This morning I want to begin my sermon by showing you a clip from one of my favorite movies. I’m referring to the second installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy: The Two Towers. As I’m sure you know this movie is based on the books of J. R. R. Tolkein—books that illustrate that timeless battle between good and evil. To set up the clip, Gandalf, the good wizard—and the individual that many peg to be a Christ-figure in Tolkein’s books—Gandalf is confronting Theoden, the king of Rohan in his own throne room. He’s confronting him because—whereas Theoden has been a good king in the past—he hasn’t been himself lately because he has been possessed—controlled by an evil wizard named Saruman for many months. And the people of Rohan are suffering because of this…not to mention King Theoden himself. In this clip Gandalf frees King Theoden from Saruman’s control. Watch—but be forewarned—it’s a little disturbing.
CLIP 00:59:50-01:02:06 (clip begins with Theoden laughing saying, “You have no power…” ends with the freed Theoden standing as camera pans out to show the throne room full of onlookers)
Powerful scene isn’t it? Let me ask you a question: Is this kind of thing is JUST fantasy? Is there anything like this in the real world? To be more specific: Is there a powerful and evil being seeking to control or destroy people like you and me? Is there a devil and can people be possessed—indwelt by him or his servants like Theoden was by the evil Saruman—or is this malady nothing more than a form of mental illness?
To answer my own question I would simply say, “YES.” There are both people who suffer mental illness that has nothing to do with the demonic and people can also be possessed by a demon of Hell. I know this second statement is a bit disturbing but our text for this morning proves that it is true. I for one think it’s rare these days because the devil has become more subtle in his work—but, yes, people can still be possessed. Now—as I have said before—this cannot happen to a Christ-follower because we are already possessed by the Holy Spirit of God—but we can still be attacked…oppressed…tempted…by satan and his minions. This kind of thing is to be expected because this is a fallen world. You could say we live in OCCUPIED TERRITORY. If that concerns you—then fear not—for as a Christ-follower, “Greater is He Who is in you that he who is in the world!” Plus—He Who is in us has given us principles in His book to help us not only survive the devil’s attacks—but be victorious as “soldiers” in the Lord’s “army”—even here “behind lines” so to speak. Our text for this morning highlights three of those principles. Take your Bibles and turn to Luke 8. We’ll be reading verses 26-39 and as we read it I’ll warn you once again—the Scriptural “clip” we are about to “see” can be unsettling.
26 – They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.
27 – 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.
28 – 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!”
29 – 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.
30 – Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.
31 – And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
32 – 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.
33 – 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.
34 – When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside,
35 – 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.
36 – Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.
37 – 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.
38 – The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,
39 – “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.
If you look back you can see that just prior to this text, Jesus had been on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee and He had told the disciples that He wanted to go across to the other shore—a journey of a little over 6 miles. But when they were in the middle of the lake a storm sprang up and it was so fierce that the whole boat was in danger of being swamped and the disciples drowned. Through all the chaos of that storm Jesus slept peacefully in the back of the boat.
When His followers woke Him to tell Him what was going on, our Lord simply stood up and commanded the wind and the waves to be still—and they were. The sea instantly went from a churning caldron to a mirror-like surface and the disciples were amazed. They said, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25) With a deeper awe and respect of Jesus—they continued their journey across the lake in silent contemplation at what they had witnessed. When they reached the other side the only noise was the quiet lapping of the water on the beach…a stark contrast from the crashing waves and howling winds of just an hour or so ago. Then as Jesus stepped ashore, the silence was shattered by a piercing scream. They looked up and a naked man ran toward Jesus. His hair was matted, his eyes were wide and wild. Luke tells us he had been living among the tombs—sleeping in a sort of “limestone mausoleum,” a graveyard of Galilean shoreline caves cut out of the cliffs and clefts. Apparently this madman felt more secure among the dead than the living. On his wrists and ankles were the remains of broken chains and ropes that had been previously used—unsuccessfully—to restrain him. In his account Mark tells us the man was covered in scars because he would periodically cut himself with stones. Well, this mad-man ran up and threw himself at Jesus’ feet.
Stop and try to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples at this point. They had just come through a storm that they were sure would drown them all. They had seen Jesus command the wind and the waves. So their nerves must have been on end. Then, just as things calmed down and they began to get their wits about them, this wild man came screaming on the scene. I get the picture of all 12 of them getting back in the boat as fast as they could…moving to the stern trying to get as far as possible from this character out of a Stephen King novel.
The place they came ashore was called the Decapolis. This is a Greek word that means “ten cities.” You see, the region of the Gerasenes was actually a whole network of towns and cities which had been planted there by the Greek Empire shortly after the time of Alexander the Great.
