[This is a recent sermon that I preached at my church. You can find the sermon here.]
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.
And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
In our last study, we read about the disciples’ fear of perishing, Christ’s Sovereignty and Omnipotence, and his disciples’ increase in fear after seeing God Almighty in the flesh controlling all things by his Word. We saw that our Lord first rebuked the storm, then rebuked his disciples, demonstrating that he both showed them mercy and bore patiently with them, and disciplined them for their unbelief. And we also saw that the event was not unrelated to the parables our Lord gave just before they got into the boat to travel. Our Lord’s parables made it clear that the Gospel and its preachers would face opposition in the world, from the devil and his angels, and from the sin in the hearts of men. And his parables also taught the kingdom of God would not be hindered from reaching its divinely ordained purpose. Whether it is the seed’s growth into fruitfulness individually, as in the sower and the seed, or the seed’s secret growth we can’t see, or the seed’s gradual but exponential growth into a place of shade and nourishment throughout the world — nothing can hinder it reaching its divinely ordained goal.
Today, we see that this is not only the case when it comes to the forces of nature, but also when it comes to the forces of evil. The devil and angels. Our Lord heads out to a Gentile region to preach the Gospel, and he is immediately confronted by a demon possessed man who lives among the tombs. These details are not unnecessary; they aren’t merely historical details without any significance. This man was an unclean Gentile, excluded from the covenant life of Israel; he was spiritually unclean by virtue of being lost and demon possessed; and he was ceremonially unclean by virtue of dwelling among the tombs, i.e. amongst the dead. Numbers 5:1-3 —
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,“Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.”
So what we see in this passage is that this demoniac was literally at home with uncleanness and death. Yet we also see our Lord appear in this unclean land, among unclean dead bodies (in their tombs), and in the presence of unclean spirits — and our Lord remains clean, unsullied, free from any hint of corruption even in the midst of death. And so the details about this Demonized, Tomb-Dwelling Gentile emphasize his uncleanness and separation from God and his people. But they also bring our Lord’s holiness, cleanness, impeccability, and power over life and death into relief.
And our Lord’s response to the demons shows us his power and authority yet again. You see, whereas the townspeople (either the whole town or the men of the town working together) could not shackle the demonized man, he immediately falls prostrate before the Son of God. The demonized man can break the physical shackles placed upon him by the townspeople, but he cannot break the binding Word of God spoken by the Lord Jesus. Whereas the demonized man just cries out day and night, our Lord’s Word forces the devils within him to speak, to identify themselves, and to leave the Gentile man alone. Christ appears, and the devils tremble in submission to him. Christ speaks and commands, and not only the wind and waves obey, but so do the devil and his angels.
And what does Christ do?
He drives away unrighteousness. He separates the wicked spirits from the man they are possessing, thereby making the man clean. He sends the spirits into a herd of unclean pigs that are sent into the sea, again eliminating the unclean by removing the unclean from the land. And he restores the man to being the image of God, to behaving and thinking not like a wild beast or a demon, but like the image of God. The man goes from being shamelessly naked to being normally clothed. The man goes from being insane and seeking to destroy himself through self harm, to being in his right mind and seeking to travel with Christ.
Our story begins with one of the more frightening Scriptural depictions of the demonic. A legion of evil spirits taking residence within a single human being is terrifying, a terrifying reality. If you aren’t aware of this, a legion was an army unit of anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 men. The man, then, had anywhere between 3,000 and 6,000 demons. We are accustomed to thinking that a demonized person is possessed by only one fallen angel. But here we learn that at least some men have been, are, and are capable of being possessed by thousands of demons. This is a scary reality, to be sure. But is what scarier in this passage is the reaction of the townspeople to Christ. For in saving the demoniac, he left the townspeople terrified. Of what? We read—
…they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [vv.15-16]
Afraid of the righteous one and his power. Afraid of the light coming to their darkness, and having the ability to drive it away by his Word alone. Terrified of the Holy One of Israel, because he is holy. As John 3:19-20 reveals to us —
…this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
The townspeople were afraid of the demonized man, that much seems to go without saying. However, they are even more afraid of Christ. He has pierced the darkness. He has overcome death. He has walked in the midst of death and remained living and pure and unclean and all powerful over evil. This is why, it seems, these people were afraid.
