I recall getting a postcard in the mail a few years ago. On the front side was a question in a large, colorful font, “They were ready... Are you?” It took me a couple of seconds to figure it out. Then I noticed the tiny pictures lining the top and bottom. There were twelve sets. Each had a “before” and “after” picture of an individual man or woman. Each “before” picture was overweight, flabby, and unprepared for the summer swim season. They all looked unhappy. But next to the “before” picture was an “after” picture. The “after” pictures were of the same people. But they were hardly recognizable. They were thinner, stronger, happier, and ready for the pool. Farrell’s Extreme Body Shaping (an exercise company with corporate offices in Iowa) was starting a ten-week kickboxing, strength-training, and nutrition challenge at a local gym. Apparently, they thought I needed some help.

You have seen this kind of thing before. “Before” and “after” ads are especially common after the holidays and before summer. There is something about the juxtaposition of two different images of the same person which grabs our attention. Maybe we like seeing things can change. Maybe it is because all of us, deep down, have things in our lives we would like to change.

It is hard to imagine a starker contrast between a “before” and “after” shot than the man in our Gospel reading from Luke 8.

Notice how Luke describes the “before” shot. This man was out of his mind. He was dangerous, unfit for society. He was possessed, but not by a single demon. A legion of demons had taken up residence in him. As a result, he wandered among the tombs in isolation, without clothing, home, or community. The town would not tolerate him. They would chain him up and lock him down. But even then, he would break loose and be driven into the wilderness by the demons. The “before” shot of this man is tragic. We can only imagine the pain in his family, the fear of his neighbors, the shame, and the sorrow he experienced.

Then there was the “after” shot. We read about it in verse 35. In the “after” shot people did not avoid him. Instead, they were coming out to see him. He was a completely different man in a completely different situation. He had no more demons and there was no more running out into the wilderness. He was fully clothed, restored to community, and sitting at the feet of Jesus in his right mind. Chaos, isolation, and despair had given way to calm, community, and hope. The difference, of course, was not a ten-week self-help challenge. The difference was Jesus. Jesus came to this man and remade his world.[1]

Jesus came to this man and remade his world.

Luke’s account of Jesus and the demoniac is one more example of a list of people whose worlds were turned upside down by Jesus. The “before” and the “after” shot of these people were striking. There was the outcast leper in Luke 5:12-16, the alienated tax collector in Luke 5:27-32, the mourning widow in Luke 7:11-17, and the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. In each of these situations, Jesus came to people living in grief, sin, despair, and chaos. He brought them healing and renewal, resurrection and forgiveness. It is a recurring pattern. Jesus comes to people and changes everything. “Before” is long gone. “After” is a whole new world.

What about your hearers? What about your “before” and “after” shots?

Think about life “before” Jesus. You may not remember it personally. But you can see it all around you. It is a life of guilt, sin, and deception. It is not vastly different from the demon possession in our text. We did not literally live in the tombs and run around unclothed, and most do not today. But until Christ came into our lives, the “before” shot was not good.

Then came Jesus, to you and to me through the witness of His people, through water and the Word. And we were restored. We were forgiven. We were given right minds. Maybe that is a helpful way of describing our “after” shots. Luke tells us, after Jesus restored him, this man was “right-minded” (σωφρονοῦντα). So are we.

But what does that look like?

It does NOT mean we have everything completely together. The man in our text was restored by Jesus, but much needed to be addressed. Can you imagine the looks he received around town? Can you imagine his neighbors’ response when he moved back home? He had a lot of work to do to regain trust, to put his life back together. The effects of his former way of life would not go away overnight. Being in your “right mind” does not mean having everything together perfectly.

Rather, it means accepting the fact that you do not. Those in their right mind recognize how much they need Jesus, not only for eternal life, but also for an abundant life here on earth. Which is why the man was sitting at Jesus’ feet.

When we are in our right minds, we also sit at Jesus’ feet. We gather together as His body to learn from Him and find strength and forgiveness in Him. When we have our right minds, we gather together with others whose minds have been made right. Together we sit at Jesus feet, rejoice in His forgiveness, and listen to His Word. But we do not stay there. The former demoniac begged that he might go with Jesus back across the Sea of Galilee, but Jesus would not let him. “Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’” (Luke 8:38). And that is what the man did. That is what we do still today.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 8:26-39.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 8:26-39.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 8:26-39.


[1] This is a good example of worldmaking, which is what our preaching should be doing. See Peter H. Nafzger, “The Preacher as Worldmaker: Reflections on the Nature and Purpose of Christian PreachingConcordia Journal, Winter 2019: 51-61.