25 October 2015
Today’s text is the story of the Gadarene demoniac: the man from whom Christ cast out a legion of demons. And I want to focus on three lessons it has for us.
First, the demonic is real. Too often I fail at the Christian life because I forget the nature of the conflict I’m in. St. Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” It’s easy for us to get distracted by the outward appearances, and miss what’s happening beneath the surface.
Sometimes the demonic is obvious. Anyone who saw this man, running naked around the tombs, resisting all attempts to restrain him, had to see a deeper, evil power at work in his life. There could be no confusion about that. And when, today, we see our brothers and sisters being beheaded, or subject to terrorist attack, simply because they confess Christ, it is obvious that the devil is alive and well.
But sometimes the demonic is more subtle. In fact, Satan does his best work in the dark, beneath the surface of our minds. Think how he enflames the passions of anger and lust: not just with violent video games and online pornography, but also with the little frustrations and distractions of daily life. Like termites eat the frame of a house, so the demons nibble away at the fabric of our culture and of our minds. See how he is active in the lives of the people of Gadara. They could handle the demoniac, as long as he stayed out of their sight in the cemetery. They had come to think of it all as somehow normal; they had found a way to live with it, until Jesus came.
And that brings us to our second lesson. How can we tell the presence and power and working of the devil? Consider what the demons had in common with the townsfolk. When Jesus lands, the demons approach him. “What do you have to do with us?” they ask him. “Have you come to torment us before the time?” In other words, the very presence of Christ is painful to them and to their work. They want nothing to do with him, and will go anywhere to get away: even into a herd of pigs.
What about the townsfolk? When they learn what Jesus has done, do they greet him with thanks for having healed the demoniac? On the contrary! They beg Jesus to get back into the boat and go. Go where? Anywhere, just so it wasn’t there.
We can spot the presence and power of the demonic by seeing whether the Lord Jesus is welcomed, or not. The man who was cured, begged Jesus to let him be with him. The townsfolk, and the demons, begged Jesus to go away.
That is why we must learn to call on the name of Jesus. The holy fathers teach us that the name of Jesus is a scourge of demons. One way to use that name is to learn the prayer of Jesus: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The name of Jesus is not magical; but it is personal and powerful. As an old hymn says, “Take the name of Jesus with you, child of sorrow and of woe; it will joy and comfort give you, take it then, where’ere you go.”
That’s why we come to the services of the Church. We come here broken and battered in our battle with the foe; but here the Triune God welcomes us, washes our wounds, clothes us with his grace and feeds us with the body and blood of Jesus.
Third, and last, though our battle is great, the outcome is not in doubt. We may despair when we see how wide and strong is the power of the demonic. We may wonder if anyone can be saved in this present darkness. But let us heed the words of St. John: “Greater is he who is in you, than he who is in the world.” Don’t let the terrors across the world, or the many times we fail, lead us to doubt or despair. If we have fallen, let us not stay prone. Let us rise and call on the name of Jesus. He does not despise a broken and contrite heart.
Don’t despair. The devil rages, because he knows his time is short. Just as Christ left Gadara to continue his ministry, so he continues to work today. Call on him…cling to him. He will cover us with his mercy and restore us to a right mind, by the power of his Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.