When I was growing up, there was a kind of farm that we would pass on our way to the city of Tacoma. The farm was owned by a man who was only known as the “goat man.” The “farm” was hardly that. Actually it was a large piece of property, stacked high with Army surplus goods. I can remember balsa wood life rafts, perhaps hundreds of them, piled there on the farm. The goat man’s house was a mere shack, with the most meager accommodations. (All of this I surmise from my recollections of what I saw from the road, as we would drive by.)
He was called the “goat man” because the only thing he raised on that farm was goats. I can vividly remember the man sitting on the porch of that little shack with the door open and goats freely going in and out of the house. I can especially recall one particular goat, which always had a rooster sitting on his back. I am telling you the truth. Every time we went by the goat man’s house that one goat had that one rooster sitting on his back, even as it walked about. It was an amusing sight.
The interesting thing about the goat man is that he was apparently very wealthy. The rumor was that this man owned an entire city block of downtown Tacoma. What an incredible thing it was for a man to live as he did, sitting on the porch of that shack, surrounded by goats and chickens, with a yard full of surplus rafts, when he could have lived in luxury and dressed elegantly.
Every place has its own “goat man” of sorts. There is always some “crazy person,” who is the talk of the neighborhood, and who provides entertainment for all who see them. I believe that the two demoniacs who lived in the region of the Gerasenes were the “talk of the town” in their day. At one point in time, these men must have lived in the town and carried on relatively normal lives.155 Then, something happened which turned the two into virtual beasts, who were so strong and uncontrollable that the people would no longer use the road which passed by the place where they dwelt.
The problem for us is to really grasp the reality of what is described here. Most of us have (gratefully) not seen men or women who were so demonically controlled that they had superhuman strength, spoke in strange voices, and seemed to personify evil. For most of us who live in the United States, we must accept this biblical account by faith. But such things do occur, as Don Baker, a pastor who experienced a face-to-face confrontation with a demoniac, reports. He had undergone a period of intense depression, which necessitated hospitalization and a long period of therapy by a Christian psychiatrist. He recounts this incident with a demon-possessed man, which occurred just a little while before his breakdown:
… it had been just a few days after my first personal encounter with a Satanist that I slipped into my black hole. That was a frightening experience. It happened as I was walking to my room at a conference center where I had been invited to teach for a week. Standing in my path was a handsome young man, twenty-seven years of age, dressed in army fatigues.
“Is your name Baker, or Barker?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “my name is Baker.”
“I’ve been told to talk to you,” he said.
His manner was strange and threatening. His voice was flat and colorless. His eyes looked cold and empty. I felt fear as I looked at him. He came into my room with me, and I asked him to be seated. He said, “No, I’ll stand.” Then he said, “I must tell you something, but I cannot look at you; and you cannot look at my face.” With that he turned to the wall, pressed his head against the wallboard, and began reciting the most bizarre story I had ever heard. He had been a worshiper and priest of Satan for seventeen years. His devotion to the evil one had taken him all over the country and had involved him in every occult practice known to man. Every twenty-two days he was visited by a demon and driven to unspeakable acts of evil. He hated God. He hated Christ. He hated talking to me, but he was compelled …
After two hours he suddenly turned on me, his eyes filled with hate, and screamed, “Aren’t you afraid of me? Don’t you know I can kill you?” With supernatural calmness I looked into that enraged face and said, “No, you can’t, for greater is Christ Who is in me than Satan who is in you” (1 John 4:4). Instantly he screamed, a hideous high-pitched scream, threw up his arms, and fell to the floor. In uncontrolled rage he began pounding his head on the concrete floor, uttering noises horrible beyond description. I looked around vainly for help. I called, but no one came. I was alone—alone with a demoniac. Face to face with the enemy for the first time.
“O God, what do I do?” I cried. I knelt beside that writhing human form, placed one hand between his forehead and the concrete and the other on his back. As I stroked his head and shoulders I prayed, “Lord Jesus, deliver this man from Satan.” I continued to pray, all the time shielding his head from the floor. “In the name of Jesus, Lord of heaven—Lord of all—I command you, Satan, to come out of this man’s body.”
