Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Have you ever heard the expression, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire?”
It means to go from a bad situation into a situation that is even worse.
One could argue it is a fitting description of what happens next as we turn to our next passage in the Gospel of Luke.
Jesus and his twelve disciples have just come through a great tempest raging over the Sea of Galilee.
On their way across the lake, as Jesus slept in the hull, an unexpected and violent storm descended upon them and nearly capsized their boat.
Several of these former, experienced fishermen turned disciples suddenly found themselves beyond their depth – convinced they were going to drown.
Preparing to go down with the ship, as they rouse Jesus from his deep sleep, it is the disciples who end up getting a wake-up call as with a word, Jesus rebukes the wind and calms the sea and opens the eyes of his followers to see who he is – the Lord of all creation.
In the stillness of that revelation, in the reclamation of their faith which had been lost to the storm, darkness begins to give way to sunrise.
But as a new day dawns and they reach the shore of the other side of the Sea of Galilee,
“They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.” – Luke 8:26
Jesus, and his disciples find themselves trading one fierce tempest for another as they face not a raging squall all around them in the wind and the waves but a different kind of storm altogether – a great disturbance in human nature.
Like something out of a modern-day scary movie, Jesus steps out onto land and immediately confronts a naked, wild-eyed, madman maniacally shrieking and running toward him.
If you’ve ever watched a preview for a scary movie in theaters, you may have noticed the following caution being advertised – the following movie may be disturbing to some viewers.
In the same spirit, let me likewise caution us, that the following scripture and sermon may be disturbing to some listeners. Consider yourself forewarned. (READ THE TEXT)
“When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice…” – Luke 8:27 – 28
A crazed, howling figure marked by both the look and stench of death creeps toward Jesus as he exits the boat like something out of a monster movie. But it is, in actuality, just a man.
A man without any clothes – who wanders around as naked as the day he was born.
A man without a home
“Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.” – Luke 8:29
– who once had been under house arrest but being unable to restrain himself, was eventually was driven out of town.
A man without any peace “For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.” – Luke 8:27
– who in his solitary confinement aimlessly roams among the tombs just outside the city – ghoulishly moaning in anguish, day after day and night after night.
A man without a name – who in living this way for such a long time, has lost his identity finding himself either unable to remember or to answer as to who he is when asked by Jesus.
“Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.” – Luke 8:30
A man without any freedom – who is living in bondage – being held hostage – as he is possessed not by just one but a legion of demonic spirits.
Perhaps the reference to demons makes us uncomfortable or worse, dismissive of this story.
Our tendency is to sit in one of two extremes when it comes to any biblical reference to the demonic – outright rejection or unhealthy fixation.
Many dismiss such notions as reflections of a primitive, unenlightened worldview – much like belief in a flat world or belief in all the planets revolving around the earth rather than the sun.
As we hear the people of Jesus’ day talk of demonic possession, we rationalize such sufferings as being more a result of medical or sociological causes.
And while there is truth that modern science can and has accounted for much of what we once didn’t understand – things such as mental illness or psychological stress and trauma – we ought not to entirely discount both the reality and the influence of manifestations of evil that go beyond any scientific explanation or natural causes.
We misread this story if we simply rationalize what happened here.
For this encounter powerfully affirms the reality of the demonic – supernatural, adversarial forces – principalities and powers at work in this world in opposition to God.
Regardless of how modern or enlightened we perceive ourselves to have become, we still witness undeniable evidence of postures and actions that are so overwhelmingly malicious and contemptuous we cannot but classify them as not merely bad but downright evil.
I’m talking about forces and embodiments of oppression and injustice, that pulls us toward death rather than foster life.
The same face of evil, the same pull towards death we witness unleashed in the poor man at the center of this passage can be seen today in those people and communities held in physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual bondage.
Principalities and powers that take root in ideologies and incarnate themselves through practices that strip away dignity and violate personhood, that erode civility and poison fellowship, that isolate, alienate and deny others the protections and freedoms God demands to be afforded to all of His children – regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, age or creed.
