READ : Luke 8:37
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.
Luke 8:37 RSV
It’s one of the strangest accounts I’ve ever read. I find in it several things very difficult to understand. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us what happened, but none of these gospel writers pauses to explain the parts that puzzle us most. Here’s the gist of the story.
In the country of the Gadarenes, near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus frees a wildly crazed man from demonic power. The demons somehow enter a herd of pigs nearby. Immediately, all the animals stampede over a cliff to perish in the sea. When the people of the land see the demented man miraculously restored and when they hear about what happened to the swine, they ask Jesus to go away. And when the man who has been transformed wants to go along with Jesus, he is told to go back home instead. Then Jesus goes back across the lake with His disciples. This is apparently all He had in mind for this Gadara trip.
A WORD OF POWER
Though we are left with many questions about this series of events, three things stand out clearly for me. The first is the sheer power of Jesus over all the malignant forces of evil. If we want to see how cruel and destructive the devil is, how bitterly he seems to hate those made in God’s image, and what his agents can do to human beings, we’ll never see it more clearly than in this account.
We don’t know everything that was wrong with the man from the tombs. He may have had an imbalance in his brain chemistry that drove him wild. He may have endured psychological traumas that damaged his personality. But beyond all that, evil powers had invaded the center of his being, taking advantage of his vulnerability and compounding all his problems.
It wasn’t simply one demon. A host of them had possessed this man. They imparted to him such frenzied strength that no chains or fetters could hold him. They drove him from human society to spend his life raging among the habitations of the dead. He was totally without dignity or self-control, a terrifying figure about whom the townspeople must have had nightmares. Every effort to clothe or restrain him had failed completely. If ever there was a hopeless case, an abandoned soul, it was this man of Gadara.
But Jesus made him completely well. A few moments after encountering Jesus, the man was sitting calmly at His feet, clothed like anyone else, and possessed of all his faculties. It surely was the most amazing transformation the disciples had ever seen. It must have been even more astonishing to those who had known this wretched man for years.
How did Jesus do it? Simply by speaking the word. The demon-possessed man cried out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” Jesus had just commanded the unclean spirit to come out. Now He asked, “What is your name?” “Legion” was the answer, for many demons had entered him. The demons, aware that their time was short, begged not to be cast into the abyss. Jesus let them go instead into the swine, where they apparently plunged to destruction anyway. Jesus was in total control of the situation and the demons seemed to know it. Frightful and enslaving though they were, they had no power at all against Him.
Now that’s a word from God to you and me. No one of us can be so badly damaged, so terribly possessed by evil power, so completely out of control, that Jesus can’t set us free. It doesn’t matter how frightful our bondage or how long it has endured, there is a deliverer whose word has limitless power. Never believe that you are beyond help or that those you love have sunk so deep that the love and power of Jesus can’t reach them.
Let’s reflect a bit about the power of the devil and his demons. The mastermind of evil seems to have adopted two main strategies through the centuries. He either leads people to doubt his very existence, to scoff at the idea of a personal devil, or else he seeks to intimidate people, to make them so preoccupied with evil powers that they lose sight of the sovereign Lord. Passages like this one remind us that however mysterious and malignant are the forces of wickedness in this world, they are no match for the incarnate Lord, the now crucified and risen Jesus. Every Christian can celebrate the truth: “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” All the demons in hell cannot hold out against the word and work of Jesus.
A QUESTION OF PRIORITY
Here’s a second thing that becomes plain in this otherwise puzzling narrative. The values of Jesus differ radically from those most commonly held. We’ve talked about the mystery of the pigs, how these demonic spirits can enter animals and why Jesus should so order it. We’re left almost totally in the dark about those questions. But what is luminously clear to me is that Jesus regarded one human life as more important than thousands of swine.
That stands in sharp contrast to the attitude of the Gadarenes. When they came out from the city, they saw an astonishing thing. The wild man who had been living among the tombs had been marvelously tamed. The one who had lived in filth and nakedness was sitting clothed before them. The madman was calm and self possessed. And it was plain that the visitor from across the sea had made all the difference. You would have thought that they would hail Jesus, thank Him, even worship Him for what had happened to the most wretched and tormented of their citizens. He was an eminent trophy of grace. His broken, abandoned life had been totally restored.
