The Third Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2012
“Casting out Demons”
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
The battle is between God and the devil and the battleground is the bodies and souls of those God created in his own image. The devil claims what belongs to God. He’s a thief and a murderer. He hates what he cannot have and he’s driven by spite against the Author of all goodness and the Source of all love.
God is love. The devil is the opposite. We know what love is by looking to what God does for us and by listening to what God says to us. We look to what God does for us. He sends his only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die for us. We listen to what God says to us. He tells us that true love is not that we loved him but that he loved us and sent his Son to suffer for our sins and make peace between God and us. Look to what God does. Listen to what God says. This is how you learn love.
What we feel within is no good standard for us to follow. What we feel may seem like love, but the devil is quite adept at conning us through our feelings. The unholy trinity identified in the Catechism is the devil, the world, and our flesh. The devil appeals to our flesh, that is, to our sinful feelings, to get us to follow the ways of this fallen world and to leave our baptism behind. In today’s Epistle Lesson, the Apostle identifies two categories of sins that the devil is particularly good at exploiting: sexual sins and sins of covetousness. They are essentially the same. The sin is wanting and seeking to get what rightfully belongs to another. The devil wants what belongs to God and he’ll do whatever he can do to get it, even if he has to destroy it in the process. And so it is with the devil’s followers. They see and they take. Their wants are elevated above God’s word. In the end they are left empty because only God can truly satisfy the soul.
The devil’s nature is seen by what he does. Why bind a man’s tongue so that he cannot speak? What benefit does the demon derive from such wanton cruelty? He gains nothing from the man. He does the man no good. The devil’s nature is deceptive, destructive, and cruel. The mute cannot sing praises to God. So make the man mute. Silence one voice.
When Jesus cast out the demon the mute spoke and those who witnessed it were amazed. They saw the power of the Son of God who cast out demons by the Spirit of God. The almighty power of the Holy Trinity was displayed before their eyes. Faith recognizes in divine signs divine grace and power.
But the most religious folks at that time and place had no faith. Religious, yes. But faithless. Well, we call it faith. The rules require us to use the word “faith” to describe the delusions and ignorance and idolatry of the devil’s children. But it is not true faith. True faith is Christian. True faith sees in Christ our God, brother, and champion who has fought our battles for us and has obtained for us eternal victory.
The Pharisees were religious unbelievers. They looked down at the devil’s victims, refusing to acknowledge that they were among them, no better than they, captured by the same evil spirit. They resented Jesus because Jesus didn’t stand in judgment against those the devil had so cruelly manipulated and controlled. So they charged Jesus with the worst kind of sin. They said that he cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. Beelzebub was the name of one of the many Baals, a false god. It meant Lord of the flies, that is, Lord of the dung. Jesus identifies Beelzebub with Satan.
The name Satan means accuser. Satan leads God’s children into sin and then accuses them of the sin into which he led them. That’s a neat trick. He parades as a friend only to lure you into sin and then he throws the sin in your face as proof that you don’t belong to God because God is going to hate you for it.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners. The Pharisees promoted a religion of works-righteousness. This is why they hated Jesus. Jesus set sinners free. Jesus invaded the kingdom of Satan and robbed him of his armor, breaking his weapons, and freeing the captives. God rose up against Satan and took from him his power to accuse God’s children. This is the nature of the battle of the ages, the battle between good and evil, God and the devil, Jesus and Satan.
The Pharisees accuse Jesus and they attack his Church. They call evil good and good evil. They call it the devil’s own work when Jesus sets us free from the power of the devil. Jesus would gladly suffer abuse, insult, and finally death. But Jesus suffered no opposition to his word. When it comes to doctrine, our Lord Jesus is inflexible. This is because his doctrine, that is, his teaching, that is, his word is what delivers his people from the power of the devil. This is why Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
They accuse Jesus of being in league with the devil. They call evil good and good evil. They attack Jesus and they attack his true Church. When we preach the pure gospel of the full and free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake, they object. Either they attack our teaching about sin, insisting that everyone has a free will in spiritual matters, or they attack our teaching about grace. They call it cheap grace because we deny that our good deeds help to save us. They accuse us of neglecting Christian morality and opposing sanctification and good works. Yes, they say, by all means you may talk about God’s grace and his love for sinners, but don’t deprive us of our spiritual power.
