Read Luke 8:26-39 and Matthew 28:18-20
18th century English writer and theologian G. K. Chesterton postulated that “the first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.” This effect is felt throughout the Western hemisphere, where belief in Christianity has given way to the erosive forces that have sought to break it down. Fascination and pursuit of alternate experiences have left a gaping hole that yearns to be filled. Add to that the void that has been created by a lack of fervor and zeal by those who call themselves Christians, one is now left with having to personally decide what to do with the claims of Christianity and even more so the claims of Christ. Much has been said about Jesus, whether it’s substantiating his claims, his teachings, or his ministry. Some have discounted the record, others have encountered him for who he is.
Still, in the midst of our personal struggles, dark moments, and seasons of doubt and uncertainty we are met with an unshakeable authority that he wields and a relentless desire to make us whole. This, of course, necessitates that we admit our brokenness and come face-to-face with his authority. Indifference has no room, neither does neutrality. In the midst of our circumstances—whether good or bad—we come to grips with the reality that he is in control. For some, this may be unnerving, for others the most freeing truth they could possibly hope for. What cannot happen is sideline-Christianity that sits comfortably in an armchair, following Christ as long as it’s convenient.
If today you desire to be made whole, then the next few paragraphs will be of utmost importance to you. If you desire for others to be made whole, then you need to follow along closely as we dig into a rather unlikely text.
Before we dig into our text, let’s spend some time on the context of the passage as it helps us explain what happened, how it happened, why it happened and arrive at the proper application for us today.
“26Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time 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 desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. 34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 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. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone 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.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” ~ Luke 8:26-39, ESV
The events of this passage take place in the region of Decapolis (Mk.5:20), more specifically in the region of the Gerasenes (Lk.8:26). It’s an event that has been recorded by all Mathew, Mark and Luke, which underscores its significance. In each, the place of this event is at a different location, albeit just by name. The context, however, makes it clear, where exactly this encounter took place. From our passage in Luke, we learn that it is close to the shore of the sea of Gallilee, in a country opposite of the region of Gallilee (Lk.8:26). The event took place outside the city, in a region, where tombs had been hewn into caves (Lk.8:27) and which had a steep bank into the lake (Lk.8:33). The fact that Jesus and his disciples sailed down (Lk.8:26) on the lake connects this event chronologically to the previous one, in which Jesus calmed the storm (Lk.8:22-26).
Luke, the author of this Gospel, carefully makes his case for Jesus’ authority and absolute control over everything by carefully describing events associated with his authority:
- In 7:11-17 he shows that Jesus has authority over death
- In 8:22-25 he shows that Jesus has authority over nature,
- In 8:26-39 he shows that Jesus has authority over evil
- and, later 8:40-56, he shows that Jesus has authority over sickness.
In each of these instances, Jesus’ authority demonstrates his deity and shows us his power, his strength, and his sovereign claim over everything.
At first glance, you can summarize our passage as follows: Jesus arrives at the shore, is met by a demon-possessed man (in the Synoptics it’s two men), the demons recognize who he is and ask him to be allowed to enter the swine. The swine rush down the steep bank and drown, the herdsmen proclaim what they saw and the people ask Jesus to leave. The man, freed from the demons and saved by all indication is sent back as a missionary to his people.
That’s the story in a nutshell. It has some exciting parts in it, it raises some questions, but, for the most part, seems unrelatable to us at the outset. After all, demons and demon possession sound archaic and belong at best in the fiction section of our experience. However, once we dig into the text, we will see that our preconceived notions may need to be adjusted. And maybe, just maybe, this text will have relevance for you and me today.
The key point I would like to submit to you is this: Jesus’ authority commands my responsibility. Now, let’s look at how this key truth is played out in our passage for today
1. Jesus’ authority to make me whole demands that I fully submit to him.
Submission is a tricky word, isn’t it? It conjures up weird emotions bent toward resentment, which is due in part to a misappropriation and abuse of the term and the people involved in it. At best, it leaves a daunting weight over our heads and at worst, it causes us to reject the concept altogether. Fact is: no one wants to submit to anyone or anything. The rebellious streak in all of us at least demands some form of authority and show of reason as to why I should submit, but that alone may or may not cause me to do it. I say this, because I understand what’s going through your head right now. So why would I bring this up as my first point? The answer lies in the fact that the only proper response to Jesus’ authority is my submission to Him.
