The Third Sunday in Lent
March 27, 2011
“The War is Won and Still Rages”
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
During Lent we consider the battle of the ages. We see Jesus doing battle against the devil. This battle is not fought up in heaven or down in hell. It is fought upon this earth where we live. It is fought in the bodies and souls of the people Satan led into sin. They are the same ones Jesus redeemed with his blood.
The control over the body symbolizes the control over the soul. If the devil can take away a man’s ability to hear and to speak he can surely rob him as well of God’s word, which is the source of spiritual life. When Jesus cast out demons he was not only showing his compassion to those who were suffering physically; he was also demonstrating his power over the devil and his demons. By casting out demons by the finger of God Jesus showed himself to be more powerful than the devil.
Christ’s opponents could not deny the obvious. They didn’t deny the existence of demons. They didn’t deny that demons could possess a person’s body. They didn’t deny that Jesus cast out demons. They couldn’t deny any of these things because they were all obvious. So, in order to discredit Jesus, they claimed that he cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. If that were true, Jesus would be in league with the devil.
But it was a lie. It was an obvious lie as Jesus easily demonstrated. The devil would not fight against himself. What they were witnessing was not a civil war in the devil’s kingdom. It was the cosmic war between God and the devil, good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies. It was the war to end all wars. It was fought in the bodies and souls of human being. It began when Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man. It continues until the end of the world. The war has been won and yet is still raging. Christ won the war in his own body. Still the war goes on in the bodies and souls of God’s people.
There is an already but not yet feature to this war that we Christians had best understand. The war has already been won. The war is not yet over. What, specifically, has been won? What, specifically, is not over?
The war has already been won in the doing and dying of Jesus. When Jesus cast out demons he was attacking the devil’s kingdom. Good was driving out evil. But the fiercest battle did not take place in the bodies of those poor people tormented by the devil and his demons. The decisive battle of the war, the battle that won the war, took place in the body of Jesus himself.
This is what Jesus was referring to when he said,
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.
The devil is the fully armed strong man. His palace is this world. His goods are the bodies and souls of humanity. The stronger man is Jesus Christ. He overtook the devil by becoming a human being and living a life of perfect holiness and flawless obedience before God. He withstood the devil’s temptation to sin. He did not give in. His life was a life of total perfection in every way. By means of his holy living and by means of his sacrificial dying he overcame the devil.
The armor in which the devil trusts is the accusation. The name Satan means accuser. The word devil means slanderer. The devil fights and wins his battles by accusing and slandering God’s people. Jesus takes these weapons away from the devil. By obeying God in the stead of all humanity and by offering his obedience to God as the representative of all humanity God reckons all of humanity to be righteous in Christ Jesus. This means that everyone who trusts in Christ is righteous before God and the devil can’t accuse such a person of any sin.
Without his ability to accuse the devil is silenced. He has no power. He has no control. He gained control over Adam and his descendants when he led Adam into sin. Jesus is the Second Adam whose righteousness replaces Adam’s sin. Listen to how St. Paul describes what happened:
Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)
The war is over. The human race has been made righteous. All who fell in the fall of Adam – and that’s all of humanity – are now justified. By the obedience of Christ they have been made righteous.
But the war rages on. The victory has been won in Christ. He did what he did. His obedience was offered to God. It was accepted. The devil’s head lies crushed beneath Jesus’ heel. But the battle yet rages over the individual souls of those for whom Jesus suffered and died.
There is no neutrality in this war. You are either on Jesus’ side or you are on the devil’s side. There is no in between. This is why Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” Spiritual neutrality does not exist.
Jesus illustrates this truth by describing what happens when an unclean spirit or demon is driven out of a man and that man does not become a Christian. The evil spirit returns. He returns with seven spirits more wicked than himself. Then the man is worse off than before. The point is that a religion of respectable opposition to sin is not enough. It is not enough to be happy to live a decent life. You need more than the mere outward performance of your religious duties. You need Christ. Without Christ you are defenseless. You cannot withstand the devil on your own. Your own morality won’t be able to stand against his attacks. Your own strength will fail you. You need Christ.
And when you have Christ you are at war. Being a Christian is not simply a matter of saying Jesus is your Savior. Being a Christian is doing battle. Those who hear the word of God and keep it are those who take in what God says and hold on to it. They don’t let go of it. They define themselves and their lives by it. They cherish God’s word as more precious to them than anything else in this world.
Even the mother of God is not as blessed as those who hear the word of God and keep it. These are those who win the victory over the devil. Christ’s war against the devil has been won, but the ongoing war over our souls goes on and on. It goes on and on and on until the day we die. You fight. That’s what Christians do.
Have you ever heard of the slogan, “Once saved – always saved”? It’s popular, but false. It’s the idea that since God won’t let his sheep be torn out of his hands it is impossible for a Christian to fall away from the faith once he has come to faith. From this notion comes the idea that we need to get our salvation settled and then we are secure. So pray that prayer. Invite Jesus in. Make him your Lord and Savior. Then it’s a done deal.
But that’s not how it works. God is the One who establishes faith in our hearts. We don’t create our own faith. God does. And he does so through his word. “Once saved – always saved” is a lie. It’s not Christian doctrine. It’s demonic delusion. The devil wants us to give up the fight. He wants to lure us into thinking that we cannot fall away from Christ even if we ignore his word. But we can.
Every time the Bible speaks of the assurance of salvation it does so in the context of hearing and listening to God’s word. Just before Jesus says that his sheep will never perish and no one will ever tear them out of his hand he says that they hear his voice. The assurance of salvation is given us in God’s word. Without God’s word we will surely fall away and be lost.
The devil assaults our faith every day. He leads us into sin and cons us into thinking that it doesn’t matter how we live. But St. Paul says in today’s Epistle Lesson (Ephesians 5),
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
The kingdom of Christ in inhabited by sinners who are justified by God for Christ’s sake. They sin. They repent. They sin again. They repent again. They never stop sinning. They never stop repenting. They hold on in simple faith to the righteousness of Jesus. They claim his obedience as their very own. This is why they seek out God’s word, for it is in his word that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. It is as we receive God’s word that God defeats the devil in the battle over our bodies and souls.
This is why we hold on to God’s word in faith. This is why we cherish it in life and death. It is our source of comfort and strength. It assures us that we are righteous with Christ’s own righteousness. And it crushes the devil’s lying mouth under our feet. Again, and again, and again, until we die and go to heaven. There we will rest from our labors. There we will be perfectly conformed – body and soul – to the righteousness of Christ that is now ours by faith alone. Then the war will be over. And we will be at peace. Amen