By Dr. Mark Scott
Three of the Gospels record this story (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; and our text today from Luke). The Synoptics place this story following the calming of the storm and prior to the healing of the woman with the flow of blood and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Perhaps there is a cumulative effect to these miracles. Jesus can handle disasters, command demons, and heal diseases.
The Legion and the Lord
Luke 8:26-31, 35b-36
Jesus and his disciples sailed to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. When they stepped on shore they found themselves in Gentile territory. This area was known as the region of the Gerasenes. Geresa and Gadara were two cities in this area, and the larger area was known as the Decapolis (10 cities). It was a pagan environment, and worse, the farmers raised pigs.
Jesus encountered a demon-possessed man. (Matthew says that there were two men. Mark and Luke focus on one man yet neither say that there were not two men.) David Garland reminds us that demon-possessed people are victims to be pitied. They are not people to be judged.This man’s problems were like his name—Legion. We learn several things about him. He was originally from the town. Demons invaded him, and it affected him physically. He went about naked. It is not uncommon for people with mental challenges to pull at their clothing or remove it all together. He was ostracized from his family. He lived in a cemetery. He had been incarcerated and was chained, but he broke the chains and was living outside (in the desert or wilderness; Mark 5:5 mentions hills) of the town. Matthew 8:28 records that people stayed away from him. Mark 5:4 mentions that no one could subdue him. Mark 5:5 mentions that he was a cutter. All of this self-destructive behavior was driven by the unclean side of the spirit world. Was some of this behavior the result of levels of mental illness? Most likely. Can all of it be explained through natural causes? No. Jesus addressed the demonic world.
When Jesus showed up, the demons within the man did three things: 1. They confessed Jesus’ identity, Son of the Most High God. Jesus refused their publicity because their confession was forced (they could not help themselves), and their source was wrong (the confession came out of Hell). 2. They begged for mercy. They didn’t want to be tortured (a word in the New Testament that means to inflict bodily or mental pain). 3. They pleaded not to be destroyed yet. They seemed conscious of coming judgment on them. They wanted no early departure to the Abyss (holding tank for evil ones until the final judgment).
When the Lord helped this man recover his faith, the people were amazed. They found the man sitting at Jesus’ feet. They found him dressed. They found him in his right mind. They found that the man had been cured (saved). One would think that the people would rejoice. Instead they were afraid. The demon-possessed man was scary. But scarier was the Lord, who had power over the spirit world.
Pigs and People
Instead of sending the demons to their final judgment, Jesus gave a reprieve by granting the demons’ request to inhabit the large herd of pigs. Mark 5:13 says that there were 2,000 pigs. The demons caused the pigs to be so agitated that they rushed down the steep bank into the Sea of Galilee and drowned. There is only one slope on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee where this could happen. Imagine the environmental and ecological disaster that this created. The farmers lost a huge profit, and the cleanup operation must have taken months. The news spread quickly. The verses that follow our text tell of the people asking Jesus to leave. But Jesus left one missionary in the area to make a difference—the man who, with Jesus’ help, recovered his faith. This man must have been a good evangelist because when Jesus returned to the area, the people brought a man for Jesus to heal (Mark 7:31, 32).
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). When he does that, faith is recovered.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.