Sermon on Luke 8:26-39 for the Second Sunday after Pentecost (Pr 7), June 20 & 23, 2019
- Today’s Gospel was kind of wild, wasn’t it? A demon possessed man, living in the tombs, naked and shouting. It also made for a wild bulletin cover picture! In Madagascar, there is a Lutheran church body that does exorcism as part of its regular ministry because demon possession is so common there. Many people there practice folk religions in which they invite the spirits of nature or spirits of their ancestors to inhabit them. When they figure out that the spirit isn’t grandpa, then they go to the church for help. (See I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare) In our part of the world, it seems the devil has a hold on people in other ways—but as society has less and less Christian influence, and as people dabble in spirituality and New Age practices, possession may become more frequent in the western world. When the Son of God walked the earth, Satan went to battle for his territory on every front he could. He hardened the hearts of the Pharisees and gave Jesus opposition. He entered the heart of Judas and worked within Jesus’ inner circle. And tried to possess people before Jesus could possess them in a good way. The devil’s goal, as always, was to make people miserable. It was also to distract. If Jesus has to deal with demon possessed people, he has less time to teach. A wild man who breaks chains is going to get more attention than a good teacher, calmly sharing the Word about the kingdom of God.
- So let us not get distracted either. This lesson is indeed about demon possession, but it’s about something much more important than that. It shows us what it means that Jesus is Savior.
Part I. It means we can’t be our own saviors.
- Think of the demon possessed man, out there on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, living in the tombs, naked, raging, beyond anyone’s help. It looks like people tried to help him, or they tried to restrain him. He broke the chains and went back to the tombs. No one else could help him. He also couldn’t help himself. We aren’t told how long he was possessed, but I’m guessing it was for a while because people tried to help or restrain him. He was stuck, where he was. He was powerless to make a change. He couldn’t drive out the demons himself. Left to himself, he would have remained there, naked, raging, living in the tombs, shouting at and terrorizing anyone who came near. What kind of a life would that be? Helpless. Hopeless.
- And our situation isn’t much better. No we aren’t filthy, naked and screaming. But what is the human condition, generally? Without God we are “in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves.” Martin Luther wrote in a hymn, “Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay.” The bondage to sin that you see in the news, violence, murder, the unimaginable things people do to each other… it’s in you and me, too. We can’t be our own saviors because we don’t have the strength—we wouldn’t know where to start. By God’s grace, you and I have been called from darkness to light. We know who we are as redeemed children of God because we have heard the gospel. We know what our God wants us to do and avoid as his children because we have heard his law. We have a Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us so that we could be counted as God’s children. He chose us so that he could work a change in us: a change in status from sinners to saints, and then a change in life, as the Holy Spirit moves us to want what God wants, to reflect his love, to let our blessings overflow to others.
Part II. It means he has great compassion for us.
- Think again of that poor man, filthy, naked, raging, shouting. Today, someone like that would be arrested or detained for his own safety, and it sounds like people tried that, but he was too strong, too wild. Who would want to be near someone like that. Jesus. The man comes up to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t turn away. He doesn’t turn the man away. He talks to him and asks him questions. He takes care of the man’s worst problem. He does it for no reason at all except that he can. He has compassion. Compassion so great that the man’s condition, demon possessed, probably dirty, smelly, violent, shouting, doesn’t keep Jesus away. His love is too great. Being around a dangerous person is a great risk. Because of who Jesus is, it was no risk to him at all. He talks. He touches.
- And think of yourself. Outwardly, we’re not shouting. We’ve put on our Sunday best today. Inwardly, I’m guessing some of us are shouting. Some of us are feeling very dirty with feelings of guilt, memories of failure. Some of us are working very, very hard not to let out what we carry inside. Jesus said that he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Without him, that’s everyone. That’s the depth of his compassion. When I was young, I learned a song, “God loves me dearly, loves even me.” With all my weaknesses, he loves even me. With all the times we deceive ourselves by saying we are without sin… We’re okay, just as we are. No need for a change of heart. Jesus comes to us, just as we are, and begins to work his change. A change he has already made for us (justification), and a change he wants to work within us (sanctification).
Part III, It means he uses his great power for our good.
- Even though that demon possessed man was so strong and so violent that he could break chains and shackles, he was powerless to change his situation. I read an account of a demon possessed person talking about his experience. He said it was awful. He was aware of what was happening, but the demon was in control. He was not. And he had to watch what the evil spirit was making him do. He was powerless to resist. I’m sure the man by the Sea of Galilee didn’t enjoy being naked, or the rage, or living in the tombs, or resisting family, friends and neighbors who were trying to restrain him for his own protection—but he was powerless against the devil’s power. But the power of Jesus Christ was now present. The demons knew it. They cringed and shuddered and cried out “Don’t send us into the abyss!” When they were in the man, they weren’t in hell. They wanted to delay going back to that prison for even a minute if they could. When they knew Jesus was going to help the man, they begged, “Send us into the pigs.” When Jesus did that, it seems he didn’t let them have complete control of the pigs because their possession of the pigs was cut short by the pigs drowning themselves. The power of Jesus was beyond what anyone else could do. And he helped the naked, wretched, helpless and hopeless man. He freed him from the demons, have him clothing, healed him in body and mind. (Remember the purpose of the miracles of Jesus, always: 1. To help someone in need and 2. To show his own power as God.
- He has done miracles very much like this in your lives and in mine. I will let you recall your own stories of what the power of Christ has delivered you from. Maybe it was an addiction. Maybe it was a self-destructive lifestyle. Maybe it was grief and despair that put an unbearable weight on your mind and heart. Maybe it was anger or rage that you kept bottled up. All of these could have ruined you. They certainly wounded you. But by his power, you are still here. By the power of his holy Word, you have come to know, accept as true, and trust what he says about himself as the Savior and about you as the saved. Especially that he thinks you are worth the price of his blood, shed on the cross. You are worth the value of the life of God’s own Son.
Conclusion: Jesus, in all his holiness, perfection and glory has come and has even given up his life for the unholy, imperfect and awful. This is what it meant for him to be the Savior. That is what it means for us, the unholy, imperfect and awful. Because he has given himself for us, because he has washed us in his own blood, because he has connected and applied his saving work to us in baptism, in him we are holy, perfect and blameless in his sight—because we are clothed with him. “All this he did that we should be his own.” What compassion! What power! What a change! What a Savior!
Luke 8:26-39 (EHV)
26 They sailed down to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, a man from the town met him. He was possessed by demons and for a long time had not worn any clothes. He did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What do I have to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torment me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. In fact, the unclean spirit had seized him many times. He was kept under guard, and although he was bound with chains and shackles, he would break the restraints and was driven by the demon into deserted places. 30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion,” because many demons had gone into him. 31 They were begging Jesus that he would not order them to go into the abyss. 32 A herd of many pigs was feeding there on the mountain. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 The demons went out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. 34 When those who were feeding the pigs saw what happened, they ran away and reported it in the town and in the countryside. 35People went out to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet. He was clothed and in his right mind, and the people were afraid. 36 Those who saw it told them how the demon-possessed man was saved. 37 The whole crowd of people from the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were gripped with great fear. As Jesus got into the boat and started back, 38 the man from whom the demons had gone out begged to be with him. But Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home and tell how much God has done for you.” Then he went through the whole town proclaiming what Jesus had done for him.
 I’ve read several books on the subject. I can’t remember the source of this story.