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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Jesus & Legion

A Story of Hope for the Least of Us

Jesus with Legion

by Dennis Pollock

One of the most thrilling stories in the gospels is the account of how Jesus transformed a man who called himself Legion from insanity and misery into a trophy and model of the grace and power of God. This story begins with Jesus crossing over the Sea of Galilee by boat, and coming into the region known as the Gadarenes. Jesus and His disciples no sooner get out of their boat, when they see a man coming toward them. Two things stand out immediately. First he is running full speed, and secondly he hasn't a stitch of clothes on. It didn't take prophetic perception to recognize that something was not quite right with this man.

Before the conversation that takes place between Jesus and this strange man, the Bible gives us a bit of insight into just how far from normality this man had fallen. We are told that he did not live in a house but in the tombs. He lived among the dead, with the stench of rotting corpses constantly filling his nostrils. He was utterly unfit for normal society, nor did he have any desire for it. He lived alone, except for one other companion in pretty much the same shape as he. His was a miserable life. The Scriptures tell us, "And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones" (Mark 5:5).

Although I know that this is a story to be taken literally involving a very real and troubled individual, I also believe that the Holy Spirit has used this man to demonstrate the folly of sin and the nature of those who go through life unsaved, unredeemed, and unholy. This strange man is in a sense a symbolic picture of what it is to live apart from Christ. Just as he lived in the tombs making his home with the dead, so it is for those in every generation who choose life without Jesus. They are themselves spiritually dead and make their homes, situate their lives, and normally spend the majority of their time among those who do not possess the divine life that God provides through Christ.

A Wretched Life

Legion capturedThere had been times when the local townspeople had attempted to capture him and lock him up, but the madman's power was too much for them. Those times when they were able to get chains on him proved only temporary. A fit of rage would come over him and he would be empowered to break his chains, overcome his capturers, and run back to the tombs. Interestingly, this man not only lived a wretched and secluded life in the tombs; he made matters worse by cutting himself with stones. As though his own isolation and restlessness were not enough, he seemed to feel the need to punish himself by cutting himself with sharp rocks until the blood ran down his arms and legs. There in the midst of the death and stench, he would groan and cry and bemoan his miserable life.

Here again we find a correspondence between this wretch and those whose lives are void of the grace of Jesus Christ. Sin appears incredibly attractive to us, but in truth there is nothing more damaging to spirit, soul, and even body than engaging in those practices which God has expressly forbidden. What we fail to realize is that God's commandments, His "Thou shalt's," and "Thou shalt not's" were not given because our Creator delights in quenching our joy and spoiling our fun. God has given us commandments designed to make us whole and happy human beings living in a functional society and a functional world. Over the long term, we are never happier, never more full of joy, never more at peace, never more fulfilled than when in an abiding relationship with Jesus, doing those things He has called us to do, and refraining from those things which He tells us we must never do. No, most of us are not going to sit among the tombs and cut ourselves with rocks, but when we ignore God, when we live as though Jesus was perhaps an option but not a necessity, when we regularly break God's holy commands, we slowly and steadily damage our inner man, and we will eventually pay a terrible price. The Bible tells us, "The way of the unfaithful is hard" (Proverbs 13:15).

"Have You Come to Torment Me?"

The Bible records that when this strange man finally reached Jesus and His disciples, he fell at Jesus' feet, exclaiming loudly, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!" How odd that this man, with his mind utterly disoriented and confused, recognized precisely who was before him. In some ways, this poor madman had greater spiritual insight than many highly educated people do today. Many of our most prominent and astute leaders in business, politics, and entertainment might refer to Jesus as a great teacher, or an inspirational historical figure, but would never dare call Him the Son of God. This naked, unkempt man who stood before Jesus got it right. The demons who lived within him knew full well who Jesus was.

Although he knew Jesus to be God's Son, he had it exactly backwards concerning Jesus' desire for him. He pleaded with Jesus not to torment him. We hear the voice of the evil spirits that lurked inside, who feared greatly that they might be cast into the abyss and begin their suffering "before the time." We also hear the voice of sinners everywhere in this pathetic cry, the prejudicial attitudes of men and women who suppose that Jesus comes near them to torment them, to make their lives drab and colorless, to take away all their highest joys and replace them with dry, humorless, religiosity. In their minds, to follow Jesus is to surrender all that is precious to them, and take up a life of stoic drudgery and rigid legalism. What they fail to see is that life in Christ is the most meaningful and the most spiritually and even emotionally satisfying life they could ever possibly experience. He has promised His followers abundant life and He is faithful to make good on all His promises.

