackled the man. Yet, in amazing strength he would break the bonds and would run out to the harsh desert or wilderness. So, this man was in a bad place!
So, then we find out that the man’s demon is actually many demons. Jesus asks him his name in verse 30. The demon answers that his name is Legion and then we are told him that many demons were actually entering him. The term of legion was actually a Roman military term. A legion in the Roman army was a force of roughly 6,000 soldiers and 120 calvary. I don’t think the name of Legion for the demons means that the number of demons was exactly 6,000. But surely this is an analogy that there was a mighty force of demons possessing and afflicting this man. The Bible often refers to God’s angels being his heavenly armies. Well, here, this is an army of demons that is afflicting this man. I don’t know why demons would concentrate their afflictions like this on this one man in such a way, but in this circumstance, that is what they did. What a horrible estate to be a man under the attack of such massive spiritual forces.
This leads us then to our second point, to speak of how Jesus heals this man. Notice how the confrontation with Jesus and these demons goes. Look at verse 28. The demons clearly recognize who Jesus is. They call him the Son of the Most High God and begin to beg him for some measure of mercy. Their begging him to not be tormented by Jesus shows that they acknowledge that Jesus is more powerful than they are. Humans had not been able to bind this demon-possessed man, despite their attempts. But Jesus barely shows up and the legion of demons recognizes without a doubt that they had met their match. I’d like to point out how quickly the demons recognize more than what Jesus’ disciples had so far been able to recognize. Remember, in just the last passage we saw them on the boat in awe about Jesus being able to calm the storm. His disciples had asked the right question, of whom would have such power and authority that he could command the wind and waves and they obey him. The disciples had asked the right question, but it is not at all clear that they knew the right answer yet to that question. But the demons know right away who has just came to confront him. The people had feared those demons. But these demons now fear Jesus, and rightly so.
We see them in verse 31 that they beg to not be sent into the abyss. The Greek word here for abyss is literally a bottomless pit. But remember, we saw they were also asking Jesus to not torment them. So, likely we should take these things together. This abyss they are speaking about would be a place where they would be tormented. Indeed, in Revelation 20:3, when it speaks of Satan being bound for a thousand years, he is said to be thrown into an abyss – same Greek word. A few verses later it describes that place as a prison. Then a few verses more speaks of a different final resting place of punishment for Satan, that is, the lake of fire, 20:10. So then, in Revelation the abyss is some form of a prison that a demon could be subjected prior to their final, worse place of punishment.
So, then, this legion of demons pleads to be able instead enter into this large herd of pigs. How fitting that these unclean pigs would house these unclean spirits. Jesus gives them permission to do so. Then, in classic demon fashion, these evil spirits who crave death and destruction go and destroy the pigs, bringing them to their own watery graves. We remember how last passage Jesus saved his disciples from a watery grave, but here the demons bring these pigs to such a death; but I digress. I would note that Jesus giving the demons permission to enter the pigs is a bit of an illustration how God could permit certain evils to be committed by his creatures, without him actually authoring such evils. In this situation, Jesus permitted the demons to enter the pigs, but didn’t cause them to then run all the pigs off the cliff. People have sometimes wondered if Jesus should be held responsible for the loss of the pigs. Let me answer that question for you: no. That the demons did evil and destruction after he permitted them to leave the man into the pigs doesn’t make Jesus accountable for the evil of the demons. Yet, we might wonder what was Jesus’ purpose in permitting this? We’re not told, but God can certainly do more than we might imagine is going on in any one situation. I wonder if part of what was going on here is that these people had been more concerned about their own wellbeing and outward estate, like their livestock business, than about this poor man who had been so afflicted by demons. But ultimately, we don’t know the purpose of Christ in this specific matter about the pigs. But it does remind us of the great evil and power and influence of these fallen angels.
Notice after Jesus frees this man from the evil spirits that his situation is wonderfully reversed. Look at verse 35. The delivered man is now clothed and in his right mind. And I loved that it tells us that he is then sitting at Jesus feet. He has become a disciple of Jesus through his liberation. He is a redeemed soul!
So then, word of Jesus healing this redeemed man gets out. It’s there in verse 34 that word of this miracle spreads to both the city and the country. This is the beautiful parallel and complement to what was recorded in verse 1 of this chapter. That is where Jesus was described as going from city and village among Israel proclaiming the kingdom of God. Now, here in Gentile territory, he did a miracle that testified to the coming of the kingdom of God, and word of that miracle is being spread through the area. This spread word results in what we find in verse 35, that people flocked to Jesus from all over, surely Gentile people, to see this for themselves.
Now, if you recall last week I mentioned the parallels with our passage with Jonah. I mentioned how Jonah was a record against Israel for how they were cold in their response toward God in comparison to many Gentiles who were showing a commendable response to God. I pointed out last week that right after Jesus’ own disciples show a lacking response to truly understand in faith who Jesus is, that in a fitting parallel with Jonah that Jesus would then go to the Gentiles in today’s passage. And yet, sadly, we do not see the Gentiles here in that area responding properly either to Jesus and his ministry. In fact, here these Gentiles show something parallel with Jesus’ disciples in last week’s passage. Both showed fear. The disciples had first feared in a lacking faith the wind and waves. And then after that they were struck with a fear in terms of considering who Jesus must be. These Gentiles also respond in fear. This is said in both verse 36 and verse 37. Frankly these Gentiles have an even worse fear. We can appreciate why the disciples would have a measure of fear when they consider the amazing power and authority of Jesus to exercise control of nature. You can also appreciate why these Gentiles might likewise have great fear when they see how Jesus has power to exercise control over demons. You can appreciate why that would make them afraid, even to be seized with great fear like verse 37 says. But then they handle that fear wrongly by asking Jesus to leave them. That’s when they show a less commendable fear than the disciples had shown. Yes, the disciples were afraid when they saw Jesus power over nature, but yet they stuck with them and kept following him. These Gentiles who apparently didn’t know Jesus well enough, were only terrified at Jesus and so they ask him to leave. And he does.
