Luke 8:26-39

Miss Petunia was a sow we once owned. One very hot July, during my Oklahoma adolescence, our old sow died in the hoghouse. The hoghouse had never smelled very good when Miss Petunia Was alive, and by the time she had been dead for two days — well, you really don’t want to know about it.

On the fourth evening of her death, it was clear that she would have to be removed, all four hundred pounds of her, from the hoghouse. My brother-in-law, who owned the farm where I grew up, usually took care of things like this, but the July heat and the stench being what they were, he felt that God was leading me to be responsible for getting Miss Petunia out of the hoghouse. I muffled my face in a dish-towel and crawled up to the hoghouse door and peered in. I could only say, as Mary of Bethany once said, of her brother Lazarus, “Lord, Lord, Lordy, she hath been dead for four days and she stinketh (John 11:39).”
The old sow, reeking and swarming with maggots, just laid there like an expired sumo wrestler. I gagged, removed myself and tried to think how does one get a four hundred pound sow out of a hoghouse.
I needed a miracle. I laid my hands on the TV during a Robert’s telecast but nothing happened! I began praying for her immediate resurrection and ascension. My prayer life during those years was not all that effective. So I went and got the tractor and a log chain. I backed the tractor up to the door of the hogshed, that putrid and en-maggoted orifice of hell, and crawled in. I prayed for Jesus to come and rapture me from the corruption. He came not. I prayed to die. I died not.
I cursed my foul existence, scraped aside the maggots, and wound the log chain first around Miss Petunia’s seventy-five pound head. I then entwined it around one of her rotting flanks, just to make sure it didn’t come off. I slipped the flattened link of the chain into the hook and crawled back out of the hoghouse. I got upon the tractor, started it, and pulled her out of the shed. I dragged Miss Petunia into the middle of our pasture and unhooked the chain.
When I got back to the house, they wouldn’t let me in. They burned my clothes. Some suggested that I should be thrown in the fire with my clothes. I washed, I Brillo-padded my hands, and steel-wooled my flesh. I dipped myself seven times in Abana and Pharpar, clear rivers of Damascus (2 Kings 5:12), yet I was unwelcome in the house. Alas, there was nothing more to be done. So I cried “unclean” and lived among the tombs. Only gradually, after frost, with the approach of winter, was I welcomed back into society.
The event has marked my life. I rarely eat pork. I don’t even eat bacon-burgers. I fully understand the Levitical taboos against swine. I only eat things that divideth not the hoof and they must chew the cud a little (Leviticus 11:3). When Antiochus profaned the Great Temple of Israel, he did it by offering a pig in sacrifice on the temple altar. Judas Maccabeus had apparently also once had to get a dead sow out of the hoghouse for it is still called the Abomination of Desolation (Daniel 11:31). The Levites knew that nothing smelling as bad as Miss Petunia smelled can ever bless the life. Only those can freely taste a pig who have never confronted a dead one in a hot July hoghouse.
But the story in Luke 8 mixes me up. Why does Jesus get into all this “swiney spirituality”? Why is Jesus so kind to the demons in Luke 8? He could have sent them back to the abyss (Luke 8:31) but they beg him not to do so. What will the Savior do? Here they are: a gathering of swine, looking like a vast sea of Arkansas football mascots. So Jesus seems to honor the begging demons. Indeed, He is rather lenient on them and sends them into the pigs.
The most plausible answer to this is that the demon-infested swine became a witness to Legion that he was indeed healed. If Christ had sent the demons directly back to hell, where they were none-too-anxious to go, the world would have looked ostensibly the same and the demoniac would have had no visible evidence that the demons, which had driven him insane, were really gone. The herd of insane pigs was a powerful witness to the demoniac that he was indeed healed. It was a kind of pork therapy that would have been utterly convincing to the demoniac. So we must conclude that Jesus sends the demons into the pigs not to be kind to the demons but rather to be kind to the demoniac.
