The Lord's Day Morning
December 13, 2009
“The Man Jesus Renamed”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 8 and this great story of the man who was possessed by demons, liberated by the Lord Jesus Christ. Derek Thomas was reminding me this morning that Ridderbos, in his famous book, The Coming of the Kingdom, records seventeen different interpretations that he had found of this particular parable. Now I must say that that really boggles my mind because Luke's main point is so crystal clear and it's set in the context of three other stories that are crystal clear. We said the last time that we were together that in Luke 8 you begin four miracle stories, all of which either happen in Galilee or in Gentile lands. This, by the way, is the miracle story that happens in Gentile land. You’ll notice at the beginning of the passage that they go across the lake to the east side and that puts them outside the bounds of Galilee and outside the bounds of Israel and over into Gentile territory on the other side. And it's very clear that they’re in Gentile territory because they find themselves in a country where there is a huge, huge herd of pigs. Now not only did the Jewish people not eat bacon, and not only were they forbidden by Moses to eat bacon, but they were not allowed to raise bacon even to sell it to the Gentiles. And so the fact that you’re in a country with a herd of pigs lets you know that you’re in Gentile territory and that's part of the point of the story.
So these four miracles show Jesus reaching out to Gentiles, either in Galilee or even in even more Gentile territory across the river. It's a picture of His great commission outreach, not just to Jews but to Gentiles also. These four miracle stories, also we said, in contrast to the miracles in Luke 4 and 5, are focused on settings where a small group of the disciples witness the miracles. In Luke 4 and 5, great multitudes are following Jesus Christ when He does His miracles. The miracles that are recorded here, just like the one that we saw last week, are seen by that small circle of disciples that is following Jesus around. This means that these miracles are especially meant to teach believers something.
Last week we said the focus was on the power and the person of Jesus Christ. And guess what this week's focus is on? The power and the person of Jesus Christ. And repeatedly, these miracles will focus us in on “Who is Jesus?” and “What do His deeds tell us about what He has come to do and the power that He has?” And so this passage helps us in this way. So I don't know how seventeen interpretations of this particular story got circulated.
I will say that I struggled with the title to this sermon. I've ended up, and I’ll explain it later, giving the title “The Man Jesus Renamed.” Now that may peak your interest because in the passage no name is ever given for the man, either before or after his conversion, so you may be wondering why I've named it that. Well, I’ll try and explain that before the end of the sermon, but there were several titles that didn't get included in the sermon bulletin today. One was, “His Name Was Legion, Not Ligon.” I have been confused with Legion all my life and it worries me that it's not just the sound of the name, but I want to make it clear that Legion is not in any way related to Ligon.
Another title that didn't make it was “Demons, Pigs, and a Request to Leave.” Now I think actually that beautifully outlines what happens in this passage, but for a specific reason I've wanted to zero your attention in on this man, this nameless man, who is afflicted by demons and who is liberated by Jesus Christ because there is a Gospel message for all of us. This is clearly an extraordinary event. Luke means it to be an extraordinary event. Luke doesn't think that it's an every day occurrence for a person to be possessed by a host of demons. So he's drawing our attention to an extraordinary event, but the reason he's drawing our attention to that extraordinary event is because there are actually truths which transfer across the last 2,000 years, right to where we are today, that we are to learn out of this passage.
Well let's pray before we read God's Word together.
Heavenly Father this is Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it and open our ears, we pray, to hear Your Word rightly. By Your Holy Spirit, show us our need of grace. Show us the sins of our hearts that we are captive to. Show us the only hope of deliverance from those sins and teach us these things from this passage. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God:
“Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes”
[Let me just pause right there. In some of your Bibles, it may say Gergesenes or Gadarenes in the parallel passages in the gospels. All you need to know right now, if you’re interested in that I'm happy to talk about it until the cows come home, but all you need to know is each of those places — the regions of the Gergesenes, the Gadarenes, and the Gerasenes — it's all on the other side of the Lake of Galilee. It's all Gentile territory, so just bear that in mind. ]
“They sailed to the country of the Gerasenes which is opposite Galilee. 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. 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 (that is, Jesus) 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. 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 were drowned.
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. 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.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Many of you have seen, maybe fewer of you have read, a book by the famous British philosopher and skeptic, Bertrand Russell. It's entitled, Why I Am Not A Christian. Now it's not a very profound book. I could have come up with better arguments against Christianity than Bertrand Russell, but in the course of this book in one of the chapters, he says it is this story that led him to the conclusion that Jesus was neither the best nor the most virtuous of men. It deeply disturbed Bertrand Russell that Jesus allowed a herd of two thousand pigs to be destroyed. And he said that a good and virtuous man could not have allowed something like that to happen and therefore, Jesus was not the best and most virtuous of men and therefore Christianity was disproven. Well this is a taste of the profound arguments that you will find in that book. But it struck me as interesting that Bertrand Russell had the exact same reaction to this miracle that the people of the Gerasenes had. They had the exact same reaction to Jesus that Bertrand Russell would manifest two thousand years later. Well I’ll explain that too, later on.
