And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)
And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.
When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.
Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.
Much can be learned from Jesus’ engagement with this possessed man in the land of the Gadarenes, and of particular interest in our day and times may be the radical vulnerability of pagan people to diabolical abuse. In this recounting by Luke, Jesus found a man who was so oppressed by demons that he had been completely ostracized from his community and his family, dwelling instead in the tombs where he could see the foreshadowing of his own demise. The local people attempted to bind him, but the demonic Legion which infested him gave him supernatural strength to break and escape his bonds, leading the people to be both terrified of him and terrorized by him. The Scriptures do not reveal why this man is more tormented than the other pagans around him, what led to his possession by this Legion of unholy spirits, or why this situation has been allowed to continue so long. What is clear, however, is that the demons know and recognize Jesus immediately for who He is, and that the rules of their game with the pagan Gadarenes has now radically changed.
Many peoples around the world in non-Christian cultures have had similar experiences, as recounted in their own folklore and the journals of explorers and missionaries. Demons or evil spirits dominate the fears of many people, and those fears work themselves out into religious systems which try to evade, appease, resist, or serve them. Thus, many of these religious systems share traits that are remarkably similar, whether they are found in Asia, Africa, the Americas, or various far flung Islands. Evil spirits make havoc of communities across the globe and across the centuries, such that the story of the possessed Gadarene is not so foreign to a global stage.
Truth be told, such stories are not so foreign now, even in previously Christian countries such as our own. Where people have stepped away from Jesus and living faith in His Word, they have often found themselves beset by evils they cannot control nor comprehend. In the West, our culture is quickly being subsumed by humanistic atheism which presumes to elevate man as his own god, claiming the universe and chance as his origins, and hedonistic power as his summit. Of course, man standing alone in his own meager power among the unseen hosts of this universe makes him easy prey for those who would manipulate, abuse, and ultimately destroy him. His delusions of his own deity hold nothing at bay, and thus our culture is awash in epidemics of drug abuse, violence, hatred, fear, and a rising form of paganism that attempts to evade, appease, resist, or serve the dark forces which pursue them from the shadows. The vapidity of materialism is giving way to a new spirituality with its modern shamans, and city streets filling with people like the hapless Gadarene of Luke 8 while others huddle in fear behind their own locked doors.
And yet, it is Jesus who continues to arrive on the shores of our oppressed communities, seeking and saving those lost under the horrible tyranny of dark Legions. His emissaries whom He has sent forth in the power of His Word and Sacraments, by grace through faith in Jesus alone, approach the merciless hordes of demonic forces in His Name. As when Jesus engaged the Legion possessing the maniacal Gadarene, the demons know Jesus and His divine authority far better than the people He is sent to save. They know that His Name and His Word are sovereign in every square inch of this vast universe, and that they cannot resist Him who is the Word which made, sustains, and will judge all things. They may beg and plead and howl, but in the end they must obey the Word of the Lord, even when spoken by weak and sinful human emissaries who stand redeemed in His Word by grace through faith. Wherever His people abide in Him, there He is among them, the sovereign King of the Universe who deigns to be the Savior of all mankind.
And yet, there will be those who are so terrified by the presence of the King, that they will beg the Savior to leave them in their darkness. Like the Gadarene community who saw the salvation of the oppressed man and yet begged Jesus to depart, so will some communities in our time push the Church and the emissaries of Jesus back into the boat out of fear of having the King of the Universe in their midst. For the very presence of the King reminds every soul that we are not our own gods, that we are accountable to the One who has given us our life, and that in our own broken sinfulness we cannot save ourselves from the cursed darkness into which we so easily fall. The presence of the King reminds us that our self-imposed delusions are like vapors of smoke, and that our pretenses to sovereignty are but vain dreams of fevered minds. The Law of the King reminds us of who we really are, and the destiny we face apart from him, bound for eternity in the same burning darkness which is the prison made for the devil and his evil hosts. For reasons unfathomable, there will be some who prefer to keep their delusions and embrace a terrible fate according to the Law, rather than receive the free gift of Jesus’ Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation accomplished through His Vicarious Atonement for us upon the Cross.
But we do not despair. Like the newly freed Gadarene who would follow Jesus into the boat, we who have been freed from Satan’s tyranny are sent back into our communities, our families, our friends, to tell what great things God has done for us. We become His emissaries to a dark and suffering world, bearing the truth of His Eternal Word and Eternal Life which makes demons quake and repentant souls rejoice. We continue to land on the shores of every place we go with the light and compassion of Jesus, knowing that whether we are invited to stay or pressed to depart, we go every step and every breath with Jesus. And if we encounter a tormented Gadarene in our place of work, our coffee shop, or our living room, we bring with us the Word of Jesus to liberate and redeem them in Jesus’ Name, and send them as we have been sent, to tell what wonderful things our Savior has done for us. Amen.