In the eighth chapter of the gospel of Luke we read a series of episodes in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, which tell us about who Jesus really is and what He came to accomplish. We also discover truth about ourselves in these verses. In verses 4-15 Jesus tells a well-known parable about a sower and his seed and the different kinds of soil that teaches us how men and women respond to the preaching of the gospel. Most do not receive the message and so they remain unchanged, but a few receive the message of salvation and bear great fruit for the kingdom of God. Which type of soil (which type of hearer) are you? In verses 22-25 Jesus demonstrates His power over nature by “rebuking the wind and the surging waves” and producing complete calm where there was a terrible storm. Who do you know that can tell a hurricane to stop and have the hurricane obey him? Who would you say that Jesus is?
The section that I want to camp on, however, is the passage about the demon-possessed man and his encounter with Jesus in Luke 8:26-39. First I will go through the passage explaining it and making observations about what occurs and pointing out the significance of these events. Then after explaining the passage, I will apply the message of this passage to our lives.
8:26 – Jesus and the disciples leave the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee and sail through a terrible storm to reach the Gentile side, the country of the Gerasenes. Jesus, of course, is a Jew and so are the Twelve Apostles, yet He leaves the comfortable Jewish side and arrives on the foreign side where Jews are uncommon and not very welcome. In a sense Jesus is going on a cross-cultural missionary journey to rescue the lost among the Gentiles.
8:27-29 – When Jesus arrives on shore He is met by this demon-possessed man. Notice the characteristics of this man. He is “possessed with demons,” he is naked and he is living in the tombs. In fact, this man is so wild that he cannot be restrained by any human means, but instead he breaks chains and shackles and goes running out into the desert. Despite this man’s miserable state, he still comes up to Jesus and falls down before Him in an act of humility and worship, or possibly in an act of pure fear, and identifies Jesus as the Son of the Most High God and begs Him not to torment him. This is a curious scene indeed. What do these things mean?
This demon-possessed man that Jesus encounters is presented to us as someone who is as far from God as possible. To the sophisticated Greek mind, and especially to the religious Jewish mind, this man is one who not only is too wretched to possibly be saved, but he is one who no one would want to save. He is a despised Gentile on the wrong side of the lake. He is possessed with many demons (v. 30) and is controlled by those demons and is driven by those demons. His life is not even his own, but his life has been captured by these demons. He is naked, which is shameful according to the Old Testament Law. He is living among the tombs, which is among dead bodies, making him ceremonially unclean. He is thus presented to us as a man who is beyond hope and beyond the reach of God. Not even Jesus can reach this man, can He? Surely if Jesus can rescue this man, then He can rescue any man. He can even rescue you.
Now what does the demon-possessed man mean when he says, “I beg You, do not torment me”? (8:28) This is actually the demons speaking through the man and pleading that Jesus will not judge them right now for their evil and rebellion and will not right now cast them into “the abyss,” the place where the devil and his demons will spend eternity (Revelation 20:10, etc.). Where will the demons be tormented? They will be tormented in the lake of fire. The demons, then, are begging Jesus not to throw them into the lake of fire immediately.
8:30 – Jesus asks the man his name, but the demons answer through the man and reveal that there are actually many demons in the man, an entire legion of demons (a Roman legion had 3,000-6,000 troops in it). The demons have taken control of the man’s life. The man has virtually lost his own identity and has been overwhelmed by the demons in his life. This is like many people today who are controlled by their own demons of alcohol or sexual lust or greed or pride or sensuality or an endless craving for entertainment. They, too, have really lost their own identity and are slaves to their cravings and desires. They are essentially like this demoniac, in need of someone powerful enough to deliver them from the demons which rule their life.
8:31 – The demons are ‘entreating’ (begging or imploring, see v. 28) “Jesus not to command them to depart into the abyss.” This is really the second time that the demons have begged Jesus not to cast them into the abyss. These entreaties point to at least two spiritual realities. First, we see once again that the demons know exactly who Jesus Christ is. They are in no doubt who He is and that He has the authority to cast them right now into the pit of hell. The demons know who Jesus is because a long time ago, before they were cast out of heaven, they saw Jesus as the glorious Son of God in heaven every day. They remember Him and know of His authority, power and glory. (Do you acknowledge that? Do you acknowledge His power and glory? Do you yet bow the knee to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?) That’s reality number one. But the second spiritual reality that we see here is that Jesus is the one who has the power and the authority to cast any demon or all demons into the abyss at any time. The reason the demons entreat Jesus not to cast them into the abyss is because Jesus has the power to cast them into hell. Even though while He is on earth Jesus appears to be an ordinary man, He still has all the authority and power He has had from all eternity. Jesus is the Lord of heaven. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and He is the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18)
8:32-33 – In these verses we are introduced to the herd of swine on the mountain. We also see that the demons are again imploring Jesus to do something. They implore Jesus to permit them to enter the swine and Jesus gives them permission. When He gives them permission, they enter the herd of swine and the herd runs down the bank and is drowned in the lake. Notice that the demons beg Jesus to give them permission. The demons cannot do anything in the presence of Jesus without Jesus’ permission. This is always true in the gospels, that Jesus has complete command over the demons. They are terrified of Him and shrink back from any encounter with Him. The pure holiness of Jesus is overwhelming and the demons cannot stand His presence.
