In many areas of life we are divided into one of two camps. If you're interested in cricket you'll know that the Ashes are being fought over and you'll be supporting either England or Australia. If you're a football fan you'll be aware that the new season is only a week away. Were you to go to a ground to watch a game you'll find the crowds are separated into Home and Away Supporters.
When it comes to the much more important matters of spiritual life and death the Bible makes it very clear that there are just two camps and no fence to sit on. Those camps are not defined according to whether a man considers himself to be good or bad they are determined by whether a man has faith in Christ or not.
According to the constant teaching of the Bible a man, be he ever so moral and upright in his own eye and even in the eyes of his fellows, if he has no faith in Christ he belongs to the camp of the unsaved along with the very worst of criminals who also has no faith in the Lord Jesus.
On the other hand the camp of the saved is made up of those who do have a living faith in Jesus regardless of how bad (or good for that matter) their life has been.
Men and women don't naturally like to accept the truthfulness of this even though God has made it very clear in his Word. We simply want to imagine that we're not as bad as everyone else and that that fact actually makes a difference. We like to think that if we're not thieves or murderers, child abusers or adulterers then we must be good enough for God and that hell therefore is reserved for other people but not for us.
Now I'm quite prepared to allow that you are not as bad as the worst and that you are in many ways very good and nice but, and it's a big but, if you do not have faith in Jesus then you are in the camp of the unsaved and need to get out of it.
The camp of the unsaved contains then many people who are living what we might term "good and respectable" lives. It also contains many people living what everyone would readily recognise as awful, terrible lives. It contains many people at every point between these two extremes.
The fundamental message of the gospel is not then – try a bit harder to be good and God will be pleased with you. No, the message of the gospel tells you that you must be saved and that Jesus is the only Saviour who can do poor sinners good!
This morning we are going to look at the life of one of the people at the extreme end of the spectrum of life. A man who experienced an awful life, a terrible life: we're going to look at the life of a man who was possessed by a multitude of evils spirits.
Now the advantage of considering such a case is that everything that is presented to us stands out in clear sharp relief. We simply can't fail to sense something of the horror of such a life.
There is a danger however. We may be tempted to think that because our own case (or the case of our friends) is not so stark that we're OK when we're not.
May God help us to see clearly and to understand that while the external manifestations of a life lived out of fellowship with God may differ very radically in essence the fundamental problem of sin remains the same and is only resolved when we turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith and trust.
The Story so far...
Luke has been showing us how Jesus demonstrated his power and authority in a wide range of different scenarios:
He'd healed the sick
He'd cured those troubled by evil spirits
He'd calmed the violent forces of the natural world
In fact he'd only just spoken to the winds and the waves earlier on this very boat trip that had brought Jesus and disciples across the Lake of Galilee. I imagine the disciples were probably glad to set foot on land again after that trip!
Another Extreme Situation
No sooner had Jesus stepped out of the boat onto the shore but another crisis erupted!
A wild man came racing towards them!!
Who was this man? What do we know about him? Well, we're given quite a lot of detail about this man and the life he led. As we think about these details surely we can see that he was in real need – would Jesus be able to help him?
This man was demon-possessed.
Now sometimes we'll hear something like this as others talk about their personal struggles with their fears and obsessions: "we all have our demons" they say or "we all have to face our demons".
While there might well be a good deal of truth in such statements we must recognise that this man's problems were not primarily psychological. The problems this man had were of a spiritual nature – he was suffering on the spiritual front.
The Bible makes it very clear that there is a spiritual realm – there is more to life than the atoms and molecules of the material creation. Spiritual does not however necessarily mean good and wholesome – there are evil spirits and forces as well as good. These evil spirits are able to interact with and operate within the physical world and their effects can be devastating. Interest in or involvement with evil spirits is detrimental to our spiritual health – always.
Their effects in the life of this particular were just like that – devastating – and it led to unusual behaviour.
The man's unusual behaviour:
- Separated from others – antisocial
- Fierce and hostile towards others
- Lived among the tombs
- Uncommon strength
- Held bizarre views about Jesus – as the words tumbled out of his mouth he suggested that this man who went about doing good had come there in order to torture or torment him.
- Spoke with a strangely loud voice
- Was out of his mind
This entire description is designed to show us the destructive nature of demons in the life of a human being. A host of demons had entered his life and taken over his whole personality, they dominated his whole existence even to the extent of using his mouth and lips to speak for them.
But, suddenly, this man found himself in the presence of Jesus and his life is about to be utterly and definitively transformed.
This man was fierce and hostile towards other human beings. He didn't like them passing by where he lived. As we compare the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke we are left with the impression that seeing the boat arriving on the shore this man at once began to rush towards it. Suddenly he (or rather the demons within him) became aware of the identity of the leader of the group and they are stopped in their tracks. They have recognised Jesus!
What the demons knew
As we examine the details of this encounter we are given an interesting and very enlightening insight into some of what these demons knew. And what they knew contains significant instruction and warning for us.
I want to highlight three things:
They knew that a day of judgment was coming. Cf. Mt.8:29 "before the time". Abyss.
They knew that they would be condemned at that judgment.
They knew that the man on the beach before them was the Son of the Most God – the very one who would be the Judge on that great Day.
