June 23, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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. 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.’”
The beginning of an account can tell you much with few words. The more famous first lines of novels possess the same quality. It is so in today’s Gospel Reading: “Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.” The Gospel Writer is concisely telling where Jesus and the Twelve went in their travels. They have sailed from the western shores of the Sea of Galilee to the eastern shore. The country of the Gerasenes lies opposite Galilee in direction. But there is a bit more to this; the country of the Gerasenes is “opposite” of Galilee in more ways than one. Jesus and His disciples have entered Gentile lands, a location where the way of the Lord was not followed. They have left the Holy Land and entered an unclean region. And what takes place after their arrival puts that fact on clear display.
When the boat reaches the shore, who serves as the greeting party? “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.” Jesus beholds the epitome of uncleanliness. But this is more than a lack of hygiene, a failure to use soap and bleach. No, being unclean as it relates to God is a matter of lacking holiness—both in the sense of not having perfection, as well as not being set apart and belonging to the Lord. That’s what is seen in the country of the Gerasenes. With this demoniac, the unholiness reaches the highest level: living without clothing, dwelling among the corpses, being occupied by an unclean spirit.
That lack of holiness, that state of being unclean, leads to the question that flows out of the man’s mouth: “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.’” A gap exists between that man and Jesus, even though they are right next to each other. Proximity has nothing to do with the matter. The gap is present because Jesus is the epitome of holiness; He is what the demoniac says about Him, “the Son of the Most High God.” And the man’s begging reveals an outcome that should be realized when Jesus’ divine holiness encounters the demonic uncleanliness: “I beg You, do not torment me.”
But what does Jesus do there on the shore? Does He torment the man? Does He destroy him? No, that is not what Jesus does. For that is not His role there. Jesus has come into the world to bring divine holiness to the unclean: “He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.” Jesus gives the man what no one in the country of the Gerasenes could provide. Remember how the Gospel Writer told you about their attempts to deal with the man: “For many a time [the unclean spirit] 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.” But Jesus’ command frees him. Legion is sent away: “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.”
And what happens to the man after this? “[People] 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.” The man had been made clean. He was saved. The gap between him and Jesus was overcome. That is what Jesus did for him. It was a dramatic act, for sure. It caused fear. None of the people had ever seen this before. They had not been expecting someone to come and do that; these Gentiles had been given no prophetic promises about a Messiah coming to them. Jesus’ work confounded them greatly: “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” But what Jesus did in their land revealed His identity. He demonstrated what He was in the world to do—not to torment, but to save. And He gives the man the command: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
What happens in the country of the Gerasenes summarizes Jesus’ work in the world, including His work that takes place today. The encounter between Son of the Most High God and all that is unclean and unholy continues in this age. It happens now. You must know how it has occurred in your lives. For that is how Jesus’ identity as your Redeemer is revealed.
Jesus has come to the land of the Pennsylvanians. The Eternal and Incarnate Word of God has caused His authoritative word to be present here. It has traveled through the centuries from the Holy Land to the region way opposite of it. And what does Jesus behold when He steps foot in this country? He encounters the same unholiness found in the country of the Gerasenes. He sees you who are naked and dwelling among the dead. That is the way the Scriptures describe your natural state. There is no righteousness and no life. You stand like Adam and Eve did in the Garden after their sin. All that is necessary to be in the presence of the Son of the Most High God is lacking. The unclean spirit dwells within you.
So what is Jesus to do? Has He come to torment? Has He come to punish? No, that is not His role here. Even now, the divine holiness has come into the world to bring remedy to the unclean. That is what Jesus does here. He speaks and commands the unclean spirit to come out of you. In fact, that is why the traditional baptismal rites—even the Lutheran ones—include the statement spoken by the minister: “Depart unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!” Jesus removes the nakedness by giving you His righteousness. So you heard about what happens to you in baptism: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Or a bit more literally, “have been clothed with Christ.” And Jesus does not leave you as citizens of an unholy nation; instead, you are adopted into the Father’s household: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
That is the work of Jesus in this world. That is what He has done for you. This is how Jesus has become your Redeemer. Through baptism He applies His great work of bringing holiness into the world on a personal level. You are united to His being put to death and rising to life again. That was His role: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” He incorporates you and others into His chosen company of disciples, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. All the baptized are one in Christ Jesus.
But Jesus did go away from this world, just as He sailed from the country of the Gerasenes back to the land of Galilee. And like the healed demoniac in the Gospel Reading, your desire is to be where Jesus is, since you still live in a land that is unclean and unholy. The “elementary principles of the world”—the powers of evil and darkness—are still present here. They are seen in the unrighteous and sinful acts daily committed, even your actions that are not consistent with the Lord’s will. But Jesus tells you that you cannot now come with Him. Instead, Jesus tells you several things as He departs: first, that He and His power are present in this land; second, that you are to go home with a purpose; third, that He will return.
These statements of Jesus govern what you do as His redeemed people. Jesus’ presence is among you wherever His Gospel and His Sacraments are found. That means that if you want to receive His healing and forgiveness, you must be present where you hear of Jesus’ identity and work. But when you are sent home after gathering around Jesus’ Gospel and Sacraments, you have a task. You are to declare how much He has done for you. And as you remain in this country, you live in expectation of His return. But when Jesus comes again, His role will be different. When He returns, Jesus will bring judgment and cast out all the unclean into the abyss. But what is reserved for you, “the heirs according to the promise,” is the entry into resurrection where you dwell eternally with Him: “I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and from Judah possessors of My mountains; My chosen shall possess it, and My servants shall dwell there.”
That is what Jesus is for you as His holiness has encountered your uncleanliness. The Son of the Most High God has set you free. He is your Redeemer who does not torment, but who heals and saves. He has put His Spirit in you, making you holy people who belong to Him. So may you believe this about His identity. And so may you speak about how much He has done for you.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.