The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost August 15, 2010
5, 528, 262, 531
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May God the Holy Spirit fill you with the sort of confidence and faith that never knows a moment of doubt that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. Amen.
Fellow servants of the Triune God:
I would imagine that you have all had real life or movie “moments” when you heard something that truly shocked you—something that just made your jaw drop or sent a shiver up your spine. The babysitter who gets the crank calls when a man repeatedly asks, “Have you checked the children?” She finally takes the calls seriously and calls the police who then trace the calls and find that they are being made from an extension in the house where she is babysitting…that sort of thing.
Today’s text ought to do that same sort of thing to us. We tend to fool ourselves that the spiritual enemies we face are manageable and therefore rather non-threatening until we listen to Jesus’ conversation with a demon. That disturbing conversation is part of our text found in the Gospel account of Luke, the 8th chapter:
Then they sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee. And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness. Jesus asked him, saying, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss. Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain. So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them. And He permitted them. Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned. When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed. Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. And He got into the boat and returned. Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him. But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.
These are God’s words, perfect in every way. May God the Holy Spirit grant you the grace to trust that these are His Words and to hear and learn from them accordingly. To this end we pray, “Sanctify us through the Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
Sermon themes can sometimes be more difficult than the sermon itself. The Word of God is always new and fresh which means themes and sermons should always be new and fresh. Sometimes it takes effort to resist the “cute” and to go with what actually builds up and teaches. I once read a theme for our text this morning: “The Nude, Rude, Crude, Lewd Dude with a ‘Tude”—clever, maybe, but clever isn’t much help when the Devil comes calling. In such cases “clever” usually turns and runs.
It is pretty safe to say that everyone here has heard his or her fair share of cute or clever sayings over the years—clichés that deal, more or less, with our general topic this morning. How about these: “When the going gets tough…” You can finish on your own, can’t you? “…the tough get going.” Or, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Or, “Live to fight another day.” And again, “If we don’t hang together, we will all hang separately.” The list is long, to put it mildly.
The problem, again, is that “cute” and “clever” tend to minimize the actual threat. Dump a little raw fear onto cute and it melts like cotton candy in the rain. Given what we know about our spiritual enemies, cute just won’t do it.
What will do it? When we are talking about Satan and his minions, only sober truth will do. So it is that you don’t hear Peter making cute when he talks about the Devil. He says things like: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Not cute at all, but very sobering and the result is very effective.
The line in our text that ought to both chill and sober us is the demon’s response when Jesus asks its name: “He said, ‘Legion,’ because many demons had entered him.” [v.30] Add to that the fact that these demons had entered or “possessed” this man and that by their power he was given super-human strength and an animal ferocity, and we quickly see that there is nothing cute about this situation—nothing at all!
That’s the first message of our text—a frank and candid look at just what Christians are up against.
When I visited a death row inmate in the maximum security prison in Starke, Florida I saw firsthand what no Hollywood actor could ever accurately portray: convicted, hard-core criminals who had no pity, no remorse, no compassion, and, worst of all, nothing to lose. It’s in the eyes. You can’t fake that, you can’t “act” that. The man I visited was next door to Ted Bundy. I stopped visiting the man when he got violent during one of our meetings. He was there because he had robbed, assaulted, and then stabbed a woman between 14 and 20 times. Just before his execution in 1990 he said in a letter to the state that his only regret was that the woman’s husband hadn’t also been home at the time so that he could have killed him as well.
The point is that there are absolutely, thoroughly bad people in the world. And yet as bad as human beings can get, they are as nothing compared to Satan and his evil angels. As evil, brutal, and remorseless as human beings can be, the spiritual forces that oppose us are infinitely worse. They truly have nothing whatsoever to lose. For living human beings there is always a chance which is why I went to visit this man in prison. The malefactor crucified next to Jesus was saved at the 11th hour. But no hope remains for the fallen angels. Theirs is a wickedness beyond our comprehension, an evil that cannot be measured in human terms. They have no hope, only hatred. The Bible tells us that they are reserved only for the fires of Hell.
