Lent Three Sermon 2004| Luke 11:14-28| Rev. Rolf Preus| March 14, 2004
We Lutherans are accustomed to talking about the unholy trinity of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. These three work in concert to tear us away from the loving embrace of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The devil attacks the creation of God the Father, setting his sights specifically on the human race since we were created in the image of God. The world attacks the redemption of God the Son, despising His vicarious suffering for the sin of the world. The flesh fights against the influence of the Holy Spirit who calls us out of darkness into the light of God’s truth. During this season of Lent it is appropriate that we focus our attention on the cosmic battle between good and evil that takes place every day of our lives. On the side of good is the one and only God, the Holy Trinity. On the side of evil is the unholy trinity, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.
The battle against good and evil cannot be avoided unless we choose to embrace evil. If we are Christians, we are engaged in a battle. This is why the first question posed to the one requesting baptism is: “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” That is a declaration of war. The church on earth is called the church militant because she is at war. When the church forgets this she loses battle after battle. There is no peace and there can be no peace with the devil, the world, and our flesh.
The devil lies to the church through the false doctrine taught by false teachers. The world persecutes the church by social, political, even military pressure. The flesh seduces individual Christians from within to lead them into serving their own pleasures, which is the worst kind of slavery.
In today’s Epistle Lesson, St. Paul makes it crystal clear that the life of the Christian is not lived to please the flesh. In his day, the religion of the flesh was more honestly portrayed than it is in our day. Those who wanted to commit fornication would often go to the local temple of a pagan idol. The pagan religion would offer sexual gratification with temple prostitutes as part of a religious observance. Fornication and idolatry were literally joined together into one and the same activity.
In our generation, things are not so straightforward. It is still socially stylish or perhaps beneficial to business for people to pretend to be Christians when they are not. Many people who describe themselves as Christians regularly engage in fornication as if a Christian may remain a Christian while living this sort of a life. Meanwhile the popular culture condemns anyone that presumes to agree with God’s judgment that fornication is wrong. God has placed a certain intimacy within the permanent marriage bond between one man and one woman. When fornication, adultery, and every other kind of sexual immorality is practiced and condoned, the true God is denied.
Sexual sins are sins against the Creator. The Creator is the One who has the right to decide what may and may not be done with His creation. We are God’s creation. God created us male and female and He created us in His image. It is idolatry to deny the Creator His authority to govern His own creation. The Creator made them male and female and the Creator instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the only place in which sexual intimacy may take place. The many arguments raised today against this traditional teaching are not merely liberal arguments against traditional arrangements. They are idolatrous arguments against God. The Creator governs His own creation. It is idolatry to refuse to consent to this.
In God’s creation, a man can be married to a woman and a woman can be married to a man but a man cannot be married to a man and a woman cannot be married to a woman. It is not only morally wrong, it is impossible. Whatever that union is called, it is not marriage because marriage is defined by the Creator as a union of one man with one woman for life. The Creator instituted marriage. Neither the state nor the church has any authority to alter a divine institution. If I baptized a frog and filled out and signed a baptismal certificate for it, this would not make it a Christian frog. When we are dealing with divine institutions God is in charge.
Covetousness is also idolatry. The worship of the creation over the Creator is the essence of idol worship, and this assumes a variety of forms. The single-minded pursuit of sensual pleasure is not just seen in sexual sins, but in gluttony, drunkenness, and every other activity that puts sensual gratification above loving our neighbor as Christ has loved us. When we insist on getting what we want when we want it we deny the God who has promised to bless those who cling to His word instead of their own will.
This creation is not ours to do with as we please. The Creator is in charge of this world. And if there were any doubt about it, consider how our Lord Jesus Christ drove out demons. Surely, His heart went out to those suffering under the cruel control of these evil spirits. But it was more than His compassion toward those particular victims of demonic possession that motivated such display of divine power. The driving out of devils was the Lord God throwing down the gauntlet before Satan. It was the divine declaration of war against all the powers of evil. God joined His creation to do battle against the spoiler of His creation. Jesus cast out demons to prove that He was God, come to set His world free.
Jesus proved His true deity and equality with the Father by miracles too numerous to mention. He stilled the storm. He raised the dead. He created bread in the desert. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute. He did not appeal to power outside of Himself. Listen to what He said: “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Who, but the King of kings, could say this?
The man who was mute could not speak words to praise God. He was under the control of a hostile power. The attack against God’s creation is always an attack against God the Creator. The crown of God’s creation is not the beautiful wilderness of Alaska or the gorgeous pine forests of California or Minnesota. The crown of God’s creation is you. With all the physical flaws, sinful corruption, and deadly diseases that plague humanity in this world, it is the human being – male and female, young and old, of every race, tribe, people, and language – who bring the greatest pleasure to God’s heart. For it was in the form of sinful human flesh that the holy and incorruptible God chose to live.
It was not just a phantasm or ghost appearing here on earth doing battle against devils and healing diseases. It was God. It was the Creator. Not the Father and not the Holy Spirit, but the Son of the Father, by whom all things were made, became flesh and lived among us. Why? To do battle for us as one of us. To fight our fight and to win it.
The devil is the strong man guarding his goods. Jesus is the stronger man who invades the devil’s kingdom. It didn’t belong to the devil. The devil stole it. It belonged to the One who made it. And so do we. We belong to Him who created us because it was the Creator who took on Himself our flesh and blood to win for us the battle that we had lost.
The fact that we lose the battle when we fight alone by ourselves does not mean that the human race has lost. God became a man and remains one of us to all eternity. The devil is routed. His lies are exposed. The lure of idolatrous worship of the creation is shown to be a deception whose end is death. The pleasure-seekers who despise God’s commandments grow old and they lose their lovers and they die and so lose all their money. Other pleasure-seekers take their place worshipping at the altar of self-gratification and then being laid in the grave from which they cannot escape. Only Jesus raised Himself from the dead. When? After He bore in His sacred body every idolatrous sin ever committed by fallen humanity. He raised Himself from the dead by the same divine power He displayed before His crucifixion. He raised Himself from the dead and He is the firstfruits of those who die trusting in Him.
The suffering and death of Christ on the cross displays to our eyes a weakness of body and soul. He cries out, “I thirst.” He cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” The devil saw this display of great weakness and thought he could prevail against it. But underneath the apparent weakness of Christ’s suffering in the place of all sinners the wrath of God against all sinners there was divine strength. He was fighting a winning battle. He took our sins upon Himself only to purge those sins by His innocent suffering. God became a man to do as a man for mankind what no man could do. He fought all the powers of evil. He battled against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He won. We won. In Christ, our sin is gone forever and cannot rise up to accuse us. In Christ, the devil’s head is crushed and his lying tongue silenced. In Christ the pleasures of the flesh are seen as nothing but a pretense and a sham, giving no lasting satisfaction, but leaving one unsatisfied, empty, and just that much closer to a bitter death.
In the Christ who suffered for us, we have the victory that He won for us in that suffering. He comes into our home and makes Himself at home. The unclean spirit cannot come back into us with seven more spirits more wicked than himself, because the Strong Man from whom the seven-fold Spirit of holiness proceeds won’t let them in. He defends us through His word. He promises us that whoever holds on to His word will never see death or taste its bitterness. This is because His word reveals to us His victory over all evil. It tells us that for Christ’s sake all our sins are forgiven. His passion appeared as death. But it was the death of death that took place and in the place of death is a life worth living. So we live and as long as we live we fight. We fight against the unholy trinity of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We fight as those who have already won the victory in Christ. Amen.