If there was a precise formula, I didn’t know what it was. I did know that Jesus’ name always rang the death knell to the demons in the Scriptures. After what seemed an eternity, his body began to relax. He stopped jabbering and foaming. I urged him to speak the name, Lord Jesus—Lord Jesus. Each time I said that name he looked at me with pleading eyes and then grabbed his throat and his tongue to indicate that he could not speak. As I knelt beside him, clutching his body to mine, I prayed again, “Lord Jesus, release this man’s tongue, that he may speak Your name.” Finally, it happened. His lips began form words.
“Say it,” I urged. “Say His name. Say Lord Jesus.”
“I can’t,” he cried.
I prayed again. Finally he lifted his head, summoned the little strength he had left, and cried, “Lord Jesus.” With these words he slumped to the floor, unconscious. I covered him with a blanket, rubbed his head, massaged his shoulders and back, and waited for him to revive. His first words after opening his eyes were, “Lord Jesus.” He then raised up, moved to the side of my bed, knelt there, and gave his life to Jesus Christ.156
Our text is important for us for several reasons. First, this text teaches us much about the demonic forces which oppose our Lord and His church. It reminds us of the supernatural forces at work contrary to the Christian. It reminds us as well that Jesus Christ has power over the demonic forces, indeed, even over an entire “legion” of demons. We owe a great debt to Legion, for he is an extreme illustration of the end result of Satan’s control. This description of Legion provides us with a kind of “untouched photo” of a man who is fully “spirit filled,” as it were, totally dominated by Satan, by means of his demonic assistants. Satan’s deception and destruction is unmasked, revealed in its purest and ugliest form. Let us look carefully as the finished product, for it is vastly different from what Satan claims he can produce.
Second, the deliverance of the demoniac draws our attention to a fear of God which is unholy and unhealthy. The fear of “Legion,” which is the fear of the demons who possess him, and the fear of the people of his home town, is an unholy fear, one which causes men to draw away from God, or, as in our text, to ask the Son of God to withdraw from their region. It is no great shock to learn that the unbelieving and the unholy would fear God. At the conclusion of this message, I will suggest that this same kind of unholy fear which is seen in Legion and the people of that region can be found in many Christians, and that it is this kind of fear which hinders, even opposes revival. Let us listen well to this text, for it has much to say to contemporary Christians, as well as to modern-day pagans.
In this message, we will begin by reviewing the setting, and then we will look at the events surrounding the deliverance of the demoniac as it is described by Luke, accented by the accounts of Matthew and Mark. We will then consider the “tension of the text,” which is the key to the interpretation of this event and its meaning for us. Finally, we will consider the nature of the fear of Legion and his fellow-townspeople, and seek to learn how it can be found in all people, including Christians.
The day had begun with our Lord teaching the crowds from on board a boat (perhaps that one belonging to one of the fishermen of the disciples), anchored along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The use of the boat was not new (cf. Luke 5:3), but our Lord’s method of teaching by means of parables was (Luke 8:3ff.). Here, Luke records only the parable of the soils (8:3-18). At the end of His teaching that day, Jesus had His disciples set out for the other side of the lake (cf. Mark 4:33-36). On the journey across the lake, a great storm arose, which threatened the boat and its passengers. After Jesus had stilled the storm, the boat continued on to the other side of the lake. It is here that our story picks up. It is as Jesus steps out of the boat to the shore that the demoniac appears.
The disciples’ hearts were still pounding from the scare they had experienced due to the storm. Their pulse rate was perhaps at last returning to normal. Now, as their boat glided gently up onto the solid ground of the shore, the disciples must have breathed a sigh of relief. I can almost hear one of the disciples sigh, under his breath, “Safe, at last!” What could happen to them now, after their safe landing? The solitude of the lonely shore was probably a welcome scene, after the crowds which had gathered along the other shore. No one probably gave a thought as to why no people were around, or why the road, which led to the nearby town, was empty.
