From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, the offensive line of the University of Nebraska football team overpowered opponents. Under Coaches Devaney and Osborne you could assume that Nebraska would have a very big, very strong and very deep offensive line that would open holes for talented Nebraska running backs and its option run game.
Nebraska was ahead of its time in the way it implemented weight training and nutrition with its players. In particular, their weight training facilities and program were legendary. “Husker Power” was not just the name for it – it was a reality.
For three decades Nebraska recruited big bodies to be offensive linemen and then plugged them into a development process that was as arduous as it was predictable. Freshmen redshirted and began building their bodies in the weight room. During their second and third years they would begin to see the field late in games when Nebraska had already put away an opponent – and that was very frequent. Nebraska practices may have had more than one hundred fifty players, but no one stood around. They were all at stations getting constant repetitions as plays became second nature for the linemen.
Then in their fourth and fifth years, as juniors and seniors, the best players would start and star while the second string was itself a force. The system was known as “the Pipeline.” Every year it produced offensive lines that were just too big, too strong, too disciplined and too deep for opponents to match. They were overpowered, and it helped produce five national championships.
This same idea of overpowering an opponent occurs in our Gospel lesson this morning as Jesus speaks about his action in casting out demons. In the face of obstinate rejection, he declares that in his person the kingdom of God has come upon the world. Jesus states that as the stronger One he overpowers the opponent Satan who is unable to resist the Lord.
Our text begins by saying, “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.” Jesus cast out a demon that was preventing the man from speaking. The man who formerly could not speak, now was able to do so as a result of Jesus’ action and the people were amazed. Who wouldn’t be at such a display of power?
But actually, there were people there who didn’t want to be amazed. Instead they wanted to reject Jesus and oppose him.
And so some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. Jesus meets with resistance in two different forms, and in our text he deals with the first of these before later in the chapter he addresses their demand for a sign from heaven.
Before considering the specifics of their accusation, it is helpful to pause and think about the implications of the fact this rejection occurred in the first place. Jesus cast out a demon. A man who had been mute was now able to speak. The natural reaction was that of the crowds – they marveled and were filled with wonder. Yet unlike the crowds, these individuals chose to reject Jesus. They raised the accusation that the only reason he could cast out a demon was because he was on the side of the leader of the demons – that Jesus himself was demonic.
We all know the frustration of knowing people who reject Jesus Christ – who refuse to believe in him as the crucified and risen Lord. We are tempted to think that this is a result of the fact that all we have to share with them is the word of the God. Why is it that we are limited as we are? We only have the accounts found in the Gospels. Surely if we had something more – something better to use – then these people would believe.
But we see in our text that the problem is not the word. After all, Jesus is right there casting out a demon and bringing healing to this man. He can’t make it any more obvious. And in spite of this they still reject him. The problem is not the word. The problem is sinful hard heartedness that does not want to receive Jesus on his terms. Instead people want to stay in control. But when sinful man stays in control you do not have God. Instead you have eternal condemnation.
The opponents accused Jesus of casting out demons by being in league with Satan. Our Lord immediately pointed out how foolish this accusation was. He said, “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?”
It was absurd to argue that Satan was fighting against himself by having Jesus cast out demons. A kingdom divided in this way cannot stand. Satan doesn’t do this to himself. He’s too smart for that!
Instead, this action that Jesus had performed revealed something that was the opposite. Our Lord said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” We hear the phrase “finger of God” in our Old Testament lesson today as Pharaoh’s magicians are unable to match a plague worked upon Egypt by Moses. They can’t do it, and so they admit to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”
Jesus is saying that he has cast out the demon by power of the true God. It is the God of Israel who is at work, and in fact Jesus is the prophet like Moses promised by Yahweh in the Old Testament. In Jesus the kingdom of God – the reign of God – had come upon them. This reign that rescued from sin and death was present for them … unless they rejected it.
Luke’s Gospel has already told us that Jesus is the Son of God – true God and true man. He had come into the world to free people from Satan. He can do this because he is more powerful. Our Lord explains, “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 Christ is the stronger One who was here to overcome Satan. The miracles during his ministry showed this. By his death on the cross for you and resurrection from the dead he carried this work to its culmination. He made eternal life with God possible once again, and then he gave it to you. He overpowered Satan through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, and he took you as his own. You were once a slave of Satan. But Christ redeemed you – he freed you – and now you belong to him.
All too easily we forget about this dynamic. We don’t really think about this spiritual dimension that runs throughout everything we do. You have one Lord or the other. You belong to Jesus, or you belong to Satan. There is no other position in which you can exist.
The world, of course, doesn’t believe this. It doesn’t believe Satan exists. Often it doesn’t believe God exists – at least, not the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. It thinks that the focus on money and all the fun stuff it allows you to buy and do is just about enjoying life. It thinks the stuff you choose to watch online is just about personal preference and enjoyment. It thinks the stance that all religious positions have equal value and everyone just needs to decide what is right for himself or herself in enlightened tolerance.
But it’s not. It is slavery. It is the gilded cage Satan uses to keep people as his slaves – his possessions. And the thing that we cannot forget is that he uses these same things in the effort to regain us as his own. He uses them to maneuver us step by step away from Christ, until finally Jesus is no longer our Lord and instead Satan is. Keep in mind this doesn’t look like something bad. Instead, it looks really good. It means I can sleep in on Sunday morning and then use the time like another Saturday. It means I don’t have worry about do’s and don’ts – if I want to live with my boyfriend or girlfriend I can just do it. It means I never have to say stuff that people don’t want to hear, and I can just get along with everybody.
Our Lord warns us today that once saved does not mean always saved. It is possible to drive out the Holy Spirit. It is possible to starve and extinguish faith. It is possible to put yourself right back under Satan’s control. Jesus says in our text, “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.”
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” In these words Jesus tells us how we keep this eternal blessing he has given to us.
The first part is to hear his word. If Jesus is to remain as your Lord and you are not to slip back under Satan’s power, then you need to continue to receive God’s word. First and foremost, this word declares to you the Gospel – the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ received by faith. It is a word that comes to you in its various forms of the Means of Grace. Uniting them all is the fact that the word of God is spoken and that the Spirit uses this word to forgive sins and strengthen faith.
The second part is that we also keep this word. In the Gospel Jesus is given to us as a gift. But what Jesus has done for us is also an example. He is the living embodiment of all that Scripture says about God’s will for life. In his life of love and service to us, we find the pattern that we are to follow in our marriage; in our families; in our congregation and in our job. Jesus Christ shows us how we are to live, and through the Spirit his death and resurrection gives us the ability to do it.
Our text this morning sets before us stark alternatives. Either Jesus Christ is your Lord, or Satan is. The good news is that Jesus is the stronger One who has overcome Satan, sin and death. The incarnate Lord entered into the world in order to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God – to us. He won the great and final victory by his death and resurrection, and has given that victory to us by calling us to faith. That life of faith – the life that remains with Jesus as Lord – is a life that hears the word of God and seeks to keep it.