Luke 11:14-28 – Lent 3 – March 23rd,
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
No one likes to feel helpless. Most of the time, when I come across hurts and agonies and frustration, it’s over something that is beyond our control. We like to be footloose and fancy free, not bound by fears or worrying about events that seem to be spiraling along without our say. And as such, you aren’t going to like what I’m going to say here. You are helpless. That’s what Jesus shows us today. Hear His Words: When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe. Do you hear the description? The strong man is Satan, is the Devil, is Beelzebub, the prince of this world. And he is armed, fully armed – ready for battle at a moment’s notice. And do you hear what Satan is doing? He is guarding his goods, keeping them for himself.
In the garden Satan slithered in to God’s Kingdom, and by his wiles and deceit, the serpent stole God’s most prized possession. He allured Adam and Eve into sinning. And then something happened. Adam and Eve realized that they were caught. That they were trapped. That things weren’t like what they were before. Satan had claimed them as his own, and Satan has claimed their children, their descendants as his own as well.
This means you. In this life, Satan has bound you, has tied to you all the trappings of sin. By sin we have been corrupted, and we are now spoiled. Temptations cling to you everywhere you go. Every part of your body now moves to all sorts of wickedness and evil. Mouths that were made to praise God speak wickedness about the neighbor. Eyes made to see the beauty of God’s creation look on others with lust, and jealousy, and envy. Hands given to aid the neighbor instead work his harm, break and hinder, hurt and wound. And against this, we of ourselves are helpless. You know the words of the hymn – With might of ours can naught be done – soon were our loss effected. Adam and Eve took of the fruit, and our loss was effected, it was done. And Satan smiled in the garden, smirked with diabolical glee. He smirked over Adam, and he smirked over you, for he knew that you would be powerless against him. And so Satan stood, the ill-gotten prince of this world, usurping what was rightfully God’s.
With might of ours can naught be done – soon were our loss effected. But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Hear again the Words of Christ Jesus our Lord. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own place, his goods are safe; but when one Stronger than he attacks him and over comes him, He takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoils. Satan was confident. Satan was sure of his own strength. His hold upon mankind was sure – no man was there who could defeat him. This was Satan’s armor, his confidence. But then, in the fullness of time, the Father sent His Son, Christ Jesus, into the world to take on human flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary. And was made Man. This is what we say in the creed. And then suddenly, there was something Satan least expected – a Man who was outside of his control, who wasn’t his possession, who was not bound to sin. And indeed, Satan tried to ensnare this one – tempted Him in the desert – but Christ would not bow to Satan. And instead, our Lord fought. All over Christ Jesus brought wreck and ruin to Satan’s kingdom. Behold, a mute. Satan has bound him, broken him for his own pleasure. Christ heals him. And Satan and his entire kingdom shudder at this, for they know that the Stronger Man is here, for this is no mere man, but this is True God and True Man. For us fights the valiant one. This doesn’t just mean that Jesus fights on our behalf, but rather that Jesus fights in order to win us. Jesus takes on the strong man to steal his goods, to take us away from that serpent, to undo his theft in the garden.
And this is done, finally, upon the Cross. These opening salvos of Christ’s war upon the devil, these healings, these miracles – these were simply to let us humans know what was going on. But it is there upon the cross that the mighty battle will take place. It is there upon the Cross that the fray will be fully entered, as our Lord takes on Satan’s greatest strength – death. And our Lord tangles with death, and our Lord emerges victorious – winning for us freedom from Satan and giving us salvation.
And so many don’t get this; they don’t understand. He casts out demons by Beelzebul. People see what Christ does for them, and they call it wickedness. They mock the Lord of Life by saying that He is a servant of Beelzebul, the lord of the flies, the master of the maggots of decay. That’s what Beelzebul means. Even today this happens. Christ is put forth not as Savior, but simply a man who was kind and now lies rotted away in his grave. This is what liberal so-called theology gives us. And yet others miss the point. Others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven. Signs there have been aplenty. Even signs from heaven, as we saw at His Baptism. And yet, some still resist. Some would rather just watch a good show and be entertained than believe. Some would rather sit and say, “Go on, give us another one” than rejoice in the forgiveness of their sin. We get this today as well. Which sells more – a book that talks about the wonders of forgiveness, or a book that tells you how you can get more blessings out of God, how you can demand for yourself new signs of heaven right into your pocket book? Now, does all of this doubt and unbelief mean that Christ didn’t do His job? Does it mean that He somehow messed up, didn’t quite get it right? No, our Lord explains this in our text.
When an 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. Oh, make no doubt about it – Christ has done His work. He has driven out Satan. He has even put our house in order. But what happens? Some people end up being a very welcoming place for Satan. Some people put at naught what Christ has done. This is what Paul warns of us in the Epistle. Freed from Satan, some choose to forsake Christ and return to their life of sin. It happens, and it isn’t God’s fault.
So what do we do? What do we say now? We see this danger, and it is a danger for us. Paul warns us that we are to flee these sins. We all still feel those strings Satan has tied to us, we all feel those temptations that the devil has tailor-made for us. But listen again to what Jesus says of the cast out evil spirit – it passes through waterless places seeking rest. Here is your hope. You aren’t a waterless place. Rather, you are very wet, for you have been washed in the waters of Baptism. You have been drowned in the font, soaked in Christ’s righteousness. Remember your Catechism! What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by DAILY contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Baptism isn’t just an event of your past – rather, it is where you live. Your life is lived from the font. Your life is one of repentance. Yes, daily my sinful desires are beaten down by the strength of God, daily I struggle against them, and daily I return to God for forgiveness.
You see dear friends, Christ came not just to simply forgive you and walk away. He’s not like some tent preacher who shows up, gets everyone fired up and saved, and walks off into the sunset never to be seen again. Christ understands. Christ understands that while you are yet in this flesh, until you undergo the resurrection of the body, Satan, though defeated, will still have his dirty fingers stirring the pot of your lives. And so Christ Jesus doesn’t leave you. He joins Himself to you in Baptism. Unites Himself to you – and not just a long time ago when you were Baptized – but daily He comes to you. He comes to you in His Word, His Word of forgiveness that re-bolsters you against Satan. He fills you with His Word over and over again. He comes to you in His Supper – He gives Himself to you, His very own Body and Blood. And why? So that when Satan comes snooping around your door, he doesn’t find you empty, but rather sees you filled with the Lord of Life Himself. You receive Christ in the Supper, and Satan flees in terror back into the waterless places of the world, for Christ is the Stronger Man whom he cannot resist. You are the Stronger man’s own, and He is your strength and shield, and He defends you. Remain steadfast in His Word, faithfully receive His Supper, so that you might not abandon him and be overcome. Daily and often we need Christ to fill us, to return us to our Baptismal life, and daily and often He does this, He shapes and forgives and fills us again through His Church’s preaching of His Word and Administration of His Sacraments.
Dear friends in Christ, you of yourself are helpless. There are things in this life you can’t control. That’s just the way it is. But here is what also is true. Jesus isn’t helpless. Christ our Lord scatters the forces of Satan, and His feet march tirelessly to the Cross to win us forgiveness. And Christ is tireless yet today – for He tirelessly comes to you and brings His forgiveness to you daily, so that you might rely solely upon His strength and shelter under His wings. He is the Stronger Man, and He shall prevail over the hosts of hell for all eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.