These are the footprints of grace. Legion was insane, unkempt, naked, wild, and he smelled bad — everything you would expect to find in a rock star. But how does grace unfold itself? Ah, the pigs are witness. However Evangelicals feel, Jesus loves rock stars. And there will be no hiding from His love. Into the graveyards He will come and rout out the unclaimed. I am big on irresistible grace. I don’t understand it but, it seems to me, for reasons of His own Jesus will sometimes break upon our existence, rebuke our demons, and we find ourselves — sitting with Him — clothed and in our right minds. And only the reeking pile of pigs at the bottom of the precipice will remind us how far He will go to teach us that His healing is complete.
Now that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, the task of rescuing demoniacs has fallen to us. And what do these modern demoniacs look like? They usually look fearsome. Matthew 8:28 tells the same story, only adding to Luke’s account that these demoniacs were so violent they made people afraid. We are still afraid of them.
How well I remember a little lady in our church who would always pass by me after the sermon and say, “Pastor, would you please come by and talk to my husband about Jesus?” She was a beautiful little woman. Physically she was very attractive and yet she had married one of the Sons of Anak in the valley of Elah. This Philistine was something over six cubits. I am sure that the head of his spear weighed at least three hundred shekels. He tied steel for a living. I don’t know what that means exactly but I envisioned him twisting I-bars into shoelaces. I did not want to witness to him. He made King-Kong look like Tattoo.
But his wife was so earnest that her tears prevailed upon me. I decided to do it. I needed to see the man come to grace just to prove that God really could do anything. Several times when I went by to see him, as I rang the bell I prayed that he wouldn’t be home. Then one Saturday afternoon, my prayer life failed me. He answered the door. He was drinking a can of beer that looked small and thimble-like in his meaty hands. “Yes,” he said. That single word yes set free the storms of Sinai; my hair was slicked back with his halitosis.
“I’m your wife’s pastor, Mr. Godzilla. May I come in?”
“Well — uh — what for?”
I don’t remember exactly what I said. I felt like saying, “Well, I’m tired of living anyway and I haven’t won anybody to Christ over three hundred pounds in a long time, and I …”
“Well — yeah — ok — come in.”
I went in. His wife had been reading my book The Singer, which is a book about Jesus. I love that book but I was forced to watch as he sat his beer can on it, using the book like it was a common coaster. I thought about pointing out the sacrilege, but I looked at his fists and changed my mind.
“Well, Dennis, I’ll get right to the point,” I said. “If you died right now, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?” It was an easy question for me to ask, since I felt like I might be going any minute.
“I don’t know — I don’t think so — I think I’d go straight to hell.”
“You would?” I was stunned at his honesty. I took courage. I loaded my mental slingshot now with stones.
Goliath began to cry, “Preacher, I need to be saved!”
I felt great — I wasn’t even to that part of the outline yet. I didn’t know guys that big had tear ducts. When he started crying, I found a spurt of confidence. I got aggressive, “Now, look here, Dennis, you better get right with God, right now, before you die and go straight to hell. You know the Bible says that you gotta repent. You’d better get on your knees and beg God to forgive you.”
“But how?” he asked.
“Let’s kneel right here and you can ask God to forgive you.” We both knelt. Even on his knees he was tall. We started to pray a believer’s prayer when the doorbell rang. I hate Satan. I knew I’d never have the courage to get that far with him again. “You wanna get the door, Dennis?” I asked, disconsolately.
“Nope,” he blubbered. “I don’t know what that is but it can’t be as important as the person I’m about to meet.”
Well, Jesus came into his life. He was jubilant! He shot up from his knees in joy and hugged me, vigorously. Three of my ribs cracked on impact. “Easy, big fella,” I said, wincing in pain. He was exuberant. I was exuberant. “When can I get baptized?” he asked.
Sheer terror struck me. Suddenly I realized that somebody was going to have to baptize him. I cursed Baptists for not believing in sprinkling.
