Sermon for Oculi
Text: Luke 11:14–28 (with Ephesians 5:1–9 and Exodus 8:16–24)
14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24 “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.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 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.”
27 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!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
The season of Lent is a reminder of the struggle in which we live daily on this fallen earth. For three weeks now our Gospel lessons have reminded us of the real presence of the demonic. Demonic oppression and possession make for thrilling movies, but let that not deceive us into believing that such is realm of fantasy alone. Just ask the Canaanite woman seeking help for her demon possessed daughter. We may not have an angel sitting on our right shoulder and a devil on our left whispering thoughts into our conscience, but temptations of Satan are both real and tailored to what is most enticing to each of us. Just ask Jesus who fasted 40 days and nights in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan.
In our text today Jesus again casts out a demon, which leads to false accusations against Him. The demonic is seen not only in the mute spirit that Jesus casts out, but even more so in the hard heartedness of those who refuse to believe. For to call Jesus’ work the work of Beelzebul is to credit Satan with the work of the Holy Spirit. It is to confuse the Kingdom of Satan with the Kingdom of God. Those who insist they will believe in Jesus if only He shows them a sign are not much better. For what sign will they believe if they will not believe Jesus when He casts out demons!
The very stubbornness of those who harden their hearts against Jesus shows just how fiercely the Strong Man guards his palace. For the Strong Man is Satan, who keeps watch over his palace of this fallen world and the lost souls of men are his treasured possession. Satan will not willingly give up what he has stolen. He deceived Pharaoh who hardened his heart and rejected God despite the signs God gave through Moses. And now Satan works on the hearts of those in the crowd who, though they have seen the signs done by Jesus, do not recognize the finger of God with power greater than Satan. Satan will even enter the heart of Judas to betray Jesus and he will sift Peter like wheat, who for a time will fall away, but by God’s grace will be restored and strengthen his brothers.
But we must realize that the devil is just as earnest to keep us as he was to keep Pharaoh and the Jews who rejected Jesus. Never forget that Satan would like to make a Judas out of you, and he has done so to many throughout history.
The grasp of the strong man is firm. Our flesh assists him. We desire what he offers. The hardened heart does not realize that it is rejecting whatever is good and right and true when it clings to whatever the world calls tolerant, fair, and scientific. You may not recognize the presence of Satan in your life in the form of a mute spirit or heart that turns to magicians to imitate God’s miracles, but what about sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness? And Paul will not let us limit our consideration to the commission of the deed but adds, “Let there be no foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” For to be covetous is to be an idolater and lose one’s inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
So where does one find the power to escape the Strong Man? It is not in us, but it is in the finger of God. The magicians of Pharaoh could duplicate the first two plagues through the satanic arts of their magic. But when they could not duplicate the plague of gnats they confessed that this was the finger of God. What is amazing is that this display of the finger of God worked on the one hand to harden Pharaoh’s heart much like Jesus’ exorcisms hardened the hearts of those who demanded a greater sign. But on the other hand this display of the finger of God ultimately brought redemption and salvation to the Israelites and to the deaf man. But also before the ten plagues are ended we see that some of the Egyptians come to believe Moses. When he foretells the hail and lightning, they rush out and get their livestock in from the field.
Now Jesus says that the finger of God is revealing the Kingdom of God to those who see His exorcisms. The devil cannot withstand even the little finger of God. The Strong Man is overcome by one whose strength is made perfect in weakness. For Jesus does not perform extravagant rituals. I imagine Richard Donner would have been disappointed to see how little fanfare went into Jesus’ work of casting out the demons. For Jesus the real work of casting out demons is not found in commanding them to depart from those they torment. We saw last week how Jesus healed the Canaanite woman’s child with an almost carefree dismissal: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
For Jesus the real work of binding the strong man is accomplished by fulfilling the Law by which the devil keeps us captive. It is in the suffering and death of Jesus that we see Him struggle. The real spiritual battle takes place in Jesus’ passion. His suffering and death to pay your debt is what disarms the devil. No more can Satan accuse you. Because the Law is fulfilled. No more can Satan claim you because Jesus has made you His in that Baptism which joins you to His death and resurrection. In His body lifted up, His spirit commended to His Father, in His cry of dereliction “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me,” and in His triumphant cry, “It is finished.” Jesus wages war against the strong one, and is victorious.
In the ongoing struggle with Satan, blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and keeps it. For in God’s Word is the power of the finger of God. If the finger of God casts out Satan and manifests God’s Kingdom, what can overpower those who hear the Word of God and keep it? Particularly the Word of God that promises: “This my body.” If there is power in the finger of God, who can take from God those who receive His body in faith?
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria