Declare how much God has done for you
Declare How Much God has Done for You
St. Luke 8:26-39
Luke 8 is about response. Specifically, it’s about how we respond to Jesus. The chapter began with the parable of The Sower. It’s an image of God sowing his Word. It’s also the history of Israel’s response to the sowing of God’s Word. God sowed, but the birds snatched the seed away. God sowed and some of the seed took root, but in some cases the roots didn’t go deep enough and when trouble came, the plants died. In other cases the little plants of faith were choked to death by the thorns of this world—by worldly cares, by worldly loyalties, and by false gods. But in Jesus, God is sowing in a new way. He’s become the seed himself. In Jesus the Word has become incarnate—it’s become one of us. And as the Word sows himself for the sake of his own people, finally we see the seed taking root and starting to bear fruit as people respond in faith to Jesus—as they set aside competing loyalties and centre their lives on him. That’s the response of faith that Jesus calls for and makes possible—as Luke says of Peter and his friends: “they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). The Word Incarnate bears fruit.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that our response is consistent. Peter and his friends left everything and followed Jesus. At the beginning of this chapter Luke told us about the other people, and especially the women, who gave up everything to follow him. The disciples were willing to trust Jesus when he asked them to sail their little fishing boat across the Sea of Galilee, but when the storm came up their faith withered like little seedlings in the sun. They panicked. Jesus calmly woke up and rebuked the wind and the waters, commanding them to be calm, but he also rebuked the disciples: “Where is your faith?” And they responded with fear and bewilderment. After all they had seen they could only wonder at who Jesus was. He commanded the chaotic waters with his word the same way the Lord God had commanded them in the Creation, but they didn’t make the connection. The storm was something of a test and they failed.
The story continues directly from Jesus’ calming the storm. We’ll pick it up in 8:26:
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
Bible scholars are still debating the exact location Luke gives us, but whatever the specifics of the town or region, his main point is very clear and we don’t miss the importance of it: they were on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had been ministering in the Jewish communities on the west side of the sea, but now he’s deliberately gone to the eastern side. There were plenty of Jews all around the sea, but the eastern side of the sea was known as gentile territory. This was the region know by the Greek name “Decapolis”, which means “ten towns”. These were Greek colonies full of people who had adopted Greek culture. And all the details that Luke gives us in these verses highlight that this was gentile country. We’ve seen a lot of “outsiders” come to Jesus as he ministered in Israel, but now Jesus has deliberately gone to the place where the outsiders are the insiders—he’s gone to meet them in their own country.
Jesus had been ministering in “safe” territory. He’d found plenty of sick and hurting people, but so far he’s been ministering “in the Church”, so to speak. The sick and hurting people were the ones who had fallen through the cracks or who had plucked up their courage to come and meet him on what they saw as his turf. But now he’s left the safe and holy confines of the Church. He’s gone to the bad part of town. Look at what happens as they approach the nearest town:
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. (Luke 8:27)
The Church is safe ground, which is why we find it so much easier to minister to our brothers and sisters in the Church. But to go outside and not just outside, but to go to worst part of town or to go to some place where the light of the gospel simply hasn’t penetrated the darkness yet—that’s often a scary prospect and a bigger challenge. We’re afraid of who we might meet. If Jesus were you or I he might have hoped to meet up with some well-mannered and open-minded pagans so that he could share his message with them. Maybe they’d receive it; maybe they wouldn’t—but at least he could fulfil his mission of taking the good news to them and, whether they responded in faith or not, he could go back to the Church in peace. But instead the first person who meets him is a demon-possessed man. He’s scary. He’s dangerous. He’s a threat. As Luke will tell us shortly, he’s someone that the townspeople had kept chained in the past, because he was that dangerous. He’s not the type to sit and listen while Jesus shares his good news. He’s certainly not the guy you want to run into in a dark cemetery as Jesus did. This could be a scene from a horror movie. Imagine this demon-crazed man, naked and dishevelled—a man the townspeople once kept locked in chains—coming towards Jesus and his friends.
But remember that Chapter 8 is about response to Jesus. Look at how this man responds:
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.” For 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.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. (Luke 8:28-31)
We can gather that as this man approached, Jesus recognised something demonic in him and commanded the demon to come out of him. This wouldn’t have been the first time someone had tried to exorcise this demon. In the past, the man just broke his chains and ran away. It seems pretty likely that he had hurt people in the process, hence the need for the chains. But instead of attacking Jesus or running away, he immediately submits himself to Jesus’ authority. And he does that because he recognises who Jesus is. Word about Jesus had spread abroad and now we see it’s even spread to the gentile territory on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. And this demon-possessed man understands the significance of the things Jesus has said and done and that’s remarkable. Consider that the disciples had seen Jesus doing things that only God could do and all they could do is “marvel” in “fear”. They didn’t “get it”. But this man puts it together. He’s not even a Jew, be he knows that Jesus is the one who was promised long ago and for whom the Jews have been waiting. He’s the Son of the Most High God. And the demon is smart enough to know when he’s in the presence of someone with more power and greater authority than his own. He knows that as the agent of the Most High, Jesus probably even has more power than his master.
