Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 11/06/94
Luke 8:26 And they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 And when he had come out onto the land, he was met by a certain man from the city who was possessed with demons, who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. 28 And seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before him and said in a loud voice, "What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the most high God? I beg you, do not torment me!" 29 For he had been commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times. And he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, but he would burst his fetters and be driven by the demon into the desert. 30 And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion," for many demons had entered him. 31 And they were entreating him not to command them to be cast into the abyss. 32 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain. And the demons entreated him to permit them to enter the swine. And he gave them permission. 33 And the demons came out from the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 34 And when the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country. 35 And the people went out to see what had happened. And they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone out sitting down at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened. 36 And those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon possessed had been made well. 37 And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked him to depart from them, for they were gripped with fear; and he got into a boat and returned. 38 But the man from whom the demons had gone out was begging him that he might accompany him; but he sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.
Last time we left the Disciples marveling at the stilling of the storm and asking, "What manner of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?" Had they had the ears to hear, they might have heard the waves lapping against the shore saying, "You ain't seen nothing yet!" For no sooner do they reach the shore than they encounter another demoniac. It is a familiar story but a rich one, and almost every element in it has something to teach us. Let us take them one at a time.
This passage presents us with one of the most puzzling textual problems in the Greek New Testament. For Matthew has the incident taking place at Gadara, Mark at Gerasa, and in Luke, some manuscripts say Gerasa and some Gergesa. But the problem is not just with the name of the city but whether the event could have taken place in any of them. For clearly it has to happen right on the shore of the lake. Jesus meets the demoniac immediately upon landing, and the pigs have to be able to run off the cliff into the water. Yet Gadara is seven miles inland, and Gerasa is even worse, about forty miles away. There was no city of Gergesa; it did not exist. Is the text hopelessly confused, if not fictitious? At the turn of the last century, liberal scholars thought so with such confidence that they heaped ridicule on the authors. But by now History should have taught us that, when it comes to Scripture, that is always a bad idea. The only one who ends up deserving ridicule is the critic.
The solution is not difficult at all once you have all the facts. More thorough knowledge of Palestinian geography has revealed that there was a village named Kersa in the right place. Kersa could easily go from Aramaic into Greek as Gerasa. Gergesa is probably descended from a misspelling by a later scribe. As for Gadara, it turns out that the Gadarenes owned property at Kersa--Gadara is where the owners of the pigs lived. In the Jewish mind, that really makes Kersa part of Gadara. So all the discrepancies are reconciled if we are just patient enough to discover all the relevant data. As Sherlock Holmes says more than once, "It is always a capital mistake, Watson, to theorize in advance of the facts."
What is the significance of this little excursion into archaeology and philology? It should reinforce our confidence in the truth and reliability of Scripture. The confident ridicule of the text of the 1890's just isn't possible without dishonesty today. Ninety per cent plus of the alleged "errors" and "discrepancies" and "contradictions" you read about in a certain type of commentary have perfectly reasonable solutions that are known--many have been known for years. For the other ten per cent, we are still waiting. But we ought to be waiting with confidence. It would be dishonest of us to pretend that there are no problems. But it would be foolish to conclude that any of them are irresolvable. Surely the clear verdict of the history of interpretation is that it is always wise to give the benefit of the doubt to the Text.
The demoniac is similar to the one we met at Capernaum. He has the same reaction to Jesus: recognizing him as the Son of God and worrying about what Jesus might do to him. But this man's case was much more serious, if demon possession is capable of such a distinction. He was possessed by a multitude of demons rather than just one, perhaps (though we know very little about how such things work) producing the more severe effects described in verses 27 and 29. He had notoriously defied all attempts of his neighbors to control him.
The thing that strikes me about this man's condition is how parallel it is to the seemingly less extreme case of every non-believer. Satan does not take complete outward control of a man's body through a complete inward domination of his spirit in this life very often. But if sinners are really the slaves of Satan, as Scripture clearly teaches, then they are already on a path that leads to where this demoniac was before his deliverance. Maybe that is what Hell will be like.
Think about what it means to be demon possessed. This man was in the first place deprived of his reason. He did not know who he was or where he was or what he was doing. Probably his breaking of the chains was not through supernatural strength from the demons but is parallel to the impressive feats of strength sometimes performed by people on drugs such as Angel Dust, which deprives them of the knowledge or awareness of the pain and damage they are causing themselves when they push their muscles beyond their safe limits. Well, non-Christians may often appear, compared to this, to be in their right minds. But they are in principle committed to ignoring or denying their own reason in order to persist in their stubborn denial of God's truth, which is simply the truth of what is. They have no choice but to hold to contradictions or try to rationalize irrational views.
The parallels continue. The demoniac was deprived of his own will; the non-believer is the slave of Satan. The demoniac was deprived of fellowship, driven out from the community; the non-believer is separate from the people of God and the covenants of promise, the only basis for a lasting and healthy community that can survive the ravages of time. The demoniac was deprived of his dignity, having been unclothed for a long time; the non-believer often seeks only to satisfy his animal desires, or, if he aspires to something more than that, he has no basis for such aspirations, having rejected the One who is the source of all Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. The demoniac was deprived of his own personality, for when asked, he did not give his own name, but the demons spoke for him; the non-believer is on a path that leads to the same place, for he has rejected the Person who is the source of all personhood. The demoniac was preemptively deprived even of life, living symbolically among the tombs; the non-believer is dead in his trespasses and sins, spiritually dead though his body still functions.
