In a world of turmoil and injustice, conflict and suffering, we long for a day when all will be put right.
A scene in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth helps us.
They arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he (Jesus) stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs… (Luke 8:26-27).
While today the man would be probably diagnosed with some form of psychosis, Luke, the physician, says he was demon-possessed.
Alien powers. Which raises an interesting question for us. The world of the Bible did not have the fields of psychiatry and psychology, yet the Bible does teach that we human beings are strange creatures who live on the boundary of two worlds – the physical and the spiritual. Sickness can invade this psychosomatic unity from either of those spheres. And when it does, it can cause symptoms that affect both the physical and the spiritual, the mind and the body.
Furthermore, just as illness can invade us from either source, so healing can come from either source. And when it is successful it can bring both spiritual and physical relief. We recognise this, for example, when we bring prayer and medicine to bear on cancer. In the same way, we can bring prayer and psychiatry together for a person who is mentally ill.
Luke’s record provides a helpful clue to our question of diagnosis: the man fell down at Jesus’ feet, not in worship but in recognition of Jesus’ superior power. He shouted, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me’ (8:28).
The man was suffering from more than mental illness or uncontrolled behaviour through alcoholism or drug addiction. Markers of his condition were the length of time he had been disturbed and his awareness of the supernatural.
His response to Jesus’ question, ‘What is your name?’ shows how true this was. ‘Legion,’ he said. The powers within him knew they were confronted by someone greater, for Jesus was commanding them to leave the man (Luke 8:29-30).
A greater power. Fearing the abyss, the restriction of their movement, these alien forces asked Jesus to let them enter a large herd of swine. They may have thought this would allow them to move around. Receiving Jesus’ permission, they entered the pigs and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned (Luke 8:33).
The destruction of the pigs graphically captures the ultimate purpose of such cosmic powers. They are hell-bent on the destruction of God’s creation.
Luke’s juxtaposition of the before and after scenes reinforces this. Under the influence of dark powers, the man had no shame. He was naked and couldn’t live in normal society – only amongst the dead. He couldn’t be restrained and was unable to enjoy meaningful human relationships, let alone relationship with God. He was alienated and alone, an outcast. The powers of darkness are intent on defacing and destroying the image of God in us.
However, released from the dark powers through Jesus’ greater power, the man’s life was dramatically changed: the towns people found him sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35). Whereas previously he hadn’t wanted companionship, now he wanted to be with Jesus. Whereas previously he had lived amongst the dead, now Jesus told him to return …home (Luke 8:38-39a).
Jesus holds out to us the promise of restoration and hope.
The picture the New Testament paints is that the Creator’s rightful rule has been usurped by a coup – by what the Letter to the Ephesians calls the rulers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12). Currently there is a conflict between two distinct spheres of existence – the heavenly and the earthly. However, the scene in the land of the Gerasenes points us to the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
For the present, we are naïve if we ignore the reality that there are dark forces in the cosmos intent on controlling the lives of men and women. As the scene in Luke 8 reveals, and as we read in Ephesians chapter 6, our struggle is not simply against flesh and blood. God’s people are caught up in a struggle with the powers of darkness.
However, the Bible assures us that the day is coming when everything will be brought under the manifest rule of Jesus Christ – as we read for example, in Ephesians 1:10. Christianity is not a dualistic faith. God’s king is supreme. Jesus’ restoration of the man in the land of the Gerasenes points to this reality.
A commission. There’s something else in the scene in Luke chapter 8. Despite the good Jesus had done for the man, the local property owners and townspeople didn’t want him to stay. They feared him (Luke 8:35, 37). But Jesus didn’t leave this non-Jewish world without a witness. He commissioned the man to stay and let everyone know what God had done for him (Luke 8:39). His presence and testimony would be a constant reminder of the extraordinary Jewish man who had visited and brought about an amazing transformation to his life.
From the way Luke has recorded this event, it is clear he wants us not only to grasp the impact of Jesus’ power, but also to feel the extent of his care and compassion – and not least to those who are outside Israel.
God’s good news is that a remarkable intervention has occurred in world events. The true king of the universe himself has come amongst us, not with great fanfare, let alone with an army. That was not his strategy. Rather, single-handedly, he has mortally wounded the prince of darkness and is now gathering from all over the world people who are loyal to him.
To achieve his purposes, he involves us – to pray for God’s mercy and to introduce our family and connections to the compassionate and all-powerful Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who will put all things right.
A prayer. Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your steadfast fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence, and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason
You may want to listen to Christ is our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.