March 7, 2021
The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 110 & 8)
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed:
In Genesis 11 we learn that the descendants of Noah banded together to build a tower. God even said in His divine counsels, “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” That’s when He introduced confusion of languages.
No amount of stubbornness or pride on man’s part can avoid what God wants to happen. Another example: Pharaoh in the plagues on Egypt. We heard it in today’s OT. After he refused to free the children of Israel from slavery, Pharaoh became locked into it: one earthly ruler facing down God. Even when the plagues of gnats and flies proved it was God’s power, Pharaoh wouldn’t back down. That led to a watery grave for him and the rescue of God’s people. Not only is God’s way best, but resistance is futile.
14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
21 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.
23 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
This is the word of God. Heavenly Father, sanctify us through the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
We’re in a war between life and death.
Like it or not, we are in the middle of a war. Not a conventional war, a spiritual one. Before you breathe a sigh of relief, understand. Spiritual wars are not only spiritual. They can be just as physical and lethal. Many, if not most (maybe even all) shooting wars have been an outgrowth of the spiritual war we’re living through. The spiritual part makes them more dangerous. Combatants have a lot at stake in an earthly war. There is more at stake when it’s spiritual. The consequences last forever.
When our text opens, Jesus is casting out a demon — an aspect that’s usually invisible to us. But invisible doesn’t mean imaginary. Everyone who breathes air or travels in an airplane should know this. Our lives depend on invisible things every day.
This demon was the kind that prevented a person from hearing or speaking. When it was cast out, an argument arose about how Jesus did it. Some said He used the power of the prince of demons. This criticism is hard for us to understand. In our time, most of the world has been blinded to spiritual realities by materialism. Back then, more people accepted the existence of unseen powers by one name or another.
Among the Jews were certain experts in demons. We don’t know much about them for certain, but they did exist. They supposedly used combinations of words, smells, herbs, music, and such with some success to cure people of demonic afflictions. In non-Jewish societies, it’s written that experts could even influence or control demons, and that’s how magicians and sorcerers did their work. The magicians of Egypt in today’s OT might be one example, and another might be Simon the Magician in Acts 8. Trying to use demonic powers serves one side of this spiritual war. Resisting demons serves the other side. Jesus was accused of manipulating them. That was sorcery, a capital offense in Israel.
We entered this war as enemies of God.
Demons are a kind of personal creature without a body like ours. They’re evil, but they don’t have children, so they were all once part of God’s good Creation. We as individuals came into being after the Fall. The corruption is there within newborn humans from the start. Unlike us, demons once served God.
But humans are no better. Take today’s Gospel. People opposed Jesus on principle when they should have been rejoicing that demons were beaten. They made themselves His enemies because that’s what came naturally. But what comes naturally or feels natural is not good when the nature is bad.
Consider today’s Epistle, where St. Paul calls this evil within us “darkness,” opposed to the light of God. And consider your own stewardship of life. Where does your mind like to wander? What words come easiest to your lips? What things attract your cares and anxieties? How is your stewardship of time? How do you show love toward others? Not one of us can say we are righteous in our works and ways. By switching holy things for unholy every day, we side with the demons. Every one of us.
That’s one of the reasons they hated Jesus. He was perfect. Imagine growing up with Him. “Oh James, why can’t you be more like Jesus?” And that offensive perfection continued into adulthood. It explains the hard feelings against Him, especially from the Pharisees whose respectability couldn’t compete. It also shows how empty was the accusation that He was in league with Beelzebub.
But Jesus has a warning for everyone opposed to Him: He will win. He’s the Son of God. But He doesn’t want to be the last man standing. He wants to bring you along with Him, to save your life. So Jesus took the time to reason with the people who had just accused Him of being in league with the devil.
