This text tells a captivating story. The preceding verses do, too. Luke 8:22-25 records the miraculous calming of the storm. But this text, both in terms of length and drama, far surpasses it. It describes a journey to a foreign region where Jesus engages in a confrontational conversation with a legion of demons, performs a violent and scandalous exorcism, and leaves behind a community gripped by terror. Apparently, the only thing more frightening than a naked, graveyard-dwelling demoniac is this visitor from Nazareth who reigns over everything. The story ends with a man who has been saved, a community still in need of saving, and a return trip across the lake for the Disciples whose fear and marveling (v. 25) could only have increased.
From the outset I will suggest you preach a narrative sermon on this text. There are a number of ways to organize it. You could follow a “Story-Interrupted” structure by moving in and out of the Biblical narrative to make connections with your hearers today. You could follow a “Story-Framed” structure by prefacing the narrative with some introductory thoughts and recapping it with some direct application to your hearers. Or, you could follow a “Story Told” structure by telling the story in its entirety as the sermon. For more about these potential structures, see David Schmitt’s helpful descriptions here.
As you tell the story, you will need to choose a perspective. You could speak as an omniscient narrator or from the perspective of a character in the story. Several lend themselves naturally. There is the man who was saved, the Disciples who witnessed everything, or (if you want to be more creative) an imaginary townsperson who stayed in the Gerasenes but was not so sure Jesus should leave, and then later heard the message of the man now saved.
The reason for preaching a narrative sermon on this text is derived from how this story includes many vivid details which can draw hearers in and engage their imagination. As you describe the scene and the striking events and reactions, you create space to proclaim the life-saving truths of God to your hearers.
What are those truths? There are at least three:
(1) There is the tragic condition of the demon-possessed man before Jesus arrived, the even more tragic reaction of the unbelieving community after the exorcism, and the contemporary tragic situation today as so many remain under the sway of the evil one.
(2) There is the joy-inducing promise of Jesus who exercises power over the legion of demons. Jesus saves not only a poor wretch like the demoniac, but also people like you and me who are just as helpless (but a little better at hiding it).
(3) There is the new life of the man who cannot help but proclaim the good works of Jesus for him throughout the entire city. He wants to stay with Jesus, but Jesus wants him to be a witness. That is us, too.
As you tell the story, there are also several textual details you may want to highlight:
- The whole situation is remarkably “unclean” (ἀκάθαρτος, v. 29). The visit took place in a Gentile region with pigs and tombs and demons and people opposed to Jesus. Concepts of cleanliness and uncleanliness are not operative for most Christians today. But most people can recognize things are not as they should be.
- Speaking of things which are not as they should be, the contrast between the man and the rest of his town is striking. The man wants to stay with Jesus, but the community wants to get rid of Him. What kind of community does not rejoice in the salvation of this previously wretched man? What kind of community sends away the One who saved him?
- Speaking of the man, the text says he was saved (ἐσώθη), not healed (v. 36). No wonder he wanted to stay with Jesus. If there was ever a picture of hopelessness, it was this man before Jesus arrived. Luke describes in detail the contrast between his previous behavior (v. 27, 29) and his life with Jesus (v. 35).
- Jesus’ unexpected willingness to go along with His enemies’ petitions is surprising. He grants the demons’ request to go into the pigs. He also leaves the region when the people ask Him to go.
- But Jesus does not leave them without a witness. He sends the man to proclaim the same Word that had saved him. Psalm 118:17 (which was supposedly one of Luther’s favorite verses) comes to mind: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.” That is what this man did. So, do we.
As I mentioned above, I would consider preaching this sermon from the perspective of a townsperson who reluctantly went along with the crowd when they asked Jesus to leave. This person heard from several witnesses—first, the herdsmen (v. 34), and then the former demoniac (v. 39). Through the words of the latter, God created faith in his heart and a longing to hear more. You might cast him as a curious skeptic turned nascent believer. Through this character you would proclaim the life-giving promises of Jesus directly to your hearers for their new life and salvation. The one who heard the witness becomes the witness in your congregation today, and he sends your hearers to do the same.