At the same time, we must be mindful of the other extreme we can take which is becoming overly preoccupied with the demonic.
Such an obsession rears its ugly head when we find ourselves looking for and blaming the devil for everything that is wrong in our lives rather than taking any personal responsibility for our choices and actions.
An unhealthy fixation on the demonic leads us to adopt and perpetuate a cynical or pessimistic view wherein we credit the forces of evil with greater influence and dominance than the sovereignty of the love and grace of Christ.
For while this encounter in Luke’s gospel affirms not the superstition but the reality of the demonic; it also reinforces Jesus’ presence and power both to end and heal the forces of evil that occupy and control us – those powers which destroy rather than promote life.
Something Luke makes clear in his description of this tortured soul – of this naked, unrestrained, howling man keeping company among the dead rather than the living – is what an uncontrollable and frightening presence he is.
It’s not hard to imagine this demon-possessed man was so terrifying of a presence that everyone in the town worked hard to go out of their way – even taking a more roundabout or longer path to get wherever they needed to be – in order to avoid running into him.
But Jesus doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t look for the nearest exit, doesn’t try to find a way around entering into hostile territory, a haunted community, and the hellish imprisonment of a lost soul.
As Jesus encounters this deranged, tortured, and persecuted man, once again, we see there is no place in all creation that God will not go — will not reclaim from the forces of evil.
Jesus does not hesitate here even though he is greatly outnumbered.
After all, while we’ve witnessed Jesus exorcise individual demons before, this time around it is one against thousands.
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.” – Luke 8:30
For when Jesus tries to ask this poor man his name, it is the demonic power holding him captive which speaks and answers, “Legion.”
A legion is roughly six thousand Roman soldiers.
More than a name, it’s an indication of the force, of the weight of the darkness oppressing this man and the increased challenge before Jesus – the exorcism of not one unclean spirit but a horde of the demonic.
But from the very start, even with their greater numbers, this legion of demons immediately capitulates – throwing this man, their captor, to the ground – at Jesus’ feet.
“When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” – Luke 8:28
It is a defiant but forced posture of obedience, of worship —the acknowledgment of the One who is greater than their thousands, their collective company.
Recognizing the authority and power of the One who stands before them – “Jesus, the Son of the Most High God” this battalion of demons begs Jesus not to torture them, not to consign them to the Abyss – that is back to the underworld, the Old Testament abode of the dead.
If we turn to the Book of Revelation,
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” – Revelation 20:3
this is the inevitable destiny – the final state to which all forces opposed to God will be condemned – that of non-existence.
From the moment Jesus laid eyes on this poor soul of a man,
“For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man.” – Luke 8:29
Luke tells us that Jesus had been rebuking these demons – commanding them to come out of this man.
They know they’ve got to obey. They are trying to buy time.
Eventually, these unclean spirits seek refuge in unclean animals
“A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.” – Luke 8:32
as the demons plead and Jesus relents in allowing them to enter into a herd of pigs.
As the demons quickly take residence in the swine, the power of evil is revealed for what it is—for what it ultimately does
“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.” – Luke 8:33
—as this enormous herd of pigs is driven mad and devoured by death.
Let’s pause for just a moment to acknowledge how this incident can raise many questions for us.
Questions like… Can animals be possessed by demons?
Or how could Jesus treat animals like this – allowing this herd of pigs to meet their doom?
These questions are not answered for us.
At best, what we can infer from this bizarre, disturbing scene is the removal of evil is not without cost or sacrifice.
Purging the stranglehold that the iniquity of sin, the devil, and death has on this beautiful but broken creation will result in more than the offering of a herd of pigs; it will require the giving of God’s own life through his Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.
We must not let our questions, our confusion, or even our offense over the fate of these animals cause us to miss the most horrifying part of this story.
If we’ve ever watched a scary movie, there always is what is called a final jump scare near the end of the film.
The menacing evil has been defeated. At last, the threat is over, and everyone is safe and sound.
