Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 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, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 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.” 29 For he 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.) 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.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 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. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “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.
Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Lent has begun this week. Our observance of the shepherds hearing the angels’ message on Christmas night wasn’t that long ago. They hear it, and they go joyfully to Bethlehem to see this thing that has come to pass: the Christ with us! They celebrate the significance of that, telling everyone they can find. They consider it a most joyous thing, that God would be here with us.
In our text, with people having seen the same Christ, their feeling is evidently quite different. They unanimously ask that Jesus depart from them. This isn’t what Jesus would ever want, to depart from people. He expresses what He would want with these words to His disciples: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23).”
What would cause the people in our text to want Jesus to depart from them? Can you imagine yourself ever wanting the same?
One thing we have to keep in mind is that no one naturally wants God with him - even from conception (Psalm 51:5). That’s what the Bible teaches. It wasn’t this way at first. God created everything, and along will all of it - the first people. They were in harmony with Him. Their will was one with His will. It all changed as a result of what happens in our Old Testament lesson for today. The first people were deceived into thinking that being independent from God was true freedom. You’ll be like God, is what the tempter said to them; and they imagined that tempter to be a liberator for them, giving them untold joy in a new life in which God wasn’t telling them what to do.
They didn’t know what they were asking. Our text demonstrates the reality of what they were grabbing for when they grabbed for the forbidden fruit. Jesus elsewhere has spoken of sin as a slavery (John 8:34). We see that slavery embodied in our text in a man who approaches Jesus. The man is possessed, not by one, but by many demons. They have made his life a misery. For a long time, against his will he has lived in a wild state - even unable to to be kept bound with chains and shackles (apparently with superhuman strength he breaks them and runs off into the desert).
We don’t know why someone would come to be possessed like this. The Bible doesn’t tell us that it’s because he has committed some sin, or lived in some way that has brought it about. It just becomes for us a sort of expose’ of who, really, this one is, who speaks to our first parents so eloquently, expressing such apparent concern for their welfare. This is who he is. This father of lies as Jesus calls Him (John 8:44) is the one whose aim is to make people helpless, miserable, desperate, isolated, enslaved.
He and His demons are subject to Jesus, though. One would think that demons possessing a man would be repelled by the One Who has it in His power to remove them (and they know who He is - even calling Him Son of the Most High God). They’re not in control in the relationship. They’re in the position of having to beg Him to handle them in one way and not another. Everyone else is at their mercy (so fierce that no one could pass that way, St. Matthew says in his account - 8:28); but not Jesus. He’s not at their mercy. They know (knowing Him) that He is here to do His work, namely, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And yet, they come to Him like this, as if drawn to a magnet.
Jesus permits them, as He expels them from the man they have been possessing, to go into a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs rush down a steep bank into the lake and are drowned - quite a scene for all who are standing by. What happens after that brings us to the answer to our earlier question: What would cause the people in our text to want Jesus to depart from them?
The word goes out about what has happened. The herdsmen tell it throughout the city, and in the country, it says. The people come to see this thing that has happened, that they’ve been told about. They see the work of the Christ. His work is exhibited in a man they’ve known to be terrorized by demons for a long time, sitting, calm, clothed now, in his right mind. A cause for joy it would seem - seeing the Christ’s good work, as the shepherds had joyfully seen the Christ those thirty years earlier in Bethlehem.
We’re talking about temptation this morning. It’s in our Old Testament lesson - the first people having seen God’s good works, His kindness, His generosity, His care of them, but then choosing to put themselves at a distance from Him.
Our text says that the people who have come to see Jesus are seized with great fear (not joy at Christ’s compassion, but fear of His power). So, in our text, we see the consequence of sin, not only in the captivity of the demon-possessed man, but also in the fear of these people that is really unbelief. They can’t bring themselves to be joyful in the presence of God with them because they cling to something other than Him in their lives. They don’t feel His grace because they have rejected it for themselves. More than for the well-being of the rescued man, they are concerned about the herd (and what it could potentially mean for their possessions and their lives in this world if He were to remain with them). They want Jesus gone, and they want it now.
And on this Sunday in which we consider temptation, we ask - perhaps provocatively, what about the times you’ve wanted Jesus gone? Oh, oh, you’re surprised to be hearing me suggesting that! Who does he think he is?! But you have been intent on sinning at times; and being intent on sinning necessitates sending Jesus away. St. John writes: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19). When our hearts are intent on sinning we don’t want the one around Whose objective it is to prevent us from sinning. And at times you and I have chosen the deception of untold joy in a new life without God telling us what to do. We see in our text the reality of what is being offered in that deception: it is enslavement to the one who only means to do us harm in this life, and eternally.
But we also see in this text, our Savior. The devil doesn’t control Him -ever. The devil doesn’t have the upper hand in their relationship. Our Savior is the One in our Gospel lesson Who put himself in a severely weakened physical and emotional state, and then stood up perfectly under every one of the devil’s temptations. He always chose the will of the Father over anything that was being offered to Him otherwise. He has done this in exchange for your having failed in it. He has paid with His blood to put you right with God and fit for His kingdom. He yearns for you to cling to Him for the power that you need to resist temptation. He yearns for you to receive with an open hand the mercy that He offers.
See Him offering it at the Table this morning. He declares that what He gives is more than mere bread and wine; it is joined with His true body and blood for the remission of your sins. It is the heavenly food that sustains you while you remain under the difficult temptations of powerful enemies. They cannot overcome Him, nor you with Him.
It is a most joyous thing that God be here with you. He is available to you in His Word of Truth as well as in the Supper. He invites you to come to Him in your weakness so that He can protect you, and nourish you, and defend you, and provide for you.
The man who has been made whole in our text is different from the rest of his countrymen. He goes and begs that he might be with Jesus. Not only does he not want Jesus away from him; he wants to go wherever He goes. What a great blessing that would be, he thinks. But Jesus needs him to play the shepherds’ role from the Christmas account. He must go out and tell how much God has done for Him. He must go and tell the joy of Christ with us. What a gracious thing that Jesus leaves behind this witness for Himself - and he is a very willing witness. It says, he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. There seems to be some evidence to suggest that Jesus later returned to this place to find more believers as a result of this seed that the Holy Spirit has used to create faith in hearts.
Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, stir up our hearts that we might have joy in hearing that Christ is with us, in Whose humble sacrifice we are reconciled to You. Strengthen us against temptation. Give us opportunities and courage to proclaim how much you have done for us. For Jesus sake, Amen.
Other Lessons for This Week:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,
“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
St. Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.