“A True Whopper to Tell ” (Luke 8:26-39)
The Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 23, 2019)
I was blessed to have a few days amongst some good company this past week to do a little fishing. Had a wonderful time, and boy, do I have a whopper of a fishing tale to tell you! Well, let me modify that a bit. Let me just say that the tale would be more of what didn’t happen than about a huge catch or the monster that got away!
We all love to tell and hear whoppers, don’t we? The more unimaginable and far-fetched the better!
Look how our text from Luke’s Gospel ends: “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” What a whopper he must have had to tell, right! He wasn’t just going to share it with a few friends or close associates. He was bound and determined to share it with the whole city!!!
So, what’s his story? For starters, it’s much more than a man being possessed by demons who gets cured. It’s a whopper about salvation by a simple word. In fact, that word is none other than the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Here’s the setting of this tale: The holy evangelist Luke writes: “Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.”
Gerasa was a city 35 miles S.E. of the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus stepped out of the boat there, a man met Him. Jesus had not gone looking for this man but he had searched Jesus out. This is surprising given that, as Luke tells us, this man “had demons.” He was possessed.
What possible reason could this poor unfortunate man have to approach the Son of God? Did he not know Jesus’ identity? As the story unfolds we see the demons clearly knew who Jesus was? Was the man himself clamoring for help from his affliction or were the demons picking a fight?
It’s hard for us to truly appreciate this man’s dilemma. The demons caused him to strip himself of all his clothing and live naked. He did not live in a house but among the tombs with the dead. In an attempt to control him, the town’s people attempted to keep him bound with chains and shackles and under constant guard. But the demons gave the man such strength that he would at times break his bonds and run madly out into the desert.
“When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.’” Luke further explains, “For (Jesus) had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.” Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion.” Luke explains: “…for many demons had entered him. And they (demons) begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.”
Wow, I don’t see demons bowing down to you and me or crying out in fear when they see us or any other human being. They have no fear of us at all. But Jesus, that’s a different story. The demons that possessed this poor distressed soul immediately “fell down” before Jesus. The word implies they “prostrated themselves” before Jesus. That’s quite a reaction.
Was it just the sight of Jesus that seized them with such fear and submission? No, but it was Jesus’ word; that is His “command to them.” Luke explains that Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Clearly Jesus struck first. He fired the first shot. He did so with the silver bullet of His Word.
How could Jesus’ command evoke such a response from this legion of fallen angels? They knew. Jesus’ word was not just the word of a man, but rather the word of God, their Creator.
Notice how the demons address Jesus: “Son of the Most High God.” This was the very phrasing of Jesus’ identity that the Angel Gabriel used when he informed Mary of what sort of child she would bear. He said, “This Child shall be called the Son of the Most High” (1:32).
People then and now might be ignorant to Jesus’ true identity or, at least, try to obscure this truth, but Satan and his henchman know who He is and they know that they can ignore it only to their eternal peril. Through the man’s voice they cried, “Do not torture me!” (Mark, in his Gospel, also adds that they actually pleaded with Jesus to swear upon God that he would not torture them.)
Such expressed fear of being tortured is truly rich coming from these demons. Look how they were torturing this poor man, not to mention his family and community! Yet, they were worried of being tortured! Unbelievable!
What could Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, do to them that would be worse then what they were doing to this man? They even expressed it. Luke says they “begged” Jesus not to command them to depart into the abyss. This term is often referred to as the “bottomless pit.” It is confinement as we see in the 20th chapter of Revelation as the Lord casts Satan into the abyss for a thousand years so that he could no longer deceive the nations.
Want to torture a devil? Take away his freedom. Chain him as he likes to chain others. This Jesus could do simply by His Word and these fearful demons knew it!
Too bad so many humans do not comprehend this! They live as though the word of Jesus has no power to judge… to condemn… to confine… or even to save them. They treat His Word as impotent , having no real import for their lives. Accordingly, they live like devils, sowing seeds of torture, evil, idolatry, and wickedness of every sort in their own lives and the lives of others. But God will not allow anyone to despise His Word forever. His final word of judgment, confinement to hell, will ultimately come. Of that, all can be sure and all ought to fear!
