Primary Text: Luke 8:26-39
26 Then they arrived at the region of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on shore, a man from the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had not worn any clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me,” 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times 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 wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding, and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd stampeded down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they became frightened. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then the whole throng of people of the surrounding region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave 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 out 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.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. - Luke 8:26-39
The sermon series, from a month or so ago, on less known stories from the Bible was about the most well received series I have ever preached, and as with everything now a days, every good thing deserves a sequel. So today we are beginning a series on less known stories from the New Testament. Some of these stories may be a familiar, some may not be. We are going to focus on stories that are that are not iconic, like Jesus walking on Water or feeding the 5,000, or calming the storm, but have something powerful to say.
This gives us an opportunity to focus on that middle section of the Gospels and events in Jesus’ life, particular. The Gospels are not books about the birth and death of Jesus, with a little bit of filler in-between. In fact, Mark does not even include the story of Jesus’ birth, and in Luke the story of Jesus birth only takes up about two chapters and the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection only takes about three, and the Gospel of Luke is not a short book. Most of the ink Luke spilled was telling us about Jesus’ life. This isn’t to downplay the importance of Jesus’ birth and death – there’s a reason that Christmas is as big of a deal as it is and there’s a reason that the symbol of Christianity is the cross – but to point out the the rest of Jesus life is important too, otherwise, it wouldn’t even be in our Bibles.
This story comes right after one that we mentioned earlier, one of the more iconic stories – when Jesus calmed the storm. It’s also right before the story we will talk abut next week, a story about Jesus raising a child from the dead and, on his way to her home, healing a woman with a chronic bleeding condition.
So, right before our story for today, Luke tells us one of the great iconic stories of Jesus: when Jesus calmed the storm. Jesus and his disciples were out on the lake and was Jesus sleeping in the boat when a huge storm rose on water and tossed the boat about. Even in the midst of the storm Jesus remains fast asleep and the disciples have to wake him up. Jesus is completely unfazed by the storm and just rebukes the wind and suddenly it stops. The disciples are then astounded and they ask…
Right after this iconic moment, where we get a glimpse of Jesus incredible power over nature, that ends with that all important question “Who is this man?” we see Jesus encounter a man afflicted by ultimate evil. This man is oppressed and controlled by an army of demons. They even call themselves Legion, which was the term for a large garrison of roman soldiers consisting of about 5,00-6,00 troops. (Faithlife Study Bible) This was a massive force of the most terrible evil imaginable, and it had beaten this man down, broken him, and controlled him.
The person he once was is, for all intents and purposes, gone. He had been kept chained and under guard, but broke the chains and ventured out into the wilds. He lived in tombs, among the dead. This is significant, in part because mere contact with the dead made a person ritually unclean. He was perpetually unclean (Numbers 19:11) and unable to go to the temple to seek help even if he wanted to. Ultimate evil broke him, controlled him, and cast him as far from his community – his friends and family – and (so it thought) as far from God as it could possibly cast him, and Jesus found him.
When Jesus found him, it did not result in some epic confrontation between good and evil. Legion was not a normal demon; it was an army. This was not a normal possession; this was like the Excorcist cranked up to fifteen. Yet as powerful as Legion was, it was powerless, helpless before Christ.
There was this idea in ancient demonology that if you knew the demon’s name you had power over it, but if it new yours it would have power over you. This idea has even filtered it’s way into European fairy-tales and folklore. In the story Rumpelstiltskin, for example, the malevolent imp keeps his name a secret, because if his victims learned his name they would have power over him. Yet, Legion knows Jesus’ name and trembles at it, and even though Jesus doesn’t know his name, Legion is still utterly powerless. This is not an epic clash between good and evil. Before the power of Christ, ultimate evil is nothing. He commands the army of demons’ to leave the man and they flee.
The man is completely restored, freed, and brought back. He, who used to wonder the wilds is now found sitting at the feet of Jesus learning from the master. He is able to return home to his family.
Luke is a brilliant writer. I’m going to re-read the last verse, and as I do, think back to the question the disciples asked when Jesus calmed the storm: “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25b NRSV) Because there is one word that is different between what Jesus tells the man to do and what he does, and it is really deliberate on Luke’s part because even in the original language, the word order didn’t really matter, but Luke keeps it the same which really makes sense if he’s trying to draw attention to that one word that’s different between what Jesus told the man to do and what he does.
Did you notice the difference? Jesus tells the man to go tell everyone what God has done for him and he goes and tells everyone what Jesus has done for him. He answers the disciples question: Jesus who commanded the winds and waves is God. When ultimate evil oppressed him and cast him as far away from his community and even (so they thought) from God as possible, God found him, and freed him, and restored him.
As terrible of as that army of evil was, it was completely helpless before the grace and power of God. There is nothing in all of existence that can overcome God. There is nothing in all of existence that can separate us from the love of God. In Roman’s 8, Bible says:
There is nothing, nothing at all, that can cast you where God’s grace and love cannot find you.
I do not know all that is burdening you, what is beating you down, but one thing that I can say with absolute certainty, is that God is with you, that God’s grace and love has always been at your side and will never leave you. This does not mean that you ought to sit around waiting for a miracle. Physicians, and nurses, psychologists, and therapists, have been called by God just as much as pastors and missionaries, to be instruments in the hands of God, and God has given us minds to be instruments to exercise the virtue of wisdom. What it does mean is that there is hope. Evil does not have the final say, even death does not have the final say. God is bigger and greater, and grander, than the winds and waves, all the forces of darkness, even death itself, all put together, and God is with you and loves you, today, tomorrow, and always.