Not Your Average Beach Party

Delivered December 30, 2001 by Dr. John S. Markel.

Sermon Text:
Luke 8:22-39

I bring you greetings from Princeton Seminary. It’s good to be home and I thank you for your support that you have given me through your prayers and through financial help. It was much appreciated. It’s very strange to be up on this side because three years ago I was right where you are. As a matter of fact, you people in the back row; over on that side be very careful because that is where I received my call. It was a time that I was sitting back there and probably not paying too much attention to the sermon. I remember Ron was up front here and he had made some move that way, I don’t know what he said, but I heard as plain as can be the thought entered my mind, you should be doing this. I was a dentist at the time and doing just fine. I was happy with what I was doing and, of course, ignored it. A few weeks later, sitting in the same pews I heard it again, the exact same words, “you should be doing this.” And I responded probably the way that most of you would respond, I moved my seat. And I did. I moved somewhere over here and sure enough a few weeks later I heard it again. So this time I figured I better pray about it. I did, and so here I am, sort of doing this.

When I was a little boy my mom and dad used to read me Bible stories and they stuck with me. Basically, to a young child a Bible story is a great story, even better than Harry Potter stories. There are stories about the power of God and how He caused seas to open up and let the good guys through and then closed down again on the bad guys. And stories about God’s love that caused a brother who had been sold into slavery, later on forgive those same brothers for doing that. And there are stories about a man, Jesus, who is God walking around on earth, healing and performing miracles. People who couldn’t see, he made to see. People, who couldn’t walk, He made to walk. Great stories. But it struck me that even though Jesus was there walking around with people and they could see Him, some people didn’t understand who He was. And the text that I have picked out today is a story of such an identity crisis as that. It’s a story about people who were trying to figure out just who Jesus was. It’s in Luke, Chapter 8, Verses 22 through 39. And you can follow along in your pew Bibles on page 732. This is the Word of God.

“One day Jesus said to His disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, He fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him saying, “Master, master we’re going to drown.” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” He asked the disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water and they obey Him.” They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.

When Jesus stepped ashore He was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus he cried out and fell to his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me.” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion”, he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them and He gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what happened, they ran off and reported this in thetown and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So He got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”

Join me as we pray. Heavenly Father, as my words are true to your word may they be taken to heart, but as my words should stray from your word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Whenever I preach before groups, I told George and Jerry that I take a little bit of Central with me and that’s one of the things that I have taken with me, is that prayer. Used with permission I might add.

Jesus sent His disciples who were stuck in a bad storm. The winds made huge waves, which crashed over the bow of the boat filling the boat with water. The rain was coming down sideways and the boat was in trouble. Luckily some of the disciples were fisherman; they were sailors and they made their living battling the storms on the Sea of Galilee. So they were busy trimming the sails and heading into the wind and quartering the waves. But, just like George Clooney in the movie, “The Perfect Storm,” they knew that they were in over their heads. For some reason, Jesus had decided that day to cross the Sea of Galilee and go over to the region of the Gerasenes, it was a Gentile region. Jesus was tired, however, and He fell asleep. As soon as He did the storms started to come.

The Sea of Galilee is about 600 feet below sea level and all around it are canyons, deep canyons. And so, when the wind blows, it gets funneled down these canyons. And the funneled-channeled wind, by the time it reaches the Sea of Galilee, can sometimes reach hurricane force. So the disciples found themselves in a powerful storm, and they were losing the battle with the water. The ship was sinking, they were sinking, and they wanted Jesus to save them. They couldn’t let the boat sink with Jesus and all of them in it. They couldn’t let Jesus die! So they figured certainly Jesus would do something, so they woke Him up. “Master, Master, we are going to drown.” So Jesus woke up and He rebuked the winds and the waves, just like that. The churning sea became calm, the winds stopped and the rain disappeared. The disciples’ jaws must have dropped a mile. And as Jesus stood there, He asked them, “Where was your faith?” But all the disciples could do was wonder, who is this that even the winds and the water obey Him. The same disciples, who are with Him all day, saw all of His healings and saw Him teach in the synagogues, they even got special explanations of His parables. They had to ask, “Who is this?” Because only God has power over the wind and the waves. But then, how many times have storms raged around me and in my heart and I have been furiously bailing water out of my own problems. I didn’t know that the whole time Jesus was really in the boat with me. And I realize now that most of those times when the storms raged in my life, I realize that I just let Jesus sleep. I didn’t know enough to wake Him up! I would just keep bailing out water, all on my own; sometimes making the mess even worse. I let Jesus sleep, but was He really sleeping? Because I don’t ever remember drowning.

Meanwhile on the opposite shore, there was a man possessed by demons and he could feel that something wasn’t quite right. His flesh tingled and his hair stood on end and he got a sudden chill. He could sense that something definitely was not right. He could sense a disturbance in the force, because Jesus was coming. Now the last person in the world a demon wants to see is Jesus, the Son of God. But, sure enough, pulling up in the boat onto that beach was that demon’s worse nightmare. But the Bible tells us that this possessed man was powerful. No one could control him, no one had power over him. They tried to tie him up, but he burst the ropes, just like they were dental floss. They even tried to bind him with chains, but he broke them too. As powerful as he was, he knew that the last person he wanted to see was Jesus. He wanted Jesus to get back in the boat, and go back where He came from. Just get Him back in the boat, because the demon knew who Jesus was. “What do you want with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me.” The demons were afraid, because they knew that when you meet Jesus, something is going to change. And change can be scary, even good change. So I can imagine im drawing a line in the sand, and his daring Jesus to cross it. Everybody else in the town let him go; they couldn’t control him, so they let him be to himself. So Jesus steps out of the boat. Remember, it was His idea to come in the first place. Jesus steps onto the land and He ignores the line as He walks across it, and He walks right up to the man, “What is your name?”