This passage is fundamentally about Jesus. He is the dividing line here. It's His person and His power that we're having our attention draw to and there are four things in particular that I want you to see in this passage. I want you to see a person in the thrall of sin. It's this man who doesn't even remember his name who's possessed by a host of demons. He's not only a person extraordinarily under bondage to demonic activity, but he's actually a picture of everyone who is in the thrall of sin. Secondly, I want you to look at the Lord Jesus Christ Himself because His power over Satan is on display full force in this passage. Third, I want you to see the change that results in this man after he is not only liberated from these demons, but after he clearly, because of a change of heart, becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And then finally, and very, very sadly, I want you to see in contrast to him, the reaction of the majority of the people in his city and country to what Jesus has done. And there's a lesson in each of these things for all of us.
I. A person in the thrall of sin.
Well the first thing I want you to see is this picture of a person in the thrall of sin. It's this man who is in bondage to these demons. It's interesting isn't it — Jesus crosses the river, the lake, and no sooner has He set His foot on the other side but this man shows up to meet Him. Jesus does not go looking for this demon-possess man, the man comes to Him. Now that's interesting isn't it? It seems to happen a lot in the gospels. It's almost like the demons are inexorably drawn to Jesus. They sort of seek Him out. Where He goes, they show up and they say things to Him.
Palmer Robertson was telling me not long after he had arrived in Africa to begin his ministry there he was taken to a nighttime fireside meeting with a witch doctor — a man who was possessed of familiar spirits, who had extraordinary powers of strength, prediction, he was hired by people to put curses on other people and to put spells on other people. And as Palmer approached him at the fireside, the man identified Palmer before he got there. “What are you doing here, man of God?” And then he attempted to intimidate him. It was interesting that Palmer had gone out without any announcement but this man knew who he was and he was obviously disturbed that he was there and he began to make threats. In fact, the next thing the name did was to take a steel bar, place it in his teeth, and proceed to bend it with his hands and with his teeth. He was possessed of extraordinary strength but he was aware that there was a man of God in his presence.
Well, this happens in the gospel with Jesus. The demons are aware that He is there and they are frightened. And so this man comes to Jesus, he seeks Him out, and Jesus says to him, “What is your name?” And the man doesn't know his name. You understand that Legion is not his name. Legion probably comes from the fact that Roman legions had four to six thousand men in them and this name, Legion, indicates that he is possessed by a host of demons. We know that two thousand pigs go over the cliff. I wouldn't care to speculate how many demons possessed this man, but the man can only identify himself as a person who is possessed by an almost innumerable host of evil spirits and he doesn't even remember his own name.
For you Tolkien fans it reminds me of a character in the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings. Do you remember at the end of the book, in the sixth book, when the King of Gondor and his captains and the host of Gondor have arrived at the black gates of Sauron — Sauron is the evil figure in the book and if you know Tolkien's cosmology, he was actually an apprentice to the Satan figure of Tolkien's writings. And he sends out his representative, a man who is known only as the Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr, the black gate. And he is sent out to negotiate with Aragorn and Gandalf, and the others. And Tolkien puts it this way — “The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale for he himself had forgotten it and said only, ‘I am the mouth of Sauron.’”
That is exactly what is happening here. This man, when Jesus says, “What is your name?” effectively says, “I do not know my name. I am but a man possessed by an innumerable host of demons. That is all I know.” Now I want to say very quickly, my friends, that there is no power in this universe that can cause a rationale being to sin. We are all responsible for our sins and so no demonic force can take control of a human life and make you sin unless you allow it. But once the door is open, well, we see in this story what can happen when you give in, what can happen when the demonic takes over. He was completely in the thrall of sin. He was incapable of changing his circumstances. He was totally dominated by these demonic forces. But now this is an extraordinary case. We do not find demons under every pew and under every rock. And Luke intends this to be a display of an extraordinary case. Clearly, Luke is telling you this because he wants you to show the amazing power of Jesus Christ, even over demons.
But there is a message in this for all of us and it is simply this — we may not be possessed by demons, but if we are possessed by what we want or by what we have and if what we want or what we have is not God in the Gospel of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, then we are no less in the thrall of sin that this man.
