Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2013

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 8:35
Theme: Freed From Bondage

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Where Jesus walks the devil can have no peace. Divine light pierces his dark realm. Truth exposes his lies. Hope and peace are given to hearts Satan formerly ruled with despair and turmoil. Christ releases from bondage minds and wills the devil keeps captive. It is these things we pray for when we petition our heavenly Father in the Lord’s Prayer to deliver us from evil; particularly the schemes of the evil one.

We cannot ignore the large number of incidents recorded in the New Testament in which Jesus encounters demons or evil spirits. It would be easy to dismiss these encounters as historical relics of a by-gone era. In a culture that still lives off the capital of rationalism these incidents seem amusing but benign. Often such occurrences are simply equated with psychological or emotional problems. But this hardly does justice to the spiritual truths demanding to be recognized. Each encounter was a confrontation with Satan- a confrontation with evil.

Today’s incident between Jesus and spiritual evil bears the marks of a pattern we see developed throughout the narratives of the New Testament. Yet particular details are exceptional. The recognition by the evil spirits that Jesus was the Son of God is typical but telling. Demons recognize Christ but will not honour Him. Remarkable in this encounter is the magnitude of evil’s presence. “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?”1 He replied that his name was Legion. A legion was a Roman military force consisting of between 4,000 and 6,000 soldiers. Extraordinary too, is the action of Jesus sending the demons into a herd of pigs.

It may seem challenging to relate this amazing account to current circumstances. The unchanged reality of evil may be a good starting point. Sin isn’t limited to ethical or moral failure as we commonly understand it. The foundation of sin is unbelief. Even with the best of intention any pursuit of life that proceeds in defiance of God’ truth is false, unrighteous, and evil by definition. Commenting on the original fall into sin, Luther said of Satan, “He led them from the external Word of God to spiritualizing and to their own imaginations, and he did this through other eternal words.”2 Adam and Eve reasoned that it wasn’t necessary to take God at His word. Faith must cling to God’s revealed word.

Faith dares to venture to places where human wisdom forbids us to go. Faith is always confronted by conventional prudence that advises against risk. Faith clings to God’s promises in Christ which often seem to amount to little in the eyes of the world. The world says, “Hastily avoid pain.” Faith says, “Wait for God’s deliverance.” The world says, “Please yourself!” Faith says, “Consider others.” The world says, “Justify and defend yourself.” Faith says, “Be willing to suffer wrong for others.” The world says, “Fear those who pose a physical threat.” The Saviour says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”3 The Holy Spirit must teach us godly fear.

Two explorers were on a jungle safari when suddenly a ferocious lion jumped in front of them. "Keep calm" the first explorer whispered. "Remember what we read in that book on wild animals? If you stand perfectly still and look the lion in the eye, he will turn and run." "Sure," replied his companion. "You've read the book, and I've read the book. But has the lion read the book?" When our fear is the greatest, where do we turn for help? Has everyone read The Book? Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”4

How is this so? Not by show of pride but of humility. The Son of the Most High God5 was not too vain to take on human flesh and blood and walk the paths of sinners. He was not so self-involved that He saved His own skin first. He hungered. He thirsted. He had no place to lay His head. He was ridiculed, beaten, scourged, and mocked. All His companions abandoned Him. Most importantly He was crucified with criminals. Salvation could be accomplished in no other way. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, gave Himself over in sacrifice for our iniquities. And He lives! He is risen to give us life. His love is so gentle it will not harm a child prematurely born but so strong it cannot be destroyed by all the hatred Satan can muster. His life is yours; by grace, through faith.

What does the apostle say to believers? “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”6 He feeds you with His own body and blood, the antidote for evil. He casts your sins away as far as the east is from the west. Like the man in bondage today He releases you from sin’s grip.

We have freedom. We are free to love without restraint. We are liberated to serve those who are still bound. But we do not have license to act apart from God’s word. We do not have license to establish our own standard of morality. We do not have warrant to excuse our sins under the guise of freedom. We have a high calling to address in godly wisdom and truth the sufferings and hardships of others. We do not live as lone rangers. Christ’s goal for us is not to be independent, isolated, and self-reliant. We are members of His body and as such we compliment all the others.

It was Cain that first expressed the inclination of humanity to wash its hands of responsibility to care for others. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”7 It was a model for Pilate who washed his and declared himself innocent of the blood of Christ8. Such declarations, even by those in authority, have no standing before the Almighty. There is a difference between meddling in the affairs of others and coming to their aid in a time of need. Sins of omission are no less damning than sins of commission.

And we should never think that our responsibility concerns only the physical needs of others. Spiritual well-being is always the believer’s first concern. We should never neglect the greater concern at the expense of the lesser. Jesus chastised the Pharisees for this reason.9 The body can pass into eternity worn and frail but the soul cannot enter into heaven without Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Dear friends, it is for our own well-being that we are not privy to all the mysteries of God’s actions. Sometimes God calms the storm. Other times He lets the storm rage and calms the child. Sometimes God heals the body. Other times he lets the sickness rage and heals the soul. Sometimes God silences Satan immediately. Other times He lets him speak so that we can learn to know the Master’s voice. Sometimes God answers prayer before it is even offered. Other times He forces the pray-er further to his or her knees. Sometimes God removes the stumbling block to faith before we even know it’s in our path. Other times He allows us to stumble so we see we’re on the wrong road.

All these things He does not impulsively but with divine foresight and compassion. He does not seek to toy with us but to ground us more firmly in His grace. The demons who were ‘Legion’ identified Him as the Son of God and cried out in fear. If such great powers were subdued by Him do you not think that this same Son of God cannot calm your every fear, address your every need, and fulfill your every hope? The Scripture says, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”10

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
23 June 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Luke 8:30
2 Smalcald Articles 312, 5
3 Matthew 10:28
4 John 16:33
5 See Luke 8:28
6 Galatians 3:26-27
7 Genesis 4:9
8 See Matthew 7:24
9 See Matthew 23:23
10 2 Corinthians 1:20

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