Preaching Date: May 5, 2019
Key Sentence: An encounter with Jesus turns torment to testimony.
I. Torment (Luke 8:26-29)
II. Encounter (Luke 8:30-33)
III. Sanity (Luke 8:34-36)
IV. Testimony (Luke 8:37-39)
Years ago I read the story of Joel Treadway. A Christian, married, with an adopted child. His little girl, Sara, had had open heart surgery as an infant, so Joel and Lena thought they knew what to expect when they were offered a second child, Seth, who also had heart problems. Joel and Lena agreed to care for Seth, not even knowing whether he would live. They saved his life several times with CPR, and they spent long and anxious times in the hospital.
In between they gave him their love and treated him as normally as possible. Joel convinced himself, despite the continuing medical problems, that Seth would grow and thrive. Lena was more realistic. Once, during a difficult time, Lena remembers giving Seth a big bear hug, and asking “Do you know how much I love you.” He returned the hug and said “I love you too, mommy.” Lena went on: “Do you know Jesus loves you that much, too?” “Yeah, I know,” he replied, “Mommy . . Jesus is here. He’s right over there.” Lena followed her son’s gaze. “I never saw anything,” she says. “But I had no doubt Seth could.
A few weeks later, Seth died in his sleep. Lena and the children grieved. Joel was devastated. He couldn’t believe a loving God could do this. He went quickly from denial to sorrow to anger, and he stayed angry. He shut out his wife and daughter, he buried himself in his work, and he shut out God. For more than a year he stayed inside this shell. After a while he knew something needed to change, but he couldn’t summon the courage to bridge the gap he’d created.
Then he attended a Promise Keepers Conference. The final speaker, James Dobson was supposed to talk about “When God Doesn’t Make Sense.” That was what Joel thought he needed to hear. But Dobson changed his topic, and talked about “What Your Wife Wants Me to Tell You.” It was the new topic that finally broke Joel’s heart. He realized how miserably uncaring he had been in his grief. When his wife and family needed him most, he simply hadn’t been there. He asked God to forgive him and help him get his life back in balance.
And he vowed to do whatever it took to prove to his wife and children how important they were. “Seth doesn’t need me anymore. He’s in heaven with Jesus. It’s Lena who needs a husband, and Sara who needs a father.” He hurried home, grabbed up his wife in his arms and held her. He says “I guess she knew right then that something had happened.” Joel and Lena worked through their grief, gave themselves more than ever to Sara, learned a new dependence on God, and found a new peace.
It’s a good story. But what I want is for us to recognize a pattern. The episode with Seth torments Joel and leads him into sin. Then came an encounter. For Joel it was at a Promise Keepers event. But it was really an encounter with Jesus. Next came a new perspective. He saw his problems with a more realistic view, saw how he had acted in his grief toward those around him. Finally, there was a testimony, a sharing with others of what God was doing to restore.
That pattern is seen in today’s text, Luke 8:26-39. It’s a Biblical pattern of renewal in people’s lives, that an encounter with Jesus turns torment to testimony. The first part of the pattern is trial, torment or tribulation. Luke 8:26-29. Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27When 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. 28When 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.” 29For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.)
Last week we looked at the episode where Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Now the disciples and Jesus have completed their crossing, and they land on the east side of the lake. Where they landed is disputed. There is a town called Gerasa in the Decapolis, but it is more than thirty miles away from the Sea of Galilee. There is also a town called Gadara, somewhat closer to the lake, and there is yet another town which may be Gergasa but is known as Kursi. It may be that the whichever town was mentioned in the original was so little known that these scribes began to substitute other, better known places, thus creating the confusion. In any event, it’s important to notice that all of these were Gentile towns. The entire Decapolis, and all the territory on that side of the lake was Gentile. This Gerasene man was almost certainly a Gentile - yet Jesus cares for him.
