Sermon for Oculi
2 Samuel 22:1-7 + Ephesians 5:1-9 + Luke 11:14-28
Today, for the third week in a row, we encounter Jesus doing battle with the devil and his demons. You do realize, don’t you?, that whether the Bible text we’re considering on any given Sunday mentions the demons or not, we are always encountering Jesus doing battle with the devil here on Sunday mornings, and wherever and whenever the Word of Jesus is proclaimed.
That’s because this entire planet has fallen into the hands of the devil. Sin and guilt make people his subjects and subject to his accusations: “This one deserves to die.” The whole earth is the enemy’s territory and every human being is born under his rule. He is, as Jesus calls him, “the prince of this world.” Where is the kingdom of Satan? Just look around. Are you still in the world? Then you’re still in his territory, still being targeted by this ancient enemy.
So, when Jesus steps into this world, he steps into Satan’s kingdom. But Jesus is a King, too, a greater King who has a kingdom of His own—a kingdom of grace and peace and forgiveness for sinners, the kingdom of God. And where the Word of Jesus is proclaimed, there the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil meet. And where the Word of Jesus is believed, there Jesus is ripping souls out of the devil’s kingdom and bringing them safely into His own.
In our Gospel we witness the collision of spiritual forces today. We see what happens when the kingdom of God meets the kingdom of Satan.
We begin with the miracle itself. A demon had attached itself to man, making him both unable to speak, and, according to Matthew, blind. What a terrible affliction! He was being held prisoner by this demon in darkness and in silence. He couldn’t free himself from this condition. No man is more powerful than a demon. No one could help—no one, except for Jesus.
This man’s friends had heard of Jesus and trusted in Him to help, even against a powerful demon. They brought the man to Jesus, and Jesus cast the demon out. The kingdom of God met the kingdom of Satan, and the Son of God defeated the demon with a word. God teaches us here to trust in Jesus as our merciful and powerful Savior from sin, from death and also from the power of the devil. The devil is strong, but Jesus is stronger. No demon can stand up to Jesus.
Next, we see the reaction of the crowd. The multitude marveled and were amazed. These were the ones who believed in Jesus and were glad to witness Jesus’ power over the devil and His kindness toward the demon-possessed man. But others weren’t glad. They sneered and mocked and blasphemed, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” These are the ones Jesus will answer in the rest of the text. Still others—the perpetual skeptics who had just witnessed this divine miracle—kept on demanding another sign from heaven and another and another and another before they would believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.
And right away you see it, don’t know?, the kingdom of God meeting the kingdom of Satan, not just when Jesus casts out the demon, but as some in the crowd believe in Jesus, while the sons of the devil raise their voices against the Son of God. Wherever Jesus is on this earth, wherever His voice goes out, wherever His saving Word is spoken, there will be believers in Him, and there will be opposition to Him; the demons will not go quietly. Wherever the pure and true doctrine of God’s Word comes in and shines the light on false doctrine and error, there the devils will rage against Christ and His servants and will stir up the devil’s children to oppose Him.
It’s the way it must be. We’re in the middle of a great battle between these two kingdoms, and we—sinners—are the ones being fought over. The devil fights to keep us in his kingdom, or to get us back there, if we’ve already been rescued by faith in Jesus. He fights to own us and to give us eternal death. Jesus fights to rescue us and to give us eternal life.
Jesus answers His accusers—not that they will listen or believe His answer. His answer hardens the unbelieving while at the same time His answer sustains the faith of believers. He has three arguments, as it were, against their charge that He was taking His orders from Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
First, Jesus points out that a kingdom can’t be divided against itself and still stand. Satan doesn’t cast out Satan. If Satan’s demons were to start turning on one another, then, Jesus says, Satan’s kingdom would fall into ruin all by itself. Just look at our own country for moment. Talk about a house divided against itself! America doesn’t need foreign enemies to attack her. She may well devour herself before any foreign enemy becomes strong enough to do it.
But Jesus says, it doesn’t work that way in the devil’s kingdom. It is not about to fall on its own; it is not about to self-destruct. His kingdom stands, so mankind’s hope is not that the devil’s servants will turn on one another. Mankind’s only hope is for God’s kingdom to come in and destroy the devil’s kingdom.
