Power Over Darkness
Passage: Luke 8:26–8:39
Power over Darkness
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Those well-known words were written in 1887 by Sir John Dalberg-Acton – an English historian and politician, who is now better known simply as Lord Acton. And the history of humanity just since 1887 has proven Lord Acton’s words to be both perceptive and true. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The reason for this lies in the human heart, doesn’t it? By nature, humanity is itself corrupted. Like Augustine once said, sin has caused us to be curved in on ourselves, so that we twist nearly everything to serve our own desires. Whatever we encounter in the world, we try to bend it to get what we want. And so, Lord Acton’s words prove true. Power does tend to corrupt, and the greater the power, the greater the corruption.
But there is one person in history to whom Lord Acton’s words do not apply. There is one man whose possession of power did not drive him to corruption. And our passage today in Luke 8 is a stirring picture of this absolutely powerful yet perfectly righteous man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we see the one person in history who was not corrupted by power. Here we see the one Man who had absolute power and used it absolutely for good.
This is an incredibly vivid and griping passage, isn’t it? It’s also disturbing at points. But for all the vivid detail, the action follows a pretty simple plotline. This is a passage about power. On the one hand, there is a power that is both corrupted and corrupting. Demonic spirits afflict a man and drive him to his breaking point. But on the other hand, there is the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the plotline – an army of demons vs. the Lord. It’s a passage about power.
But when these two powers clash it quickly becomes clear whose power is absolute. What is the main point of this text? It’s that the Lord Jesus has no rivals, not even an army of demonic spirits. He possesses power that is absolute and total. In biblical terms, what we see here from Jesus Christ is divine sovereignty. That is, we witness from Jesus the kind of power that cannot be stopped, thwarted, or defeated. It’s the kind of power that only God possesses. This is a passage about power, but the amazing good news of Luke is that no amount of darkness can corrupt or stop the absolute power of Jesus Christ.
And so this theme of power helps us organize our time together. I’d like us to note three pictures of power in Luke 8, with each picture helping us see more clearly the glory of Jesus Christ. But before we get to those pictures, I do want to address something here at the start. Like I said, this is a vivid passage, and some of what happens is alarming. Because of this, it is natural to have a lot of questions that we’re curious about.
But it’s important to remember that Luke is not interested in answering every possible question. Remember, Luke’s goal is to shine the spotlight on Jesus Christ. And that means some of our curious questions don’t get answered. For example, why does Jesus send the demons into the pigs? Luke doesn’t tell us. What is the abyss in v31, and why doesn’t Jesus send the demons there? Luke doesn’t explain. How can an army of demons indwell a single person? Great question, but not the point of the text. Luke’s point is to magnify Jesus, not to give us a discourse on the nature of demonic oppression.
Now, to be clear, demonic activity is real. Evil spirits are operative in this world, and their power is significant. Just like with last week’s text, this passage is no myth or fable. This is flesh-and-blood history, which is why we ought to listen. But even so, let’s keep our focus where Luke’s is – on the person and power of Jesus Christ.
With that, let’s note together these three pictures of power in Luke 8 and how they lead us to worship Jesus Christ.
The Destructive Power of Spiritual Darkness
The first picture confronts us with the power that confronted Jesus. In vv26-30, we see the Destructive Power of Spiritual Darkness. Luke tells us in v26 that Jesus and his disciples head to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. This takes them into Gentile territory, which will be significant later in the passage. But as soon as Jesus arrives on the eastern shore, he is met by this man, v27, who is in terrible distress. The man is afflicted by a multitude of demonic spirits.
Now, typically, Luke does not give much detail on this kind of demonic activity. Luke tends to be brief on the details in these moments. But this passage is unique, both in terms of the man’s situation and Luke’s presentation. Here, Luke gives us a very detailed description. Why is that? It’s so we will have a clear picture of what spiritual darkness does to a person. Notice from Luke’s description how this man is horribly disturbed and totally dominated by these demonic spirits.
To begin with, the man is horribly disturbed. He is not in his right mind. Notice, v27, how the man wears no clothes and lives in a cemetery. That’s not normal, and that is part of the point. Luke includes these details not simply to say, “Look, this guy is weird.” No, it’s much more heartbreaking than that. These demonic spirits, in a sense, rob the man of his humanity. Naked among the tombs, this man lives like a beast. It’s dehumanizing. The man is disturbed.
