Lent 3 Oculi 2021
March 7, 2021
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
The other day I ran across a social media post from a friend of man who has competed in highland games and was looking forward to doing it again in a month or so. If you know what those are, it’s when men compete in all kinds of crazy feats of strength like throwing a gigantic log, large stones, hammer throws. Usually the people involved in those competitions are not small, but fairly large, strong men.
In an ironic twist, the next day I spoke to someone at our school about a loved one who used to be a strong, smart, independent man. He was an EMT, I believe, and helped out in other medical and service capacities. So here was a man who had spent his life helping others, who also took pride in his physical abilities, but who now is suffering from an aging body and aging mind. He is now the one being taken care of, who has to have help moving around the house and struggling doing activities that he used to do without even thinking or trying.
We all like to take some pride in the strength of our body, or mind, or will, but the sad fact of the matter is that no matter how strong you are, no matter how much you keep your mind or body in shape, human strength fails. Even if you’re perfect shape, there is one who is stronger.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus performs a miracle of casting out a demon from a man. What we are to learn from this miracle is that Jesus compares the devil to a strong man who guarded his palace. No one could conquer him, destroy his palace or rob him unless it was to be the stronger One, Jesus Himself. Since the demon possessed this poor man making him mute, Christ is telling us here that we are to view this man as an image for all of humanity. Man was originally created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness, a good and perfect residence for the Holy Spirit. But that didn’t last long. Through the fall into the sin, Adam who had been a beloved child of God, became a child of wrath (Eph 2:3). What had formerly been a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, now becomes a tool of the devil. Even worse, not only did Adam and Eve fall but now that corrupted nature is implanted as children are who born in Adam’s sinful image (Gen 5:3). That’s why now, by nature we are blind, deaf, and mute so that we do not know God, do not glorify God, and are unable to praise Him. We are just as helpless to help ourselves out of this situation as the poor man who was possessed by the demon, with no strength to overcome the evil strong man.
Christ tells us here that Satan is the strong man. He is stronger than you are, not matter how good of shape you think your soul might be in. You cannot take on that old evil foe, that fallen angel, and win. His stronghold is the human heart, the palace and the spoils of war. He guards his palace because he has stolen it and he knows that it doesn’t really belong to him.
The kingdom of Satan is cast over our whole race. And we belong fully to him. Until… Until the finger of God reaches out and touches you. We hear about Jesus casting out demons so often we lose the wonder and the power that’s at work there, the way the demons cringe and flee. Don’t let this scene be clouded. Look at it clearly. See your Lord in action. He casts out the demon, the mute man speaks, and God’s people marvel! The finger of God is at work, and that finger is more powerful than all the hosts of hell!
The same finger of God has been at work among you. It touched you in your life, probably first at your Baptism. No small thing, but a front-line battle—that’s what takes place at the font. The strong man shows up at a Baptism to try to guard his own, but you know what? He’s totally outmatched. He doesn’t stand a chance against the Stronger Man. If you haven’t thought about it this way, think about it now. At your Baptism, Jesus broke down the walls of Satan’s prison, tied Satan himself up, and freed you. He carried you out. The finger of God descended, the finger tracing the cross of Christ upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, and the devil turned tail and fled! At your Baptism, God opened up your lips so you could speak his name, and cry it out, “Your kingdom come, O Christ!” And His kingdom came to you. Brought out of Satan’s domain, you have been brought into the kingdom of our God. The devil is not your master anymore. He has no hold over you. He threatens, he flails, he tries every last trick in the book to drag you back down, to rob you of the glorious freedom that Christ has given to you. But he’s no match for our Strong Man, our Lord Jesus. He pinned Jesus down, cold and dead in a rocky prison. But you know full well that our Lord Jesus, His stay in the tomb was short. The Stronger Man overwhelmed death itself, lives and reigns still today.
In the miracle we hear about today, the Lord is not just taking away the demon’s power of the man’s mouth, He is freeing him from the accusations and control of the demons. He tempts, sure. But now the devil is as good as mute, unable to accuse, no unforgiven sins to point out, no guilt or shame that can stick. So it for you. For you are baptized and forgiven, cleansed and fed. Greater than the devil is Christ who is in youHe , weak as you faith might be.
But you must still be on guard. The danger is still real. If a demon is cast out of the body but not the soul, it will come back with a vengeance. We can’t be lured into the false belief or be deceived with empty words that since we have been rescued from the devil’s power there is no longer any danger if we were to live an immoral life. This was the point of the Epistle for today: you are no longer in darkness, but in the light of the Lord. So walk as children of light.
So yes, the devil is strong, stronger than you. But that doesn’t really matter, for Christ is stronger still. The devil has no more accusations that can stick, for Christ has forgiven you; there is no more shame he can add, for Christ has cleansed you of all unrighteousness; no temptations he can dangle that Christ has not already overcome; no sorrow he can pile on your heart, for the joy of the resurrection overwhelms all; and no more silence imposed, for the mute man speaks and our lips declare Christ’s praise forever.