You know, a month ago, a month ago, if you had said to anyone, “You know, Tiger Woods is in slavery.” They would have looked at you and said, “You've got to be out of your mind. He is a billionaire, he is about to break Jack Nicklaus’ record, he's married to a model, he has two beautiful children, he has everything that anybody in the world could possibly want to have. He is the freest man in the world.” But today, if you said to anybody, “Tiger Woods is a slave to his desires,” they would recognize it. We do not say that to cast the first stone. We pray that he would find liberation in Jesus Christ and see his life and family restored, but my friends, any one of us, any one of us, can be in the same thralldom today.
What do you love? What do you want? What do you have that you’re captive to, that you’re enslaved to? Yes, this man is extraordinary. It's not every day that you meet someone inhabited by a host of demons, but every time you meet a Christ-less soul, you meet someone who is utterly captive to sin. And they are no more capable of liberating themselves than this man was capable of liberating himself from this host of demons. Well that's the first thing we see in this passage.
II. The power of the Lord Jesus Christ over Satan.
But here's the second thing. We see the power of Christ over Satan, don't we? It's amazing — Jesus comes to shore and it's obvious that He has immediately commanded the spirits to leave the man because they remonstrate with Him. “What have You to do with me, Jesus, the Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” And then the demons beg not to be cast into the abyss. The demons, who in this man have terrified the whole countryside to the point that they had tried to retrain this man with chains they were so frightened of Him, those demons are now afraid of Jesus because they know who Jesus is and they know where Jesus can cast them. They know that Jesus can cast them into the abyss, into the lake of fire, into the bowels of hell, and they’re frightened. And so they begin crying out, “Don't cast us into the abyss.”
Luke is telling you here that Jesus is sovereign over everything. There is no captivity that you can be captive to that is not captive to Jesus Christ for He has ascended on high and led captivity captive and He makes a sport and a spoil of the forces of darkness which are arrayed against God and against heaven. He is utterly sovereign. In fact in this passage with the demons naming His name, this was often done in the ancient world, if you knew someone's name you could call out that name as a part of casting a spell on them. And so the demons call out His name — “Jesus, the Son of the Most High God” — and it has no effect on Him. They cannot cast a spell on Him. There's nothing that they can do to restrain His mighty arm.
And then they beg to go into the herd of pigs. Now Jesus grants this permission. And you can ask yourself a lot of questions — Why did Jesus do that? Maybe it was because they were unclean animals. The bottom line is, I don't know why Jesus did that and neither do you and neither does anyone else. I remember my boyhood pastor, Gordon Reed, preaching through a sermon series on the gospel on Mark coming to a passage about demon possession saying, “I don't know much about demon possession, but I've read a lot of books about people on demon possession and they don't know much about demon possession either.” Well, before you give counsel to Jesus about what He has done in this passage you may want to take stock about how much you know about demon possession. I trust the Lord Jesus to know what to do with demons and what ought to be done.
But let me just suggest that one thing that might be happening here is a picture of Jesus’ future judgment on the demonic forces that are arrayed against God. What is going to happen, we are told by John the book of Revelation, is that God Himself is going to cast Satan and his demons into the lake of fire. Now what happens in this passage? The demons inhabit the bodies of this herd of pigs and the pigs cast them into the Lake of Galilee. It may well be a picture of the reverse of what happened in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember when a serpent, an animal, came and exercised authority over God's man and woman, Adam and Eve, who had been made in His image so that instead of them ruling over the animals, the animals ruled over them? Here, it may well be that a herd of unclean animals has been used to take thousands of demons to their doom in the lake in anticipation of the final judgment. Other than that my friends, I don't know.
But this I do know, when people say that because those pigs died it shows that Jesus was not a good and virtuous man they’re forgetting three things. First of all they’re forgetting that Jesus Himself has already said that His Heavenly Father cares even about the sparrows that fall from their nests. Secondly, they’re forgetting that Jesus also says that people are more important than sparrows. And thirdly, they are forgetting the fate of this man with an immortal soul who was in danger not only of a continuous life of torment, but an eternal separation from God. and what Jesus showed here was a love and a grace towards a man in captivity to sin who didn't deserve to be freed and didn't deserve to be forgiven, but Jesus did it anyway. It's a glorious picture of Jesus’ love for lost souls, even a Gentile. He loves our souls. Jesus is the lover of our souls. He's the friend of sinners. And it's the glorious picture of the value that He puts on an immortal soul. So you not only see the power of Christ over Satan in this passage in the miracle that He performs in casting these demons out of this man, but you also see Jesus’ compassion towards sinners.
