Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7C)
June 23, 2019
Text: Luke 8:26-39
Jesus releases us from bondage to the devil. For where Christ enters, Satan is cast out. This is His divine mission of salvation. The New Creation is breaking in.
But do we even know how crucial this release is for us? Is it not true that even we Christians, even well-catechized Missouri Synod Lutherans, live for all practical purposes as though there is no devil, no demons; as though there aren’t real, cosmic, evil forces out to get us; as though apart from Christ and His release we are not in bondage to sin, death, and the very devil? Repent. Christ open your eyes. This is serious business. If we really believed what the Scriptures say of the devil, we wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be in Church. Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible.”
Satan is real, and he is powerful. Created holy in the beginning, Lucifer, which means “Light Bearer,” he is a mighty angel. But he rebelled. He thought he could be a better god than God. Full of pride, he set himself against the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore he was cast down, along with all the rebellious angels that followed in his train, including those that make up Legion in our text. And it is this wicked angel, Satan, who inhabited the serpent in the Garden, tempting our first parents and leading them to sin. Now he’s out to get us, and he spares no effort. He hates us. He longs to separate us from Christ and drag us down to hell with him. His minions delight in our every stammer, stumble, and fall. Christ is our only help, our shelter from demonic attack, our Mighty Fortress, and our Deliverer. Christ is our safety. When we recognize the danger in the assaults of the demonic hoard, we are driven to cling to Christ who is for us and releases us in His saving Word and Sacraments.
The man in our text is physically possessed by a demon, or more accurately, thousands of demons, named Legion. A Roman Legion consisted of 3,000-6,000 men, if that is any indication. Perhaps this man presents a rare case. To be possessed by so many devils at one time is probably unusual. And, of course, physical possession is not the only way demons afflict humanity. There is physical possession, but there is also oppression and affliction, which may better be understood as harassment from outside the person, though we really don’t know enough about it to make hard and fast distinctions.
We do know, however, what the demons do to a person, and we learn it right here in our text. The demons specialize in lewd behavior, all that is perverse and coarse and vulgar. The man is naked. He refuses to wear clothing and observe the normal rules of modesty. Think of our own culture’s sexual perversion and promiscuity. To maintain that sex outside of marriage or living together before marriage is sinful is almost laughable in our culture. We’ve moved on. Sex with whoever, whatever, whenever you want is thought to be an inalienable right. Pornography, homosexuality, the all-out assault on marriage and the murderous war against the fruit of marriage (the human baby), transgenderism, giving children hormone blockers and subjecting them to mutilating surgical procedures, and stuffing all of this down our throats as dogma… What do you think is the source of all of this? It’s demonic. It is all a lie from the father of lies.
Broken relationships and isolation. The man dwells in the tombs. He is driven from normal society. He is alone. Think about how we are driven to isolation in our culture, and how we are divided from one another. Partisan rancor in our nation is but one minor symptom. Social networking has driven us to be anti-social. We prefer the virtual reality of the online “community” to real community and communion with people, and the communion of the Church has suffered particularly. We are withdrawing from one another. We sit in the same room with others absorbed by our individual, glowing, hypnotic screens. Marriages and families are falling to shambles. Who is to blame? Of course, we must own up to our own responsibility in this. Repent. But what is the source? The devil.
Violence. Super-human strength, like that of the demoniac in our text, is unusual, and a mark of physical possession as opposed to oppression, but unprovoked physical assault is a specialty of the evil one. Mental or emotional illness, though certainly not always the result of physical possession, is an affliction of the evil one. The man in our text is mad. Think of our own epidemic of depression and other mental illnesses, mania, addiction, suicide. Christians are not immune from these kinds of oppression. And this leaves unexamined the participation of demons in our physical maladies. Jesus drives out fevers and cleanses leprosy like they’re demons in His earthly ministry. We cannot see what those connections look like with our bodily eyes, but we know they are there.
So maybe we ought to take the devil seriously. The devil is stronger than the whole world. But he is no match for our Lord Christ. Even a legion of demons cannot withstand His Word of command. And notice the condition of the man after Jesus casts the demons from him into the herd of pigs. Now the man is sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35). The violence and madness are at an end. He is clothed, and we may say, not only is his nakedness and shame covered with fabric, in the salvation Jesus here gives him, his sin and guilt are covered with the forgiveness and righteousness of the Savior. And his mind has been restored. He has received a new mind, the mind of Christ, a gift from His saving Lord. New Creation has broken in to make whole and heal, to transform what is darkness into light, what is dead into life.
