Pretending Jesus is the devil

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Sermon for Oculi – Lent 3

Ephesians 5:1-9  +  Luke 11:14-28

We have another text before us today where the devil and his demons make an appearance. A demon had afflicted a man and shut up his mouth so that he couldn’t speak. St. Matthew tells us that the demon had also shut the man’s eyes so that he couldn’t see. But Jesus showed love and compassion to the poor man and easily cast out the demon from him, so that it could hurt him no longer. Demons are strong, but Jesus is much stronger.

Ironically, it wasn’t the demons who caused Jesus the most trouble in our text. When Jesus dealt with demons, He dealt with them irresistibly by His Almighty Word. They couldn’t reject Him; they couldn’t resist Him in the least. But when Jesus deals with men, it’s different. Men can resist the Word of Jesus and fight against Him, not because men are stronger than demons, but because God has chosen to allow it. Why? Because the demons are already judged. The demons are condemned already, with no possibility of salvation. But men are different. Men are “condemned already” by nature, but man’s condemnation can be removed. God has chosen not to violently force people into obedience, but to work on the hearts of men through His Word, so that His Word might convince them to repent of their sins and believe in Christ Jesus for salvation, before it’s too late, while it still is the “day of salvation.”

What that means is that some men will oppose Jesus, and even tell lies about Him, and He will allow it, for now. But He won’t necessarily remain silent about it. In our Gospel, Jesus answers the lies of those who opposed Him, so that those who hear, including you, might repent and believe in Him.

Jesus’ ability to cast out demons should have convinced the people of Israel that He was the promised Seed of the woman who had come to crush the serpent’s head, that He was the promised Messiah sent from God. And it did convince many people. It says that the multitudes marveled.

But not all were convinced. Some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” Why would they make such an accusation? Because they couldn’t deny His power. It must be supernatural. But they also didn’t want to recognize His power as coming from God, because they didn’t believe in—or care for—the God He revealed: a God who demands righteousness—not just the best you can do, not just doing better than the people around you, but true righteousness and holiness and fear of God and selfless love toward your neighbor; a God who condemns sins, both “big” and “small;” a God who demands the death of an innocent to atone for the sin of the guilty; a God whose love for this world moved Him to send His Son into our flesh to be our Savior; a God who only allows Himself to be approached by sinners who acknowledge their sins and seek His mercy in Christ Jesus and His innocent, atoning death on the cross. But that’s not the God most people acknowledge or worship, including even most of the Jews in our Gospel. So they turn God into the devil and the devil into God.

It’s always been popular, as was the case in today’s Gospel, to pretend that Jesus is the devil, that the true God is not the God that Jesus revealed, but a much more tolerant God or a much less demanding God, a God who can be approached in many different ways, however anyone wants; that what Jesus says is a lie, and what I feel about God or what my ancestors believed about God—that must be true. There goes that Jesus, exposing and condemning everyone’s sins. There goes that Jesus, claiming to be the only Savior from sin, the One who saves sinners by faith alone in Him alone. Bah. His God can’t possibly be the true God. So Jesus must be the devil.

Jesus responds for the sake of those who would believe in Him. You’re foolish to lump Me in with the devil. Here’s why:

First, you should really give the devil more credit than that. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Satan doesn’t cast out his own allies. His kingdom is not divided against itself. If it were, you’d have nothing to worry about. He wouldn’t be such a bitter enemy to you. But the devil doesn’t destroy himself. His kingdom stands united against God and man.

We still see how the devil attacks mankind. He attacks on many fronts, all at once, and his main tool isn’t demon possession. His main tool is the same tool it’s always been: lies. He tells lies on the social front, the political front, the theological front, the scientific front. On every front, he tries to convince people that God is the devil and the devil is God, that what God has recorded in His Holy Word is unreliable and bad for you, and that true knowledge and joy and pleasure are to be found elsewhere.

Secondly, Jesus argues, you shouldn’t imagine that He does His miracles by the power of the devil. You should give the Spirit of God more credit than that. If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. The people marveled at Jesus’ ability to cast out demons, because their people were unable to do it at all. Jesus is doing what no one else could do. His Word is the “finger of God,” or as St. Matthew says, “the Spirit of God.” And that means the kingdom of God has come! Where Jesus is, where His Spirit works and drives out the devil and brings people to faith, that’s the kingdom of God coming to earth. That’s the Spirit of God, rescuing sinners out of Satan’s kingdom and bringing them into the kingdom of heaven, right here, right now, through the Word of Christ, as we also confess in the Small Catechism under the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come. How does God’s kingdom come? When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Third, Jesus argues, you should recognize Me, not as the devil, but as the One and only One who is stronger than the devil, setting men free from his grip, because Jesus has gone into the strong man’s house and bound him, so that the devil can’t do whatever he wishes with men anymore. Casting out demons was a sign of the spiritual salvation Christ gives to all who trust in Him. This is what Jesus came to bring as the Redeemer. Redemption! Freedom from Satan’s kingdom! As Paul writes to the Colossians, God has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

There’s so much fear and anger and doubt in the world today, about the course of the nations, about the course of this nation. It looks so much like the devil has filled the whole world with his lies and convinced mankind that Jesus is the devil and the devil is God. But the kingdom of God has come and continues to come and will not stop coming. One holy Church will remain forever, the congregation of saints where the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. Don’t worry about how big or powerful or influential the Church is or isn’t in this world. Where Christ is, where His Word and Sacraments are preached and administered, there is hope! There is freedom! No matter who’s in charge of any country, no matter how terrible the policies or the laws or the judgments or the persecutions.

Then Jesus issues a couple of strong warnings. He who is not with Me is against Me. If you continue to pretend that He’s the devil, you will find out one day that you were opposing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There is no room in Christ’s kingdom for “partial Christianity,” for nominal religion. We need to stop assuming that the people around us in the world or in America are Christians regardless of their confession of faith.

St. Paul tells us in our Epistle how Christians—how children of God—are to live in this world, as “imitators of God,” as dearly loved children, as those who were once darkness, just like the rest of the world, but are now light in the Lord. God has not called us into His kingdom so that we can lead filthy lives there, but holy lives, in “all goodness, righteousness, and truth.”

Jesus’ second warning in our Gospel is just as important as He describes what happens when an evil spirit is cast out of a man. The spirit wanders about, but then returns to see if there’s a vacancy in the heart he left, and if there is, he’ll come back with his friends and make it even worse.

That emphasizes the need for the human heart not to be swept clean and empty, but for the Holy Spirit to dwell there, so that the demon cannot return. That’s true for all who have come out of Satan’s kingdom. St. Peter tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Well, you’ve been redeemed from Satan’s kingdom. You’re safe from his attacks while you’re clinging to Christ in faith and surrounded by the Spirit’s power in Word and Sacrament. In Holy Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to you, to dwell in your heart always. But if you step away from the power that He is providing here on earth, from His instruments of Word and Sacrament, then you are placing yourself in great danger again. So Jesus warns against having an empty heart.

Finally in our Gospel, there is that woman who mistakenly focused on how blessed the mother of Jesus was, who bore Him and nursed Him. More than that, Jesus said, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it! Your redemption from sin, death, and the devil; the forgiveness of your sins; your protection from evil and your connection to God does not come through Mary, or you would be lost. It comes through the Word of God that you’re hearing right now, and through the Sacrament of the Altar that you’ll receive in a moment. This Gospel is what casts the devil out and drives you into the loving the arms of Jesus, who is not the devil, but true God and true Man, your Savior, and the devil’s worst nightmare. Amen.

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