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Among the Tombs

January 21 2024

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 8:26-39

We are looking for the heart of God in the Gospel of Luke. Today, we will see it in the way Jesus brings dramatic and lasting change to a man’s life.

26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.

This was the other side of the sea of Galilee, the destination we talked about last week when Jesus calmed the storm.

27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.

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.”

29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.)

30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him.

31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.

32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.

33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country.

35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.

36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed.

37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,

39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

Have you ever changed the oil in a car? It’s routine maintenance. The oil gets dirty and needs to be replaced. You drain the dirty oil and fill the engine back up with clean oil.

A lot of people tend to think of the Christian life in that way. We get “spiritual” when we feel like we need a tune up. It’s like taking a shower when we feel dirty. We jump back into church. We get a little positivity and then we get back into life and forget about God until we feel dirty again.

That is NOT what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus does much more than change our oil. He yanks out the entire engine and replaces it.

This man experienced that kind of radical change. He was an unclean as a person could be – living among the dead in an area with thousands of pigs. The Jewish disciples have multiple problems with this man’s spirituality. He was literally and ceremonially unclean. They were absolutely questioning Jesus even bringing them to this place! And through a storm, no less!

But the man’s life was a powerful metaphor. He was a man living among the dead. That’s how the Bible describes all lost people – the walking dead. Your body is alive, but your spirit is dead in sin. So, Jesus doesn’t just fix the man’s external problems. Jesus frees him from spiritual bondage and death. He removes the graveyard outside and inside.

This is perhaps the most dramatic conversion in the Gospels, but really it is no less miraculous than any other conversion if you understand sin and death. If all we needed was a tune-up, then we wouldn’t really need Jesus.

Jesus went to extremely dramatic lengths to create the kind of change that we actually need. This was not a simple magic trick. In order to actually save us from sin and death, Jesus would have to do much more…

When we get to the end of Luke, Jesus will metaphorically trade places with this man. He will be naked, isolated, outside the town among the tombs, bound and under guard, as he is crucified.

Jesus was willing to become like this man for him. That’s how committed Jesus is to change in our lives… And it wasn’t just the physical pain and death. It was Jesus facing the wrath of God for our sins that was the real commitment. He didn’t do that for us to get a tune-up. It was not for us to get a temporary oil change, but to have a complete overhaul. The question is, do you really want that kind of change in your life? Do you even see the need for it?

Rejecting change is rejecting Jesus. And we see it in this story.

The people of the region were frightened, and they begged Jesus to leave. I can think of two reasons why – 1) the value of pigs. 2,000 pigs drowning in the sea was a major blow to the local economy and they wanted Jesus to leave before he did any more damage. But I think there was a second reason. 2) the fear of transformation.

We don’t really like change. Victims often prefer to stay victims, as crazy as that sounds. Sin works that way in our hearts. We willingly choose sin over Jesus. We willingly choose this world over His kingdom. Even as a Christian, this is a struggle for me. I often see a need for change in my life, but my flesh doesn’t want God to change it.

When I talk to people who are skeptical of my faith, and if they are really honest, I have had numerous people tell me that the Gospel sounds nice, but they don’t accept it because they don’t want to change. If they accept Jesus, they know their life has to change.

And notice that Jesus leaves at the request of the Gerasenes! He is not forcing Himself upon these people. He leaves them, for now, in their unbelief. He lets them have what they want.

You know that is basically all judgment is? Judgment is God giving us over to the desires of our hearts and letting them destroy us. Paul explains this clearly in Romans 1:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,

25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…

That’s pretty clear – judgment is giving people what they want. A person who doesn’t want change can’t have Jesus. Rejecting change is rejecting Jesus.

The real question underneath Paul’s words in Romans is this: Who is Lord over our lives? Am I in control? Or is God? That’s the fear of the people that ask Jesus to leave. It scares them to think that maybe they are not in control of their own lives. Sin is a desire to rule in God’s place. We want to be in control of our own fate.

And until God breaks that rebellion in our hearts, we will reject change and we will reject Jesus. We will submit only in the areas that we are comfortable with. We will obey only when it is convenient. We will worship only when we feel like it. We will serve only when it benefits us.

Following Jesus is trusting Him with everything.

Do you believe there exists such a love in this universe, a love so powerful, that it could change everything? That is what Christians believe.

As the hymn writer Isaac Watts said, God’s love for us in Jesus is a “Love so amazing, so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all.”

We see this in the life of this man. He really wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t let him. Instead, Jesus leaves the man ALONE with an exceedingly difficult job to do. Jesus wants him to preach to the people who are afraid of Jesus and asking him to leave.

If it were me, I would be asking this question, “How do you expect me to reach people for Jesus who are literally rejecting Jesus in the flesh right now?”

But Jesus just gives him the job and the man does it, no questions asked. That is faith. It is also a lesson to the disciples. In Luke 12, Jesus tells them a parable about a servant who wastes time while the master is away and does nothing but indulge himself. And then Jesus says this:

48 Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Who is the person who has been given much? If you understand grace, if you know the love of Christ, then the answer is every Christian has been given much. And so much is required in return.

But when Jesus says, “much is required”, it’s not a demand or an obligation to those who know His love. It’s more of a desire to give from gratitude with everything we have. And the more we learn about His love, the more we want to give back – the more we want to share it with others.

This is why Jesus tells the man plainly, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

We learn to trust God with everything only when we see our lives and our future as a gift.

Change should not be scary for the Christian. What should scare US is staying the same. We shouldn’t want to keep sinning. I should want Jesus to take away the evil desires of my heart and replace them with good ones.

This is how Paul describes our struggle in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

What does Paul want? Change! That’s the heart of the Christian. He wants Jesus to change him, to deliver him. And He knows Jesus can do it. He knows Jesus is committed to our change because of the cross.

Do we want Jesus to change us? Or does that scare us? Do we want him to leave? Would we rather have control of our own future? Or can we trust Him with it? Am I finding comfort in feeling like a victim? Pride in thinking I don’t need help? Or… am I finding rest in God’s perception of me?

Don’t underestimate God’s grace for sinners and don’t overlook someone who seems, from our perspective, to be a lost cause. God delights to use the weak and humble people of the world as a way to shame the wise and prideful people of the world.

God’s Spirit daily reminds me of these two realities:

1) I am a sinner deserving the judgment of God. I deserve to be hurled off a cliff into the abyss. I prove it daily.

But (2) God has loved me in Christ and there is no condemnation for me because Jesus threw himself into the abyss at the cross.