As you read this text, one of the things that stands out is just how horrible this man’s position really was. He was demon possessed. His actions and his spirit were under the domination of demons, representatives of Satan, fallen spirit beings whose goal is to work evil and promote it. Like most evil, the possession of this man is both degrading and spiteful. The demons were mean-spirited. They wouldn’t let the man wear clothes, or even live in a house, but he lived among the tombs. Though he was chained hand and foot, kept under guard, the demons broke his chains, and drove him into the wilderness, to solitary places.
It is characteristic of Satan that when he is at work, people become more like animals than like men and women made in the image of God. Wherever you find evil you almost always find filth, brutality, ugliness, human degradation and pain. The disgrace of human sexual trafficking around the world and in our country has all these ugly characteristics. And it’s not just from demons. Satan does promote ugliness, but our fallen world and our fallen nature cooperate in it. This evil deeply impacts others, tragedizes our most significant relationships.
Nonetheless, these awful demons, when they come face to face with Jesus, recognize that they’re in the presence of a far greater power than theirs. They make the man fall at Jesus’ feet, shouting at the top of his voice: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”. Whenever God Most High or “the Most High” is used in the Old Testament it’s a recognition of God’s sovereignty, his inherent right to rule and judge. The demons recognize that sovereign right in Jesus. They know that he can effortlessly decide their judgment and seal their fate. In doing so, they answer the question the disciples had asked after Jesus calmed the storm. Who is this man, that even the winds and waves obey him? Who is this man? It’s Jesus, Son of the Most High God. He is the one who has authority over wind, waves, and demons.
I want us to think clearly about these horrible demons Jesus so often encountered. The question is how much we, believers, ought to be concerned about demons. To gain Biblical insight into this, we have to notice first that the vast majority of explicit demonic activity in the Biblical record occurs in the Gospels and the first chapters of Acts. Only here, during the ministry of Jesus and shortly after, does the explicit influence of demons on individuals reach its peak.
In fact, there are three distinct periods of Biblical history, relative to how Satan carried out his main destructive work. In the Old Testament we don’t see the explicit work of demons, but we see an incredible amount of destructive and sinful influence by idols. The whole Old Testament mentions demons only twice, but idols hundreds of times. In that epoch Satan chose to array his forces against men mainly by making his minions into false gods for the people to worship. His fingerprints are on it, the degradation and stench of idol worship, so that people even offered their own children to the burning fires of Molech.
In the last part of the New Testament, however, it is not idols or demons that take center stage. Rather, it is the fallen human nature, the old man, that causes most of the problems, as believers battle with what had been enemy territory before redemption, the now-defeated but not exiled sinful nature. This is why Paul emphasizes putting off the old man and putting on the new. The battleground has become the lust of the flesh, and the evil desires of the heart.
So the three periods I see are first idols, then demons, then desires. Does this mean Satan is limited to just one approach in each age? No, it’s just his emphasis. He continues to work through idols and demonic activity in different cultures of the world and in our own culture, at times disguising it in what our culture sees as mental health issues. But he also works to corrupt the world system, to creation of an environment where morality is more and more optional, and where the subjective choice, the self-actualization, is made the highest good. I believe Satan stands behind the conviction that no one can tell you what to do. Because in this environment he can not only harden non-believers, but he can tempt believers to live according to the old sinful nature. Therefore, our concern ought to be primarily to live in Jesus according to the new nature. If you read the New Testament beginning letters, from Romans to 3rd John, you find that this is the overwhelming concern of the New Testament writers.
But this poor man, possessed by a legion of demons, is the classic image of Satanic oppression in Jesus’ day. Luke’s simple words allow us to sense his torment, trapped by these demons into awful behaviors and ways of living. This is the link that ties Satan’s schemes together. Where we see inhumanity, ugliness, suffering and death we see Satan’s playground. Where we see people hating their own addictions or lusts or angers, we see this oppressed man. Where we see people suffering the oppression, lust or anger of others, we see the torment Jesus had compassion on. Where we hear the siren’s call to death, whether by murder, abortion, suicide or euthanasia we hear Satan’s laughter.
