The Third Sunday in Lent

March 8, 2015

“Arguing Religion”

Luke 11:14-28


And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled.  But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons."  Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.  But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.  "If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?  Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub.  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.  But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.  When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.  He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.  When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.'  And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order.  Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first."  And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!"  But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Luke 11:14-28


They say that it isn’t polite to argue about politics or religion.  This excludes the most important topics of conversation from serious consideration.  Political questions pertain to the way a government ought to be run.  Just think of the terrible suffering caused by bad government.  From the entrenched crime, corruption, and poverty of Haiti to the vicious violence of Muslim fanaticism in western Asia to the brutal totalitarianism of North Korea we see the horrors of human suffering.  Human life made in the image of God is cheapened.  Bad government does this.  The discussion of what makes for good government is surely worth having!


But politics pales into insignificance compared to religious questions.  Religious questions deal with the difference between right and wrong, the battle between good and evil, God and the devil, and eternal matters pertaining to heaven and hell.  To disallow religious discussions because they may entail an argument is to tell Jesus to be quiet.  But Jesus won’t be quiet.


Jesus argues religion.  And he teaches us to do the same.  He cast out a demon that had held a man’s tongue so that he could not speak.  The crowds were amazed.  They had witnessed a clear victory of good over evil.  God drove out the devil.  Kindness and mercy prevailed over cruelty and bondage.  Now who could argue with that?


But they did!  They argued with Jesus and Jesus argued with them.  When Jesus came into this world, he invaded Satan’s kingdom.  That started an argument that persists to this day.  You are involved on one side or the other.  Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”  There is no neutrality in the battle between God and the devil.  To refuse to engage is to take the devil’s side.  Jesus describes the fate of the so called spiritually neutral person who, when delivered from the power of the devil does not embrace the truth of the gospel.  The demon that left returns with seven demons more wicked than himself so that the man is worse off than he was in the first place. 


There is a spiritual war going on and there is no spiritual neutrality.  You are either a slave of the devil or you are a child of God.  There’s nothing in between.


When Jesus cast the demon out of the man who was mute he was doing two things.  He was showing mercy to a man suffering from the power of evil.  And he was demonstrating his power over the powers of evil.  To do good means fighting against what is bad.  God does good.  This always entails a fight.


The devil needs no reason to inflict pain.  He does it because he likes to do it.  His hatred of God extends to hatred of those God loves.  Since God loves those he made in his own image, it is the human race that has always been the target of the devil’s cruelty.  He lied to our first parents, leading them into sin.  The devil knew their sin would break their fellowship with God and bring them death.  That’s why he did what he did.  He has been lying ever since.  He invents false gods, false religions, false doctrines, and sends false prophets to lure people to trust in lies.


His control over the body is more obvious than his control over the soul, since you can tell if a fellow cannot speak or suffers some other bodily malady, and you cannot see spiritual slavery.  But it is the spiritual slavery that is the worst.  If one is not delivered from it he will be lost forever.  So the battle of Jesus against the devil and his demons is of vital importance to everyone who cares about eternal life.


Consider the argument the devil’s allies raise against Jesus.  They accuse him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.  They give the designation, Beelzebub – literally, lord of the flies – to Satan to diminish his power, depicting him as a mere annoyance, and not as a powerful and dangerous adversary.  Casting out a devil is therefore no big deal.  And it doesn’t prove that Jesus is anyone special because he casts out demons by the power of the chief of the demons.  Diminish the power of the devils and put Jesus in league with them.  That way, nobody has to pay any attention to Jesus or what he has to say.


Jesus argues the truth against lies.  He points out that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  Satan knows this.  Satan would not give anyone the power to cast out his own demons or he would be fighting against himself.  Besides, Jesus adds, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?  Therefore they will be your judges.”  It was no secret that many people – including the children of Jesus’ critics – used Jesus’ name to cast out demons.


Jesus would not permit them to obfuscate the true nature of the conflict by putting him into the same category as the demons he was casting out.  Jesus cast out demons with the finger of God, that is, by the Spirit of God, that is by the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  The Spirit of Christ is the One who calls those enslaved by the devil’s lies into the liberty of the gospel.  Jesus proves his power to set prisoners free.  He does so by breaking into the devil’s palace and taking away from him all his weapons.  Unarmed by his lies, the devil is as powerless as a whipped dog.


The truth against lies.  Jesus against the devil.  The Light of Light against the powers of darkness.  The gospel against all other spiritual claims.  This is the nature of the argument and we are all engaged in this argument until the day we die.  So let us argue, taking the side of him who invaded the devil’s kingdom, broke his weapons, set us free from his control, and opened our mouths to confess the saving truth.


Listen to Jesus’ reply to the pious lady in the crowd who impulsively cried out a blessing upon his mother for bearing and nursing him.  Surely, Mary is blessed among women.  How could there be a greater blessing than to be the God-bearer, giving birth to the Incarnate God and Savior of the world?  But there is a greater blessing than that!  That is to hear the word of God and keep it.


How can that be?  What is it about hearing God’s word and holding onto it in faith brings greater blessing than anything else in this life?  It is because it is through the word of God that Jesus overthrew Satan’s kingdom.  From his driving him away in the wilderness by the authority of the Holy Scriptures – saying, “It is written” in response to his temptations – to his casting out of demons, to his setting his face toward Jerusalem, to his prayer in Gethsemane, to his sham trial, to the whipping, the mockery, the sentence of death by crucifixion, and the agony of the cross, Jesus spoke the truth.  He made the good confession.


By his holy and innocent suffering he offered up to God the purity, the love, and the truth that we owed.  And so he washed away all our sins.  His obedience makes us righteous because God gives us the benefit of his righteousness even as Jesus willingly bore the punishment for our sin.  What a wonderful exchange this is!  Our sin becomes Christ’s.  Christ’s righteousness becomes ours.  In him we are righteous before God.


Let us confess this truth.  It strips the devil of his power.  The devil obtains power by promoting the self-indulgent life of sexual immorality, fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, and devotion to every other lust.  He portrays this life as a life of pleasure and joy.  In fact, it is a useless and pathetic life that is not even worth living.  It is a life trusting in what is perishing.  It’s the life of a fool who thinks slavery is freedom.  It trusts in the liar whose lies have been exposed.  That’s not our life.  Those who live these lives live and die outside of the kingdom of God.


The devil obtains power by promoting the religious life of self-denial.  His lying voice sounds forth in the most respectable religious circles that teach us that we become righteous before God by doing this, avoiding that, and by various spiritual exercises by which we progress toward that allusive goal of becoming good enough for God.  Those who trust in their own righteousness before God are as firmly under the power of the devil as those who live the life of self-indulgence.


The life of the Christian is the life of daily repentance.  Every day we return to the waters of our baptism where we died and rose again.  We claim Christ’s victory over the devil.  We put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness that renders us righteous before God.  We hold onto God’s word in simple faith.  We live on every word.  And we claim our rightful status as children of God’s kingdom of grace.  Amen