The boat landed in sight of a road, which would lead into the town nearby. There, on the hill, was a cemetery of sorts, although I have the feeling another one may have been in greater use. Neither the road nor the cemetery were being used, however, for one reason: two demoniacs dwelt nearby, and no one felt safe to pass by, anywhere where they might be accosted by them (Matthew 8:28). While these men had once lived normal lives in the nearby town (cf. Luke 8:27), they now lived more like animals. The men were demon-possessed, and so they were will and dangerous. The townspeople had tried by contain and to control the men, even using chains, but their superhuman strength proved too much for the chains (Luke 8:29; Mark 5:3). They no longer wore clothes, and they often cried out in loud, but inhuman voices, often lacerating themselves with stones (Mark 5:5). They were dangerous not only to any passer-by, but to themselves as well.
The two men and the townspeople seemed to have come to an understanding. They would live in seclusion, where they would not hurt anyone else, and the townspeople would leave them alone. It was the best solution, it seemed, under the circumstances. The men were left to themselves, so that whenever the demons chose, they could torment them, but without harm to anyone else. Everyone seemed to know that the place where Jesus had landed was, by common consent, a no-man’s land.
Matthew alone tells us that there were two demoniacs, and not just one, as a reading of either Mark or Luke would lead one to conclude. Mark and Luke, who tell only of the one demoniac, also include the report that this man, once restored to sanity, became a follower of our Lord. It take it that the other demoniac did not. Mark and Luke tell us only of the one demoniac, for they are interested in his faith, a faith which the other seems not to possess.
As we seek to relive the incident with the demoniac and the herd of swine, we need to recall that the whole scenario was being witnessed by the “pig pokes” or “hog herders,” who saw everything from their elevated vantage point. If we can replay the event in the form of a mental movie, we need to begin with a wide angle lens. The Lord and His disciples have just arrived, and they are standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Also, near the lake seems to be the road, which passed beside the graveyard (where the two demoniacs dwelt among the tombs) and which continued on to the nearby town. Slightly higher, somewhat on a hill (it would seem) was the graveyard, where the demoniacs lived. From their position, they could see the boat approaching the shore and the party on board landing. Even higher up were the “pig pokes,” who were tending the hogs, who would later plunge down the steep bank into the Sea of Galilee and drown.
Tending the hogs was probably not all that taxing, and thus the herdsmen must have been gazing out on the lake below, and have seen the boat approaching. (They may also have watched the storm, which had threatened this and other boats on the lake.) When they realized that the boat was going to land here, in this virtual “no man’s land,” they must have been expecting that their day would have a little excitement.
They knew, of course, that the demoniacs were nearby (no doubt they kept their distance, too) and that no one ever used this road (Matthew 8:28), nor did anyone land on the shore near the graveyard. I can see these “pig-pokes” nudging each other in the ribs, saying, “Hey, Joe, watch this. This is going to be good.”
They watched as the two demoniacs swooped down on the unsuspecting disciples, shrieking in a way that would chill anyone’s blood. They giggled as they saw the disciples’ apprehension. They waited for these two violent men to brutalize these men, sending them back in their boat, to wherever they had come from. How they must have marveled to see the two demoniacs fall before Jesus. How their faces must have shown bewilderment as they overheard the statements of these two, screamed loudly enough for them to hear, even from their distance (cf. Matthew 8:29; Luke 8:28; Mark 5:7), declaring Jesus to be the Son of the Most High God (Luke 8:28). And then, can you imagine the uneasiness of these herdsmen when they saw the demoniacs turn in their direction, and point toward the herd of hogs, obviously asking Jesus something about them? When the hogs left the two demoniacs and possessed the pigs, the “hog herders” were the first to know, and to run the other way. When the people of the town asked these herders what had happened, they were able to tell it all, for they had seen the entire incident, located as they were above the entire scene. (It was from this same height that the pigs plunged, over a cliff, or at least a steep bank, into the lake.)