And so the demon takes this humble posture. He makes a show of submitting to Jesus and asking for mercy. The disciples were afraid because they did not know who Jesus was. The demon is afraid precisely because he does know—or at least has a pretty good idea—who Jesus is. But he tests the waters. That’s what the whole thing with the exchange of names is about. This was a pagan culture and remember that one the key elements of paganism is the idea that we can control the gods and other magical beings if we have the right formula. In that culture, knowing someone’s name was a way to have control over that person. If you could invoke a god or a demon by his or her name, that was believed to give you a certain amount of power over them. And so the demon’s confession of his knowledge of who Jesus is isn’t just an act of submission, it’s also a hopeful attempt to try to get one up on Jesus.
I think in light of this it’s worth asking ourselves if we don’t sometimes do something similar. Not long ago I overheard a conversation between two men. One of them had made a prayer request to God. When he was done praying his friend told him, “You’re prayer won’t come true. You didn’t say, ‘In Jesus’ name’!” First, prayer requests to God aren’t birthday wishes. They don’t “come true”. I think this idea comes from the Word-Faith movement, which is nothing more than paganism represented in Christian terminology. It’s the “New Age” idea that we can shape our own reality through our thoughts and words, through “positive confession” or “possibility thinking”. If we use the right formula, we can have whatever we want. That’s paganism, pure and simple. But even if we don’t go that far, how often do we tack “In Jesus name” onto the end of prayers as if it were a formula or a talisman to make our prayers effective—to control God?
Brothers and sisters, that’s not what it’s about. In John’s Gospel Jesus does promise that whatever we ask in his name will be done (14:13), but Jesus isn’t giving us power over him by telling us his name. What he’s done, in himself, is to give us a means of approach to the Father. We who were once separated from God have been granted access to his throne through Jesus. And so whether we add something about Jesus to the end of our prayers or not, the point is that when we pray to the Father, we know that we are doing so not on our own merit, but on the merit of Jesus. We come to the Father through him. And when we pray “in Jesus name” we pray for our needs and the needs of others with the knowledge that whatever happens is not happening on our authority but under Jesus’ authority. That’s also why we pray according to his will. Just as someone you hire to be your agent has no right to do things in your name that you would never approve, we have no right to claim authority in our prayers or to ask for things that are contrary to Jesus’ will. We’re not always privy to his will for a specific situation and he always invites us to share our desires with him, but when we pray it’s essential that we pray in humility, not demanding that our will be done, but asking that his will be done and trusting that he always knows best and always works for the ultimate good. That’s what it means to pray “In Jesus’ name”—not a formula, not a means to make demands, but the simple acknowledgement that we can come to the Father only on the merits of his Son.
We can’t manipulate Jesus by using his name in magical ways and neither can the demon. And Jesus makes this clear as he counters the demon. “I don’t know your name, but I have authority to command you anyway!” And he shows his authority by forcing the demon to give up his own name. Jesus shows how silly the whole pagan game is. And at this point the demon realises that he really is sunk. He pleads for mercy. He tells Jesus that his name is “Legion”. Either it’s more than one demon possessing this man, or it’s one demon in command of a whole host who are with him. And he pleads with Jesus not to command him into the abyss—into that place in the underworld reserved for the imprisonment of Satan and his minions.
Luke now writes:
Now 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. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. (Luke 8:32-33)
The pigs remind us again that Jesus is in gentile country. Jews didn’t eat or keep these unclean animals. And as the demon had driven the man away from the living to live amongst the tombs of the dead, he takes control of the pigs and drives them to their death.
Jesus makes an object lesson here—or least Luke uses it as one—to show who the real enemy is. The Jews liked to compare the Romans, their gentile overlords, to pigs. Pigs were the ultimately symbol for uncleanness in Jewish culture. Some of the militant revolutionaries of the First Century talked about their desire to rise up and drive the Romans into the sea like a herd of pigs. And here we now see a herd of real, live pigs driven into the sea and drowned. And yet it highlights that the Romans aren’t the real enemy. The people who first read Luke’s Gospel would immediately have made a connection between this demon named “Legion” and the Romans. The Roman military was organized into “legions”. They would have associated the pigs with the Romans too. But notice, the Roman “pigs” aren’t the problem. The real “legion”—the real enemy—is the demon who drives the pigs to their death. Sin and death, which entered the world through Satan’s work, are the real enemies, and Jew and gentile alike are at their mercy. Everyone needs deliverance. Everyone needs to be freed. Even the Romans. And we see that here. Here we see the salvation that the Lord had promised to Adam and Eve, that he’d promise to Abraham, that he’d promised through Moses and the prophets has come. It had come to the people of Israel as Jesus travelled through Galilee, but now it’s come to the gentiles too. And in this case a gentile showed a greater understanding of that salvation and of the one who has brought it than the Jews did.
