But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

2nd Sunday
in Pre-Lent 2024

Luke 8:26-37

Then [Jesus and his 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, 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.” 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.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 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. 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. 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. 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.

Christians throughout the centuries – in their yearning for a strong and resilient faith – have often felt that if they just could have been there when Jesus walked the earth, and if they could have seen his miracles with their own eyes, their faith would be stronger.

All of us occasionally wonder what it would have been like to have been with Jesus physically when these things happened. We want to believe in these things – and in him – with all our hearts.

In the face of our doubts, we want to have a sure and certain conviction that these extraordinary miracles really did happen; and that the man who demonstrated his power over both natural and supernatural forces by performing these miracles, really is the Son of God and our Savior.

But, unfortunately, we are far, far removed in time from these events. And time machines have not yet been invented. It would seem, therefore, that we are at a great disadvantage, compared to the people who knew Jesus in the flesh, and who saw the wondrous things that he did during his earthly ministry.

We envy them, and we envy the certainty of faith that we assume they had: since they personally experienced those faith-building events that we have not experienced, and cannot experience.

But should we be so sure that the people who were with Jesus during those days really did have a stronger faith than we have – due to their having been there to see these things firsthand? Should we be so sure that if we had been there, to experience his miracles for ourselves, that our faith would necessarily be stronger than it is now?

Let’s take a few moments to consider the events described in the text from St. Luke that I just read. This is the story of a man in the region of the Gerasenes who was possessed by many demons.

The region of the Gerasenes was obviously not a Jewish area. The presence of a large herd of pigs demonstrates that. There were not very many believers in the true God in this region.

But the people there certainly did recognize the power of the devil and his minions. In particular, they saw the kind of misery that a host of demons was putting that possessed man through on a daily basis.

But there was nothing they could do about it. These were supernatural forces – evil and dark supernatural forces – that no mortal man could withstand.

But when Jesus came to this place, the evil spirits in that man knew immediately who he was. And they knew that they were in trouble.

They did not want to be sent to the abyss, as they called it. And so Jesus gave them permission to enter into the pigs. In an instant, the demons had left the man whom they had possessed, and he was free of their torments.

Imagine what it would have been like, to be one of the people of that region who had witnessed this. You would have seen with your own eyes a man of Israel – Jesus – who was filled with a heavenly power that was stronger than the hellish power of the demons.

You would have heard with your own ears the conversation that took place between this man, with his powerful yet kindly voice, and the evil spirits, with their gravelly and sinister voices.

Do you think that seeing and hearing these things would have certainly caused you to believe in Jesus? Do you think that your faith in him and in his divine mission would without any doubt have been strengthened considerably through these experiences? Think again!

For the people who did see and hear these things, they were not drawn to Jesus in faith, but they were repelled from Jesus in fear. They asked him to leave their region.

They did not want to put their trust in him or to learn God’s Word from him. They wanted him to go as far away from them as possible! Why is this? Well, for the simple reason that being an eyewitness to a miracle, in itself, does not create or strengthen a true, saving faith.

In regard to the things of this world, the saying, “Seeing is believing,” is usually true. But in regard to the things of God – the regeneration of corrupted hearts, the enlightenment of darkened minds, and the saving of lost souls – seeing, with the physical eyes, is not believing.

The Gerasenes saw. They saw a lot. They did not believe. God does not use miracles to cause people to believe in Christ. Such faith comes only through the word of Christ.

The miracles of Jesus did get people’s attention. But what we actually see in the New Testament, is that those people who witnessed a miracle of Jesus were more likely than not to misconstrue its meaning; or to project their own preconceived interpretations onto it; or to accuse Jesus of sorcery because of it; or, as with the Gerasenes, to become afraid of Jesus, so that they just didn’t want to deal with him at all.

St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Romans that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” That’s how the people who knew Jesus in person during his earthly ministry were brought to a true and living faith in him – specifically as they listened to him preach and teach. And that’s how we today are likewise brought to a true and living faith in him.

We should not think that the people who were around Jesus in the first century, and who saw the things he did with their own eyes, had any advantage over us in regard to the strength or durability of their faith.