Before we drift off too philosophically, let’s have a closer look at the text. Jesus leaves a completely Jewish territory in order to purposefully show his deity, his power, and his authority to make people whole to two Gentile men. Others, to be sure, were given the same opportunity as well – such as the herdsmen (Lk.8:34), the people in the city (Lk.8:34), and the people in the country (Lk.8:34) – but let’s stay with a key observation: here you have Jesus taking his disciples away from the people of God, making them cross treacherous waters, in which even the most experienced fishermen among them feared for their lives, just to show his authority to make people whole to two demoniacs, who lived in the independent, autonomous region of Decapolis, which is thoroughly Gentile and hostile toward the God of Israel. Think about the ramifications: the length to which Jesus went in order to bring light into their darkness. It’s almost as if He purposefully “left the 99 sheep in order to go after the one, which was lost (Lk.15:4ff.)” To say he went into hostile territory to rescue two people is an understatement. Here we have a demoniac who was possessed not by one demon—as if that were not enough—but by many. When asked by Jesus what his name was, he responds with “Legion,” which refers to a Roman cohort of soldiers ranging up to 6,000 men strong. Considering that there were about 2,000 swine, we are looking at at least two or more.
The townspeople dealt with the men as anyone would: bind them, shackle them, cast them out, and assign them to the dead. It’s easier that way—for all parties involved. This may not get rid of the problem, but at least they can contain the damage, distance themselves from this bleak reality, and control it to some extent. The sad part is this— and don’t miss this—we are talking about people here: families, neighbors, and a whole community that’s been affected by the plight of these two men. The demoniacs once were part of this city, they had family and friends, but now they’re outcasts. Isolated, they portray a picture of pure pity: they’re naked, living in tombs, scarred from the many attempts to keep them in chains, driven by an uncontrollable force, completely helpless, hopeless, and destitute. Howling like animals, the demoniacs posed a violent threat to those who’d come near as well as to themselves as they would cut themselves over and over with the rocks and stones in their tombs.
Don’t you love it, how against all these odds, Jesus breaks into their world and radically changes things around? He takes the initiative, he takes the risk, and offers a solution that no one else can offer: He wants to make them whole—but not just the demoniacs; he extends the offer to the entire region, beginning with the herdsmen, on to the people in the city, and beyond. His authority is unlimited, but the responsibility that’s required is simply this: they need to submit to it.
In our text, there are several parties that are given this opportunity to submit to Jesus’ authority: on the one hand, you have the demons, then the demoniac(s), and then the offer is to the rest of the people.
Notice, first of all, the demons’ submission to Jesus:
- They fell down before Jesus in complete submission (Lk.8:28)
- They recognized Jesus for who He is: Jesus (Messiah), Son of the Most High God (Lk.8:28)
- They recognized that Jesus had the power to torment them (Lk.8:28)
- They obeyed Jesus’ command to come out of the man (Lk.8:29)
- They know that Jesus has the power and the authority to send them into the abyss (Lk.8:31)
- They recognized that they must heed whatever command Jesus gives (Lk.8:31)
- They had to ask for permission from Jesus to enter the swine (Lk.8:32)
There is something to be said about what demons believe regarding Christ and how that is manifested in their actions. Even James says “You believe that God is one. Good for you! Even the demons believe that, and shudder! (James 2:19)” Our text for today leaves no doubt that they had a proper view of Christ: He has the ultimate authority and they have but one responsibility: to submit.
Take it a step further. The demoniac, after he was freed, “sat at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind (Lk.8:35).” He took the proper position – one that recognizes the One under whose authority he was made whole. Here he was, taking the same position as Mary did, when she sat at Christ’s feet (Lk.10:39ff.) – a place of humility, of submission, of learning, and of instant readiness at the Master’s call. And when once the opportunity arose, this man “begged Christ that he may go with him (Lk.8:38).” It was in his position of submissiveness that he was ready to be commissioned by Christ – whether to go with him or to stay back. Jesus’ authority to make me whole demands that I fully submit to him. The demons understood that and the freed demoniacs modeled that for us as well.
2. Jesus’ authority to make me whole demands that I honestly deal with sin.
It may not be obvious at first glance, but the demoniacs were not the only ones that were shackled. While the problem with the demoniacs was quite noticeable by all, the actions—or inactions—of the people revealed an equally devastating condition. By their actions, they revealed a heart condition that had been wreaked by sin. You see, at the core of sin lies self. Sinful actions stem from a selfish predisposition. In most every city Jesus went, he was met with belief and disbelief. Rarely do you find a wholesale rejection of Christ. In most every instance, there is healing that takes place, there is forgiveness of sins that is extended, and there is usually a short exchange of words with the disbelieving religious crowd. In our text, however, we have a sharp contrast between the reaction of the demons’ and the demoniac’s and that of the herdsmen, the people of the city, and those who came from the countryside.
