9th Sunday after Pentecost August 7, 2022
536, 371:1-2,6-7, 387:1-4, 387:6-7
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, Your Son, Jesus, triumphed over the prince of demons and freed us from bondage to sin. Help us to stand firm against every assault of Satan, and enable us always to do Your will; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
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—and that you have and need no other. Amen.
Fellow Servants of the Triune God:
I’m guessing a solid majority of us have been fooled by click bait—those internet headlines that promise “shocking new revelations” and “bombshell breaking news.” If you’re like me, you find it harder and harder to be “shocked.” We’ve become numbed to it all by the media’s never-ending quest for attention. They’ve long known that the more appalling and salacious the news, the more viewers they tend to get and the more money they thereby rake in.
There’s a spiritual danger here that we need to recognize. The greater our desensitization, the more likely we are to downplay or ignore the real and terrifying dangers that actually do threaten us on a daily basis. Satan is behind all of this, as he is behind the trivializing of things like hell and demons.
This morning’s text serves as an effective test as to just how successful the devil has been in desensitizing you, personally, to that which is truly terrifying. Trivializing the spiritual enemies that threaten us is not healthy. Our text accomplishes this self-test by allowing us to listen in on Jesus’ conversation with a demon. Many demons really. A whole legion of them. One, against a legion. The encounter ought to provide sobriety, but also afford tremendous hope. Our text is found in the Gospel of Luke, the 8th Chapter:
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, 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 many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. (ESV)
This is God’s Word, and therefore perfect in every way. May God the Holy Spirit grant you the grace to trust that these are God’s Words, and to be thereby protected and comforted by the power of these words continually. To that end we pray, “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
I once heard a theme for our text this morning: “The Crude, Lewd, Rude, Nude 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.
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. “When the going gets tough…” You can finish on your own, can’t you? “…the tough get going.” “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” “Live to fight another day.” “If we don’t hang together, we will all hang separately.” The list is long.
The problem, again, is that “cute” and “clever” tend to minimize the actual threat. Dump a little raw fear and panic onto cute and it melts like cotton candy in the rain. Given what we know about our spiritual enemies, cute is not what we need or want.
What is it then that we need? 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: “And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him.” 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 (now as then) are up against.
If you’ve ever had occasion to look into the eyes of death row inmates, you’ve seen firsthand what no Hollywood actor could ever accurately portray: convicted, hard-core criminals who have 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. I’ve seen that only once, when I visited a death-row inmate at a maximum security prison in Florida. The man was on death-row 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 we reach out even to death-row inmates. The malefactor crucified next to Jesus was saved at the 11th hour. However, no hope remains for the fallen angels. Theirs is a wickedness born of desperation and 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, recorded in a parallel account in Matthew 8: “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 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, hopelessness, bitter frustration, rage, and absolute 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 that stops their hatred or brutality. They just look 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, or did the demons simply seek to kill, to destroy, whatever they touched? Jesus allowed the unclean to enter the unclean, but only the swine perished. The demons remain.
A dark and terrifying 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 building you occupy and the seat in which you are sitting, and their unrelenting intentions are more evil than anything we can fully imagine. And their number is Legion.
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 purveyors or authors of that evil. He also knew that you and I were simply incapable of ever succeeding against such things. Luther captured this truth in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress: “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.” 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.” That “word,” of course, is Jesus—the One. Against which the Legion is powerless.
Christians 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 therefore lose sight of just how desperately we need our Savior and just how indispensable 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. Yet since we are never supposed to be idle spectators when we study God’s Word, but active participants, ask yourself where you are represented in this text. The obvious answer is that you and I are represented by that possessed man, held captive by our sin and unbelief. We had no power to rid ourselves of the condemnation of our sin, and it was our sin that had separated us from God and excluded us from God’s heaven. Our sins had enslaved us. We were the playthings of the demons. As the demons held the man of the Gerasenes in their grip, so our sins held us in a tempered steel grip from which we could never hope to free ourselves.
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 freeing us from our slavery to demonic forces 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. Legion, defeated by One.
The war has been won, but don’t miss the ending in our text. There are still many who, refusing Jesus’ victory, are enslaved by sin and unbelief. The people of the Gerasenes, for example, drove Jesus from their region. They essentially traded their Savior for pigs. I doubt it looks much different today when human beings discard Jesus for something like money, pleasure, or earthly fame and power— eternal life, traded for “pigs.”
Yet not all rejected, did they. 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, and a witness. 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.” To do so, you and I have to first come to understand those “great things.” Our text for this morning helps to open our eyes. Our enemy is Legion—a countless hoard with power and evil beyond our comprehension. Yet our one Friend and Ally is Jesus Christ, who has both fought for us and has credited his victory to us. It is enough, for this One can and will continue to protect us from that terrifying Legion until he calls us safely home. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.