The sinful human nature never wants to believe in God, regardless of how many physical miracles may take place. These miracles can always be explained away, or ignored, by the unbelieving heart.

St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Colossians that, in regard to the true God, unbelievers are by nature “alienated and hostile in mind.” An outward miracle, even a spectacular one, will not change that. You might think it will, but it will not.

This inborn alienation and hostility toward God, with which we all come into this world, can, however, be changed by the Word of God. The message of God’s grace in Christ has within it the power to convert and save those who hear it. Through Isaiah the Prophet – as we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson – God himself tells us:

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

God’s powerful word comes to you from the pages of the Bible and through biblical preaching. God’s powerful word comes to you also in Holy Baptism, which according to St. Paul is “the washing of water with the word.” And God’s powerful word comes to you in the Supper that Jesus instituted for his church, which is constituted, and made present for us here and now, through the consecrating word of God’s Son.

What God intends to accomplish in the sending of his word to us, in these various ways, is the bestowing of faith on unbelievers, and the renewing of faith in believers; bringing Christ to his people, and filling and refilling his people with Christ.

When your faith is challenged by the distractions and deceptions of the twenty-first-century world in which you live, you are not lacking in access to the means that God has always used to help and comfort his people in their struggles, and to bolster their faith.

The people who lived during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry did have access to his word. But so do you!

The preaching of Jesus rings forth from the pages of Holy Scripture with just as much power as it had when it was first uttered by his lips. He himself still speaks through his ministers – the called and ordained servants of his Word – when they proclaim his gospel and administer his sacraments in his stead.

We have everything we need for our salvation, and for the strengthening of our faith, in the ministry of Word and Sacrament that is carried out in our midst by the Lord’s command.

Were you there when Jesus healed the sick and the lame when he fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, or when he raised the dead? Were you there when Jesus cast a legion of demons out of the Gerasene man? No, you were not.

But as far as the certainty of your faith is concerned, it doesn’t matter that you were not there. Those who were there had no advantage over you.

The people of the first century who did believe in Jesus, and who faced life and death with the confidence of an unswerving faith, did not get that confidence from the extraordinary events that they saw. They got it from the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

And that’s where Jesus wants to give you the same confidence. That’s where he wants to work a hidden miracle for you, whenever you are afflicted by doubt or temptation; whenever your faith becomes weak and uncertain.

In the message of the gospel, and in the promise of Baptism – which remains as an enduring power in your life – your Father in heaven takes care of you and preserves you. He assures you that Jesus is indeed your Redeemer from sin and death, who came into this world to seek and to save the lost, the fearful, and the hopeless.

In the message of the gospel, and in the Lord’s Holy Supper – where Jesus speaks divine words of invitation and remission of sins to each communicant – God’s Spirit impresses upon you the certain truth that Jesus did die for your sins, and was raised again for your justification.

And you are in these ways, and through these means, given an opportunity to cling here and now to the living Christ, so that you can face even the deepest challenges of life and death with an unswerving confidence in your Savior, and in your salvation.

Sometimes it’s not easy to believe. Sometimes we stumble in our faith. Sometimes we might wonder if all that we have been taught in church is really true.

When such times of doubt and uncertainty come upon us, listen attentively to the Lord’s message. In humility remember your Baptism. In repentance receive his Holy Supper. Read and meditate on the Scriptures.

And as you do, you will know – by the grace of the God who therein speaks to you – that you belong to Christ, in life and in death. God’s Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are his child.

You will be sure that Jesus rose from the dead for you, and that you will live forever with him. God’s word will accomplish the purpose for which he sends it – for which he sends it to you.

You may not be able to touch Jesus bodily with your hands or hear Jesus audibly with your ears. But that doesn’t matter.

Jesus comes to you in the means of grace in ways that are more potent and beneficial than the physical interactions he had with the Gerasenes, or with anyone else who knew him only in a physical way. Jesus comes to you in his means of grace to give to you, and to preserve within you, a real and enduring faith.

Speak, O Lord, Thy servant heareth, To Thy Word I now give heed;
Life and spirit Thy Word beareth, All Thy Word is true indeed.
Death’s dread power in me is rife; Jesus, may Thy Word of Life
Fill my soul with love’s strong fervor That I cling to Thee forever. Amen.