Note that the demons begged Christ to send them away into the unclean pigs, and the townspeople beg Christ to go away and leave them in their uncleanness. They want nothing to do with this man. They’d rather have a demonized man living among them than the Son of God himself temporarily visiting. And that is scarier than the legion of demons making their existence known through the vocal chords of a single man. The wild, naked, unclean, self-harming, antichrist is obviously under demonic control. It is these businessmen, these lowly townspeople whom we are prone to assume are somehow less under demonic persuasion, if not possession.
But such an assumption is foolish, as our text shows us. Both the wildly unclean sinner and the unbeliever who hates the light of Christ, who harbors darkness in his soul, and who opposes the Christian faith because it has caused, for example, problems for his business, as it did for these pig herders — both of these men are under the sway of the wicked one. For apart from the Son of God causing us to be in our right minds, we think according to the world, as subjects of sin and Satan dwelling in death, unclean and corrupting everyone we come into contact with.
We are prone to be more afraid of the demonic possession in this passage than we are of the fact that “normal” people like us were face to face with demon possession and the horrors it entails, on the one hand, and the glorious Son of God and the salvation and life and purity he gives freely, on the other hand, and they chose the demonic. We forget that despite our not being like the demonized man, if we are not in Christ we are just like the townspeople, used to living among the dead, the unclean, the wicked, and hating the light because it exposes our own wickedness.
So let us not forget that, as we see in our passage today, darkness is all we know apart from the Son of God coming to us and delivering us from the bondage of sin, bondage to the prince of the power of the air, saving us from the demonic destruction outside of ourselves, and the demonically influenced harm we even cause ourselves. This is what we see in our text, too. The demonized man was compelled to cry out against Christ. But the Son of God came to save him and destroy the works of the devil. So the opposition of this man only served the end for which God had ordained it – the salvation of that man, and the punishment of the devil and his angels.
No man could subdue this man; but Christ is no mere man, and he freed the man from bondage to the devil, making the man a slave to righteousness, to God. This is the power of our Lord Jesus Christ! And it is the power that comes to us in the preaching of the Gospel, which is what should be remembered as read this passage. For the man doesn’t get to leave his city and be with Christ; rather, he is commanded to go and tell others about Christ’s person and work. He is transformed from a screeching demoniac to a preaching child of God. And through his preaching, God would be making this clear that he has come to destroy the works of the devil, to redeem men from the curse of sin and death, and to restore man to what he was created to be, the image and the likeness of God, morally, spiritually, and eternally.
1. Opposition to Christ is Demonic — This is, I think, evident. However, how often do we forget this? When we are told by a friend that they don’t believe the Gospel because of this reason or that reason, do we first acknowledge that the reason is really rebellion bound up in the heart of man? Or do we try to fix the problem they claim is keeping them from believing? This isn’t to deny that there are some real issues that can further contribute to someone’s hardness of heart. We can cause others to stumble. We can cause others to blaspheme. This, however, doesn’t excuse others for their choice to sin, to stumble, to blaspheme, and to remain in unrepentant unbelief. The difference between the demonized man and the townspeople, as far as the influence of demons is concerned, is a matter of degree not of kind. All opposition to Christ, to the Gospel, is demonic.
2. Opposition to Christ Cones in Various Forms — We see this point very clearly in our text today. The demonized man and the townspeople give a stark contrast of kinds of behaviors men engage in as they oppose Christ and his Gospel. We kind of touched upon this earlier. But it’s good for us to look at this again, because we are prone to be deceived by our experience-based beliefs about the nature of opposition to God and his Gospel. The demonized man had no job. The townspeople, mentioned in this story at least, were pig herders. The demonized man screeched and cut himself with stones; the townspeople worked and tried to suppress those behaviors. Were the townspeople not doing something good by trying to keep the demonized man from harming others? Were they not doing good by working and providing for their families? Were they doing good by taking care of God’s creation? Were they not doing good by burying the dead, thereby showing their respect for men made in God’s image? All of these things are good. But the evil of those doing these things is made evident by one action they take — they see Christ’s effect on evil and they seek to cast him out of their land. The wild-eyed drunkard is no better than the well-manicured businessman in this regard — they both naturally are under the dominion of sin and Satan, and so by their fallen nature oppose Christ and his Gospel. Opposition to Christ is never excusable, even when it comes from those whom we think are good people in many other ways. Opposition to God and his Gospel comes in many different forms.