8:34-35 – The herdsmen for the pigs run away to the surrounding area and tell the news of what happened. The people of that region come to see what has happened to the swine (because surely this story that the herdsmen told them, about drowning swine and a delivered demoniac, cannot really be what happened). While the herdsmen are gone to tell the news about the swine, Jesus delivers the man from his demons and the man is immediately transformed. On the outside the man appears to be about the same as he was before he encountered Jesus, but the man’s behavior is now radically different. Before he was naked and running among the tombs and breaking all chains and shackles which sought to constrain him. But now the man is “sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” The order in which these are stated is important. The most important feature is that he is now sitting at the feet of Jesus. Being at Jesus’ feet is symbolic of his salvation and of his submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He now has a new master and therefore obeys a new King. Before he met Jesus, the man was controlled by the demons and was driven wherever they chose to drive him. Now he has been changed on the inside and is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and is ready to follow Jesus wherever He goes. The man has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and is ready to follow the one who has given him life (John 10:10). Notice also that whereas before meeting Jesus the man was naked, he is now clothed. This also is symbolic, for ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, nakedness has been a sign of shame. Jesus has now taken away the shame of the man’s nakedness and has clothed him with robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). With the casting out of the demons, Jesus has taken away the man’s sins and so the man is now clothed. Finally notice that the man is “in his right mind.” The madness and the lust and the demons of his past are gone forever, banished by the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is now in his right mind. As a man who has been saved by Jesus Christ, the man now has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). The picture then is of a man who has encountered Jesus and has been transformed by Him.
The last phrase at the end of verse 35 is interesting. “And they became frightened.” Now why would they become frightened when they saw the demon-possessed man sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind? It would seem that they would have been frightened by the man before he was delivered from the demons when he was breaking his chains and running around naked, rather than after he was calmed down and was quietly worshipping Jesus. What frightens them? The fact is that people are much more comfortable with demoniacs than they are with people who have been radically changed and born again after an encounter with Jesus. What frightens the people is the radical change in the demon-possessed man and the realization that the Man who brought about this change is probably God in human flesh. It is not uncommon in the gospels for Jesus to frighten people simply by doing something that reveals His deity. Even the disciples were fearful when Jesus calmed the storm with a word, because they realized that God was in the boat with them. (Luke 8:25) People are fairly comfortable with evil people who do evil things, even demon-possessed people who rave about in the tombs. What makes people very afraid is the discovery that Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord of the universe and that one day they will have to stand before Him and give an account of their lives. That is what frightened people then and that is what frightens people now. Jesus Christ is Lord and He is the sovereign ruler of the universe and He is the judge of all the earth and one day He is coming back. Of course, the people of this region of the Gerasenes did not put all that together in an instant, but they were frightened and the only thing that could have been frightening to them was the fact that the man who had been demon-possessed was now radically transformed by this stranger from across the lake. This Jesus has the power to radically change people simply by His presence and that is very frightening.
8:36-37 – The herdsmen again testify to the facts of what happened, that this Fellow from across the lake cast the demons out of the demoniac and all the swine ran into the lake and drowned. But the most important fact is that it was this Jesus who had, in an instant, made this man well (or had been “saved,” which is the literal translation of the Greek here). This drives all the people over the edge and they ask Jesus to leave, “for they were gripped with great fear.” When they discover the details of this deliverance and understand the power that Jesus has, their fright grows into a great fear. They have gone from frightened to terrified and they want this miracle working Man to get out of their region now. This crowd represents the typical crowd who encounters Jesus Christ. Here is the Son of God who can deliver you from your demons, who alone can forgive your sins and who can take away your shame and give you back your right mind, and most people reject Him and want Him to leave. As in this story in the region of the Gerasenes a long time ago, so it is today that Jesus is rejected by most people. Most are frightened of Him and prefer to keep their sin rather than submit to a Savior. “Men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19-20). It is frightening when you realize that Jesus Christ is the Lord of heaven and that one day soon He will judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). That fright can grow to great fear when you further realize that you do not know Him. It is then that you need to not reject Him, but rather embrace Him and trust in him and cry out to Him and ask Him to save you. Then you, too, can be sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed with righteousness and in your right mind, having been transformed. Then you will have no need to fear Jesus, because in Jesus Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) and no fear (1 John 4:17-18).
Notice that Jesus obliges their request and leaves. Jesus does not beg or bargain with the sinner. If you reject Him and drive Him away, He will leave and you will perish. Be careful that you do not drive Jesus away. Rather, seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6).