- Whereas submission should have been the proper response, they rejected Christ’s authority instead.
- Where there should have been a recognition of the fact that two men had been miraculously freed from an impossible situation, the people placed the value of the material loss of a herd of swine drowned in the sea over that of human life made whole.
- Instead of awe at the miracle that stood right before them and has been witnessed by the 12 disciples, the two demoniacs, the herdsmen and they themselves, they operated out of fear instead of faith (Lk.8:35, 37). In Romans 14:23 we read, “everything that is not of faith is sin.”
- Their default position of dealing with things they cannot control was to distance themselves from them; this can be seen in their attempts to shackle the demoniacs and sending them away from the city to live among the tombs and their insistence of seeing Jesus leave rather than explore further who He is and what He might have to offer.
- There is no rejoicing with the demoniacs, no congratulation, no family reunion or warm embrace; there is no recognition of something miraculous having taken place; or, at the very least, that their constant nuisance has by all indication been remedied once and for all.
- Their response wasn’t to bring out their sick, their handicapped, and their own hardened hearts, but instead they wanted to get rid of Jesus as soon as possible before – ____________
If you have lived in darkness long enough, any penetration of light will feel uncomfortable, threatening, and disarming. Moments before, they weighed themselves with the false sense of security of “controlling” the force of multitudes of demons wreaking havoc. As if shackles and chains could pose a real hindrance to a legion of them. In light of the power at work to free this demoniac, their attempts to shackle demons seemed like silly string in hindsight. And yet, the adage “the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know” seems to be a guiding factor here.
Twice our text says that fear was their main motivation for sending Jesus away. Watch how the Greek language used here paints the graphic picture of their fear: the herdsmen “fled” from the scene, the people from the city and the countryside were “terrified” when they saw the former demoniac sitting at the feet of Jesus. Fear “seized” them, much like a demon seized the man, and paralyzed them from honestly dealing with their own darkness and brokenness. When once you have encountered one so powerful and authoritative you are forced to respond to that authority. Neutrality is no longer an option. How can you possibly explain that? For people accustomed to autonomy, such as the people of Decapolis, this man Jesus posed a threat to everything they held dear.
And yet, in the midst of such a clear and unmistakable miracle having taken place, they closed off their hearts, shut out the One who came to penetrate their own darkness, and request He depart.
When reading this text one cannot help but wonder how much more Jesus had wanted to do for them. Weren’t there people in their midst who needed a touch of Jesus? Any handicapped? Any sick? Any in need of forgiveness? Depart. Go away. Leave us. Jesus’ authority to make me whole demands that I honestly deal with sin. “Honestly” means that I start somewhere. I acknowledge that I am in the presence of One, whose authority cannot be dismissed, topped, or challenged. His bright shining light illumining even the darkest of my secrets. I am bare and naked before Him, exposed, and it’s impossible for me to hide. And all I can do is bring my heart to bear – regardless of the consequences.
- It’s joining with Job’s cry, “even though He slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job13:15); while there is a distinct possibility to be vanquished before one so powerful, still I will throw myself at his mercy. I have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.
- It is displaying appropriate fear as opposed to the operating fear of the people in Decapolis. Jesus spoke of this fear later in Luke when He said, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:5).
- It’s making, “Blessed are those poor in spirit – absolute, abject spiritual poverty – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:3) your starting point, your confession, and your battle cry.
- It is stammering Isaiah’s words, “woe is me for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa.6:5) and let the burning coal of his presence consume your sin.
C.S. Lewis described his heart condition prior to his conversion as follows: it was like “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.” That’s someone, who expressed appropriately who he was and how desperate He needed what only Jesus could offer. His authority demands that I honestly deal with sin.
3. Jesus’ authority to make me whole demands that I willingly engage his mission.
Place yourself in the disciples’ shoes for a moment. While silent, they were nonetheless present in our text. Some of them were experienced fishermen, who just weathered the fiercest storm of their lives. They witnessed Jesus get up from his sleep (what does that really say over the storms of our lives, if Jesus can sleep comfortably?) and command the winds and the waves by saying, “peace, be still!” and in an instant the fiercest storm that threatened to take their lives ceased. While still on the boat, they asked, “who then is this that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (Lk.8:25). To be honest, this probably would have been one of those moments, where I would have called a time out.