As the demoniac157 rushed downhill from the tombs toward Jesus, eyes crazed, screaming at the top of his lungs, it must have been a frightening sight for the disciples. Perhaps they considered jumping on the man as a group, hoping to have the combined strength to contain him. The demoniac seemed only to see or to care about Jesus, and as he drew near, he fell to his knees. As this man speaks, it is not the person, but rather the demons which are in control. Thus, it is the demons addressing our Lord, as we shall soon see.
The demonized man immediately recognized Jesus, even from a distance, as the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. In Luke’s account, Jesus is acknowledged as “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Luke 8:28). When Jesus commanded the demons to come out of this man, whose demonized name was Legion, the demons began to speak through the man.
It is very important to take note of the fact that although the demoniac fell at Jesus’ feet, it was not an act of worship, as it would later be, when the demons were cast from the man. The demons did recognize Jesus’ identity, and they also acknowledged His superiority, His authority over them. They recognized, for example, that He could do with them as He pleased. Their petitions were addressed as those of inferior beings to One who was infinitely superior to them.
If I were to characterize the response of the demonized man to Jesus, and thus the response of demons to the Son of God, there is one word which would best summarize their reaction to Him—FEAR. Notice the following characteristics of fear which are evident in Legion’s words:
(1) Legion was fearful of the presence of God. The fear of Legion is very different from that of the disciples, in the midst of the storm. The disciples were fearful because they did not realize that God was with them in the boat. The demons are fearful because they know that God is present among them. Their first words to Jesus are a testimony to the fact that they recognize Him as the “Son of the Most High God” (Luke 8:28). They are frightened because they know God is in their midst.
(2) The demons were fearful of torment, of the judgment of God. Why would the appearance of Jesus on the other shore of the Sea of Galilee be a cause of fear for the demons? Because they knew that the coming of God’s Messiah spelled destruction for them. Jesus Himself will say of the devil,
“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of the world shall be cast out” (John 12:31).
In the beginning, God said that the “seed of the woman” would destroy Satan:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
It is interesting to note that while the demons dread their own torment, they have no qualms about tormenting those whom they possess.
(3) The demons were frightened by the timing of His coming. The thing which caught the demons off guard was the timing of His coming. They knew that their time would come, but they did not expect it to come so soon. To them, Jesus had come prematurely, at least according to their scheme of eschatology. Listen to their surprise as they say, “Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29).
The demons knew that Messiah’s coming spelled their doom. What they did not expect was His coming to be so soon.
We are inclined to give Satan and his evil hoard too much credit. We think that they are all-knowing when they are not. They, like the Jews of that day, and even like the disciples of our Lord, had a distorted grasp of Messiah’s coming. They looked for but one coming, not two. The demons were looking for the “second coming of Christ,” but they did not expect the first. When Jesus appeared, they were shaken, they were frightened. The fact that Legion ran to Jesus, rather than from Him, indicates (among other things) the demons’ fear and frantic confusion, caused by the unexpected appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(4) The demons were fearful of the outcome of Christ’s coming for the man they had demonized. The demons dreaded the deliverance of the demoniac. The reasons for this will be seen next.
(5) The demons feared disembodiment. Jesus almost immediately began to command the demons to come out of the man. They, just as quickly, began to plead for “mercy.” They knew better than to ask Jesus to continue to possess this man, although that was their preference. If Jesus must cast them out of the man, at least let Him give them some body to possess: “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
Demons would naturally prefer to possess people. Their destructive work would give them greater pleasure, and they could more fully manifest themselves this way (demons could speak through a man’s vocal cords, but we do not find demons speaking through animals). To be dispossessed of a body was, to the demon, torment. Disembodied spirits could not as fully display themselves and they could through a body.
(6) The demons feared the restriction of their freedom to continue their destructive work. There is a very interesting fact revealed by a comparison of two of the parallel accounts. Notice the difference between these two requests of the demons:
And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss (Luke 8:31).
And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area (Mark 5:10).
It would seem that in putting these two requests together we would have to conclude that to send the demons out of the country would be to send them into the Abyss. Torment, for demons, is to be kept from doing evil.