But it is this torment and suffering, oppression and shame that sets the stage for God to act, sets the stage even today for an encounter with Jesus. Watch the process in this text. Luke 8:30-33 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
Up to this point in the text the voice of the man has spoken in first person singular. “What do you want with me? Don’t torture me!” So it’s a bit surprising to find there are many demons oppressing this man. So many demons had gone into him, that they called themselves ‘Legion.’ A Roman legion was between 3000 to 6000 soldiers. The term always represents a very great number. Recognizing Jesus for who he is, the demons also knew he had the power to destroy them. They feared he would send them to the Abyss, the bottomless pit where they would be held until the final judgment. This is the same place where Satan himself will be bound for a thousand years.
But Jesus chooses not to send them there, though he could have. I don’t know why, but when they beg him to be sent into a herd of pigs, he allows it. The presence of this large herd of pigs shows this was a Gentile rather than Jewish region. Yet the demons are not at peace. They put the herd into a panic and it rushes off the cliff into the lake, yet another example of Satan’s habit of destruction. The enemy always wants to kill, hurt and destroy. What happens to the demons after that? I don’t know. We’re not told. The focus is on the people.
In this brief encounter with Jesus, the man has been set free from oppression. The word of Jesus is powerful for setting free. Where this man had been oppressed by a legion, now they have all left him. This is the second stage of the process. When you are in torment, whether the torment caused by your own sin, or any kind of trial or suffering, the resolution comes from an encounter with Jesus. He is the only one, who can free you from the guilt of sin, and he is the only one, who can take the burden of your suffering. And nothing daunts him. He is Lord, sovereign over every created thing, powerful against every foe.
Martin Luther knew it “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing. Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe. His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing Do you ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He. The Lord of hosts His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.”
The question of course is, have you had an encounter with Jesus? In the midst of oppression by the sins of your fallen nature, have you had an encounter with Jesus? In the torment of your guilt, have you had an encounter with Jesus? In the trial of your suffering, have you had an encounter with Jesus? I’m not talking about something mystical. It starts with the simple realization that you are sinful, tormented, in need of his compassion. That in love he gave himself for you, to redeem you, free you and heal you. That faith alone, trust, opens the door for his rescue. Yet for most Jesus does give a depth of encounter, a sense of freedom, a pouring out of love that reaches our broken hearts.
This encounter has tremendous consequences. The man’s whole life is turned around. He’s freed from oppression to focus on Jesus. Luke 8:34-36 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then 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. 36And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed.
The key point is what the people see when they come to check out this event. They find the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed, and in his right mind. Sanity is found in sitting at Jesus’ feet. I can’t think of four better words to describe the life of a believer. Sitting at Jesus’ feet means listening to what he says. It means learning from him. When we are under the torment of sin, or even of suffering, we tend to only hear what the world has to say, or the lies we say in our own heads. We have a warped perspective, a self-centered perspective, a self-justifying or self-condemning perspective. But when we sit at Jesus feet, we get Jesus’ perspective. We hear his word, the truth. Jackie Hill Perry, whom I have mentioned before, was a young woman deeply committed to a lesbian life. When she encountered Jesus everything changed. But she had to learn to sit at his feet, and a woman named Santoria became her discipler. “This woman showed me that knowing God was more than knowing about Him, doing things for Him but knowing Him.”
We come through trial and testing, we have an encounter with Jesus. Then we sit at his feet learning to know him. That comes primarily through hearing and doing his word, but also through things like worship. We worship, the Psalmist says, at his footstool. We praise him from the overflow of our hearts, for his greatness, his power, his love and his and his rescue. And finally, we make him first priority. When I am sitting at his feet, I am not doing any of the other things that I might have done. I am not following my own interests, I am not making my own use of the time. I am not pursuing my own wealth, my own power, my own pleasure, my own rest. Like Mary of Bethany, listening at his feet while her sister fretted, I have chosen the better part.
