Scripture: Luke 8:26-39
Speaker: John Johnstone
This historical event is simply wonderful at so many levels. It’s wonderful because it underlines for us the identity and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Last week, we saw Jesus’ remarkable power over the forces of nature, calming a storm with a word. Here, Jesus displays his total power over the forces of evil, as he takes on thousands of demons single-handedly and defeats them. It’s a wonderful ‘before and after’ passage, reminding us all of the power Jesus has to change the most wretched and hopeless of lives and turn them around. Many people like seeing TV programmes which show a ‘before and after’ for a house, which undergoes renovation to the point it is unrecognisable. But this is something far more precious. Here we have a real man, so gripped by the power of evil that he is covered by scars, open wounds, and lives an animal-like existence amongst the dead. His encounter with Jesus transforms him so much that he goes from being naked, alone, out of his mind, enslaved and destructive to being clothed, able to live in the community, in his right mind, set free, and engaged in the highest and most useful work we can ever do, witnessing about the Lord Jesus.
However, perhaps some you might think that this event is a bit extreme and hard to relate to. What’s this man got to do with me and my life? Can this event really speak into Scotland in 2021? We don’t meet folks like Legion any more, do we? We might even be uncomfortable with the idea of demon-possession. Is that even possible? I’d like us to see that this miracle has everything to do with us today. Yes, it is an extreme picture of evil, but it still speaks to us of everyday and real things, albeit things which are invisible. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is an extreme example. Rather, let’s learn the lessons and principles we find here, which are as practical and important today as they ever were.
When you think of the Corona Virus, it is an invisible enemy. It also manifests itself in so many different ways. We see more extreme cases of people dying or ending up on ventilators. Others have a much milder form, yet still carry the virus and still spread it to others. In the same way, the forces of evil sometimes manifest themselves in extreme ways, such as in the actions of Isis, the Holocaust, the silent Holocaust of abortion, slavery, war, and violence. However, evil also works in much subtler forms, such as gradual addiction, selfishness, love of money, love of pleasure, hurting and exploiting others, and especially ignoring God and living in his world refusing to be thankful to him and refusing to live under his loving rule.
In a nutshell, without the transforming power of Jesus Christ, all human beings are more like Legion than they would like to admit. Yes, often this shows in less extreme way, but in very serious ways nonetheless.
1. The destructive power of evil
The description we have of Legion is so tragic. He is a real human being, made in the image of God, and valuable to God. At one time, he was a loving couple’s baby son, then toddler, child and teen. Somewhere along the line, perhaps through experimenting with evil in some way, he ends up becoming possessed by hundreds, possibly thousands of demons. Imagine the local community trying to prevent this man from harming himself, and others. They tried ropes and even chains, but nothing prevented him, such was his supernatural, evil power. Perhaps he lived in the tombs as the community were forced to banish him.
When Jesus asks him what his name is, the answer ought to disturb us, because a legion of Roman soldiers was very large, up to 6,000 in some cases. His name, ‘Legion’, speaks of a huge number of organised and powerful evil spirits, who controlled the body and mind of this poor man. These demons have the same intention as all forces of evil – to destroy. This man’s life has been destroyed. We see this in his isolation, self-harm, and by the way his own personality and identity is so confused, with the demons often speaking through him. This man is enslaved to evil powers. And like it or not, this man represents everyone who is without Christ in the world. Really? How can this be so?
In Acts 26, Paul gives his testimony to King Agrippa and tells the King what Jesus’ job for Paul was: ‘I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:17-18) This verse clearly indicates that without Jesus, ordinary people are under the power of Satan. The Apostle John expresses the same truth: ‘We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.’ (1 John 5:19)
Bob Dylan captured this in his song ‘You gotta serve somebody’ where he speaks of all people, men and women, rich and poor, famous and unknown, but each person must live for someone, and if we are not living for Jesus, then the only alternative is to be under the sway of Satan: ‘You may be an ambassador to England or France; You may like to gamble, you might like to dance; You may be the heavyweight champion of the world; You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.’ Who are you serving today? Are you a servant of King Jesus?
While I was preparing this sermon, I popped out to the post office and walked past a man on heroin who was behaving so erratically that I was a bit scared. He was behaving so unpredictably. He wasn’t in his right mind. There are so many in our communities addicted to drugs, sex, alcohol, food, pleasure and many other things, things which dominate and enslave their lives. Sometimes this is obvious, like the heroin addict. However, sometimes it’s far more subtle, and the person might hold down a good job, and live in an expensive house. From the outside, everything seems fine. But the truth is that like Legion, they are desperately lonely, feel empty and worthless inside and are harming themselves.
