(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Demon Possessed
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
The Sea of Galilee sat in a kind of geologic “bowl,” and was always subject to sudden, severe storms. Jesus calmed one of them and amazed his disciples. Yet he showed a different, even greater kind of power as he calmed the inner storms of an unstable man, healed a woman ailing for 12 years and gave life and hope back to a synagogue leader and his deathly ill child.
Jesus sent the 12 out for what we might almost see as “serving practice.” He then had them help him feed 5,000 people. In answer to Jesus’ penetrating question, Peter said Jesus was the Christ (Greek for “anointed one”—equivalent to the Hebrew Messiah). Jesus did not dispute the identification—but he did say frankly that being the Christ meant suffering, not earthly power. And it meant that, not just for him, but for those who chose to follow him, too.
Moses, Elijah, a flash of light, God’s voice—THAT looked like greatness to human eyes. For Peter, John, and James, seeing the greatness and glory of Jesus was so overwhelming it left them speechless. But true greatness in God’s kingdom wasn’t on a mountaintop. When they came down from that experience, Jesus defined greatness as having childlike trust in God, healing the sick and broken, serving people’s needs, and even suffering at human hands.
From Luke 9:51 on, Jesus was purposefully going to Jerusalem. (He arrived there in Luke 19:28, on Palm Sunday.) Like the gospel of John, Luke wanted it to be clear that Jesus was not a victim who stumbled unknowingly into hostile Jerusalem (cf. John 10:17-18). Luke framed every event from 9:51 on in this light: Jesus was going to Jerusalem, where the cross awaited. Yet Satan was falling. This was a march to victory, not defeat.
Part of what it meant for Jesus to “determine to go to Jerusalem” was the growing presence of legal experts and Pharisees testing him with questions that sought to trap him. He answered this one with a story showing in vivid human terms what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. He told his friend Martha it was vital to make him her first priority, and he taught his disciples how to pray—and why.
People convinced that they were upright slandered Jesus—for setting people free from conditions caused by evil! Yet they fixated on washing for ritual purity (not for hygiene—remember, no one knew about germs in their day). Jesus strongly disputed their sense that outward rituals matter more than inner candor and openness. He was kind, but not a doormat, and he bluntly challenged their claims to have a corner on righteousness.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord God, open the eyes of our hearts so that we might soak in the light of your love and grace. Help us to bring light to the lives of others. Provide us with your inner compass to guide our paths in righteousness and help us to seek the kind of greatness that you would want for us. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Historians have found flaws, often big ones, in the lives of most of the greatest people in history. Does this disappoint you, or do you continue to admire these people for the good things they did? Who are some of the flawed historical figures you admire most?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
NOTE: We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
Read Luke 8:22-56. As you read these stories about some of Jesus’ miracles, what do you learn about Jesus’ character and priorities? What do you think about the miracle of Jesus calming the storm and the water? What kind of “storms” do people encounter in their own lives? Can the power of Christ calm these storms? In what way or ways? What can be done to ensure that the calming power of Jesus enters our lives? Can Jesus’ confidence and calm be instilled in us?
Read Luke 9:1-27. These verses showed Jesus’ power flowing through others, rather than directly meeting people’s needs. Does he still call us to be vehicles through whom his power flows? How did the story show our need to rely on Jesus’ power, not our own, to achieve God’s purposes? How do you understand Jesus’ question, “What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives?” How have you had to face that question in your own life? Do you find it difficult to make the “right choices” in your life?
Read Luke 9:28-50. God the Father told Peter, James and John to listen to his son, Jesus. What does it mean for you to listen to Jesus? Are you willing to do that? What can make that difficult to do? How does this world tend to define greatness? How did Jesus define greatness? In what ways do these two definitions differ and how do they clash?
Read Luke 9:51-10:24. Why was Jesus so determined to go to Jerusalem? What mission did he have to fulfill there? What did Jesus mean when he said he saw Satan fall from heaven? The disciples were elated because of the power Jesus had given them. How did Jesus respond? How should we feel about the gifts we’ve been given in Christ’s service? Verses 59-62 speak to the issues of our priorities and loyalties. Have you ever ranked your priorities and loyalties for your life? This is significant in any “life planning” process. How do things like job, family, country, friends, school, or anything else should rank in your life? Where does God come in?
