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Afraid of Jesus?

June 23, 2019
By Rev. David French

Today’s gospel lesson follows the lesson of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee which, you may remember, ends with Jesus asking His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” That is, the disciples’ fear was a symptom of their lack of faith.

Our lesson today picks up as Jesus and His disciples arrive on the opposite shore. We get the impression that Jesus hardly had time to step out of the boat before fear presented itself once again. A demon-possessed man threw himself at Jesus’s feet. In the 2nd chapter of James [19] we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe (that)—and shudder!”

The demons in this man were shuddering. But this is a different kind of fear. Luke records that, “… when [the man] 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.’” The demons wanted to get as far away from Jesus as they could, but when Jesus says, “Come,” they obey, and when He says to go, they go.  They have no free will, no option but to obey.

The truth is, there are no atheists or agnostics among the demons or fallen angels. They have a far better knowledge of God than we can ever have on this side of heaven. Yet, their knowledge of God produces a very legitimate fear. You see, because of their superior knowledge of God, they know their fate – the Abyss, the eternal torment in the fires of hell. 

Fear also affected the people of the nearby town. At first, they were afraid of this demon-possessed man. The parallel accounts of this event in Matthew and Mark tell us that the demons were so fierce that no one could pass that way. All the accounts tell how even chains could not restrain this man. Honestly, the people in this area had good reason to be afraid before Jesus came. The odd thing is, these same people were still afraid; not of the man who had once been demon-possessed, now they were afraid of Jesus and asked Him to leave. He hadn’t even gotten off the beach when He turns around, gets back into the boat, and leaves.

But why were the people so afraid of Jesus? We can understand those who lost their herd of pigs being upset, but the people from the city and surrounding areas were also seized with fear. Jesus had removed the threat of the demon-possessed man. You’d think they’d be rejoicing, but instead they’re seized with fear. Why?

Well, it goes back to the fear and terror that demons have in God’s presence. Demons live in terror of judgement day, and they want humanity to know that same terror, or more to the point, they want to rob us of the peace of God. Remember, they hate God but can do nothing to hurt Him … at least, not directly.

What they can do is attack the God’s beloved children - you and me, those with a free will. If they can plant the seeds of their fear and hatred of God in us, like they did in those living in the surrounding areas, they will have at least cut Him to the heart. We hear that pain, for example, when Jesus says in Matthew, “… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

The demon-possessed man in today’s lesson was frightening in many ways, but even more frightening are the demons that no one notices. The townspeople in our reading could point to the demon-possessed man and say, “I sure am glad I’m not possessed like him.” Even though they believe in demons, which I’m only sure(ish) that you can say that about our culture today, they didn’t understand that not all demons produce the symptoms they witnessed. 

Demons work in all levels of society and in all the places of the world. They influence people who live in castles and those who live in huts. Their goal is to maintain our natural hatred and fear of God until the day we die, and so enter into the eternal punishment that God created for them.

Understand first that they are as Scriptures reveal, real. Second, they will not hesitate to use anything as a means to their end - pride, money, power, pleasure, entertainment, sports, family, prestige, apathy, despair, anything to get you to take your eyes off the cross of Christ. They might use summer activities to nudge our sinful nature to find a convenient excuse to miss a week or three of God’s life-sustaining Word. I’m not saying that if you miss church once then you’re going to end up in hell, but you know as well as I do, the second time is easier to miss than the first. Demons can be very subtle when trying to destroy our relationship with God.

But did you also notice there was one person who was not afraid of Jesus? That is the man who had been demon-possessed. As Jesus got into the boat to leave, that one man begged to go along. And that is the change the Holy Spirit makes in each of us as He works faith in our hearts. Not always as dramatic, but still, it is by grace through faith alone that we also can see Jesus for who He really is. He is a stern judge to unbelievers, but to all who believe, He is our loving savior who was willing to die for us and whose only desire is that we be with Him in heaven, forever.

“So you could be with Him,” that’s the reason Jesus offered Himself as the payment for sin, His blood to rescue you and me from the now empty threats sin holds before our eyes by those unknown demons who seek to sow the seeds of fear in us.

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus didn’t stay long in that area. Still, He did establish a foothold of His own in the area. That foothold came in the form of the commission He gave to the man who once was demon possessed. Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” The man who now had no fear did as Jesus said. He went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. With these words we hear in its simplest form the commission God gives to every Christian: Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.

The Scriptures tell us that we have many spiritual enemies. Among these are sin, death, and the devil. Today’s reading tells us that Jesus has power over the devil and his demons. Other portions of God’s Word tell of the power Jesus has over our other enemies. On Easter morning we see from His resurrection that Jesus conquered them all by His suffering and death on the cross.

We who listen to God’s Word know by grace through faith that we have no reason to be afraid of Jesus. We confess and believe that His love has set us free, and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free to receive and to share His gifts of forgiveness, love and mercy; gifts that bring you and all who believe life with Jesus, forever. 

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 8:26-39