June 23 2013 Sermon
Luke 8:26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 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. 28 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.” 29 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.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 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. 33 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. 34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 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. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 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. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “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.
As we continue our study of Luke’s Gospel, we look today at an event recorded for us in Luke chapter 8, beginning with verse 26, as well as in Matthew 8 and Mark 5 where we learn a few additional details. Feel free to follow along with the gospel reading on your bulletin inserts as we study this pericope.
Earlier in the chapter we learn that Jesus on the spur of the moment got into a boat with his disciples and said, “Let’s cross over to the other side.” This was not a trip planned out ahead of time. No hotel reservations had been made, no travel agent contacted. No airline tickets purchased. They just got up and went. Apparently they didn’t even check the weather forecast before going, for as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee, such a great storm came up while Jesus was sleeping in the boat that the disciples thought they were going to die.
They arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, whose exact location is not known today, but was located in or near the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a region of 10 cities built by the Greek rulers who followed Alexander the Great. It was predominately a gentile region. Jesus was going to gentiles. As our Old Testament pericope reads: “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; and be found by those who did not seek me, by a rebellious people who walk in a way that is not good, who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh.”
Once there, Jesus met with one man and then returned. He went there for one specific person whom he had selected to be saved. He went to the man, rather than the man going to look for him.
He went because this man was the dwelling place of demons. They had held him captive for a “long time” it says. However, the meaning of the Greek word here is more like a “completed” amount of time. From this we learn that God is in charge of time. He sets the dates and times for things that take place in our life, including our sufferings. Time was up for this man’s suffering. It was now time, in God’s plan, for him to be released. This is a comfort to us, because it means even our sufferings are in God’s hands. He sets limits on our trials. He limits how much we suffer and for how long.
Notice also his condition: he wore no clothes, he was homeless; and he lived among the tombs, in the midst of death. His shame was exposed for all to see; he had no home; he lived in the midst of death. He was despicable, repulsive, foul. This describes us at the time of our birth. Not physically, but spiritually and morally. We are born into sin; not having faith in Christ. Therefore, by nature we live in the shame of sin, we are naked and our sin exposed to God’s sight. In God’s eyes we were abhorrent. Before faith we are homeless because our true home is in Christ; in the presence of and in full communion with God. Because of sin we are separated from God, homeless, living in the wilderness of this sinful world and surrounded by tombs filled with death. We are slaves to sin and cannot free ourselves from it.
In verse 29 we learn of his captivity to the demons. They seized him and drove him into the desert. The desert in scripture is always a place of suffering, trials, and death. He had to be guarded and kept in chains, but the demons caused him to literally burst open the chains it says in the Greek. He was a slave; a captive. He could not free himself from his vile state of being. Home to demons, He himself was homeless and lived among the tombs. In this man we see ourselves described in our sinful nature and separation from God.
Back to verse 28: These unclean spirits bowed before Jesus. They knew Jesus was their master and had all power and authority over them and in verse 29 he commanded the unclean spirits to come out of the man. Jesus is master of all, even of the devil and unclean spirits. He is master even of us, and even those who do not submit to him. He has the authority to cast into hell. The demons were afraid. They know there is a Judgment Day set by God when they will be sent to hell with all the rest of the unbelievers, and they tremble.
This is a frightening thing, but for those who are in Christ by faith, it also comforts us because Jesus is Lord of all; including sin and evil, sickness and suffering, depression and loneliness, old age, and death. God has set limits and even a date when sin and oppression shall cease and we shall be free from all evil and pain.
These unclean spirits knew what hell was about and they were terrified. Verse 31: they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Literally, abyss is Greek for boundless, without borders. Here in this verse it means a boundless or bottomless pit. We know it better as hell. They begged him not to send them there before the final judgment. They were afraid of hell, unlike many today who don’t think God would really send anyone to hell. We want a God who is tolerant, loving, and just a nice guy. We don’t seriously think he will hold us accountable for our behavior. We might even think that forgiveness of sins is a free pass out of hell and God overlooks anything we do wrong. Not so! Even the demons shudder in fear of hell, so much more should we.