Pliny the 1st century historian lists all ten towns and Gerasa is among them. So—even though the Decapolis was located in the midst of the very heartland of Palestine, this region had much more in common with the great Greek and Roman cities of that day than with the rural country around it. Let me put it this way: in the Jewish mind set—this entire area was enemy territory because it was spiritually polluted by pagans who engaged in practices that were detestable…like raising pigs.
Well, this “possessed man” appears like a guard, a sentry—strategically placed to stop Jesus from entering the area. In fact, in his account the Greek word that Mark used to describe the wild-man’s approach was a military term…a term to describe a person who goes out on a battlefield to meet an opponent for combat. So in a very real this was indeed occupied territory—but not because of the Gentiles who lived there. No—because the adversary was present. Jesus asked the demon to identify itself—the only time in the New Testament that our Lord does this—and the demon replied, “‘Legion,’ because many demons had gone into him.” (Luke 8:30)
At the time of Caesar Augustus, a Roman “legion” numbered 6,826 soldiers, including support personnel. But I don’t think Luke is saying there were this many different demons in the guy but rather to emphasize the fact that there were MANY…an uncountable amount. Lucado puts it this way, “What bats are to a cave, demons are to Hell—too many to number.” The fact is, this poor man was completely given over to the forces of darkness. He was as helpless to resist their control as Theoden was to resist that of Sauruman. But when Jesus arrived everything changed. Our Lord’s very presence caused the “legion” of demons to tremble and beg Him not to send them to “the ABYSS.”
The book of Revelation describes “the ABYSS” as the place where the unrighteous dead wait final judgement (Rev. 9:1-2, 11; 11:7; 17:8) According to Scripture, the activity of satan and his demons will crescendo during the great tribulation, after which they will be thrown into the abyss for a thousand years. During that time, Christ will reign on the earth as it’s rightful King. After this millennial reign, satan and his fallen angels will be released for a brief time before meeting their final end; eternal suffering in “the lake of fire”—a place originally prepared for them (Rev 20:10). I have to point out that this text shows demons believe in Hell even if many people today do not.
Well, as I said, the demons were begging Jesus NOT to send them to this ABYSS. Instead they asked that they could go into a nearby herd of pigs—a BIG herd—2,000 of them according to Mark—and Jesus allowed this. Perhaps He did so to give the man visible proof of his deliverance—or to help the disciples get the full picture of what had just happened—I don’t know…but when the multitude of demons left the one man and entered the massive heard of pigs the destructive power became too much for the animals to bear. They ran into the “abyss” of the Sea of Galilee and drowned themselves. Can you imagine the carnage as thousands of pigs ran screaming down the embankment and plunged into the water? Jesus had condemned evil to drown in its own chaos.
The pig herders spread the word as to what had happened and this drew a crowd of people from the nearest town. When they arrived they saw the man sitting there calmly—dressed and in his right mind. The change was stark—not unlike Theoden’s transformation in the clip. But—instead of REJOICING about the man’s deliverance—the townsfolk were filled with a FEAR of Jesus and they begged Him to leave…which He did.
By the way, Jesus never forces Himself on anyone. He only comes into a life when invited to do so. I’m reminded of this classic painting of Jesus knocking on a door—and the door has no knob on the outside, as an illustration of the fact that Jesus knocks, but we have to invite Him in.
Now—I think the fear of the townsfolk would be fine if it was the kind of fear that comes from being in the presence of God’s amazing power. The disciples had reacted with this kind of “fear and amazement” when Jesus calmed the storm out on the Sea of Galilee a few hours earlier. But I think the fear of the people from the Decopolis region was a different kind of fear. It was the fear of ECONOMIC LOSS. After all, hogs were big business on the eastern side of the lake and 2,000 pigs is a lot of bacon. “Deviled ham” had not been invented yet so a massive business had been felled with one blow. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that—but all kidding aside—in the townsfolk’s minds it was clear that if Jesus stayed around it would not be business as usual. I’m reminded of the anger of the people who attacked Paul when God used him to free a demon-possessed girl in Philippi. While she was possessed she made a lot of money for them…but when she was freed all that ended. Their source of income dried up which upset them enough to have Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into prison.
This brings a question to mind: Do our priorities ever make us FEAR God’s transforming power?
I mean, when you invite Jesus in—when you open the door and ask Him to transform your life—He will come in and do exactly that and when He does He’ll “clean house.” His cleaning may mean we have to change some priorities that we don’t want to change….we may have to give up some things. Our lifestyle may have to change. We may no longer “get” to put work before family. We may have to go from being a taker—to becoming a giver. We may have to give up some of the pleasures of this world. And this makes me ask—are there any “pigs” that you need to give up?
Back to our text—Jesus freed the man from satan’s power and as our Lord began to leave, the man begged to go with Him but Jesus told him to stay and tell everyone what God had done. What principles can we take from this story that will help us in our own struggles with the adversary? What can we learn from this text that will equip us to live more victoriously here in this “occupied territory?”
