Around the beginning of the year, my e-mail and mail is flooded with promotional material from our health insurance company encouraging us to sign up for a program which will help us lead a healthier lifestyle. Whether it is this program our health insurance pushes or if it is some other weight loss or weight management program, they all have something in common. Somewhere on their websites, there are testimonies of how great a person feels after participating in whichever program it was and there are a set of pictures, “before” and “after” pictures, which are always right next to each other.
And they are all alike. Each “before” picture is of someone who is overweight, flabby, and unprepared say for the summer swim season. These individuals all look unhappy. But then next to the “before” picture is this great “after” picture. The “after” picture of that same individual is sometimes unrecognizable. They are thinner, stronger, happier, and ready for the pool.
There is something about putting these two pictures side by side which grabs our attention. By seeing these pictures, maybe something will be triggered in our brains which help us believe that change is possible and that I can do that, that I need to do that for myself. Maybe it’s because all of us, deep down inside of us, know that there are things in our lives which we would like to change.
It’s hard to come up with a starker contrast between a “before” and “after” shot than the man in our Gospel reading from Luke 8.
Notice how it is that Luke describes this man. This man is totally out of his mind, he’s all sorts of crazy. He’s dangerous and violent as even the chains around his hands and feet can’t even keep him contained. He breaks the chains and runs off into solitary places. This man is totally unfit for society. He runs around a graveyard naked, with no clothes, and he hasn’t lived in a house for a while. This man is possessed, but not by a single demon. He says that his name is “‘Legion’ because many demons had gone into him” (Luke 8:30). One can only imagine the pain his family experienced, the fear the neighbors trembled in, and the shame and sorrow which this man suffered.
And then there is the “after” shot. After Jesus had cast out the demons into the herd of nearby pigs, the town folk heard the commotion, we’re told that“the people went out to see what had happened” (Luke 8:35). Coming out to see what had happened, they notice this guy sitting at the feet of Jesus. This man was completely different than the one who had been causing havoc within the graveyard. This man was now dressed and in his right mind (8:35). No more demons, no more running off to solitary places. Chaos, isolation, and despair had now given way to calm, community, and hope. The difference? Jesus. Jesus came to this man and had remade his world.
This isn’t the only time Jesus has done this remaking of someone’s world. This is one of many different times where Jesus turns someone’s life upside down for the better. The “before” and “after” of the people is absolutely striking.
You have the outcast leper in Luke 5:12-16 who was cleansed of his leprosy. You have in Luke 5:27-32 the alienated tax collector Levi, better known as Matthew, who left his corrupt tax business to follow Jesus and be one of his disciples. Then there is the mourning widow of Luke 7:11-17 who had lost her only son and source of living. Jesus comes along and raises her son from the dead so that he can take care of her. And there is a sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50 who recognized her sin, felt so bad for them that she began to cry. She wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them up with her hair and poured perfume on them. Because of her sorrow, because of her faith … Jesus forgave her of her sins and restored her life.
In each of these situations, Jesus came to people living in grief, sin, despair, and chaos. He brought each of them healing and renewal, resurrection and forgiveness. It’s a recurring pattern. Jesus comes to people and changes everything. “Before” is long gone and “after” is a whole new world.
What about with you? What about your “before” and “after” shots?
Think back for a moment to your “before” Jesus life. Now I know for some, you may not remember it because it happened a long time ago, like when you first baptized into God’s family as an infant. But what about maybe the next “before” moment? What about the “before” Jesus again life? I can remember in college a time where I didn’t “really” follow Christ. Sure, I would go to church on Sunday mornings, but part of that was me just simply going through the motions.
If you haven’t personally had a “before” Jesus moment, you don’t have to look hard to see it all around you. These “before” moments are a life of guilt, sin, and deception. It’s not vastly different from the demon possession in our Gospel reading. We didn’t literally live in tombs and run around completely naked, and most today don’t either. But until Christ came in one’s life, the “before” shot was not good.
But then came Jesus. Jesus came to you and me through the witnessing of His people, He came to you and me through the water of baptism, through His Word spoken and written in the Bible. When Jesus came to you, you were restored. You were forgiven. If we want to use the terminology Luke uses, you, like this man who was possessed by a demon were given right minds.
But what does this look like?
It certainly doesn’t mean that we have everything completely together, far from it. This man who was restored by Jesus, he was a changed man, but there was so much which needed to be addressed. Can you imagine what the locals thought? Can you imagine the looks he got the first time he peacefully walked into town? Can you imagine the neighbor’s response when he returned to live in his own home? He had a lot of trust to regain after what he had done, possessed by a demon or not. The effects of his former way of life was something which wouldn’t go away overnight. It would take time and effort. Just because he was in his “right mind” doesn’t mean having everything together perfectly.
Instead, it means accepting the fact that you don’t, that you don’t have everything together perfectly. Those who are in their right minds, they recognize how much they actually need Jesus. They recognize how much they need Jesus, not just for eternal life, but also for an abundant life here on earth. This is why this man is sitting at Jesus’ feet after being set free. This is why the man wants to go with Jesus when Jesus is asked to leave. He knows how much he needs Jesus in his life.
And this is how you and I should be too. We gather together as brothers and sisters in Christ, as the body of Christ to learn from Him, to find strength to meet the days ahead, and to receive the forgiveness of our sins. When we are in our right minds, we gather together with others who have been made right. Together we sit at Jesus’ feet. Together we listen to His Word. Together we rejoice in the forgiveness of sins.
And as great as it is here … we don’t stay here. The once demon possessed man didn’t ask Jesus if he could go with him, he begged. On his knees he begged for Jesus to take him along with him so that he might still be with Jesus. But Jesus would not let him. “Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you’” (Luke 8:39). And that is exactly what he did. He returned home and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him (Luke 8:39). And that is what you and I still do today. We tell others how much it is Jesus has done, is doing, and will do. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as you live your life for Him. Amen.