Combining what we learn from various biblical texts enables us to understand what the demons dread here. It would seem from Isaiah (chapter 14), Ezekiel (chapter 28), and Daniel (10:10ff.) that demons seem to have certain geographical boundaries. That is, they seem to have certain territories or spheres of activity, beyond which they cannot venture. We also know from 2 Peter chapter 2 that some demons have already been confined to the “pit” (2 Peter 2:4), just as Satan himself will be put in chains for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3) in the future. Thus, it would seem that to be sent out of the country would mean being thrown into the Abyss, into a kind of captivity which would greatly confine and restrict their activity.
The demons therefore appear to fear any restriction to their present activity, even though they know that they await the judgment of God in the future. There is no repentance here, but only regret if they are restricted from doing what they have always done, which is to rebel against God, to work against His purposes, and to torment men.
I believe that the fear of the demons can be summed up in these words: THE DEMONS FEARED THE PRESENCE AND THE POWER OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, BECAUSE THEY KNEW THAT HIS PRESENCE AMONG THEM WOULD RESULT IN CHANGES WHICH WERE NOT VIEWED BY THEM AS DESIRABLE
The demons were evil. They delighted in doing evil. Torture, to them, was being hindered from torturing men. Since they loved to do evil and since Jesus was both good and God, they knew that His coming would have to result in hindering them from continuing to do that which is evil. To an evil creature, bent only on doing evil, good is a most dreaded thing. The evil demons dreaded Jesus’ coming, for they knew it meant good.
The demons pled not to be tormented, which, according to our text involved two things. First, they did not wish to be disembodied. Second, they did not wish to be sent from the country. The demons did not wish to be disembodied. It would seem that a demon cannot fully manifest its character and nature apart from possessing a body. To press the matter further, it would seem that apart from possessing a person, with a tongue, the demons could not speak. While it was vastly inferior to possess a pig than a person, at least it was a body. Thus, the demons begged Jesus to allow them to possess the nearby herd of hogs than to be disembodied.
Jesus granted the demons’ request to enter the herd of swine, and when they entered them, the entire herd plunged, headlong, into the sea. It is interesting to me to observe that while the disciples had feared drowning in that very sea just a short time earlier, it was a herd of pigs whose fate it was to drown, not the disciples.
When the pigs plunged into the sea, there was little doubt as to what had happened. The herdsmen went off to tell all that would listen about what had happened. The entire town came out to see the scene, and the swine, but most of all to see the Son of God, who had come to their shores.
It is very important for us to observe the response of the crowd, and the reasons for their response. Look carefully at Luke’s report (which squares with those of Matthew and Mark):
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. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear (Luke 8:35-37).
Several observations are critical to understanding why the people of the Gerasene region rejected Jesus and asked Him to leave their country.
(1) All of the people of the nearby town came out to meet Jesus.
Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus (Matthew 8:34).
This was not a small group, not even a delegation. Everybody gathered there to see Jesus. The people were not interested in the swine, but in the Savior.
(2) The people are overcome with fear. The fear of the people is prominent and emphatic:
(3) Out of fear, all the people ask Jesus to leave their country. It is a unanimous verdict from all but the one delivered demoniac (was the other demoniac siding with the crowd?)—Jesus must go. They want Jesus not only to stay away from their town, but to leave their country. They want Him nowhere around. It is amazing, but emphatically evident.
(4) The fears of the people are not in response to the drowning of the swine, but due to the miraculous change in “Legion,” the delivered demoniac. I do not know how many times I have heard the fear of the people and their request that Jesus leave them explained in economic terms. If this view were correct, we would expect that it would be the owner(s) of the pigs that would have been singled out as having come, that they came and looked upon the bodies of the pigs, washing up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But we are not told this at all.
We are told, instead, that all the people of the town came out, and that they looked at the delivered demoniac (not the pigs), and that they learned that Jesus delivered him. It is not because the pigs died that the people are frightened, but because Legion was delivered. Imagine this: from the actions and the words of the people of this region, they would rather have had Legion as he was, dangerous, destructive, and uncontrollable, than to be whole, healed, clothed, and a constructive member of society.
