Lent 3 2022 Oculi
March 20, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Jesus had been accused of many things throughout His earthly ministry. Some people loved Him, and others hated Him. Some approved of what He did, others were not so welcoming of His words or actions. In our Gospel reading today, we hear more of the latter. Jesus was casting out a demon that was mute. I would venture to guess that most people would view that as a good thing. But not so. Some who witnessed this miracle brought up one of the nastiest things against Jesus, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Basically, they are saying Jesus is in league with the devil.
Amidst this and testing from others, Jesus gives a fairly straightforward and logical answer. He says that a house cannot be divided against itself. It would make no sense for a demon to be cast out by a demon. Satan could not be allied with Jesus without being divided against himself. Neither can the Church ally herself with anything that is evil without being separated from Christ, her head. We are tempted to do evil so that good may come. “The end justifies the means” is a cry of the world, and the whisper of the devil. We cannot use the devil’s weapons in the cause of God. It will leave a divided church, a divided people, division from God Himself. Our divisions prevent the Church from exerting its true moral and spiritual force in the world. If Satan himself will not have a divided kingdom, how can a divided Christianity be for the advantage of Christ?
So Jesus is setting up a contrast here between two kingdoms, one of the devil and one of God. And there is no middle ground between the two, for as Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” “To be ‘with Christ’ means to have the same mind and view as Christ that is, to believe that Christ’s works and not our works help us, for this what Christ holds and teaches. But ‘gather with Christ’ means to do good through love and to become rich n good works. Whoever does not believe is by himself through his own works; he is not with Christ but against Christ, for he denies Christ by building on his own works. So also, whoever does not love does not gather with Christ, but does useless works through which he only becomes worse and goes further away from faith” (LW 76 396).
Which also means there is no middle ground. One of the greatest lies we face today is one of neutrality, one of indifference. There’s an attitude among many, even some within our own church, who feel like this really isn’t a big deal. As if sin is just a minor thing, and whatever I do is ok if it feels ok. Indifference toward the kingdom of God places one in a very risky situation. Such indifference does not recognize the evil of evil nor the good of good. Like the Laodicians in Revelation, Jesus’ speaks to us, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). In such a contest, for Jesus, indifference counts for opposition, and he who does not gather with Christ scatters. From God’s perspective, there cannot be a divided house, or contrasting kingdoms, or an unpossessed heart.
Therefore, Jesus says that it is by the finger of God that He casts out this demon, which results in the coming of God’s kingdom. The only true exorcist is Jesus. “The result is that wherever God’s finger does not cast out the devil, the devil’s kingdom is still there, and wherever the devil’s kingdom is, God’s kingdom is not. The unavoidable conclusion, then, is that as long as the Holy Spirit does not come to us, we are not only incapable of any good, but also are, of necessity, in the devil’s kingdom… These are extremely dreadful words! Christ here grants to the devil a kingdom which cannot be avoided without the Spirit of God, and God’s kingdom cannot come unless his kingdom is cast out of us with divine, heavenly power” (LW 76, 395).
Jesus’ point is that simply casting out evil is not good enough. It must be displaced by good. The space must be filled, the heart and soul must be possessed by the Spirit of God. Negligence of this only leads to greater bondage. It is not good enough to sweep out the house but leave it empty. If the unclean spirit comes and finds the house empty, he brings back worse. Sin loses none of its danger by losing its repulsiveness.
This is one of the main purposes for the house blessings that we’ve been doing here. By the Word of God and prayer, the Christian home is swept clean of sin and evil and filled with the Word of God. The main prayer at end of the rite says this, “Drive from here the snares of the evil one and send Your holy angel to guard, protect, visit, and defend all who dwell in this home.” Out with evil one, in with Christ and His presence. The only thing that can keep Satan out is to keep Christ in.
There is a story of Christian converts in Southern Asia who were once Buddhist. Before their conversion, there had never been a murder in the village for as long as anyone could remember. There was never any theft or fights. But after their conversion, people began to act “evil” and crime started to happen. Years after the missionary who converted them had left, he ran into one of the people from the village. The person told him about what had happened. What do you think his reaction to this was? I would think the former Buddhist would be angry blaming Christianity on the rise of crime in his village. But instead, he said that it was proof of God working in their lives and the truth of Jesus Christ.
Before their conversion, Satan left them alone because they were already damned. But afterward, Satan began to work hard in their village to try to steal them back. As long as the devil is served, he keeps his peace. His stronghold is the sinful, human heart. And when he his dethroned, when these words are spoken over one soon to be baptized, “Depart you unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen,” the devil goes on the offensive. As a Christian, hell will be loosed upon you and the devil will fight to get you back. “One stronger than he” must ascend the throne of your life. Christ’s victory must be yours, and it is only yours by faith.
The need and process of release from the devil’s kingdom, entrance into the Kingdom of God through the waters of Holy Baptism, the power of victory in the cross and resurrection delivered to you by the Word and received by faith, and the continual presence of Christ in your lives is of eternal signficance. Today we hear the call again for faithfulness, for tried and true loyalty, motivated by pure patriotism for the heavenly kingdom, to fill our lives with Christ. We cannot receive the Gospel, be brought to Jesus, and return to our sinful ways. Great sacrifices will be demanded of you. You must be ready to give up everything to follow Christ, the world, honor, possessions, enjoyment, pleasure. You must walk as children of light, (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)” (Ephesians 5:8-9). You must fill your hearts and minds and lives and homes with the Word of God. In a day and age where Christianity is not favored in our country, where politics do more harm than help to our faith, where the influence of the sinful world seeks to encroach we must stand firm with Christ or the devil will return with greater ferocity.
By Your baptism, Christ has snatched you ought of the hands of the devil and delivered you into the very kingdom of God. He desires to fill your lives and your homes with His presence. Do no despise the Word of God or the preaching of it by which God’s kingdom comes, but hold is sacred and gladly hear and learn it. For blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Come, now, receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and the assurance of Christ’s presence with you and your presence with Christ in eternal life.