Perhaps they are slaves to bitterness, unable to forgive others from past sins. It eats them up daily. Perhaps they are slaves to pride and have become workaholics, with little thought of God and little thought of their family. Perhaps they’ve chosen personal happiness over commitment, and have destroyed their family. All of them have some sense of guilt and alienation, having made so many mistakes in life, yet never knowing the forgiveness of God. Like Legion, many are so confused about their own identities. What makes them valuable? If we are just animals, and products of time, chance and evolution, then do we really matter? What is the point of it all? How many genders are there? Who am I? In 2021 there has never been such confusion over our own identities. We might turn to false religions, or a philosophy of life, or a friend or something else to give some kind of shape to our lives, or to numb the pain, but like the ropes and chains of legions, nothing has really worked.
Why aren’t there many manifestations of evil spirits in Scotland today? Perhaps it’s because Satan has us where he wants us, not taking him seriously, and believing we are ‘free agents’ when all the time so many are under unseen, supernatural and malevolent powers. ‘Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.’ (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)
Evil isn’t always obvious; perhaps most often it is subtle. ‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Challenge: what about you today? If you are not yet a born-again Christian, maybe you are becoming aware of things in life you are enslaved to. Let me encourage you to cry out to God for help today. Jesus can change things for you, just as he did for Legion.
And for those of us who are already Christians, we too can still have evil behaviours and thoughts taking root into the soil of our lives. Satan want to bring about as much destruction as he can to the children of God. He wants to wreck our families, destroy our lives, and silence our testimony.
2. The transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ
Jesus does not leave Legion in this state. He commands the spirits to leave this man. It is striking just how effortlessly Jesus does this. Yes, the forces of evil can overcome human beings, but they are no match for our Saviour, not even thousands of them. Ironically, they recognise Jesus for who he truly is – ‘the Son of the Most High God’. I love reading of this man, whom the community had long since given up on: ‘sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind’. This is a spiritual picture of what Jesus can do for everyone who comes to him and trusts in him. It is a picture of salvation, of being delivered from the powers of darkness and brought into the light.
Here, Jesus is in complete control. He does not need any ropes or chains, just the voice of his power. This is the region of the Gerasenes, in a predominantly Gentile area. Jesus is showing himself to be the Saviour of the whole world. His power is not localised to one place or one people.
The powers of darkness had invaded Legion, seeking to dehumanise and destroy the image of God in him. But Jesus restores the image of God to this man. That is what the Holy Spirit does within us. Satan wants to destroy; this is even seen in what happens to the pigs who are taken over. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, makes us more and more human – the people God intended us to be. He enables us to live lives of freedom.
‘Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.’ (Colossians 3:9-11)
“Jesus can deliver you from anything if you will come to him – not only from a miserable past, but from present sins – your hatreds, your prejudices, your loathings. He can not only save your soul, but can restore your proper love for your spouse, your parents, your children.” (Kent Hughes)
Think of Legion and all his scars and open wounds. You will have your own scars and wounds, perhaps coming from an addictive behaviour, a broken relationship, a mental health issue, or from terrible mistakes you have made in the past. I have my own scars and wounds. I have absolutely no confidence in myself to turn things around, but as this passage so clearly illustrates, we can have full confidence in the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
The change which took place in Legion takes place every single time someone becomes a Christian. Legion is a spiritual picture of what Jesus does for us. As J C Ryle says: “Every conversion is the miraculous release of a captive, the miraculous restoration of a man to his right mind, the miraculous deliverance of a soul from the devil.”
How tragic the response of the local people is. They carry on as if nothing has really happened and ask Jesus to leave. To leave! He’s the one who brings new life and you want him to leave? This is a sobering reminder that even the clear evidence of Christ’s identity isn’t enough for some.
3. Do we want the church to grow?
Let’s end our time this morning focusing on the words of Jesus to this brand-new Christian: ‘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. (Luke 8:39)
If there’s anything I would love to see more of in Kirkcaldy Free Church and in all the churches across Fife, it would be this, that we, like Legion, would tell others how much Jesus has done for us. Will you do that? Sure, they might laugh at you. They might not listen. They might think you are nuts. But if we prayerfully go and tell, some people will, in turn, come to put their trust in the Saviour.
They will be enabled, with Christ’s grace and power, to come to their senses, be forgiven, receive a true sense of purpose and dignity, and experience the transformation of the Spirit of God. So, the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. May you go out and do the same.