O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Luke 8:26-39
Preached on June 23, 2019
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Fellow baptized saints, there is no place Jesus won’t go to save. No crosses He will not bear. No darkness He will not enter. No hells to which He won’t descend - to seek and save the lost.
He wasn’t going to a home port. No, in our text today, Jesus sails away from the safe confines of Galilee to the Gentile country of the Gerasenes. Sinner country. Foreign country. And there - He isn’t met by a human crowd, like He’d left on the other shore – No, there He is met by a man who is plagued by demons. A crowd of demons. So many demons they are simply named “Legion”. This tortured man lives in isolation, shackled and under guard, away from the city and its people and its children. He lives among the tombs - with the dead - being dead to the world, a literal dead man walking. Unfit for civilization, possessed by a legion of demons who would drive him naked and screaming into the wilderness, this man inspires our terror and sympathy at the same time. We feel for his plight and his condition, and yet we are terrified of him. We’ll avert our eyes. We’ll avoid contact. He’s like the homeless we meet on the street corners and at the stoplights and in the bus shelters. And much, much worse.
How did this happen? And why? We’ve lost our sense of the demonic today. That’s both good and not so good. The devil should not be taken too seriously or too lightly. But if we err today, we take him much too lightly. He’s a Halloween costume at most. We tend to think in terms of mental illness today. Instead of the tombs, this man would probably be institutionalized. Instead of shackles, he’d be drugged and perhaps confined. He’d be largely forgotten by society and his own family. We’d be relieved to have him off the streets and safely away from our homes and schools and parks.
There was no help for this man. I’m sure the Jewish exorcists had tried. They had exorcists, but no one could help this man. “On earth is not his equal,” Luther said of the devil. He was right. We’re no match for this roaring lion and his demons. The best they could do for this man was keep him bound in chains and under guard and leave him to roam among the dead. (That is,) until Jesus comes to town.
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The demons know who Jesus is. He’s their Lord too, and they tremble in fear at the sight of Him. They know the power of His Word, and they know their time is short, that His coming means their exorcism from the world. Their only hope is to keep Him from His cross and appointed death – so they blab His business to anyone who will listen. Son of the Most High God!
“I beg you, do not torment me.” They plead for mercy, but Jesus has not come to show mercy to the devil and his demons. He’s come to judge them and to undo their work. They try to negotiate with Him. They know their fate: the Abyss, their place of eternal torment and imprisonment. But they bargain for a herd of pigs instead. This is, after all, Gentile country. You’d never see a herd of pigs in Israel. But here in the Gerasenes, there are pigs, and with the permission of Jesus, they become demon-possessed pigs – pigs that rush headlong down a steep bank into the lake where they drown. The poor herdsmen – all they could do is watch – as their profits go over the cliff into the sea.
No wonder they ask Jesus to leave! This was just over the top weird. And frightening. This Jesus guy means trouble. I mean, we had this situation well under control until his boat landed, and then all hell literally broke loose, and now there’s a herd of precious pigs floating in the sea. But it isn’t wasteful – No, it’s a picture. A picture preview of Judgment Day when the devil and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever and ever. Jesus speaks of this in the parable of the sheep and the goats – about the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and his angels. Unclean spirits cast into unclean pigs which are thrown into the depths when Jesus says the Word. “One little Word can fell him.”
Meanwhile, the man is now clothed and in his right mind. Just like that. No extensive rehab. Nothing. Just a word from Jesus, the demons depart, and the man’s life and mind is in order again. Everything that had plagued him had gone into the pigs and was drowned in the water. And all with nothing more than a word from Jesus. (Sound like baptism? Wait for it). He wanted to follow Jesus, join Jesus’ band of disciples and go back to Galilee with Jesus. Wouldn’t you? He wanted to be a part of this man’s group who had literally saved his life from a legion of demons. But Jesus had other plans for this new man. He sent him away, back to his home. He would be Jesus’ “man on the ground” in the Gerasenes, among the Gentiles, outside the borders of Israel. He would be His voice on the fringe. Out on the edge. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” He’s of much more use to Jesus where he is, “to declare the praises of Him who called him out of darkness into His marvelous light.” So that’s what he did. He told everyone in the whole city what Jesus had done for him. And you can be sure the people listened.
We are not as bad off as that poor man in the Gerasenes, are we? We have homes. We have our sanity, mostly. If there is a legion of demons, they are pretty much quiet. But the darkness of our Sin is just as deep. And loud. We are just as alienated – just as far away – just as alone out on the fringe, what sometimes feels like the very brink. And the bonds that hold us captive to Sin and Death are just as strong as the chains that bound that man. We walk in the valley of the shadow of death each and every day of our lives, usually unaware of the forces of evil that surround us. Sure, there are the occasional outbursts where pure and unvarnished “evil” rears its ugly head and draws our attention, like a mass shooting or lone wolf attack, so what do we do? We call the perpetrators “insane” or “radical” because that’s the best description we have. We don’t want to discuss the demonic darkness that is lying underneath. But there is something darker and far more evil behind it than anything we see on the surface.
We are powerless against this. But Christ is not. He entered this present darkness on purpose - to bring the light of His life. The darkness trembled when in that darkness Jesus prayed, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” The darkness trembled at the sound of His “It is finished”. The darkness trembled when the life of Jesus went out. But there’s more! He was stripped naked on the cross, as naked as that poor man in the Gerasenes. The shame of Adam was exposed to the world, so that the children of Adam might be clothed by Christ and in our right minds. He made His home among the tombs and broke the chains of Sin in His one dark death on a Friday afternoon. There is no darkness Jesus hasn’t entered. No death He hasn’t died. No sin He hasn’t taken. No hell into which He hasn’t descended. There is no place where Jesus is not Lord.
Jesus became that man, so He could restore him. The man the world forgot. The man naked and alone. The man filled with darkness and demons. And Jesus has embodied your loneliness, your disconnectedness, your stumbling in outer darkness. And He restores you. He is here right now. Entering into all that you face with this Word, promising His power rules for you. That He is God for you.
Beloved, Jesus has spoken over you, just as He spoke over that poor man. He said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He spoke all that He is, and all that He has done – upon you. You – you personally. You are baptized into Christ. Freed from the chains of Sin and Death. Clothed with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus is the healing of your mind as well as your body and soul. He sets your mind right again in repentance. A change of mind. A healing of the mind. Whatever plagues you, whatever troubles you, whatever isolates you from others and drives you into your personal hell, Jesus has dealt with in His death. You are a child of Light, a child of the Day, a child of God. Jesus’ death and life are yours. His body and blood are yours. His words of life ring in your ears. He is your mighty fortress, your shield, and your strength against the terrible forces of darkness and death.
Return to your home, your life, your vocation, your family and friends and neighbors, and declare how much God has done for you. You can talk about the darkness, and how it trembles at the voice of Jesus. You can tell the truth about your nakedness and shame, and how Christ has covered you with His own righteousness. You can acknowledge and admit that without Christ before your eyes, you are alone, and forgotten and lost on the outside, but He’s come to you. He’s entered into all that to clean you, cloth you, raise you, free you, forgive you and make you His own. People will listen. For you are his “man on the ground” here – the one He has called out of darkness to live in His marvelous light. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr