The Third Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2008
“The Kingdom of God Has Come” St. Luke 11:14-28
“But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” St. Luke 11:20
They are very devoted to their religion and amazingly persistent. They believe in the Kingdom of God. They believe that it is coming soon. They want to tell you all about. They call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses. The kingdom they preach is a kingdom in which Jehovah will rule this world in righteousness and truth, bringing about peace. Members of the so-called Unification Church believed quite sincerely that a Korean man named Sun Myung Moon was the Messiah who would be God’s instrument in ushering in a new and wonderful government of peace and goodness throughout the world.
Many non-Christian sects teach that the Kingdom of God is about to arrive, but it isn’t here yet. And this is not only the opinion of these cults. It is also the opinion among many mainstream conservative Protestants. They preach about a future thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Those who believe in this future kingdom of Christ on this earth are called Millennialists.
If you were to say to a Millennialist that the Kingdom of God is here and it is now, he might look at you as if you were blind. Can’t you see what’s going on in this world? Look at the injustice, the violence, the senseless slaughters, and the endless wars! Surely, the Kingdom of God is a promise that is not yet fulfilled. It is not here yet. We wait for it.
We must disagree with this opinion. Jesus makes it crystal clear that the Kingdom of God has already come. He said, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus said it. That settles it.
Faith does not demand sight. Thomas believed in Jesus – specifically that Jesus rose from the dead – only after he saw Jesus display his wounds before his eyes. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Faith believes the words of Jesus without seeing any evidence that those words are true. So when Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God has come upon us we believe his words without demanding visible proof.
This doesn’t mean that there is no evidence. Consider the events and the conversation related to us by St. Luke in today’s Gospel reading. The man was mute. He could not speak. It was not in his case a purely natural impediment, but a supernatural affliction. A demon prevented the man from being able to speak. A demon from hell, a follower of Lucifer, an enemy of God and of God’s people, a liar, a murderer, and a spiritual bully had taken hold of a man. It was pure demonic cruelty. The devil and his angels are mean, loveless bullies. Beelzebub is a name given to the devil. It means either lord of the flies or lord of the dung. Originally it had been the name of a Phoenician god and it then became a popular name for the devil. Jesus faced the angels of Beelzebub, that is, the demons from hell, and drove them out of the poor souls whom they were tormenting. At no time in recorded history do we see so many cases of literal demon possession as there were when Jesus came into this world. It is as if, when Jesus drove away Satan by the word of God, all the demons of hell were enraged and came out to challenge Jesus.
The cosmic and decisive battle between good and evil is not going to be fought in the future. It has already been fought. Good has already won. Jesus cast the devil out. This is the truth that so many people refuse to see – in part, I suppose – because they insist on seeing. It was St. Augustine who said that we do not see in order to believe, but we believe in order to see.
Those who were there and who recorded the events of Jesus’ ministry did see and hear and witness the battle. The mute spoke. The demon that held his tongue was forced out of the man by Jesus Christ. It certainly wasn’t by the devil’s authority! The devil is not divided against himself. There is no rebellion in Satan’s kingdom. The demons serve him, even as they bring nothing but pain and misery to their human victims. The devil’s kingdom isn’t divided. Rather, another kingdom has confronted it. Jesus is the king and the kingdom is his holy, Christian Church on earth.
Jesus cast out devils by the finger of God, that is, by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter whom Jesus sends to his church. As the devil torments souls with lies, the Holy Ghost comforts souls with the truth. It is the Holy Spirit who calls Christ’s church to do battle against the father of lies and murderer of souls. The church is the Kingdom of God on earth and she is at war. She is militant. Christ’s enemy is her enemy. Christ’s victory over the devil is the victory of the Kingdom of God on this earth. It is real. We do not look to a future mythical kingdom on this earth that God has not promised. We look instead to the kingdom that Christ established among us.
