Luke8v26to39: JESUS HEALS LEGION THE DEMONIAC

(A) Introduction (Read the passage.) See also Mark5v1to20 and Mt8v28to34.

This passage poses some puzzling questions:

(1) What exactly was wrong with the man who called himself Legion?
(2) Why did Jesus cure the demoniac in the way he did?
(3) Why didn't Jesus allow the man, once he was delivered from his demons, to follow him?
(4) How on earth is a dramatic but strange story like this relevant today? What Jesus did amongst the tombs of Gerasa appears at first sight far removed from my experience.

It seems likely that the region of the Gerasenes was on the eastern side of Galilee near to the town of Gersa or Kersa. It was part of the province of Decapolis so named after the 10 cities rebuilt by the Romans. Decapolis had a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles.

I shall make reference to the three accounts in the synoptic gospels. Mark describes the incident in most detail and also with great vividness.

(B) A pitiable condition.

Mark records: A man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. Mk5v2.

Whether the man was mentally deranged and thought he was possessed by demons, or he actually was dominated by supernatural malign spirits, the fact remains he was unutterably miserable. The symptoms of his pitiable condition were:

(1) Lost control.

The man no longer had control of his life - he was possessed by his demons. We know this from the interchange he had with Jesus who asked him: "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." The demoniac starts to answer for himself but then the demons take over and finish for him: "We are many."

Now when we start to think about it there are a lot of people who are possessed by demons. We call them obsessions, addictions and compulsions. It is possible to be addicted to: drink, gambling, sex, drugs, emailing, extreme sports, idleness, cruelty and fame. Obsessions are many and various. Obsessions can ruin relationships - obsessive jealousy, obsessions about cleanliness and tidiness, obsessions with individuals. There are compulsive eaters, shoppers and workers.

There is something terrible about obsessions, addictions and compulsions. They do have an almost demonic strength and can take over a person's life. Many people in the grip of addictions to gambling and alcohol never break free. They are hopeless and helpless.

(2) A danger to himself and others.

The demons had such a hold on Legion that he:

    (a) Was a threat to others. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. Mt8v28. Matthew's gospel mentions two demoniacs. Legion must have been a fearful sight running down from the tombs, shouting at the top of his voice and hurling rocks at unsuspecting passers by.

    (b) Practiced self-harm. He cut himself with stones. Mk5v5. What a horrible sight the man must have been - covered in congealed blood and scabs.

    (c) Could not be restrained. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. Mk5v4.When the madness came upon him Legion's strength was almost inhuman and yet although he could break free from chains and manacles he could not escape from his demons.

Compulsions, addictions and obsessions with their giant's strength do tremendous damage to the person afflicted by them and to others. Just consider the fallout from drug addiction, obsessive prejudice and compulsive lying: crime, racism and the worst forms of political propaganda.

(3) No self-respect.

Legion had lost all self-respect. He had no shame. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house. Lk8v27.

Addicts have no self-respect and no shame. Think of the awful condition that alcoholics, druggies, compulsive eaters and misers get into. George Best - one of the sublimest footballers that ever lived - made a perfectly loathsome drunk!

(4) A terrible restlessness.

The demoniac was never at rest. Mark tells us: Night and day in the hills he would cry out. Mk5v5. Legion's life was not one of contemplation and inner peace!

Many in the world share his restlessness. The workaholic never relaxes. Addicts, whether it is to food, drugs, sex or travel, are forever seeking a new experience. Obsessives have minds like those wild caged animals that pace back and forth, back and forth.

On Sunday I listened to the testimony of a former pop singer on BBC TV's 'Songs of Praise'. In her youth she was obsessed by fame and fortune but found that neither satisfied. So she turned restlessly and desperately to the usual culprits - drink, drugs, gurus, eastern mysticism and the like. Finally the glamorous singer completely broke down.

(5) Outcast from society.

Legion did not live sociably in the city surrounded by his family and friends. Jesus told him to go home to his family. Legion's demons cut him off from society. He lived with another demented companion in the hills and among the tombs.

People who are addicted, obsessed or compulsive are extremely difficult to live with. In extreme cases the compulsive gambler will lose his friends and family. The drug addict will end up alone with his needle and the alcoholic with only his bottle for companionship. Let's face it who wants to spend time with a hopeless, disgusting drunk!