I promised him we could baptize him in about a month. Usually we baptized within the same month but, things being what they were, I knew I had to get ready for this one. I went immediately to the “Y” and began pumping iron. Like Samson in Gaza, I waited four weeks while the hair of my head began to grow again. Then came that fateful Sunday when we walked down into the baptistry together. “Dennis,” I said, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost and may God have mercy on our souls.”
The great leviathan fell backwards as the waters rose. They rose yet more — then once again. It was as if Moses had once again dropped the rod of God and the seas rolled over all the host of Egypt. In the collapsing walls of water I saw dead Egyptians and war elephants; iron implements and the wheels of old chariots floated by. And then he stood smiling and it was all over. It wasn’t what I would call a graceful, liturgical baptism but it was over. He was childlike and I wondered why I had ever feared the giant.
Evangelism is usually frightful work. We taught evangelism in the church for years. On visitation night it was always the same. Every encounter is always three people standing at a door ringing a doorbell, desperately hoping there’s no one home. Inside there are two people desperately wishing the visitors were at someone else’s door. Only after a long time did I own up to the truth: it’s not just exorcists who are afraid of demoniacs, demoniacs are also afraid of exorcists. Oh, how we need to learn boldness. In every encounter the Lord will be with us to strengthen us and His courage will make us effective.
But there is another lesson that rises from this bay of pigs text. The wild man is depraved. His life makes no sense. In these days in which we minister, Hell — for all practical purposes — is gone. People have lost all awareness of transcendence, but they do know they are depraved. They know they are naked — like this gentle giant knew he was naked, spiritually and philosophically naked. Even more than size, philosophy makes us afraid. The world’s philosophy makes us feel ashamed that we are not sophisticated enough.
In a nation that leads the world in violent crime we are afraid of criticism. Should we be? I think not. On the contrary, we ought to be forcing the culture to take a long second look at where it is. We ought to be stressing the sins of our age. I’m 100% behind the “True Love Waits” campaign — encouraging sexual abstinence among our young people, but in every sense the pledge campaigns show just how far the culture has sunk. One church of my acquaintance was proud that 70 of its 150 young people pledged themselves “to wait” — the other 80 made no such pledge. Pledgers and non-pledgers are all in the same youth group. Such is the abysmal state of our either-or morality.
An April 22, 1994, USA Today article revealed that many tuxedo shops are now renting tuxedos at one price, complete with the three C’s: cummerbunds, cufflinks, and condoms. If you don’t like the word condom said out loud, it only points to the fact that it is time for a bold new pulpit rhetoric. If it is ok for the CBS news team to say it out loud on television, it’s ok for the churches to denounce it out loud from the pulpit. In fact, it is time to abandon the compromising philosophies of Balak and Balaam. It is time to denounce the morality of a depraved nation.
“Oh, pastor,” they say, “do you really think we ought to say the “c” word in the pulpit? It just doesn’t go with our new choir robes and our seven-fold amen.” When Dan Rather says it right in front of Connie Chung on the 5:30 news, maybe it would be ok if the preachers quit trying to match our words with our choir robes and just say it out loud. I wonder what Amos would say, or Jeremiah. I wonder what John the Baptist would say — I know he wasn’t overly fond of Herod’s adultery. With his mind completely gone, the naked Gerasene was less depraved than our culture. Who do we belong to? Is it still God who owns our souls? Whose side are we on?
Michael Fay vandalized fifty cars in a posh part of Singapore. He was caught by the Singapore police, fined, given a jail term, and then sentenced to six lashes — and I quote Newsweek — “with the cane on his buttocks.” Some say Singapore is just too stern on misdemeanors. Fifty-two percent of Americans disapprove of poor Michael’s buttocks, but an astounding 38% say his buttocks is a good place to settle things. Thirty-eight percent of Americans also say they’ve been born again. I don’t know if there is any correlation between being born again and caning, but my mother was and she did.