That sounds like hyperbole, overstatement for effect. But no, they really did accuse Jesus of Nazareth of being in cahoots with Beelzebub. So take heart if you feel like you’ve been accused of some kind of wicked sin that makes no sense. You’re not perfect like Jesus. But it’s a special kind of insanity to accuse you of horrible things you haven’t done. It shows the deep corruption of reason that came with the Fall into Sin, because it makes no sense. But it’s happening now in schools and workplaces around the world. So take heart: it means that we’re dealing with the same fallen world as Jesus. Without Him, we belong to it. But He came to rescue us.
Jesus’ objective is to recover us for life.
Jesus cared about His accusers. He helped them think more correctly using reason, or logic. Did his hearers find this teaching offensive? Doesn’t matter. What He said was true, motivated by love, and aimed at their ultimate good. Let’s consider what He said.
First, nobody can be neutral when it comes to Him. You’re either with Him, or against Him. Neutrality is a nice theory. Scholars and scientists try to use it in their research. Journalists are supposed to use it in their reporting. But more and more, people realise that nobody’s truly neutral. Everyone has an opinion, a prejudice, from the start. Nobody can be truly neutral about anything.
Jesus opens with an example of a mighty man protecting his turf. Not just a mighty man, but one fully armed. It may seem that armaments would bring war, but Jesus says it secures peace. “His possessions are safe.”
The conflict begins when someone stronger comes. The first man cannot resist the attack, and loses both goods and arms. That’s Jesus’ warning. He’s the stronger one, stronger than demons. If you’re with the demons, He can cast you out, too.
But if you’re with Jesus, then you can rejoice. Those possessed by demons will be taken as plunder by Jesus when He casts the demons out. Clearly, we want to be with Jesus. We want to be on the winning side.
The next warning is for those who would be their own masters: not with the demons, not with Jesus, but with and for yourself!
A cast-out demon can return. It will return if it finds no other place to dwell, and if the rescued heart is not filled with something stronger.
Jesus wants us to live, not to perish. The only way is with Him. Neutrality cannot last nor moderation, nor independence. They hold a critical attitude toward Jesus and His Word, and keep Him at arms’ length. That’s like keeping your house empty, swept clean and in order. The last state of that man is worse than the first.
To avoid this and have life, we must be immoderate. Uncool. Even geeky in our enthusiasm for being with Jesus. It’s not worldly-wise. It can be embarrassing. That’s what the believers who have gone before us became known for. Some became martyrs. They all suffered in some way.
If you find this talk uncomfortable or distasteful, you might be under a lot of worldly pressure yourself. What will your friends say? Your coworkers? Your family? That doesn’t change anything, but it might give you a sense of dread and corresponding guilt. Many who sympathized with evil various wars eventually repented. Jesus accepts you no matter where you have stood in relation to Him. He paid the price for traitors and sympathizers with His own blood. He paid for your life, to give you life and to protect it.
Jesus made atonement for wandering eyes, loose lips, prideful cares, and faithless anxieties. He took the place of those whose idolatry is measured in hours, minutes, or seconds; and of those who know they should care and love more deeply than they do. Through His blood shed on the cross, your guilt is purged from you, and His righteousness is given to clothe you and shield you from the accusations of the world or your conscience.
In Him, your conscience may be tuned so that instead of trying to justify you, it leads you back toward the cross. His cross isn’t here now. But you may find the benefits of His cross in the Word of absolution, your baptism, and the holy body and blood given for you. This is how you fill your heart with Jesus, stronger than any demon or even the whole world.
He can’t lose.
It’s important that you do fill up with Jesus, and frequently. That’s why He richly provides so many ways to do it. At their center, the means of His gracious care for us contain the Gospel, His Word of promise. So when the woman called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you,” Jesus was still teaching about this spiritual war when He answered, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
Obey isn’t the best way to express the word used in the original. Better would be “guard” or “protect” within your heart. Or like the NKJV, “keep” or “observe.” Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and… use it by putting it into action and keeping it unspoiled. Those are the ones whose heart-houses are filled with something stronger, with Jesus and His Spirit.
Jesus can’t lose. With Him, you can’t lose. He conquered death to give you life. With His word of promise, He’ll carry you through this spiritual war to eternal life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!