Breaking the Chains
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts
be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Last week at some of the services, Pastor Rick announced that I would be preaching today about the “Crazy man who lived in a cemetery.” (PAUSE)
(PICK UP CHAIN)
Today’s scripture lesson is a sad story about a man possessed by many, many demons. He terrorized the people, running naked among them and living in a rural cemetery.* Mark’s Gospel recounts that man was so stricken with demons that he used sharp stones to cut himself all over his body. Even though the townspeople tried to bind him hand and foot with chains, nothing could subdue him. The man roamed free among the tombs because the countless demons that possessed him gave him superhuman strength to break the chains (DROP CHAIN) (PAUSE) used to bind him. (PAUSE)*
Besides being a sad story,*/ This is also a wonderful message!/* This story is about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry to non-Jews, when he reached out beyond Israel and brought salvation to the Gentiles. Whenever you hear a reference to “the Gentiles,” think you and me…us—anyone who is not a Jew is a Gentile. This story is about the beginnings of our salvation in Jesus Christ. (PAUSE)
Let’s get back to the crazy man in the cemetery…In Jesus’ time, people weren’t considered crazy, depressed, deranged…off their rocker…or two fries short of a Happy Meal. (PAUSE) When someone exhibited aberrant behaviors 2,000 years ago, it was commonly accepted that demons were responsible for that person’s strange actions.
In our 21st century Western culture, many people treat demons as things of fiction and entertainment. Some even participate in Satanic worship and witchcraft. Few people today admit publicly…or even privately, to believing in demons, demonic possession and spiritual warfare. For those of us who admit to believing in spiritual warfare, we must be careful not to attribute every negative happenstance in our lives to demons. (PAUSE) However, Scriptures tell us that Jesus healed people from many diseases and ailments, including demonic possession. (PAUSE)
A little background information might be useful to help us understand today’s Gospel narrative. The story actually starts four verses earlier when Jesus and the disciples are in the region of Galilee. Jesus hops into a boat and says, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” (PAUSE) The lake is the Sea of Galilee and the “other side of the lake” is Gentile territory.
The Jewish people believed the Abyss – the place where disobedient demons and unclean spirits are imprisoned, is somewhere at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples and Jesus had to sail over the Abyss to get to the other side of the lake where they would encounter pagan religions and unclean animals.
While they were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a deadly storm descends upon them. Jesus displays his power over nature by calming the seas and the storm that threatens to kill them all. The disciples were more afraid of Jesus’ calming the sea and the winds than they were of drowning because they still did know the source of Jesus’ power.
After arriving on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man possessed with many demons. Unlike the disciples, however, the demoniac knows the identity of Jesus—he falls face down in front of him and calls Jesus “The Son of the Most High God!” It is so ironic…the demoniac, who has access to the unclean spirit world knows who Jesus is, while the Messiah’s own disciples were in a fog about Jesus’ identity.
When the demoniac fell before the Lord, he wasn’t doing it to honor Jesus or worship him. I believe he did so for one reason only – he feared Jesus, he feared Jesus’ power as the Son of the Most High God!* 1. READ Luke 8:26-29*
Luke’s account reveals that the demon-possessed man was once a man of the city, but after he was possessed, he lived naked among the tombs. The demoniac, speaking for the demons within him, begs Jesus not to torment him, since we learn in verse 29, that Jesus had already “commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.”
Jesus then asks him,* ““What is your name?” The man replied, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.”* In our society, knowing someone’s name gives you a certain power over him or her. As a child, if I misbehaved near my home, a neighbor would call out, “I know who you are, Gerry! If don’t quit doing that, I will call your father.” (PAUSE) That was enough to make me stop whatever I was doing because that person had power over me by knowing my name. (PAUSE) But…if I was in another part of town, and contrary to the Cheers theme song, where nobody knows my name, I could do all kinds of mischief since no one could call down the wrath of MY father on me!
Now, Jesus did not need to know the demon’s name to have power over him. Being the Son of God was more than enough to control the man. It was however, important that the man know the seriousness of his possession. He wasn’t possessed by one demon, but by many, which the name “Legion” implies. The demoniac is under the control of an entire host of demons, a Legion! In the Roman army, a legion consisted of five-to-six thousand soldiers. No one knows how many demons lived and did battle within this poor man that our Lord had taken pity on.
The demons dreaded the punishment of God, so they make a request of Jesus, asking him to send them into the herd of pigs on the hillside instead of ordering them to go back into the abyss. 2. READ Luke 8:32-33
What happened here? On one hand, the demons knew that Jesus’ God-given power was greater than their ability to commit evil and wreak havoc in the possessed man’s life. On the other hand, they wanted to stay in the land of the Gerasenes. Their best option was to go into a large herd of swine—Mark’s gospel says the herd was 2,000 strong.