But right here this whopper of a story takes a strange but revealing twist. Luke continues: “Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged (Jesus) to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.”
Now, you and I might have told some whopper tales about the fish we have caught, among other things, in our lives, but such tales surely can’t top this! No one could possibly make this up. It is so fantastic it has to be real! Poor pigs! Now who is being tortured!
Wow, does this tell us a lot about the level of fear these demons had of Jesus’ Word! They were willing to have Jesus send them into what was considered the most unclean animal just to avoid being sent by Jesus to the Abyss. These unclean spirits should have felt right at home in these pigs!
Now, given that that the demons led all these pigs to their death, destroying these people’s very livelihood, one might wonder why Jesus’ gave in to the demons’ pleas? I believe the answer is two-fold. First of all, by doing so, Jesus showed clearly to everyone concerned that the demons can do only what He; that is, Most High God, permits them to do. Satan and all his henchmen are no match even for a single word from Jesus’ lips. As Luther wrote in his hymn A Mighty Fortress, “one little word fells him.” The demons have no choice but to do His bidding and He will use them and their evil ways to accomplish the ultimate good and victory for you and me that He desires. So we see at the cross. Satan, Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, they were not in control. Jesus permitted Himself to be put to death so that He could atone for sinners like you and me and take away the devil’s accusing power over all of us who have been baptized into Jesus’ death.
The second reason Jesus allowed this Legion his request, I believe, was to place in all the observer’s minds the clearest of empirical evidence that He had cast out the demons from the man. They were gone and drowned. Jesus’ Word had prevailed over them.
And it certainly made for a whopper of a story, right! But what good is a whopper if it is never told? What can anyone learn from its fantastic happenings if no one has it told to them?
The witnesses certainly were not inhibited but quickly got the word out. Luke continues: “Then the people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So (Jesus) got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”
How do you tell if someone is freed from demons, whether outright possession by demons, or loosed from their deceiving influence? Oh, sure these people found the once possessed man in a state they had not seen him for a very long time: fully clothed and in his right mind. Must have truly been a relieving sight for them to behold.
But the clincher that the man had been set free; literally “saved,” is that he was “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” This is the clear position of submission to hear God’s Word from the lips of Jesus. This would be something the devil and his horde would never permit if they could. They make it their aim to get us away from Jesus’ Word… to not listen to it…to hear it wrongly… or to simply ignore it. The last thing they would ever want is for any of us to sit at Jesus’ feet, like this man… like Mary, the sister of Martha, and hang on Jesus’ every word with all humility and faith. After all, Legion… all the devils… know it is that Word of Jesus that not only has the power to send them to the Abyss… confine them… even destroy them in the eternal fires of hell, but also has the power to save us from every evil of body and soul and give us eternal residence in heaven.
Unfortunately, as we see here, there will always be those who in their fear of losing what they consider to be more important than eternal life; that is, their livelihood, comfort, and wealth, in this world, will in various ways tell Jesus to just take His Word and depart from them. And sadly, Jesus will leave them to their own devices. Jesus does not force Himself on anyone. Where He is continually resisted in unbelief, He will leave and take His powerful Word with Him.
But do you see Jesus’ grace even in the midst of this legion’s rejection? He sends the cleansed man, who out of his joy and thankfulness to Jesus wants to go with Him, back to his own city to “declare what God has done for him.” In His mercy Jesus left His witness to tell the whopper that could save his whole town!
Like this freed and saved man, Jesus has not allowed you and me, as of yet, to be where He is. But by the power of His Word in the Gospel He has graciously seen fit to have proclaimed to us, as well as the Word of His promise attached to water of Holy Baptism He caused to be administered to us, He has granted us a whopper of salvation. He has washed us clean in the blood Jesus shed for us and freed us from the devil’s chains. On account of this Word of Christ Jesus not even the whole horde of demons and Satan himself can bind or afflict us again, unless we allow them opportunity by not staying in Jesus’ Word. And, yes, Jesus has left us quite a whopper to tell others of what great things God has done to save sinners like us. It is no fish story! It’s the story of salvation by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ!