Luke 8:26-39 / Pentecost 5 (Proper 7C) / 23 June 2013 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
There is no place Jesus won’t go to save. No crosses He will not bear. No darkness He won’t enter. No hells to which He won’t descend to seek and to save the lost.
He sails from the safe confines of Galilee to the Gentile country of the Gerasenes. There He’s met by a man who was plagued by demons. Multiple demons. So many demons they simply are named “Legion”. He lived in isolation, shackled and under guard, away from the city and its people and children. He lived 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’re terrified of him. We’ll avert our eyes. We’ll avoid contact. He’s like the homeless we meet on the street corners and under the viaducts and on the freeway stops. 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. If we err at all, 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. Until Jesus came to town.
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The demons knew who Jesus was. He’s their Lord too, and they tremble in fear at the sight of Him. They know the power of Jesus’ word, and they know their time is short. If anything, they loved to let the news leak out early as to who Jesus is and what He was up to. Son of the Most High God. “If you are the Son of God…” the devil said to Jesus in the wilderness. The demons know who Jesus is and are eager to announce it to anyone who will listen. Anything to keep Jesus away from His cross and appointed death.
“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 negotiate with Him. They know their fate: the Abyss, their place of eternal torment and imprisonment. 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 that rush headlong down a steep bank and into the lake and are drowned. All this, right in front of the herdsmen looking on, watching their profits go over a cliff into the sea.
Little wonder they ask Jesus to leave! This was just over the top weird. Frightening. And that Jesus is just too much trouble to have around. 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. The miracle is a picture preview of the judgment of the devil and his demons, when they will be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever and ever. This is the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and his angels to which Jesus referred in the parable of the sheep and the goats. The unclean spirits are cast into the unclean pigs and thrown into the depths. “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. He wanted to follow Jesus, join Jesus’ band of disciples and go back to Galilee with Jesus. Who could blame him? 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 him. 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. “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.” And 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.
Our terrors and curiosities are piqued by stories such as this. We want to know more about the dark and horrible realm of the demonic. There are tv shows and movies about this stuff. Skeptics scoff at the whole thing and call it silly superstition. Others are terrified by it and find a demon under every rock and in every closet. The Scriptures are relatively silent on the matter, and for good reason. There’s no good that comes from the darkness, only death and destruction. There is such a creature as the devil, Satan, the Evil One, the father of lies and a murderer. He tempted Eve, our mother, to disobey God’s Word. He stalks about like a roaring lion, seeking the stray and the weak in the herd, looking for someone to devour. There are demons and forces of darkness operating in the world. The apostle Paul refers to them as the power and principalities and rulers of this present darkness. I think what we often hear as “ghost stories” are more likely the activity of the demonic. There is no evidence for ghosts in the Bible, but there are plenty of incidents with demons. And it would be just like the father of lies and his hordes to pose as disembodied souls. I wouldn’t even trust Caspar, the friendly ghost.
The one thing the devil and his demons did not want is for Jesus to go to His cross. That’s why they always shout out and acknowledge who Jesus is, the Son of the Most High God. They knew why Jesus had come. They knew Jesus’ death would be their exorcism from this world. Humanity was captive to the darkness and the demons and Jesus came in human flesh to free us. Immediately after His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was driven in the wilderness, not by legion of unclean spirits but by the Holy Spirit. There He wrestled with the devil and was tempted in every way as we are. He conquered the devil’s temptations in the wilderness with nothing more than the power of the Word. Jesus is Lord, even over the demonic realm. They are creatures and He is the Master. They tremble at the mention of His name. They have no choice but to obey His command. When He commands them to leave a man alone and enter a herd of pigs, they do it.
We are not as bad off as that poor man in the Gerasenes. 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. 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. There are the occasional outbursts where pure and unvarnished “evil” rears its ugly head and draws our attention. The mass shootings at schools and theaters and college campuses are one example. We may call the perpetrators “insane” because that’s the best description we have. But underlying it is a demonic darkness we don’t even want to discuss.
We are powerless against this. But Christ isn’t. He entered this present darkness to bring the light of His life. The darkness trembled when Jesus prayed in the darkness, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” The darkness trembled at the sound of His “It is finished”. He was stripped naked on the cross, as naked as that poor man in the Gerasenes. Adam’s shame is exposed to the world, so that the children of Adam might be clothed and in our right minds. The Law that condemns, Sin that kills, the devil who accuses and lies and murders, all are defeated in this 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 born. No hell into which He hasn’t descended. There is no place where Jesus is not Lord.
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 our minds 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, 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. He has called you out of darkness to live in His marvelous light. He has forgiven you, raised you, clothed you, freed you, glorified you. You are baptized, freed from the Law, sons of God, heirs of eternal life, clothed with Christ. You have His Spirit to ward off all the unclean spirits, the Spirit that cries out “Abba! Father!” from the depths of your heart to the very heart of God. You are no longer a slave but a son, an heir. You are free. So much to tell. So much to receive.
In the name of Jesus,