Sunday, March 20, 2022

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent - Oculi - Ex 8:16-24


Lent 3

                                                                                      Ex 8:16-24



          Last weekend was the end of Timothy’s time at home during his college Spring Break. It was also the weekend closest to Timothy’s and Michael’s birthdays which are both in March.  So my parents came over from Indiana for a joint birthday celebration. 

          Unfortunately, last weekend was also the drill for his National Guard unit. We knew that Timothy would have to leave Friday night to get to the armory and be ready for his six mile ruck march the next morning that would begin a little after 7:00 a.m. So rather than doing the birthday meal on Saturday night as we normally would, we did it on Friday night before he had to leave.

          Timothy had requested steak for his birthday meal.  You may recall how on that Friday, we had snow arrive.  It was cold and windy.  Amy contacted me during the day to see if I still wanted to grill steaks in the snow.  I responded that it was Timothy’s birthday celebration, so of course I was going to grill.

          Thankfully the snow had stopped falling by the time I was grilling.  But it was cold, and there was snow on everything out on the deck. Conditions were not exactly ideal for an enjoyable grilling experience.  However, the thought crossed my mind that in the cold, at least there were no flies.

          Having flies all over the place is annoying and gross.  It is one thing that can persuade us not to eat outside on the deck. So I have trouble imagining what the fourth plague God sent upon Egypt, that we hear about in the second half of our Old Testament lesson, must have been like.  The flies and six more plagues would follow.  Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened and he would harden his heart.  But by the time the plague of flies arrived, his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians already knew that they were dealing with someone who was completely out of their league.

          The people of Israel had gone from being welcomed guests in Egypt to being forced labor for Pharaoh’s building projects. We learn from Exodus, “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel--and God knew.” 

          So God called Moses and sent him to Pharaoh with this message: “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’”  In the first meeting between Moses and Pharaoh, Yahweh told Moses’ brother Aaron to throw down his staff so that it would become a serpent.  Not to be outdone, Pharaoh summoned his wise men and sorcerers.  These magicians who worked with the demonic were also able make their staffs become serpents.  However, Aaron’s serpent ate theirs.

          Next, in the first plague, Yahweh turned the water of the Nile and of all water sources, into blood. However, the magicians of Egypt were also able to turn water into blood, and so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened.  In the second plague, God sent swarms of frogs upon the land. But again, the magicians of Egypt were also able to use their secret arts to make frogs come up from the land of Egypt. And so even after God caused all the frogs to die, Pharaoh hardened his heart.

          In our text we hear about the third plague.  We read: “Then the LORD said to Moses, Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’ And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt.”

          Once again the magicians of Egypt came and tried to duplicate this action.  However, though the magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, they could not. It was then that the magicians realized that they were totally outclassed. They knew that they were dealing with someone completely beyond them. They said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them.

          Yahweh’s actions against Pharaoh and Egypt were not only about rescuing Israel.  They were also intended to show that he was the true and only God.  Yahweh had told Moses when he first sent him to Pharaoh, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Finally, when he acted in the Passover God said, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.”

          Yahweh defeated all the false gods of Egypt – including Pharaoh who was considered to be a god – as he rescued Israel from slavery.  After Yawheh had brought Israel through the Red Sea and drowned the Egyptian army, Moses and the people sang a song of praise to God in which they said, “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed.”  Yahweh had redeemed his people – he had freed them from slavery.

          The ministry of Jesus Christ was also an act of redemption. The New Testament describes it in relation to what Yahweh had done for Israel in the exodus.  Christ had come to free people from slavery, and like the events in our Old Testament lesson this was a battle between the true God and all false gods.

          In the Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus cast out a demon that caused a man to be mute. As the man was now able to speak, the people marveled. However, we learn that some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” They said that Jesus was able cast out demons because he was in fact working with the devil.

          Jesus rejected this by pointing out how absurd the idea 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?”  No one fights against himself. That would just be dumb.

          Instead, in the person of Jesus, God was acting to bring complete and total redemption.  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.”  Just as it had been the finger of God – the power of God – at work in the plagues brought upon Egypt, so now the same power of God was at work in the ministry of Jesus. In the person of Jesus, the kingdom of God – the reign of God – had come into the world. God was at work to free Israel and all people.