This is what Jesus does for you. When Jesus enters your life, when Jesus enters you through your ear and by way of your mouth, by means of words and water and bread and wine, He releases you from bondage to the devil and the hordes of hell; releases you from their oppression and affliction; clothes you with Himself, with His blood-bought forgiveness and righteousness and life; heals your mind, your body, your soul; transforms you and makes you whole. And here you are, sitting at His feet, hearing His Word. When you are receiving the gifts of Christ in the Church, in Word and Sacrament, you are clothed and in your right mind. And the devil cannot harm you. For where Christ is, Satan and his minions must flee.
It is an interesting reaction on the part of the crowds, though, isn’t it? Not that they enjoyed having an extra-strength lunatic around, breaking chains and probably hurting people, living out among the dead bodies. But when they find the man demon-free and healed, and their own herd of pigs having jumped off the cliff and drowned in the sea, they are incapable of recognizing this miracle as the Gospel, the good news, that it is. Instead, they are afraid. They’re scared to death. Because all they can see is the threat Jesus represents against their own uncleanness and comfortable and perversely pleasurable servitude to Satan. Pigs, remember, are unclean to the Jews. This is pagan Gentile country, after all, this land of the Gerasenes. Now, we Lutherans like pigs, especially on our plates. But in our Holy Gospel, the pigs represent all that is unclean, sinful, and unholy. Jesus permits the demons to inhabit those things for a time, until the Day of Judgment, the Day of His return when the devil and his demons will be cast into the eternal fire prepared for them. And look what the demons do. They immediately drive the whole herd to destruction. That’s all the demons can do. Destroy! They cannot create. The best they can do is perversely imitate the work of God, and that always with an aim to deceive. But basically they are in the business of destruction. They can only destroy. They cannot build. They can only tear down. They cannot preserve life. They can only maim and kill. The demons in our text do what is in their nature. They destroy the herd. And the people blame, not the demons, but Jesus. They blame Jesus. They beg Jesus to leave them alone. They love their uncleanness and bondage more than wholeness and freedom in Jesus.
So it goes in the world. This is why the world hates Christ and His Christians, why we represent such a threat to them. Here is Jesus, as He says through the Prophet Isaiah in our Old Testament reading, stretching out His hands to a rebellious people, saying “Here am I, here am I” (Is. 65:1; ESV), and they will have nothing to do with Him. Isaiah describes them as sitting in the tombs, eating pig’s flesh (sounds familiar) (v. 4), saying to God, to our Savior, Jesus, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you” (v. 5). Jesus stretches out His hands on the cross to redeem humanity from our rebellious separation from God, and the world just sits there in its own rot and death, consuming all that is defiling and defiled, thinking it is holier than Jesus, when, in fact, it is in the bony grasp hellish dragon. And Judgment is coming.
But there is a remnant. “I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,” God promises, “and from Judah possessors of my mountains; my chosen shall possess it, and my servants shall dwell there” (v. 9). That’s not just the Jews. That’s you. New Israel. The Church. That is your inheritance in Jesus, who died for your sins on the cross, who is risen from the dead. That is your stake in the New Creation He brings by His blood and resurrection life. He releases you from bondage to sin, death, and the devil, for this very thing, to live forever with Him in the New Heavens and the New Earth, in the resurrection of your body on the Last Day.
You are witnesses of these things to the world. As our Lord sent the man back to the Gerasenes to tell what God had done for him, so he sends you out from this place into the world to tell what Jesus has done for you. Now, you know the devil is out there, gunning for you. You are not deceived. You know he is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). But you do not worry. You do not lose heart. You are safe in Jesus. And you always know where to find Him, to cling to Him for safety. In your Baptism. In His Word. In His Supper. The devil can have his day in all that is unholy and unclean. But his day is quickly coming to an end. Christ Jesus is coming again. Then the devil’s judgment will be complete. But Christ is already here for you in His means of grace. Where Christ is, the serpent cast out. Rejoice, all you who are baptized into Christ. Tell the devil to go to hell. You are free. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.