(1) First, this text reminds us that we do indeed have an ENEMY.
I mean the devil is not just a myth. he’s not just some imaginary character that kids dress up like at Halloween. No—the Bible teaches that satan is real and has great power. Listen—when the Bible speaks of the devil it’s not superstition; it’s not ignorance; it’s not kidding. Our enemy and his minions ARE out there. This is the Bible’s very clear teaching. In fact, you cannot read the Bible without seeing the presence of satan from start to finish. Think of it.
- he was in the Garden of Eden.
- he brought disaster into Job’s life.
- a demonic spirit afflicted King Saul.
- satan moved King David to sin against God by counting the size of his victorious army.
- The answer to Daniel’s prayer was delayed because a demonic spirit fought against Gabriel and Michael.
- Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus was constantly rebuking and casting out demons.
- The pattern continued with the apostles in the book of Acts.
- And as I said earlier, the book of Revelation tells us of satan’s final defeat.
So the devil is real. He is our enemy. We are at war and we will be until the end of time itself. We would be wise to heed Peter’s warning where he says, “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary, the devil is a roaring, prowling lion seeking whom he may DESTROY.” (1st Peter 5:8-9) That’s what our enemy wants to do—he wants to DESTROY us. He will do whatever it takes to ruin our effectiveness as Christ-followers.
In his book, Cast of Characters Lost and Found, Max Lucado points out that a glimpse of this wild man in our text gives a good overview of satan’s goals for you and me. Here’s Lucado’s list:
a. Self-imposed pain. The demoniac used rocks. We are more sophisticated in that we use drugs, sex, work, violence, and food—but the result is the same. satan makes us hurt ourselves.
b. Obsession with death and darkness. Even unchained, the wild man loitered among the dead.
Evil feels at home there and satan still pushes us in that direction so we must remember a morbid fascination with death and dying is not the work of God.
c. Endless restlessness. Mark’s gospel tells us that the man screamed day and night. satan wants to make us just as restless. He doesn’t want us to experience the peace that passes understanding. He wants us to endure sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days.
d. Isolation. The man is all alone in his suffering and this is satan’s plan. He wants to make us feel just as alone as this poor man was.
So we DO have an enemy—and he is no dummy. In fact, the reason I think we don’t see more people like this guy running around in graveyards these days is because satan has learned he can be more destructive in less obvious ways. We must remember that not all demonization is so obviously horrible. 2nd Corinthians 11:14-15 warns us, “satan himself masquerades as an angel of light..” So we have a wicked enemy and we must not UNDER-estimate his commitment to destroy any impact we could have for God’s kingdom
But we must not OVER-estimate him either. There are limitations to his power. Swindoll writes, “Demons are REAL but invisible creatures, powerful but NOT ALL-POWERFUL. Demons are the devious, insidious servants of satan, the ruler of this world. And just like him, they are limited in their authority.”
In his book Head Game, author Tim Downs writes:
Psy-ops stands for Psychological Operations, a form of warfare as old as the art of war itself. An early example of this can be found in the battle strategies of Alexander the Great. On one occasion when his army was in full retreat from a larger army….he gave orders to his armorers to construct oversized breastplates and helmets that would fit men 7 or 8 feet tall. As his army would retreat, he would leave these items for the pursuing army to discover. When the enemy would find the oversized gear, they would be demoralized by the thought of fighting such giant soldiers, and they would abandon their pursuit.
Downs goes on to say,
satan likes to play head games with us, too, often leaving us demoralized by fear or doubt. We assume satan is bigger or greater than he really is.
And Downs is right. satan can tempt—he can entice us to sin—but contrary to what some believers say, satan CAN’T possess us. He can oppress but he cannot possess. He’s not as big as he seems. satan cannot stand against God. He flees from God as darkness flees from light. And at this point I would remind you of a very important fact—spiritual warfare is never about us—it’s all God. A proper perspective on this battle we all fight is focused on the power of God rather than the ploys of satan. And Almighty God gives us the power and the authority to resist our enemy. The closer we grow to God the better we are enabled to withstand him. Let me put it this way, thriving here in occupied territory is more about discipleship than deliverance. The more we mature in Christlikeness…the more we understand Who God is…the more we are able to exercise the authority He gives us. We may feel weak and helpless at times but this does not diminish our position of authority as God’s forgiven children.
Think of it this way. A policeman may not feel strong. Physically he would not be able to stop the smallest compact car yet when he raises his hand, all traffic stops Why? Because the government has given him authority over traffic. Well, Jesus has give us the authority to resist the devil—to raise our hand and say, NO.
And—perhaps the most important thing to remember is that yes, we have an enemy but he is a DEFEATED enemy. Jesus was victorious over him 2000 years ago…so he can be resisted by the child of God. James 4:7 says, “Let God work His will in you. Yell a loud NO to the devil and watch him scamper.” This brings us to a second principle we can take from this text.
