Jesus comes to set the captives free, those held in darkness and chains, hostage to the demons and to death. He goes across the Sea of Galilee, after stilling a storm, and lands on the Gentile side, the country of the Gerasenes, opposite Galilee. A man from the city is there to meet him. Not the mayor or some dignitary with the keys to the city, but an outcast, a man plagued by demons. For a long time he ran about naked, without a home, living among the dead. He was a “dead man walking.”
Here was a man no one would have anything to do with. They kept him in chains to keep him from hurting himself and others. And that’s really about the best we can do with the demonic realm. We are no match for the devils. “On earth is not his equal,” Luther noted, and he was right. There were no doctors who could cure this man’s malady; no medicines. The best that could be done was to put him in chains and let him roam about the cemetery among the dead.
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you do not torment me?” The spirit knows who Jesus is and why He came. Son of the Most High God is a Gentile way of speaking. This demon seems to have taken on a Gentile accent. The demons tremble in the presence of Jesus. He is their Lord too, but not in mercy. They praise Him, but only in a way that seeks to undermine His mission. He is most Son of the Most High God when He is dying for the sins of the world. The devils would have none of that.
This man’s life was entirely under the control of the demons. They would drive him, naked and screaming, into the wilderness. Jesus too was driven into the wilderness, not by an unclean spirit, but by the Holy Spirit immediately after His Baptism. There He was tempted by the devil not to be the sort of Son of the Most High God that He came to be, to deflect Jesus from the way of suffering, sin-bearing, and the cross where He hung naked in humanity’s shame. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil cries out. If indeed.
“What is your name”, Jesus asks the demon. In every exorcism, the demon is addressed directly and asked its name, establishing the one in charge. “Legion,” comes the answer. Not just one but many. Whether one or many, they are no match for Jesus, and they know it. They begin negotiations to cut their losses, and beg Him not to cast them into the Abyss, the place of their torment and imprisonment. They opt for the pigs. A large herd was feeding on a hillside nearby. This was, after all, Gentile country. You wouldn’t see a herd of pigs in Israel, where pigs were considered unclean. And so Jesus gives the unclean spirits permission to enter the unclean pigs, and as they do, the herd rushes headlong over the cliff and into the lake and the pigs are drowned in front of the herdsmen’s eyes.
Poor pigs. Poor herdsmen. Pork belly futures just shot up in the Gerasenes, thanks to Jesus. No wonder they asked Jesus to leave the area! This is simply too weird. But there is more going on here than meets the eye. It was, in type, a picture of the last day when the devil and his demons would be cast into the lake of fire and sulphur, as St. John saw it in the Revelation, where “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” There most certainly is an eternal hell, a fire prepared for the devil and his demons, though not for man. That man winds up there is entirely against the will of God to save in Jesus.
The next time the man is seen, he was wearing some nice clothes and in his right mind. The demons were gone, drowned with the pigs in the sea. Jesus had saved him from the darkness, the demons, the madness. He is clothed and at peace once more. Fully himself and all that God intended for him.
This is a picture of what Jesus does for each of us. No, our condition isn’t as dire as that man’s was in the Gerasenes. We are able to get up each morning and dress ourselves and go to work and act generally respectable most of the time. We are not demon possessed. We do not wander the catacombs, we do not have to be chained or sedated, we do not flail at ourselves or foam at the mouth. We certainly don’t expect to see a herd of pigs hurtling off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean at the command of Jesus. But in ourselves we are bound to sin and death and like that man, cannot free ourselves. We need to be clothed by Christ; we need for Him to break our chains; we need for Him to set our minds at peace and restore order to our lives.
Here’s the danger with this story. It’s so far off the radar screen of our day to day existence and experience. It’s so completely “out there” when it comes to miracle stories. We like the stories about feeding five thousand with a couple of loaves of bread, or healing the sick or the blind, or raising a widow’s only son from the dead. We can identify with those narratives and sympathize with their characters. Stories like that give us hope and touch our lives where we hurt. But this story is just plain weird, and terrifying. It was weird and terrifying for the people of the Gerasenes too. They told Jesus to go back where He came from. Would we do the same if things got weird around here?
This story reminds us that there is a lot more going on in this world that we are aware of. There is a dark, demonic realm that occasionally breaks in to our existence and wreaks havoc on lives. I know that’s a bit hard for us to swallow in our scientific age. We tend to relegate devils to the trick or treat play of Halloween. We smile inwardly when we sing with Luther “though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.” Yeah, those superstitious monks of the middle ages, we think. Luther worried about devils and demons; we worry about global warming and outsourcing of our jobs. Our scientifically school minds have no place for the demons, much less the angels and archangels. If that man with a legion of demons were among us today, we’d likely label him “insane” and institutionalize him.
I’ve known people who claim to have brushes with the demonic realm. I admit that even I am skeptical, always looking for ordinary, alternative explanations. But the fact is that there is a dark, demonic realm of which the Bible has precious little to say. We are kept largely in the dark about the darkness because it leads only to death and destruction. There was a devil, and evil one, the one who is the father of lies and a murderer before Adam and Eve fell into sin. He tempted Eve to disobey God’s Word. He wreaks havoc and evil in the world, collaborating with our all too willing sinful natures. No, this is not “trick or treat” Halloween silliness, this is a hidden, dark fact of life. It’s what St. Paul referred to as the “powers and the principalities and the rulers of this present darkness.”
The point is not to scare you and to have you look for a devil under every rock. The point is that One who is greater than the demons and the darkness is among us and fights for us. Jesus confronted the demons for you. He battled the darkness. He was tempted in the wilderness to the very depths of His human soul. He demonstrated His absolute power over the demonic realm in episodes like this. The devil and his demons tremble at the mere mention of Jesus’ name. He is their Lord too. Not their Savior, but He is their Lord, and they have no choice but to obey Him. If He commands them to go into a herd of pigs, they do it. The Large Catechism is quite right when it calls the devil “God’s devil.”
The one thing the devil and his horde of demons did not want is for Jesus to die on the cross. Anything but that. He knew, as did the whole demonic realm, that Jesus’ death would be their undoing. The Law that would put us in the same place as the devil is fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The darkness trembled as Jesus prayed in the darkness, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” The darkness and demons knew it was over for them. Christ had conquered. His descent to hell, into the Abyss and Death itself proclaims His lordship and victory. He is Lord even in the depths, and there is no place that Jesus is not Lord.
For you and me, that means confidence and boldness. The devil may still prowl about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, but he can be resisted as we stand firm in the faith of Jesus. You are baptized into Jesus’ death and life. Like that man of the catacombs, you have been brought out of darkness into His light, out of death into life. You have been clothed with Christ. He is the healing of your mind as well as your body and soul. You belong are children of the light and of the Day. The darkness is ended. You receive Christ’s body and blood as your food and drink, that body given into death, that blood shed for your forgiveness causes the whole demonic realm to tremble as much as it did that day in the Gerasenes. We are powerless against the forces of evil, but Christ is our strength, our fortress, our shield. You have nothing to fear of the darkness, of death, of the devil.
The man wanted to join up with Jesus, but Jesus had other plans for him. He didn’t need more people following Him around; He needed someone there in the Gerasenes who would tell others. “Go home, and tell how much God has done for you.” And so He did. What a great sentence for us who have heard the Word of forgiveness, who have been freed from the chains of sin and death, who have tasted the heavenly gifts. Go home, and tell how much God has done for you. He’s forgiven you, raised you, clothed you, freed you, raised you to life, given you to share in His glory.
So much to receive; so much to tell.
In the name of Jesus, Amen