June 23rd, 2019
Grace, mercy and peace are yours this day from our triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The French philosopher, René Descartes, longed for the truth. He had found that he had been deceived and that he had embraced some false beliefs. Thus, in his quest to find truth he questioned everything. He could not rely upon neither his senses nor his reason. They both could be deceived. Thus, in his quest to find an undeniable truth, he came upon his famous “Cognito” which we know as, “I think, therefore I am.”
Descartes’ Cognito may help us define the reality of our existence but it falls short in helping us define the reality of our identity. It falls short because it has as its source the very thing that can be deceived, the self with its own senses and reason. Thus, for any of us to know the truth of who we are, we must find it outside of ourselves. We must find the reality of who are based upon whose we are. Who are the ones to whom we belong, belong as child, a husband or wife, a father or mother? And of course the greatest source of our identity comes to us in the form of the question, “To which god do we belong, the one true God or one of the many false ones that are out there?”
In the country of the Gerasenes, there was a man whose identity was confused. He didn’t know if he was alive or dead. He did not live in a house but among the tombs. He didn’t know if he was a man or a beast. He wore no clothes like a wild animal. He didn’t know who he was but he did know who Jesus was. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” (Luke 8:28) Of course the reality of the situation is that the man was lost. Though he was there in body, his soul was manipulated by demons.
It is the voice of the man that is heard but it is the thoughts of the demons that are expressed. The demons understand the reality of who Jesus is but the man is lost amidst their control. But note this interesting time shift that takes place in verse 29. Luke gives us the scenario as if it is just beginning to unfold and then he backs up and gives us the reason why the demon says what he says. For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (Luke 8:29) So this begs the question, when did Jesus actually command the unclean spirit to come out of the man?
Though not spoken specifically, the answer to that question is found in the empty tomb of Easter. Yes, Jesus probably did speak to the man before the demon cried out but consider what we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. Jesus does not descend into hell to suffer; He descends to proclaim victory. Jesus descends into hell to command the devil and his demons to come out of the man, come out of humanity, come out of God’s creation. Thus, when the demons within this man are confronted with Jesus, though He has not gone to the cross yet, they cannot deny the truth of who He is and the authority He holds. They cannot deny their doom and the truth of the judgment that awaits them.
The demons know the reality that awaits them. They know the torment that is to come. Thus, they seek to avoid the realization of this reality. Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 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. (Luke 8:30-32) Jesus also knows the reality of their judgment. The abyss has already been prepared for them. But the full reality of that judgment is yet to be realized. The reality is certain but it is yet to come. So now comes the question of why the pigs, why did Jesus give the demons permission to enter into the pigs?
First, remember that pigs were considered unclean animals. Thus, it was fitting that the demons would go into them. But second, as we see from the text, the pigs where a major source of income for the community. Thus, the loss of the pigs was a major loss of income. It caused fear among the people. It was not the power that Jesus had to cast out demons that caused the great fear. It was the fear of how their world would be impacted if Jesus stayed, if Jesus caused the loss of their income and their security. The drowning of the pigs brought forth the reality that they were not as valuable as the man’s freedom from the demons. It also brought forth the reality that the people were more comfortable with the demon possessed man than they were with Jesus.
Jesus probably knew what the outcome was going to be when He allowed the demons to enter into the pigs. Jesus knows the effects of our sin in our own lives and how it affects those around us. When we confess our sins it is an exorcism of sorts. The devil is cast out as forgiveness takes effect. But with confession there is also the desire to change our behavior and not give in to that specific sin again. A new reality of lifestyle replaces the old. And that is the message that Jesus was proclaiming to the man and to the community.
When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. (Luke 8:34-35) Here is the reality of the cross realized in the life of a man. Here is the reality of the Gospel realized in the life of a man. Here is the reality of life, the very life of Christ, realized in the life of a man. The herdsmen realized that something amazing had happened and they fled and told everyone. The people who heard what the herdsmen proclaimed realized that a change had taken place in the life of the man. He was no longer naked. He was no longer being influenced by the demons. He was not the same man who lived like an animal. The one who was the life came to him and set Him free!
Jesus said…, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) We will always have a choice of two directions, two forms of identification if you will. Each day we can either choose to find our identity by looking within ourselves or we can find it by looking beyond ourselves. We can either be identified through our own senses and reason or we can be identified through God’s Word. And as our identity goes, so also does our life. We can either embrace the life that is built around our senses and reason or we can embrace the life that is built around God’s redeeming work in making us His own.
In Jesus, God gives us the truth of who we are. He gives us the way back to the Father who planned our creation. Thus, in Christ is the only way to live! We are not given the words that Jesus speaks to the man now sitting at Jesus’ feet. That picture is the picture of a student listening to his teacher. This man who was once possessed by demons is probably hearing truth for the first time. This man who was once identified with demons and death is now being identified with Jesus and life. Thus, it is no wonder that when Jesus is asked to leave, this man wants to go with Him. But Jesus has other plans for this man, plans that address the new reality of who he is and whose he is.
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:38-39) In His response to the man, Jesus gives him an identity and a purpose. In truth, He gives Him a life! This man no longer lives a life of existence; he lives a life of identity. He lives a reality born out upon the cross and now realized in the presence of Jesus.
This same reality is yours today as Jesus comes to you in flesh and blood. In the very body and blood of Christ the demons are cast out. Your sin is removed and life is restored. You no longer need to live among the tombs of this world and the death found within. The tomb is empty. Jesus is not found there. He is risen. He is ascended and now reigns with the Father and from whom has given you His Spirit. Life is no longer just an existence. Where Descartes once said, “I think, therefore I am” Jesus now says, “You are! Therefore think! You are, therefore do that for which you were created. You are forgiven! Therefore return to your home and declare how much God has done for you, how much Jesus has done for you. You are forgiven. Therefore live the reality now realized in the very body and blood of Christ now put into your mouth.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.