Read Luke 10:25-11:13. How does the story of the Samaritan tell us of God’s goodness toward us? How can our recognition of God’s generosity toward us affect out treatment of others? Re-read verses 9-10. Does Jesus guarantee that we will receive whatever we ask for? What do you understand the verses to mean? If God answers you by giving you peace, will you be grateful, or upset that you didn’t get what you asked for?
Read Luke 11:14-54. Many of the people in these verses were “spiritually blind”. How would you define spiritual blindness? How guilty are we of condemning the acts of others without considering our own faults? How do you feel when historians expose flaws in otherwise good heroes of the past like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.? Do you feel let down by their flaws, maintain your admiration for their goodness, or both? Have you ever wondered what historians who studied your life would report?
From last week: Did you prayerfully consider all the helpless, sick and disabled people of the world? Did you offer prayers for them to find relief and healing? Did you pray also for their emotional and spiritual peace? Did you try to visit any of these people who you personally know? Please share your experiences with your group.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, March 23, 2014:
In first the first century world, afflictions that could not be explained otherwise, including depression, various forms of mental illness, epilepsy, muteness, and even unexplained fevers would be explained as the work of demons afflicting someone. In the early church demons were also understood to be the sources of temptation and the voices that seek to lure people from God.
Incantations, prayers and odd treatments were used in exorcisms. For example, things like burning a rotting fish were supposed to drive away demons. Ordinary priests and physicians saw casting out these demons as a part of their healing work. Most of what they treated, I think, were physical or psychiatric disorders, but I have heard enough stories of encounters with demons that I don’t discount the reality of such spirits either….
Luke 8:27 says, “As [Jesus] stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.” And verse 29b says, “Many times [the demon] had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.”
Can you picture him, stark naked, stark raving mad, his long untamed hair and beard, broken shackles around his hands and feet, dirty and the look of a mad man in his eyes? The townspeople were so afraid of him the only place he could live was among the tombs. I love this—Jesus traveled by boat for hours through a storm in order to meet this one man at the tombs, a man who was worse than a nobody. He was an outcast who was not in his right mind.
Remember, Luke writes his gospel so that you might know who Jesus is, and what he stands for, and through him, that you might know who God is. What do these stories of Jesus concern for the demon possessed tell us about God’s concern for the mentally and spiritually afflicted? And what do they tell us about the power of God?
Let’s see what happens next. “When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.’ Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him.”
I want you to notice that this man had many demons. The demon calls itself “Legion.” A legion was the basic military unit of the Roman army. A legion included about 5,600 of Rome’s finest soldiers, Rome’s marines….There is some irony in this story that first century readers would not have missed. The name of the demon just happens to be the name of Rome’s finest, most powerful military units. Not long before Luke wrote this gospel the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by four Roman legions, the V, X, XII and XVth—and in the process they put one million Jews to death. I can’t help but think that there is a political commentary in this story—the legions being likened to demons, the pawns of the Devil himself?
So we have a man with a slew of demons, a legion of them, which would make him very powerful. The townspeople had chained him and tried to subdue him, but they could not. But when the man sees Jesus, before Jesus says a word, he falls at his feet, acknowledges that Jesus is the “Son of the Most High,” then begs Jesus for mercy! The demons surrender, quaking in fear.
Let’s see what happens next: “[The demons] begged [Jesus] not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these.” Even the demons hate hell and don’t want to go back! Notice that the demons begin trying to negotiate with Jesus. “Please, don’t send us back to the Abyss. There are some pigs over there. Maybe we could go into them? Yeah, send us into the pigs!” The demons may have thought they could put one over on Jesus. “Send us to the pigs”—then, when Jesus leaves they go back to tormenting this man.
Here’s an important point: demons like to negotiate. You’ve no doubt heard them. They try to lead us to hurt ourselves or others, to make us slaves to things that destroy us, or to keep us from God’s path for us. They rationalize, justify, and do all they can to lure, or persuade us to do what will enslave us, or discredit us, or sap the life out of us. If we struggle with resentment, the demons encourage us to focus on the wrong done to us. If we struggle with alcohol, it is a whisper telling us one little drink won’t matter. When we’re depressed the demons tell us, “It’s always going to be like this,” or worse, “Everyone would be better off without you.”
