5 Pentecost Proper C7
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 8:26-39 Sermon
June 23, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
2 "To Thy Temple I Repair"
373 "By Grace I'm Saved, Grace Free & Boundless"
361 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
541 "O Blessed Holy Trinity"
THE POWER OF THE DEVIL
TEXT: (vs. 30-33) “30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.”
One area of theology that exists has to do with demons, demon possession, exorcisms, Satanism, and other such areas. Even though I know a little bit about these things, I have had very little experience. It’s one of those things that just doesn’t come up very often. I will, however, share with you a couple of instances I’ve had, both of which happened when I was in college.
The first instance didn’t actually happen to me, but I know a couple people who were involved. One night in a dorm room, a small group of people were playing around with a Ouija board. For those of you who aren’t aware of what a Ouija board is, it is a board that has the alphabet printed on it, along with the numbers 0-9, a few various symbols, and the words “yes,” “no,” “hello,” and “good bye.” Then there is a device known as a planchette, which is a heart-shaped pointer on three legs with a hole in the middle. Then usually two people would sit on both sides of the board, placing their hands on the planchette. Questions were asked, and the answers were supposedly coming from forces within the spirit world. The spirits would work through the people holding the planchette, and the answers would be spelled out. The Ouija board was invented by business man Elijah Bond in 1890. Mr. Bond marketed it as a parlor game; and after Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) bought the patent, it was (and still is) marketed as a parlor game.
By now, some warning lights and whistles might be going off in your head, because the Ouija board has a way deeper and more sinister connection. During World War I, spiritualist Pearl Curran used it as a divining tool. The participants during a séance would virtually have to allow themselves to be demon-possessed for it to function. They would literally have to invite demons into their bodies. And that’s where things get really spooky, for lack of a better term. And because of this, the Ouija board has drawn sharp criticism from all sorts of people, especially Christians. And well it should too.
So to continue with my story, this group of college students was gathered around their Ouija board in the dorm room. They weren’t trying to conduct any sort of séance or satanic ritual either; they were just having fun.
The fun didn’t last too long, because pretty soon this cold wind came into the room and started blowing papers and clothes and all sorts of things all around the room. And yes, the window was shut tight, and the door was too. There was no natural explanation for what had happened.
Needless to say, the students were completely terrified with all that happened. A group of them decided to go and visit with the campus chaplain, and he educated them about how dangerous all this was. They were playing with spiritual fire, so-to-speak, and they were encroaching in areas that were much better left alone.
I used this illustration to introduce our text for today, which is our Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 8. Let’s look at what was happening here:
Jesus is with his disciples at a place called Gerasenes, on the far side of the Lake of Galilee, which was inhabited mostly by Gentiles. When they arrived, they almost immediately encounter this demon possessed man. And was he ever a mess! He lived in the caves out in the wilderness, and he wore no clothes. The demons that possessed him were so powerful that they literally controlled his whole body, and were strong enough that they could break every shackle that they used to try to restrain the man, most likely done for their own protection. In all of Scripture, this was about the most severe case of demon possession that we encounter.
So who or what are these demons anyway? The Bible teaches us that demons were once angels. God created them sometime during the six days of creation along with all the other angels. Soon after the creation, a group of angels rebelled against God. God immediately condemned these evil angels to an eternity of punishment. The Bible tells that God created hell specifically for these evil angels. The Bible refers to these evil angels by several names: fallen angels, unclean spirits, evil spirits, demons, and so forth.
Since demons are angels, they are spiritual beings; that is, they do not have bodies. They are not subject to the laws of the physical universe. Since demons are fallen angels, they are enemies of God.
The problem with being an enemy of God is that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, unlimited by time and space, and so forth. I tell my confirmation students that these are the three “omnis” of God: omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Even though the demons are fallen, they are still God’s creatures. They cannot win against God in a direct attack. They must find some other way to express their hatred of God. And so, the battlefield in their war against God is the human race; that is, the likes of you and me.
In the case of our text for today, the demon’s person of choice was this man that Jesus and his disciples encountered. And he was inhabited by not just one demon, but by many demons, almost without number. The demons are referred to as “legion,” because there were so many of them, which would number into the thousands. And what a frightening thought that is!
There are several notable things about this account. The first thing that stands out is that the demons knew right away who Jesus was. In verse 28, the demon fairly shouts: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” That was a shout of terror! The demons were afraid, because they knew that Jesus had the ultimate power and authority over them. Jesus didn’t even have to speak so much as one word. Just the sight of Jesus made the demons shudder. They knew they couldn’t win.
The second thing that stands out is the dialogue that Jesus has with the demons. It seems odd, at least to me, that Jesus would want to have any sort of conversation with these demons. After all, isn’t the whole idea just to get rid of them, and get them out of this man’s life? And why would Jesus in any way accommodate their request to go into a herd of pigs instead of being destroyed?
To answer this, I think there were two good reasons. First, this happened in front of the disciples. They needed to see just how completely this man was possessed, and what a large task this man’s exorcism would be.
