Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!” I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
His life must’ve been absolutely miserable. Not a moment’s peace, not a moment’s rest, only misery. The other people from town thought they’d do themselves a favor and chain him up and put him under guard so he wouldn’t bother anybody else, but that didn’t work. Terrorized (almost doesn’t seem like a strong enough word for it, but it’s the best I can do) by a band of cowardly demons, he was driven out of civilization, naked, alone, screaming out, cutting himself, finding his home among the death and decay of the tombs. That was his life – hopeless and helpless – but then Jesus showed up. And this demon-possessed man is the one-man welcome wagon for the Son of God. The interaction of these two, at one and the same time, confuses you and makes the hairs on your neck stand up. This demon knows something about Jesus that even the disciples don’t fully grasp – What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Then the demon makes a seemingly impossible and irrational demand – I beg you, don’t torture me! And then comes the part that hits you like an icy blast if you’re not ready for it (but, who could be?) – “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. A full strength Roman legion could have as many as 6,000 soldiers – and not coincidentally, this was the name of the devilish horde infesting this man. Legion; many; but no match for Jesus. As Luther reminds us in “A Mighty Fortress,” one little word can fell the devil, so that’s what Jesus did…and then came the pigs.
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed, and in his right mind.
There’s so much to learn from this miracle, and there’s even more to sit back and marvel at. Throughout the whole thing, we see Jesus in complete control. That demon, who had exerted such power over that poor man, is forced to fall on the ground before One more powerful than he. The demon, who seemed to have run wild and made this man’s life miserable up to this point, has to beg permission, and can’t move a muscle apart from the word of Jesus. The action and the location of the miracle are extremely important in helping us understand the work that Jesus came to do. First of all, the action – that one is pretty obvious, isn’t it? John tells us, The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. And here’s Jesus doing what Jesus does, driving out the devil and setting people free from his slavery. But what about the location? Luke tells us this happened in the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. There might’ve been some Jews who lived there, but this was Gentile territory. This was far from the synagogues of Israel. The Light of the World shines even in the darkness of pagan territory, proving an all-important point early in Jesus’ ministry: the Gospel is for all – even a man who was once called Legion. And it would leave an impression. Can you imagine the terrible sound of a herd of 2,000 pigs strong letting loose a demon scream and hurtling headlong off a cliff? Even more, can you fathom seeing the once demon-possessed madman sitting politely, listening to Jesus? There’s so much to learn from this miracle and even more reason to stand in awe. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured, and who wouldn’t?!
What, do you suppose, should have been the aftermath of this miraculous exorcism? Wouldn’t you expect everyone to see this unbelievable act and then promptly haul out the rest of their afflicted, all their sick, and anyone who could benefit in any possible way from One with power like this? That makes sense, and following some of the miracles of Jesus, we see just that – people lining the streets, waiting into the night just for a chance to see this Jesus; crowds pressing up against him in the hopes that maybe, they could get close enough to lay a hand on this Jesus. But that’s not what happened here. Instead, those people did the absolute worst thing any sinner can do – they asked Jesus to leave. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. They did the math and they didn’t like it – 6,000 demons cast into 2,000 pigs was a major hit to their economy, so Jesus should just get out. One of the questions that often gets asked of this account is, so why the pigs? Maybe to prove the point that your salvation is more important than your savings account. But those people chose their livelihood and their livestock over their Liberator; sows instead of the Savior. “Jesus, please just go, and we’ll try to pick up the pieces after you, clean up your mess.” If Jesus had the power to do this…then what’s next? They couldn’t think of any answer they liked. No doubt, Jesus had pricked their consciences and at least made them wonder about some pretty significant questions, but they don’t even ask for an explanation. They just showed him the door. Do you see the profound irony here? Those people who had previously bound up the insane man became insane themselves. They chose to remain bound in sin and sent Freedom away.