(6) Morbid preoccupation with death.

Legion lived in the tombs. It is possible that the demoniac looked forward to death which would provide the ultimate release from his torment.

Today there are troubled souls, so in thrall to their demons, that they, too, seem almost to welcome death as the great escape. Several years ago I knew a vicar who was a chronic alcoholic. He realised that the drink was killing him but he didn't seem to care. He drank himself to death!

(7) An ambivalent attitude to Jesus.

The man was:

    (a) Drawn to Jesus. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" Mk5v7.

    I find the behaviour of the demoniac almost inexplicable. If he was just mentally unhinged how did he recognise Jesus and how did he know that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God? If supernatural malign spirits possessed the man why didn't he run away from Jesus? Surely the last thing demons wanted was a confrontation with the Son of God.

    It does appear that there was some interplay in the man's life between his spirit and a satanic spirit. Satan both informed the man's spirit but only partly controlled it. Perhaps, the knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God came from Satan but the desire to meet with Jesus came from the man himself.

    (b) Fearful of Jesus. "Swear to God that you wont torture me!" Mk5v7. And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. Mk5v10.

    This is also very strange. It is almost as if Legion is being protective of his demons and fears what life will be like without them.

It remains true that many are attracted to aspects of Jesus' life and are willing to acknowledge his greatness but remain fearful of what they might lose if they get too involved with him. Some people, too, are ambivalent about their addictions and obsessions. They become attached to them in spite of knowing how harmful they are. The alcoholic fears what life would be like without his bottle. The demon drink is his friend - the next drink his little treat. Life would seem very empty without the next drink - or the next bet on the horses - or the next fix - or the next sexual thrill - or the next shopping spree. So it is possible to be both drawn to Jesus and to fear what he might do!

(C) A perplexing compromise.

It is difficult to organise the extremely strange procedure Jesus used to save Legion from his demons. First a list of observations:

(1) Legion was not easily cured.

The inhabitants of his hometown could not subdue him. No-one was strong enough to subdue him. Mk5v4. He appeared a totally hopeless case. The best efforts of his friends, family and neighbours came to nothing.

It is highly significant that Jesus was not afraid of the profoundly disturbed and violent demoniac. However, even Jesus found the evil spirit in the man difficult to deal with. When he said: "Come out of this man, you evil spirit." the evil spirit didn't immediately leave him! The man's demons put up some resistance but fortunately Jesus was prepared for a struggle - as he always his.

(2) Legion's demons were very real to him.

The demons were so much part of Legion that he was protective of them. And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. Mk5v10. It is the man doing the begging - not the demons.

(3) The demon's crazy request.

Eventually the demons appear to speak up for themselves. Their request seems bizarre in the extreme. If demons exist we know very little about them. They are a different life form to us. We do not really know whether they are fallen angels or creatures of Satan. But, whatever they are, I would expect them to have more sense than to ask leave to enter a herd of pigs and then stir them up to such an extent that they plunge into the sea. The demons didn't want to be banished to the Abyss but that is where they ended up anyway!!

Satan and other fallen angels are evil but they are also powerful and cunning - surely not crazy. When Satan tempted Jesus he did so with an evil intelligence. It must also be true that Satan is able to operate in more than one place at once. He is on the prowl all over the world like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He still has freedom to go where he pleases.

I think the demon's request stemmed from the man's disturbed mental condition that was doubtless used and exacerbated by Satan. Legion was crazy and so his demons made this crazy request.

(4) A dramatic visual aid.

If Legion's demons were primarily the result of mental illness and only partly due to Satanic influence then in order to cure him Jesus needed to provide dramatic evidence that his demons were expelled. To do this Jesus transfers the demoniac's condition - whatever that might have been - to the pigs. The pig's deranged behaviour would have been an utterly convincing demonstration to Legion that his host of devils had left him for good.

(5) Jesus was responsible for the pig's destruction.

Matthew makes this clear: The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs."

He said to them, "Go." So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Mt8v31and32.

If Satan was using the poor man's disturbed mental condition he may well have put the thought about the pigs into his mind in the hope of getting Jesus into trouble and hindering his witness in Decapolis. In this he succeeded!