Jesus gave the spirits permission to enter into the pigs that were feeding on the hill. Once again we see his authority over evil, suffering and death. Pigs were unclean animals, forbidden to the Jews by God. Unclean animals for unclean spirits. Then, filled with unclean spirits, the herd of pigs ran over the cliffs and drowned in the lake. A perfect sign of what happens in Christian baptism when our old, sinful nature is drowned!
As news of this spread, people rushed to see what had happened, and in verse 35, they found the man, clothed, in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus. The shame of his nakedness was covered. He was no longer in chains and shackles. He was free! No longer did unclean spirits make their home in him, now the it was the Holy Spirit who lived in him. Jesus told him to go home and tell everyone what God had done for him. He could go home now. He no longer lived among the tombs. He was restored to his home and family and to life.
Just a footnote to this: according to St. Mark, he did go home and told everyone in the Decapolis what Jesus had done. So successful was his ministry that the Gospel of Matthew tells us when Jesus returned to the Decapolis at a later time, people there already believed in him and brought their sick to him for healing.
So, what does this all mean to us? It means that we are born into sin and are by nature captive to sin. Before faith in Christ we are slaves to the law, as St. Paul tells us in the Epistle reading. The law always accuses us of sin, even when we do good. If the good things we do are still considered sin, we cannot not sin. It is not a matter of trying harder, or being strong enough to overcome a temptation. No matter what we do, the law tells us we are sinning. Even the good things we do are counted by God as filthy rags. Good works, works of the law, do not justify. Without faith in Christ, it is impossible to please God, says Hebrews. God doesn’t count anything we do as good. In other words, we are slaves. In chains. We cannot free ourselves or erase the title of sinner from our name.
We are naked. God sees the shame or our sin and guilt fully exposed to him. Apart from faith, we are homeless, separated from our true home which is God himself. Before faith we are the dwelling place of unclean spirits and live in the midst of the tombs, in a world of death. We confess that we are sinners by nature and cannot escape from sin.
“But at the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so we might receive adoption as sons.” God initiated our salvation. God saved us. He saved us by becoming a slave under the law. He took our sin and was accused by the law for our sins. He died on a cross naked, the shame of sin exposed for all the world to see and for the Father to see. And because of the vileness of our sin, he was condemned and forsaken by his Father in hell. He became the man who was a slave to demons. He was tormented in the depths of the abyss.
But, Jesus came for you intentionally and sought you out, as Jesus sought out the man with demons. You did not go to him; you did not choose to have faith in him; you did not choose to be a child of God. John’s gospel tells us, “You were born into faith not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” He came to you, died for you, and claimed as his own. At the right time, set by God, Jesus claimed you and made you a child of God by faith.
And when he gives us faith, he clothes us with his righteousness. You are no longer the vile creatures covered in the ugliness of sin that you once were. You are no longer naked with your shame exposed, but are now clothed with the righteousness of Christ. You are no longer slaves, but are set free from the accusations of the law because the law has been fulfilled by Jesus. No, he doesn’t take away the law, nor diminish its demands, nor does he overlook your sins, but he has fulfilled the law, kept it perfectly for you, so the law no longer has any power over you to make you its salve. It can no longer condemn you. It can no longer bring charges against you, for it is now fulfilled completely by Christ Jesus, our Lord. You now sit calmly at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. Instead of evil dwelling in you, the Holy Spirit dwells in you. You are now the dwelling place of God, and when God dwells in you, you can no longer live in sin and dwell among the dead, because there is no death in God, only resurrection and life.
Faith is given to us by God in Baptism. In baptism the uncleanness is cast out and drowned like the demons in the pigs. The Holy Spirit then comes in and takes up residence in you and he makes you a new creature, a new and precious person in his sight.
After receiving faith we become the ones who tell the good news to others. But, we go where Jesus sends us. Not to where our feelings or spirit of adventure lead us, or to some remote, exotic part of the world, unless he specifically sends you there, but he sends us to our own home in our own city. He sends each of us to the place where he has put us already; to the people whom he has placed around us. Where is your mission field? Look and see who is next to you, in front of you, behind you. That is your mission field and that is where Christ has sent you. To your family, your children, your grandchildren, your next door neighbor.
So go in peace. Your sins are forgiven. You are set free. Free from the law’s condemnation. You are fully clothed in righteousness. You have a home, an eternal home, and there is no death there, only resurrection and life. Amen.