Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent 3

Sermon on Luke 11:14-28
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
March 15, 2009 (The Third Sunday in Lent)

Once again we see demons in connection with our Gospel lesson this week. This is the third week in a row. Two weeks ago, the most powerful of the demons tempted our Lord in the wilderness. Last week, it was a demon who had possessed the Canaanite woman’s daughter. This week, He’s casting out another demon, and it becomes the occasion of an accusation that He Himself is, in fact, either a demon or an ally of demons. This portion of the season of Lent reminds us that it is only by God’s protection and care that we are able to survive long at all in this world, as we are surrounded by those who would hurt and destroy us. And this is especially true of the Church. Where Christ is preaching and giving out His body and blood, there His enemies will focus all their effort and all their trickery. Make no mistake, we can’t hope to stand against that alone; in fact, the more we try to stand against Satan’s attacks with our own reason or strength, our own ideas of what will best serve the Church, the more he’s already got us in his power. He’s a stronger man than we are, and our efforts, by themselves, usually play into his hands rather than causing him harm.

And that’s the problem, of course, when you’re dealing with demons. The Pharisees thought that they were doing the right thing, too. But they were more controlled by Satan and his minions than the mute man had been. The mute demoniac was being possessed unwillingly by Satan. But the Pharisees, because they were opponents of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, were fully and completely under Satan’s control. Their legalistic system of works-righteousness was every bit as demonic as the muteness of the man who was healed was. Jesus was talking about them when he said that those who are not with Him are against Him.

This is still true today. If you want to find evidence of Satan’s activity today, you don’t need to go looking at Ouija boards or haunted houses or any of those things. You need only look at the false doctrines that are creeping into even many mainline Christian churches in our day, doctrines which deny the truthfulness of God’s Word and depict even God Himself in ways which are completely contradictory to how He has revealed Himself, doctrines which deny that Jesus is the Son of God who became man to save us, and assert that He is merely some great moral teacher. You only need to look at the rise of cults and false religions such as Wicca or the New Age movement or even such well-established cults as Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. You only need look at the rise of immorality in our society. And I’m not only talking about the Sixth Commandment, either. There is also a rise in immorality in other matters, involving greed and theft and selfishness on the part of the rich and powerful, involving a simple lack of basic love between parents and children and between other family members, involving a simple basic loss of courtesy and kindness between people in general. These are the truly dangerous manifestations of Satan’s activity, and we see them on the rise all around us today. Compared to this, the possession of a man’s body against his will is trivial.

The fact that so much of what is wrong with our society today can be seen in this way as demonic or Satanic should make us sober and watchful. It is a wake-up call. The things that go on around us, and the temptations that arise within our own hearts are not child’s play. We are not strong enough to resist them on our own. This is especially true since we are all born already in Satan’s kingdom and it was only when we were baptized that the devil was cast out of us and we became part of God’s kingdom. If we try to stay out of Satan’s traps without God’s help and apart from the preaching of His Word and the receiving of His sacraments, we will fail and fail miserably.

But even though this message should make us watchful and sober and aware of our danger, it should not make us afraid or make us despair. Yes, Satan is stronger than we are, and yes, if we try to stand on our own strength he will conquer us and make us and everything we have his own. But even if we have already fallen to Satan there is still a stronger man even than him. That Man is Jesus Christ Himself. He is able to overcome Satan and drive him out of our lives. He did so once when we were baptized. The next time we have a baptism here in Church, listen to what is said in connection with Holy Baptism. Before we confess the Apostle’s Creed together, we are asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And the response is, “I do renounce them.” That wouldn’t be possible if Jesus were not stronger than Satan. Even the worst thing the devil could do to Jesus, namely having Him killed in the most gruesome manner possible, was used by Jesus to win the victory. The death of Jesus Christ was not a defeat for Him. It was rather a defeat for Satan. Christ’s resurrection on the first Easter Sunday proves this. There is nothing that Satan can do which the Son of God Incarnate cannot use for His own good purposes. Everything in Satan’s household has been conquered by Jesus Christ and taken by him as spoils from that battle.

It might be nice to be a relative of this Jesus, who is even stronger than Satan. The woman who cried out at the end of this text thought so. And it probably was a good thing to be related to Him. After all, his mother Mary has had a very prominent position in the minds of Christians through the centuries, and those who were known as His brothers became prominent bishops in the earliest Church. But we have a much closer relationship to Him than that. We have become those who “hear the Word of God and keep it.” We have been washed clean of the stain of Satan’s influence through Holy Baptism, and we are returned daily to that cleanliness through the Word of God which grants us again the forgiveness of sins. We have eaten His body and blood, the same body and blood which were crucified to win the victory, and we continue to have the opportunity to do so today. Mary was greatly blessed to become the mother of the Messiah. But all Christians are even more blessed to be of the spiritual family of God. Satan cannot harm us because we are protected by the strongest Man of all, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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