III. The heart set free from sin by Jesus.
And then you see in this passage the change of a heart set free. When this passage begins, we have a man who is possessed by demons who had gone about naked, who had lived in the tombs, who was out of his mind, and who did not even know his name. And at the end of the passage, look how he is described. Twice he is described this way — look at verse 35, “the man from whom the demons had gone out” and then again “the man from whom the demons had gone” and then in verse 38, “the man from whom the demons had gone.” When Jesus had asked him, “What's your name?” The first time he had answered, “I'm the man possessed by a countless host of demons.” Now, he's the man from whom those demons have gone out. “I'm the man who Jesus saved by casting out the demons from me.”
He had a new name and he had a new nature to go along with it. He was no longer naked and he was no longer babbling and he was no longer living amongst the tombs, but when they came, he was clothed and in his right mind and sitting at the Savior's feet.
Now you understand what sitting at the Savior's feet means? That's what disciples do, they sit at their master's feet. He's a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ now. And not only that, he's about to be a witnessing disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is going to tell him, “You can't come with Me, but I do want you to go back and tell them what great things God has done for you. Go be a witness to Me. Go be a witness to Me as My disciple.”
And the thing that I love the most is the utter contrast in his attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at what he first says when Jesus meets him in verse 28 — “What do you have to do with me, Jesus? I beg You, do not torment me.” Then, if you look in verse 38, he begs Jesus that he might be with him. There's a total change of nature in this man. He's converted. He's set free. He's liberated. He's no longer under the domination of demons or his own sin. He's been set free by Jesus.
IV. The hard hearts of those who reject Jesus.
But the sad thing I want you to see at the end is the reaction of the majority of his countrymen, because unlike him, they do not beg to be with Jesus. In fact, they beg Jesus to leave. And you know what the most frightening thing of all is? He does. They, like the demons, are afraid of Him and they beg Him to leave and He does. Why? Because they cared more about what they had lost than what that man had gained or what they could gain in Jesus themselves. John Oxenham1 wrote a poem about this passage. It goes like this: These are the people of Gerasene speaking to Jesus — “Rabbi be gone. Thy powers bring loss to us and ours. Our ways are not as Thine. Thou lovest men, we love swine. Oh get you hence, Omnipotence, and take this foul of Thine. His soul, what care we for his soul? What good to us that Thou hast made him whole, since we have lost our swine?” Is that not a picture of people that love what they have or what they want more than they love the One who loves their souls?
What's going on here? Why does the herd of swine go over the cliff? Why did these people respond to Jesus this way? You don't have to look very far. It's back just a few verses, the answer is back just a few verses. It's in Luke chapter 8, verse 18. It's just 8 or 9 verses before this passage. What does it say? Do you remember? Two Sundays ago — “Take care then, how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” They thought those pigs were theirs. They were not. They belonged to God. Nothing we have belongs to us. It all belongs to God. But it was what they loved and they preferred it to everlasting blessing in Jesus Christ. And because they did not hear Him, they lost even what they had.
This story is a technicolor picture of Luke 8:18, and my friends, there don't have to be demons around for us to be facing the same challenge. Are we with a man, liberated, who trusted Jesus, who begged to be with Jesus and sought to be a disciple at His feet? Or are we with those who love what we want and what we have more than we love the Word of life from the only One who can give life? We’re in the same story, my friends. We’re in the same story.
May God grant us the liberation through Jesus Christ to become what that nameless man became. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You that the name of Jesus is sweet in the ears of believers, but we know, O Lord, that those who love this world do not know the sweetness of the sound of His name. Lord God, even as we sing this hymn, cause those who do not know Him to love Him and cause those who love Him to love Him more than anything else in this world. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
To all of you who have been liberated from the captivity of your sin by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, receive God's blessing. Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. William Arthur Dunkerley (November 12, 1852 – January 23, 1941) was a prolific English journalist, novelist and poet. He wrote under his own name, and also as John Oxenham for his poetry, hymn-writing, and novels. His poetry includes Bees in Amber: a little book of thoughtful verse (1913) which became a bestseller. He also wrote the poem Greatheart. He used another pseudonym, Julian Ross,
GADARA, A.D. 31
Rabbi, begone! Thy powers
Bring loss to us and ours.
Our ways are not as Thine.
Thou lovest men, we–swine.
Oh, get you hence, Omnipotence,
And take this fool of Thine!
His soul? What care we for his soul?
What good to us that Thou hast made him whole,
Since we have lost our swine?
And Christ went sadly.
He had wrought for them a sign
Of Love, and Hope, and Tenderness divine;
Christ stands without _your_ door and gently knocks;
But if your gold, or swine, the entrance blocks,
He forces no man's hold–he will depart,
And leave you to the treasures of your heart.
No cumbered chamber will the Master share,
But one swept bare
By cleansing fires, then plenished fresh and fair
With meekness, and humility, and prayer.
There will He come, yet, coming, even there
He stands and waits, and will no entrance win
Until the latch be lifted from within.