But, says the attorney for Little Mikey, he was diagnosed with A.D.D. in 1989. A.D.D., Attention Deficit Disorder, is the new buzz-word (Newsweek, April 8, 1994, pp. 18-19, Michael Elliot, “The Caning Debate”). I’m sorry the debate has only recently arisen. My mom went to be with the Lord fifteen years ago. She wasn’t altogether sure of her national origin, but I now realize she was from Singapore — we got caned regularly. Mom said that, after all, the Bible said she had to do it to us, and who was she to doubt biblical authority.
This was a few years before the ever popular “Buns of Steel” video, and it never occurred to mom that buns were given by God to be physically ornamental. She actually believed that God made buttocks to be beaten. By the time we Millers were grown we didn’t have any buns left to be ornamental. Mom only had three issues on her doctrine list: Salvation, Eternal Security, Caning. This was her doctrinal order until we misbehaved. Then she usually moved beating up on the list. I thought I had A.D.D. once, too, but after a caning, I changed my mind. I have a fellow preacher friend who got caned a lot. He said that when his mother got real mad she also said, “Douggy, I’m gonna tear off your head and spit down the hole. It was the canings,” he said, “that made me think she might actually do it.”
My six sisters led me into continual canings. The only reason that Paul could say, “thrice was I beaten with rods” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25) is because he never had my mother. I have been beaten with rods so many times I don’t want to talk about it. Where was that Newsweek poll when I needed it? Of course, if I had shown mom the poll, she would have beaten me again for back-talk. My wife’s mother once spanked her because she appeared to be thinking something bad. Well, the small violence of caning is out. We don’t believe in spanking anymore.
Now people get shot on Texas 183, our airport freeway, for changing lanes without signaling. If you’re really busy and you don’t have time to get dressed up and go downtown to a bar to get shot, just stand in front of your home and they’ll drive by and shoot you. One little boy was stabbed in a Dallas school by another little boy; the judge said for Dallas not to overreact — little boys do that kind of thing nowadays. Two high-schoolers were shot in Dallas at a Blockbuster Video shop. Three girls were raped and stabbed in front of a sandwich shop in Irving. Just your typical, normal day in our depraved metroplex.
Three cars have been vandalized sitting in my driveway in Ft. Worth this past year. I hate to ask my friends to drive their cars over to my house but then I hate to ask my friends to walk over. What are we going to do to stop all this? I don’t know; we can’t hurt the little darlings — they could have Attention Deficit Disorders, you know.
It’s the nakedness of this demonic society that makes us afraid. How we need to join the Christ of the Apocalypse in rebuking this depraved generation:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either one or the other. So then because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes so that you can cover up the shame of your nakedness” (Revelation 3:15-18).
Where is American Christianity? Is there a robust theology set in place to answer the depravity? Hardly. Robert W. Funk and his group of seventy-four scholars, known as the Jesus Seminar, have decided that fully 82% of the teachings of Christ are unauthentic (Christianity Today, p. 30, April 25, 1994). They read a passage and vote with colored beads — red, pink, gray, or black — as to how authentic the gospels are.
Yet out of our crazy and confused day, the Christ of everyday, the Lord of the Right-Now, is calling out the redeemed. Can you hear Legion crying, “What do you want with me, Jesus thou Son of the Most High God” (Luke 8:28). Here is the glorious irresistible grace of the Most High God. He has no need of us. We can add nothing to God’s stature or glory. Yet here He is ferreting out of graveyards the naked and mentally indecent. There is some good news: Christ still commands the ugly demons to get out of the lives of all those who God wants to redeem.
Christ, the cultural exorcist, still cries, “Begone you demons, you are not worthy to be in the hearts of men. You are worthy only to inhabit the souls of pigs. I rebuke you Americans for being content to be pigs. Order your permissive morality into the sewers from which you took it. Bid your children honor their bodies as temples. Bid your young men to lay down their guns, and preach the gospel of peace.”