But the picture gets worse, doesn’t it? In v28, the man approaches Jesus and cries out with a loud voice. The language here means that the man is literally yelling, screaming like a madman. Again, he’s disturbed. But notice also what the man screams. He yells out that Jesus is the Son of the Most High God. Now, that’s a true statement, isn’t it? Jesus is the Son of the Most High God. The disciples, back in v25, were just asking, “Who is this that the winds and waves obey him?” Here’s the answer, and it comes from the most unlikely source. Jesus is the Son of the Most High God.
And yet, even this declaration of the truth reveals how deeply disturbed this man is. The demonic spirits knows the truth, but at the same time, they don’t submit to the truth. And neither do they allow this man to submit to the truth.
And that speaks to how this man is totally dominated by these demonic spirits. The man is in bondage at this point. Luke describes this in v29. The townspeople try to lock the man up, both for his benefit as well as for the safety of others. But the demonic spirits break the shackles and drive the man away into the desert. Again, the desert is not a place of human flourishing. But the demonic spirits don’t care. They rule over this man.
And this spiritual domination is pictured most painfully in v30. Notice what happens. V30 – “Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him.” That is a tragic way to answer Jesus’ question. Ligon Duncan has pointed out that these demonic spirits were so powerful, the man couldn’t even remember his own name. And that’s the tragedy of this man’s life. He’s defined by these evil spirits. He is, in a real sense, totally dominated.
When you put these pieces together, what you get is a picture of the destructive power that spiritual darkness unleashes in a person’s life. Everything that God calls good, the Evil One opposes. And everything that would cause a person flourish, the Evil One and his minions seek to subvert. That’s really what we should takeaway at this point. I know there is a lot we could discuss here about demonic activity, and there may be some value in thinking through those things. But remember, even Luke sees this man’s situation as a unique case. This is extraordinary, so we should be cautious about trying to draw too many specific or direct takeaways.
Instead, what we should do here is look for the general principle that this extraordinary situation illustrates. And that general principle is this – spiritual darkness, in all its forms, is not to be trifled with. Spiritual darkness, in every situation, will seek to destroy all that God calls good.
Remember, the NT speaks of what we might call the unholy trinity of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and that unholy trinity is at war with God’s redemptive purposes. The World refers to the system of belief and practice that is opposed to the authority of God. The Devil is our adversary, the One who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And the Flesh is our own indwelling sin nature that makes war inside of us, working against faith and godliness in our lives. That unholy trinity – the World, the Flesh, and the Devil – captures the power of spiritual darkness that opposes God and his people. And we should be reminded here that spiritual darkness is real, and its power can be devastating.
Now, I want to be careful that you not misunderstand my point. I am not suggesting that we, as believers, ought to go around looking for demonic activity in every corner of the world or in every event of our lives. We are responsible for our actions, even the ones that fall in line with the temptations of the World and our Flesh. It’s never a Christian response to say, “The devil made me do it.” We cannot simply blame everything on the activity of demonic spirits, whether it be in our lives or in the world. That’s not my point.
Rather, my point is to simply but clearly remind us that spiritual darkness is real, and its effects are devastating. I would argue that’s why Luke’s presentation is so detailed. It’s as if God has pulled back the curtain on the spiritual realm, and with striking clarity, God allows us to see where spiritual darkness goes and what it does. Sin wrecks human life. It dehumanizes us, and spiritual darkness is always hungry for more destruction.
And therefore, brothers and sisters, we ought to take seriously our calling to live as children of light, like Paul says in Ephesians 5. We ought to be absolutely committed to killing sin in our own lives, to exposing sin and darkness in the world, and to prayerfully proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World. All of those things – killing sin, exposing and working against evil, proclaiming the gospel – all of those things take seriously the destructive power of spiritual darkness. And as children of light, part of our calling is to be an outpost of gospel light in the midst of this dark and dying world.
But at the same time, there is a question that arises here that we also ought to take seriously. It is painfully clear in the passage no human power can free this man. There was nothing he or others could do to defeat this spiritual darkness. Where does that leave the man? Where does that leave us, as people who continue to live in the midst of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil? The answer is found in our second picture, vv31-35, where we see the Redemptive Power of Jesus’ Word.
