Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 8:26-39
Dear believers whose chains have been broken: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The devil’s chains and shackles are far stronger than any physical chains and shackles. We can see this in the demon-possessed man breaking the physical bonds of chains and shackles even while under guard, and escaping from prison to once again wander in the desert naked, living among the tombs, roaming among the dead. Chains and fetters cannot restrain one who is under the influence of the devil. Barred windows and doors will do nothing to control the devil, his works, or his ways.
Without God, man is imprisoned by the chains of the devil. There is no neutral ground or fence sitting. There is imprisonment or there is freedom. There is slavery to sin or there is freedom in Christ.
Outward appearance doesn’t always tell you very much. Yes, in some cases, one who is enslaved to Satan might be running around naked in graveyards. However, one who is enslaved to Satan may also appear perfectly sane and put together. He could be running a successful business, teaching in a university, or even running for president of the United States. Whatever works an unbeliever does, even if they outwardly appear good, they are actually sin. The Bible says that anything done without faith is sin (Rom. 14:23) and that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Without faith, man is the enemy of God, and a slave of the devil (Rom. 5:10, 6:2; Col.1:21).
When it comes to being released from the shackles of sin and the chains of hell, the helps of this world are useless. They can no more keep sin under control than the chains with which the demonic was chained kept him under control. Chains and fetters cannot restrain one who is under the influence of the devil. The world has no solutions to help or release mankind from the devil, or the effects of sin.
This is helpful for us to keep in mind when we seek release from the shackles and burdens of this life that weigh us down. We are not under the rule of the devil since we have been baptized into Christ and are thus under His lordship (Rom. 6:2), but we still suffer the effects of sin and feel the heavy burden of sin and its consequences in various ways, and the world cannot help us.
The world’s attempts to deal with anxiety, depression, and worrying amount to drugs which only numb the effects. The world’s attempts to deal with illnesses and diseases are the same. As a solution to character traits you don’t like about yourself such as laziness, cowardliness, or impatience, the world points you to pop psychology or counselling for the solution. Suffering from obsessions, addictions, or a short temper? The world tells you to just read the latest self-help book and pick yourself up by your own bootstraps.
Whatever these worldly solutions offer, they at best try to mask symptoms. They put Band-Aids on mortal gunshot wounds. They tell you to fix yourself with your own abilities, like telling a patient to perform an operation on himself. These worldly solutions do not and cannot deal with the fundamental, underlying problem – our sin.
Trying to deal with sin or the effects of sin by earthly means will never be successful. Just as medicine cannot undo or prevent death, so imprisonment doesn’t forgive the sins of the criminal, so counselling doesn’t prevent you from being lazy or addicted or impatient, and so medicine doesn’t prevent depression but merely alters the chemicals in your brain while you’re on the medication to decrease the symptoms. Seeking physical solutions to spiritual problems can never be successful. The things of this world cannot break the bonds of sin, nor keep them under control.
Only Jesus can break the bonds of sin that bind us. Chains and shackles could not bind the demon-possessed man, but Jesus’ Word broke the fetters of the devil and the chains of hell. Jesus’ Word set the man free.
So Jesus’ Word sets us free from our chains and shackles of sin. His Word doesn’t set us free to return to the bondage of sin but sets us free from those bonds. Jesus’ Word doesn’t set us free to be like a pig that returns to the mire or a dog that returns to its vomit as Saint Peter writes (2 Peter 2:22), but His Word sets us free from following the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. Jesus’ Word declares us forgiven saints free from sin.
“Nothing is so powerfully effective against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy one’s self with God’s Word, to speak about it and meditate upon it, in the way that Psalm 1 calls those blessed who “mediate on God’s Law day and night.” Without doubt, you will offer up no more powerful incense or savour against the devil than to occupy yourself with God’s commandments and words and to speak, sing or think about them. Indeed… [this] drives away the devil and puts him to flight.” (LC Preface)
When you are tempted, turn to the Word of God for strength in temptation. When you are anxious, depressed, or worried, read God’s Word for comfort. When you are feeling lazy, cowardly, or impatient, pick up the Bible which feeds you, strengthens you, guides you, and leads you in God’s will for you and your life.
It should be your first thought to read Scripture when you are under attack by the devil, the world, and your flesh. There is good reason it is called the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Leaving God’s Word on the shelf when struggles and temptations come is like a soldier who leaves his sword in the barracks when the enemy comes. If such a soldier is not killed, it is a miracle.
We daily need God’s Word just as we need daily bread. Leaving God’s Word on the shelf in the face of the daily and incessant attacks and ambushes of the devil is like leaving food and water at home and heading out on a hike across the desert. If such a hiker is not killed, it is a miracle.
Those who follow their sinful desires may think that they have freedom – freedom to do whatever they want. What they do not realize is that they are in fact slaves to the devil, the world, and their own sinful nature. What they do not realize is that their so-called freedom is nothing more than roaming naked among the dead.
Those who are in Christ are truly free. It may be a daily struggle to do what God commands, but Saint John can say that His commands are not burdensome because we are born of God and have overcome the world by faith (I John 5:3-4). God’s commands are not burdensome because we are free from the slavery of sin. God’s commands are not burdensome because they have been fulfilled by Jesus on our behalf.
Burdensome commandments are those that you must keep to earn yourself eternal life. If our salvation depended on us keeping God’s Law, it would be beyond burdensome. However, Jesus carried the burden of God’s Law for us and fulfilled it for us, thus making our yoke easy and our burden light (cf. Matt. 11:29-30).
We have been freed from the shackles of sin and the chains of death by Jesus’ death in our place, thus we have the promise of eternal life. We are continuously given the forgiveness of our sins in the body and blood of Jesus and we are continuously strengthened through the Word of God in our fight against sin and temptation. Jesus has rescued us from the kingdom of the devil. He has shattered the bars of death and broken our chains of sin.
Jesus voluntarily took on Himself the chains and shackles of our sins and suffered and died for our sins. But He didn’t remain dead. Jesus rose from the dead, thus breaking the bonds of sin – our bonds of sin. Jesus rose from the dead, thus breaking the bonds of death – our bonds of death.
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have true freedom. Freedom from slavery to sin. Freedom from the devil. Freedom from hell. Because of Jesus, we have freedom to live forever with Him in His kingdom which has no end. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.