However, I have a problem with what Jesus did. This is very unusual! I can think of very few other instances where I am uneasy about Jesus' actions. Jesus did cause the destruction of thousands of pounds worth of property. He didn't offer the owners of the pigs any compensation! It is no good saying that it was wrong to keep pigs. The owners of the pigs may well have been Gentiles. Anyway, although Jews were prohibited from eating pigs the law did not stop them raising the animals for sale to Gentiles. We mustn't forget that Jesus told his disciples that it didn't matter what they ate - uncleanness was a matter of what came from the heart not what went into the stomach. I can only suppose that there was no other way to set Legion free from his demons.

Secondly a few lessons:

(a) The behaviour of Jesus shows the value he put on a single soul. Jesus was prepared to destroy a herd of pigs worth between 20,000 and 25,000 and damage the livelihood of several farmers to save Legion. This may seem extreme to us. We think, surely Jesus could have set the demoniac free without killing the pigs.

Our salvation cost God more than a herd of pigs. His own dear Son had to suffer, bleed and die at Calvary to redeem us. Many ask, "Was there no other way? Was Christ's death really necessary?" The writer to the Hebrews answers: Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Heb9v22.

Throughout the centuries the conversion of a man or woman to Christianity has had repercussions for others. I remember reading about a Chinese House Church leader who was arrested and imprisoned by the authorities. What seemed dreadfully unfair to me was the suffering this entailed for his wife and children who were left destitute and had to scavange for food to survive.

(b) Drastic cases require drastic methods. The Prodigal Son, that compulsive spender, might never have come to his senses without the famine in the land. A bright light blinded Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. The Philippian jailer cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" after an earthquake shook the jail. On the 10th November 2006 the National Front organiser for N.E. England went to work the worse for wear and fell out of a loft hatch tearing ligaments in his ankle and severely bruising his stomach. Because he was laid up the right wing agitator listened to a Christian testimony on a DVD his sister left him and was converted. Jesus set my old friend George free from his addiction to gambling after his marriage hit the rocks.

(c) Jesus will sometimes provide overwhelming evidence of salvation through the Holy Spirit to those who particularly need it. I can remember a former football hooligan talking about his conversion on Songs of Praise. He was in Sweden for an England match when his mates began beating up a rival supporter. The football hooligan decided then and there that he couldn't go on like this any longer and so he just cried out to Jesus for help. Immediately he was struck down and enveloped in a great warmth. The man said he felt so wonderful that he never wanted to get up. This was confirmation that Jesus had heard his prayer and was going to save and change him.

(D) A perfect cure.

Legion's case seemed hopeless I suppose everyone believed that he was beyond help. He had been completely written off. This is the man that Jesus had power to save.

So lets look at what happened to Legion. He was:

(1) Changed.

When the people from the city and the surrounding countryside came to Jesus to see what had happened they found Legion in his right mind. Mk5v15.

Innumerable men and women have been set free from their demons. The North East National Front organiser I mentioned above was set free from racism, cocaine and alcohol. One of the great blessings Christianity has brought to pagan peoples in Africa and elsewhere is to set them free from superstitious fear. These sorts of benefits are seldom recognised by anthropologists and others who seem to want pagan tribes to cling on to all aspects of their culture irrespective of the misery some beliefs cause. The aboriginal peoples who inhabit the islands off the North of Australia refer to the coming of Christianity as the coming of the light. They - rather than Western anthropologists - can speak from experience.

(2) Calmed.

Legion was not only in his right mind but also sitting there at Jesus feet. He was no longer wild, restless and discontented.

There is not doubt at all that Jesus can bring peace to troubled souls. After the National Front organiser mentioned above finished listening to the gospel DVD featuring Barry Woodward he ran a bath and whilst in it prayed the prayer the evangelist used at the end of the DVD and thanked God for the gift of eternal life through his son Jesus. He lifted his head from the water and felt God's Holy Spirit fill him - granting calmness and joy where previously there had been hatred and loathing for himself and others.

This has happened times without number. There are scores of testimonies on the World Wide Web dealing with the ability of Jesus to calm tormented minds.

(3) Clothed.

Legion was dressed and in his right mind.

