Delivered with a Purpose
Luke 8:26-39 (NIV)
“We are Legion.”
There are few lines from the Bible that have inspired more stories and creations. The concept of a horde of demons trapped inside a single person has led to stories in all manner of fiction, whether that be in the horror genre, science fiction, or fantasy. You can encounter it in movies, books, comics, and computer games. In almost every case, the implications of this passage are misunderstood and underappreciated.
In Mass Effect, a hit computer game trilogy, an artificial intelligence construct made up of a myriad of sentient programs decides to call itself Legion, picking it out of all human literature to best describe itself. In comics, Charles Xavier’s son, who suffers from multiple personality disorder, chooses Legion as his superhero moniker. We could go on listing all the characters in popular culture that identify with the Legion identity, but it would take a while because, they are many. While the stories and characters inspired by Jesus’ encounter with the demons of Gerasa can be compelling, the unfortunate truth is that most fail to appreciate the scope of the story of deliverance being told in the passage.
The focus is usually entirely upon the demons and Jesus’ interactions with them, but to appreciate what Jesus does here, we need to start before we even learn the name the demons go by.
The Shackled Ghoul
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 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!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. (Luke 8:26-29)
Jesus is greeted by this individual upon his stepping ashore from a boat. This is a telling piece of information, especially as we are informed about some of the other details of this man’s life. We are told that he was naked, not living in a home, nor in the wild, but in the tombs. The character that is described has ghoulish features, bringing to mind characters like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. To add to his macabre appearance, he had chains hanging from him. His appearance and lifestyle alone taunt our imaginations to create visuals that accompany the narrative.
Perhaps you’ve travelled by plane, train, or bus and arrived in another country anticipating being met by someone. The arrivals terminal is usually a bustling place, filled with colorful characters and happy reunions. Imagine stepping off the bus or plane finding yourself being accosted by a sinewy naked man covered in chains. It certainly has the making of a memorable story, assuming you survive the encounter.
Few other people in Luke’s Gospel are given as much description. Rarely do we find out details about their living situations, their legal troubles, or their state of undress. While you could argue that it was the unique image of this man that led to his state being recounted here, it is important to consider that Luke is always intentional about what he includes in his Gospel account – few words are written without purpose and intent. To understand why Luke included this, we need to remember one key detail about this individual.
He was a real person.
For many years this poor broken individual had lived deprived of the basic needs of life. He suffered from exposure and lived in gravesites. He had been assaulted and restrained, yet even when he broke free the chains, they remained attached to him. No doubt he suffered from sores where the bindings had worn against his skin. The man that accosted Jesus on the Gerasene shore was one of God’s children, living in pain, suffering alone, and enduring an existence like no other. If ever there was a soul in need of salvation and deliverance – this was the one.
When we read the stories shared in the Gospels, it is all to easy to distance ourselves from those involved, to think of them as characters in one of Jesus’ many parables as opposed to living and breathing human beings. We do not know what led to this encounter. Did Jesus direct the boat to land near the man? Did the man know Jesus was coming? Had he witnessed the calming storm? Had some small part of him that still had control led him to seek out deliverance?
What we do know is what happened next. Jesus immediately began to cast the demons out of the man and in response they begged for mercy. The man who could not be subdued, collapses in the presence of Jesus. The man who could not be bound is paralyzed by the grace of God as he finds himself freed of his spiritual bindings.
A rose by any other name
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. (Luke 8:30-31)
What value is there in knowing the name of a demon? This is the question that should pop into our mind when we read this section. As we already discussed, the reply given by the man on behalf of the demon has inspired countless forms of literature and art, but mostly for the wrong reasons. Often characters declare the refrain “We are legion, we are many” to harken toward a group’s communal strength and ability to overcome adversity. In this account the strength of the demonic forces in the man is the primary focus. Their presence has given him superhuman strength and sustained him in circumstances where others would have withered.
