Text: Luke 8:26-39
Date: Pentecost V (Proper 7) + 6/23/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, for He is the one sent from God to bring salvation to all people, He is the Son of God the Most High.
St. Luke continues his narrative with the primary emphasis on who Jesus is, namely, the incarnate Son of God who by His word has power over sin and death. The miracle of calming a storm demonstrates His power even over the earthly elements and forces of nature. Today His power is demonstrated over the spiritual forces of the chief enemy and “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), the devil and his hordes of demons. Regardless of the modern denials of Satan by the technically advanced and the wisdom of this fallen world, the Bible paints quite a different picture. And though we may at first wonder what this poor, demented, insane man of the Gerasenes could possibly have to do with us it doesn’t take much deep thought to see the parallels with the entire human race, and that does include us.
What is interesting is that Jesus makes a little detour from the land of the Jews to this area across the other side of the sea or “opposite” of Galilee, a land populated by otherwise “unclean” Gentiles. The emphasis on “unclean” is unmistakable as this man is described as possessed by an “unclean spirit” or demon and, in fact, many of them. The unclean demons are then sent into a herd of unclean animals, a large herd of pigs. Jews were forbidden to eat pigs according to the command of God, “And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you” (Lev 11:7). I remember an old professor in college who said he had a Jewish ancestry and still, though a Christian minister, could not stand pork! Too bad!
As an unclean Gentile from outside of Israel, living in demonic desert places among the unclean tombs of the dead this man is a perfect picture of all Gentiles doomed to death by their sin, caught in pagan worship, the worship of demons. Yet this is also a picture of God’s salvation coming into the world in Jesus, salvation through the Jews to all the world.
That the man “wore no clothes” bespeaks of all manner of sin as St. Paul describes it in his letter to the Romans, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” and “dishonorable passions” (Rom 1:24-26). Only after the rebellion in the Garden did Adam and Eve “know that they were naked,” meaning, they were now able for the first time to consider themselves apart from God, separated from God which is the primary effect of sin. It is at the root of what we confess every Lord’s Day in the Confession of sins, namely, our lives and ourselves separated from God, no love of God and separated from neighbor, no love of neighbor.
In an interesting parenthetical comment Luke tells us that even when people tried to keep him under guard and bind him with chains and shackles, “he would break the bonds.” This is our struggle under the Law of God. No matter how we try or resolve to do better, sin still breaks through making us seemingly captive to it (Rom 7:23; Gal 3:23). This is the great mystery of, and controversy over the third use of the Law, which we declare, saying,
We unanimously believe, teach, and confess that people who truly believe and are truly converted to God, justified Christians, are liberated and made free from the curse of the Law. Yet they should daily exercise themselves in the Law of the Lord…. The Law is a mirror in which God’s will and what pleases Him are exactly portrayed. This mirror should be constantly held up to the believers and be diligently encouraged for them without ceasing.” (Formula SDVI:4)
Isn’t it interesting (yes, it is!) that the demons know as fact what all fallen humans tend to deny, that Jesus is “Son of the Most High God” who will finally vanquish, judge and condemn eternally the devil and his demons. So sure are they that they beg Jesus here not to torment them or to command them to depart into the abyss, at least not yet. It is interesting that, for the moment, Jesus commands them to come out of the man and enter a herd of pigs. The unclean spirits are to dwell in unclean flesh. Yet the result is that they rush down into the lake and were drowned in the abyss anyway! The abyss (in Greek, “abyss”!) is a place of destruction, torment and despair, represented in the Old Testament as the “watery deep,” the symbol of chaos and disorder conquered by God the creator and redeemer.
When people, in an attempt to deny hell, say, “I believe this is hell right here,” they are partially right. For sin disorders our life with all manner of chaotic confusion and destruction.
Though there is another account of Jesus exorcism of a demon (Luke 4:33-37) this exorcism is unique in that we are told of the response of the cleansed man. He becomes a catechumen, a disciple “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” He learns and knows who Jesus is as is demonstrated by the fact that as Jesus tells him to “return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you,” the man “went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much JESUS had done for him.” Jesus is God!
Today we confess that we are sinful and unclean, separate from God by our every act, word and thought. We do not only confess this to ourselves and one another but most importantly to God, the One who came to release us from sin, break the bonds of the devil and restore to us a right spirit. By His powerful word, spoken to our ears, poured on us by water, served to us by bread and wine, we repent, believe, sit at Jesus’ feet in true worship, and tell everyone what Jesus has done.
O grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell, but Thy pure love alone;
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure, and my crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My ev’ry act, word, thought be love. (LSB 683:2)
 Rev. Dr. John Stach of blessed memory.