The reason why we so quickly accept the economic explanation for the actions of this crowd is because no other explanation seems plausible. We simply cannot fathom how these people could reject and resist Jesus for having done good to this man, and for their whole region. After all, they no longer have to worry about traveling on this road.
Here we find the “tension of the text,” the problem in the passage which provides us with the key to the interpretation of the passage, and to discovering its meaning for us. The tension of the text is this: HOW CAN THE PEOPLE OF THIS REGION BE MORE FRIGHTENED OF JESUS THAN OF THE DEMONIAC, SO THAT THEY WOULD RATHER HAVE HAD THINGS AS THEY WERE, AND THAT THEY WOULD RATHER HAVE JESUS LEAVE THEM THAN STAY WITH THEM? HOW CAN PEOPLE FEAR THE SON OF GOD FOR DOING GOOD MORE THAN THEY CAN FEAR SATAN AND HIS DEMONIC HOSTS FOR DOING EVIL?
(5) Nowhere in the New Testament are we told how anyone who was demon-possessed became that way. Before we can come to the solution of our problem, we must observe that we are never told how demon-possession begins. That is, those who are brought to Jesus who are demon-possessed have been brought to him in that condition. Jesus never asked, “How did it happen?” There is a clear biblical explanation, as we shall see.
(6) The fears of the people are like the fears of the demoniac, before he was delivered from his demon-possession. The Gerasene demoniac and the Gerasene-dwellers share one thing in common in our text—a fear of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both “fears” are of the same kind. Just as the demons dreaded the arrival of the Lord Jesus, so did the people of the nearby town. They were frightened by the good thing which had happened to the demoniac. They feared that Jesus might do other “good” as well. They would rather that Jesus go away from them than to remain among them. Although it is not clearly stated, it seems obvious that they would rather have the demoniac as he once was—even though it was detrimental to them and frightened them—than to have him as he now was—sane, clothed, and a contributing member of society.
The coming of Jesus to the region of the Gerasenes was an occasion for fear, both on the part of the demoniac and on the part of the people who feared him. As the demoniac feared the good which Jesus was about to do—namely his deliverance—so the people of that region feared the power of the Lord Jesus to do good for them. Ultimately, the people feared that Jesus’ coming meant a change, not only for the demoniac, but for them, a change which they did not want, and did not feel that they needed. They wanted things just as they were, and Jesus threatened the status quo. The thought of the kind of changes which Jesus would bring was tormenting to the people of this place. Thus, they wanted Jesus to go because they wanted nothing to change.
If the essence of repentance is change, then we must conclude that repentance was a thought which was repulsive to the Gerasene populace.
Our first response to the realization that the entire town wanted Jesus to go because He was good is to view this as an oddity, as an exception to the rule. After all, didn’t other towns beg Jesus to stay with them (cf. Luke 4:42; John 4:40)? The next observation focuses on the reality of man’s rebellion against God.
(7) All unsaved people are, to a certain degree, demon-possessed, in the sense that they are Satan’s slaves, and that they manifest the same character and conduct as Satan and his evil host. We need to recognize that the response of the people to Jesus was not the exception, but rather the rule. We need to realize that it was not just Legion that was dominated by Satan and his horde of demons, but it is every unbeliever. All those who are unsaved are the slaves of Satan through their bondage to sin.
The difference between Legion and the populace of the Gerasenes was not one of kind, but rather one of degree. This is why the Bible does not tell us how demon-possessed got that way. The Bible has given us the answer: Man is born in sin, in hostility and opposition to God, and is thus of the same mind toward God as is Satan and his host of demons.
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 26:18).
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8).
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).
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Revelation 12:9).
Initially, many of those who first saw and heard the Lord Jesus Christ welcomed Him. For those who had been prepared by the ministry of John the Baptist and had repented of their sin, He was heralded as God’s Salvation. But for most, He was first welcomed because people thought that He would comply with their mistaken conceptions of His kingdom and His reign. Once He make it clear that His kingdom was not “of this world” many forsook Him. Eventually they decided to reject Him. In this sense the Jewish people, the people from the other side of the lake, were far worse than the inhospitable people of the Gerasene region—they sought to rid the world of Him. They put Him to death on a Roman cross. Their animosity and fear of Jesus is of the same kind as Legion and as his fellow-countrymen, but only greater in degree.