Or so it appears – until suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere – the monster that appeared dead makes one last, gasping effort to take hold of its victims.
This scary story in Luke is no different.
A once tortured soul, this demon-possessed man who had become dispossessed by his neighbors, has been healed and set free.
The shadow of death hanging over this community has been lifted.
For there is no longer anyone or anything to fear in the countryside surrounding the town.
And so, as the townspeople receive word about what has happened and come out to meet Jesus, we expect this encounter to end with a joyous note of thanksgiving and celebration.
However, this is not the reaction of the people from the neighborhood.
“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 were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.” – Luke 8:34 – 37
Luke tells us that the entire community, instead of gushing with praise for Jesus at the sight of their fellow citizen now made well, is so overcome by fear of Jesus, they ask him to leave.
Instead of being given the key to the city, Jesus is shown the way to the door.
Much like the demons that begged Jesus to leave them alone; the townspeople beg Jesus pretty much to do the very same thing.
They want Jesus gone. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Now.
To be clear, the fear exhibited by this town is a negative fear. Not all fear is negative. Fear can be healthy.
Healthy fear is reflexive – a proper response to an overwhelming or threatening situation – leading us to take proper care, to have suitable caution, and thus protecting us from harm.
Healthy fear when it comes to encountering God is to be filled with awe, wonder, and a humbling perspective before the revelation of being in the presence and power of the Creator of all things – the God who is greater than any of us.
Healthy fear leads to the receptivity of faith – being more open to the possibility and promise of what God can do.
Negative fear – the kind exhibited by this crowd – does not lead to faith but rejects faith.
If faith is a gift; what the townspeople basically say to Jesus is, “No, thank you. Now please leave.”
Therefore, Jesus, who does not force himself on us, Christ, who does not stay where he is not wanted, departs.
“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.” – Luke 8:37
In Luke’s gospel at least, Jesus steps for the first and last time into Gentile territory.
This is only healing he does in this part of Israel.
As this story concludes, Jesus sails away as the folks of this town, go back home, unchanged.
Having rejected Christ, a whole community goes back to its life without Jesus.
And if we don’t find that scary, then we’re missing the bottom line of this dramatic and disturbing encounter.
For God’s sake, why does this happen?
What do we suppose they were all so afraid of?
Some speculate the fear of the townspeople was based on economic loss.
With the sight of all those dead pigs floating in the water and even now starting to wash up on the shore – Mark’s account of this story tells us there were more than 2,000 swine that drowned that day – that represents a bit of a financial hit to the community.
But Luke doesn’t provide any such clarity as to the specific basis of their fear.
Let’s face it. Unbelief can be hard to reconcile sometimes.
That being said, it seems clear at least in a general sense, the fear of these townspeople centers around the disruption of their lives and their community.
“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; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.” – Luke 8:35 – 37
To say it more pointedly, if we really know who Jesus is, if we truly understand why Christ came, Jesus can scare the hell out of us.
What I mean is, we can be fine – all well and good – with Christ saving us but we’re not all that interested – and frankly more than a little freaked out about the notion Jesus is going to fundamentally change us – to radically turn our lives and our perfect little worlds upside down.
Jesus scares the hell out of us.
Isn’t that what much of contemporary evangelism is based on?
The fear of going to hell.
Resolving any uncertainty about knowing where we’ll be when we physically die.
That’s the extent of the Gospel message many so-called Christians have embraced – divine rescue, ultimate forgiveness, and eternal security.
Therefore all we ask, all we expect of Jesus, is for him to grant us our heavenly pardon when the time comes.
And between now and then – the unknown date of our death, all we ask, all we expect of Jesus is to make good on his promissory note to us – to ensure we cross the finish line.
Again, we’re quite comfortable with Jesus coming to save us – swooping and rescuing us whenever we need it – when we reach the end of our rope, when we find ourselves in a jam – but otherwise we would prefer Jesus leave us alone to live our lives otherwise undisturbed.
That so many many so-called believers continue to settle, continue to persist in trying to limit Jesus to being the God who can save them but not change them – who will not alter their self-made world has contributed to much of the hypocrisy and ill-will attributed to the Church today.