(2) We have an ALLY.
Everything in this text shows the subservience of the demons to Jesus. I mean, the very first response of the demonized man is to fall down at Christ’s feet. And don’t misunderstand. These demons weren’t kneeling at our Lord’s feet in as a sign of worship, but rather in a state of powerlessness and fear. I’m reminded of Philippians 2:9-11 where it says, “Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 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.”
These beings knew Who Jesus was—even better than His disciples knew at this point. They knew He was the “Son of the most high God.” They knew Who was King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
And please notice Jesus’ power in the way He dealt with these servants of the adversary. He didn’t use formulas or incantations or rituals. He didn’t have to convince them to leave the man with repeated commands. Jesus doesn’t even break a sweat. He simply says, “Leave.” and they leave. That’s our ALLY! Lucado writes, “In God’s presence the devil is a wimp. satan is to God what a mosquito is to an atomic bomb. Hell’s court cowers in Christ’s presence. Demons bow before Him, solicit Him, and obey Him. Why, they can’t even lease a pig without His permission.” So we have an Ally—and ALL-POWERFUL Ally in Jesus. In His presence demons flee.
In his book, The Body, the late Chuck Colson tells about a convicted murderer named Rusty Woomer. If there was anyone who had been taken over by the power of evil it was this man. Rusty Woomer had gone on a crime spree that left several people dead in South Carolina. He was sentenced to death in the electric chair and was waiting on death row for his date with the executioner when he met Bob McAlister. Bob McAlister was a speech writer for the Governor of South Carolina. He was also a Christ-follower who volunteered in a ministry to those on death row at the Central Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. That’s when Bob saw Rusty Woomer. Listen to his own description:
Rusty was “sitting on the floor of his cell, looking like a pale, dirty shrimp. The concrete floor was strewn with papers, half-eaten sandwiches, toilet paper…[and pornography]…The cell stank. The man stank too, his long, dirty, blond hair and beard matted and greasy. And all over his cell, all over the man, crawled dozens of cockroaches. He didn’t even move as they swarmed over his shoulders, his hair, his legs.” Bob knew he was looking at a person who had been taken over by the power of evil, and although he’d never encountered demonic activity before in his life, he verbally called on the name of Jesus to drive out the powers of evil from that cell. He said, “Rusty, just call on Jesus. Just ask Jesus to change you.” And that’s what Rusty did. That was a Friday, and when Bob visited again three days later Rusty sat clean-shaven, with his cell scrubbed clean, and in his right mind. Rusty was a transformed man from that day forward, and in the time between that experience and his execution a few years later Rusty and Bob became the best of friends.
Listen friends, in our own struggles with the adversary we must remember He Who is in us! Jesus—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is our Ally…and He can still deliver people from the power of evil.
So…we have an enemy. We have an Ally…and then there’s one more principle we must take from this text:
(3) We have a MISSION.
After his deliverance, this man wanted to attach himself to Jesus. He wanted to follow Him wherever He went. And I can understand that. If I had been him I’d have wanted to follow Jesus too! So, to summarize: the demons BEGGED Jesus to let them go into the pigs. The townsfolk BEGGED Jesus to leave the area—and this man BEGGED Jesus to take him along. But Jesus refused—not to be cruel but because our Lord knew that his testimony would make a huge impact among the people of the ten cities. He sent the man back to his family so they could hear about the Source of his freedom and transformation. And the man obeyed. Verse 39 says he, “…went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”
As people changed by Jesus—delivered from the power of sin—we have the same mission. As C. C. Day put it in his own sermon on this text, “When Jesus finds you He will change you and He will ask that you tell others so their lives can be changed too.” Are you doing that? Are you working to fulfill your mission? Are you using the opportunities God gives you to tell others how much Jesus has done for you and what He waits to do for them?
Listen—the most powerful weapon in your arsenal is your personal testimony. God will use it in powerful ways if you are willing to TELL it! Several years ago an ophthalmologist, just fresh from college, opened his own business. Without friends, without money, and without patrons, he became discouraged, until one day he encountered a blind man. Looking into his eyes, he said,
“Why don’t you have your eyesight restored? Can you come to my office in the morning?” The blind man went. When an operation was performed and proved successful, the patient said, “I haven’t got a penny in the world. I can’t pay you.” “Oh yes,” said the doctor, “you can pay me and I expect you to do so! There is just one thing I want you to do, and it is very easy. Tell everybody you see that you were blind, and tell them who it was that healed you.” This is what the demoniac did. He told everyone in the Decapolis about Jesus and what He had done for him. In his account Mark tells us the people were amazed! We don’t know for sure but I believe he led many to follow Jesus themselves. I believe that the region of the Decapolis changed hands in this war between good and evil. It became occupied by the people of God!
LET US PRAY