Sermon for Oculi
2 Samuel 22:1-7 + Ephesians 5:1-9 + Luke 11:14-28
We’re presented in the Gospel with the reality of demons. It’s the third week in a row we’ve considered Christ’s power over the devil and his kingdom of darkness, as Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and then He healed the demon-afflicted daughter of the Canaanite woman. Today He not only drives out a demon, but is accused of having one Himself.
It’s frightening to think of this kingdom of darkness being all around us, of devils or demons and their dark power. And don’t imagine that I’ll tell you this morning that the devil is powerless or that you have nothing to fear from him. He isn’t, and you do. Today’s Gospel is an urgent warning to unbelievers, who still remain in the devil’s kingdom and whose souls still remain under the influence of the devil, whether or not their bodies are possessed; and it’s also a warning to believers, that you should not take for granted the redemption that Christ has given you from the devil’s kingdom, lest you sweep the Holy Spirit out of your hearts and allow the devil to return with vengeance. The devil may not possess people as he did in Jesus’ day, but the devil is still your enemy.
Jesus shows His power over the devil at the beginning of our Gospel as He drives out the demon from the man who was blind and mute (Matthew adds that he was blind as well as mute). Jesus released that poor man from the torment he was suffering at the hands of the devil. That’s the kind of Savior He showed Himself to be: merciful, with divine power over sickness, over nature, and also over the spiritual forces of evil, never receiving anything for the help He gave to the sick, just lending His help to everyone who came to Him for it.
As Matthew tells us, these miracles, especially His power over the demons, were causing people to wonder, “Could this Jesus be the Son of David? Could He be the Christ?” Of course, they were right. But the Pharisees’ hearts were hard, and they didn’t want the people putting their faith in Jesus. So they had to come up with a blasphemous accusation to brand Him with. He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.
For the sake of the believers and those who would believe, Jesus chose to answer those accusations. He didn’t want to leave them wondering if, just maybe, the Pharisees were right. Because if someone starts to believe that Jesus is on the side of the demons, then he is lost. You can’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God and wonder if He might be the ally of the devil at the same time. It’s either one or the other. There are only two sides in this great war.
First, Jesus points out how foolish the accusation was that He was driving out demons while at the same time working with the demons. Demons don’t drive out demons. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan has turned against himself, if the demons are fighting with one another, then Satan’s kingdom will fall apart and you have nothing to fear from him. Ah, but his kingdom is not falling apart. It is strong, and his demon allies are perfectly united in their hatred toward God and in their purpose to keep men trapped in their dark kingdom, or to entice those who have entered God’s kingdom to fall away.
Secondly, Jesus answers those who were looking for a sign from heaven. He challenges them, By whom do your sons cast the demons 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. Matthew tells us that when Jesus cast out demons, the people marveled and said, “This has never been seen in Israel!” The Jews had no power over the demons. But now Christ is here, driving them out one after another by “the finger of God,” or as Matthew says, “by the Spirit of God.” You want a sign from heaven that Jesus comes from God? Look at His power over the demons! And beware, because if only Jesus has the power to drive out demons, then those who turn away from Jesus will be running right into the demons’ open arms.
We should not envision the devil as being stupid or weak. Far from it. Jesus describes him as a “strong man,” fully armed, who guards his own palace, whose goods are in peace. No man on earth can stand up to the devil or defeat him, or escape from his well-guarded palace, or rescue those who are held prisoner there, which is all people by nature. This is Jesus’ third argument against the Pharisees. What Jesus is doing on earth is not helping the devil to gain a kingdom. He already has a kingdom! And he doesn’t need any help holding onto it. No man can defeat him! Instead, Jesus has come to the earth because He is the one and only Person who is stronger than the devil. He is the Son of God. And He has come to earth to redeem sinful men from the devil’s kingdom, to tie up the devil so that he can no longer accuse or hold captive those who trust in Christ, the Stronger Man. Christ has come to destroy the devil’s power by giving His own life on the cross. So again, those who trust in Christ are delivered out of the kingdom of darkness and placed in the kingdom of Christ. But those who reject Christ remain trapped in the house of the devil.
Now a warning: He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. To be with Christ is to trust in Him for help against our great enemies: sin, death, and the devil. To gather with Christ is to hear His Word and to do His works, to serve the people of Christ in His holy Church, and to show the love of Christ to the world. Make no mistake, there is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus. There is no half-hearted Christianity. There is either faith that works in love and obedience to Christ, or there is unbelief. See how urgent it is to heed Christ’s call to come to Him for rest and for mercy. Those who believe in Him are safe from the devil. Those who reject Christ are on the devil’s side, even though they would never admit such a thing. People often speak of there being many paths to God. Jesus says, anyone who doesn’t believe in Me is and remains God’s enemy.
Jesus then issues a final warning. He describes what we cannot see, what a demon does when it’s cast out. It wanders around for awhile, and then returns to its former home. And if he finds it swept and put in order, he brings along seven other spirits more wicked than himself, so that the last state of that man is worse than the first. In other words, if the demon finds that your heart is vacant, without the Holy Spirit dwelling there, he will move back in. This isn’t just a warning to those who have been possessed by a demon and then been exorcized. It’s also a warning to those who hear the Gospel, which drives out the demon and brings with it the Holy Spirit, but then they grow tired of hearing it. They return to sin, like a dog returns to its vomit, and they walk away from the Church and from the ministry of the Word. In doing that, they drive out the Holy Spirit Himself from their hearts—what a terrible power God has allowed men to have! And so they invite the demons back in. The writer to the Hebrews issues the same kind of warning: For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
You see, God isn’t playing around here. The Christian faith is a matter of life or death. You have no power to save yourself from the devil’s kingdom. But God gave His Son for you to rescue you from sin, death, and the devil. He gives His Spirit to you in this Word and in the Sacraments to convict you of sin and to show you the goodness of Jesus, to bring you to faith in Him, to forgive you your sins, and to keep you firm in the faith. Listen to His words and take heed to His warning. And then, as Paul says, be imitators of God as dear children.
Finally, at the end of the Gospel, a woman from the crowd makes a pious-sounding statement, thinking she’ll impress Jesus with it: Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You! How foolish! What is it to you if the Virgin Mary is blessed, or if Christ Himself is blessed? Christ wasn’t speaking to the crowds that day so that they could dwell on the blessedness of other people. More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it! Christ taught the people so that they themselves could hear His Word and be blessed. In the same way, right now, Christ is teaching you, so that you may hear His word, believe it, and keep it, and be blessed forever. It does you no good against the devil to think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or even to think of how strong and powerful Jesus is. What does you good, is to believe that that strong Lord Jesus came to redeem you from the devil’s kingdom by His holy, precious blood, and to bring you into His kingdom through Holy Baptism, and to keep you in His Kingdom, through His Word and Sacraments. He wants for you to be blessed, and as you hear and keep His Word as the treasure of your heart, you will be.
There are demons all around. The devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. He is strong. Jesus is stronger. Call on Him who is stronger. And sing confidently with David, as his words are recorded in today’s First Lesson, I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies. From all your enemies, including the devil. Amen.