After an encounter with Jesus you get this whole new perspective. It’s called sanity. This man is in his right mind. You see if God is really the sovereign of the universe, if his will is its law, then any perspective on reality other than God’s is insanity. Jackie Hill Perry tells a story that illustrates God making her sane, seeing the world from his perspective. She apparently had the habit of getting up and getting on social media. But one day Santoria left her a book. “Before you get on the computer, study chapter 2.” It was called “Humility: Coming to God on His Terms.” “Soooo, what does this have to do with me? I thought. I sat down on the couch behind me and started to read. What I read had knives in it. Sharp, stainless steel ones, stopping only when a period or paragraph break made them sit still. Some words were shards of a mirror. Each cut showed me what my heart had tried to keep from God. Each sentence told me that pride was not exclusive to the outwardly arrogant people I’d come across, but it also sat inside of all of us, inside me, only to be discovered when the Sword of the Spirit pierced through the bone and marrow that housed it.”
In the same way this man, after an encounter with Jesus, was in his right mind. He had gotten a dose of God’s reality, God’s perspective, God’s power, and it had straightened out his thinking. He no longer heard the lies of the enemy. You’ve probably noticed that we live in an insane asylum. The only point of sanity to be found in all this demented world, is in Jesus Christ, who is the truth. So, cling to Jesus, cling to his word, sit at his feet and be sane.
But it doesn’t even stop there. There is one more step in this process of renewal. Testimony: telling other how much God has done. Look at verses 37-39 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 he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“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.
The people of this town did not see the compassion of Jesus in this great miracle that he had performed. Rather, they saw him as a threat. Maybe it was an economic threat, maybe it was spiritual, maybe it was just the fear of his great power, but they ask him to leave. This crowd is not in their right minds. They are stuck in the misperception of reality that comes when you have the world’s view, rather than a focus on Jesus. But the man who was possessed and insane now has it right. He wants to go with Jesus. He wants to stay with Jesus, as the focus of his life. But Jesus has something else in mind for him. “Return home,” he says, “and declare how much God has done for you.” This pattern of renewal is completed with testimony, with telling how much God has done.
Now there are several times in the Gospels, when Jesus has told people not to tell what God had done. To be quiet about a miracle or a changed life. But if you look at those times, you find that they all occurred on Jewish soil, where the expectation of a conquering Messiah King was very high. Jesus would always squelch those expectations. But now he is on Gentile territory. There is no danger these people will make him their king. Now his command is “go and tell.” And the man is obedient. He shares his testimony to Jesus all over town.
I don’t want to speculate, but I strongly suspect when the news of Jesus’ resurrection reached that town the following year, there were many who were prepared to believe. This man’s testimony, no doubt, was used by God to bring others to faith. Because that’s the effect when we tell what Jesus has done for us. Even if somebody can deny the truth of our doctrine, they cannot deny the testimony of our experience. We need both - we need the good news message to share with others, but we also need the reality of that message in our own lives.
What have we seen in these verses? A pattern of renewal. I believe this pattern is typical of the way God works. Let me review it for you one more time. It starts out with some kind of torment, from the guilt of our sin, or from the burden of our suffering. We try to bear these things alone, too insane to turn to God. But then we have an encounter with Jesus. He will not leave us alone. He wants to challenge our unbelief and he wants to carry our burden for us. He will use some person or some circumstance or especially his own Word to bring us, broken, into his presence. That encounter restores our sanity. We find peace sitting at his feet. Therefore, we want to tell others about it, to share what God has done for us. We testify to him, to his power, to his love.
Now I hope by this time you’ve noticed something. I’m not much for acronyms, but this sermon has one. Tribulation. Encounter. Sanity. Testimony. TEST. Where are you in your current test? Are you in a trial, or burdened by guilt? Have you had an encounter with Jesus? Have you returned to sanity? Have you told others of what he has done? This is a Biblical pattern. As I think about Biblical characters like David, Peter and even Jonah, I seen this pattern. In fact, as an exercise, you might want to look for this pattern in the life of David, especially in 2 Samuel 11 and 12, Psalm 32, and Psalm 51. All the elements are there. Torment, encounter, sanity, and testimony. But this is also a pattern in God’s work today. I’ve seen it in my own life. You may have seen it in your life. Or you may need to experience it today. You may have a test to work through. My prayer is that you will be a testimony to God’s renewing work in your life.