But there was that troubling matter about the pigs. The whole herd of them, some 2,000, had perished, drowned in the waters of the sea. What a serious blow that was to the economy of that region! Those swine obviously had owners, investors. Someone took a huge loss because of these bizarre goings on. If the stranger Jesus was responsible for what had happened, He was a dangerous person to have around. True, He seemed to have straightened out the local maniac, but the community could ill afford the cost of many such adventures, so they pleaded with Jesus to leave. Maybe they really wanted to see people redeemed. Maybe they were praying for lives to be set free. But if it was going to hurt people financially like this, it would be better for Jesus, they thought, to do His thing somewhere else. Does that have a familiar ring?
All this is not to imply that Jesus had no regard for property, or that He placed no value on the beasts of the field. Remember, He’s the one who told us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s notice and care. And though He spoke often of the peril of riches, what they can do to human hearts, He never censored anyone because of the goods He possessed, never advocated taking another’s possessions by force. With Jesus, this was a matter of simple priority. Important as the economic interests of people are, and as precious as animal life may be, one human being made in God’s image is incomparably more valuable, more significant. It was to redeem persons like this Gadarene demoniac that Jesus came. It was for them that He toiled and suffered, for them that He lovingly gave Himself up to die.
And that tells me something about the heart of God. Sometimes when I consider the heavens, when I think about the hundred billion stars in our local Milky Way galaxy and of the millions of galaxies out beyond them, I can feel a twinge of uncertainty about how significant human life can really be. But then I remember Jesus, doing all of this to rescue one human life, giving Himself utterly to die for people like you and me. Then I know beyond all doubting that we are more precious to the Most High than a sky full of blazing suns.
I want my values more and more to reflect His. I want to see people through His eyes and give to each human life the priority it truly deserves. When it comes down to people and pork, human well-being vs. large scale profits, I want to be on the side of the angels every time. Don’t you?
A STRATEGY FOR WITNESS
Here’s something else remarkably plain in the midst of much that’s obscure. When the Lord has restored us, we have a story to tell, and we need to start telling it right where we are.
Again, we don’t fully understand the sequel to this marvelous deliverance. The man who had been so miraculously spared apparently wanted to go along with Jesus, wanted to follow Him, to stay in His company, to serve His mission. He was volunteering. Wasn’t that good? And considering what he had been through, what a valuable addition he would have been to the company of the disciples! He could have drawn a crowd wherever he went with his testimony to Jesus’ saving power, considering what he had been before.
But there by the lake side, something unexpected happened again. The man who had been saved and now wanted to serve, the man devoted to Jesus for all he had received, was turned down. Jesus said, “No. I’m sorry; you can’t go with Me.” He urged this instead: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” This man who had been ready to enlist in Jesus’ school, as it were, to go to seminary, to become a foreign missionary, was instructed instead to go back home, back to the community in which he had grown up, back to the people he had known before, back to relatives and friends, back to those who knew all about his past. There, in that setting, he was to be a witness to Jesus. He was to declare what great things God had done for him. In Jesus’ eyes, that was the place where he could serve most effectively. Those were the people for whom his witness would be most telling.
And the man did as he was commanded. He even went beyond his commission. He told his story throughout the whole city, not just in his own household. And he not only said what God had done for his life. He testified that it had all happened through Jesus. For him, what Jesus did, God did. And so he became an eloquent spokesman for the One who had set him free. He pointed to the truth that Jesus was indeed God’s Messiah, God’s Son.
Now this passage obviously doesn’t tell us everything about God’s strategy for evangelism, but some of its lessons are compellingly clear. Conversion is always meant to lead to witness. If the Lord has saved you, if He has delivered you from evil power and made you a new person, if you’re a Christian, you have a story to tell. It would be unthinkable for you to keep quiet about it. But the Lord is the One who knows best where and when and how you are to bear your testimony. You and I are to seek Him, and listen to His voice about the scene of our labors. Ask Him about that. And we are to remember that the primary place for our witness is in the setting where God has placed us. The first people to be concerned about are in the circle of our acquaintance. There may be much more for us to do after that, other places to go, other people to win, but we start in our Jerusalem, don’t we? We tell the people we know best what great things Jesus has done for us.
Maybe today you sense yourself still gripped by some mysterious power of evil. You feel both trapped and driven. You can’t understand exactly why but you feel that way, and you know you need help. Let me encourage you to call upon the name of Jesus Christ, the One who can save and free you. And if He’s done that for your life, if He’s beginning to do it, be sure to tell the world about it. And why not begin right where you live?
Prayer: O God, make plain to everyone who listens how great the power of Jesus is. And may we see people through His eyes, and may we bear witness faithfully to His grace. In the name of Christ. Amen.