We Are Beggars; That Is True!

"Swine Driven into the Sea" by James Tissot
Click here to listen to this sermon.

“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’” (Luke 8:38-39).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
On February 18, 1546, Martin Luther died in Eiselben, Germany. The accounts of his last few days are fascinating. Despite very poor health, Luther was at work to the very end, preaching, administering the Sacrament, ordaining two ministers, and settling a dispute between three feuding Lutheran princes. As he lay on his death bed, Luther’s friend, Jonas, asked, “Reverend Father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in His name?” Luther responded with a clear “Yes” and fell asleep.
Upon his death, a scrap of paper was found in Luther’s pocket, which turns out to be the last words that the reformer wrote: “Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years… We are beggars. That is true.”
“We are beggars. That is true.” Luther’s final words clearly picture our spiritual status before God. We are poor and destitute, broke and broken, sinful, unlovable, unrighteous, unwilling, and incapable—on our own—of effecting anything positive toward God. Our salvation must be—start to finish—an act of grace, an act of mercy. Yet as a beggar is precisely how God desires we come before Him. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). Given our Gospel for today, we might well add, “Those who have never been under Satan’s dominion have no need for an exorcist” Or for that matter, those who have no problem with sin, have no need for a Savior.
It is important that when we read the biblical accounts we don’t just idealize ourselves as the heroes of the faith—the Davids slaying our Goliaths, the Joshuas tumbling down the walls of our Jerichos, or the Daniels standing firm in our faith as we deal with our own dens of lions. It is even more important that we consider ourselves in the position of the less than heroic, the fallen and feeble. The faithless and fearful disciples, the hypocritical Pharisees, impetuous Peter—just like you and me, they are saints and sinners. To fail to see ourselves in the faithless is to live in falsehood. But perhaps, as we consider what it means to live as a Christian, there is no better mirror than to see ourselves in the destitute, the blind, or the crippled beggars who plead with Christ for mercy.     
Have you noticed that those who approach Christ crying for mercy always come away with His blessings? In contrast, the rich man who says, “All these [commandments] I have kept,” goes away sorrowful (Matthew 19:16-22). If you are not a beggar, Christ is not your Savior. Refuse Christ’s mercy, and He will not force it on you. You will be left to your own devices to deal with your sin, death, and the devil. But sing out Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy!”) and Christ is all yours. In fact, Jesus came specifically for beggars and only beggars. He delights to show mercy to beggars.*
And that’s certainly true in the account of Jesus meeting this poor demon-possessed man in our Gospel. Four times a form of the verb “beg” is used—twice by the man and twice by the demons. Yes, even the demons beg. Recognizing Christ’s authority and their own eternal destination, they have no other alternative than to beg. Sinful human beings may be led by God’s Spirit through God’s Word to genuine repentance and faith in Christ. They will spend an eternity in a new heaven and a new earth. There is no such hope for the sinful angels who rebelled against God. The devil and his cohorts will spend an eternity in hell. The best this Legion of demons can ask for is to abide in this herd of pigs for a time.
The man who meets Jesus in the region of the Gerasenes is in terrible shape; he is unclothed and has been living among the tombs. People have tried chaining him up and keeping him under guard, but when seized by the evil spirits, he breaks the shackles and escapes into solitary places. It’s not surprising that this man has nothing to do with the other people living in the area: he’s far too lost and gone.
So what does he have to do with Jesus?
That’s the question he poses when Jesus arrives: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” He’s already said a mouthful. For one thing, he knows who Jesus is. While everybody on the other side of the lake and Jesus’ own disciples are still speculating whether or not Jesus might be the Messiah, this man declares Him to be the Son of the Most High God. Furthermore, the man begs that Jesus will not torment him. That’s significant as well. He doesn’t challenge Jesus or try to scare Him with some blustery show of strength. The demons know that they are no match for the Son of the Most High God. They just want to get away from Him. But notice: they can’t do so without His permission. The demons may be strong, but so much more powerful is Jesus that they have to stay and squirm in His presence until He lets them go away.
So we have this surprising scene: the demons are begging Jesus! They’re begging Him to let them go away from His holy presence; but they’re also begging Him not to send them to the abyss. They know that because of their evil, their eternal end is the lake of fire, but they do not want that yet. Since they have to go somewhere in the meanwhile, they beg permission to enter a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus grants their request, which in turn causes the herd to rush headlong down the steep bank into the lake and drown, offering a foretaste of the lake of fire into which Satan and his demons will ultimately be cast (Revelation 20:10). The same body of water from which the disciples have just escaped by the power of Jesus becomes the final resting place for this herd of demonized pigs.
  The herdsmen who witness the death of their pigs flee to the city, where they tell the people what has happened. Naturally, many have to come out to check for themselves. They come to Jesus and find the formerly possessed man clothed and in his right mind. Now that the demons are gone, the man isn’t afraid, he’s not trying to get away from Jesus; he’s sitting at His feet, listening to His Word.
Now it’s the crowd’s turn to be afraid—not of the formerly demon-possessed man, but afraid of Jesus. Sinful man is filled with terror when confronted with the holy, omnipotent God. Sadly, this fear leads these people in their unbelief to the same response as the demons: they ask Jesus to go away.
But notice the difference in Jesus’ response. Against the demons, He stands His ground and demonstrates His authority over evil as He sends them away. But Jesus treats the people differently than the demons. He doesn’t overpower them. He leaves. It’s not that He’s too weak to do anything else. Rather, it’s that while He has grace and life to give them, grace and life are gifts—and gifts cannot be compelled. Jesus will not force Himself on anyone. As He delivers the man from the demons, Jesus comes also to deliver the Gerasenes from sin, death, and the devil. But they don’t want the deliverance; they want Him to go away. So Jesus gives them what they want—their sin, their isolation, their darkness, their death before God. But He does not leave them without a witness, in order that they might continue to hear His offer of grace.