Here is the tenet of evangelism: “What do you want with me?” See this poor demoniac. His question is “Who am I?” Among the tombs he roams in unholy grottoes of his mind. Screaming light — that none can see but him — dives at him from nowhere. Thunder — that none can hear but him — roars in his ears. He is fierce, he has been chained hand-and-foot, yet in his terrible strength he has even broken chains. And what is his driving preoccupation? It is Who am I? or Why am I in the world? or Have I any real purpose here? Then Jesus comes. The giant meets the Son of Man!
See them! Jesus and the demoniac! They rush together and he raises his fierce hands as though he will crush Jesus’ skull. Ah, but Christ catches his fearful, trembling soul and smiles into those wild eyes, and orders out the demons. Notice that down to Luke 8:29 the passage speaks of a single demon, but for the next four verses it speaks of ‘demons’ — in the plural. It is like the film The Three Faces of Eve. There seem to be multiple personalities from the abyss. He is so filled with the power of hell that he has lost all track of who he is. But Jesus rebukes the demons, the pigs fly down the hill and rush into the sea. Then presto. The man is sitting with Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.
Demons steal human identity, Christ gives it back. It’s as simple as that. We never own our own souls until we give them to Him. The first words of our true identity are four: I am born again! John Newton, the slaver, was utterly bewildered about his identity until the wretched night of his drunkenness in which he yielded to God’s amazing grace, saying, in effect, I am born again. John Wesley lamented: I went to America to convert the Indians but, alas, who shall convert me? Then he yielded at Aldersgate, crying in joy, something like, “I am born again!”
Being born again always means renunciation. Sometimes we must renounce our wealth, sometimes our poverty. Sometimes being born again means that we must take off our rich robes and give ourselves naked to Jesus. Sometimes we must lay aside our nakedness and take upon us the robe of decency. When Francis of Assisi turned his back upon his father’s wealth, he was hauled into the public square to give account of his ministry. He would no longer live in luxury while the common people starved. He looked into Jesus and laid by his father’s rich, purple robe and — standing naked in the square, having surrendered all — cried, “I am born again!” For Jesus’ sake, Francis walked away naked but born again.
See this shaggy, naked giant? Called from a graveyard, sitting with Christ above the bay of pigs, calling for a robe, and looking into the eyes of Christ he says, as it were, “Praise the Lord, I am born again!” And being born again he took upon himself a glorious robe of decency. Some are saved like Legion, some like Francis.
I remember a single altar call in our church in which two people came forward to be born again. One was a hooker, one a young physician. I know Peter Wagner says that churches grow by homogenous units: hookers go to one kind of church and doctors to another, generally speaking. But never having read the church growth manuals, there they were — surgeon and prostitute — standing side by side. What was really nice is that the doctor didn’t know the hooker was one, and the hooker didn’t know the doctor was one. Together they were saved at the same time.
The Spirit does such wonderful things for those who haven’t read the laws of church growth. The doctor and the prostitute came because they both had business to do with God. And being born again meant that one had to start covering up a bit, and the other had to start giving up a bit. The hooker, like Legion, needed to get a little more into decency than she had. The doctor, like Francis, needed to renounce a little of his wardrobe and high-living. One had to quit being naked and the other had to start being a little more so.
But there is special glory in seeing a madman clothed and in his right mind. Naturally, he wants to go with Jesus (Luke 8:38) but Jesus said “No. You just start giving your testimony in your village” (Luke 8:39). And so he did. So far, all of our geological excavations have not unearthed any old Aramaic revival fliers, reading, “Hear the testimony of Legion the pigman of Gerasa!” So I think it is safe to assume he never went into full-time evangelism. He just got involved in a local evangelism program. But his heart of compassion probably led him back to the tombs, to get in all the rebuking time he could in driving the devils out of other people’s lives. I don’t think he ever got over the thrill of seeing demoniacs clothed and in their right minds, sitting at the feet of Jesus.