If we compare the response of these Gentiles to not only Jesus’ disciples but to the people of Israel, we also see a very different reaction. What have we seen so far among Israel as Jesus has done such miracles of casting out demons and healing people? The primary reaction is that Israelites start flocking to Jesus and bringing all their sick and demon-possessed so they can be healed. Of course, that came with its own problems, that people were often more desirous of signs and the value of immediate physical benefits without looking more substantively to what Jesus was bringing for their souls. But that is not what these Gentiles do here. They see the one amazing miracle, get spooked, and ask Jesus to leave. One could have imagined that this could have been the beginning of a great harvest that day for Christ’s kingdom even among Gentiles; but it was not to be; at least not yet.
That leads us then to our third point to consider what Jesus tells this man he freed from the demons to go home and declare how much God has done for them. That is verse 39. Notice what this healed man wants to do. He wants to follow Jesus, verse 38. I could imagine he is asking Jesus for permission to come along with him like the rest of Jesus’ disciples. He granted the permission the demons wanted. He doesn’t grant the permission this saved man wanted. In the wisdom of our Lord, he had a different plan for the man. He was to go home, to his surely Gentile home, and be a witness. He is to tell them all God has done for him in healing him from these demons. You have to love the good plans of Jesus. These Gentiles want him to leave, but Jesus leaves behind one who will now be Christ’s advocate.
There is a small mystery here that is worth noting. Up to this point, Jesus has been giving both demons and people he healed orders to secrecy. For example, Luke 4 mentions several ways in which he silenced the demons before he cast them out because they knew his true identity. And in Luke 5, he is recorded as telling a leper he healed to tell no one about the healing. Yet, in this passage, there is no record of Jesus silencing the demons when they say who he truly is. And then he encourages this healed man to go and speak boldly about how he was healed and delivered. And yet, just in case you think Jesus had changed his policy on this, we see in the last verse of this chapter Jesus again telling someone he miraculously helped to tell no one what happened. Why the difference here in this passage? Well, the most obvious difference in circumstances is that here he is among the Gentiles, not the Israelites. Surely, that is what is motivating the difference. It may be that he is concerned that the Jewish expectations for a Messiah might sidetrack his preaching ministry if they knew at this point who he truly was. Too many Jews had the wrong idea about what the Messiah and his kingdom would be about. So Jesus had a preaching ministry he had to give first. And he also had a ministry of sacrifice and suffering that he had to endure in going to the cross first, before he would be ready for him to be recognized as king. But such messianic expectations and assumptions would have been far from these Gentiles minds, and so it may be that Jesus thought it better if word started to go out among them of God’s work and even begin to realize Jesus as the one coming in the name and power of God.
Indeed, that connection between God and Jesus is recognized by this man that he healed. I love how that is seen in the way things are worded in verse 39 between what Jesus told the man to do and what it says that the man actually did. Jesus told him the man to declare how much God had done for him. But it says that the man declared how much Jesus had done for him. Yet, there is no conflict. What God had done for him is what Jesus had done for him. It’s as the demons already acknowledged, that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God. Jesus was God in the flesh. What Jesus did to help the man was God helping the man. And so, we ought to commend this saved man’s faith, in how he makes this connection between Jesus and God. While the Gentiles in his area had not yet found faith in Jesus, this man apparently had begun to trust in Jesus.
And so, this saved man stays and obeys and spreads the word about Jesus and his miracle. While this is not the same as Jesus himself staying and preaching, it is a wonderful testimony to the coming of the kingdom. It is of the kingdom that Jesus has been preaching. And Jesus’ casting out of the armies of the enemy are also saying something about that coming kingdom. Last week we mentioned how Jesus’ calming the raging storm showed a groaning creation that needs to be redeemed from its bondage. We said how the world in its current state was under God’ curse but one day Jesus would usher in the new creation and that new world, so to speak, would no longer have such problems. Jesus’ miracle over nature last week was then an eschatological picture. It gave a snapshot of the peace and serenity that the future new creation will have. So then, the same is true here. For Jesus to cast out this army of demons shows us a picture of what will happen in the full in the end. It too is an eschatological picture, for when Christ returns he will put to a final end the devil and his fallen angels. This truth was illustrated by this healed man and as he told others of it, it began to proclaim the hope of Christ’s kingdom, even to these Gentiles.
Saints of God, right now, we are living in between this event and the end when the demons will meet their final doom. Yet, Revelation 20 speaks of how right now Satan has been put into an abyss so that he can’t deceive the Gentiles any more. True, he and his evil forces still wield much power and influence in this age. They still stand opposed to Christ and his people. As such, we know while in one sense he is a bound and imprisoned enemy, he is in another sense still allowed to prowl around looking to devour us. The sense in which he is bound in an abyss is that he can’t stop the fact that the gospel is going out to the nations. Before he was permitted to deceive the Gentiles and keep them in darkness, but no longer does Jesus permit that.
So then, today’s passage reminds us to be both vigilant but confident. We are not unaware of the enemies scheming. Such calls us to be sober, just like you wouldn’t walk around an active battlefield in some carefree fashion with no regard to the threat of the enemy. But we can have a confidence in the face of such a powerful enemy because our captain is more powerful. Let us be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Jesus has come to put to death the works of the devil. And Jesus will put that devil to a final end at the end. Let us find our confidence in Jesus. And let us recognize that the mission he gave that healed man here today is really the mission he has given to all of us today. Let us keep sharing with others what God has done in Jesus for us. Amen.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.