Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 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. 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.” 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.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged Him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 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. 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.
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 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. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 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. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “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.
Ugh. Permission. What makes us shrink at the idea of having to ask to do something? Does having to ask for permission have a way of quelling the glamour of an opportunity, of burgling its appeal?
When I was five years old, I looked up to my older brother Andrew for everything. Anything Andrew did, I wanted to do; anything he had, I wanted to have. He had so many cool “big boy” toys that I desperately desired to play with, but Andrew didn’t like my touching anything of his and demanded that I ask before I touched and possibly ruined his precious possessions. So I would wait until he was out of the house and sneak into his room to marvel at his things. On one such trip, I climbed up the bookcase to the top shelf, grabbed his toy safe from its sacred hiding spot, and spun the dial to enter the combination (I had watched him enter it many times). As I lifted the lid to the safe, my eyes glowed as I gazed upon my treasure–a brilliantly red Swiss Army knife. Two blades. Fifty functions. I lifted the knife from the safe and flicked open the big blade. Suddenly, from the crimson handle flowed little crimson spots onto the carpet, which I then trailed into my parents’ bedroom to show my mother what I’d done. After the horror left her face, she explained that it was wrong for me to just take the knife; I should’ve asked permission first. I knew that was the rule—but asking permission somehow made me feel small, like I wasn’t “big boy” enough to make the call on my own. I still recoil at the thought. Permission equals submission, and sometimes it just makes me feel inferior.
In this passage in Luke, it is plain to see Legion lived a truly miserable existence: he was homeless, living in an arid graveyard without family or friends, shunned by society for his insanity, and even a danger to himself, thus bound in chains. He must have been desperate. Indwelling demons were torturing him—they called the shots and made all of his decisions for him. But then these evil spirits encounter Jesus and instantly submit to Him. They know no other response. Jesus speaks a word commanding the spirits to leave the man, and His words cause the man to fall to his knees. These supposedly all-powerful spirits actually have a pathetically low status when confronted by the powerful Word of God. Once condemning a man to a life of torture, they now beg Jesus to let them die a contemptible death by being allowed to enter the filthiest animal of their time (or ours) and be drowned in the sea. After the man’s evil spirits are expelled, he is content to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Why, then, do we live like the demon-filled man? How often do our circumstances and challenges rule over us like a drove of 1,000 evil spirits, tormenting us and laying waste our hope of peace? We don’t like submission. We go about our prideful, “autonomous” lives living as if we answer to no one. And in our ignorance, we submit to sin. We submit our thinking, our emotions, our desires, and our actions to the idols and false gods we worship.
We live, in fact, on the far side of Jesus’ definitive victory in the battle against evil, yet we operate as if we are completely uncertain of its outcome. Too often we are content to think in terms of what Martin Luther dubbed the “bondage of the will,” namely that we are powerless to find deliverance from the sin that rules us. We don’t want to consider that we belong to a God who has committed Himself to this world, despite all of its shortcomings, misgivings, failures, and septicity, even to the point of giving what He holds most dear. Instead we deny the expulsive power of Jesus and continue submitting to our desire for pride and the recognition of others that rules us—only to find that it leaves us with an even deeper craving for a master in whom we can find acceptance.
Jesus has broken into our lives bound up by sin and destroyed our shackles so that sin may rule us no more. Every day I am tempted to live a life that looks much more like the demon-possessed man than the clothed, sane, and contented man. I am pursued by my sin in hopes that I will seek “freedom” in submitting to the rule of others’ approval or the public recognition of my accomplishments.
King Jesus, though, suffered the condemnation of man and judgment of God Himself that we might truly live. He submitted perfectly to the Father’s will and died the death we should have died to pay for the sins He didn’t commit. He continues to graciously and mercifully deliver us, causing evil in the world and inside our own hearts to submit to Him so that we may experience the freedom and gratitude of the man in our story. For through His submission to death, Jesus brought life, and through our submission to Him, we too, have life.