In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A certain professor at the seminary likes to say, when talking about the Faith we confess, “The only good questions are the ones to which the Lord gives us the answers” (Norman Nagel). The only good questions are the ones to which the Lord gives us the answers. So, last week, we might have had questions about who the sinful woman was, or who Simon was, but the good question was who Jesus is. Because the Lord gives us an answer to that: He’s the one who forgives sins. And we might have questions about this account in Luke 8, like, why does Jesus grant the request of the demons to go into the pigs? Or, what happens to the demons when the pigs drown? Or, how is he going to work Father’s Day into this? Well you have the answer to that; I just did. But the good question is, what is Jesus doing here? Why does He cross the Lake of Galilee, free one man from the power of the devil, and sail back across when the people ask Him to? To that question, the Lord gives us the answer. In fact, everything He does is in answer to that question. He is there, as everywhere else He goes, in order to spread the Reign of God. He is there to declare His victory over the power of darkness, even though He hasn’t gone to the cross yet. And the demons know it. Jesus meets this man who has been overcome by demons, and they speak through his mouth, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” (Luke 8:28). The demons know that when God comes on the earth in the last days, that their time is up. They know that the judgment is coming and they know what their end is. They know that along with the dragon, the anti-Christ, the false prophet, and the beast, they are going to be thrown into the lake of fire, where they will be tormented day and night forever and ever, as Revelation 20 tells us (20:10). So when they recognize Jesus, they’re a little confused. The world has not come to an end. The judgment has not happened. And yet, here is God in the flesh putting an end to their reign. “The divine nature of the only-begotten Son was already scorching the demons in unspeakable flames. Christ was shutting up the fiercest demons in blocked roads. He was undoing the devil’s tyranny” (Cyril of Alexandria).
Jesus comes into a place that is filled with uncleanness. This man lives in the tombs, caves carved out of the hillside, where the bones of dead men are buried. He is filled with unclean spirits, and they are in a land where pigs are herded. This is about as unclean as it could get for a Jew. But Jesus is not afraid of uncleanness. When He encounters lepers, He does not become unclean by touching them; no, they are cleansed. When He is touched by a unclean, sinful woman, He does not become unclean; He forgives her sins. When He touches a dead person, He doesn’t become unclean; He raises them from the dead! Neither is Jesus afraid of death. He would go into tombs for the sake of one man. In fact, He went into a tomb for the sake of every man. He became a dead man Himself, so He could enter each and every one of our tombs. And when the Lord of Life encounters death, it is death that must give way. Jesus comes out of His tomb, and so will you who are joined to Jesus. When death comes to claim you, you have this promise: that what happened to Jesus will happen to you, and you, too, will come out of your tomb alive.
See, wherever Jesus goes, He brings the Reign of God in victory. Where Jesus goes, demons are cast out, the unclean are cleansed, and death gives way to life. But the Reign of God never comes in generically. It always comes specifically, to individuals, usually one by one. And so it does for this man of the Gerasenes. Jesus comes to Him individually and separates him from the reign of the devil and brings him under His own reign. The demons had stripped him of much more than clothes and a home. They had taken his life and made it captive to death. They had take his name and replaced it with how many demons there were: Legion. He was nothing and Jesus gave Him everything: He cleansed him and restored him to life; He gave him clothing and a home and His own Name. And so for us. Jesus comes to each of us, as individuals. He still does it by words and a drowning. As a single person is brought to the water of baptism. As the Word which you have read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested goes from your mouth into someone who needs to hear about the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ. As a father teaches his children the words of eternal life. You, who would try anything to chain and shackle and restrain your temper, your spiteful words, your demonic actions—to you He comes and He does not want to restrain your sinful nature, He wants to kill it. He comes to you with a sharp, decisive mercy, to cut you off from your past and bring you into His future.
And that is enough. It is enough for the former demoniac that he is free to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear Him speak. It is enough, so that he is ready to be with Jesus forever. And we, too, at least at times, know the longing of this man, and of St. Paul: “It is my desire to depart and be with the Lord, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23). But until the last day, Jesus leaves witnesses for Himself. His work is finished, but it is not over. And that is clear as we look around us at the remaining effects of sin; at the work of the devil in this world filled with uncleanness and death. Jesus’ Reign is not fully visible, not fulfilled without remainder. It will happen: the demons will not be cast into pigs and drowned in the Lake of Galilee; they will be cast into the abyss and tormented in the Lake of Fire. Death will no longer define life in this creation, but in the new creation we will finally know the definition of life. But not yet. In this creation, Jesus sends the man back to his home to tell everything that God has done for him. We don’t know what happened to him; we don’t know what the reaction of the people was; we don’t know how many people received the same restoration and rebirth. We only know that he went and proclaimed everything Jesus had done for him. So for us. Until Jesus returns or death takes us, He has sent us back to our homes, into that specific set of relationships that is ours alone, to tell whatever God has done for us, to declare His wonderful works. That is surely enough for a lifetime. Until we sit at the feet of Jesus and sing with all the saints, “The powers of death have done their worst, but Christ their legions hath dispersed; let shouts of holy joy outburst, Alleluia!” (LSB 464, st. 2).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/18/10