Last week we read how Jesus led His disciples directly into the heart of a storm, and then how He calmed the wind and the waves. Today we read how the Master then led His disciples into a graveyard where great evil lurked, and then how He restores a man’s wrecked life with the power of His word. In Luke 8, these two stories -- and the next two about an outcast woman and a dead child -- show us that discipleship is not about running away from trouble, but confronting it. Jesus is showing us that regardless of the problems we face, if He is for us, none can be against us. Luke is writing to remind us that no power on earth can separate us from God’s love and protection. No storm, no demon, no stigma, no disease, can take His love away. Luke is painting a picture and emphasizing the contrast between light and dark, faith and fear. In today’s Scripture we see Jesus set a man free from a legion of woe, and then we see the response of the pathetically fearful crowd contrasted against the passionately faithful man.
Legion of Woe
First, the legion of woe. This man’s torment was exceptional and complete. This is the most violent account of demon possession in the gospels. The man was ruined in every way. Spiritually, he was in bondage. Physically he was naked and scarred. Mentally he was in torment. Emotionally he was in terror. And socially he was outcast -- and miserably alone. You might be saying, “Wait a minute, preacher. If demons are real, why don’t see things like this today?” My response is that you need to get out more. Ask any of the missionaries we support around the world and they will tell you stories of encounters just like this. OR you might say, “Maybe Luke was just using first century words to describe what we would call mental illness today.” My response would be to remind you that Luke was a physician, and not ignorant and knew the difference. Even as far back as the Old Testament days of David, people knew the difference between mental illness and evil spirits. The truth is that sometimes demons are easy to spot, but they usually prefer deception - hiding behind the mask of false teaching.
Do you believe in angels? Then you must believe in demons, for demons are just angels on the wrong team. Think Brett Favre quitting God’s favorite team and going to play for the Vikings. That is how you should think of demons. Not as dark, ugly, scary looking monsters, but as angels offsides. Hollywood, true to form as always, lies to you by making demons look hideous, but Biblically, there is no reason to believe they look any different from the good angels. In the Scriptures we read that even their master, Satan, is beautiful -- an “angel of light”.
Which makes sense: to catch a mouse, you put a beautiful piece of cheese in the trap. The devil and his thugs are salesmen, not bogeymen. Demons look like talk radio hosts and movie stars, video game gurus and youtube celebrities. Demons sound like best-selling authors and celebrated producers, powerful politicians and respectable preachers. Demons manifest themselves as a pretty girl or a charming guy; as a quick peek, a little sip, a “medical” prescription, a fascinating book, a better car, an innocent message, one more bet. Demons don’t want to scare you: they want to seduce you. Once they have you, the terror unwinds.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4.1)
After Jesus sets the man free, word gets out. The response of the crowd is not awe and wonder, but crippling fear. They drive Jesus away. And Jesus, always a gentleman, obliges them and leaves them alone. He will not force Himself on anyone. What is it they were afraid of? I see three possibilities -- maybe you see more.
First is the obvious: I think they were afraid of supernatural activity. This was really spooky stuff -- a graveyard, a screaming madman, slaughtered pigs? The only thing missing is that it wasn’t midnight on Halloween! Of course they didn’t have Halloween back then, but you know what I’m getting at. This is the kind of stuff that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The idea of supernatural, unexplainable forces is always unsettling. We naturally fear what we do not understand. For those who do not acknowledge the supernatural aspects of God’s creation, even simple supernatural experiences like prayer can be unsettling.
Second, I suspect that some in the crowd were afraid of exposure -- that Jesus who drove out the overt demons might also drive out their more socially acceptable demons. Have you seen this today? Our culture mocks Christianity as superstitious and old-fashioned. To me it looks like fear -- why attack something you think is toothless? No, our culture repels Christ because Christ would expose our demons and cause our networks and portfolios to crumble. Isn’t it ironic that the network executives and politicians who have so viciously attacked Christ in the past are now being exposed as the real predators? Even in the church, we have seen a perilous falling away -- a great coup against the King of the Church. The teachings of Jesus have been painstakingly redacted to remove the words that make us squirm. The author of our faith has been exiled from church that bears His name by those leaders who are uncomfortable with what He stands for. Many false teachers today have abandoned what is right and just, fearful that Jesus will expose their falsehood and pretense as nothing more than industrial light and magic. Pray for His body, the church, that we will invite Jesus to expose any sinful way in us, not repel the Holy Spirit out of fear of exposure.
Finally, I believe the crowd was most afraid of victory’s cost. The man’s freedom was expensive -- two thousand pigs of expensive. An entire industry was disrupted. Don’t underestimate how much truth gets twisted in the name of defending pockets that are “too big to fail” - even if they should fail. The cost of your freedom is very high. Like the high prices on a great menu, some will always complain. They will rub your nose in it -- all those things you did. It doesn’t matter to them that Jesus set you free -- they’re more concerned that you tracked mud on the carpet as you ran to the altar. A word of advice -- don’t listen to cost critics. If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Whatever it cost, it was worth every penny to Him. Your soul is worth more than many swine!
“And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6.11a)
Finally, in contrast to the fearful response of the crowd, we see the faithful response of the redeemed man. First, he is faithful to follow. His gut reaction is to say, “Wherever you go, I will go too.” Interestingly, Jesus tells Him that he can’t -- that He has another purpose for the man. Which leads us to our next point.
The healed man was faithful to obey. This is not what the man wanted to hear, but he still did what the master wanted. Has Jesus ever asked you to do something you didn’t want to do? Remember this man, our unknown and unforgotten faithful brother, who had the courage to say, “Yes, Lord,” and obey.
And finally, the man was faithful to tell what the Lord had done for Him. We don’t know what happened to this man, but this region was one of the strongest in the early days of the church -- perhaps because one man was faithful to tell his story of rescue and redemption. You say you don’t know how to speak in front of people? That doesn’t matter -- you don’t have to be a public speaker, you just need to tell the story of what Jesus did for you. Your true story of your encounter with Jesus scores more points against the devil than a thousand sermons from this fumbling mouth ever could. Don’t worry if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear -- just sing. Sing your song -- the song of your life, the song of what Jesus did for you. Your story is good news -- you are the gospel according to Jesus. Your story will turn hearts to God. Tell them!
Tell anyone who will listen how He sailed across the raging sea just to be with you. Tell them how He found you in your darkest night, when you dwelt among the tombs. Tell them how you were naked and beaten down, racked with shame and bitterly tormented. Tell them about the day He spoke to you, and when you heard his word you ended up clothed and in your right mind. Tell the story. Tell the story of how he saved a wretch like you. Tell them how you once were lost, but now are found! Sing your song of salvation. Play it again and again. And don’t ever stop.
Your faith -- your story -- His song -- is exactly the medicine the world needs.
Remember what the weak but mighty apostle Paul wrote. He said, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2.3-5)
May we be like our old faithful brother who used to dwell among the tombs. May we have the courage to respond to Christs healing touch with faith to follow, faith to obey, and faith to tell what God has done.
May God bless you as you step out in faith to tell your story to the nations!