The second reason is the witness of the people herding the pigs. They saw what happened, and they went and told many others what Jesus had done. When Jesus complied with the demons’ request, it showed just how powerful Jesus was against the forces of Satan.
The whole concept of the demons going into a herd of pigs is also very interesting. The witness of the herders and the disciples was a good enough reason alone. But it also shows just how ignorant the demons were. By going into the herd of pigs, the demons thought that they would be spared; and how wrong that idea was! I doubt if they knew that they would be the cause of the pigs committing mass suicide.
Interestingly enough, the word we translate as “drowned” is the Greek word “apolçgô,” which literally means “choked.” There are only two times this word is used in the entire New Testament: here and the parable of the seed sower. In the parable, the seed which is cast among thorns and thistles sprouts up, but is soon choked out, or drowned by those weeds and dies. Jesus even goes on to explain that that particular seed represents those who hear the Word of God, but as they go their way they are choked out by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit doesn’t mature. It’s choked out. It drowns. It dies.
The really interesting thing here is that in looking at the Gospel of Luke, this parable is located in the very same chapter; mere verses before today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus literally taught his disciples this parable and then showed them the reality of this parable. It’s like he’s saying, “Here is what a choked out and drowned seed of faith looks like: a herd of pigs stampeding to their own death and demise.” How’s that for reinforcing?
Of course we need to always recognize what Satan does in our own lives. His whole idea is to completely choke God out of our lives and lead us to our demise. That suits his purposes to a tee.
In 1 Peter chapter 5 verses 8-9, Peter gives us a short but valuable warning: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”
We know that Satan is at work all the time in the lives of all people. There are those who leave themselves open to his attacks by denying his power and ignoring his influence. This is one of Satan’s greatest tools. He gets us to believe a lie that we have concocted ourselves! The demons’ main weapon is deception as Jesus said in John chapter 8 verse 44: “…When [the devil] lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” It wouldn’t be much of a temptation if the devil appeared to us dressed in a red leotard with horns and a pitch fork. Demons present temptations in ways that make sense to our logic in ways that seem like the right thing for us to do, even in ways that have a certain beauty. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 11, verse 14: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
One of the main things we can learn from our story today, is that regardless of how powerful Satan is at any given moment, God is always more powerful. He always has the upper hand. He always wins, and that’s guaranteed.
Jesus came to this earth to defeat Satan, and death, and hell. Satan tempted Jesus with all he could throw at him, and Jesus never gave in. He showed his strength in ways and at times that make us marvel!
He did it for you and he did it for me. His love for us took him all the way to the cross where he suffered and died to take away our sin and defeat death, hell, and Satan on our behalf. The grave could not hold him either. He descended into hell, literally put himself in the middle of Satan’s living room, and he thumbed his nose at Satan’s power. He led a victory march, declaring his absolute sovereign power over everything, and rose victorious.
When Satan beats us up and makes us think that he has won us over, we cannot believe his lies. Jesus speaks the truth, and shows his ultimate power. When he rid the man of his demons, the man experienced a joy and freedom he never knew before.
This man who was healed wanted to be one of Jesus’ followers, to go with him. Instead, Jesus told him to go and be a witness. Even though the people of the town were scared because of the power he had, reacting violently to the pig herder’s story, what Jesus had done to this man remained one of the strongest testimonies you could imagine. Here was a man who had been shackled and violent. People were very frightened of him and his violent ways. But that was no more. A new man had arisen from the soul Satan had previously claimed as his own. Jesus had given this man new life in a way that only he could do. And that’s what he gives us too through faith alone.
At the beginning, I told you I was going to share a couple of stories with you. I told you one, the story about the Ouija board. I didn’t forget the other one; I saved it until now. This is a story that I’ve told before, but I think it bears repeating.
When I was in college, I worked over the summer as an electrician for the college maintenance department. A friend of mine worked with me, so we had some good times too.
One evening after eating, since it was a nice summer day, we decided to take a short walk and explore a wooded area behind one of the dormitories. There was a small dirt track leading back to where an old brewery used to be, so we decided to explore a bit. On the street in front of where the road began was spray painted a pentagram on the road, which is a five pointed star with a circle around it. It’s a well-recognized satanic symbol. But we thought it was just some graffiti left by some kids, so we didn’t really pay any mind to it. But after we walked back a bit, we discovered the remnants of a fire with logs around it. As we looked closer, we found the skeleton of what we believe was a cat they had sacrificed. We had stumbled on to a site where satanic rituals had been performed.
My friend got very scared. So I asked him, “What are you scared about? You know as well as I do that Satan has no power over us. Christ has defeated Satan. And because of this, we have absolutely nothing to fear.”
That changed everything about him. He regained his confidence, and he thanked me for reminding him that he was one of God’s children through faith, and that he didn’t need to fear Satan any more.
That’s our confidence too, through faith in Jesus Christ. So with this in mind, just remember the words Paul leaves with the Ephesians in chapter 6, verses 10-18: “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”