Third Sunday in Lent| Rev. Rolf Preus| March 11, 2007| Luke 11:23-24
“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.” Luke 11:23-24.
The nation of Switzerland has avoided war for hundreds of years. They have followed a strict policy of neutrality. There would be little strategic benefit in capturing Switzerland. The country is surrounded by mountains. Every man in Switzerland is both armed and trained to use weapons. For these reasons, nations don’t try to invade Switzerland. So Switzerland remains neutral and free. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Didn’t the father of our country warn us against entangling alliances? To be neutral and free is a good way to be.
Well, maybe in the affairs of nations, but not in spiritual matters. As a matter of fact, in spiritual matters there is no neutral position. Our Lord Jesus makes this crystal clear. “He who is not with Me is against Me.” Could He have made it any clearer? He goes on to drive His point home. What happens when an evil spirit leaves a man? He looks for another man to enter. But when he finds nowhere else to go he decides to return whence he came. And what does he find? He finds nothing. No one and nothing has taken his place. It’s empty. So he goes out and finds seven other spirits more wicked than he is and they all enter into the man and make him worse than he was in the beginning.
What does this mean? What is Jesus talking about? He is talking about the impossibility of neutrality between God and the devil, truth and error, right and wrong. The simple fact of the matter is that we are involved is a cosmic war and we have no choice but to fight and refusing to fight is in itself fighting against God. Those who fight against God always lose. Not just usually, or most of the time. They always lose. So we are called upon to fight.
They accused Jesus of driving out devils by the power of the leader of the devils. That was a lie. The devil will not divide his forces. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus is not in league with the devil. He is the devil’s mortal enemy. He is the stronger man who robs the devil of his weapons and destroys his power. The devil’s deadliest weapon is the lie and Jesus fights him with the truth.
Several years ago a national poll was done to determine what kind of profession was considered the most trustworthy. Used car salesmen were at the bottom of the list as the most untrustworthy. Clergymen were at the top of the list as the most trustworthy. I don’t think that such a poll tells us much at all about used car salesmen or clergymen. I think it tells us very much about what people care about. They care more about their cars than their religion. If their car doesn’t run right they’ll blame the guy who sold it to them. But as far as their faith is concerned, well, one faith is as good as another, and we shouldn’t waste our time arguing about religion.
Christianity provides a certain degree of religious respectability, especially in America, which is considered to be a Christian nation. It’s better to have some religion than none at all just as long as we keep everything in perspective. So let Jesus come in. Let Him come in to give us a Christian name. We’ll accept baptism. We’ll honor the name of Jesus and call Him our teacher – even our Savior. But we’ll not let Him set up home. We’ll not take His teaching to heart. We’ll keep our options open when it comes to what we believe and how we live. Jesus is better than nothing at all, but it’s not as if there isn’t some other truth out there that is outside of Jesus, outside of His teaching, some other truth that beckons us for which we should keep an open mind.
But that’s playing with fire – the fires of hell. The Christian’s mind is firmly closed. There are two options: God and the devil. God is incarnate in Jesus. The devil takes on as many forms as his evil imagination requires. The truth is singular but errors are always in the plural. The greatest enemy of faith is a mind open to some truth that Jesus doesn’t provide.
He who is not with me is against me. So says Jesus. To be with Jesus is to believe what He says. It is to hold on to it firmly and refuse to permit any other point of view to compete with it. It is to say that when God says it that must settle it. The open mind is the empty house. It is an open door for evil spirits to come in to wreak havoc on the Christian’s soul. One thinks he is being clever. He thinks that only a fool would close the door to new ideas. But when it comes to the faith by which we are justified by God and delivered from sin, death, and the power of the devil it is no virtue to be open minded. The Christian faith is not an option among other options that may or may not stand the test of time. When we are joined by faith into union with Christ, Christ Himself is confessed as the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father, the only hope for sinners, the only way to heaven, and the final word for us.
He who is not with me is against me. But what do we hear? We hear people who call themselves Christian say that for them the Christian faith is true but it may not necessarily be true for others. We shouldn’t be so closed minded as to insist that just because Jesus is the only way for us He must also be the only way for everyone else. It is with these seeds of doubt that Jesus is pushed right out of the house and room is made for whatever deception the father of lies is pleased to invent and inflict upon us.
He who does not gather with me scatters. To be with Jesus is to trust in Him and in His saving truth. It is to receive in simple faith everything that He teaches us to believe. To gather with Jesus is to love Him and follow Him. Listen to how St. Paul puts it in today’s Epistle Lesson:
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. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).
A Christian is baptized into Christ. We put on Christ. It is faith alone through which we receive the blessings that Christ has to give us. But we are called, not only to trust in Jesus’ words, but also to live lives that children of light should live. The life of open and deliberate and unrepentant sin is not the life of a Christian. Christians sin. And they repent. And they sin again. And they repent again. But those who embrace sin without repentance and persist in it are expelling the Holy Spirit from their lives.
Today’s Epistle Lesson specifically mentions sexual sins. These are not the only sins that can entrap a Christian and lead him away from Christ, but the devil is particularly effective in using them. Sins against the body are sins against the One who created us male and female and established marriage. People who engage in sexual intimacy with each other without first getting marriage are committing fornication. We see here that God’s word clearly says that no fornicator has any inheritance in the kingdom of God. The distain that our culture heaps upon marriage and the sanctity of the marriage bed is not just a celebration of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. It is in fact a denial of God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. For marriage was instituted by God in the very creation of the world. When He made a woman for the man He thereby established marriage as the only place where sexual intimacy could be expressed. Those who promote and engage in recreational sex outside of marriage are afflicted with a demonic delusion. When the sanctity of marriage is denied, the God who established it is thrown out as well. Christ is no longer there. The house that has tossed Christ out invites in every kind of harmful sin and false teaching until the home is worse than if Christ has never been there.
But is it not only sexual sins that drive God out of the home and out of the lives of Christians. What drives God out and invites evil spirits in is always a lack of interest in and concern for God’s truth. There’s an old saying. If you won’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. This is especially true when it comes to the true Christian faith. You think of the many people who have left the church and embraced various strange new religions. Consider the crazy enthusiasms that capture the hearts of people who neglect God’s word and keep their minds open to whatever flies in. There was in the news recently a story about parents who gave their little children marijuana to smoke because they’d be exposed to it anyway. Shocking. But it’s common place for parents to keep their children away from God’s house and God’s word, leaving a vacuum into which every kind of evil spirit can enter and do untold spiritual damage.
The Christian’s life is warfare. And we aren’t fighting flesh and blood. We’re fighting the devil and his lies. There is only one weapon with which to defeat lies. That is the truth. The truth that has set us free is proclaimed with special focus during this holy season as our eyes are fixed on Jesus lifted up on the cross for us. His power over demons was dramatically displayed when he drove them out of people they possessed. But the real defeat of the devil and his lies took place on the cross where Jesus suffered for the sin of the world. The devil would control us by enticing us with sin and then binding us to our own sin as if it can determine our future. By taking our sin upon Himself and removing it from us Jesus frees us from the devil’s power. We are forgiven children of God on account of Christ. So we will welcome Him in and ask Him to make His home in us where He belongs. Surely the God who has called us in Holy Baptism will always graciously deign to remain with us and protect us from all evil. Amen.