Storms, that’s one thing. Dealing with the demonic realm that’s quite another. It’s not fiction, it’s not fairytales, it’s part of our day-to-day reality. It’s not limited or isolated to one event or location—it’s part of our reality. Where I seem to be up against powers and forces that make me fret and wonder, it is comforting to know that Jesus’ authority and power far supersedes everything.
Whether it’s allowing him to handle winds and waves, defeat sickness and death, or show evil its proper place, the disciples didn’t run, they didn’t abandon ship, but they stayed with the mission. For them, at this point, it was still “come and see” and “where is your faith?” which later will translate into them being sent out and commissioned. The demoniac had but one response: Jesus I want to join you in your mission. Our text says, “he was begging Him that he might accompany Him” (Lk.8:38). He willingly wanted to engage in Jesus’ mission, become his disciple, travel with him.
“But Jesus sent him away” (Lk.8:39). Here Jesus intentionally commissions a believer to be salt and light to a people that chose comfort in darkness over surrender to light. A pastor friend of mine, Heiden Ratner, always says, “free people free people.” That is certainly the objective here. What better missionary than the one who was one of them, one, whose testimony cannot be dismissed, who bears the scars of the past, but walks before them in newness of life. “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you!“ Go home to your family, to your immediate circle of influence and declare—don’t just casually mention it, but rather give an accurate account and describe in full detail—what GOD has done for you.
What does he do? Argue with Jesus? Do a word study on what Jesus may have meant when He commissioned him? Go to seminary to get a degree and a report with the people? No, “he went away, proclaiming—preaching, being a herald—throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for Him“ (Lk.8:39). Demoniac turned preacher-man. Now there’s a newspaper story. Hey, you were supposed to stick to your home, buddy, not the city. What a mess—now what do we do? Clearly, shackling him up is no longer an option.
Please don’t miss the heart of Jesus here. The people were finished with him, but he wasn’t finished by a long shot. He commissioned a home-grown missionary to live and testify—preach and declare—among them. No, you can’t come with me—you’ll be of more use where I am sending you. Start with your family.
This brings me to my supporting text. Read Matthew 28:18-20:
“18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Did you catch that?
Who has all authority? Jesus.
Where does he have authority? In heaven and on earth—that’s pretty much everything.
The next part is similar to our text: the people of the people saw the demoniac made whole and then asked Jesus to leave; here Jesus says, “because I have all authority … you go!” Like the freed demoniac, Jesus is sending his disciples out … not just to their homes, no, but into all the nations and this is what they are to do: baptize and teach. Make disciples of Jesus. And the best part: unlike the freed demoniac that was sent back as Jesus boarded his ship, Jesus tells his disciples: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus’ authority demands that I willingly engage his mission. Much like he didn’t leave much wiggle room for the disciples, neither does he for you and me. That’s the beauty of having authority: you get to send, make promises, instill vision. But it also places a demand on you and me. If we are his followers, then this applies to you and me as well: we too are to go … into the nations. Make disciples. He didn’t say, hire a religious elite endowed with theological degrees. He said, you go. I am sending you! Jesus’ authority commands my responsibility.
Let’s make this a bit more practical!
Jesus’ desire for you and me is to be made whole. He and he alone has the authority, power, and plan to make this happen. For the demoniac(s), it meant to be free from the demonic power that befell them. For the people it meant to be free from a hardened heart, which is dead-set against God. It means that his light will penetrate even the darkest of spots. When once you recognize that it’s no longer a question of authority, then there is but one response: my submission. This is crucial: are you submitting to him? Unrelentlessly. And with that, are you dealing honestly with your sin? Are you confessing and forsaking it? Finally, are you making his commission your own mission? The end of the age has not yet come, therefore, the task at hand still stands. It’s personal and it’s communal. It’s both my responsibility and yours—and together as a church we are part of it. You, I, all of us have been commissioned to make disciples of Jesus. Sent back like demoniacs into our very “house” (our network of relationships) and cities. But it doesn’t stop there—nations. The task is not left for missionaries, professionals. It’s for demoniacs turned preachers. It’s for moms, dads, businessmen, teachers. It’s for the lower class, middle class, and upper class.
It’s no longer an issue of authority or a question of whether or not you and I can get into the boat with Jesus. He told you where to go. He told you what to do. He told us when the assignment is complete. My response, your response is no longer one of our choosing—it has already been decided: His authority becomes my responsibility. Do you want to be made whole? Then submit, deal with sin, and do what he says. Do you want others to be made whole? Then don’t hide behind the impossible—for he is with you.
 When Man Ceases to Worship God.https://www.chesterton.org/ceases-to-worship/
 C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York/London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955), 226.
Photo credit: Greyson Joralemon