What power? Who is doing what needs to be done here? The man who was mute? Or Jesus who set him free? Who invades the devil’s sanctuary and destroys his weapons? Who takes away from the devil all his armor? Who divides his spoils? Who shuts his lying mouth and takes away from him his power to deceive?
Jesus does, and Jesus does it without any help from you. He doesn’t need your cooperation. He doesn’t need your pious approval. He doesn’t need your free will. He is the stronger man who has come into this world to deliver us from the strong man who held us in his power.
When he does what he does the religious crowd objects and accuses and distorts and lies. But Jesus keeps setting sinners free and he won’t be deterred by a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites. They say he casts out demons by the power of Beelzebub. They lie. But why? Because they don’t want to face the kingdom. His arrival is the arrival of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is not a future event to be realized by political activity in the Middle East. The kingdom of God is not to be found in the religious doings and strivings of religious people. The kingdom of God is the rule of God in the hearts of sinners, a rule, a governance by which he forgives them their sins, fills them with his Spirit, and gives them new lives to life. In the Catechism we learn to think of this kingdom as “when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life, here in time and hereafter in eternity.” Jesus says he casts out devils by the finger of God. In a parallel account, he says he casts out devils by the Spirit of God. The finger of God is the Spirit of God. The same Spirit by which Jesus casts out devils is the Spirit who lives within God’s children and keeps them trusting in Jesus.
Jesus won the fight. In the battle over our souls, Jesus has won. By offering himself, body and soul, up to the bar of God’s penal justice as the representative of the human race, he put the final nail in Satan’s coffin, consigning him along with his lies to the depths of hell. Christ’s victory is total. The father of lies and his lying demons are routed, ruined, and rendered powerless.
So the Christian thanks Jesus and goes on his way, leaving behind the gospel by which Jesus delivered him. He’s free. He doesn’t need confession and absolution. He doesn’t need to listen to the gospel proclaimed. He doesn’t need to eat and to drink of Christ’s body and blood. He’s free. He’s been delivered. God has been good to him, and he won’t forget it. He’ll arrange his life in good, Christian order. Everything neat and tidy. No need to concern himself with the gospel by which the Lord Jesus set him free from the devil’s power. He knows it. He knows all that Christian stuff.
And so he goes his way and lives his life and does the best he can. But what he doesn’t know (because he’s too proud to see it) is that the best he can is nowhere near good enough. The Holy Spirit doesn’t stay around where the gospel and the sacraments are tossed aside and so the Christian lives a life with neither God nor the devil in charge.
Or so he thinks. He’s easy prey. He’s got no convictions. He has no depth. He has no hunger for God’s word, but the devil hungers for his soul, to control it, to subdue it, to twist it to serve his own diabolical purposes. But the nominal Christian is too self-absorbed to discern what’s happening, even though it’s happening to him. So he lives as if he’s not a Christian and before you know it the devil takes him and his last condition is worse than his first. As St. Peter writes:
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2, 20-22)
They say that ignorance is bliss. In fact, ignorance may be dangerous. What you don’t know can hurt you. This is so especially when it comes to spiritual matters. Nowadays even the most conservative Christians seem to think that angels and demons are mythical beings that don’t really exist except in Bible stories. The devil is not a real person, but rather the personification of evil. We have advanced beyond such things as angels and demons.
If we have, it hasn’t been an advance. It has been a retreat. A conspiracy works precisely because people are unaware of it. Shine the light of publicity on a plot to do harm and it is foiled. What was potentially harmful is rendered harmless. The power of the devil resides in large part in his ability to con you, to convince you that he doesn’t even exist.
But he does. False doctrine comes from the devil. Religious claims that put you on your own, that empower you to do what you choose to do, that put you in charge – stop and consider what you are and who you are. Did you become a Christian because of your own ability to overpower the devil? Or did God make you a Christian by the power of his almighty Word? And if the latter, what do you need? How often do you need it?
The power of Christ is not the power of the sword, the gun, clever manipulation, political intrigue, or any other popular version of power that so captures our imaginations. The power of Christ is the power of his Word. It is the power to forgive weak and unworthy sinners who cry to him for mercy. He won that forgiveness by crushing the serpent’s head on the cross. With that forgiveness comes true life, Spirit-filled life, a life of purity and chastity, a life of humility and obedience, a life of modesty and generosity, a life of peace, lived under the grace of God. It’s a militant life. We’re at war against the devil. We find our refuge and strength in Christ who stormed his castle and disarmed him. Amen