Sunday sermon 23 June 2013 – “So you think you have problems?”

Readings: 

Galatians 3:23-29

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Luke 8:26-39

Message

 

I wonder if you have every studied the accounts of this story of the man possessed whose demons entered a herd of pigs – with the pigs rushing down a steep bank and drowning?

 

I mean have you looked at the three accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke – side by side. It really is fascinating. Try it sometime. There are interesting differences in the stories. Luke the doctor has some unique angles on it too. As you do -when you’re a doctor. Including the comment that the man had been cured!

 

The main issues are clear though:

 

1. This is Gentile country (heaps of pigs and some disgruntled people in the pig industry who don’t want Jesus hanging around).

 

2. The man is in a bad way. Living on death’s door! Luke’s Gadarene / Gerasene demoniac is naked and living in a cemetery.

 

My second visit to Auckland (for the General assembly in 2006) I was taken home by a local who got lost and we landed in an Auckland cemetery at night. Fortunately we got out the other side.

 

Not a great place to live. This guy needed housing and clothing – and a more cheerful life – to replace the isolation and rejection.

 

3.  The man’s identity is unknown. He is named “Legion” in two of the passages. Not Jacob, or Andrew. Or John son of somebody or other. But “Legion” – identified by the hordes of evil spirits infesting his life.

 

This man is estranged from society and lonely – and at the edge spiritually and mentally.

 

I don’t pretend to understand fully the ministry of exorcism. I have not witnessed that much of it –but I do take it seriously.

 

It seemed common in Jesus’ ministry – and logically so, because He ushered in the Kingdom of God – preaching good news, healing the sick, and dealing with the devil and his demons.

 

And I know that there are different views on demon possession. Most of us would rather not deal with extreme experiences like this. We tend to avoid the topic. C S Lewis is helpful here:

 

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

But in case you think that this is all a bit extreme – I think the things that we have noted about this man are actually not that different from the common man’s human predicament in our community.

 

So our first point.

 

1. We’re also Gentiles

Few of us were born Jewish – and we should always be grateful that the gospel message reached the gentiles – and thus reached us.

 

This man was living in gentile territory. How fascinating that Jesus went all the way there – across the sea by boat – just for this man.

Ah – you may say – he would have stayed around for others – except that the people chased him away. Listen to verse 37 again:

 

Luk 8:37  Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

 

I don’t know really. I suspect this was all part of Jesus’ plan.

 

I am so glad that Jesus has reached out to me too. I had nothing to claim when it comes to religious pedigree or faith. But he touched my life – over a number of years from childhood through to the troubled teenage times we go through – into adulthood – Jesus has sought me out again and again – speaking into my life.

 

2. We live at death’s door as well.

 

This man is not that different from us, secondly, because we too are in a bad way without Jesus walking into our lives.

 

We might not live in a cemetery – but we live at death’s door without Jesus.

 

I remind you of the reason Jesus died – listen to Paul in Romans 3 – leading up to the famous verse 23 he says (talking about status as a Jew etc)

 

Rom 3:9  What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.

Rom 3:10  As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

Rom 3:11  there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

Rom 3:12  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Rom 3:13  “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”

Rom 3:14  “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”

Rom 3:15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

Rom 3:16  ruin and misery mark their ways,

Rom 3:17  and the way of peace they do not know.”

Rom 3:18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 

He is quoting from Psalm 5:9 and Psalm  140: 3 – it’s pretty graphic stuff. And he reaches a crescendo if you like in Romans 3 in verses 22 to 24

 

(Rom 3:22  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.) There is no difference,

Rom 3:23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

(Rom 3:24  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.)

 

Pop over to Romans 6:23 and we read

 

Rom 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

The human race lives naked in a cemetery – exposed and judged and deserving death.

 

And when whether we suffer – struggle – wrestle on the edge – or whether we live so-called “normal” lives – tell me that the world isn’t a depraved place today?

 

What is normal is often hollow, empty and lonely without Jesus.

 

There are millions who are desperate and estranged – in darkness.

 

And even the ones who have it all together – will end up in a cemetery too – best let Jesus into your life before that happens!

 

And thirdly – one of the most important issues –

 

3. The man’s identity

 

This man is fragmented in every way. Broken to the extent that he is not just possessed but occupied by a Legion – which would have numbered 6000.

 

It seems that the intensity or “badness” of your condition in those days was measured by the number of demons. Mary Magdalene had 7 cast from her, we are told.

 

(Luk 8:1  After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him,

Luk 8:2  and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;

Luk 8:3  Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.)

 

And the demons have no hesitation in identifying Jesus! And they fear Him! Listen again:

 

Luk 8:27  When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs.

Luk 8:28  When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

 

The next verse tells us more – that Jesus had in fact made the first move:

 

Luk 8:29  For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

 

You know the rest of the story. The demons are sent into the pigs – and the rest is a glitch in the local pork industry to say the least.

 

So to sum up:

 

1. We too are Gentiles

2. We are living closer to death than we think (in sin)

3. We all need our identity sorted out

 

This man was defined by evil, by where he lived, and by society.

 

“Legion” has no identifiable name – one assumes he is called by his proper name when clothed and in his right mind.

 

The text is silent on the name issue. Listen again:

 

When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

Luk 8:36  Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.

Luk 8:37  Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

Luk 8:38  The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,

Luk 8:39  “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

 

He is “the man from whom the demons had gone out”. (v35)

 

He is “the demon-possessed man who is now cured”. (v36)

 

He is “the man from whom the demons had gone out” (v38) who begs to go with Jesus

 

He is just “the man” in verse 39 who goes on his way.

 

What defines you? Your past? Your behaviour? Your reputation in the family (how often we are labelled and categorised!).

 

How often do we not define people like this too. In church as well – she’s the difficult one – he’s the quiet one, or the interfering one. Or our family has a “black sheep” that no one wants to talk about.

 

Paul reminds us about this issue of identity in his letters:

 

1Co 1:26  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

1Co 1:27  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

1Co 1:28  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,

1Co 1:29  so that no one may boast before him.

 

(1Co 1:30  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

1Co 1:31  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”)

 

And of course this passage is our common statement of faith with this man in the gospel reading today:

 

2Co 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

 

That’s our identity!

 

To conclude – there are two rather special “bonus” points to make. Do you remember the first three?

 

1. Gentiles – we are also Gentiles  and we are grateful that Jesus reached out to us

2. We are living closer to death than we think (in sin)

3. We too need our identity sorted out – becoming a new creation in Christ.

 

Here are the bonus points:

 

4. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is a great place to be! That’s where the man is when he is clothed and in his right mind.

 

Sitting at the feet of Jesus!

 

How are you doing on this one? Sitting at the feet of your gaming console – your iPad – your TV – your newspaper or library books?

Or at the feet of Jesus? Who else in scripture is known for this? We have dealt with her in the past year here.

 

Yes – Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus!

 

Luk 10:39  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

 

A good reminder for us!

 

And then the last bonus point!

 

5. We all have a story to tell – as witnesses to what Jesus does in fixing us.

 

So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.  (v39)

 

We are witnesses. Good one, bad ones, active ones or silent ones.

 

We do have a story to tell!

 

Praise God!

 

Amen!

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on June 25, 2013, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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