The Redemptive Power of Jesus’ Word
Right away, the demonic spirits recognize that Jesus has authority over them. Notice v31, where they beg Jesus not to command them into the abyss. As we said earlier, we’re not sure what the abyss is at this point, but it clearly strikes fear into the demonic spirits. What’s more, they beg Jesus, Luke says. Again, the spirits know who is in charge. They know who has the superior power. Jesus will determine what happens to them.
And so, this fascinating exchange happens. V32, the demons beg Jesus to let them enter a large herd of pigs on the hillside. V33, Jesus agrees, and once more, we witness the destructive power of spiritual darkness. The demonic spirits drive the pigs off the cliff and drown them in the Sea of Galilee. An uproar ensues, v34, as the herdsmen flee to tell everyone what has happened. It’s honestly a strange moment, isn’t it? There are a lot of questions, but let’s not lose sight of what is clear – this legion of demons would have eventually done the same thing to this man. They would have eventually driven him off the cliff of sanity, and the man’s life would have been utterly lost.
But amazingly, the man has been saved from that terrible fate. Look at v35, and notice the difference in Luke’s description. V35 – “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.” What we see here is the after-effect of redemption. Jesus, with only his words, has freed this man from his bondage.
In fact, we now learn why Luke included so many details earlier in the passage. It was to prepare us to appreciate the incredible change Jesus produced in the man’s life. The before-and-after details are powerful. The redemptive change is stunning:
The man goes from naked to clothed; from raving to in his right mind; from wandering among the tombs to sitting at Jesus’ feet; from fearful of Jesus to desiring Jesus’ presence and instruction. It’s a remarkable change. This man’s life has been redeemed from bondage, and it has happened entirely through the power of Jesus’ word.
And that, brothers and sisters, should clue us in to the takeaway for us today. As we said before, we ought to be careful about drawing specific applications from this extraordinary encounter, but there is a general principle here that should greatly encourage us. What we see here is a stunning reminder that nothing can stand against the power of Jesus Christ. When Christ acts in power to release sinners from bondage, nothing – not even an army of demons – can stand in his way. The Lord Jesus has absolute authority, and he wields that authority for the good of lost sinners in need of redemption.
Brothers and sisters, let me ask you – do we believe this? Are our hearts encouraged today that Jesus’s powerful word cannot be stopped? Listen, there is a sense in which we should be reminded here in Luke 8 of our testimony. While the details of our lives before Christ are not the same as this man’s, our desperation was no less serious. The darkness that gripped our souls was no less powerful and destructive. And yet, in his mercy, the Lord Jesus has broken the shackles of darkness that imprisoned our souls in sin. According to his Father’s will and through the Spirit’s work, the Lord Jesus has redeemed sinners like us. We too have tasted his redemptive power!
And that means, brothers and sisters, that Jesus’ power will continue his redemptive work in our hearts until the day we see him face to face. It might surprise us this morning, but this passage should encourage us to honestly face up to the sin that remains in our lives. We can face our sinful struggles with hope and with confidence. Why? Because we’re powerful enough to overcome such things? Hardly. Our confidence comes from the One who faced down a Legion of unclean spirits and brought freedom. Jesus does not fail to save those who need his power and grace.
And that means we can face our fight against the Flesh with hope. We can confess sin, we can bring it into the light. We can address it head on, and we can do so knowing that Christ Jesus has power enough to help us grow. Embrace that confidence today, brothers and sisters. Embrace it by faith. Sin thrives on darkness, so let the power of Jesus Christ encourage you to live today in the light.
The Transformative Power of Serving Jesus
And so, as we think about the change Jesus so powerfully produces in the lives of sinners like us, we’re led to our third picture of the Lord’s power. This final picture rounds out the passage, and takes us one level deeper in our response. From vv36-39, we see the Transformative Power of Serving Jesus. As we just saw in v35, the townspeople are afraid when they find the man with Jesus. Like the disciples in the boat, these people cannot fathom what they are witnessing. They hear the report in v36, so they know very clearly that Jesus has healed this man. But notice their response, v37 – “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So, he got into the boat and returned.” Now, why are these people afraid? Luke pictures their fear almost like a human enemy. Do you see that, v37? Fear seized them, like an adversary. Why are they afraid?
