Download or listen to The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, “Life Restored” (Luke 8:26-39)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We all have questions about God and the Scriptures. We want to know what it will be like in heaven; why God lets certain things happen; what does this or that passage mean, and you have your own. But, as one of my professors used to say: when you’re talking about God and the Scriptures, “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 to ask in Simon’s house is, who is Jesus? Because the Lord gives us an answer to that: He’s the one who forgives sinners. 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? 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 leave? To that question, the Lord gives us the answer. In fact, everything He does is in answer to that question. The reason He goes anywhere is the reason He goes there, to the shore of that lake: 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 are not ignorant: they know that when God comes on the earth in the last days 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 superficial 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 pastured. This is about as unclean as it could get for a Jew. God had commanded His people Israel to stay away from all of these things, probably because He knows that when sinners encounter sin and death, they prefer to join ’em rather than beat ’em. But Jesus does not have His own sin. He has no need to fear uncleanness or to flee from it. He welcomes it! When He encounters lepers, He receives them in their uncleanness and they are cleansed. When He is touched by an unclean, sinful woman, He welcomes her in her uncleanness and He forgives her sins. When He touches a dead person, He welcomes him in his uncleanness and He raises him from the dead! Jesus isn’t afraid of death, either. He welcomes it and He will go into those tombs for the sake of one man. What’s more, He went lifeless into a tomb for the sake of every man. God in the flesh brings His Reign by His own death, entering each and every one of our tombs when we are baptized. And when the Lord of Life encounters death, it is always death that must give way. Jesus comes out of His tomb, and so will all the dead. And when death comes to claim you, you have this promise: what happened to Jesus will happen to you, and you, too, will come out of your tomb alive and well, in your right mind and body.
See, wherever Jesus goes, He brings the Reign of God in victory. Wherever Jesus goes, taking sin and uncleanness into His own flesh, demons are cast out, the unclean are cleansed, and death gives way to life. But the Reign of God never comes generically or generally. It always comes specifically, to individuals, usually one by one. That’s how it comes to 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 that’s how Jesus comes to each of us, as individuals. He still does it by words and a drowning. As a man, woman, or child is brought to the water of baptism. As the Absolution of Jesus releases sinners from the chains of old sins. As He puts His body and blood in your mouths, one by one. 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. As a wife forgives her husband in the name of Jesus. To you, who would try anything to chain and shackle and restrain your temper, your lustful eyes, your spiteful words, your bitter resentment, your demonic actions—it is 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. Washed in His blood, the past is dead and gone, and you are a new creation.
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; every knee does not yet bow; every tongue does not yet confess. It will happen: but 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; 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. The Lord has not given us answers to those questions. We only know that he went and proclaimed everything Jesus had done for him. And 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, in this particular community, to tell what God has done for us, to declare His wonderful works, His forgiveness of a sinner like me, His love poured out in blood and water from the cross. 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, 6/21/13