Now, secondly, Jesus points the Jews to their own “sons,” their own people as witnesses. If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? But we have no evidence that the Jews were able to cast out any demons. In fact, it was a wonderful and miraculous thing that Jesus was now on the scene casting out demons without any trouble at all. If the Jews claimed to be on God’s side against the demons and they weren’t able to cast out any demons, how could they accuse Jesus of casting out the devil by the power of the devil? On the contrary, Jesus says, But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
The “finger of God” is simply called in Matthew’s Gospel “the Holy Spirit.” Father, Son and Spirit were working mightily in Jesus’ ministry to drive out the devil and to rescue sinners out of Satan’s kingdom and into God’s kingdom. The finger of God is still working, still breaking into our darkness wherever the Word of God is preached. There is the Holy Spirit convicting sinners, calling sinners to faith in Jesus and forgiving sinners. There is the finger of God in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, bringing Jesus to sinners and lifting sinners out of death and into life. Here again, God’s kingdom meets the devil’s kingdom.
Thirdly, Jesus gives the analogy of the strong man guarding his house and his possessions. He is at peace and comfortable, not worried about anyone breaking in. So the devil is when it comes to sinful men. He isn’t worried about us. We can do nothing to him. We can’t rescue ourselves or anyone else out of his house. He has every right to accuse us before God. He is too strong. It takes a stronger man to break into the devil’s house, to tie him up and to start helping himself to the devil’s possessions. That stronger man is Jesus. With His own blood He took away the devil’s power to accuse us and with His Spirit He has brought repentance and forgiveness of sins to us. Jesus has no trouble seizing the property of the devil, taking his demons and casting them aside. Where Jesus is, there the stronger Man meets the strong man, and the stronger Man wins.
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. You can’t be in both kingdoms at the same time. Either you’re in the kingdom of God by faith in Jesus or you’re in the kingdom of Satan. There’s no neutral territory, and there’s no getting past it. Either you’re fighting with Jesus, fighting with the truth of His Word, or you’re fighting against Jesus. To choose not to fight, to pretend there is no fight, is to choose Satan’s kingdom.
At the end of our Gospel we have this scary warning from Jesus about what happens when a demon is cast out by the Word of God. It wanders around for awhile, and then it checks back to see if its former house is available again. And if it finds its former occupant’s heart swept clean and uninhabited by the Spirit of Jesus, then it brings in seven more demons, more wicked than itself and makes that man’s life worse than it was before.
And that’s exactly what happens when the Word of God comes and saves a person and brings him into the Christian faith and the Christian Church and then that person turns away from the faith by turning away from God’s Word, as if, once Jesus casts out the demon, it can never come back. It can and does come back if faith in Jesus is abandoned, where the Word of Jesus doesn’t dwell.
But where Jesus’ Word does dwell, it is as powerful against one demon as it is against seven, and His Word is going out right here, right now, to defeat the devil once again.
That’s why Jesus replied as He did to that woman in the crowd who called out, Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You! But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Jesus’ mother Mary was given a special blessing in bearing Jesus, but giving birth to Jesus isn’t what saves a person out of the devil’s kingdom. God’s Word of forgiveness, God’s Word of the Son of God crucified for the world’s sins, God’s Word as the seed that gives birth to faith, as the food that sustains our faith in Christ, God’s Word heard, not just once, but kept in a our hearts as our one true treasure—that’s what saves us out of the devil’s kingdom and keeps us safe from all the repeated attacks of the devil.
Be on your guard. The devil is sneaky, and he is strong. But Jesus is stronger. And He has promised to fight for you, so that you don’t have to lift a finger in order to defeat the devil. Your salvation is not by your might or strength or works. Your salvation is by faith alone in Christ Jesus. We know we are surrounded here on this earth by the devil’s kingdom. But here again today we pray, “Thy kingdom come!” which is the same thing as to pray, “May the devil’s kingdom fall!” And in Word and Sacrament, God’s kingdom does come and the devil’s kingdom does fall. The kingdom of God meets the kingdom of Satan. And God wins again. Amen.