This is nothing new, and it certainly doesn’t sound like something old either. People have been asking God to get out since Adam and Eve tried to hide in the Garden. People still, in one way or another, ask Jesus to leave. That shouldn’t surprise you. I mean, just look at the world out there, and you can assume that all of its problems can be attributed to its Christlessness. But, of course, I’m not just here to talk about “out there” problems. I can’t let myself off that easy, or you. They asked Jesus to leave…because he healed a demon possessed man? No. They asked Jesus to leave…because his action would’ve hurt the regional economy and their personal bottom line? Closer. Jesus is sent away because he cramps my lifestyle – he says things and does things that upset my own ideas about what Jesus should say and do. My, how things haven’t changed! This is a real temptation for people not just “out there,” but “in here,” too. Every time I ignore the clear word of God, because I don’t like what it says about me or about someone I love, I’m asking Jesus to leave. Whenever the law of God says something that hits a little too close to a social cause I care about; whenever the gospel seems just too free for those “bad sinners,” whenever I think that I can prioritize my time, my life, and my money and leave the Word and worship and work of God out of the equation – I’m asking Jesus to leave. And the terror of it all – every once in a while God gives us what we want. Lord, have mercy! And he does. Instead of leaving us, Jesus stays. Instead of ditching, he delivers. Rather than run out, he rescues. This has always been his way, hasn’t it? Into a world filled with people who, by nature, would only reject him, Jesus came, died, and rose again to bridge the gap between sinful humans and holy God, and to set us free from slavery to all the wrong gods we invent in our lives.
The formerly demon-possessed man understood that. “Take me with you,” he must’ve said, as he hoisted one leg into the boat. That makes sense – which is the other side of the irony here! The one who was stark-raving-demon-possessed-naked-living-among-the-tombs mad is now the one and only sane person in that whole region. His request makes all the sense in the world, doesn’t it? He understood what this Jesus was all about. He’d been set free. The demons sent away, the shackles broken forever, his sins forgiven, life whole life made new, and his entire world given back to him as a gift. “Take me with you!” We get that! But maybe, at first glance, we don’t get Jesus’ response. Jesus doesn’t let him come along. Why not? Sorry, I’ve already got 12 disciples and 13’s just unlucky! Not quite. Notice carefully what Jesus says. Jesus doesn’t say “No,” just “Not yet.” He had work for this man to do. “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” That sounds simple, but think about that for just one second. This isn’t just a famous person brushing off one of his adoring fans. This was the grace of God at work! What amazing grace Jesus shows – to a whole region of people who rushed toward him and said, “Get out,” Jesus leaves them not alone. Jesus leaves them a preacher, because he knows that life is hell without one. Without a proclaimer of the Word, God is and remains a complete mystery, a fabrication of my sinful mind and a creation of my bound will. With a preacher, God is revealed as he wishes to be revealed – in the face of Christ, his Son, our Savior. This man’s testimony about Jesus was needed – right where he was.
His desire to go with Jesus makes all the sense in the world, but Jesus’ response makes infinitely more sense. They need this word. If you don’t tell them, who will? Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean climbing in the boat and getting out of Dodge. Following Jesus means being free to serve him where he’s put you in life. Do you see how doubly liberating this was for the formerly demon possessed man? Do you see how doubly liberating it is for us? We’ve been set free from the devil’s power – baptized into Christ and raised to new life with him. The shackles of guilt that chained us have been broken forever – taken away in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. The nakedness of our sin and shame before God has been perfectly covered in a robe of righteousness that has been given to us as a free gift. And now, God sets you free again – free from running on the hamster wheel wondering if you’re getting anywhere with God – he’s set you free to live as his forgiven child right here in this world, right next to countless other people who have needs that you can meet and tell them about the One who meets our greatest need for a Savior.
We don’t need to go casting about in the world wondering where we need to go to do our next great thing for God. Instead, by setting you free from sin, he’s given your world back to you – not as a place that exists to benefit me, but as a place I exist to benefit. Because of Jesus, your whole world has been changed from a turnip from which I’m trying to squeeze a drop of blood into a planet-earth sized arena for love and service to those who need to know that the blood of Jesus covers their sins, too. You know someone who’s shackled by the guilt of their past, and wonder of wonders, God uses people like you and me to speak a Word of freedom to them like nobody else can. Kind of like Jesus did with that formerly demon possessed man. You may not know everything, but by God’s grace you sure know what Jesus has done for you. I’m sure you know someone whose own personal demons torment them to the point that they wonder whether God even exists, and if he does, he’s surely mad at me – and grace upon grace, you’re placed in their path to reveal the undeserved love of God that cleansed you from your sin. As a witness, you may not know everything, but you know what God has done for you in Christ. You’ve been set free. You’ve been forgiven. You’ve been clothed in Christ. In a world that’s gone crazy with sin, do the sane thing - tell how much God has done for you.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen
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