Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
June 23, 2013 – Pentecost V
1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a; Psalm 43, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39
From the Old Testament:
And God said to Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians:
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Now a large herd of swine was feeding on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
In our Gospel reading today, we have Jesus and His disciples arriving at Gadara, the country of the Gerasenes. They had just had a very traumatic boat ride across a lake and I think you all know the story: this is where Jesus had fallen asleep, and then a mighty storm came upon them and the disciples thought they were going to drown. They cried out to Jesus, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was calm. And He said to them: “where is your faith?”
So once on land, Jesus was greeted by two demonized men, but one of them was the more forward and did all the speaking. Both were pitiful cases: naked, living in the tombs, violent, dangerous, a menace to the area, and controlled by a legion of demons. Now just to put this into context, a Roman legion could have as many as 6,000 men. Now I am not saying that was how many demons possessed these two men, but let’s say there were a lot.
Satan is the thief (John 10:10) who robs his people of everything good and then tries to destroy them. No amount of man-made authority or restraint can control or change the devil’s servants. Their only hope is in the Saviour.
The prophet Elijah had a test of faith. God had chastened His people with drought and famine but had cared for His special servant Elijah. God had sent fire from heaven to prove that He was the true and living God. Now He had answered the prayer of His prophet and had sent rains to water the land. You would think that Elijah would be at his very best spiritually and able to face anything, but he still failed the Lord and himself.
For three years, the prophet had been hidden by God, during which time he “waited on the Lord.” When the Lord sent him to Mount Carmel, He enabled Elijah to “mount up with wings as eagles” and triumph over the prophets of Baal. Elijah had hoped that his courageous ministry on Mount Carmel would bring the nation to its knees; that Ahab and Jezebel would repent and turn from Baal to Jehovah, but they didn’t.
Now he was running away in order to save his life because Ahab and Jezebel had threatened to kill him. As a result he considered himself a failure. But the Lord rarely allows His servants to see all the good they have done, because we walk by faith and not by sight, and Elijah would learn that there were 7,000 people in Israel who had not bowed to Baal and instead worshiped Jehovah. Where was his faith?
We may not realize it, but demons have faith (James 2:19), but it is not saving faith. The demons of the two men that welcomed Jesus as He came ashore, knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God with the authority to command them. They believe in a future judgment (Matt. 8:29) and in the existence of a place of torment to which Jesus could send them; sometimes this is referred to as the abyss (Luke 8:31). They also believed in prayer, for the demons begged Jesus not to send them to the abyss. They asked to be sent into the pigs, and Jesus granted their request. When this happened, the pigs went wild, hog wild. And the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
Did Jesus have the right to permit the legion of demons to destroy a herd of 2,000 swine and perhaps put the owners out of business? God owns everything and can dispose of it as He pleases. Furthermore, these two men were worth far more than many pigs. The community should have thanked Jesus for ridding their neighborhood of these two menaces, but instead, they begged Him to leave! They were terrified when they saw what had happened. Where was their faith?
What a transformation in these two men! You would have expected the people who saw the miracle to ask Jesus to stay and heal others who were sick and afflicted, but they rejected Him. Perhaps it was the loss of money from losing the 2,000 swine that upset them; perhaps it was the fear of the unknown, that this was some kind of magic or sorcery that caused their anger. Jesus offered them mercy and salvation and they rejected Him and asked Him to leave.
One of the men that had been possessed by demons kept pleading with Jesus to be allowed to travel with Him and help Him. What a noble desire from a newly converted man! He had more spiritual discernment and faith than all the other citizens put together. The man was not yet ready to become a disciple, but he could serve Jesus as a witness, starting at home among his Gentile relatives and friends. Jesus did not want Jews who had been healed to say too much about it, because He was on a divine timetable, but it was safe for the Gentiles to tell others what Jesus had done for them, and this is what he did.
Isn’t it amazing that when people see the miracles first hand and don’t connect the dots. They can’t see who Jesus really is. The demons had the faith. They knew exactly who Jesus was and the power and authority He possessed. Even Jesus’ disciples were amazed at the calming of the waters and couldn’t figure out who He really was. And now these Gentiles witnessed the removal of the demons from these two men and yet told Jesus to leave. Where was their faith?
Since the coming of Christ, Jews and Gentiles, have struggled with their faith in Jesus. They have struggled to know who He is and what He has to offer: salvation through grace.
St. Paul uses an illustration that was familiar to all his readers – a child guardian. We read in Galatians: So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. In many Roman Greek households, well-educated slaves took the children to and from school and watched over them during the day. Sometimes they would teach the children, sometimes they would protect and prohibit, and sometimes they would even discipline.
