By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 19, 2022
Luke 8:26–39 (ESV)
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. 34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
When you think of all the miracles Jesus performed, what makes your top ten list? For most of us we will quickly recall the feedings of the multitudes, then possibly the raising of Lazarus, then maybe the water into wine. But what after that? What can we recall? The man being lowered through the roof, Peter’s mother-in-law. After this even though we have heard these stories many times over we begin to forget. I find this interesting. The things we remember and the things we forget. Some of the most amazing feats of Jesus’s divine power are often some of the miraculous events we overlook, why? I really wish I had an answer, but the only thing that comes to mind is we remember what we want or desire to remember. There is a reason I remember the feedings first off. Because I would love to never have to worry about access to food. Yes, I make decent money and I live near a grocery store, but there are moments when I have questioned if I would have enough cash to provide a meal for my family.
There are also people within our community where just getting to a store to purchase food might be an ordeal. The concept of a food desert is real. There are reasons for these deserts but in many impoverished areas in metropolitan areas it is not always possible to walk to a store to get groceries. So, the idea of feeding a multitude is striking to many.
We also all have an innate fear of death, so the raising of Lazarus comes to mind. We do not want to die, we do all that we can to avoid death or at least prolong live, so when we hear the story of Lazarus we elated. You might say that you do not fear death but I do want us to consider why we are believers? What caused us to explore faith? Was it the promise of the abundant life, or is it possible that we considered our faith only because it alleviated aspects of that fear we have of death? I am not judging because I can honestly say I first really focused on my personal belief just for that reason. We as humans often make decisions based on fear.
When we think of a list of the signs of Jesus, how many of us place the healing of the Demoniac Gerasene on that list? I ask this because often I do not think of this story. Often it is blocked out of my mind, until I drive through an area that has a high density of pork production. I block it out but as I studied this week I wonder why? I wonder why because this is potentially one of the greatest signs recorded in the gospels.
We are told that Jesus and his disciples sailed to the country of the Gerasenes,’ which is opposite Galilee. I want us to look at our bibles, many of them might have a footnote attached to this verse that states that some manuscripts have a different spelling of the place. This has caused some confusion for people that like to know exactly where events happened. Because each of the spellings are different places. One of those places is nearly twenty miles from the shores of the sea, which makes it unlikely. But Luke confirms that it is opposite Galilee, which is the most important thing because the area opposite Galilee is the area known as Decapolis, which is an area within Roman Palestine that had a greater population density of Gentiles.
The moment the boat reaches the shore and Jesus steps out on the land, he meets a man from the city who had demons. For a long time, Luke tells us, this man had not worn clothing, he was homeless, and lived among the tombs. Among the resources that I have available for study I have access to a book that has excerpts from the writings that church historians would call church fathers, or the ancient theologians that reference certain passages. I do not always read these excerpts because sometimes those ancient theologians are hard to read, but this week they had some interesting things to say. Like this from Cyril of Alexandria: “In great misery and nakedness, he wandered among the graves of the dead. He was in utter wretchedness, leading a disgraceful life. He was a proof of the cruelty of the demons and a plain demonstration of their impurity.… Whoever they possess and subject to their power, at once they make him an example of great misery, deprived of every blessing, destitute of all sobriety, and entirely deprived even of reason.” Cyril goes on to say that God does not permit this that they may suffer but that we may learn by their example how the demons treat us so that as we watch the suffering of one we might turn away from sin and seek God. Cyril has an interesting take on this, but it seems cruel in some degree. The concept of the supernatural has changed in time. We often look at these passages in a clinical manner and reason away the things that make us uncomfortable. And the idea that God permits someone to be possessed almost sounds naive.
The afflicted man in today’s passage approaches Jesus, and as he nears, he begins to cry out, falls down at Jesus’s feet, and screams, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
Hilary of Poitiers says this, “Did not the devils know the real nature of this name? … ‘What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ The truth drew out this reluctant confession, and being forced to obey, their grief testifies to the strength of this nature.” The demons know who Jesus truly is.
I mention these writings only because these are things that were written early in the history of the church, during a time when the polytheistic religions of the Greeks and Romans were still highly active in the western world. And these men were speaking to a people that had a worldview resembling the people of Jesus’s time more than ours today. In the ancient world the demonic was usually not regarded as an intermediate stage between human and divine, but rather a power and authority equal to the divine. To the ancient people the Spiritual world was real, and just as mankind battled, so did the divine realm. Each nation had a god or goddess set over them to protect and guide their destiny and as the people of that nation conquered territory it proved the strength of their deity.
Before you start to question my understanding of God, I will explain myself. Jesus entered Decapolis, an area that was not populated by those of Jewish faith but of the faith of the Gentiles. They had a different understanding of the spiritual realm than the Hebrew people. The Jewish people were followers of Yahweh, and according to their beliefs, after the tower of Babel God had divided the nations of the world to lesser spiritual beings and Yahweh, the Most High God had chosen them to be his inheritance. The Gentiles thought that the various deities battled and could emerge victorious. The Jewish people at that time, believed that the deities of the nations were spiritual beings that rebelled against the Most High God, but Yahweh would eventually restore all those nations to him through the Messiah.
