Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:43 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you ever doubt that God cares about you, that Jesus loves you as His created and redeemed child, consider that in this account from Luke 8, Jesus sails back across the lake for the sake of this one man. They sail across the lake, where a storm comes up, the disciples are afraid, and Jesus is sleeping; and then Jesus calms the storm with a word. Then they sail back across the lake to where this man is, before sailing back across the lake again. For this one man, Jesus sails across the lake.
And He goes to a place that is very unclean, as far as Jews and the Law were concerned. This man is full of unclean spirits; he lives among the tombs, among the dead; and they are herding pigs, which means this is a Gentile area through and through. This checks nearly every box on the “unclean” list. But that’s where Jesus goes, because He is not made unclean. Instead, He cleanses. He heals. He restores. He comes to this place for this one man, and He comes to you where you are.
And He doesn’t come to us just as another man, another human being, who cares about us, or who sympathizes with us, although He does. He comes to us in flesh and blood as a man, but He comes as God in the flesh. He calms the storm, and the disciples say, “Who is this, who commands the wind and the waves, and they obey Him?” And He casts out the multitude of demons from this man. He is not only a man, but He is God, who has full authority over His creation, and who has full authority over the devil and all his power in this world. Neither the storm nor the demons have any ability to resist when He commands them.
The people think they can control the demon-possessed man. They think they can bind him with chains and fetters and manacles. They think they can keep him under control. But they can’t. He breaks the chains and the demons drive him out into the wilderness. We think the same. It may not be personal possession by demons, but we think we can keep the devil under control. We think we can keep our sinful flesh under control. We think we can get our lives under control, and prevent sin, death, and the devil from getting the upper hand. We do it by means of the Law, and we don’t only do it to ourselves. It doesn’t work with us; sin constantly breaks out. The devil refuses to be kept in check by the Law. In fact, he uses the Law for his own purposes, to show us how far from God we are, and how far we should keep going away from Him. And when we can’t keep our own sin under control, we sometimes turn the Law against other people, thinking that at least we can control them, and keep their sin under control. It’s a strange dynamic, because it comes naturally to us, but it never works.
We have laws in the world, and they are meant, as far as possible to curb sinners from being quite so open about their sin. But it is only a curb, and like any curb on any sidewalk, it doesn’t take too much to jump that curb and start running down pedestrians. Laws, whether divine or human, only tell us what to do, and what the consequences will be if we don’t do it. They might keep outward actions from going too far sometimes, but they don’t keep sin from bursting out in all sorts of ways. In fact, Paul says that sin multiplies under the microscope of the Law, like so much bacteria that we cannot see with the naked eye.
Just as with the man with the unclean spirits, all our attempts to control sin or the devil or death are broken, and we are driven to the wilderness of despair. None of it gets rid of sin at all. We need Jesus. That sounds like something that doesn’t need to be said, but I need to hear it and you need to hear it. We need Jesus. We need Jesus. The chains don’t work; the binding doesn’t work. Only Jesus comes and restores this man’s humanity, so he is clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus.
What Jesus does for this man is what He does for you and me, and what He does to the demons is a preview of what is to come. And they know it. They tell Him not to torment them and not to send them into the abyss. And they ask Him to go into the pigs, so it sounds like He’s allowing them some reprieve. But in fact, it is a preview of the abyss. It’s the lake of Galilee, not the abyss. It’s not the permanent place of the devil, the false prophet, the beast, the antichrist. But when they enter the pigs, the pigs run off the cliff and into the deep of the lake. Abyss generally means the deep place, even deep watery place. And that’s where they go, into the deep of the lake, before they go into the deep of the eternal abyss.
And what He does for the man is what He does for you and me. He brings us out of the wilderness, out of the place of death, out from under the power of the devil, and out of all our attempts to get under control sin, death, and the devil. He restores to us our true humanity by means of His. The Jesus who does this is the Jesus who goes into the wilderness where He is tempted by the devil; who goes to His own tomb, where no one had ever been laid; who submits to the power of the devil for a short time, until He rises from the dead and breaks the power of death and the devil forever. This man, sitting at the feet of Jesus, is a picture of the freedom of God’s children, which we have by faith, and one day we will have by sight, when death and the devil are no longer part of this age and this creation.
The people who see this are more afraid of Jesus than they were of the demon-possessed man. They want Him out of their town and region, and He goes. But even though He is no longer there bodily, His word remains. He tells the man to go back to his home and tell everyone how much God has done for him. And he goes throughout the whole area telling everyone what Jesus has done for him. So has God done for you in Jesus Christ. You have a home, a place, some people who need to know what Jesus does. That you have been set free from the natural human striving and effort and working to get our lives under control. You have been set free from what will never work by Jesus, who gives you His life and Spirit, until sin and death are not suppressed, not kept in check, not under control, but gone. We sit at the feet of Jesus and hear and learn from Him. He is not here in the same way He was in the boat or in that region, but it is better than that. He is here by His promise, in physical and bodily ways. His word remains, and it cannot be killed or removed.
It wasn’t only the man from whom the demons had gone who was telling what Jesus had done. The people who saw it told it in the city and in the country. Even those who wanted Jesus gone spread the word of what Jesus had done. So it goes until the end of this world. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands and remains forever. We need Jesus. What He did for this man is what He has done and continues to do for you. What He did to the demons is what He will do to them forever. What He did by calming the storm is what He will do for all creation. And so we will always be with the Lord, restored and all things set right.
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, 6/17/22