Perhaps they have no category for this kind of power. Or maybe they are afraid that there will be more damage from Jesus’ presence. Whatever the case, their fear crowds out the truth. You could even say their fear keeps them from seeing the truth, and they ask Jesus to leave the area.
But the man, Luke tells us, has a different response. Look at v38. The now-healed man wants to go with Jesus. And who would blame him? Jesus has restored his life and set him free. Where else can the man go? Only Jesus has been able to deliver him from darkness.
But Jesus then does something surprising. Notice the end of v38 – “But Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Jesus has a different purpose for this man. Jesus calls him to service. Jesus commissions him, you might say, to spread the good news of what God has done. This man is to be a witness among his neighbors.
Now within the storyline of Scripture, this is a rather remarkable moment. Remember, Jesus is in Gentile territory at this point. He is outside the boundaries of Israel. And so, as this man is sent out to witness to God’s work, he’s almost a forerunner of what is to come in the NT. Here we see God’s heart for all people to hear the good news of his redemptive power. Here we see the beginnings of how the truth of Christ will spread across the globe, even among the Gentiles. In that sense, v38 is like a preview of the Book of Acts. It’s a little snapshot of God’s grand purpose to gather for himself people from every tribe and nation.
And here in Luke 8, the man does a faithful job. Notice the end of v39 – “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” Try to appreciate what a powerful witness this man would have been. Listen, everybody knew who this guy was. I’m sure people would go to the tombs to gawk at the crazy guy who couldn’t be chained down. But now, here is the same man – healed and in his right mind – walking through the streets, proclaiming the power of Jesus. That would be a powerful testimony, would it not?
And that is what I would like us to takeaway at this point, brothers and sisters. How does Jesus make his glory known in this world? Through the testimony of transformed sinners who use their lives to proclaim all that Jesus has done for them. This is how Jesus makes himself known – through the witness of those he delivers.
And so, there are two encouragements here. One is never underestimate the work that God can do through the faithful testimony of redeemed life. Your testimony might not be as dramatic as this man’s in Luke 8 – whose is? But still, every redeemed sinner has testimony that magnifies Jesus. Every believer is called to make Christ known.
And I do want to stress this point. Notice that the man in Luke 8 testifies to what Jesus has done for him. Yes, the man’s testimony is remarkable, but the focus is still on Jesus? The highlight of the man’s testimony is not how bad he had it, but how powerful Jesus is to redeem.
And so it should be with us today. As Jesus’ witnesses, our lives are the arena where Christ’s power is manifested, but our testimony is first and foremost to Christ, not to ourselves. We testify to what Christ has done. That’s faithful Christian testimony. And may we never underestimate what God might do in and through our witness.
The second encouragement is never to assume that a situation is too far-gone for God to work. This man in Luke 8 was in the grip of deep darkness, and yet, Jesus was able to deliver him. And so it remains today. We proclaim Christ, and we do so no matter how deep the darkness. We proclaim Christ, and we do so no matter how unlikely it seems to us that the person would be saved. The power doesn’t come from us. I hope we don’t overlook that simple observation in Luke 8. The power belongs to Christ alone. Our calling is to be like this changed man and to tell the world what Jesus has done.
Brothers and sisters, let’s pray that God would make us a faithful, outward-looking church. Surely, we’re recognizing, in these days, how fragile our world is, and how easily the hopes of many people are being shattered and shaken. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 16, we may be witnessing a wide door for ministry opening before our very eyes. Let’s take it, brothers and sister. Let’s testify to Jesus, trusting that his power is able to break through even the deepest spiritual darkness.
As we close, I want to point out to you one more striking feature of the man’s testimony. You’ll notice in v38 that Jesus tells the man to testify to what God has done for him. But then in v39, what does the man do? He testifies to what Jesus has done for him. That’s key as we work through this section in Luke’s Gospel. Where is God working in this world? He is working in and through Jesus Christ. As the Son of the Most High God, Jesus alone has divine power to deliver. The man in Luke 8 saw this, on some level, and we, brothers and sisters, know this with the crystal-clarity of the gospel. Jesus alone is able to save, for Jesus alone has the power to break the bonds of sin and darkness.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s true, except for one man – Jesus Christ. He is absolutely powerful, and he always uses his power absolutely for good. May we be his faithfulness witnesses, and may we, by God’s grace, have the privilege of witnessing many people come to know Christ’s saving power by faith. Amen.