Luke 8:26-39 “Legions Confront Us”
In our scripture for today, when Jesus comes up to the man who is chained in the graveyard near Gerasa he asks his name. “What is your name?” The man answers that his name is “legion.” There are many demons inside of him. One name will not cover the vast army of demons in his life.
I like to preach a sermon that focuses on just one particular evil. That makes it easier for me! It is great when we can just name that one thing that is affecting us at a certain point in our life. Yes, I could preach on and on about such things as vanity, avarice, slothfulness, coveting, and the like one by one. Yet, does it really matter that we know the name of the evil that is right before us? Is it not enough to realize that there are always many evils right before us? Legions confront us. A “legion” is one thousand warriors, if you are not familiar with the term. I would rather preach on just one evil, but rarely, in all honesty, does evil come one piece at a time. Yet, we talk about evils in the singular when we know that they are “legion.”
1 Peter 5:8 and on: “. . . .Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around you, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” This passage gives me hope in an odd way: It states that the devil is still outside of my heart and mind as it prowls around me. The legions of evil are gathered outside me—at least I hope they are still outside of me!
It is one thing to realize that there is evil all around us in the world in which we must engage in order to live. It is another thing entirely for us to realize openly and honestly that there is evil right inside of us. We could all have demons inside of us. We just read two weeks ago that Mary of Magdala had seven demons inside of her that Jesus cast out.
We must ask ourselves therefore if the evil is prowling our lives right now, or if perhaps the demons are already inside of us. James 4:7-10, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. . . .” If we do not submit to God, then perhaps the evil demons already have tacit control of our lives. Perhaps unwittingly we have submitted to the evil.
Now, we know from today’s text that the man had a legion of demons inside of him. Yet, we also must confess that he has been surrounded by evil as well. When I think about it, I find myself utterly bewildered at the evil that humanity perpetrates on itself. This man is, even as a possessed man, a child of God. He should be treated with some sort of basic dignity. Instead, we see that he is chained like an animal in a cemetery, almost as if everyone hoped he would simply die.
How did he live? All we now is that there are pigs nearby. Perhaps the man shared food with the pigs. We also read that he is able to escape from time to time. Perhaps he would be able to find food in the land around him. Then, apparently he would be caught by people and chained back up in the cemetery.
Should that be what we do? Confront evil with even more evil? Hopefully we all see the inherent problem with that! Friedrich Nietzsche once warned: “The one who fights monsters must be careful not to become the monster.”
I recall in the church I served in Los Angeles twenty years ago one particular trustees meeting after church one Sunday. A homeless person, who was in fact later picked up by homicide detectives from LAPD, had come after me with a knife. She had threatened me and my family. She had even threatened to kill my dog. I do not have to go into all of the details of the situation, but just so you all understand the trustees were concerned for the safety of their young pastor and were desperate to find a viable solution.
One of the trustees finally spoke up and suggested that we should have this homeless person killed. He knew some people from his neighborhood, South Central LA, that could make our problem go away! You know, I was a young pastor and truly naďve, but I just never expected to be sitting in a meeting with the leadership of my church openly talking about murdering someone. After all, it was kind of against the Ten Commandments. The sad part was that this was really the only viable solution the board of trustees could come up with.
How do we handle evil? What is the Christ-like response? Jesus went out and confronted evil face to face. We see that in his time with Satan for 40 days at the start of his ministry. We see that with his casting out demons from people such as Mary Magdalene. In our text for today, we see that he actually went way out of his way, crossing the Sea of Galilee with his disciples to go to this very demon-possessed fellow.
How hard it is to confront evil without any evil in your own heart! This is what Jesus does because he has the power to cast out demons, to dispel evil! And, he gives the power to his disciples (read start of Luke 9) and even down unto us.
To be sure, however, Jesus does not cast these demons out at all. We read the story and feel convinced that that is what Jesus did. Actually, as we read the text, we see that the demons offer to leave this man well before they are cast out by Jesus. They know who Jesus is. They know he has the power to send them “to the abyss.” That is not back where they came from, by the way. This is a reference to “nothingness.” Jesus can cast them into nothingness.
They beg Jesus. “Let us alone. We will leave this man.” They ask that they be allowed to leave on their own and to take up residence in the herd of swine nearby. Jesus allows this. I like this. It is as if all we ever have to do is stand up in Jesus’ name and let evil come to its own demise. You see, I believe that the demons we face everyday are basically cowards before the faith we have in our hearts and on our lips. They run at the name of Jesus.
This raises for me a great question: Why are we still afraid of other people’s demons? I will admit it for myself, I sometimes do not want to raise the ire of other people’s demons. And, I believe that that is part of what happened in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Those people in the shooter’s life leading up to his horrific act were afraid of confronting that boy. They were so afraid of how his demons would react, how violent they would become, that people just tried to avoid any confrontation with the boy at all. This action out of fear fed the boys loneliness and his bravado to pick up a gun in violent hatred. I know it is really not as simple as what I just stated. However, when we see someone who is about to be a harm to himself and to others, we need to feel the courage of our faith that we can confront his demons. His demons will be as weak and cowardly as the one’s that Jesus confronted in Gerasa that day.
There are some powerful evils in this world. Let’s be realistic. The man chained in the cemetery in Jesus’ day was able to break his metal chains and escape. That is an impressive feat. That shows that evil has power. I do not know about you, but I have trouble opening bags of chips today much less breaking chains of iron! It is incredible. No wonder the people are afraid of this man’s demons!
Yet, there is a greater power. We should fear no evil. Give evil the chance, and it will destroy itself. Jesus does not send the demons into the abyss, they are allowed to retreat into the swine that is on the lakeshore in that moment. Once they are safely ensconced in their new abode, what do they do?
Read the Bible carefully here. We do NOT read that Jesus sent the swine to drown. It does not say in verse 33 that Jesus waved his hand over the pigs to cause them to run into the water. No! “The demons came out of the man, entered the swine, and the pigs rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” The way I read this is that the demons themselves chose to drown the pigs. They entered the pigs, had control of the pigs at that point, and ran into the water.
In this we may infer that their desire was to get safely away from Jesus. They were trying to hide in a place where Jesus would not go. They were intent on high-tailing it back to realm of the underworld; they were using the death of the pigs as a gateway back to Satan.
The people that are watching all of this react as they would if they themselves were filled with demons. I say this because now they could be rejoicing for the victory of Christ over evil demons, instead they show the same kind of fear as the demons that were in this man. The demons who were inside the man are gone, but the all of the others around him, those that chained him up and starved him, see the power of Christ and are afraid! They might be next!
The man who had the legion of demons begs Jesus that he could go along with Jesus and be another disciple. He does not want to stay among those demons who had chained him up naked. I fully understand his desire not to stay in Gerasa. There is obviously a lot of evil to confront there. Nevertheless, Jesus commands this man to go into the city and tell all the people of his salvation from evil. In fact, this man is the first Christian missionary sent out by Jesus himself. And, he is sent to a Greek-speaking city—to a bunch of heathens who do not even believe that there is one God!
There is evil to confront. There are more legions of demons in Gerasa that need to be shown the true power of God! What better ambassador, witness, and missionary could there be? Jesus sends HIM. And, Jesus sends us to confront the evils of our day, too.