Luke 8:26-39 “Madman Turned Missionary”
What does it mean to be mission minded? Let’s have a look at a passage from Scripture.
Luke 8:26-39 (read)
To understand what is happening here we first need to realise that, in the culture of Jesus’ day much power was attached to names.
Wars were fought in the name of particular “gods”. Victory in war meant the name of your “god” was more powerful then the “god” of your defeated enemy.
Name-dropping was an art – people gave you respect if you knew important citizens.
Even Christians got caught up in the trend. Remember that passage in 1 Corinthians 1:12, One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ”. Above everything else it was a name-dropping exercise which was causing division in the church.
Such an understanding of the culture helps us see the true nature of this passage – this is a confrontation of names. Kind of like a boxing match ... but different.
In one corner we have Legion. Legion was a legend.
He emerged from the tombs and would terrorise anyone coming to or from the lake – a naked wild man coming out of the depths of the shadows. His incredible strength made it pointless to chain him up or guard him – he would just break the chains and be driven into the desert. He was unstoppable. Were He alive today he would be a top member of the hells-angels, or some other gang bent on violence, destruction and anti-authority behaviour. Here was a man who captivated the imagination of a whole district – a man who was notoriously ferocious.
In the other corner we have Jesus. It is still fairly early in His ministry but he too is becoming a legend. He has healed paralytics, blind people, deaf people and people with leprosy.
He raised the widow’s son from the dead. On the way across the lake He commanded the storm to stop – and it did. Already Jesus has cast out an evil spirit from a man.
These are the contenders. Jesus in one corner. Legion in the other. It is a test of the power of Jesus … a test of His authority. And there are aspects of the test which are new to Jesus.
Firstly, Jesus is in the area of the Gerasenes. The Gerasenes is outside the traditional boundaries of Israel – which explains why the pigs are there since pigs are unclean animals and Jews shouldn’t have them. Up to this point Jesus has been able to work great wonders in God’s territory, but can Jesus do the same in the territory of the pagans?
Not only that ... Jesus is facing a formidable enemy. Jesus has cast out demons. But never have we read that He cast out multiple demons from one man. This man – Legion – could be a challenge, since in the Roman army the term “Legion” could refer to 1000-6000 men. A legion of demons. That’s a fair bit of evil.
So let’s picture the scene. The disciples have just had a crazy ride across the lake, where they thought they were going to drown, and where they witnessed Jesus calm the storm. So you can imagine their state of mind. Now, as the disciples beach their boat near a graveyard and a herd of pigs another explosive encounter begins. Just as Jesus steps out of the boat a crazy man storms out of a cavern. What a sight he would have made. Wild hair. Bloody wrists. Scratched skin. Fury in the flesh. He’s a totally naked man running through the cemetery with arms flailing and voice screaming.
My guess is the disciples just gulped and put one foot back into the boat. They are worried and horrified. But Jesus isn’t. From the beginning it is very clear that this contest is no contest at all – it’s a one-sided affair. Jesus is in complete control. When Mark tells this story in his Gospel Mark says,
When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet Him. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of Him. (Mark 5:2,6)
Why did he run to Jesus? Why not stand defiantly and make Jesus come to him? Why didn’t they run away and avoid the confrontation altogether? Why? Because Jesus has complete authority.
Back to Luke’s account.
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at His feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!" (Luke 8:28)
Up until this time the Legion of demons had dominated this man – now Legion cowers before the authority of Jesus. His name is Legion … 1 000, 2 000 up to 6 000 possessing demons … it could have been 100 000 and the results would have been exactly the same. His name is Legion but he is no match against a man named Jesus.
At every point Jesus is in total control – the demons can do nothing without His permission. Please don’t torture us. Please don’t order us into the Abyss. Please let us go into the pigs. Legion has been reduced to a snivelling grovelling weakling.
Like the raging seas which He has just calmed, Jesus calms this raging soul. In the blink of an eye, Jesus delivers this lunatic – and a disciple is made in the cemetery.
It’s an amazing story. A testimony that would draw in great crowds. I was the crazy naked man who used to live among the tombs by the sea. Then Jesus came and, because of His authority I am changed. That is the testimony isn’t it. But here is the bigger issue.
There is essentially no difference between this testimony – and the wonder and amazement which should be attached to every testimony where a person decides to follow the way of Jesus and listen to His authority.
At one point we were all not-yet-believers. In fact, at one point, we were all partners with Satan until the point where Jesus steps. We are never in our right mind until we are converted.