As we have so-called Christians who profess to be forgiven even as they refuse to let Jesus lead them to forgive others, so-called Christians who appeal to the blessings of God when it comes to their own loss or misfortune but then deny Jesus from cultivating any sense of compassion or generosity in them for those most in need, so-called Christians who boast and sing of the grace of the Lord shown to them in their personal weakness and sin only to turn around, to turn away from following Jesus as they have no grace to give to those whom they judge and condemn as their enemies.
Beloved, if Jesus were to show up unannounced today in our lives – as we go about our business – even as we gather for worship, do we assume Christ would ever and only smile upon and bless everything we are saying and doing?
When’s the last time we even considered what Jesus might have to say let alone what Jesus might seek to overturn and change in terms of how we speak of and represent him to others, the socio-political stances we take and advocate for, and the way we view and interact with others – particularly those with whom we dislike or disagree?
Is it that hard to imagine, if Jesus really did show up, how unsettling it would be for us – just how much his presence let alone his words would reveal how significantly out of alignment with his way, his truth, and his life we are?
Notice in this story, the people have no problems with their former neighbor, the once demon-possesed man being changed.
They don’t ask him to leave town along with Jesus. He can stay. He can be transformed. But that’s as far as it goes.
They don’t perceive their need to be changed by Jesus.
And what they fear is where and how Jesus might upend their lives and community.
They fail to see themselves – their story in this man, in their neighbor’s story.
Are we any different? Do we recognize our story is this man’s story?
Or, do we, like the townspeople, see ourselves as just another face in the crowd?
We may not be possessed by a legion of evil spirits; but if we recognize and name all those influences and forces which have captured us and prevented us from becoming what God intends us to be
– unbridled pride, obsessive jealousy or envy, cancerous bitterness, bigotry, divisiveness, and contempt, uncontrollable and wrathful rage and violent tendencies, wanton lust, gluttony or greed, or any matter of addiction or self-destructive habits, then we all have our demons, don’t we?
Beloved, our particular stories may not be the same but we are all this man.
For apart from the word of God, the coming of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re not our true, full, and best selves.
We may not have had six thousand demons making themselves comfortable in our lives, but left to our own devices, we remain nonetheless in the dark – unable to restrain ourselves, continuing to reopen old wounds even as we keep creating new ones in our lives.
Living as oppressed captives to our own desires, so consumed with ourselves – creating and maintaining our image, our brand, our success that deep down we can’t help but look at everyone else ultimately as competition rather than as community.
And so, even as we live together – with family, friends, and neighbors – driven by our constant anxiety, growing insecurity, or worse, deepening apathy and indifference, we end up functionally living in isolation from each other and even from our true selves.
Beloved the before and after picture of the man in this story is the picture of life apart from Jesus —what it is like and where it leads.
But it is also a reflection of what happens when we encounter Christ – a ghastly, tortured soul—a ghost—once more becomes a human being.
Jesus transforms this man in every way possible – physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.
“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…” – Luke 8:35
Listen to Luke’s description of this once tormented man on the other side of his transformation thanks to Jesus: “sitting, completely dressed and in his right mind…at the feet of Jesus.”
Once naked, this man is now clothed.
Once idlly roaming – unable to remain in one place and to associate peacefully with others, this man now sits still at Jesus’ feet.
Once tormented – continually crying out in a loud voice and wanting nothing to do with Jesus; now of sound mind, comfortable in the presence of Christ, and in a receptive posture of learning.
Beloved, the Gospel isn’t that Jesus comes only to save us when we cry out for help in this life or when death finally comes for us.
No, the Gospel is Jesus saves us by changing us – transforming us into who we created to be – whole rather than fractured persons – the best yet unrealized version of our selves
by cleansing and restoring us – bringing we, who once were dead in our sin back to life –
by taking we, who expose ourselves as defiant enemies of God and clothing us with a new heart and right mind and leading us back home.