Don’t negotiate with the demons. They will outsmart you. But Jesus outsmarted them….Let’s talk about our experience of demons today. For most of us the word “demon” could be synonymous with the voice we hear in our heads telling us the exact opposite of what scripture and the Holy Spirit call us to do. This voice seems bent on neutralizing our impact for God, on robbing us of joy and life, of enslaving us to things that promise life but deliver death. These voices may keep us afraid and filled with anxiety, or lead us to self-destructive behavior. Some hear these voices telling them that there is no other way out than suicide. Or that life will always be as bleak as it is today, that there is no hope. For some it is bitterness and hate they hear whispered in their heart day after day, week after week. For some it leads us to addiction, for others to saying and doing things that will discredit you and hurt others.
They control those who welcome these demonic thoughts and entertain them over a long period of time.
Are these literal unclean spirits, or just the darkness in our own hearts? Probably some of both. I’ve heard enough stories of people’s experiences of demons that I can’t discount the idea that there are such creatures, but I also believe that most often our experiences are experiences of our own dark side.
In either case this story is meant to show us that Christ is infinitely more powerful than the demons! 5,600 demons in a man, and when Jesus shows up he falls and begs at Jesus feet for mercy. It is not even a fair fight. Jesus has power over the demons. We turn to him and trust him. We trust his words. We can invoke his name, and the demons quake. We don’t have to be afraid of the demons. We don’t need to give in to them. They shake at the thought of Christ.
Luke’s gospel – how is it different?
The Gospel of Luke is unique or different from other two synoptic gospels. He is the only non-Jew writer in the New Testament. He was probably a Greek. Only this gospel has a sequel – the Acts – in the New Testament. Luke is the longest gospel, and covers nearly twenty-five percent of the entire New Testament.
One of the big and controversial differences it has is the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Luke seems to have followed the lineage of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The disparity between Matthew and Luke suggests that Luke might have interviewed Mary to write down about the supernatural virgin birth and inserted her lineage into the genealogy which is quite unusual in the Jewish culture in Jesus’ time. He also makes references to women and their stories forty-five times in his Gospel. The birth narratives of Jesus and John the Baptist are told from the women’s perspective – Mary and Elizabeth respectively (chapters 1-2). Women received special attention in Luke’s Gospel.
Luke’s presentation of Jesus is largely focused on his humanity and compassion for the outcasts of society. Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is the one who has entered into the world as the Savior of all mankind (not just the Jews).
Worship is the central point in the hymns Luke records in the Gospel. Mary’s song of praise is one of them (1:46-55). Luke also sheds some light on Jesus’ private prayer life. So it is more like a gospel of prayer.
Luke features marginalized people over and over in the story. Only Luke has the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) and the story of ten lepers being cured and cleansed, but only the Samaritan leper returning to Jesus to thank him (17:11-19). Luke also consists of 18 unique parables that are only found in the Luke: the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son are only found in the book of Luke (Luke 10:25-37, 15:4-7, 15:11-32).
Luke also takes some time to show special interest in poor, crippled, and shepherds. Jesus heals them, and some of his teachings have strongly emphasized love and care for the poor, weak, and crippled who are overlooked by their families, friends, and society. The outcasts – the Samaritans, tax-collectors, and women – are seated in the place of honor.
The abundance of food is also portrayed in the Luke. Some of Jesus’ parables are set at banquets and feasts. He makes nineteen references to food or meals altogether, and thirteen of them are exclusive to his gospel. The number of references also shows the significance of gathering together and having meals together. Jesus is disclosing his divine identity—that he is the only source of both spiritual and physical life.
And also a portrayal of community can be found in this gospel. In other words, community (church) is the key aspect of the Kingdom of God.
Luke has presented Jesus in a very distinctive way, making him a verifiable historic person. Some of the historical figures Luke recorded and the events can be corroborated even today.
This week, prayerfully consider how to overcome any self-righteousness in your own life. Become conscious of those times when you might otherwise react self-righteously toward others and work to change your attitude and your actions. Next week, consider sharing your experiences with your group.