The Third Sunday in Lent

March 23, 2014

“Blessed by the Word”

St. 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!"  St. Luke 11:14-28                


Lent leads us to Easter.  The Gospel lessons for the first three Sundays in Lent feature Jesus at war against the devil.  On Good Friday the Lord Jesus crushes the head of the serpent under his heal.  On Easter Sunday the victory is announced to the world.  Jesus withstood the devil’s temptations in the wilderness, defeating him with what was written in the Holy Scriptures.  Jesus cast out demons with the finger of God, that is, with the Spirit of God, that is, with the Word of God, and brought the kingdom of God to earth.  He is the stronger man who invaded the strong man’s palace, taking away his armor, and dividing his spoils.  The battle between God and the devil is over the souls of men, women, and children.  Our victory over the devil and his demons took place when Jesus Christ, who is true God and true man, offered up to Justice the obedience that we owed to God, and suffered in his body the divine punishment we deserved.  He bruised his heal by crushing the serpent’s head.  By his suffering, death, and resurrection the devil’s lies were exposed and his power undone.  We were forgiven of all our sins.


The victory has been won but we continue to fight.  How is that?  Consider it according to the Creed.  As far as the second article of the Creed is concerned, the victory of Jesus Christ over the devil has been won.  Jesus has already purchased and won us from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.  The victory has been won and Jesus won it.  He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.  But as far as the third article of the Creed is concerned, the battle goes on.  We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him because by nature we are held captive in spiritual blindness to the devil’s lies.  But the Holy Ghost calls us by the gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.  This ongoing work of the Holy Spirit within us is God’s ongoing battle against the power of the devil.


We are in mortal combat.  Left to ourselves we would surely fall.  This is a fact of life for us Christians, a fact that we ignore to our peril.  We are at war and should we forget it we will surely fall prey to the enemy.


According to St. Matthew’s Gospel, the man the demon kept mute was also blind.  He was deaf, mute, and blind.  This affliction was unnatural.  It was by demonic power.  Jesus demonstrated his power over demons by setting that poor man free.  The man who had been mute could speak and he spoke.  Jesus proved publicly that he had power over demons.  The crowds were amazed.  They witnessed something wonderful.


See jealousy and opposition to Christ rise up.  They accuse him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.  They put Jesus in the same category and on the same level as the demons he is casting out.  I have always thought this to be a particularly ridiculous charge, but its ridiculousness doesn’t keep it from being made again and again throughout history.  The charge against Jesus is that all religion is the same.  There is no difference between Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu – religion is religion.  God’s religion and the devil’s religion are essentially the same.  What does this mean?  It means that the devil is no longer the devil.  He’s just another god and all the gods are pretty much the same.


Those who rejected the claims of Christ also dismissed the power of the devil as insignificant.  That makes sense.  If you are going to try to justify yourself and refuse him who comes to save you, you need at least to pretend that your spiritual condition is healthy, that you are in no spiritual danger, and that you don’t need the Savior who comes to you.  And so the religiously self-satisfied not only rejected Jesus, they also portrayed the devil as a relatively harmless sort of person.  They called him Beelzebub, which means lord of the flies.  They displayed their contempt for Satan’s power as if he is but an annoyance like a fly and not a serious and powerful spiritual adversary.  This is typical of the spiritually smug and self-righteous who don’t think they need a savior to deliver them from the power of the devil.


We are all under the power of the devil unless delivered by Christ.  Nominal Christians minimize the devil’s power, acting as if he doesn’t exist.  They have no theological convictions.  Insisting that they have their faith they oppose the faith, scattering instead of gathering, fighting against Christ, trapped in their doctrinal apathy by demonic powers too great to resist by mere human power.  Don’t be deceived, dear Christian!  Take to heart what St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus:


For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12


The devil who bound that poor man’s tongue and kept him from speaking his mind is perfectly capable of speaking his diabolical mind through the mouths of foolish men and women who think they are speaking for God!  And this is what he does!  There is only one truth but error takes thousands of forms.  The devil’s lies are inconsistent and contradictory.  Does this mean he’s fighting against himself?  By no means!  It doesn’t matter to him which lie you believe as long as he keeps you from embracing the truth. 