Despite this – the invitation of the full Gospel – as we learn in this story, through the people of this town, sometimes the devil you know seems better than the Messiah you don’t…
If we really know Jesus, if truly understand what Christ is all about, he is too powerful, too significant, too much of a life-changer.
For once again, Jesus is not content to simply bail us out of whatever trouble we get into but actually purposes to release us – to set us free from the source of the trouble we keep getting into – from those old habits that die hard, – from long-established but still unhealthy thoughts and patterns of living – from our limited ways of seeing and engaging the world around us.
But being resurrected to a new way of living today rather than just waiting to go to heaven when you physically expire means dying to yourself now – and that’s pretty scary.
As crazy as it sounds – and it is insane, sometimes the terror we know is more tolerable than the peace we cannot imagine.
It can be easier to hold on to the pain we’ve grown accustomed to, the suffering we’ve learned to deal with rather than experiencing the tension that comes from being changed, the disruption of being transformed.
Sometimes it’s easier to believe what we tell ourselves or what others tell us, that we cannot change and use that lie as an excuse to hold onto to that anger, that prejudice, that addiction, that bias, that envy, that jealousy, that hatred, to act like a pig rather than to yield to the truth that Jesus comes, Christ promises to change us.
We can convince ourselves it’s easier to stay the same – even if “the same” is not all that great – rather than let Jesus all the way into our lives and reveal to us this or that truth that we’d just as soon not know about the kind of life we’re living, the sort of company we keep, or the world, the bubble, we’ve falsely created around ourselves.
But let us not shy away from learning and benefiting from the hard lesson of this town, this community of people that basically commits suicide – that purposefully throw themselves into chaos; forcibly drowning themselves like the swine by willfully cuts themselves off from the only source of life – the full, abundant, and everlasting life there is in Jesus Christ.
Let us together instead become the seed of hope Jesus leaves behind as he sets sail.
“The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him…” – Luke 8:38
Initially, the healed man begs to depart with Jesus – to leave behind the people who have rejected Christ.
“…but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” – Luke 8:38 – 39
Jesus, however, tells this man to go to his family – to his own house.
This man is sent to be restored to his family, yes.
But this man is also being sent to bring restoration to his family —the restorative power of Jesus, the restoration that the Kingdom of God brings.
Even though Jesus doesn’t stay to help the people of this town because they were so afraid of him, he leaves behind a witness for everyone who has initially rejected him.
Jesus leaves behind a living testimony to the truth that evil cannot prevail over God’s freedom.
A glimmer of hope, a seed of promise, remains for this town in the faithful obedience and discipleship of this man.
After all, as this whole episode dramatically reveals, the word of God brings life.
Notice Jesus instructs this man to not just share the miracle with others but to talk about, to point to what the miracles signify —that God is in control, that God keeps his promises, that sin, death and the devil will not endure forever.
That’s our calling as disciples too. That’s the mark, the indicator that we are following Jesus as well.
Luke’s reporting of this event ends with an important footnote:
“So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” – Luke 8:39
And thus, Jesus’ mission across the lake is not without fruit as Christ gains one new disciple.
A guy who was once known as the village idiot, the local crazy man, the troubled and dangerous demoniac becomes one of the first missionary to the Gentiles.
This is the kind of change Jesus comes to bring in every human life – to transform each one of us from harbingers of doom and gloom into visible reflections, tangible witnesses of the power of God’s unconditional love and amazing grace.
Beloved, Jesus doesn’t come to scare the hell out of us.
Jesus comes to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in God’s image so that together we can storm the gates of hell in Christ’s name all for the sake of sharing the Kingdom of God.
The word of the Gospel is spreading. The reign of God is on the move with no signs of stopping.
The love of Christ is more than conquering, the grace of Jesus is transforming, what was once considered to be enemy-occupied territory.
For in this story we discover a foothold being made not just in one life – but the groundwork being laid for the reclamation and restoration of an entire town. And in that is, the foreshadowing of God’s redemption and renewal of all the nations of the world. For this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!