Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent - Oculi - Lk 11:14-28

                                                                                                Lent 3
                                                                                                Lk 11:14-28

            I would not want Nate Hutmacher to get mad at me.  Hutmacher is a high school senior in South Dakota. He is six feet five inches tall, and weighs three hundred and five pounds.  He is also the number one ranked heavy weight high school wrestler in the nation.
            The blonde Hutmacher’s nickname is “the Polar Bear.” And he is a beast.  He just finished winning his fourth straight South Dakota state wrestling title. During his high school career he won 166 matches in a row. He finished his career with a streak of 73 straight pins.
            A combination of size, strength, quickness and technique have made him overpowering and unstoppable.  In the run to his senior year state championship, Hutmacher won his first three matches by pinning his opponent in 18 seconds, 33 seconds and 20 seconds. By Hutmacher’s standards, the state championship match lasted an eternity.  He didn’t pin his opponent until the match was a minute and twenty nine seconds old.
            In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus faces opposition as he casts out a demon.  Accused of being in league with Satan, our Lord points out the absurdity of this and declares what is really happening.  In Jesus, the reign of God has arrived.  He is the stronger one who is overpowering Satan.
            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 who was preventing a man from speaking. The casting out of demons was a regular part of Jesus’ ministry, and on many occasions they cried out knowing exactly who he was.
            This seems very foreign to our experience.  We certainly do not doubt demonic forces are present in the world, and that demon possession does take place today.  At the same time, it seems as if it was far more common during Jesus’ ministry. And there is every reason to believe that it was.  When the Son of God had entered into the world in order win the great victory over the devil and sin, doesn’t it make sense that Satan increased his presence to do all that he could to hinder Jesus? In this pivotal moment of spiritual conflict the demonic forces arrayed themselves against Jesus Christ.
            However the demons could not resist our Lord.  After Jesus cast this demon out and the man began to speak, some of those who were opposed to Jesus said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Beelzebul was another name for the devil in first century Judaism.  These opponents said that the reason Jesus was able to cast out demons was because he was on the devil’s side.  They said Jesus could cast out demons because he was demonic!
            Others who were there sought to test Jesus as they kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.  Now Jesus had just cast out a demon from a man. Before he couldn’t speak.  Now he could. Yet these opponents were ignoring the evidence that was right before their eyes as they demanded from Jesus some other sign.
            The reaction by both groups is an important reminder that the presence of Jesus and his miracles was not something that compelled people to believe.  It was not something that brought universal acceptance and faith.  The hardness of the human heart is often determined to reject God’s grace, because this would mean admitting that God is God and we are not. And if this rejection happened to Jesus himself during his ministry, we should not be surprised if it continues to happen today when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to others. We don’t like it. We don’t want it.  But if it happened to the Lord Jesus himself, it is also going to happen to us as we share him with others.
            Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “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.”  Our Lord pointed out the absurdity of their claim.  If Jesus was on Satan’s side in casting out demons, then Satan was fighting against himself!  Surely he would not be so foolish, because if he did how would his kingdom ever stand?
            Instead, something very different was happening.  Jesus declared, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Jesus was not casting out demons by Satan’s power.  Instead he was doing it by the power of God.
            The phrase “finger of God” is a reference to our Old Testament lesson from Exodus where the magicians of Egypt were not able to do the miracle that Moses had just performed in sending gnats upon the land.  In response they said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” They admitted this was God at work, a power that went beyond anything they could do.
            Jesus declared that it was by the power of God – the same power that had been present in the Old Testament – that he had cast out these demons.  He was carrying out his work of casting out demons by the power of Yahweh, the God of Israel. And this could mean only one thing: in Jesus the kingdom of God had come upon them.  The reign of God was present in Christ to overcome Satan and sin – to free sinners and creation itself from the power of the devil.
            Jesus had been anointed with the Spirit at his baptism. In the book of Acts Peter speaks of “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” 
            In our text Jesus puts it in very simple and straightforward terms. He says, “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 man who has overcome the devil.
            This is good news for us, because all too often we are overcome by the devil. He uses the presence of sin that remains in us – the old Adam – as the means to lead us into sinning by thought, word and deed.  He tempts us to doubt God’s Word.  He entices us to take the “easy way” of the world, instead of remaining faithful to God’s will.
            Jesus Christ is the stronger man who has overcome the devil.  Yet he did it in a way that we would not expect.  In our text Jesus speaks of how he casts out demons by the finger of God. This language comes from the ministry of Moses. The Old Testament speaks of Moses as a prophet.  In fact after his death Deuteronomy tells us:  “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
            Luke clearly depicts Jesus as the great end time prophet – the prophet like Moses promised by God.  But the thing about Moses’ ministry, and of the prophets in general, is that they were continually rejected and suffered.  Jesus came to win the great victory of the stronger one by being rejected, suffering and dying.
            On multiple occasions Jesus told his disciples that he must suffer and die – that he must be numbered with the transgressors for us.  By his death on the cross, Christ won the forgiveness of sins for us. Yet Jesus could not be held by death, because on the third day God raised him from the dead.  Death had been part of his mission, but his mission could not end in death. As Jesus said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on the afternoon of Easter, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
            As the risen and ascended Lord, Jesus has entered into his glory. He is still the stronger one – the One who overcomes the devil as he brings the reign of God into our midst.  He does so now through his Spirit whom he poured out on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Jesus – is the presence of Christ continuing to bring the reign of God into our midst and lives.
            Our Lord is doing that at this very moment through the proclamation of his word – the word of his words and deeds.  He is doing it through Holy Baptism for there our sins were washed away, and in our baptism we have the continuing assurance of forgiveness as we turn in faith to God’s gift.
            And while he is ascended, the incarnate Lord has not left us without his bodily presence bringing his reign.  In the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus gives us his true body and blood – body and blood that forgives sins and strengthens faith so that we remain his.  His reign that has freed us from Satan’s power continues to keep us as the forgiven children of God.
            Jesus Christ has freed us from the devil and sin. Because of his death and resurrection, and the work of his Spirit, Jesus is our Lord. Yet in our text, Jesus also reminds us that we must act as if he is our Lord.  Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
            There is no “neutral” position when it comes to Jesus.  The Lord has made us his own so that we can live as his people.  This means that we confess Christ in what we say and what we do. With our words we speak about the Lord Jesus to others and express what he has done for us.  We declare that he is the crucified and risen Lord who has given us forgiveness, salvation and hope.
            And with our deeds we show that we are with Jesus.  This means that we share Christ’s love as we support and help others. We serve Christ in the vocations where God has placed us, doing our best, for we know that the Lord is using us to as the means by which he cares for others.
            Jesus Christ is the stronger One who has brought the reign of God.  He has overcome Satan by his death and resurrection. His reign continues to be present with us now through his Means of Grace as he forgives our sins and keeps us in the faith. As we look for the consummation of his reign on the Last Day when Christ returns in glory and raises the dead, we live in word and deed as the people who belong to him. 

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