          The focus of both the Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today is helpful because it reminds us that life is a battle of God against the devil.  Through the sin of Adam and Eve in the Fall, the devil plunged all people into sin.  He became their lord.  He became your lord, because you were sinful and under his power.

          But God sent his Son into the world in the incarnation in order to redeem you – in order to free you from the devil, sin and death.  In his ministry as the Messiah – the one anointed by the Holy Spirit – Jesus demonstrated his power as he cast out demons.  He left no doubt that he was the stronger One when he cast out demons from those afflicted by them. 

          Sin was the root cause and source of the devil’s power over us.  Although as the Son of God, Jesus had all power and demonstrated this in his miracles, the answer to sin was not one of power.  Sin is the violation of God’s law.  Because God is the holy and just God, sin must receive God’s judgment. Sinners must receive God’s judgment. Only in this way can God be true to his very nature.

          This is true.  But God is also the One who is gracious, merciful, and loving. As he said through the prophet Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”  And so he sent his Son into our world as true God and true man in order to take our place. There had to be judgment against sin. God would execute that judgment and wrath against Jesus instead of against us. Our Lord said at the Last Supper, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” 

          We prepare during Lent to remember again the Passion of our Lord.  The ultimate act by Jesus to bring the kingdom of God was not some mighty miracle that drew the wonder of all.  Instead, it occurred as Jesus hung on the cross in weakness and shame, mocked by those below.  Bearing our sins, there he received the wrath of God we deserved as he suffered and died. It was in this way that he redeemed us from sin – that he won forgiveness.

          Yet God was working though Christ to bring us complete and total redemption – total freedom.  Sin brings death.  On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Spirit.  In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God defeated death, and began the resurrection life that will be ours as well.

          By this death and resurrection Jesus has brought the kingdom of God to us.  The Spirit who anointed Jesus at his baptism and raised him from the dead, is the Spirit of Christ who has called you to faith through the word and baptism.  You have received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. No longer are you enslaved to sin, death, and the devil. You are a child of God. You are able to call upon God as Father.  Paul told the Galatians, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

          By his death and resurrection Christ has redeemed you. Through the work of the Spirit he has called you to faith.  Jesus Christ is your Lord.  God has won this victory over the devil in Christ for you.  Yet the devil is not merely a sore loser. He is a cunning and determined opponent who will stop at nothing to take control of you once again.  For good reason, St. Peter warned, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

          Until you die or Christ returns, he continues to have a basis from which to operate because while you are a new creation in Christ, in yourself you continue struggle with the old Adam – the remnants of your fallen nature.  He tempts you to place money and material things, hobbies and sports ahead of God.  He tempts you with a worldview that says there is no objective truth, and so you just need to decide what is true for you.   He tempts you with a world that says you can do anything you want with sex.

          We must recognize all of these things for what they really are – the devil trying to retake what he has lost, even as he seeks to hold on to those who still belong to him.  But you have been redeemed.  You have been freed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You have been born again of water and the Spirit.  You are God’s child.

          And so as Christians we do two things. First, we go to the source where the kingdom of God – the reign of God – continues to be present for us.  We go to the Means of Grace by which Christ gives us forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit strengthens us to grow and mature in faith. 

And second, we take up the struggle against the flesh – against the old Adam.  We confess our sin and turn away from it.  We listen to God’s word which speaks about what it means to live as God’s people.  We hear in this word what we want to do because of what Christ has made us to be.  And through this word the Spirit restrains and suppresses the old Adam, so that new man led by the Spirit can direct what we actually do.

The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, and you were slaves of the devil.  But just as God redeemed Israel from slavery and in so doing conquered all the false gods of Egypt, so God has redeemed you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – he has freed you from sin, death and the devil. The kingdom of God – the reign of God – has come upon you in Jesus Christ through his Means of Grace. Those Means of Grace are the way that Christ keeps you as his own and enables you to live as his people as we look toward the day of his return and our own resurrection.     


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