3. Salvation is Unto Good Works — The demoniac is saved by our Lord, and he wants to leave his land, his family, everything about this world of sin he has just seen defeated by the Lord God Christ. But our Lord commands him to stay and preach about Jesus, to tell his family and friends about the work of this man who speaks and destroys the work of the devil, forces demons into submission, restores the hearts and minds of men, clothes them in righteousness, and gives them peace that is humanly incomprehensible. The man isn’t called by Christ, so far as we can tell, to become a megachurch pastor, or a great public speaker, or a scholar, or the founder of a charity, or some other well known figure in history. We don’t even know the guy’s name. He’s simply called to go back to his life, a life that he had affected in so many negative ways, we can presume given his demonic behavior, and tell those who were still there, sitting in the darkness of socially acceptable demonic behavior — i.e. the socially well-manicured rejection of the Gospel by “good and hardworking people” — tell them all about the only who could change not just the external behavior of this wicked and demonized sinner, but his heart as well.
4. The Fate of the Wicked is Torment Forever — The fate of those who oppose Christ is the same as that of the demons we read about in our text today. Torment, the destruction of body and soul forever in hell, under the unrelenting wrath of God. These demons cry out in fear not of merely dying and becoming unconscious, but of being cast into a place of punishment forever and ever. We know this is their fate, for it is written — “…the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev 20:10) And again, we are told— “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:15). And our Lord says in no uncertain terms that when he returns
“…he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt 25:41-46)
The fate of the wicked is the same fate as that of the devils, and the fate of the devils is torment forever. This is the everlasting destruction which can only be escaped by the mercy of God extended toward sinners in his Son, Christ. Whether your opposition to Christ is wild-eyed, fanatical, frantic, and socially frowned upon, or it is tame, well-mannered, quiet, hard-working, and socially acceptable, it will be punished accordingly, with torment forever and ever. And there is only one way to be delivered from it, through the powerful work of God in Christ. He alone saves men from death, uncleanness, and eternal destruction.
5. Every Knee Shall Bow to the Lord Jesus Christ — Note in our passage that we see three kinds of responses to our Lord. The demons of a necessity kneel before the King of the universe, the Son of God, doing so against their desire to overthrow him and his kingdom. The redeemed man sits at the feet of Christ, he meditates on the Lord’s Word and desires to be with him at all times. And the unpossessed lost men beg Christ to leave them alone, to, as it were, not judge them and their way life. But only two of these kinds of responses will exist forever — eternal submission to the wrathful Lordship of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, or eternal communion with the Lamb of God who has taken away all of our sins. Every knee shall bow, shall recognize his Lordship over all things, although we don’t see this happening now, it will most certainly occur. As Paul teaches us in Philippians 2:6-11, our Lord Jesus
…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This passage reminds us that all men will be counted among either the sheep of God or the goats who will be eternally exiled from the New Jerusalem.
6. Our Present Focus is the Divine Person and Atoning Work of the Lord Jesus Christ —
While it’s true that Christ will be universally acknowledged as Lord of all upon his return, by enemies and friends, it is also true that we don’t presently see this happening. As Hebrews 2:8-9 teaches us —
…in putting everything in subjection to him [i.e. Christ], he [i.e. the Father] left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
We do not see everything in subjection to him at the present, the Scripture says, but we see Jesus who tasted death for us and is now glorified and serving as our high priest. The author of Hebrews is telling us to fix our eyes upon Christ, his divine person, his atoning work. But why? He explains this in the same passage, Hebrews 2:1-3 stating that
…we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
Why should we be seeing him who tasted death for us, and who serves as our great high priest? Because salvation is found only in him; because everlasting destruction, the unending ruination of the whole man body and soul in hell for eternity, is a reality that faces all who die outside of a saving relationship with Christ.
There are many who speculate about eschatology, the study of last things. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, there are many who speculate about eschatology almost exclusively, failing to consider the person and work of Christ. Rather than looking at texts like ours today, in which we see clearly that Christ has power over the devils of hell, over sickness of body and soul, over creation, over all things, and seeing that he is today showing mercy even to the man saturated with demonic uncleannesses, rather than seeing the Lord Jesus as Savior of sinners now, at this very moment, they desire to speculate about a future that Scripture gives us less information about.
There are many who are unbelievers obsessed with the subject of eschatology, but who will die in their transgressions, for they, the townspeople in our text today, would rather turn from Christ, and accept the demonic, the darkness, sin and unbelief and rebellion, rather than repent, prostrate before the Lord God, and sit at the feet of Christ listening to his Word of Life.
For every person who fails to acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord while it is still called today will face everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord; but to those who believe him to be Savior from sin and Lord of all, there is redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation to God, and eternity of peace and blessedness to look forward to.
Soli Deo Gloria