I never read of the Gerasene Demoniac without thinking of Miss Petunia, a sow we once owned. She had the indecency to die one very hot, Oklahoma July day, during my adolescence. She passed away in the sun-baked hoghouse, where she had retired to avoid the relentless sun of that arid summer. The hoghouse had never smelled very good while Miss Petunia lived. But by the time she had been dead for two days. . .well, it is too soon after mealtime to talk about it.
On the fourth evening of her death, it was clear that she would have to be removed, all 400 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. So, 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 (
I needed a miracle. I began praying for her immediate resurrection and ascension. But alas it happened not. 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 massive 75 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 drug Miss Petunia out 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 (
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 (
But the story in
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 shall 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.
The first thing we might learn from this passage of scripture is that the task of rescuing demoniacs has fallen to us. And what do these modern demoniacs look like? They usually look fearsome.
How well I remember one particularly small woman in our church who would often 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 the Incredible Hulk – a giant of a man – one of the Sons of Anak whom she had married in the valley of Elah. This Philistine was something over 6 cubits. I am sure that the head of his spear weighed at least 300 shekels. He was by profession a “steel tie-er.” He tied steel for a living. I don’t know what that means exactly but I envisioned him twisting I-bars into shoe-laces. It was mostly because of his size that I did not want to witness to him. He made King-Kong look like Tatoo.
But his wife was so earnest that she prevailed upon me with tears to try to bring him to faith. I decided to do it. All of us, I suppose, need to challenge the omnipotence of God from time to time just to be sure that God really can do anything. Several times when I went by to see him, I would ring the bell, praying that he wouldn’t be home. Then one Saturday afternoon, when my prayer life failed me, he actually was home. He answered the door while drinking a can of beer that looked small and thimble-like in his meaty hands. “Yes,” he said. That single word yes set free storms of 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 thought I’d try winning you to Christ.”
What I actually said was “Well, Dennis, I can tell you’re a man of few words so I’ll get right to the point. If you died right now do you know for sure you would go to heaven?”
“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. “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. Drat it all! What a horrible time for an interruption. 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 who 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 said.
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 needed to work out a little 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 baptistery 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 both our souls.” The great Leviathan fell backwards as the waters rose. They rose yet more . . . then once again. The tides rolled over the host of Egypt. I saw in the collapsing walls of water dead Egyptians, iron implements and the wheels of old chariots. And there he stood smiling. 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 they 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. Because in every encounter the Lord will be with us to strengthen us and His courage will make us effective.
A second lesson from this passage arises from this bay of pigs. 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 man 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” campaigns, 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. In an article of Friday, April 22, 1994, USA Today 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 Jane Pauley on the 5:30 news maybe it would be OK if the preachers quit trying to make our words and our choir robes match. 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. Sometimes its hard to feel sorry for the Gerasene Demoniac. Even with his mind completely gone, the naked Gerasene was less depraved than our culture.
Now people get shot on Texas 183, the 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 out in front of your home and they’ll drive by and shoot you. Sure is convenient. 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. Twenty-three were gunned in Killeen eating the Luann special at Lubys. I’ve never cared much for their food either, but this was excessive. 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 just sitting in my driveway in Ft. Worth. 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 going to do to stop all this? I don’t know; we can’t hurt the little darlings –they could have Attention Deficit Disorder, 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.” (
Where is American Christianity? Is there a robust theology set in place to answer the depravity? 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? (
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 dive at him from nowhere. Thunder, 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
Demons steal human identity. Christ gives it back; it’s as simple as that. We never own our own souls until we give them unto 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, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Which is something like crying, 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. According to Zeferelli, 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 unto 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.
But 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, honestly folks, never having read the church growth manuals, there they were — surgeon and prostitute — standing side by side. And 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. Saved at the same time. The Spirit does such wonderful things for those who haven’t read the laws of Church Growth. They 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 in
So what does the story really say? I think it asks a question. Are we walking around and content to let 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? Somehow 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 an un-demoned. But, no, He walked deliberately 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, show 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 are 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 we cannot exorcise a culture if we’re afraid of madmen. Giving up our fear is the first step. Once we are not afraid we can send the demons skittering into pigs. Then will the demons flee into pigs and the pigs will be choked in the sea. Then revival will come to the church. Still, I would not lightly advise you to exorcise the culture. It’s far too radical. It is just easier to 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’m afflicted with the question that nearly everybody 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 scripture or two, and then go directly into rebuking demons. There are always plenty of them around. Perhaps then, like Legion the demoniac, secure in the arms of Jesus, we will sing 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.
Calvin Miller is Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. He is a Contributing Editor of Preaching.