We are never in the right place until we are sitting at the feet of Jesus. We are never rightly clothed until we have put on the Lord Jesus Christ. This applies no matter how your conversion took place. Maybe you can remember a specific time when God became real to you. Perhaps you were a nice person who realised niceness doesn’t get you to heaven. You could have been rebellious until Jesus took us by the collar. More than likely you can’t give a specific time.
It doesn’t matter.
A real conversion does not mean we have to be able to pinpoint the day, the hour and the moment. A real conversion is nothing else then a miraculous release of a captive …
and a miraculous restoring to our right minds …
and a miraculous deliverance of our soul from Satan.
It’s all grace and nothing but grace.
That means we all have a transformation story to tell. When we have come to see the grace of Jesus in our lives each one of us is a walking miracle. We might not know all of the Bible. We might not be able to answer all of the questions. We might struggle at time to find the words. But we all have the ability to give a testimony of God’s grace.
And that is true for this madman that has just become a disciple. And what is really interesting about this story is the way Jesus deals with him.
The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Him, but Jesus sent him away, (Luke 8:38)
In the same way that the demons beg Jesus that they not be sent to the Abyss – now this man begs to be a direct follower. In my mind it would seem that Jesus could use such a man. After all the present group of disciples has not proven to be of such a great calibre. But Jesus doesn’t let him come. Jesus sent him away saying
"Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:39)
Remember the video we started with? The man yelling at the people on the street. He said he was called to be an evangelist. But he wasn’t willing to go down among the people. And he just stood back and condemned. “No-one has been converted yet”. That is what he said. Didn’t he.
That is because he doesn’t really understand what evangelism is.
Jesus does know what it means to be an evangelist. And what you are looking at here, as you see this man in his right mind, is the first evangelist. All it takes to be an evangelist is to tell how much God has done for you. He isn’t really given any training. At this stage his place in society has been pretty suspect. All he could offer was the message that Jesus had changed His life.
He just had to be himself and give God the glory. But that was enough for this man. It was not the calling of this man to follow Jesus back across the lake. It was the calling of this man to go into the town – into the place where he had relationships with people – and tell them what Jesus had done.
Evangelism isn’t rocket science.
For one thing. We are not the ones who make people change. Jesus is ... which is a truth that should spur us on. Jesus has proven once and for all that He has the power to change people. A Legion of demons are no match for Him. The fact that He is outside the traditional borders of Israel doesn’t matter. As Jesus changes this man we are being given a preview of the change Jesus will bring about in the lives of many Gentiles
People who once were feared criminals, now working for Jesus.
People could give testimonies that make your hair stand on end now one of the faithful.
Sportsman who are changed as the Gospel goes out.
High-powered executives who bow their knee to Jesus.
The people we meet from day to day.
Jesus can change them all and that spurs us on.
But that isn’t all. All we need to do is keep showing the love of Jesus. Here is a crowd of people who have just witnessed a powerful transformation in the life of this man.
They could have asked Jesus for all sorts of things.
But the one thing they ask is for Jesus to leave.
Basically the people order Jesus out of their district.
“You’re too bizarre for our liking”.
“You’re a threat to our economy”.
“You’re too hard to pin down”.
“The sooner you leave the better”.
What a strange bunch of people. They were willing to tolerate the bizarre presence of a demonic who made their lives misery. They had no plans to tolerate the healing presence of Jesus, Son of the Most High God.
Jesus could have responded in all sorts of ways. They way He chooses to respond is to make sure the district has some-one there who will give a testimony. And tell them what God has done.
My friends this is a passage with significant challenges. The big challenge is this one:-
Do we sufficiently acknowledge the authority of Jesus which, in turn, makes us an evangelist for Jesus?
Anyone can acknowledge who Jesus is –
Legion did - Jesus Son of the Most High God. Legion knew exactly who he was facing. But he is still going to oppose. And he will not be willing to go around and evangelise for Jesus.
The crowds acknowledge Jesus. They knew He was responsible for the change in the life of this madman. But they wanted nothing to do with Him so they ordered Him out of the area.
What about us? Are we just acknowledging Jesus as well?
Jesus you are Lord – but don’t ask me to tell anyone else about you.
Jesus you can change all sorts of people – but I don’t want you to change me.
Jesus I acknowledge you – but the following part needs a little bit of work.
Being mission minded is core value of our church – because it is a core value of the Scriptures.
To lead not-yet-believing family, friends and neighbours into a mature relationship with Christ and integrate them completely into the life of our church.
It doesn’t happen by staying on the rooftops. It doesn’t happen by yelling in judgement. It happens by getting out among the people and telling them what God has done for us.
Then we watch ... and see Jesus change lives.