Now, Luke shows us the response of the men in charge of the pigs:
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then 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 he got into the boat and returned. (Luke 8:34-37)
The townspeople are amazed at this man’s transformation. Here was the madman that they’d tried to keep chained, who ran around naked and raving and camped out in the tombs of the dead. And now they find him clothed, calm, and sitting at Jesus’ feet, no doubt learning as Jesus explains his good news to him, explains that with the coming of his kingdom the demons have no more power. Luke gives us a beautiful image of salvation. We met this man literally submitted to the devil, rebellious, uncontrolled, and without an ounce of human dignity. And now we see a 180-degree reversal. The captive has been set free. The naked man has been clothed. The poor man has had good news preached to him. The rebel has become the loyal subject of the King. This is the response to Jesus that brings life.
In contrast, the people of the town are amazed, but their amazement leads to fear—and not the good kind of fear that leads to faith. Theirs is a fear that leads them to reject Jesus and to insist that he leave. Luke doesn’t elaborate on their fear. As St. Mark tells the story, they saw the dead pigs and were afraid Jesus might do more of the same sort of thing. But what’s apparent between the lines in Luke’s telling of the story is that the people were overwhelmed with this display of the supernatural. They knew first hand the power the demons had and now they were afraid because here was a man who obviously had even greater power than the chain-breaking demons. They were afraid.
And the man, now free from the demon, is obviously aware of their fear. They’re no doubt afraid of him too. And so we read more about his response in verses 38 and 39.
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.
Here’s the response that Jesus wanted. And it’s the response we saw with Jesus’ followers at the beginning of the chapter. This man was ready to leave everything and to go with Jesus. And that’s good, but taking up with Jesus band of followers isn’t the only way to live out that kind of response. One of the things we’ve seen with Jesus’ disciples—the men who travelled with him—has been their lack of faith. They believe, but they don’t fully understand. They believe, but they need to grow more before Jesus can cut them loose to fulfil their own ministries in his name. As we saw when Jesus calmed the storm, they still didn’t really understand who he was. But this man did understand that. This man did have faith. He didn’t need to follow Jesus around as his faith matured. He was ready to be sent out to his own people so that he could declare to them what God had done.
Notice that this is just a different way of following Jesus and giving up everything for his sake. There’s no doubt that it would have been much easier for him to take up with Jesus. Back in Galilee, no one knew his past and no one would know him as the demoniac who ran around naked amongst the tombs. To travel with Jesus was to start over fresh. To go back to his people was to continue to be rejected. He would always be the demoniac to them. And yet as he made that sacrifice of continuing to be an outsider amongst his own people, he would always be the demoniac, but he would also always be the demoniac who was set free and whose life was completely transformed.
Brothers and sisters, his was a powerful witness. And as Luke makes plain, it was powerful because it made the connection between Jesus and God. Jesus sent this man back to his town to tell the people what God had done for him, but Luke then, very specifically, tells us that the man went and told the “whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” His was an amazing witness—not just of a healing that the people could attribute to any god. It was a healing that gave witness to the power of God in Jesus and in that it gave powerful witness to the Incarnation.
Notice, this man wasn’t a theology professor. He didn’t go home and draught a creed to explain to the people that Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. All he did was live amongst his people so that they could see what Jesus had done for him and in that he gave them reason to know that in Jesus, God Most High is alive and active and bringing salvation to the world. And, brothers and sisters, we ought to do the same. This man foreshadows the Church we’ll see in the book of Acts—the sequel to Luke’s Gospel. The Church is the body of people who have been set free and transformed by Jesus, just as this man was. Jesus could save us and then zap us straight to heaven to be with him, but that’s not what he does. He saves us, he transformed us, and then he sends us back into the world to declare what God has done for us through him. He calls us to follow him by going back into our old communities as representatives of his kingdom. We become witnesses of the Word Incarnate in our very selves as the people who knew us before now see the transformation that Jesus has made in us. By our very presence, by putting our transformed lives on display we become witnesses, we create curiosity, amazement, and maybe even a little fear. And all that gives us opportunity to proclaim what God had done in Jesus Christ.
Let us pray: Gracious Father, through your Son you have set us free from the devil and from sin and death, you have transformed us, renewed us, and given us new life. Let live the life you have given. Teach us not to squander your grace, but to cultivate the gift of faith you have given. And let be active in proclaiming to everyone around us the wonderful things you have done for us in Jesus. Amen.