The Third Sunday in Lent
March 3, 2013
“Two Kingdoms in Mortal Conflict”
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 between God and the devil is evident all around us. At least, it is evident to us who believe the Bible and have incorporated the biblical worldview into the way we think about the world. Those who reject biblical teaching will often mock what they don’t understand, and the existence and activities of the devil in this world is one of those teachings they dismiss out of hand.
They deny that there is a devil or demons. They think that St. Paul was simply reflecting the superstitions of his day when he warned the Christians in Ephesus:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Assuming that the Bible is true, that there is a cosmic battle between good and evil led by real persons on each side, and that this battle cannot always been seen by the naked eye, let us come up with a clever strategy for the person who is behind the power of evil all over the world, a strategy that just might be effective with people who have fallen into the prejudices of materialism, naturalism, scientism, and other isms that dismiss the supernatural as being so much superstitious foolishness. What would his strategy be? He would persuade the spiritually gullible that he doesn’t exist.
And so he has. The fiercest battles between the forces of God and the forces of the devil take place within the hearts of people. They are hidden from view. Out of sight is out of mind. The denial of what cannot be seen is a particularly effective strategy when dealing with a generation of people who are so dependant on visual stimulation that even their music requires visual accompaniment. The devil works behind the scenes remaining unseen. But he is always deceitful. He lies.
Lies repeated often enough become credible by sheer repetition. The liar lies. It’s his nature. While the specific lies will change to conform to the changing battle field, the general strategy will remain the same. The father of lies lies about who Jesus is. The father of lies lies about what Jesus does. The person of Christ and the work of Christ are always the devil’s target. The devil hates the human race. Since Jesus is the cure to what ails humanity he will always be the devil’s target. The devil will attack his person and his work. Watch him do it.
Jesus cast out a demon that had made a man mute. That was an act of kindness. The demon that had taken control over the man, rendering him incapable of speaking, did what he did out of sheer cruelty. There was no other purpose than to inflict suffering on the poor man. The Bible does not say that he was deaf. Were that the case, his inability to speak would have been the natural consequence of that. This man’s inability to speak had supernatural origins. It was the work of an evil spirit, a demon, a spiritual being from among the fallen angels who follow Beelzebub, that is, Satan or the devil.
The devil is cruel. His nature doesn’t change. He cannot be redeemed and he will never change. Demon possession may not be very common among us, but during the time of our Lord’s ministry – between his baptism and his crucifixion – demon possession was very common. God had joined the human race to do battle against the devil. When he made his appearance to do so, all the demons of hell were enraged by this assault against their kingdom. They made their presence known wherever Jesus went. They tossed their wanton cruelty in Jesus’ face, as if by a temper tantrum of mean-spiritedness they could challenge his power. But by casting out demons and setting people free from their power Jesus demonstrated his superior power. The devil could not withstand him.
But he could lie about him. That’s what the devil does. He lies. He lies through people. The devil is a spirit. Spirits have no bodies. They use people with bodies to speak for them. It was the devil who inspired some of the crowd to say, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” What a masterful lie! Fudge the difference between God and the devil. It’s the big lie, the most spectacular lie. Put God in league with the devil and the devil in league with God. That way there is no longer truth and falsehood. There is no longer righteousness and sin. There is no longer any clear distinction between good and evil.
Jesus knew what they were thinking. He knows all things. The devil doesn’t. Remember that. Jesus knows. The devil lies. Jesus refuted this lie by pointing out that Satan would not deliberately fight against his own kingdom. He then challenged the lie further by asking them by what power their sons cast out demons. Many of their sons were followers of Jesus and cast out demons in his name. Then Jesus made the claim that drives the devil mad. He made a claim about himself and his work. He 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 Spirit of God. Jesus did what he did by the Spirit of God. He is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. He is the Spirit of truth that leads Christ’s Church into all truth, keeping us in the true faith and comforting us with the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. He is the Spirit by whom the Lord Jesus cast out demons. This must mean that the kingdom of God has come to us.