Jesus responded by doing something that is one of God's peculiar ways: He asked the man a question, of which He already knew the answer. As the angel of the Lord had done with Jacob, He asked the man his name. The man responded, not with the name his parents had given him, but the name which perfectly described his condition: Legion. The Bible tells us the reason for this name: "many demons had entered him." The Scriptures take for granted a reality that few Americans would acknowledge - there are evil spirits in this world that create great havoc, spoil the minds and the reasoning of men and women, and delight to cause as much misery in the world as they possibly can. When people face alcoholism or struggle with sexual issues, or possess violent tempers, or abuse drugs, or suffer from delusions, we educate them, we send them to group therapy, we prescribe books to read and drugs to take. And these things may be of some help. But it never enters most people's minds that this individual could be suffering from either demon possession or demonic oppression.

Healed with a Word

Pigs run off the cliffJesus did not send this man to therapy, nor did He suggest a good book for him to read. Instead He commanded the demons to depart from the man. The Bible tells us, "Where the word of a king is, there is power" (Ecclesiastes 8:4), and Jesus is the ultimate King, the King of kings. At His word the demons must depart. But here is where the story gets really interesting. The demons pleaded with Jesus, begging Him not to send them into the abyss. And stranger still, Jesus agreed. He gave them permission to go into a herd of pigs, on the nearby mountains. But the pigs, dumb animals that they were, found this new situation entirely unacceptable. Whereas Legion had become somewhat comfortable with his demons, and had grown used to their continual harassment and torment, the pigs revolted and rushed off the steep cliff, falling into the sea and drowning. This was no small event. The pigs numbered around 2,000 and the loss of them was a tremendous financial disaster to the owner.

The men who took care of these pigs were shocked and told the dramatic story in the nearby city to all who would listen. People from all over the community came out to see what had happened. They found Jesus and His disciples with the man everybody knew as Legion - the local madman. Only now he didn't look or act the least bit insane. The Bible tells us that they found this man "sitting, clothed, and in his right mind." He was no longer the restless, bizarre individual everybody had known for years. Isaiah wrote, "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked" (Isaiah 57:20,21). But now at last the man known as Legion had peace. He was sitting quietly, under no compulsions, no delusions, possessing no impulses to act out or harm anyone. What no chains could achieve, what no prison bars could suppress, what decades of therapy and counseling could never have accomplished, Jesus Christ had done in a moment with a simple word of command.

The people of this community were shocked and awed. But there were those 2,000 dead pigs whose rotting corpses were washing up on the shore. We don't know exactly what was going on in their heads, but whatever their thinking was, this was just too much for them. They begged Jesus to leave their region. And Jesus responded the way God always responds when people make it clear that He is not welcome. Jesus left them, got into a boat, and went elsewhere. Faith is a big deal to God, and where there is genuine faith, there is also desire. When we truly trust Christ we desperately want Him, and feel we cannot do without Him. Where there is no faith, we would prefer that Jesus would just go about His business and leave us alone. We fail to see that we are His business!

Commissioned

Before Jesus could leave, the man known as Legion made a request of the Savior. He begged Him for permission to go with Him and follow Him wherever He went, as so many others did. When you read of the many different requests made of Jesus, the vast majority were granted. When people asked Him to come to their homes, He went. Whey they asked Him to heal them, He did just that. Jesus seemed incredibly compliant and accessible to nearly everyone who approached Him. But here was one time where the answer was no. The man was not allowed to follow Jesus, not because of his past, but because of the mission Jesus had for him. Jesus told him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you."

Legion testifies of JesusTo me this is thrilling. Jesus took the least likely man in all of Israel, and made him an evangelist. He gave him a mission, and ordered him to start immediately. I have no doubt that his man diligently followed the Master's orders, sharing his story in homes, in the markets, and at all sorts of public gatherings. This is just like Jesus - to take a man everyone else had written off, and put him to work in His vineyard. He still does the same today. So many of the people Christ uses in dramatic fashion have histories and issues in their past that would seem to disqualify them for God's service. But to Jesus the sins, mistakes, the monstrous acts, and insane behaviors of your past will never disqualify you, when repentance and faith have made you a different person. You will, for a season, take your seat at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him. But in time He will send you forth, to share your own personal and unique story, or to glorify God through amazing spiritual gifts that have mysteriously appeared in your life. The Scriptures tell us, "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty… that no flesh should glory in His presence." (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

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