Monday, June 20, 2016

Sermon on Luke 8:26-39, for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, "Tell how much Jesus has done for you"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today in our Gospel reading, we find the longest and most descriptive passage of Jesus casting out a demon. It’s a startling glimpse into the spiritual world, and the powers that afflict humans under the devil’s influence—but also an amazing proof of how powerless they are against Jesus, the Son of God.
The man who is suffering this demon affliction is the most tormented of any demon-possessed person described in the Bible. He is possessed by a multitude of demons, and he has been driven raving mad. Well known to the villagers of that region, he lives in complete isolation, away from human community, choosing instead to live among the graves of the dead. In their attempts to restrain him, they had chained him many times, but he possessed superhuman strength, and shackles could not hold him. It’s truly a despairing and frightening situation both for the man and the people who live in fear of him and are powerless to help.
            The man comes to Jesus, and the demon begins to speak through the man—calling Jesus the Son of the Most High God. The demons recognize who Jesus is, even though the people of the region do not—and the demons tremble at Jesus’ presence. They know He is the Son of God. Just having Jesus draw near to the man, causes the spiritual forces of evil to cower and beg before Jesus. The name “Legion”, that the unclean spirit gives, indicates the vast number of demons that were tormenting this poor man. A Roman legion was 4,000-6,000 soldiers. Ironic that they beg Jesus not to torment them, though they have been tormenting this poor man for a great while  They especially fear being cast down into the Abyss—or bottomless pit—another name for hell. They seem to be begging that Jesus is sending them to their fate too soon—and so plead for escape into the herd of pigs. It strikes us as unusual that Jesus granted this request, and though we are given no reason why—it certainly is the first of the confirmations that the demons had been completely driven out of the man.
            Many people in our modern, “scientific” world, scoff at the idea of demons, or evil spirits that have the power to indwell or control a person, influence them to evil, or keep them in spiritual darkness and bondage. And yet Jesus routinely faces people with just such afflictions, and He commands the spirits to be gone, and they are transparently healed, as everyone can see. We might think of mental illness, when we see the condition of the demon possessed man—but not everything can be reduced to that simple explanation. But if we take Jesus and the Scriptures at face value, we acknowledge that the world is more than what meets our eyes—that there is a very real spiritual world, and that there is spiritual good, and spiritual evil. Angels, the messengers of God, and guardians of His saints—and demons—the corrupt and fallen angels, who drive people to evil and despair, like the man in today’s reading.
            Many of you have heard me talk about the Lutherans I have met in Madagascar, and their intense belief in and awareness of the spiritual world. They believe that it’s not only in their country with witch doctors and people practicing dark forms of idolatry, where demon possession can be found and is common. But they also believe that there is demon possession and affliction in the U.S.—just that we have trained ourselves not to see or recognize it. The greatest single lesson that our brothers in Madagascar taught me about this spiritual warfare is this—that it is only the Word of God and the power of Jesus that conquers and has power over evil. It’s not by superstition or rituals, but by the authority of Jesus’ Word, that even demons must run and flee.
            But in our reading, it’s not just the demons who flee at the power of Jesus’ Word—it’s also the frightened herdsman, who run to their villages to tell what had happened to their pigs, and the man. Their fear of the miracle that Jesus had done, and the power it displayed—was apparently even greater than their fear of this demon possessed man who lived in their region. Him, they could live with—but this Jesus, who had healed the man—He had to go!
            It is a beautiful picture to see the man completely restored and healed by Jesus. He had been utterly isolated and living among the graves. Now he was restored to human community and fellowship, and stood among the living. He had been naked and raving mad, with terrible violence and strength. Now he was properly clothed, in his right mind, and self-controlled. And more than that, he was seated as a disciple, ready to learn, at Jesus’ feet. The transformation was so complete and so indisputable, that the villagers were terrified at the power of Jesus. Greater than just being restored to human fellowship, the man was restored to fellowship with God, and to stand in the favor and grace of Jesus Christ. Sadly, rather than being happy for the man, and rejoicing with him, they determine that Jesus is too much trouble for their region, and perhaps too costly, and they beg him to leave.
            There is no doubt that discipleship, to follow Jesus, can come at a cost. While Jesus’ salvation comes to us for free, and Jesus came to help us in time of need—when we follow Him, there may be losses to us. Some may wish to have nothing to do with Jesus, and we may even lost family or friends. Some lose much more for the sake of the gospel—yet Jesus promises that if we lose our life for His sake, we will find it. We experience the restoration of fellowship with God, the forgiveness of our sins, and the joy of knowing and following Jesus.
            As the scene with Jesus concludes, the man begs to stay with Jesus. After years of great affliction and isolation, and being tormented by demons, the joy and peace of freedom from that dark misery must have been astonishing. What a load to have been lifted? And what greater honor than to enjoy that new freedom with the One who had graciously set him free? But Jesus had a special plan and purpose for that man: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you….and he went away, proclaiming through the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” First we notice that Jesus’ actions and God’s actions are one—what God has done for you—what Jesus had done for him. But second, Jesus sends him back into ordinary life—but with a new and greater purpose. To go home and share with everyone what God had done. Every person that he met, every friend he once knew, every gawker who remembered or knew of the raving man who once lived in the tombs, was brought face to face with a free man, in his right mind—plain and indisputable evidence of the healing and miraculous power of Jesus. What a missionary, a living witness, to his people!
            And what about you? While we may not have been individually possessed by demons, or released from the powers of darkness in the same way as that man—the Bible does teach that we were once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. Once we were rebels and sinners, turned away from God, but Jesus, in His great compassion, came to us and set us free by His Word, and by His almighty power. Jesus now calls us into the light, to walk as children of light. He redeems and sets us free from the power of sin and death. We gather each week to hear this good news of what Jesus has done for us, announced and proclaimed again and again. And each week He sends us home, sends us back to our daily lives, to declare how much God has done for us. We proclaim the excellencies of what Jesus has done for us. The message itself is a liberating one, because even as we speak it to others, Jesus is working to release them from their bondage—to hear His Word and be set free.
            We live in a world where spiritual warfare is very real, and a present danger. Whether we acknowledge it or not. The devil does not rest simply because people don’t believe he exists. Rather he proceeds all the more in his work, unhindered. But for those who are disciples of Jesus—who believe and know the power of the One who casts out demons with His almighty Word, and gives that same word and authority to His disciples—we don’t have to be afraid. There is no spiritual darkness that we need fear, because Jesus is the Mightier One who fights for us. It’s by His power and His Name that the powers of evil can be held at bay. It’s by speaking His true and authoritative Word, that demons tremble, and that disciples of Jesus win spiritual victory. It’s by prayer to the One True God, that we go on the offensive against the spiritual forces of the evil One.
            Jesus has sealed us as His own, and given us His Name and protection in Baptism. He has washed us clean of every sin. He has armed and equipped us with the spiritual weapons to engage in a battle, that is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers of darkness. Watch Jesus defeat them. Hear the story of His death and resurrection again and again. See the miracles where darkness is on the run, because Jesus is near. And confidently know, that this same Jesus, our Savior, is God with us. Who can stand against? None!  We praise Jesus, Amen.

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