Day in the Life: “Demoniac”
May 15, 2016 – Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Fear, anger, and the balance of power are bound together. If we find that we are angry, the first question to answer is: “What do we fear?” If we find that we are fearful, the next question to answer is: “Who or what holds the power in our lives?” If we find that we have no or lessening power, the last question is: “Why does that make us angry?” Which brings it full cycle. Fear, anger, and the balance of power are not bad things—they are good gifts given to show us the condition of our otherwise unobservable heart. But fear, anger, and the balance of power are often misunderstood, avoided, suppressed, and misdirected. Today’s passage highlights, in particular, the fear.
Regardless of what Roosevelt famously said—“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”—sometimes there is more to fear than fear itself. The object of our fear can be actual, external, and evil. And on some days that which we fear the most stares at us in full daylight. This was the situation on one particular day in the life of Jesus. Although Jesus himself was not afraid, everyone else in the story exhibited intense fear.
I count no less than four kinds of fear in this one paragraph—reverence, dread, terror, and obedience. Two are holy and healthy; two are not. While we will sort out these kinds of fear as the narrative plays out in Luke 8:25-39, it is essential to realize that all fears inevitably collide with and reveal our view of God. If a healthy view of God already exists in the heart, then the fear carries us closer to God. But if an unhealthy view of God exists inside, then the fear carries us further from God.
That’s a huge concept—so, how can I illustrate? Take, for instance, the 139th psalm. King David wrote some of the most endearing words of all time: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:1-5). For David, who has a healthy view of God, this inescapable nature of God’s omnipresence was a comfort: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain it…. I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, my soul knows it very well (Psalm 139:6, 14). But for others who might harbor an unhealthy view of God, God’s inescapable nearness and intricate knowledge are terrifying prospects. “What do you mean God ‘discern[s] my thoughts from afar’”? “What do you mean God ‘knit me together in my mother’s womb’”? “I object!” Fear often amplifies what is already present on the inside.
I. THE DISCIPLES’ FEAR—HOLY REVERENCE OF CHRIST (vv. 25-26)
25 He said to them, "Where is your faith?" And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, "Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?"
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
Reaching back to the previous paragraph, let me briefly pull forward the first of our four observable fears—the disciples’ fear. For professional fishermen who virtually lived out on the water in the darkness of the night, this storm must have been enormous in order to scare them to a panic. So they woke Jesus up, who was amazingly asleep in the stern. They begged him to help bail water. But within their begging was a borderline rebuke for not caring whether they lived or died. Jesus then spoke a word, “Peace,” and gave a command, “Be still,” and the raging waves and the whipping winds became perfect tranquil. Notwithstanding, even though the outside was miraculously calm, the inside of the disciples became even more afraid than 15 seconds before: “Who then is this that he commands even the winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25)—and he is in the boat with us! Theirs was genuine fear, but it was relationally connected to and directed at Jesus. Therefore, this first kind of fear was a holy reverence.
Phobias exist all over the world—some are imagined, many are real, and several have been newly invented in the Western world; monstrosities like “Islamophobia.” But there is one phobia that is immensely helpful and thoroughly healthy—the fear of the Lord. More than any of the phobias that might be hurled at me, I am far more fearful of the Lord; a that fear rightly displaces all other fears.
II. THE DEMONS’ FEAR—UNHOLY DREAD OF CHRIST (vv. 27-33)
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.
The first kind of fear is holy reverence. The second kind of fear is unholy dread. “Immediately” (Mark 5:2) after this fearful event on the boat, the group arrived in the country of “Gerasenes” (which, if you imagine the Sea of Galilee as a clockface, is at 5 o’clock). Thus continues this single day in the life of Jesus. Gerasenes is in a predominately Gentile area—part of a league of ten cities called Decapolis that banded together in the Greco-Roman fashion for trade, culture, and protection. As soon as Jesus stepped foot on the pebbly beach “there met him a man from the city who had demons” (vs. 27a).