One of the first manifestation of man’s fall in the Garden of Eden was a fear of God, rooted in man’s sin and disobedience. While Adam had once looked forward to the Lord’s arrival and their walking together in the garden, this was no longer true after his sin:
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10).
There is an unholy fear of God, the kind that fears God for what He is and will do, the kind that fears the good which He will do, which will hinder us from persisting in our evil deeds. It was this fear which caused Legion to run to Christ; it was this fear which caused the people of that place to as Christ to leave them alone; and it was that same kind of fear which caused our Lord’s own people to cry out, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But they shouted, “Taken him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” (John 19:15).
Pilate pressed this further, “Shall I crucify your king?” To this, the crowds responded, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
The nation Israel was willing to renounce all their messianic hopes, all hopes of independence, just to be rid of Jesus.
John has summed up man’s response to God incarnate, in a way that precisely agrees with all we have seen:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it … He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:1-5, 10-11).
John also tells us very clearly why it is that men fear the holy God, and to not want Him to dwell among them. It is because sinful man wants to persist in his sin, and he thus views a righteous and holy God as a threat to his way of life. Men who wish to persist in their sin do not welcome God’s arrival. They wish only His departure, even if it requires that we put Him to death on a cross.
It is from this bondage to Satan, to sin, and to death, to which every unbeliever is subject, that Jesus came to save us:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— (Hebrews 2:14).
That is why He could say, with reference to His sacrificial death,
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:31-32).
Jesus died to break the power of sin and of Satan. He died to bear the penalty for your sins and for mine. And all who have trusted in Him will readily acknowledge, with the apostle Paul, that we have been saved from the power and the dominion of the Satan, whom we formerly served:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature object of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-5).
We owe a debt of gratitude to the demoniac, for he shows us something which we very much need to know, something which we very much want to avoid. He shows us the miserable condition of the one who is totally “spirit-filled” in following and being controlled by Satan. Notice that this man is tormented, self-destructive, alienated from others and a menace to society. This man has no real identity, and surely no fulfillment or freedom.
This week I read, once again, these powerful words from the pen of R. C. Sproul, who speaks of unregenerate (unsaved) man’s utter hatred of God:
Jonathan Edwards preached another famous sermon that can be viewed as a sequel of sorts to Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He titled the sermon, Men Naturally God’s Enemies. If I can presume to improve Edwards’ title, I would suggest instead God in the Hands of Angry Sinners.
If we are unconverted, one thing is absolutely certain: we hate God. The Bible is unambiguous about this point. We are God’s enemies. We are inwardly sworn to His ultimate destruction. It is as natural for us to hate God as it is for rain to moisten the earth when it falls.
Romans 5 teaches clearly: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.…” The central motif of the New Testament is the theme of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not necessary for those who love each other. God’s love for us is not in doubt. The shadow of doubt hangs over us. It is our love for God that is in question. The natural mind of man, what the Bible calls the “carnal mind,” is at enmity with God.
We reveal our natural hostility for God by the low esteem we have for Him. We consider him unworthy of our total devotion. We take no delight in contemplating Him. Even for the Christian, worship is often difficult and prayer a burdensome duty. Our natural tendency is to flee as far as possible from His presence. His Word rebounds from our minds like a basketball from a backboard.
By nature, our attitude toward God is not one of mere indifference. It is a posture of malice. We oppose His government and refuse His rule over us. Our natural hearts are devoid of affection for Him; they are cold, frozen to His holiness. By nature, the love of God is not in us.
We must be more precise. God is our mortal enemy. He represents the highest possible threat to our sinful desires. His repugnance to us is absolute, knowing no lesser degrees. No amount of persuasion by men or argumentation from philosophers or theologians can induce us to love God. We despise His very existence and would do anything in our power to rid the universe of His holy presence.