8:38-39 – In these two concluding verses of this encounter, the former demoniac pleads with Jesus to allow him to accompany Him as He leaves the region, but Jesus tells the man instead to go back to his home town and be a witness to the great things that have been done in the man’s life. Both the specific words and the actions are important here in interpreting this passage. First, there is a profound contrast between the people of the region and the former demoniac. The people “implored” Jesus to leave them and to go away from them, while the man “begged” (same Greek word as “implored”) Jesus to let him join Jesus’ team and never leave Jesus’ side. This is a picture of what it means to encounter Jesus Christ. No one can encounter Jesus and have no response. The question is what will be your response. The demoniac encounters Jesus, is saved and transformed, and never wants to be apart from Jesus again. The people encounter Jesus, are filled with great fear and distrust, and reject Him and drive Him out of their lives. This illustrates the reality that there are only two responses to Jesus: you either embrace Him as Lord and Savior or you reject Him as unnecessary to your life. To ignore Him or to be indifferent to Him is to reject Him. To treat Him as if He is a stranger is to reject Him. To sit at His feet and worship Him is to embrace Him as Lord. It is one response or the other. To not worship Him is to reject Him. “He who is not with Me is against Me (Matthew 12:30).” These people simply rejected Jesus’ authority over their lives.
Jesus does not allow the demoniac to come with Him, but instead He sends him off with a mission. He tells the former demoniac to go back to his home town and to be an evangelist and a witness to his friends and neighbors and family. Carefully read the commands Jesus gives the man. “Describe what great things God has done for you.” (39) So the man went “throughout the whole city proclaiming what great things Jesus had done for him.” The gospel writer captures the essence of the entire encounter when he intentionally substitutes “Jesus” for “God.” The man went back to his city with a message: “Jesus is God and He has all the power of God to save and to change even someone like me.” What a testimony it must have been as the demoniac comes back to his family and friends as a changed man! “Our old acquaintance, who was last seen screaming among the tombs and breaking chains, is now in his right mind and has this strange message. How is this possible? What could have happened to this man? Who could possibly change him so radically and so completely? Can the One who changed him change me, also?”
The applications will focus on the people in this episode and what we can learn from them.
First, there is the demoniac himself. He appears to be beyond all hope of salvation, being both unclean and uncontrolled. He is intentionally presented as the most depraved of men. Surely not even Jesus can reach this man! It would certainly take a miracle for him to be saved.
But this is man’s philosophy and not biblical theology. While it may be true that some people are more evidently depraved than others and that the degree of sin in some people is greater than in other people, all people are depraved and there is no denying the fact of sin in every person. The Bible makes clear that it is a miracle when any person receives salvation and is raised to new life in Christ. All are born spiritually dead, and the only way that those who are spiritually dead can be raised to spiritual life is through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only one with the power to give life.
In this sense, then, the demoniac represents every one of us. He is raving and thrashing about, making a mess of his life and the lives of those he contacts. He is a dangerous man bent on destroying himself and others. Like it or not, this is all of us outside of Christ. We need someone to master us. Then the demoniac encounters Jesus and he is radically changed. This is true of all those who believe in Jesus and who call Jesus ‘Lord.’ They are changed and become new creatures. They do not remain the same.
For those who do not know Christ, are you tired of running around in the tombs and cutting yourself on stones? Haven’t you grown weary of screaming in the night and trying to destroy yourself and others? Jesus can change you. Jesus has the power to give you back your mind and to give you a mission and a purpose. Bow before Him today and know His peace.
For those of you who claim to have encountered Christ, has your life been changed? Those who encounter Jesus and follow Him are never the same. Have you been changed? Is your life different because of Jesus? If not, does that make you a little nervous? Is it possible that you only think you have met Him, but have actually never been born again?
Notice that the delivered demoniac wanted to follow Jesus wherever He went, but Jesus sent him off on a mission. The demoniac went from a madman to a missionary after his encounter with Jesus. That is what Jesus does. He radically changes lives.
Next we see the herdsmen. They had seen how the demons were cast into the swine and then saw the pigs run down the bank and into the lake to be drowned. The herdsmen had seen Jesus’ power first-hand, but they did not believe in Jesus. They were afraid of His power and wanted Him to leave their town. How about you? Have you heard all about Jesus for a long time, but still have never made a commitment to follow Him? You can tell all the Bible stories and sing all the songs, but you still don’t know Jesus and have never bowed the knee to Him. You have never been at His feet listening to Him and you have never begged Him to send you on an impossible mission. Let today be the day that you call out to Him to save you.
Finally we see the people from the surrounding area who come and want Jesus to leave. They see Jesus as a trouble-maker and reject Him totally. They don’t want Him disturbing their routine and making demoniacs into peaceful and productive citizens. They have no patience for the Son of the Most High God. They reject Jesus and force Him out of their community.
Here is my exhortation to you. Submit to Jesus Christ. When He invades your territory and comes to deliver you from your demons, fall at His feet and call out to Him to rescue you. Jesus is mighty to save. He has all authority to forgive and to cleanse and to save. As believers, we need to imitate the demoniac. First we need to start by falling at Jesus’ feet and allowing Him to change us and to make us new creatures. Jesus will radically change our lives and give us a new mission and vision. Then, as we grow in spiritual maturity, we seek Him for a specific mission, a definite work that He has given us to do. He sends us off on our mission with the assurance that He will never leave us and that our eternity is in heaven. RMB #39