I am not sure why it appears this way but demonic manifestations seem to be more prevalent overseas than here in America. But my eyes don’t tell me what to believe; the Scriptures tell me what to believe whether or not my eyes ever see it. And the Scriptures tell me that there is a raging war going on right now in the spiritual realm where God’s glory and man’s faith are under siege. Even though Jesus by the cross has broken the power of sin, Satan, and death—the enemy and his hierarchical ranks of demons, together with world governments and corrupt religions, cling to the “real estate” that has been legally reclaimed by Christ. They will not relinquish their haunts nicely. Therefore, even though our church building is calm and cool and we sit in padded pews with our hands folded while some of our brothers and sisters drift off into a morning nap, the church is nevertheless engaged in open warfare.
Demons are just as active here as there and now as then. The developed First World merely has different weak spots than the developing Third World … and demons hunt for weak spots. Subsequently the ratio of overt to covert demonic activity adjusts to the environment. Our weak spots exist in our rampant trust in money, our overdependence on medicines and doctors, our escapist tendencies that drive us into the snares of technology gadgets as well as chemical and sexual addictions. Our blind devotion to our modern athletic heroes is disturbingly close to “religious.” And don’t get me started about the personality cult that has become our political system. The point is simple—today, demons still prowl around like roaring lions seeking those they may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
This man in our story was “devoured” by demons long ago. What was the process that led him into deeper and deeper spiritual bondage? We are not told the particulars but the pattern is often the same. Trade a little liberty for a little more power, for a little more calm amid the debilitating waves of anger, or for a little better more shelter from the winds of fear. But instead of delivering freedom and life, these false and demonic promises always only produce bondage and death. At this point in the story, this man was virtually gone. The demons controlled his mind, his body, and his soul. He became the howling monster in the woods.
He once upon a time lived in the town like everyone else, but his demonic episodes apparently grew more and more frequent so that the town had him arrested and chained. The people, likely his own kinfolk, “kept [him] under guard and bound [him] with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert” (vs. 29). So eventually the plan shifted from arrest to exile—they wouldn’t try to contain him in the town, but repel him from the town. There in the wild, Mark 5:5 tells us that he shrieked at the top of his lungs constantly and compulsively cut himself with sharp stones—wearing no clothes, occupying no house, dwelling among the tombs (vs. 27b). Demons, no matter what their forked tongues might promise—even if they appear as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)—hate you, hate Jesus, and hate the gospel of grace.
“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” (vs. 28). Whereas the people had trouble identifying Jesus as God’s Son, the demons did not. But that doesn’t mean that they worshiped him—they loath Jesus but cannot deny his position or his power. The demons “believe and shudder” (James 2:19) that God self-exists, but such was not a holy fear. It was an unholy fear. The demons fell down before Jesus, not to honor him, but to grovel and forestall their punishment. “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). The future judgment is coming—all the demons know it, yet they will repeatedly try to prevent it (Revelation 20:7-10). But on this day on this solitary beach they begged not to be confined to the abyss ahead of the Great Judgment Day as other demons had been confined by God for their especially heinous sins … once, at least, in connection with Noah’s evil generation (2 Peter 2:4-5; cf Genesis 6:4-5).
“Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ and he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him” (vs. 30). A Roman legion was 6000 soldiers. But a second time, the demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss, indicating that demons hate disembodiment. And a third time they begged, this time for permission to enter a large herd of pigs. “So he gave permission. 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” (vv. 33-34).
III. THE DISTRICT’S FEAR—UNHEALTHY TERROR OF CHRIST (vv. 34-37)
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.
The first kind of fear is holy reverence. The second kind is unholy dread. The third kind is unhealthy terror. The entire district—“city and country”—heard the tale from the herdsmen who were close enough to see the exorcism of the demoniac. So the people—“everyone” (Matthew 8:34)—went out to the very place that they were normally afraid to go. “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. Then the people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found a man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (vv. 35-36).