By using this illustration, Paul is saying several things about the Jews and their Law. First, he is saying that the Jews were not born through the Law, but rather were brought up by the Law. The slave was not the child’s father; he was the child’s guardian and disciplinarian. So, the Law did not give life to Israel; it regulated life. The early Jewish converts taught that the Law was necessary for life and righteousness, and Paul’s argument shows that it wasn’t.
But the second thing Paul says is even more important: the work of the guardian was preparation for the child’s maturity. Once the child came of age, he no longer needed the guardian. So the Law was a preparation for the nation of Israel until the coming of the promised Seed, Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal in God’s program was His coming (Gal. 3:22), but “before this faith [Christ] came,” the nation was “imprisoned by the Law.”
The Law separated Israel from the Gentile nations; it governed every aspect of their lives. During the centuries of Jewish history, the Law was preparing for the coming of Christ. The demands of the Law reminded the people that they needed a Saviour.
The Law has performed its purpose: the Saviour has come and the “guardian” is no longer needed. It is tragic that the nation of Israel did not recognize their Messiah when He appeared. God finally had to destroy the temple and scatter the nation, so that today it is impossible for a devoted Jew to practice the faith of his fathers. He has no altar, no priesthood, no sacrifice, no temple, and no king. All of these have been fulfilled in Christ, so that any man – Jew or Gentile – who trusts Christ becomes a child of God.
The Law cannot change the promise, and the Law is not greater than the promise. But the Law is not contrary to the promise: they work together to bring sinners to the Saviour.
With the coming of Jesus Christ, the nation of Israel moved out of childhood into adulthood. The long period of preparation was over. While there was a certain amount of glory to the Law, there was a greater glory in the gracious salvation of God as found in Christ. The Law could reveal sin and, to a certain extent, control behavior, but the Law could not do for the sinner what Jesus Christ can do.
To begin with, the Law could never justify the guilty sinner. “I will not justify the wicked,” said the Lord (Ex. 23:7); yet Paul states that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that the sinner is justified – declared righteous – before God.
Furthermore, the Law could never give a person a oneness with God; it separated man from God. There was a fence around the tabernacle and a veil between the holy place and the holy of holies.
Faith in Jesus baptizes us “into Christ (Gal. 3:27). This baptism of the Spirit identifies the believer with Christ and makes him part of His body (1 Cor. 12:12-14). Water baptism is an outward picture of this inner work of the Holy Spirit.
The Law created differences and distinctions, not only between individuals and nations, but also between various kinds of foods and animals. Jesus Christ came, not to divide, but to unite.
This must have been glorious news for the Galatian Christians, for in their society slaves were considered to be only pieces of property; women were kept confined and disrespected; and Gentiles were constantly sneered at by the Jews.
A Jewish religious leader of that day would pray each morning, “I thank Thee, God, that I am a Jew, not a Gentile; a man, not a woman; and a freeman, and not a slave.” Yet all these distinctions are removed “in Christ.”
This does not mean that our race, financial status, or sex is changed at conversion; but it does mean that these things are of no value or handicap when it comes to our spiritual relationship to God through Christ. The Law perpetuated these distinctions, but God in His grace has declared all men to be on the same level that He might have mercy on all men (Rom. 11:25-32).
Finally, the Law could never make us heirs of God (Gal. 3:29). God made the promise to “Abraham’s Seed,” and that Seed is Christ. If we are “in Christ” by faith, then we too are “Abraham’s Seed” spiritually speaking. This means we are heirs of the spiritual blessings God promised to Abraham. This does not mean that the material and national blessings promised to Israel are set aside, but that Christians today are enriched spiritually because of God’s promise to Abraham.
This section of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is valuable to us as we read the Old Testament Scriptures. It shows us that the spiritual lessons of the Old Testament are not for the Jews only but have application to Christians today. In the Old Testament we have preparation for Christ; in the Gospels, the presentation of Christ; and in the Acts through Revelation, the appropriation of Christ.
Your Christian life ought to take on new wonder and meaning as you realize all that you have in Christ. And all of this is by grace – not by Law! You are an adult son in God’s family, an heir of God. If demons can identify and know Christ, we certainly should be able to. May our faith not be determined by wonders and signs of miracles, but by our faith and trust in the sure promise of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through His Holy Spirit may we become excited and on fire; or should I say “hog wild” witnesses to the salvation and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray:
O Lord, we beseech thee, make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name, for thou never fails to help and govern those whom thou hast set upon the sure foundation of thy loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.