Sermon for Oculi, the Third Sunday in Lent, AD 2021

Luke 11:14-28

A popular ethical point of view today is that “the ends justifies the means.” That is to say that any action taken is ok as long as it is working toward a good end. Coupled with this is the common view that something is ok if “their heart was in the right place.” The supposed Christian version of this is “God knows my heart.” All of these statements take something that is objectively wrong and justify it by saying it serves some good end or goal. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus eliminates this type of thinking. For there is only good and evil, the work of God or the work of the devil, and nothing justifies in this life except Jesus Christ himself.
           
Jesus in his great mercy casts out a demon from a mute man, and he can speak. This wonderful work is done simply out of God’s compassion for lost humanity. Notice how whenever Jesus casts out a demon there is no question about how the demon got there. Was this man afflicted by no fault of his own? What was he doing to be possessed by a mute demon? We have no idea, because it doesn’t matter. Jesus’ mercy is just that – mercy. It is undeserved. The people rightly marvel at this great work of God, that Jesus would have compassion on this man.
           
Not all marvel, though. Some accuse Jesus, saying, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Who is Beelzebul? He is the name of the people of Israel gave to one of the local pagan gods, meaning “lord of the flies,” but, as St. Paul says, behind all pagan gods are ultimately demons. So they are accusing Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Satan. This is the very definition of blasphemy – they are taking a work of God and ascribing it to Satan. Jesus’ merciful works in their eyes are only one demon driving out another.
           
Jesus replies to them in multiple ways. He replies by logic: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.” If Satan is driving himself out, what benefit would that be to him? Satan is real, he is an angel who rebelled against God and wishes to destroy everything God has made. He is the father of lies and was a murderer from the beginning. Satan wishes most of all to make sure people do not hear the gospel and believe in Christ. He wishes us to remain in his kingdom, the place where we begin as we are born in sin. Yet he also enjoys making people suffer in physical ways. Works of mercy are not his work but are the gift of God.
           
For demons do not oppose each other. There is no “lesser of two evils.” “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” One demon is not pit against another, but they cling together, they bring back more. They are not like human beings, who are fickle and will favor one side or another with the changing of the wind. This is spiritual warfare, and the demons are very clear on their goal. They want to extend Satan’s kingdom – extend suffering, death, and unbelief. They are wholly dedicated to this task and much smarter than human beings at doing it. Even worse, we have our sinful nature that desires to follow them as well. When we understand this we see what a desperate state we are in. Without Christ, we are hostages in a prison camp, or even worse, we enjoy being there. We are the guards at the camp for in our sinful nature we oppose and despise God.
           
So how can they possibly say Jesus drives out demons by Beelzebul? As Jesus argues from experience, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” The scribes and pharisees had their own exorcists – were they also on the side of Satan? Or is something greater happening here? “ But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” It is the kingdom of God which overcomes the kingdom of Satan. Satan is opposed by the work of the very finger of God. As the magicians of Pharaoh noticed when gnats and flies attacked Egypt, the plague was not a simple trick like they would do, or the work of demonic forces. God was coming against Pharaoh to save His people. Even Pharaoh’s mighty kingdom, the mightiest in the world, could not stand against the coming of the kingdom of God.
           
When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Jesus is that stronger man. His healing of the mute man was just the beginning. While we were trapped in Satan’s kingdom, He freed us. On the cross he took the guilt and punishment for our sin, and then three days later rose from the dead to glorious victory. We were enslaved like God’s people in Egypt, but have been set free from sin and death. Satan is crushed, sin is conquered, death was put to death. Satan’s armor is taken and Jesus has delivered the spoil of everlasting life to all who believe, who gather to Him.
           
How do we gather to Him? Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”  We abandon the thought that the ends justify the means. We abandon the idea that if our hearts are right we can disobey God’s word. Jesus shows in stark, black and white terms that it is God’s kingdom or Satan’s kingdom. Demons do not drive out other demons. Sin or enabling sin does not bring others or ourselves to God. We cannot justify ourselves. We cannot make ourselves right before God. Repent of your sins, and trust in the mercy of Christ. He has freed you from Satan’s kingdom out of nothing you have done, but out of his own goodness and compassion. Only he can conquer Satan because only he is completely sinless and free from Satan. It is he who justifies us, who makes us right before God.
           
He has sent the Holy Spirit so we can gather to Him. When we hear of the wonderful work of Christ in defeating Satan, it can make us want to cry out like the woman, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Jesus’ enemies are silenced by his teaching, but she is so overwhelmed with gratitude that she wished to gather to him, to be close to him. She thinks, if only I was the mother of this great man, the one who raised him and knew him intimately. Jesus replies, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!
           
Jesus is not rebuking or tearing down his own mother, Mary. She was certainly blessed as Elizabeth testified to be able to carry and nurse the very Son of God. Yet she has nothing you don’t have. For gathering to Christ doesn’t mean we have to be with him in Palestine 2000 years ago. We receive the blessing of gathering to Him in His Word. The Holy Spirit brings Christ to us in the Word preached and in the Word in the water of baptism and the Word under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit, calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us through these things. Through them Christ is truly present with us, in a real, though hidden way.
           
In this way the kingdom of God continues to increase. The more the world drifts from any semblance of playing nice with the Christians, the more we will be able to see Christ’s churches as the outposts of His increasing kingdom in this world. Here it may seem like we are surrounded on all sides, but the stronger man is with us. He has already defeated Satan through His death and resurrection. As we gather to him, he uses us to extend his kingdom through preaching the gospel, through love and service to our neighbors. The enemy is stronger than we, but our Lord is stronger still. As we hear and keep His word, we share in his eternal victory now and in the age to come. Amen.

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