Jesus came to fight. He fought. He won. He faced the devil in the wilderness. He faced the devil in driving out demons. He faced the devil when he was suffering in the Garden. He faced the devil on the cross. He faced the devil as our champion, fighting our battles, winning our war. Jesus never failed in any confrontation with the devil. He came to overthrow the devil’s kingdom and to bind him on a chain so that he could no longer destroy those whom God loves. And he did. Yes, he did. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords, and he shall reign forever and ever.
You cannot see this kingdom? You don’t see demons driven out of men? You cannot apprehend with your senses Christ’s victory over all evil? What can this mean? That the kingdom Jesus established in his first coming has simply disappeared until his second coming?
No, the kingdom of God is here. It has come upon us. This kingdom is wherever the word of God is preached purely and wherever the sacraments of Christ are administered according to Christ’s institution. Wherever the Holy Spirit calls sinners to faith in Christ they receive Christ’s own righteousness. They receive the forgiveness of sins. They receive Christ’s victory over evil. They receive a new nature and are filled with the love of God. Their consciences are set at peace and they rest secure in God’s love.
The gospel and the sacraments have the very authority of Jesus, who proved his authority over all the powers of hell. And wherever the gospel is proclaimed, it causes division. Those who love it take it in and treasure it. Those who hate it are positively angered when they hear it. This is as it must be. Jesus says, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” He goes on to teach that there is no spiritual neutrality. He describes the terrible condition of the person whom he delivers from Satan’s power when that person does not bind himself to Jesus by faith, that is, whose house is swept clean with no Christian convictions, nowhere for the Holy Spirit to be at home. There is no neutrality in the war between Jesus Christ, the King of God’s Kingdom, and Beelzebub, the prince of this world. There is no Switzerland, protected from the world by the Alps, so no army can do battle against her. The battleground between Jesus and the devil is in and upon and minds, hearts, and the souls of all mankind. You cannot avoid this war. You are in it. You can only stand up and fight or give up and die. There are no conscientious objectors.
Where is the Kingdom of God today? Let Jesus answer. A woman from the crowd cried out to him: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” Jesus answered: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Nothing brings greater blessing than to hear the word of God and to keep it. To guard it. To treasure it. To hold on to it for dear life and never to let it go. This word reveals to us the wonderful mysteries of our eternal salvation revealed in Jesus Christ himself. To keep it is to trust its promises. It is to receive eternal life. To keep it is to obey its commandments. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) To keep God’s word is to trust in Jesus and to live in his love. This is a love that sacrifices itself for the other. It does not seek self-gratification, but the benefit of the other.
The word of God puts the devil to flight so that he cannot touch us or hurt us or deceive us anymore. Jesus is officially identified as King when he is nailed to the cross. There, as he suffers for our sins, he silences forever the demonic lies that would lead us to trust in ourselves, our strivings, our struggles, our good deeds, our pious thoughts, or any other idol of self we might be tempted to invent. In Christ’s suffering for us his kingdom was firmly and finally established. When this Christ, this crucified and risen Christ, comes to us in his blessed gospel and holy sacraments the kingdom of God comes to us. There is no need to dream about a future kingdom of God ruling over this world. The Kingdom has already arrived.
Where is the Kingdom? It is in the faith that the Holy Spirit gives us. It is in Christ to whom the Holy Spirit points us. It is when the image of Jesus crucified for us is imprinted in our hearts. It is when the gospel of the forgiveness of all our sins that Jesus won for us is given to us and we believe it, taking in it, and find Christ our gracious king. It is when we live the lives God has now called us to live, avoiding the filthiness and immorality of those who live in darkness.
Christ’s kingdom was hidden in suffering when Jesus was nailed to the cross. It is hidden under suffering today. But it is no less real for that. It is where God finds us and for Christ’s sake justifies us and pronounces us free from Satan’s power. There is the finger of God, the Spirit of God, casting out the devil and setting us free.
Rolf D. Preus