Are these parallels merely clever and arbitrary? I don't think so, and the conclusion is devastating. The natural man, the sinful and fallen human being apart from Christ, differs from a demoniac in principle not at all, but only in degree! There is no more hope for them apart from Christ than for one already fully possessed. But in Christ there is hope even for these. Look again at verse 35: "And they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone out sitting down at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened." Apart from Christ, you already suffer from all the deprivations of real and full humanity that marked the demoniac, and are on a path that will take you to the place where your experience of those deprivations will be total. In other words, you are on the road that leads to Hell. That is what Satan has in mind for you. But in Christ there is restoration of all that Satan and sin have taken away. All! "And they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone out sitting down at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened." You cannot deliver yourself. Your only hope is in Christ. Come to him today! For if you do not, eventually the illusion that seems to divide you from the man in this story will fade away and leave you naked in the cemetery of the universe. God sometimes allows demonic possession so we can see that it is simply "sin writ large."
Even the demons themselves give unwilling testimony to the sovereignty and the saviorhood of Christ, the only one adequate and able to deliver us from such Satanic oppression. They are in terror of the Lord as the one with both the ability and the authority to punish them. Their ultimate fear is of the Abyss, the "bottomless pit" of Revelation 20:3. They knew that Christ is the one who will eventually lock them there, and when they saw him they apparently thought that time might already have come. He knew it was not yet, and so he permitted them to go into the pigs. What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him? You think that's a hard question? What about this one? What manner of man is this that demons are terrified of him? What manner of man is this, who holds the keys to the Abyss? What manner of man indeed?
I have a lot of sympathy for the pigs, to tell you the truth. Here they are innocently wallerin' and gruntin' and rootin', and out of nowhere comes a swarm of demons like a thousand angry wasps. Can you imagine the oinking and squealing as that humongous herd of horrendously hurtin' hogs hurtled headlong down the highway to their death by drowning? Why did the Lord allow that? Some people actually see an ethical problem in this story. Why would, how could, a supposedly morally perfect Messiah allow this destruction of the private property of others, not to mention this destruction of animal life?
In answer to this question, some have responded with a question of their own: what were Jews doing with pigs in the first place? Swine-herd is not exactly a kosher profession! But I don't think that answer really gets at the heart of the question. There was a significant Gentile population in Galilee--"Galilee of the Gentiles"--after all. The swine may well have belonged to them. But even if they did not, there is a more profound point that needs to be raised. The only adequate response is to deny the false premise that lies behind the objection. Who says the pigs did not belong to Jesus? He was the Creator, the Lord of Glory! Everything belongs to him, and is only held in trust by what we call its human owners. Of course the pigs were his, to be disposed of as he saw fit.
Why then did he chose to allow this thing to happen? The ultimate answer may lie beyond us. Like earthquakes, shipwrecks, etc., the loss of the pigs may be seen simply as a result of the Fall, part of the insoluble mystery of evil. But there is one suggestion about Jesus' decision here that seems to have merit. It is possible that such an impressive visual effect was necessary in this case to demonstrate to the demoniac's neighbors that his cure was real and that they could safely take him back. After all, he had apparently had moments before when he was quieter and able to be subdued. How else would they have gotten the chains on him for him to break? And he had always broken them and returned to the tombs, with who knows how much violence. So anybody with any sense would have slapped him right back in a straightjacket this time as well, unless there were a dramatic demonstration to prove that the demons were really gone. Without this final touch--without going the whole hog, as it were--it is possible that Jesus knew the man would not really be restored.
The response of the people is remarkable: "Depart from us! Get away from here!" That's gratitude for you. This is not like Peter's similar words, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." There is no confession of sin. Peter was expressing his sense of unworthiness; these people just wanted to get rid of Jesus because they were afraid he was going to upset the local agricultural economy. They represent the essence of worldliness. They had been offered redemption from bondage to Satan, all that was given to the demoniac, the privilege of sitting at the feet of Jesus, of having the Lord of Glory in their midst. And all this was outweighed for them by the death of a few pigs. Well, before we look down our noses at them, we'd better ask ourselves if we really want Jesus around. He never comes without upsetting things, from money lenders in the Temple to our safe secure lives. Are we up to the adventure of a life with him? I hope so.
In verse 39, Luke subtly answers the question posed at the end of the Stilling of the Storm, as well as the ones raised by implication by the Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac: "What manner of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?" For Jesus tells the man to go and tell what great things God has done for him, and he goes and tells what great things Jesus has done for him. What an example this anonymous demoniac is to us! He helps us see in radical and unvarnished terms what every un-believer is: in bondage to Satan. He helps us realize what salvation is: release from that bondage, which means the restoration of reason, will, personality, relationships, and life. He helps us realize what our response to all of that should be: to sit at Jesus' feet and to proclaim what great things he has done for us. Let us who know him all rededicate ourselves to that task; and if you have never accepted him as your own personal savior and Lord, may you be helped to find him whom to know is life eternal.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams