Text: Luke 8:26-39
Date: Pentecost 4 (Proper 7) + 6/20/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ healing of a man possessed by demons is striking in its detail and not a little puzzling in its relevance to our modern ears. For to preach or proclaim this word requires as of first importance the acceptance of the existence of demons and of their ability to possess human beings, and only then to what meaning this event may have for our life of faith. It is clear that the Bible takes seriously and literally the realm and rule of the devil and his evil spirits. And it is just as clear that there is a demonic power at work in the world to keep people from the deliverance and salvation God so desires to provide to all. May these words, first, inform and prepare us to recognize all that militates against the Gospel and then also inspire and embolden us to proclaim to others how much God has done for us and for the whole world through His Son, Jesus Christ.
First of all the existence of demons and their ability to possess human beings. We believe that the scripture, the Bible, is the Word of God, the inspired, inerrant testimony revealing God’s own Person and will to the world. As such it reveals to us what God deems necessary for us to know if we are to know Him and the world He created. Admittedly, some of what God reveals we may question as to why He thinks we need to know it, for much is mysterious and seemingly not altogether clear. Therefore it should also go without saying that there is much about God and His creation that is not revealed or explained in the scriptures. As a document written through certain men chosen by God, it is written in human language and therefore subject to normal rules of language. The Bible itself gives us its own rules of interpretation.
One rule is that the Bible should be read and interpreted literally according to normal rules of language unless it is obvious from the context that it is employing some other literary device. Confusion results from interpreting any writing symbolically if its intention is literal or vice versa. For instance, you shouldn’t wonder what I mean when I tell you to stop at the stop sign at the corner. Those records of Jesus’ exorcisms of evil spirits as well as His own temptation by the devil in the wilderness need to be understood literally, requiring the acceptance of the existence of the realm and rule of the devil and his evil spirits.
It was after Jesus calmed the storm on the sea of Galilee demonstrating to His disciples His power and authority even over the forces of nature, that they came to the other side and He was met by a man who had demons. Ever since his judgment and condemnation by God for his rebellion, the devil and his hordes are all about chaos, confusion, destruction and death. Therefore, wherever there is confusion, chaos and destruction there is the devil making the most of the situation. This manifested itself in this man’s life by his social isolation, not even worrying about wearing clothes, living in the caves among the unclean tombs. Luke explains in a parenthetical comment how people even tried to keep him under guard, bound with chains, but so great was the demons’ strength they would break the shackles and return to the desert. The devil has great strength beyond human ability.
The devil also knows precisely who God is. Having been commanded by Jesus to depart from the man, he, or I should say “they” had a conversation with Jesus. With a shriek and in a loud voice the demon yells through the man, “What have you to do with me, Jesus.” And then he calls Jesus “Son of the Most High God.” The devil knows what human beings can know only by the gift and enlightenment of faith, namely, that Jesus is the Son of God.
The devil also knows that Jesus is in charge with the result that he must obey His every word. When asked his name he said, “Legion,” meaning there were many demons in residence. The devil and his angels know that their destiny is the eternal punishment in the lake of fire prepared for that purpose by God (Mt. 25:41), but that the final bell has not yet rung. “I beg you, do not torment me,” “Don’t send me into the abyss.” But they did end up in at least a temporary “abyss” when they were allowed to enter the large herd of pigs grazing nearby. Again, the devil is all about chaos and destruction. So the pigs rushed down the hill into the lake and were drowned, literally choked in the water.
Cleansed of the evil spirits the formerly possessed man sat calmly at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. The confusion, chaos and destructive, deadly behavior had ceased.
Now, regardless of whether it is caused by the devil or if he and his minions are just standing by at the sidelines cheering on the chaos of our own sinful nature, where is the confusion, the chaos, the brokenness right now in your own life? What sort of confusing powers are at work in our world today that keep people from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ? According to the Apostle Paul, writing in Second Corinthians, it is that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). That spiritual blindness is rooted in our own fallen, sinful nature, separated from God and the life He would give us.
But certainly there are “aids” in the world around us to keep us blind to God. Look at what has happened to Jesus’ own followers, that is, His Church, divided or “denominated” over the face of the earth. Such division and chaos is not of God but the result of sin, the sin of false doctrine or interpretation of God’s own Word. Then there are imitation religions all with the marks of the devil’s chaos and confusion. The more tame imitations include those who still claim to be Jews but who reject Jesus as the Messiah. Then there are those with man-made injections such as so-called Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. But probably most obvious (and of most current concern especially for us in our Western culture) is the seventh-century invention and rise of Islam. Not only its claim of validity and equality with the religion of Abraham and of Jesus, but its substitute sacred text and especially the chaos and deadly practices are all marks of evil. Because of its specifically religious claims, the secular state is not able to make the proper conclusions, namely, to mark it as an especially dangerous religion and cultural influence. As long as anyone rejects or denies the God of the Holy Scriptures and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, they remain spiritually blind and have only eternal death their destiny unless they are converted and reborn by the Spirit of God.
How is a blind sinner to be converted and brought to the rebirth of baptism and faith? After sitting at Jesus’ feet the formerly possessed man was sent by Jesus, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” People come to conversion, to repentance and faith by hearing the Word of the Gospel. Faith comes from hearing, and this hearing by the Word of God.
We can take this as a sending for ourselves. And if we are to declare in our own homes and home towns “how much God has done” for us, like the man in today’s Gospel, it may begin by telling of Jesus’ miraculous exorcism or some other personal experience. But think about it. If we are to declare how much God has done for the whole world in Jesus, that means nothing short of God’s entire plan of salvation and especially the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It means everything God has revealed in His Word. It means putting all that revelation together as in the catechism. It means the preaching of the Gospel and the proper use of the sacraments, all of God’s means of grace through which He enlightens minds and opens the eyes of faith to the glory of Christ, the image of God.
Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and living and reigning in the world through His body, the Church, still releases people from the chaos and confusion, the destruction and death caused by sin and encouraged by the devil. He releases people by the forgiveness of their sins. In that forgiveness and victory over the devil, the world and our sinful flesh, our world is calmed and we can sit at the feet of Jesus, by His word, “becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
Go, now, “Return to your home, and declare how much God…” how much Jesus has done for you and the whole world.