One of the things that Luke shows us in this section of his gospel is different peoples reactions to Jesus and his authority seen in the miracles he performs. Here there are two contrasting reactions to Jesus, and the miracle of restoring the demon possessed man.
What is the situation that confronts Jesus as he steps out of the boat? He is in the region of the Gerasenes – a Gentile area – and he faces a demon possessed man. Some try to downplay this mans condition, arguing it was just that they didn’t understand mental illness not really demon possession. Luke is a medical doctor, he is actually very precise in his descriptions of illnesses. And in other parts of the world today these types of events still take place. The Bible is clear that the world is not all there is, that there is a spiritual element to the universe. That actually there is a battle raging between God and his adversary.
In the Bible demon possession seems to occur most prominently in the gospels, there is relatively little in the Old Testament and it doesn’t particularly feature in Acts and the Epistles. It’s as if as Jesus – God’s Son – walks the earth telling people how to be saved Satan sends out his crack troops to confront him. The Bible is clear that just as God is a reality so is evil and that the world is under the influence of sin and Satan – it may be seen just as clearly in atrocities, drug use and selfishness rather than demon possession. In the west we don’t see such open conflict and I think that is a deliberate ploy because what you don’t believe in you don’t fight against.
What Luke stresses here, the big lesson, is Jesus total victory. This battle is not like one of the fights in a Rocky film; where he is always against the ropes, he is always losing until something inspires him and he rallies to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. This is a battle but the outcome is beyond doubt. How is the man’s condition described? He is demon possessed, has been for a long time, no clothes, lives in tombs not house, is unchainable, isolated, multiple possession. It is an utterly hopeless situation, this man is totally at the mercy of these evil spirits, there is nothing anyone can do about it though they have tried. And yet as Jesus steps out of the boat and confronts the evil spirits they are terrified. (28) The man falls at Jesus feet not to worship but to beg, (31, 32) again he begs Jesus. It is an astonishing reaction, this untameable evil is terrified and the question is why?
It is because the evil spirits recognise Jesus “Jesus, Son of the Most High”, they know he is God’s Son with God’s authority just as surely as the wind and waves recognised it previously. (28, 31) They know he has power to cast them into the Abyss – the place reserved for them. So great is Jesus authority that they even have to ask him for permission to enter a herd of pigs.
Who is Jesus? Was the disciples question last week as they saw the wind and the waves obey his voice, creation listen to the creator, here is another piece of the puzzle as evil recognises Jesus authority. Jesus frees and transforms the man, sets the captive free as Isaiah hundreds of years before promised he would do, and as he does so he shows that he has the power to break evils hold. He gives yet another glimpse of what it would mean to be in God’s kingdom where he ruled and creation and evil were under his authority and posed no threat. It’s another piece in the puzzle, no mere man could do this – who do I say Jesus, the one who defeats evil, is?
This passage calls on us to recognise that evil is real, that the spiritual battle is a reality. In our society the devil is portrayed as a figure of fun, he is dismissed as insignificant, yet curiously at the same time there is a growing fascination with the occult and demonology. Tarot cards, mediums and ouija boards are all regarded as harmless and are growing in popularity. Jesus did treat evil trivially, he reminds us that we are in a battle, we will not fight in what we don’t believe is real. But it is equally important we don'r knee jerk react on the other extreme and be terrified of it. Jesus conquers evil, not just here as a one off but supremely at the cross and one day he will return and establish his kingdom with no evil.
I wonder if you’ve ever had someone say to you ‘well I’d believe in God if he’d just do a miracle.’ This account proves that isn’t always the case, the people of the town see the evidence and yet they are overcome by fear and just want Jesus gone. They will not listen to him or believe in him even though he has performed such a miracle, they just want him gone and Jesus respects their wishes. But the man reacts differently. He has been transformed by his encounter with Jesus. How is he different? He is sat at Jesus feet, in his right mind, dressed.
How does he react to his deliverance? He takes the place of the disciple, he is listening to Jesus words, just like the good soil in the parable of the sower. The captive is freed by the king and now gives his life to serve the one who freed him (38-39). He wants to go with Jesus, but he is told not to, why? There are a number of reasons; he was a Gentile so the Jews to whom Jesus goes back to would not accept his word and testimony. But I think more importantly Jesus has a mission for him where he is (39) “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”. And how does the man respond? He goes away and tells – that word doesn’t just mean a bland recitation of the facts, it is an impassioned proclamation. And notice the focus is on what God in Jesus has done for him.
Having been freed from slavery this man only wants to do one thing and that is to follow his saviour, to tell others of the salvation he has experienced. How is our reaction to Jesus? This man is called to be a witness where he is. Every Christian has the same task, to tell people what Jesus has done for them in the place where he has put them. Your missionary field is where God has put you right now; your work place, your family, your friendships, your neighbourhood. No it is not easy; for Theophilus and the early church it was not easy in a hostile society. For this man he is to witness to the very people who have been terrified of and rejected Jesus. Its being hard is no excuse.
It is not preaching at them, it is telling people what Jesus has done for you. How often does Jesus crop up in our conversations? Is what he has done and is doing part of my every day conversation? Do you see your mission field this morning? Look at your neighbours, how are you going to love them and care for them? Do you need to actually get to know them and build some relationships with them? Why not have them all in before Christmas for a mince pie.
We are not called to make people our projects, but we are called to love people, to engage in relationship with them, to care for them, to share our lives with them as we do that it is only natural that like this man we will share with them what Jesus has done. We need to think about committing to the neighbourhood we live in, to our work places and our work colleagues.
Have I got my view of the world right? Do I recognise that evil is a reality though it may be masked and hidden? Do I see what the Bible is showing me about Jesus – he is more than just a man and he is worth believing in because he defeats sin and evil and every opposition to God. Will I believe in him? Will I respond by giving my life to him and living with his purposes as my purposes?