This is most peculiar. What they had tried in vain to do with chains and shackles—to control this demoniac—Jesus did without restraints, without threats, and without violence. They had achieved a semblance of control over this demoniac (and there were probably two demoniacs [Matthew 8:28]), but Luke just focused on the one who was the spokesman) but Jesus truly tipped the balance of power. While they were frightened of the demoniac, even more so “they were afraid” of Jesus. Jesus clearly had supernatural power. He bested their boogey-man with a word.
It has been the common assumption that these townies were more concerned about their failed business prospect than about their rescued neighbor; and that may be part of the mix. But all of the reasons that the gospels mention that unhinged the district have everything to do with this man’s deliverance by Jesus, not the loss of the herd of pigs, nor some veiled commentary about the non-kosher food supply chain. They feared one thing—and their fear grew at an exponential rate—who holds the power. In that respect, a nearby God is more terrifying than a remote demon. The power balance has shifted and they no longer turn any of the knobs—that was what terrified them the most.
Power, I believe, is woven into man’s insatiable appetite for idols. With and through an idol, I still have some illusion of control over the uncontrollable elements of life. I can build a shrine. I can give a couple of gold coins. I can sacrifice a pig every once in a while to get what I want. But with Jesus, I have no pull.
In my sanctified imagination I wonder if the townspeople had started to appease if not worship this demoniac with food offerings, with rituals, with religious deference. Such is often the case with demon-possessed people in the animistic corners of the globe; they are revered as doors to the spirit world. But Jesus has destroyed their equilibrium of power in one 15-second conversation. Jesus has no weak points that I might manipulate. He doesn’t need my worship, my gold coins, or my pig sacrifice. He is absolutely superior, and I am undeniably inferior to him. If my view of God is unhealthy, then this Jesus is terrifying.
Power is connected to fear, and fear is connected to anger. We can see their anger in verse 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.” This response produced one of the saddest half-verses in the Bible—“So he got into the boat and returned” (vs. 37b). “Leave me alone Jesus! I beg you, go away.” If you have ever thought or said that—repent! Take it back. Strike if from the record. Invite Jesus to come back, and stay!
IV. THE DEMONIAC’S FEAR—HEALTHY OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST (vv. 38-39)
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.
The first fear is holy reverence. The second is unholy dread. The third is unhealthy terror. And the fourth is healthy obedience. “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘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” (vv. 38-39).
Notice the repetition of begging, and its synonyms, throughout this passage. The disciples begged Jesus to help. The demons begged Jesus not to torment them. The district begged Jesus to depart from them. And finally, the healed demoniac begged to follow Jesus as a disciple. Whichever way our heart is inclined, we beg the most for what we value the most.
For this man, the initial answer is “No.” But that “No” gave way to a “Yes” to a different kind of mission. I already have 12 disciples; I do not need more at this time. But right now I have no evangelists; especially to the Gentile-sections of the Trans-Jordan region. So, I want you to stay and proclaim what God has done for you throughout the entire league of ten cities known as the Decapolis (vs. 39, cf Mark 5:20). This man, like all Christians, was set free from his chains so that he might freely serve others in Christ’s name. He, having been granted a healthy fear of Christ, obeyed immediately and passionately. To put a spin on verse 25—who then is this that even the demons and the demoniac obey him?
In a very real sense, in light of other passages that deal with the demonic, even though “Legion” is no longer possessing the man the demonic bondage was still very much present in the Gerasene region. Listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” In other words, the people of the entire district—although they long looked down upon the demoniac—were actually worse off than the demoniac at the end of this pivotal day because they sent away their only hope for deliverance whereas the healed demoniac was delivered and sent out by the one and only, blessed hope, Jesus Christ.
Where do you stand today with Jesus? There are only two options—with Christ in belief or against Christ in disbelief. The demons don’t care if you believe in them; they just don’t want you to believe in Him. Jesus has the power to break the overt and covert chains of demons—and it is applicationally appropriate to include some of our modern addictions and compulsions. So, call out to Jesus! For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, even if he is buried under 6000 demons and years of terrible decisions.