If God were to expose His life to our hands, He would not be safe for a second. We would not ignore Him; we would destroy Him. This charge may seem extravagant and irresponsible until we examine once more the record of what happened when God did appear in Christ. Christ was not simply killed. He was murdered by the hands of malicious men. The crowds howled for His blood. It was not enough merely to do away with Him, but it had to be done with the accompaniment of scorn and humiliation.
But we are Christians. We are lovers of God. We have experienced reconciliation. We have been born of the Spirit and have had the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. We are no longer enemies but friends. All of these things are true for the Christian. But we must take heed, remembering that with our conversion our natural human natures were not annihilated. There remains a vestige of our fallen nature with which we must struggle every day. There still resides a corner of the soul that takes no delight in God. We see its ragged edge in our continued sin and we can observe it in our lethargic worship. It manifests itself even in our theology.158
No matter what Satan may promise, the demoniac is a shocking demonstration of what he delivers. It is only when freed by the liberating power of Jesus Christ that a man can be what he wants to be, what he ought to be, fully human, fully forgiven, worshipping at the feet of Jesus. Let us never forget Legion in his misery, nor the new man in his sanity and devotion to the Savior. Let us remember as well that there was another demoniac, who was delivered from Satan’s total control, but who was not delivered from his sin, nor from Satan’s more subtle dominion, from which he did not wish to be saved. May each one of us look to Jesus as our Deliverer and as the object of our devotion.
Edward’s words remind us that the salvation of lost men requires a miracle of divine liberation, of divine calling, of divine regeneration and salvation. Salvation is something which only God can do. We can share the message of salvation, and we must. We can pray for men’s salvation, and this is our duty. But only God can save, only Christ can deliver men from death and from bondage to Satan, the adversary and our enemy.
Edward’s words also remind us that Satan is a very formidable enemy for the saint. While his control is limited, with respect to the Christian, he is still a dreaded enemy, one who can only be defeated by divine power. The Scriptures have much to say to the saint about Satan’s schemes and attacks.
I must say that I, as a Christian, sometimes have an unholy fear of God, of the same kind as the demoniac, and as the people of his home town, and the people of Jesus’ home land as well. Sometimes I dread God’s power to deliver me from sin, wanting to wallow in it, foolishly supposing that I am missing something if it is taken from me. In my own feeble efforts at worship I realize that I often resist drawing near to God, wanting to withdraw as Legion and his countrymen wanted to keep a distance between themselves and Jesus. Let us beware of the same kinds of fear that were (and are) evident in the lives of unbelievers, which are rooted in our rebellion and in our resistance to repentance and the righteousness of God, which are rooted in our sin.
It is my conviction that our church and our nation desperately needs revival, and that begins with repentance. Repentance, in a word, is change, and yet it is the very change which we desperately need for revival that we most fear. May God expose our unholy fears, and give us faith to repent and to seek those changes which God requires in our lives.
What I have been trying to say in this message can be briefly summed up in this way. The fear of Legion was of the same type of the fear of his fellow-countrymen, an unholy fear of God and of His power, threatening to change us and to keep us from the evil we desire to continue to do. This kind of fear is not unusual, but is the same kind of fear of God which every unbeliever manifests. It is the evidence of satanic dominion in one’s life. Unfortunately, this same kind of fear can be found in Christians, too, the evidence of Satanic opposition, deception, and influence.
Satan can be expected to produce and offer a counterfeit counterpart for every good which God offers man. Satan’s counterpart to a “holy fear” of God, which causes us to draw back from sin and to draw ever more closely to Him, is an “unholy fear” of God which tempts us to draw away from God and to resist His working in our lives, and to cling to our sins as though they were good.
155 Luke tells us that the one demoniac was a man “from the town” (Luke 8:27). From this statement, combined with other details supplied in the text pertaining to the demoniac’s secluded life among the tombs, I would deduce that the men once lived normal lives, only to later become dominated by demons, and thus to live in isolation, outside the town.