The Third Sunday in Lent
March 3, 2018
“The Devil Hates the Gospel”
St. Luke 11:14-28
And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons." Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. "If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them 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. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first." And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "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!" St. Luke 11:14-28
When God the Son was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man, the devil and his demons knew what they were in for. The cosmic battle of the ages had begun. God joined the human race to destroy the devil and his works. The very first time God spoke the gospel his words were directed against the devil. He told him that the Seed of the woman would crush his head. The Virgin Mary gave birth. The devil tried to kill him through his servant Herod. He tried to lead him into sin. He and his demons knew that their kingdom was under attack, so they went on the attack.
The devil and his demons are cruel. They want us to suffer both bodily and spiritual harm. The demon kept this man mute and unable to talk, because he enjoyed it. The devil and his angels love to inflict pain, distress, and harm on human beings. Ever since Satan and his angels were thrown out of heaven, the devil has devoted himself to inflicting pain on those God loves. God loves us. The devil hates us. Jesus saw the man the demon had made mute. He felt compassion for him and cast out the demon. The crowds were amazed. Others, who were jealous of Jesus and despised his gospel wanted to discredit him. They claimed that he cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.
The charge that Jesus, who is the Son of God, was an ally of the devil was a malicious lie. Jesus gave a threefold refutation of this calumny. First, the devil would not help a man to cast out demons because this would put the devil in opposition to himself. The devil is evil; he is not stupid. He won’t fight against himself.
The second argument Jesus gave hit close to home. His critics had sons who cast out demons. Were they also in league with the devil? “They will be your judges,” Jesus said. Don’t be so quick to judge or you will find the finger pointed right back at you.
The third argument is the most important. Jesus said, “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 the Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God is where Jesus rules by the Holy Spirit. There is no possible harmony between God’s kingdom and the devil’s kingdom. St. Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 6 where he writes,
There can be no agreement between God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. There can be no compromise. There can be no neutrality. As Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” In the spiritual war between God and the devil, you are on one side or the other.
You are in a war whether you like it or not. The strongman is the devil. He is armed. He’s ready for battle. He’s secure in his palace. His possessions are safe from attack. The devil’s weapons are his lies. He lies about sin. He lies about grace.
He lies about sin. He told our first parents that they would not die if they ate the forbidden fruit. That was a lie, but since it worked the first time he used it, he keeps on using it. You won’t die if you love what you own, what you do, and people’s praise of you more than you love God. You won’t die if you misuse his name. You won’t die if you neglect to hear and learn God’s pure word and listen instead to false teachers whose smooth talk scratches your itching ears. You won’t die if you refuse to submit to human authority. You won’t die if you hate your brother. You won’t die if you are sexually intimate with someone to whom you are not married. You won’t die if you take more than what belongs to you. You won’t die if you repeat stories about your neighbor that make him look bad and you look good. You won’t die if you set your heart on what belongs to your neighbor and look for ways to make what is his yours. You won’t die.
Lies, lies, and more lies. He lies. Listen to what St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle Lesson:
The devil lies about sin. If you live according to the flesh, that is, if you choose to live a life of obedience to your sinful desires, you will die. The devil says you won’t. He lies. He lies about sin.
The devil lies about grace. Grace is God’s remedy for sin. Grace is the forgiveness of sin. It is his favor, his goodwill, his undeserved love whereby he forgives the sins of those who don’t deserve forgiveness. Grace is what delivers sinners from sin. They cannot deliver themselves. God can and he does. Jesus broke into the devil’s kingdom and he destroyed all his weapons. By bearing the sin of the world, he took it away. He suffered. His heal was bruised. He defeated the accuser, the slanderer, the father of lies by reconciling us sinners to God by bearing God’s anger against us. He quenched God’s wrath.
The devil doesn’t want us to believe this. He wants us to try to make God into our Savior and thus to rely on our works instead of Christ. So he twists the truth. He points to our sins. He says they make God angry and God must punish sinners. Is this not true? Yes, it’s true. The devil then twists this truth and says it would be a cruel god indeed to condemn us for doing only what was in our nature to do. The devil captures our affection for sin and then brazenly acts as if he is God almighty by reminding of that sin! He doesn’t do so to get us to repent. He doesn’t want us to trust in Jesus for forgiveness. He wants to lead us away from God. The devil lies about God by arguing against God’s grace. Since God reveals his grace only in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, the devil lies about Jesus.
The devil lies about who Jesus is. He was behind the lie of Jesus’s enemies that Jesus was in league with him. The devil is behind the lies of the heretics. He is behind the lie that says Jesus is not really God. If he isn’t true God he cannot save sinners from hell. He’s behind the lie that says Jesus didn’t really offer up his holy life on the cross to take away God’s anger because God wouldn’t really require such a thing. That lie leaves us under God’s anger and helpless to escape from it. He is behind the lie that God’s grace in Christ is God giving us the ability to do good things that will bring us back to God, instead of God’s grace being the full and free forgiveness of all our sins for Christ’s sake. Turning the gospel into law is the devil’s favorite trick. He turns grace into works and leaves us to save ourselves. He strips grace out of the sacraments, making baptism just an outward sign of an inward experience and he turns the Lord’s Supper into a memorial meal of a Jesus who isn’t really there.
The devil works best when the morals of a culture are in the sewer. He knows that religious people want to join together with other religious people to do religious things, and when public morality is shot, like-minded, decent, law-abiding religious folks will naturally band together to uphold what is good. Not all religious people believe that Jesus is true man and true God and that he suffered and died on the cross to take away all our sins. Not all religious people believe that God gives us the forgiveness and salvation Jesus won in his gospel and sacraments. Not all religious people believe that we receive this free forgiveness and salvation through faith alone. Since there is no much disagreement on the gospel, let us devote ourselves to a religion of the law.
Says the devil. A Christ-less religion is the devil’s favorite kind! A religion based on human works is the devil’s religion. Decency, goodness, patriotism, prolife, pro-prayer, and anti-sexual immorality – this religion is clean and neat, everything well swept and tidy. But Christ isn’t there. The righteousness that avails before God is not there. The forgiveness of sins is not there. The Holy Spirit is not there. It is a bloodless, Christless, empty home. The demon sees it, and finds seven demons more vicious than he, and invades that home – that man, that woman, that boy, that girl, that precious soul for whom Jesus died – and they turn this so called Christian into a child of Satan.
The devil loves a religion of outward morality. That’s because morality cannot deliver us from his power. Only Jesus can. Blessed indeed is Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus. She is the mother of God. The Child she bore was and is the almighty God. True blessedness comes from God’s word, because the word of God is what bears Christ to us. The word of God is more than the law. It is the gospel, the good news, that Jesus has invaded the devil’s kingdom and destroyed his weapons. By bearing the sin of the world he has taken away our sin, and has set us free. We are children of God through faith in Christ. We will not trade off the word by which God brings us to faith for an outward façade of decency and morality. We will keep the pure and saving gospel of Christ as our most precious treasure. The devil cannot touch us when we hold on to Christ, who is our righteousness. The devil hates the gospel. But then, he hates us, too. We love the gospel because it silences the devil’s lying tongue and keeps us safe in Christ, our Savior.
Rolf D. Preus