Thursday, June 16, 2016

Jesus' Victory Over Evil

Luke 8:26-39 Early last Sunday morning a gunman entered an Orlando nightclub and killed fifty people and injured more than that.  Over this last week our fellow citizens have struggled to explain and find a reason for this massacre.  Our president believes it is a gun problem.  The New York Times and the ACLU have blamed conservative Christians.  Many Americans lay the blame squarely at the feet of radical Islam.
            But the root cause of this kind of violence and hatred is something even more fundamental:  it is the reality of evil in our world.  It has become intellectually fashionable to deny such a thing—to believe that there are only moral shades of gray—but from almost the beginning of creation, when the devil and his angels rebelled against God, evil has marred our world.
            There is the moral evil of millions of babies sacrificed every year on the altar of convenience and expediency and sexual perversion enshrined as a right in the laws of our nation and even celebrated in the church.  There is the spiritual evil found in the religions of man where murder and violence are taught as the way to heaven.  And then there is the personal evil of the devil and his angels who still roam this world, looking for those they can devour.
Evil is a reality in our broken world and the forces of evil can be seen all around us just like they were in Orlando last Sunday.  But the Good News for us today from God’s Word is that the forces of evil are simply no match for Jesus.  The Bible says that Jesus and the disciples: 
…sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes,
            One of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin through Satan’s deception was that they saw that they were naked and hid from God.  Where before they had lived in perfect innocence with one another and in perfect fellowship with God—Satan destroyed both of those relationships—and they were ashamed.
The man in our Gospel lesson—completely under Satan’s power-- had lost that sense of shame-- but his nakedness was not a return to innocence and fellowship.  Instead, it indicated a total loss of any spiritual sense that something was wrong with him-- so deeply was he held in Satan’s bondage. 
We live in a culture that has lost its sense of shame—not because of mankind’s return to the innocence of Eden --but because mankind is has lost the sense that something is wrong in their relationship with God and with one another. 
This “complete and utter” lack of shame is not a sign that we are throwing off the fetters of a puritanical morality--but a revelation that so many in our world (under the influence of Satan) have lost any sense of shame. 
This is not progress—it is death.  The bible says that the demon-possessed man had not lived in a house but among the tombs—and a more vivid picture of our world today is hard to imagine.  The Bible says that:
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."  For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 
For the man that day there was no earthly power strong enough to restrain him physically—but neither was there any earthly power strong enough to set him free spiritually.  In fact, he didn’t even want to be set free—he didn’t even know what freedom was anymore, so deeply was he held captive under Satan’s dominion.   
But Jesus loved him too much to let him go on living like that forever.  So is his love for us.  He is not content to let us live under Satan’s dominion but has come to set free from Satan’s power—a deliverance and redemption that only he can accomplish.
As great and as powerful as were the demons who held that poor man captive—they were simply no match for Jesus—they had to bow at his feet in submission for they knew exactly who he was and what he had come to do.
God promised this day would come—that he would send a Savior—one born of a woman who would destroy Satan and restore everything that he had destroyed—one who would set us free from slavery to sin and death.  What was about to happen for that man was sign of what Jesus came to do for the world—rescuing us from the hell that we deserve on account of our sins.  The Bible says that:
Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion," for many demons had entered him. 
            In Jesus’ day, a legion was a group of Roman soldiers—6,000 of them—that is how may demons had taken possession of this poor man—but they were still no match for the One who was sent to destroy them. 
That is important for us to remember.  Two different human attitudes please Satan when it comes to our understanding of who he is. 
The first is when people deny his existence and give him a free reign to go about his destructive ways (and we see plenty of that in our culture today). 
The second is when people overestimate his power and fear him (and there’s plenty of that kind of superstition in the church today).  Satan is real.  Satan is powerful—but he is no match for Jesus.  The Bible says that they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.    
6,000 demons bowed at Jesus’ feet that day and begged him not to send them back to hell which is another biblical teaching denied by many modern people.  Hell is a place of eternal torment and suffering made for the devil and his angels.  Despite modern denials that hell is simply an ancient fable designed to scare people into behaving themselves:  hell is real—and it’s torments are terrible—the sufferings, eternal.
The great tragedy of hell is that there are also human beings there when it doesn’t have to be that way.  Jesus Christ has fully atoned for all our sins on the cross.  There he suffered the pains of hell in our place and rose up victorious on the third day showing Satan a defeated enemy.  The way of salvation is open to all people through faith in Jesus Christ and hell need not gain one more person for its eternal torments.  For the demons that day, anything was preferable to being sent back to hell.  The Bible says that:
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.  Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
            Bible scholars don’t fully understand why Jesus allowed the demons to enter into the pigs.  Wouldn’t it have been better if the demons were destroyed by Jesus?  But the final destruction of evil takes place on the Last Day when Satan and his angels are cast by Jesus into the lake of fire for eternal torment.  Perhaps the drowning of the pigs is a picture of what is to come for them on that day.
Didn’t the demons know what would happen once they entered into the pigs—bringing about their own destruction?  Not necessarily.  Satan and his angels do not know all things like God does and here we see another example of their blind, self-defeating hatred.
Was it right and just of Jesus to let these demons destroy the livelihood of those who kept the pigs?  But what are pigs compared to even one human soul?  What the drowning of the pigs did show in a dramatic way was the destructive nature of Satan—that he is a destroyer of all creation.  At the very least, the death of thousands of pigs showed in an undeniable way that something dramatic and life-changing had just taken place in that community. The Bible says that:
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.  And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 
            For the man that day, his life had been changed forever by Jesus’ healing.  His mind was whole and his relationship with God was restored.  Clothed, in his right mind, and sitting at the feet of Jesus—a complete change from where he was before.  Because Jesus was his Savior, Satan was no longer his master. 
That is a picture of every person who has been healed by the mercy of Jesus Christ.  Jesus has defeated Satan and as we come to faith in Christ the reign of Satan over our lives comes to an end. 
No longer are we burdened by the shame of the past because it has been washed away by Jesus’ blood.  No longer are our minds at warfare with God because now we have the mind of Christ which is strengthened daily in us through word and sacrament.  No longer is Satan our master, for Jesus is our Lord to whom we give our willing obedience and our loving service—bearing witness to what he has done for us—just like the man that day. The Bible says that:
All the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.  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.
            The man who was set free from Satan returned to return to his home town and told what Jesus had done for him.  Jesus asks the same of us.  Jesus has work for us to do in his mission to bring healing and wholeness to the world. 
People around us may deny evil and deny Satan and deny hell—but their denials don’t ring true.  Just like us, they live in a world that is broken by evil.  They experience temptations and suffering.  They are afraid of what will happen to them when they die. 
We have the solution to their fears and that is the Good News of Jesus Christ--that he has delivered us from evil in the most wonderful, loving way—by shedding his life’s blood upon the cross to set us free from Satan’s rule over our lives and rising up from the dead to guarantee us an eternal life with God.  Jesus says to us today what he said that day:  Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.  Amen.

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