Third Sunday in Lent – Oculi
“Delivered By The Stronger Man”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
12 March 2023
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Our bulletin cover this morning is quite shocking. It pictures what happens in our Gospel reading. A man was possessed by a demon which made him mute, unable to speak. He lacked the ability to hear which was the cause of his inability to speak. Luke tells us that while Jesus was casting out this demon which had disabled him, the people marveled but some of the crowd accused him of being in league with Satan himself.
Some see all instances of demon possession as products of an unenlightened age, that all these conditions which Jesus healed have a natural explanation. Yet, that cannot be true because all evil, all illness, all maladies are the result of sin. Satan seizes upon them to enslave victims. Moreover, attributing purely natural causes to these victims does not explain the presence of evil in this world, how some people can commit unspeakably evil acts with no regard for others.
Satan has been at war with God since his fall. He was cast out of heaven to earth. He therefore seeks to destroy all the good works of God. In one of our hymns it says that he seeks to destroy Church and State. This means that his evil power has permeated even the Creation itself. Christ took on our human flesh and blood to destroy his works. Ultimately, Christ accomplished this with his death on the Cross. The war has been decided but skirmishes still go on. The battles of a defeated enemy go on until the final ending when he is cast into the fiery pit for all eternity.
The reading focuses on three kinds if people. First there are those who marvel at Christ’s power. Second, there are those who slander him by saying that he needs Satan’s help to cast out demons, and third, those who test him—tempt him—by demanding a sign from heaven. This kind of temptation came again when Jesus stood before Herod at one of his trials. Herod was hoping to have Jesus perform some kind of sign for him. Herod wanted to see a miracle from him. He wanted Jesus to amuse him. [Luke 23.8].
Jesus answered these people by appealing to plain reason, and yet plain reason was not enough for them. A divided kingdom cannot stand. It will fall. Jesus is not on Satan’s side nor is Satan on Jesus’ side. Satan would be divided against himself, and that spells disaster for him. It would be foolhardy for Jesus to attack Satan’s underlings if they were both on the same side. In war there must always be a chain of command with one who makes the ultimate decisions. An army is not a democracy where everyone’s opinion holds equal value. The soldiers may complain, but the commander’s word must be obeyed. Mutiny will not be tolerated. Therefore, Jesus is not in league with Satan.
Jesus posed a second question to his detractors:
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?
Literally, Beelzebul is Baal of the flies, Lord of the Flies. Many of you might remember William Golding’s book of that title, as he described evil among a bunch of shipwrecked schoolboys. All that decays, rots, and stinks has flies all over the corpse. Beelzebul is death himself. He has come only to destroy. Jesus traps his accusers. They cannot answer without indicting themselves! Demons do not cast out demons. Jesus has no demon! They were saying that if their sons did it, it was right, but if Jesus did it, it was by Satan’s power.
Then Jesus gets closer to the chief point.
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 “by the finger of God” in our Old Testament reading; it’s the third plague on Egypt. Gnats. Swarming gnats on man and beast. Pharaoh’s magicians could not duplicate the sign. They tell Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” [Exodus 8.16-19] The only time that phrase is used in Scripture is to describe the creative acts of God. The heavens, the moon, and the stars are the work of God’s fingers. [Psalm 8.3]. God inscribed the Ten Commandments on stone tablets with his finger. That is the Holy Spirit who is the author of Holy Scripture as we confess in the Nicene Creed, “who spoke by the prophets.”
Wherever Satan’s kingdom is, God’s kingdom is not. The unavoidable conclusion is that Christ brings God’s kingdom in order to destroy Satan’s kingdom. This poor man’s body and soul were under control of Satan and his minions. Jesus’ ministry demonstrated his power over Satan and his demons. The demons flee at Christ’s command. They come out. They cannot stay. Numerous healings of people possessed by demons are found in the Gospels.
Jesus is the stronger man who takes away Satan’s power. He takes his goods, that is, people who had been enslaved by him and were controlled by him. Christ takes Satan’s armor and divides his spoil. He has come to destroy the works of the evil one and render him powerless. No matter how much Satan rages he cannot win. The outcome of the war is not in doubt. When Jesus shouted from the cross, “It is finished!” [John 19.30] Satan’s kingdom fell completely. The prey is seized from the mighty. The captives are released. The Stronger Man has prevailed, and already in his earthly ministry Jesus was plundering Satan’s spoil.
Jesus then appealed to the crowd to join him in his coming victory.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Whoever is with Christ enjoys his protection in this evil world. Christ is the real strong man who defends his children against the attacks of the enemy as long as they take refuge in him. Our Introit reminds us to keep our eyes ever toward the Lord, Keep looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith! We also pray in this Psalm that God the Holy Spirit will guard our souls and deliver us, so that we will not be put to shame. In all our afflictions God remembers us and is gracious to us.
There is yet danger in this world until our Lord returns in glory. The unclean spirit goes out, and finding no rest, returns to the house from which it came, the house that has been cleansed and put in order. But this evil spirit does not come alone this time; it brings reinforcements more evil than itself. Jesus’ warns:
“And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
Recently, some very bad neighbors left the house next to me because of default on the mortgage. It was good that they left because they were engaged in much illegal, dangerous activity, but along with me all my neighbors worried than someone worse could come into that vacant house. But there is a new owner and that house is now swept clean and made new again; it will soon be ready for new occupants. Who and what the new owner will be is unknown. I pray they will not be more evil than those who left. But this reading is not about inanimate objects like houses. It’s about people.
And that leads to the last words in this reading:
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
You and I must be constantly fed by the Word of God. We cannot be apart from Christ in his Word and Sacrament and hope to have his protection. We cannot be like wandering sheep who are unaware of Satan’s attempt to get us back. Stay close to this Stronger Man! Keep your ears opened always to his voice! Keep your life in his strength, in his forgiveness, his power, his love for you—poured out on the cross and distributed at this altar every Sunday! Receive this Stronger Man in his true body and blood for forgiveness and strength to withstand the old evil foe! Remember to whom you belong! On that yellow card in the pew are words you should speak after receiving Christ’s body and blood. “I live, and yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” [Gal. 2.20] This Stronger Man has come to save you and live in you so that he will bring you to everlasting life.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠Son and of the Holy Spirit