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What possessed the Demoniac?

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In the next two episodes of Caleb’s Journal I want to share with you a curious account of healing that is found in Luke chapter 8.

This account is about a man, who was possessed by demons and spends his time running around without any clothes on. Now the locals were freaked out about this. This man was out of control, and they were obviously unable to help him. They had tried to bind him up in chains, keeping him under lock and key. But he would always find a way to break out and then he would be driven into the wilderness, exiled from his community.

At the time of our story we don’t find this man living in the city, but amongst the tombs, near the Sea of Galilee. Now Jesus had just been sailing across the Sea of Galilee, and He happened to get out of His boat near to where the tombs were. So this is where Jesus and the demon possessed man meet each other.

At this meeting, Jesus does something really strange. He calls the demons out of the man, and sends them into a herd of pigs, who then run down a steep hill and, one after the other, jump into the Sea and drown. How strange is that?

But let’s not worry about the pigs for a moment, we’ll talk about them later… let’s have a look at the demon possessed man. Something remarkable has happened to him. Jesus had done something no one else could because the man is sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. But the story doesn’t end there. As a result of this transformation the man becomes a conduit for the healing of his own broken community.

So let’s delve into this fascinating account together and see how this strange, ancient tale of healing contains a blueprint that shows us how to minister, and become conduits of healing, to the communities in which the Lord has placed each one of us. 

The demoniac is described as having specific features – he wore no clothes, he lived amongst the tombs, and he was possessed by demons which identified themselves as Legion. These three characteristics show us that the demoniac represents man in his fallen, rebellious state.

He wore no clothes

In biblical days, clothing revealed a lot about you as a person. In many ways it revealed your identity… things like your status within the community, which family you belonged to and even your vocation were all represented within the clothing that you wore.

Having lost his clothes, the demoniac had lost his identity. Everything he possessed had been stripped away from him – his place in the family and community, his purpose, his vocation all of it was gone and as a result he was driven into exile.

Does this pattern sound familiar?

Before the fall, Adam and Eve were clothed in Garments of Light, reflecting the Glory of God. Yet they lost this identity and became naked when they rejected God by eating from the forbidden tree and as a result they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

He lived amongst the tombs

Here we see an interesting connection. Both Adam and Eve, and the demoniac, were naked. They had lost their identity and calling. They were literally ‘dead men walking’.

For this reason we see the demoniac pictured as dwelling amongst the tombs, the place of the dead. Unclothed as he was, he could not dwell in a house as that is a place reserved for the living.

In like manner, Adam and Eve could no longer dwell in their home, the garden of Eden. A garden is a place of life. In their unclothed state, Adam and Eve could no longer live there and they were expelled.

Possessed by Legion

The demons that possessed the man had a name. They called themselves ‘Legion’. This is a Roman military term that identifies the largest unit of a Roman Army. An army defends the ideologies of a country. Now the ideologies of Rome were in direct opposition to those of God – as Rome considered man to be god – Caesar himself was considered to be divine and therefore one who deserved to be worshipped.

In being possessed by this Legion, a real battle of allegiance was raging inside the heart and mind of the demoniac.

Are you seeing that this ‘demonic possession’ in many ways mirrors the original battle in the garden, where the Serpent fought for the hearts and minds of Adam and Eve by stating, ‘You shall be as gods’? 

Are you now starting to see that the demoniac is actually illustrating you and me in our fallen, rebellious state? 

Having taken of the fruit we have lost our identity, we have literally become ‘dead men walking’ as we seek to defend another ideology.

How the Presence of Jesus changed everything

Now if the story ended right there it would be a very sad one indeed. But it doesn’t. We read in Luke 8:28;

When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”

I feel this verse holds the blueprint to the healing of the demoniac, and therefore also our own healing. So let’s take a deeper look at some of the words Luke used to describe this process.

  • The word translated ‘saw’ here is the Greek όράω horaó meaning to see, experience, discern… but more so to spiritually see… that is to perceive with inward spiritual perception. As the demoniac looked upon Jesus something resonated deep within him and he responded to that call by…
  • Crying out, which is the Greek ανακράζω anakrazó – we have studied this word in a previous episode of Caleb’s Journal where we looked at the healing of Blind Bartimaeus as he also ‘cried out’ to Jesus along the way. As we saw in that study this crying out was not just a calling out and attracting attention to oneself… but rather a crying for help in which the specific objective was to engage in a relationship with the receiver. Here the demoniac is revealing that he desires to enter into covenant with the Lord and to illustrate this…  
  • He falls down before Jesus. The word προσπίπτω prospiptó is used here which carries the nuance of ‘falling towards’… a falling toward the superior control of someone with deliberate intent. The demoniac recognises his insufficiency and his need to be saved by One who is greater than him. He recognises the sovereignty of Jesus by identifying Him as the Son of the Most High God.

As the demoniac gave voice to his fallen state, and subsequently expressed a desire to enter into covenant with the Lord, the demons could no longer remain within him and they were able to be purged.

Demons cast into the PIGS

It is at this point that Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs that were feeding nearby, and the whole herd runs down a hill, and one after the other, jump over a cliff and drown in the sea. What is going on here? This all sounds rather strange to our modern ears. What it illustrates is that the healing power of Jesus has the ability to change entire social structures.

In the Decapolis, where the account takes place, pigs were very important. They were used as sacrificial animals to the pagan dieties, they were traded in the forums and they were used as food for the large Roman garrison. So pigs were an integral part to the religious, economic and military structure of the area. 

Loosing 2000 pigs in a mass drowning was therefore a big deal… this was a direct threat to the religious and socio-economic stability of the area.

Just as the demoniac pictures man in his fallen state, the pigs picture the corrupt society man has created, one which is founded on ideologies that are in direct opposition to God.

All it took was for one man to see, and an amazing transformation started to take place within an entire community.

As the demoniac saw, cried out and fell down before our Lord and Saviour his own shackles of bondage were removed and this had a direct effect on his surroundings. This event started the process of healing and transformation of his own community as we see the pigs, representing the corrupted society built on false ideologies, being purged as they drowned in the sea.

One would think that these events, this releasing from bondage, both in the man personally and in his community, would result in a day of rejoicing and celebration, but that was not the case. Instead of rejoicing, there was great fear amongst the local population.

In our next episode we will investigate this strange reaction of the people and how that made the mission Jesus gave to the healed man an extremely difficult one. We will discover that this is a mission that still needs walking out in our day but it will require strength and courage to step up to the challenge. So we look forward to seeing you next time for the dramatic conclusion to this fascinating account of healing.