So what does the story really say? I think it asks a question: Are we walking around contentedly letting the demoniacs define what’s moral and ethical? Are we content to let the demoniacs tell us what’s normal, politically correct, and acceptable in culture? Some times I think if Jesus had been like us, he would have ordered a Discipleship Resource Kit, and everybody in the church would have sat around defining how nice it was to be un-demoned. But Jesus deliberately walked among the tombs and, sure enough, he met a live one.
I hear people say to me all the time, you just can’t do evangelism the old way. Ok, I say, tell me your new way. “Well, we gotta get user-friendly, and be really lots of fun, and when they see how open we are, why they’ll just flock in.” Maybe, but 95% of those joining the megachurches have already been led to Christ by someone else. Where? I don’t know for sure, maybe out in the graveyards, maybe by people who aren’t afraid of naked madmen. And being realistic, pork therapy has its limitations. Frankly, there’s just not enough pigs around to absorb all the demons anymore. I mean, when you think about humanism, multi-culturalism, new-age, free sex, drive-by shootings, Madonna and Dr. Ruth, folks, we’re gonna need a lot of pigs to get this culture back in its right mind.
But I’m not afraid of madmen anymore — maybe that’s still the first step. I led a man to Christ in Omaha; he came and joined the church and was baptized. He wanted me to try to lead his son, an attorney, to the Lord. It’s not altogether impossible to lead a lawyer to the Lord but you need a lot of lead time. I talked with the son a couple of times about Jesus. I thought I was getting nowhere, but then all of a sudden he showed up in church. We’re usually user-friendly, but he came on one of those Sundays when I was totally wrong. That Sunday, I had a real two-fisted sermon, just crammed with the Bible.
When I saw him sitting there in a pew, how I wished I was doing a seeker-service. “Why could I never get my user-friendly sermons and my lawyers there on the same Sunday!” If only I had a three-act play and a song about motherhood and a brass band. But alas, there I was — preaching on sin. How was I ever to build a megachurch? A lawyer in the audience and no user-friendly sermon! Alas, I even read the Bible — way too much of it! Then I quoted some more scripture stuff on eternity. Totally irrelevant. I sounded a lot like Paul, for goodness sake! I just stood there hanging out all the red flags of scripture: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9. I was sure I was about to drive this lawyer straight into the arms of Bob Schuller. Realizing it was a bad day for contemporary homiletics anyway, I went off the deep end. I said right out loud in the church that the first step to meaning was to get rid of the sin in our lives and confess Jesus as Lord.
I have no explanation for what happened next — the lawyer came forward in tears. Lawyer tears are precious, so rare they are locked in the ark with the budding rod; so rare they are sold by the milligram like Spikenard. But there he stood, crying. The deacons were afraid to approach him. Everybody’s afraid of a crying lawyer. But I went down to him, totally unafraid. And we hugged. And Christ came in. Then his newly-saved dad came down and we three hugged. And then the whole church started hugging.
And the demons fled into pigs and the pigs were choked in the sea. Revival came to the church. I would not advise you to do this. It’s far too radical. Stick with those user-friendly megachurch manuals. Work on your drama club and your combos. It takes courage to live in the graveyards and, as I have said, there are just not enough pigs to heal a culture anyway.
Still, when joy is on the church and people are being born again, I don’t know why I’m afflicted with the question that nearly every demoniac I know is asking: “Lord, what do you want with me?” In a culture where a lot of people are already living like pigs, maybe more pigs aren’t all that necessary. Maybe you don’t need to add a three-act altar play. Maybe all we really need to do is play Jesus.
Some Sunday when the orchestra is out sick and the drama club can’t be there because they’re all involved with a community theater production, you might want to try this more direct approach. It’s corny and old-fashioned, but read a verse of scriptures or two and then go directly into rebuking demons. There’s always plenty of them around. Perhaps then, like Legion the demoniac secure in the arms of Jesus, we will sing Charles Wesley’s words while the pigs stack up at the bottom of the cliff:
Long my imprisoned Spirit lay
Fast-bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, my dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed thee.

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