Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sermon for June 20

The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
June 19-20, 2010
Text: Luke 8:26-39

Dear Friends in Christ,
Romans 10:17 says: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This is also saying, by implication, that miracles don’t produce saving faith. We see this illustrated in the book of Exodus where the Children of Israel see great miracle after great miracle and they continually rebel against God. In spite of all the things that they saw God perform through Moses, they still didn’t trust in God. This then begs the question of why Christ performed miracles. Moses taught the Israelites that miracles authenticate the Word. A true prophet would perform signs to show that he was indeed from God. Of course no prophet had come close to the signs performed by Moses. Moses was the greatest of the prophets. He had performed the greatest miracles and given them the most important parts of God’s word. Miracles were also intended to teach. They were to teach that God is the One who saves. How could the waters have parted for the Israelites and closed in to drown the Egyptians? No human power could do this. Even if it were shown to have been a phenomenon of nature, the timing is too perfect for it to have been a coincidence. It must have been the hand of the God of nature. In addition miracles show that God has power over all things. Many of Christ’s miracles are intended to show that Christ has power over sin and the author of sin - the devil. And of course if Christ rules over the devil, then also His minions are under His authority.
Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ. That is the source of true saving faith. That brings us to our text. Christ traveled to a region on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Here the people were not Israelites. So Christ is preaching here to Gentiles. He is immediately confronted by a man who is possessed by many demons. It is instructive that the man lives among the dead. For the devil and his minions are the author of death. This man is in bondage to death, in a very literal sense. Jesus immediately commanded the spirits to leave the man. The demons know who Jesus is and beg Him not to torment them. By this we would say that the demons are asking not be shut up in hell, but that they be allowed to continue to roam the world. To that end they ask to be allowed to enter a heard of pigs. The pigs, tormented by the demons immediately drown themselves. It is interesting that the pigs will not tolerate the presence of the demons. One presumes that the demons then returned to hell, their plan to remain on earth thwarted.
The man then becomes a follower of Jesus and listens to Jesus’ teaching. The begs to remain with Jesus, but Jesus sends him away. He instructs the man to tell everyone what God has done for him. Now, Jesus is not telling the man to go around and give his testimony. He is commanding the man to tell people what God has done. So the message he is to proclaim is all about God.
There is much to glean from this text, and we will surely not cover all of it. The man is freed from the demons, then he sits and listens to Christ. The sign opens the man up to what Christ has to say. Miracles and teaching always go together. Christ here is confronting Satan’s kingdom head on. He is driving the demons from the world. But a more important cleansing happens whenever sins are forgiven. Certainly, here also Christ forgave the man’s sins. Forgiveness is ultimately what drives the devil away. For sin is the power of Satan. Where sin is removed, Satan’s power is broken. And so this miracle really is a picture of what happens when our sins are forgiven. God throws Satan out. He is the divine bouncer, tossing Satan out of our hearts by forgiving our sins. He new sherif in town saying to Satan, this world isn’t big enough for the both of us.
We also must take note of the nature of the change in the man. He no longer lives in death, but among the living. But the change is not one that the man made. He didn’t do anything. Things changed because Christ acted on the man’s behalf. This is true of us as well. Any change that comes about in our lives is not achieved by our efforts. Our efforts to reform our lives always fail. Thus St. Paul will say that the good works he does are not his work at all, but Christ living in him. American Christianity is filled with all sorts of Christian self help notions. The typical Christian book store is filled with this nonsense. We see numerous books that tell us: Follow this plan and you will make yourself a better Christian. All such books do is make us self righteous pigs rushing to destruction. That’s because we can’t cast out the demons. Only Christ can cast them out. He casts them out with the forgiveness of sins. The change comes because Christ declares our sins forgiven. Then we are a new creation in Christ Jesus. We don’t make ourselves new creations. Christ creates us anew in the waters of baptism. And it is interesting that the pigs fled the demons by plunging into the water. Here we have a picture of the old man being drown and the demonic powers being driven out in the waters of baptism.
Christ cast out demons to show that He alone has power over sin, Satan, and death. He teaches us here that we are helpless before the powers of darkness. But Christ drives out the demons. He drowns the old man of sin, and raises us to life as His new creations. Yes, this is acted out in Baptism. But the power that works this, acting through baptism, is the forgiveness of sins.

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