Thursday, July 21, 2011

A God of Transformations: The Dynamic Presence of God in The Gospel of Luke - Part 6

The Gerasene Demoniac's Story – Luke 8:26-39

          We are about to begin our reflections on one of the most dramatic transformation stories in the Gospel of Luke. The main character was barely even human when he met Jesus among the tombs in the country of the Geasenes, but through his contact with the God-Man, he was restored to his humanity and, even more, became a true worshiper and witness of God, His Savior.
          What was this man like before his striking encounter with the dynamic presence of God in the Person of Jesus Christ? Possessed by a legion of demons, the man had lost most of his humanity (8:30). He spurned clothing; he lived among the tombs as one exceedingly unclean; he violently broke the chains and fetters his neighbors used in their attempts to bind and control him; he frequently fled into the desert wilderness, driven by the demons inhabiting him (8:27, 29). (31) He had no control over his mind, his person, or his actions. Alienated from society, he lived like a wild animal unable to sustain family or community connections or any human contact other than with those assigned to restrain him, and he was certainly incapable of maintaining any prayer, worship, or intimacy with God . (32) He was essentially dead to the world and worse, for he was completely under the influence of the adversary, the one who was bent on carrying him off to the fires of hell for all eternity.
          What happened to this man? How did he escape the clutches of the enemy who was dragging him to the very edge of his humanity and threatening to pull him over the brink? Quite simply, he encountered One Who was much more powerful than the legion of demons holding him captive. He met Jesus. Jesus had just arrived in the country of Gerasenes when the man approached Him. Recognizing the situation at once, Jesus commanded the unclean spirits to come out of the possessed man, but, still under the control of the demons, the man fell down before Him and cried out, “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech You, do not torment me” (8:28-29). Clearly, a demon was speaking these words, for the man himself could not have known Jesus' identity and authority. The evil spirits begged Jesus not to cast them into the abyss, which He did regardless, granting only their request to be allowed to enter into a nearby heard of swine (8:31-32). (33) By permitting the transfer, Jesus may have been offering the man, and any bystanders, a sign to reassure him that the demons were truly gone from his person, that he could start his life afresh. (34) The demons immediately left the man and possessed the pigs. The swine rushed down a steep bank into the lake and drowned (8:33). Instead of being impressed and consoled by Jesus' power and authority, the people of the surrounding areas were seized with great fear when the herdsmen reported what had occurred (8:37). They begged Jesus to leave them. Perhaps they were frightened that Jesus would bring judgment down upon their heads! (35) Jesus honored their request and left, retuning to Galilee (8:37).
          What of the demoniac? What was he like after his dramatic encounter with Jesus Christ? He was literally the antithesis of the man who had emerged from the tombs to confront Jesus. When his neighbors arrived to see what had happened, they found him sitting at Jesus' feet, “clothed and in his right mind” (8:35). He was in perfect control of himself, calmly and submissively resting on the ground near the One Who had saved him. Jesus may even have been teaching him a few things about the Kingdom of God, for often those who assumed the man's subordinate position acknowledged themselves to be students of a Master. (36) The former demoniac was human again, sane and sober and acceptable to human society and companionship. He would now be able to contribute to the well being of his community, able to have a family and a job and a normal life. Further, this man, who had probably cursed God under the influence of the demons within him, now recognized his intimate relationship with Jesus and, through Him, with God although he most likely did not realize the extent of the divine unity! He begged Jesus to permit him to follow Him out of the country of the Gerasenes (8:38). In his gratitude, he desired to take his place as a faithful disciple and to remain close to Jesus no matter where that commitment led him. Jesus, however, had another plan for him. He denied the man's request, commanding him instead, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (8:39). The man obeyed at once, apparently quite content to comply with Jesus' every word even if it did not conform to his own will. He began “proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (8:39). He was now a missionary, a witness to the power and authority of God in Jesus Christ. He had come a long way from the savage, uncontrollable, demon-possessed man he once was; his life story had been completely transformed by a personal encounter with the power and love of the divine presence that flowed in and through Jesus, his Savior.
          What does the restoration of the demoniac tell us about God incarnate in Jesus Christ? First, we must observe the divine power of the God-Man. Jesus drove out a whole legion of demons with little to no effort. His authority over the supernatural world is without limit, as is His compassion and ability to quickly resolve cases that are hopeless by human standards. Further, we learn that Jesus does not force Himself on people; He respects our free will. When the Gerasenes requested that He leave them, He did, at least to a point. He delegated the restored man, just as He appoints each and every Christian, to serve as a reminder and a witness of how completely God can transform minds, hearts, and lives.
          Finally, we must, as always, ask ourselves, “How does this text apply to our own lives?” How can we meet the Lord in and through the story of the Gerasene demoniac? A few questions will help us pinpoint possible areas for reflection.

1. Are we afraid of evil, or do we trust in the supreme divine power of Jesus?

2. What parts of our lives are out of control? How can we place them in Jesus' hands and let Him restore us?

3. Are we afraid of Jesus' power? Have we ever wanted Him to leave? Why?

4. How often do we sit at Jesus' feet, submissively listening to Him? Do we desire to follow Jesus wherever He goes?

5. Do we show gratitude for what Jesus has done for us? Do we witness to the great transformations He has accomplished in our minds, hearts, and lives?

6. Do we understand that Jesus has a plan, a mission, for each one of us? Do we conform to His will or try to follow our own?
31. Vincent.
32. Godet, 384.
33. Ibid., 386.
34. Ibid.
35. Henry.
36. Gill; Hahn and Mitch, 38.

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