Where is the kingdom of God? It is where God gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we believe his holy word and live holy lives here on earth and hereafter in heaven. The kingdom of God is where God answers our plea: “Oh Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.” Where does the mute sing? Where is genuine praise to be found? Where Christ has entered into the strong man’s castle and deprived him of his weapons.
The devil’s weapons are the lie. He lies about Jesus. He denies that Jesus is God when he knows perfectly well he is God. He denies that Jesus does the works of God when he knows that he does. The devil tempts us to sin against God and he desperately wants to keep us in the power of sin. That’s what brings him pleasure. He knows that Jesus has won forgiveness of sins for us and that he freely gives it. He knows that Jesus clothes us with his blood bought righteousness and thereby justifies us before God. The devil knows the pure teaching of God’s word that we are justified by faith alone through Christ’s redemption and not by our good works. The devil knows that this gospel has power to set us free from his lies. But he doesn’t want to let go of his power over us. This is why he lies about who Jesus is and he lies about what Jesus does. That’s his greatest weapon.
Jesus is the stronger man who burst into the strong man’s castle and took away from him all of his weapons. This Jesus accomplished by his holy life and death. He brought the kingdom of God to earth. He fought our battle and won. He offered to God what God required of all humanity. He offered it on behalf of humanity. He offered up a holy life, free from sin. He offered it up as a sacrifice for sin to take it all away. This is what crushes the devil’s head and silences his forked tongue. The devil has been disarmed. The weapons in which he trusted are gone, gone with the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin. Of what can the accuser accuse us when we are washed clean of all our sin? He’s got nothing left but lies.
We have the truth. And this means that we, if we are to be Christians in this world, must be at war. Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” Jesus goes on to describe the pathetic spectacle of what happens to those who declare themselves neutral in the battle between God’s truth and the devil’s lies. They are easy pickings for evil powers that invade and torment and destroy. The evil spirit who appears to have left has left only to return with seven spirits more evil than he. It’s not possible to be delivered from the devil except by Jesus Christ and it’s not possible to be kept by Jesus Christ except by his word.
Listen to Jesus on this. Not even the mother of God is as blessed as the one who hears God’s word and keeps it. Jesus cast out demons by the finger of God, that is, by the Spirit of God, that is, by the word of God – and that word of God is ours as our heritage and precious possession. It drives the devil away. It secures our future. It protects our souls. It raises us up to heaven. But it must be heard and it must be kept. For Satan tries to take it away from us and will stop at nothing to do so.
The church on earth is the church militant. She is at war. Where the church won’t fight, she dies. Where she caves into the culture of the world she ceases to be the church. And this is what we witness all over the world. The devil is at work, deceiving people with his lies. Among the more sophisticated, he casts doubts on the mysteries of the faith, leading them into a practical atheism that, while it posits the existence of God as a reasonable position, doesn’t actually look to this God for instruction on anything at all. Among the religiously inclined, he turns the gospel of Christ into new rules for them to follow so they end up trusting in themselves instead of Jesus for deliverance from evil.
Among Bible-believing, church-going Christians, the devil appeals to peace. Shalom. If you know only one Hebrew word, this is probably it. The devil takes this idea of peace and twists it into something spiritually grotesque but somehow visually quite appealing. He cons people into thinking that there is no real difference between his agenda and God’s. Of course, he must disguise who he is. He confuses his identity and then pawns off his ideas as if they are God’s and when you are confused he pooh-poohs the difference between truth and falsehood as if it doesn’t matter. Is it Beelzebub? Or is it the Spirit of God? Who cares? One religion is a good as another.
That’s a lie. It’s a lie that damns. It is a lie that is the last remaining strength of him who has already suffered defeat at the hands of Christ and whose weapons have already been taken away from him. He has but the lie left. We have the truth. God’s truth wins against the devil’s lies. Jesus fought the powers of hell to teach us this. So we fight. God’s truth is our only weapon and we hold on to it for eternal life. Amen