In fact, their communal strength is also emphasized by the military implications of their name. A legion was not just a high number, it was a military unit composed of 5,200 elite infantry, plus supporting troops! The Roman legions were famous. They were not the sum of Rome’s military, but the elite heavy infantry. In BC 107 Gaius Marius had instituted reforms that meant that legions became permanent until formally disbanded due to losses in combat or political restructuring – much like modern-day regiments of armies. This meant that legions in the time of Jesus could date back a hundred years with storied histories of conquest and military campaigns.
By declaring themselves legion, the demons of Gerasene were making a statement about their nature beyond just numbers: they were indeed powerful and dangerous. An elite cadre of fallen angels filled with malice, hatred, and spite. This is important for us to note, not because we need to know to be able to fight such forces ourselves, but because of what Jesus’ utter disregard for that power and danger tells us.
The Indisputable Authority and Power of Jesus
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. (Luke 8:32-33)
Note the tone that the demons strike when they speak to Jesus. From the moment they encountered Jesus they are desperate; their tone is one of capitulation, not conflict. The mighty legion of the abyss, the elite of Satan’s fallen angels numbering in their thousands, are utterly and completely powerless before the Son of God. Jesus does not need to wrestle with them, there is no back and forth, he need not summon his strength nor call for aid. Though the devil had tried to tempt him with power and authority following Jesus’ time in the desert, we see here the true scope of his power and authority. It is absolute.
We must remember that there is no dualistic battle between good and evil in Christian doctrine. No Yin and Yang, no ebb and flow, no push and pull. God is not bound by Newton’s third law – there is no equal and opposite reaction to his goodness. As we are told in John 1 – the darkness has not overcome the light, nor is that even a possibility.
This is the reason Luke included all the details about the man’s condition.
- It was to demonstrate the full power of Jesus’ deliverance – there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.
- It was also to demonstrate the destructive impact of the demons upon the man’s life. The demon’s swift end in the herd of pigs serves to demonstrate to us the end consequences of rebellion against God. Just as following Jesus brings life and deliverance, so living in opposition to him brings death and destruction. His goodness permeates through us, sustaining us, and its absence leads to suffocation and despair.
The destruction wrought by the demons to both the man and the pigs also demonstrates to us the full extent of the machinations of “powers and authorities” of this world. They have lost the war and they know it. Legion snaps and surrenders the moment they lay eyes upon Jesus; we must assume that Satan and his forces are under no illusions of victory. They are bitter and resentful, lashing out and causing harm, not to win battles, but just to hurt those whom God loves.
Delivered with Purpose
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but 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 8:34-39)
We are told in Mark 5:16 the full reason for the people’s rejection of Jesus. He’s bad for business. Though they are fearful of his power – though they have witnessed a miracle of unprecedented scale – their own comfort and security remain as barriers to the message of deliverance that Jesus brings.
- The message here is powerful, a man bound by an army of demons finds salvation seemingly without effort, yet sometimes we refuse to acknowledge Jesus’ goodness because we are caught up in our own greed and fears.
Keep in mind the full impact of what has happened here. We have the ghoulish figure we described before – a man naked, bruised, chained and wild for several years. Yet now he sits calmly, fully clothed, and presumably unchained.
The fear the people feel at this sight is probably two-fold – like the fear you have when presented with a tame animal that by all rights should be wild. To the people of this area, this man was probably thought of as being akin to a bear, wolf or lion. Yet now he sits at Jesus’ feet, and here you get the second source of fear – who is this man who tamed the wild man of Gerasa and controlled the spirits within him.
While many people reject Jesus, this man has embraced deliverance and salvation. He seeks to follow Jesus. When out of his mind he begged Jesus to leave him alone. Now in his right mind he begs Jesus to be with him. Yet Jesus has other plans for him. He was not saved to keep the message of his deliverance to himself, but to share it. Not only does the man do so, but he does so with passion. Note the parallel drawn in the last verse of our passage. Jesus tells the man:
“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)
We too have been delivered with purpose. The deliverance of the man from Gerasa shows us how complete the power of Jesus is. It reminds us that there is no part of our lives that cannot be overcome by his love and grace. Even if you were to be overtaken by a legion of demons, he will seek you out, he will lift you up, and he will deliver you from every one of your demons – no matter what they may be.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Was the demon-possessed man in Luke 8:26-39 the only demon-possessed man present at the time?