As for the man who was healed, he wants to stick around and be in Jesus’ presence. He begs Jesus that he might be with Him. But Jesus sends him home to go and declare how much God has done for him. So that’s what the man does. In fact, throughout the city of people who want Jesus to go away, the man proclaims how much Jesus has done for him. He is now God’s instrument to declare salvation there, God’s merciful witness in hopes that those who send Jesus away might one day repent and believe in Him.
So, to play on the words of the demon-possessed man: “What does this have to do with you and me?”
One moment, the man is running around naked in the graveyard, breaking shackles and chains and terrifying the people. The next time the man is seen, he is wearing clothes and in his right mind. He’s sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Jesus’ Word, learning the Good News of salvation from the Teacher Himself. Jesus has saved him from the darkness, the demons, and the death, and then sends him back home to tell how much God has done for Him in Jesus.
This is a picture of what Jesus does for you, too. No, your condition may not seem as dire as was that man’s in the Gerasenes. You are able to get up each morning and dress yourself and go to work or your regular activities and act generally respectable most of the time. You don’t camp out at the cemetery. You don’t need to be shackled, strait-jacketed, or sedated. And we certainly don’t expect to see a herd of pigs hurtling off the bank at Split Rock Lake at the command of Jesus anytime soon. (The folks at New Horizon Farms might get upset with that.) But you and I are bound to sin and death. And like that man, we cannot free ourselves. We are beggars. That is true! We need to be clothed by Christ. We need Him to release us from our shackles of our sin, to set our minds aright, and restore order to our lives.
This story reminds us that there is a lot more going on in this world than we are aware of. There is a dark, demonic realm that occasionally breaks into our mundane existence and wreaks havoc on our lives. I know that’s a bit hard for us to swallow in our scientific age. We tend to relegate devils to Halloween and horror films. We smile inwardly when we sing “though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us…” Our scientific minds have no place for demon possession. If that man was among us today, we’d likely label him “insane” and institutionalize him. We would be much more likely to call a psychologist than an exorcist.
The fact is that there is a dark, demonic realm of which the Bible has relatively little to say. But this we do know: There is a devil, an evil one, the one who is the father of lies and a murderer from before Adam and Eve. He tempted Eve to disobey God’s Word. He creates chaos and works evil in the world, allying with our all too willing sinful natures. No, this is not make-believe or some Halloween silliness; this is a hidden, dark fact of life. It’s what St. Paul calls the “powers and principalities and the rulers of this present darkness.”
That’s not to say the ultimate end of this battle is in doubt. Satan and his minions are powerful, but they are no match for Christ. The battle between Christ and Satan is not a contest between two equal and opposite powers. All power in heaven and earth belongs to God. The only power that Satan possesses is what he has usurped and stolen. Satan’s apparent power is all a lie, nothing but smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand, and rank deception. He gains power by feeding on spiritual disorder and impurity. Evil thrives on guilt, fear, hatred, and death. Hence, in the New Testament, the demons are most commonly called “unclean spirits.” Demonic power is parasitic, for it gains its force from the desecration of what is holy and the defilement of what is good in the order of creation.
Since Satan deals with untruth and unreality, Jesus routs the unclean spirits by teaching the truth of God’s Word. That Word destroys the web of illusion and deception that characterizes the dominion of darkness. It releases prisoners and slaves from the shackles of sin, death, and devil. Jesus’ power does not just apply to what happened there in the Gerasenes. It applies equally—and perhaps even more fully—now in the light of Easter, to you and your situation. You, like all other people remain in darkness until Christ comes and teaches you His Father’s Word with authority. That Word discloses and exposes the darkness. With the Word, Christ unshackles the chains of sin that bind you. With that Word, He sends Satan and his unclean spirits packing.
Everything, therefore, depends on Christ. Through His self-sacrificial death on the cross for your sins and His resurrection, Jesus has won the victory for you. He has taken your sins upon Himself. He removes the power death has over you. In other words, He pays sins wage for you and gives you resurrection and eternal life.
The crucified and risen Son of the Most High God came to you in your baptism. Baptism has long been seen by the Church as a form of exorcism. Luther’s baptismal rite was more specific, but even ours today asks the candidate for baptism if he or she renounces the devil… all his works… all his ways. In the water and Word of your baptism, Jesus cast Satan out and commanded the old evil foe to keep his hands off of you. From that moment on it is the Son of the Most High God who possesses you. He put His triune name on you. He’s given you His Holy Spirit. He’s promised that you will be with Him forever. Baptism is a source of confidence and boldness as you go out into the world. The prince of darkness, the devil, may still prowl about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, but you can resist him as you stand firm in the faith of Jesus.
You are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Like that man out of the tombs, you have been brought out of the darkness into His light, out of death into His life. You have been clothed in Christ and His righteousness. Having been given a right mind, the mind of Christ, you come to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word. The crucified and risen Christ, invites you to His table to receive His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Having restored you, the Lord bids you to return home, and as you go about your daily vocations, to joyfully declare how much God has done for you in Christ.
You are a beggar. That is true! You are powerless against the devil and his forces of evil, but you have nothing to fear. Christ has overcome them all. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*The introduction of this sermon is based upon a section of Matthew C. Harrison's "Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action" pages 99-101.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Solemn Promise from God and before God: A Sermon for the Wedding of Greg & Jessi McCormick

A Wonderful Mystery: An Address for the Wedding of James & Rebecca Dubro

The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Funeral Sermon