According to ancient thinking, knowing someone’s name gives you power over that person. In the ancient days your name meant who you were. When doctors do all of their diagnostic tests, they are trying to find the name of the disease. And then, when they have the name of the disease, then they can give it the proper treatment, antibiotics or whatever. But Jesus doesn’t really need to know the man’s name, because the power of evil, of course, crumbles in the presence of Jesus. And the demons knew it. So maybe they can make a deal with Jesus. So they draw another line in the sand, “Please, I beg you, don’t send us back to the Abyss. How about those pigs over there? You guys don’t even like pigs. Send us into those.” So Luke says that Jesus gave them permission. They thought they had made a deal with Jesus, but there is no dealing with evil, you will get burned every time. Probably many of us at one time or another compromised a principle or broke a commandment or two, thinking we could get away with it or that it wouldn’t matter, but it always matters.

Ask Neville Chamberlain how it is to compromise a principle and try to make a deal with evil. Before WWII, Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister of England. And, in 1938, he tried to make a deal for peace with Hitler. He wanted to give up some territory and, of course, some people who were free, living on that territory, for the sake of peace. And he came home with a piece of paper in his hand and waved it before all the television cameras and said, “Now we have peace in our time.” But, that piece of paper only bought Hitler more time to plan his war strategy and set up his concentration camps. Jesus knew that you don’t make a deal with Satan, but the demons tried. They didn’t want to go back to the Abyss because guess who is waiting for them in the Abyss? They were really wishing, why doesn’t He just get back in the boat? Then everything will be fine.

It must have been quite a scene on that beach in Galilee. With a crazy, wild, naked man throwing himself down at Jesus’ feet, threatening and pleading with him and Jesus calmly walking right up to him. Then, it must have been a real commotion as the demons were exorcised from the man, entered the swine, and went squealing with dust flying sailing down that slope into the sea, and back to the Abyss. I don’t know about you, but it’s not exactly what I’d call your average beach party. The people from the town, who were supposed to be watching the pigs, rushed back to tell the others. As a crowd gathers wondering what happened, they see the man now in his right mind sitting at the feet of Jesus. Before, he’d thrown himself at the feet of Jesus and pleaded for mercy and that’s just what he got. Now he was sitting at the feet of Jesus, changed and now a new disciple.

The people from the town listened to what had happened. They see a man they couldn’t control now changed, and they were afraid. Maybe they were afraid that Jesus would take some of their other possessions and throw them into the sea, too. They didn’t want to be changed if it meant losing some of their stuff. It’s their stuff that’s important. No matter that Jesus just gave this man his life back, they told Jesus to just go. Well, the man wanted to go with Jesus. When he was naked and running around and could break shackles he thought he was free. But his life was touched in a way that no one else but God could touch and now he was truly free. He was free to serve at the feet of Jesus. Naturally, he wanted to go with Jesus to see more and to hear more, but because of what Jesus had already done, he didn’t need more message. Now, he needed to be the messenger of the Gospel.

Like He does to us, Jesus sailed into his life unannounced, without warning, without invitation. Right there, on the seashore, the man was flatout transformed. The scene on the beach was no party, but it was God’s anointed place to deal with one of His children. The whole scene reminds me of church. It reminds me of church, because whether we know it or not, in church we can leave our wild and crazy culture outside and in church we can breathe and bathe in the luxurious paradoxes of God… the paradoxes of God, because nothing that we do inside in church, makes a lot of sense to those outside in the culture. Everything in church is geared towards one purpose. And that is to provide an “okay place” where we can come in and meet Jesus Christ face to face. The church is where we need to be at the start of the week and at the start of the New Year. In church we hear about Jesus’ own disciples having to ask, “Who is this?” and we hear about demons who know exactly who Jesus is; and it doesn’t make much earthly sense, and we would be right, because nothing that Jesus does makes earthly sense. Instead, He frees us from the chains of earthly sense. Jesus works on a whole different level from our science and our reasoning. He frees us from the hole that our possessions sometime have on us, and He frees us from having to worry about a thing, because Jesus is in charge of wind and waves, and He is in charge of you and me.

He was in the beginning for creation, and He made us in a certain way, in God’s image. And it’s a way that we often reject or try to sail around, but our Lord does have power over all human circumstances, but there is one power that did put Jesus back in the boat. At the end of the story Luke says that Jesus turned around and got in the boat and left. What was that power? All the demons in that possessed man couldn’t get Jesus back in the boat. Only one thing could. And that one thing was, that the people in the town didn’t believe. But Jesus doesn’t force us to believe, He doesn’t force Himself on any of us. After all, Jesus is no tyrant. So Jesus just got back in the boat and left. The people were afraid of the demon-possessed man, but they were also afraid of him when he was cured. And they were afraid of the change in his life. And sometimes I wonder if some of us are not afraid, too, of the change that Jesus might make in our lives. The people in the town couldn’t see that God’s grace was for them, too. They were all saying, “Who is this Jesus? Calming mighty storms, and overpowering evil and transforming lives”

But the real question is, “Who do you say that He is?” Amen.