You can hear that in the demon’s response to Jesus, can’t you? Listen again to their answer as recorded in a parallel account in Matthew: “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). That’s the point, isn’t it? The demons have nothing to lose because they know with a dreadful certainty that nothing and no one can ever help them, ever rescue them. They know only helplessness, bitterness, and hatred for God and everything He loves. More than just “death row,” they sit on “eternity row”—awaiting only the fires of Hell for all eternity.
In our text we see a dramatic contrast for just as the possessed human being was powerless against the demons, so also we learn how powerless the demons were against Jesus. Not that their helplessness stopped their hatred or brutality. They just looked for a new target, a new victim or victims which means you and me. They are already judged and condemned, so they seek only to destroy the living. Knowing that Jesus would never allow them to enter other human beings, they beg permission to enter a herd of pigs. Other than the fact that the raising and eating of pigs was forbidden to Jews at that time, we have little understanding of such things. Did the pigs essentially commit suicide when they felt the presence of the demons? More likely is the idea that the demons simply sought to kill, to destroy whatever they touched. Jesus allowed the unclean to enter the unclean, but only the swine perished. The demons remain.
Dark and rather frightening scene, isn’t it? That, however, is the reality of the world in which we live. Our enemies, though unseen, are every bit as real as the seat in which you are sitting, and their unrelenting intentions are more evil than anything we can fully imagine.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that this is exactly why Jesus came to earth. We don’t have to defeat such incredibly powerful and evil forces because Jesus did it for us—in our place and as our substitute, our champion. He understood both the depth of the evil and the authors of that evil. He also knew that you and I were simply incapable of ever succeeding against such things. Luther captured the truth in his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”:
With might of ours could naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected.
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, ‘Who is this?’
Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord,
and there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever. [TLH 262:2]
Nor was Luther ignorant of just what we were up against. From the third verse of that same hymn:
Tho’ devils all the world should fill,
all eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him. [TLH 262:3]
That “word,” of course, is Jesus.
If you are anything like me you will admit —as I do—that you tend to lose sight of the true nature of the struggle that we are in and the danger that we face. And if that is true, then it is also true that you and I also lose sight of just how desperately we need our Savior and just how indispensible and magnificent a champion He really is. The man in our text was helpless in the face of such power, such evil. He had no ability, no inner strength to rid himself of the demons that possessed him.
It’s the same way with sin. You and I had (and have) no power to rid ourselves of sin, and it was our sin that had separated us from God and excluded us from God’s Heaven. Our sins had made us the playthings of the demons. As the demons held the man of the Gadarenes in their grip, so our sins held us in an iron grip from which we could never hope to break free.
But that is exactly what Jesus came to do for us—that is exactly what He did do for us on Calvary’s cross. He met evil head-on and prevailed. He did so by consistently resisting all demonic temptation—keeping God’s holy law perfectly—and then paid our sin debt for us by offering his perfect life as a blood sacrifice on the cross. In so doing, the power of the demons was broken, shattered, destroyed. The evil against which we were powerless was crushed, broken. The penalty for our sins has been paid in full.
The war has been won, but don’t miss the ending in our text. There are still many who refuse Jesus’ victory. The people of the Gadarenes, for example, promptly drove Jesus from their region. They essentially traded Him—together with eternal life—for pigs. My guess is it doesn’t look much different today when human beings discard Jesus and Christianity for something like money, pleasure, or earthly fame and power—eternal life, traded for “pigs.”
Yet not all rejected Jesus. Here, as elsewhere, there always seemed to be a remnant that was saved. So we hear that the man from whom the demons were cast became a disciple. Though he wanted to join Jesus’ entourage, God had other plans for him. He, like most of us here today, was sent home to be Jesus’ witness there. Our calling is the same—simply to tell our neighbors “what great things God has done for you.” [v.39]
To follow in this disciples’ footsteps, you and I have to first come to understand those “great things.” Today’s text helps to open our eyes. Our enemy is Legion—a countless hoard with power and evil beyond our comprehension. Yet our one ally is Jesus Christ, who is more than enough to give us the victory. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.