The devil promotes his false teachings through his false teachers.  He captures the souls of people who think they are Christians.  They think they can live the Christian life without repentance and faith, simply by adopting so called Christian values.  So they embrace the form, but not the substance, of Christianity.  It pays.  The Christian ethic is superior to any other.  Put Christian principles into practice and you’ll do well in life.  Christian virtues inculcated by the Christian Church will provide a foundation for a good life in this world.  So they rely on their outward morality, deluding themselves into thinking that this makes them children of God.


Then the hungry demon returns.  The one from whom Jesus set you free is back.  He checks you out and sees a nice, neat, tidy, and orderly house.  And it’s empty.  It’s ready for him and his fellow demons to invade and wreak destruction.  It’s empty, though it looks like it’s full of good deeds.  It’s empty.  Underneath the façade of piety and Christian faithfulness there is no Christian faith.  Christ is not there because his holy word is not there.  Without the word of God there is no Spirit of God and there is no finger of God to cast out the demons and keep them out.  But the word of God comes to us only in repentance and faith.


Nothing is greater than that.  Mary became the mother of God, conceiving in her womb a child who was the Lord of the universe and the Savior of the world.  Hearing God’s word and keeping it is greater than that.  Jesus said so.  The pious lady shouted out to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts which nursed you.”  True enough, for didn’t Mary herself say, “From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed?”  But more than that, more blessed than that, far greater than that is to hear God’s Word and keep it.


The Word of God is not the word of men.  It comes from God and it is about God.  When men talk of God they philosophize about him, speculating about what he’s like and how he thinks.  But there is a difference between man’s speculations about God and God’s revelation of himself.  The former are a dime a dozen and will lead you nowhere.  But God does speak.  He does show himself.  He shows himself in his holy Word because that Word is all about Christ, his dear Son, who cast out demons, healed the sick, demonstrated his power over all things, and, descending into humility and shame, went to the cross to bear the sin of the whole world and to wash it all away by his bitter suffering and death.  Jesus, the Savior of sinners, who by his grace delivers us from our own sins, is the topic of God’s Word.  This is why, when we hear it and keep it in our hearts as our dearest treasure in this life, the demons flee from us, the Spirit strengthens us, and our tender faith is nourished and confirmed.


Oh, but the word and sacraments of Jesus are considered so common, so ordinary, so ineffectual, so unnecessary.  Martin Luther, in a sermon on this text, wrote this about that:


For that reason we should never speak in a derogatory or careless way about God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments.  True it is that the preached Word is but an ordinary Word and the people who preach it are but ordinary people.  But when it emanates from Christ’s command to preach it and is coupled with faith, then it possesses the kind of power that can make the devil flee.  God has set his almighty power in a very lowly instrument and a very fragile vessel.  Against Satan we human beings are but straw, so that were he able to unleash his power against us he would demolish us in a flash.  So what does God do?  He kindles a little flame against this arrogant, mighty spirit, that is, he puts his Word in the straw’s mouth, and that selfsame word is a heavenly fire which, wherever it goes, scorches the devil, so that he doesn’t know where to run.


Christians struggle with their Christian faith and life.  The devil wins over their affections and drives them away from trust in their Savior.  Lifelong churchgoing Christians become confused.  They begin to doubt the veracity of the Bible.  They question the sincerity of God’s love and become uncertain about the forgiveness of their sins.  Or they begin to dismiss the importance of the blood of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit because their lives are quite neat and tidy.  Whoever you are and whatever you think of your own spiritual condition, you need to hear and keep God’s Word.  Daily confess your sins to God and daily claim the forgiveness God gives you in your baptism.  Take his Word to heart as the one thing needful in this life and Jesus will drive the devil and his demons away from you and keep you safe.  The war will rage around you and you will remain blest forever.


Rolf D. Preus


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