And this information did not leave them the slightest bit indifferent – it frightened them!
Men will sometimes talk about the life hereafter. They make light of heaven and tell foolish jokes as if hell will really be quite an exciting place full of wild parties and interesting people. In their ignorance some even suggest that hell is where the action is, the place to be.
The demons didn't think like that for a moment!
You'd think that if anyone would be at "home" there then it would be demons like these – after all the eternal fire of the abyss has been prepared for the devil and his angels – yes, they were destined for that place but the prospect was atrocious and it terrified them.
My friend, if demons are so fearful of being consigned to hell should you not stop and think and consider your ultimate destination? These demons implored Jesus not to consign them there "ahead of time" even though they knew no ultimate escape was available to them. You have this life in which to cast yourself upon Jesus' mercy and to implore him to save you. If you refuse to do so then when he comes as judge every hope you might want to have will be eclipsed forever. As Dante put it in the Inferno the words written over the gates of hell are extremely sober:
"Abandon hope all ye who enter here."
But my friend, it does not have to be like that – now is the Day of Salvation and the story of this man's deliverance offers you real grounds for hope. You see, this man couldn't deliver himself from the terrible predicament he was in. He needed a Mighty Deliverer to set him free. He found out that day that Jesus was that Mighty Deliverer. Jesus sets the captives free!
The Man is Liberated
There was something else those demons knew: they knew they couldn't withstand Jesus and would have to leave the man they had dominated for so long. With his permission they enter a large herd of pigs which immediately stampedes over the cliff's edge to the waters of the lake below. Let's not get bogged down with questions of animal rights – the point of it all is to underline for us just how dreadful the man's prior condition must have been.
Word of what has taken place is quickly taken back to the nearby town – you can be sure that the swineherds didn't want people there thinking that the loss of all those pigs was their fault, perish the thought.
And so the townsfolk poured out to see for themselves what had happened. What they found astonished them.
They found a man transformed. They knew this man: he was the Wildman of the region; they had so often in the past tried to restrain him, to control him but he was no longer the man they had formerly known – it was as though he had been reborn, he had!
There he was and he was clothed – this man who used to go around naked – he was quietly sitting at Jesus' feet – this once fierce man who terrorised the neighbourhood – and he was in his right mind!
All his odd behaviour and his terrible destructive life-style had gone – and it would be gone forever!!
The crowds are stunned and all they can think of is to get rid of Jesus!
It sounds so strange, doesn't it? But they wanted Jesus to go away. And people still react the same way today. When Jesus transforms the life of someone they know fear is not a rare reaction. They're frightened being confronted with something and someone beyond their comprehension. They can be scared of a man whom they can't control and yet who exercises such power, such authority. Faced with a new set of circumstances it is not uncommon for men and women to long for life to be returned to what it was like before – never mind how bad that was.
This may well have been the only opportunity the crowd would ever have of meeting with Jesus and of putting their trust in Jesus. After all this took place outside of Israel's territory and Jesus spent nearly all of his ministry within that territory.
But the people didn't seize the opportunity while it was there, they pleaded with Jesus to go.
And Jesus left them!
What a warning this is. Don't assume you can go on putting off and putting off gospel invitations to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ – you may find that the opportunity that is yours today will not always there.
If the crowds want Jesus out of their sight the same is certainly not true as far as the delivered man was concerned. He was sat at Jesus' feet now and wanted to be with Jesus wherever Jesus might go. Do you remember how we talked last Sunday morning about a true disciple being a Jesus-oriented person? Well this man gives every indication of being a true disciple doesn't he?
Jesus wouldn't allow the man to follow him by being with him as he left the region but instead he left his new disciple to be a missionary to his own people. The very crowds who wanted shot of Jesus are given a missionary by our loving Saviour. The man was given his instructions – he was to stay and speak of what God had done for him. It wasn't long before the entire region had been told about Jesus! (The man had obeyed his instructions – and obedience is another characteristic of the true disciple!).
Mankind has a spiritual enemy. Satan can sometimes be sadistically cruel as he ruins people's lives here on earth by pushing to the extremes with brutal and malicious demon possession. That was the case of this particular man whose deliverance we've been considering this morning. But Satan is not only sadistic he is clever too and he knows that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Demon possession is rare in our country where the light of the gospel has shone brightly bringing so much blessing over the years. But just because demon possession is rare does not mean that Satan has become inactive instead he simply employs other techniques:
eg. Horoscopes – black magic – "white" magic – spiritism – cards/tea leaves/coffee grounds – palmistry etc.
Or again, have you ever found yourself thinking that being outside of Christ really isn't that bad after all? Have you ever found yourself thinking that it really isn't such a desperate matter whether you believe in Christ or not?
Those are lies of Satan. You can believe those lies and not live a calamitous life here and now – but the end is everlasting ruin to the detriment of your never-dying soul!
This man Jesus came into the world to destroy the works of the devil (1Jn.3:8). He did just that in the life of that poor demon-possessed man and he can do so in the life of the most mild-mannered well-behaved sinner. And he can do so for every type and condition of sinner in between these extremes.
Has he done that for you? Have you called on the name of the Lord that he might save you?
Jn.3:18 "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."