What caused the pigs to stampede over the cliff like lemmings to their death in the Sea of Galilee? When the demons entered the pigs, there is every reason to believe that they tormented the pigs as much as they did the man, driving them crazy and over the edge.
Listen to what the scripture says after the pigs died in the Sea of Galilee.
3. READ Luke 8:34-37.
It says the swineherds…or the shepherds of the pigs…ran off to report what had happened. When the people arrived to see for themselves what had transpired, “they were seized with great fear” of Jesus because he had healed the demoniac. He was sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind. The Gerasenes wanted nothing to do with Jesus and asked him to leave them.
This is quite a different mindset than of the shepherds who witnessed Jesus’ birth some thirty years earlier. Luke 2:20 says, “The shepherds glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen.” (PAUSE) But the Gerasenes feared Jesus and didn’t want him intruding in their lives—they wanted Jesus to leave immediately—which he did.
Just as Jesus doesn’t force himself upon us, he didn’t force himself upon those who didn’t want him in their lives 20 centuries ago. Luke 9:54 says the disciples want to call fire down upon a Samaritan…or Gentile…village…when the people wouldn’t receive Jesus into their presence. Our Lord rebuked the disciples for their vindictiveness and went onto a village willing to accept him. Jesus is like with us – either we accept him or we reject him – the choice is all ours.
Listen to what happens next.* 4. READ Luke 8:38-39*
The man Jesus heals begs to become a follower of his savior, but Jesus compassionately sends him home. “Return to your home, and declare how much God had done for you.” Go home to your wife, your children, your parents and your friends…you are free…let them see first-hand how much God loves you. Be my witness, my missionary, my disciple to your people. Let them know how much I love them.
What does today’s scripture mean for us? How many of us have actually seen demonic possession? Theologian Darrell L. Bock says, “Though we rarely deal with overt cases of demon-possession, that fact should not stop us from realizing the impact the demonic has on us daily. It is not entirely clear why demon-possession is so rare in the Western world.” Bock continues, “Do we underestimate its presence? Or does Satan have no need to manifest himself openly in a culture that denies his existence?”
In our culture, it is doubtful any of us will ever witness demonic possession. However, there are things is our lives that possess us as much as Legion possessed the former demoniac. Demons may not possess our souls as vividly as Legion did, but they do cause people to do destructive things and they retain a power that can be almost overwhelming.
People in the grip of addictive drinking, gambling, illegal drugs, eating disorders or lusts of all kinds reflect a world where destructive indulgence inflicts not only pain on those possessed by such addictions, but also on others around them. Though the forces in view here are chemical or psychological, there can be little doubt that they are the remnants of a fallen world that Satan exploits.
Many of us here today have battled our own personal demons in our lives. Many years ago, I was heavily addicted to nicotine. In addition to regularly smoking a pipe, I inhaled between four and five packs of cigarettes every day. I turned to Jesus to rid myself of that demon because I knew I couldn’t do it myself. By the end of two weeks, Jesus kicked that habit out of my life forever. Every time I craved a cigarette, Jesus answered my 5-10 second long prayers to take that desire from me. This past April’s Fools Day, I celebrated 29 years of cigarette sobriety.
I have permission from Vi Eslinger to tell this next story about her husband, Paul, who died this past September. Paul was not only my friend, my prayer partner and my mentor. He was also my brother in Christ Jesus, but he wasn’t always that way. Paul once told me that at one time in his life he thought Christians were foolish for believing in Jesus. He told me that Vi had to almost drag him to church every Sunday. Then Jesus came into Paul’s life as he did with the Gerasene demoniac. Paul, like the man possessed by Legion, saw his life turn around literally overnight. Paul became a different man, a healed man, a missionary to his own people. Like the healed demoniac, Paul did as Jesus asked and proclaimed for the rest of his life how much Jesus had done for him. Paul’s message about Jesus is one of the reasons why I am up here today.
PICK UP CHAIN
Many Christians, including me, are occasionally chained by our fears, our anxieties, our sins and our obsessions. We think we are in control of our lives when in actuality we might be just one pig away from destruction and the Abyss. Jesus is waiting to heal us from our personal demons and break our chains * that keep us bound and separated from him. (DROP CHAIN)*
Let us pray. Holy God, whose healing presence gathers together our brokenness and restores our integrity, move us once more to proclaim to one another how much you have done for us, that no one will question, “Where is your God?” but will sense your reality among us. May we be attentive listeners, faithful followers and courageous proclaimers of what you have done in our lives. Amen…and Amen.