This is what is going through the mind of those ancient fathers of the church. They are seeing the Spiritual battle being waged and the minions of the rebellious deities of the Gentiles are being called out. These minions are offspring of deception and debauchery giving humanity short term pleasure and power but the cost would eventually overcome the benefits, and they would eventually be led to the image of the man we see in today’s passage. Naked, homeless, living among the dead. It was the minions of the advisory that the second temple period of Jewish writings recorded in the book of Enoch that taught humankind the arts of war and lust. And if we consider the images coming from the war-torn areas throughout the world; people are naked, homeless, and living among the dead.
In these pagan religions exorcisms were practiced. They have found writings that depict rituals and incantations that would provide power over these malicious beings, but Jesus does not need the magic of these lesser deities. The demoniac comes and falls before Jesus shrieking the truth. “What do you have to do with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The spiritual beings know who Jesus is, they know where true power resides. They know that they serve rebels and they know their destiny. “And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.” (Luke 8:31 ESV)
The abyss is interesting. It is a depiction of chaos, the depth of the sea, or the underworld. This is where things get a bit interesting because the teachings of the Jewish people and that of Greeks and Romans have similar understandings. In the mythology of the Greeks Tartarus is the deep abyss that was the prison for the titans the primordial gods that were conquered by the gods of Olympus. Peter, in 2 Peter 2:4 (ESV) says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgement,” The word for hell Peter uses is the abyss, Tartarus. And Peter does not get this from Greek mythology, but again from the Jewish writings of Enoch. And we see this again in the concept of the lake of fire preserved for the devil in Revelation.
This legion of demons that possesses this man, is professing more than we might know. The man is a Gentile, and in his demonic utterances, he is connecting the teachings of the Jewish people with the teachings of the pagan Gentiles. As the demon speaks, he is assisting the Most High God to teach us that the scattered people at Babel are being called back to the true God. The powers of the adversary have been broken and are driven away by the Word of God. They are released into the herd of pigs, and the pigs respond as frightened animals often do, they run in terror and lead the demons into the sea, into chaos, into the abyss.
The stampede of pork visually declares the healing of the man. And as the people of the surrounding country come to see what happened, they see the man that was once possessed sitting at Jesus’s feet, clothed and in his right mind. And they are afraid.
Luke is careful as he chose these words. To say that the man was sitting at the feet of Jesus means that this man is included as a disciple. This phrase throughout the gospels have included many people that traditionally would be excluded this religious honor, it was used for the Samaritan Leper that was healed and returned to Jesus, it is used of Mary Magdalene, and it is use for this man, a gentile of Decapolis. He is sitting at Jesus’s feet; he is clothed and in his right mind. He has been completely transformed and restored, no longer is he a slave to the torments of the demons. As the countrymen approach and see this they cannot fully grasp what is going on. To them Olympus is falling. This Jesus without performing rituals and magic has merely used his voice to drive out the malicious demon and their entire world view has been shaken, not to mention they just lost their bacon.
And they ask Jesus to leave. Jesus does not even bat and eye or condemn the people for this request. He simply gets into the boat. They had crossed the sea and Jesus does this one thing for this one man and that is it. One could conclude that the healing of this one man was the only reason Jesus made the journey. And you would be right.
The man begs Jesus that he might go with Him, but Jesus does something interesting, he sends him away. You might think this is cruel. The man had just had a miraculous event happen and his only desire is to learn more and to follow the one that had freed him from his prison. But the word sent is from the same root as Apostle. Jesus not only accepted the man as his disciple, but he sent him back to his own people. “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39 ESV) We say that it was Peter’s vision in Joppa that opened the door to the Gentiles to come to Christ, but Jesus opened the gate. Jesus made this Gerasene man the first apostle to Gentiles even before Saul who became Paul was struck by the light from heaven.
And what does the man do? He does not question Jesus. He does not continue to plea his case. He went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
We all have had struggles. Each of us have faced trials that God has helped us through. Our story may not be as dramatic as this man’s but we have all be released from something by the power of God, something that was once keeping us from living our life in freedom. For those of us that have been freed, Jesus is telling us as he told that man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
Maybe we might still be in bondage in some way. “In order to make the possessed man realize that he has a personality apart from the evil spirits that have entered into him Jesus asks his name.” The man could not yet break loose from the state, his identity, his life was defined by his possession. He responds, Legion, because many demons entered him. Where are you gaining your identity? How would you define who you are? Is it work? Is it a vice or weakness? Could we be seeking our identity in places that are connected to idolatry? Who are you? What is your name?
God knows your name. He is calling you by that name and is asking you to come and follow him. Are we willing to trust? Are we willing to entrust our lives to the one that can overcome our deepest and darkest fear, which is death? Are we willing to entrust our lives to the one who knitted us together in our mother’s womb and knows our very frame? What is your name?
Jesus wants us to come, he wants to drive the things that hold us in bondage into the abyss so that we too can live free in him. Will we listen to his call? Do we hear his whisper? Do we recognize our own name?
 James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Luke, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2015), 248.
 Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952), 255.
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