Luke 8:26-33 (AV)
26 And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. 27 And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. 29 (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) 30 And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. 31 And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. 32 And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. 33 Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.
Mark 5:1-13 (NIV-UK)
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!’ 8 For Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you impure spirit!’
9 Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.’ 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Matthew 8:28-32 (NET)
28 When he came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes,[a] two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were extremely violent, so that no one was able to pass by that way.[b]29 They[c] cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone![d] Have you come here to torment us before the time?”[e]30 A[f] large herd of pigs[g] was feeding some distance from them. 31 Then the demons begged him,[h] “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”[i]32 And he said,[j] “Go!” So[k] they came out and went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned in the water.[l]33 The[m] herdsmen ran off, went into the town,[n] and told everything that had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then[o] the entire town[p] came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
tc The textual tradition here is quite complicated. A number of mss read “Gadarenes,” which is the better reading here. Many other mss have “Gergesenes.” Others have “Gerasenes,” which is the reading followed in Luke 8:26. The difference between Matthew and Luke may be due to uses of variant regional terms. Of the three readings, Gergesa is most likely the right location for this exorcism (the only region close to the Sea of Galilee and with a steep bank [κρημνός in Mark 5:13]) but almost surely a secondary reading in all the Synoptics. As Baarda articulated, this variant is quite possibly due to a conjecture made by Origen, a reading which then made its way into several mss, “Gadarenes, Gerasenes, Gergesenes and the ‘Diatassaron’ Traditions,” in Neotestamentica et Semitica: Studies in Honour of Matthew Black, ed. E. Earle Ellis and Max Wilcox [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1969], 181-97).
sn The region of the Gadarenes would be in Gentile territory on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee across from Galilee. Luke 8:26 and Mark 5:1 record this miracle as occurring “in the region of the Gerasenes.” “Irrespective of how one settles this issue . . . the chief concern is that Jesus has crossed over into Gentile territory, ‘opposite Galilee’” (J. B. Green, Luke [NICNT], 337). The region of Gadara extended to the Sea of Galilee and included the town of Sennabris on the southern shore — the town that the herdsmen most likely entered after the drowning of the pigs.
Why are there two demon-possessed men in the Gerasene tombs in Matthew, but only one in Mark and Luke?
According to gotquestions.org …
- The three passages that describe the incident with the demoniacs in the country of the Gerasenes, also called Gadarenes, are Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39. The Matthew account mentions two demon-possessed men, while Mark and Luke only mention one. Is there a discrepancy in these accounts, and do the Gospel writers contradict one another?
- The first thing to determine is whether the three writers are describing the same event. The timing of the event in all three accounts—immediately following the calming of the storm on the sea of Galilee — as well as other similarities (living in the tombs, the ferocity of the demoniac, the conversation with the demons, the driving of them into the pigs, the drowning of the herd, and the response of those who witnessed the scene) all give credence to Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describing the same event.
- The question remains, then, whether there was one demoniac or two.
- Matthew tells us there were two demoniacs, while Mark and Luke only mention one of the two. It is unclear why they chose to mention only one, but that does not negate the possibility of a second demoniac being present. Mark and Luke do not say there was “only one” demon-possessed man. They simply state that one of the two met Jesus and spoke to Him. For whatever reason, Matthew simply gives us more information than Mark and Luke.
- In any case, no contradiction exists. A contradiction occurs only if one statement makes the other impossible and there is absolutely no way for them to be reconciled.
- For example, let’s say we put two apples on a table.
- Statement 1: There are two apples on the table.
- Statement 2: There is only one apple on the table.
- These two statements contradict each other.
- Now read these two statements:
- Statement 1: There are two apples on the table.
- Statement 2: There is an apple on the table.
- These two statements do not contradict each other. In the same way, the biblical accounts do not represent a contradiction.
- All three accounts describe demon possession and the power that Jesus has over the spirit world. All three tell us that He made a point to cross the sea to save someone from the demons. All three affirm that there was at least one man who was plagued by demons. The fact that the three accounts differ in some minor details only proves that they were written by three different authors, each of whom chose to focus on a different aspect of the account.
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