Jesus gave the demoniac back his self-respect. He is able to do this for the most depraved of sinners. He is able to liberate a person in thrall to his demons however powerful those demons might be. Once a sinner has been saved he, like the Philippian jailer of old, is set free to enter God's family and serve Jesus. Jesus confers on the redeemed a new status. Believers become sons of God and joint heirs with Christ.

It is no accident that many inmates of the world's prisons become Christians. The media is inclined to scoff and sneer at this. I have watched several episodes from crime series where the prisoner who has 'found Jesus' has been held up to ridicule or denounced as a hypocrite. The fact remains, Jesus has set many hardened criminals free from their demons and given them back some dignity. Is this such a bad thing????

(4) Captivated.

Legion on being healed desired to follow Jesus. He did not want to be parted from his Saviour. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Mk5v18. I wonder why Jesus did not permit this. I can only conclude that he would be more useful to Jesus in his own area. Jesus ...... said, "God home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." v19. Satan conspired to get Jesus expelled from Decapolis - and in this he was successful. However the cured demoniac would be a powerful witness to the saving power of Jesus. He would make by far the biggest impact upon those who knew what he had once been like. They could see the profound and miraculous difference that Jesus made. This is so often the case. A newly converted Christian is potentially the most effective witness to those he lives amongst and works with.

Legion did have a wonderful message. He could tell men and women what the Lord had done for him and how he had received mercy. He proclaimed this message enthusiastically. So the man went away and began to tell in Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. v20.

The pop star I mentioned earlier in this exposition came to faith in Jesus by reading a Bible. She picked one up, opened it at random and began to read. As the woman did so she experienced a great peace and extraordinary warmth. Eventually, with the continued help of God's spirit, the pop star came to faith in Christ and him crucified. Now she sings gospel songs in the churches of Spain where she lives. It was very, very clear during her testimony just how much she is captivated by Jesus.

(E) The public concern.

(1) The reaction of the public was not what I would have expected. The herdsmen rushed to the town and surrounding farmsteads to tell the owners of the pigs what had happened to their stock. It wasn't long before they came to investigate and saw the demoniac sitting quietly at Jesus' feet and the pigs floating in the lake! Now I would have expected the pig owners and their friends to be highly indignant at the destruction of their animals. Why didn't they threaten to sue Jesus for the loss of their property? There are three possible explanations:

    (a) The pigs were some distance from Jesus and his disciples. Matthew reports: Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. Mt8v30. In view of this it might be difficult to prove that Jesus was responsible for the behaviour of the pigs.

    (b) If Jews were the owners of the pigs they might have had a guilty conscience about keeping animals whose meat was unclean. They could not expect much sympathy from their fellow Jews.

    (c) The main reason the local people trod carefully was because of fear. They knew just how violent and dangerous Legion had been yet here he was as tame as a lamb. Not only that but Jesus also appeared capable of making 2000 pigs commit mass suicide. It was not advisable to mess with someone possessing the power of Jesus. Perhaps he would make them charge into the lake!

(2) The inhabitants of Gerasa and the surrounding area just wanted Jesus to leave them alone and go away. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. Mk5v17.

There is something very pathetic about this. Here is a man able to cure the most violent demoniac and bring peace into his life treated as a most undesirable guest and urged to pack his bags and leave. The local population didn't want any more incidents. They certainly didn't want to lose any more livestock. They preferred to be left alone - undisturbed - to carry on in their own way.

And today there are people just like that; people who fear Jesus and reject him. They fear Christ's power to change their lives and the lives of those close to them. So they push Jesus away. The worldling does not want to change and says with the Chief Priests in Pilate's court: "We will not have this man to reign over us."

A non-Christian friend of mine gave me a sad instance of this. My friend's son and daughter-in-law were out shopping for books with their three-year-old daughter just before Christmas. My friend said that they deliberately steered his granddaughter away from the 'Jesus books'. Yet these were the very books the little girl wanted to choose. I couldn't believe it! I was so shocked! Jesus is not going to do any child any harm. Yet in our society there are increasing numbers who fear and dislike Jesus so much they would even keep children from learning about him. But, in a way, it is testimony to Jesus' abiding power to change lives.

            He cleanses me from all my sin;
            What a wonderful Saviour!
            And now He reigns and rules within:
            What a wonderful Saviour

            What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus, my Jesus!
            What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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