Oculi Sunday (Lent 3)| Luke 11:14-28| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| March 12, 2023
The unbelievers blaspheme Jesus for doing a good work of casting out a demon, so that a poor mute man can speak, saying that He casts out demons by Beelzebub the prince of demons. Jesus immediately points out the absurdity in this slur against him. If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? So, clearly Jesus does not cast out demons by the power of Satan. Then how does He cast them out? He casts them out by the finger of God. And if Jesus casts out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come!
The arrival of God’s kingdom is significant, because there is already a kingdom established on this earth, the kingdom of Satan. Satan is the strong man, who holds the citizens of earth captive. Christ Jesus is the stronger man, who comes to strip Satan of his armor and divide his spoil. This is a huge event, which affects all people on earth. This is a world war, which involves every nation, every citizen, every soul. There is no neutral ground, no Switzerland. You are either on Jesus’ side or on Satan’s side, you either gather with Christ or you scatter.
St. Paul makes clear our predicament in Ephesians chapter two, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” St. Paul describes you and me and all mankind as worse than dead, worse than captives. We are by nature slaves of Satan. We suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, clinging to our captor Satan like he is our lord and savior! By nature, we have no fear of God. We flee from Him. We are slaves to our own passions, yet we think we are free!
Our hymn of the day describes Satan’s control over us well in the fourth verse:
Anon my tongue he bindeth That God it shall not praise;
Anon my eyes he blindeth To hide the light of grace;
Now he my ears doth close To hinder me from hearing
The Gospel’s sound so cheering And soothing in my woes. (The Kingdom Satan Founded, ELH 259:4)
Our condition in Satan’s kingdom is worse than we think. We can’t escape his kingdom by flying on a plane or climbing over a wall or swimming across a river. Because Satan’s kingdom takes root in our very hearts. We have inherited our sinful condition from Adam. We are slaves to Satan until God rescues us.
God’s kingdom advanced violently upon Satan’s kingdom when God’s Son took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born a man. Christ Jesus, God in the flesh, has come to conquer Satan’s kingdom and plunder him. This is why the demons are swarming like hornets, whose nest has just been hit with a baseball bat. Yet, their stinging and shrieking cannot stop Jesus from laying waste to their kingdom. Christ Jesus takes the sins of the whole world on His back, all the labor and treasure Satan and his minions have cultivated and stored up here on earth, and he washes them all away in His blood. He pays our debt. He is punished for our sins. So, all that Satan worked for, everything for which he accuses us before God, is gone! Jesus has wiped it all away.
Yet, we are not yet freed from Satan’s clutches. This forgiveness Christ has won for us must be received through faith in order for the bonds which shackle us to Satan to be broken. The battle has moved from Golgotha to our hearts. For us to be freed, Christ’s victory must be delivered to us. The finger of God must be employed.
The finger of God is the Holy Spirit, just as Christ Jesus is the Father’s right hand. But do not be confused. A finger is indeed a small digit, but the Holy Spirit is by no means weak. He is powerful, all powerful. As the Father is omnipotent, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit. The Father is not greater than the Son or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has the same unlimited power as the Father. So, when Jesus speaks of employing the finger of God, He is speaking of exercising God’s almighty power through the Holy Spirit.
Before the Holy Spirit comes to us, we cannot believe in Christ Jesus as our Savior. Scripture clearly says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) This is why Jesus says that a person born of flesh cannot enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). So, God gives us His Holy Spirit in Baptism, which Scripture calls a washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-8). God sends His Holy Spirit with the preaching of the Gospel. When God’s forgiveness is declared to you in the Absolution or in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is the Holy Spirit working through those words to open your heart to accept it and receive it. St. Paul again says in Ephesians 2, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”
So, the Holy Spirit casts out Satan and grants you new birth, so that your heart is no longer stone-cold, but living and receptive to the Gospel. The Holy Spirit washes you in Jesus’ blood from the cross, and joins you to Christ as a bride to her bridegroom. St. Paul even tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit making His dwelling in us! So, Satan cannot harm us if God Himself is for us!
Yet, this brings us to Jesus’ severe warning. He tells a parable of an unclean spirit being cast out of a person, but it returns after finding no rest and finds the place swept clean and put in order, so it finds seven more spirits more evil than itself and the last state of that person is worse than the first. It is as St. Peter warns, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21) The apostle warns us not to be dogs returning to our own vomit or sows, after washing ourselves, returning to wallow in the mire.
This is very much what St. Paul warns in our epistle lesson from Ephesians chapter 5, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no 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 become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (vss. 3-8)
After Christ has offered Himself as a pleasing aroma to the Lord to make atonement for our sins, how can we then willingly wallow in those stinking sins? After Christ has broken down Satan’s door, stripped him of his armor, and freed us from our chains, how can we return to Satan’s embrace? We must flee from sexual immorality. There is no place for fornication among Christian people. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You must not grieve the Holy Spirit with unchastity. Greed is incompatible with faith in Christ. Your treasure is stored up for you in heaven by the blood of Christ. Greed is idolatry.
Yet, you cannot simply avoid fornication, lust, and greed, and then think that you are safe from Satan. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. If the Holy Spirit does not occupy your body as His temple, then Satan will move in. You are either with Jesus, or you are against Him. There is no neutral ground. This is why Jesus says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” There is no work that you can do that will stave off the devil’s attack, not even the work of the blessed Virgin Mary. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit, who works through God’s Word, which expels Satan from you.
When you guard God’s Word in your heart, then the Holy Spirit dwells in you to keep you from falling away. You need Jesus’ forgiveness every day. You need His instruction every day. Satan with this sinful world and your weak sinful flesh desires to bring you back into his kingdom. So, after we have been baptized and have had our children baptized, we should not then return to live like Satan’s subjects. After we have heard the Gospel and have received Christ’s forgiveness, we should not go and embrace our sinful passions as if they do not matter.
Too many Christians are fooled by Satan’s lie that it does not matter how they live and that they can continue in sexual immorality, greed, and sinful passion, ignoring God’s preaching and Word, yet remain a Christian. Indeed, Christians still sin. We lament with St. Paul, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15, 18-19) Yet, Christians fight against these sins, repenting of them and finding refuge in Christ Jesus, who forgives our sins. But Christians do not continue to sin without repenting, making themselves comfortable in Satan’s kingdom. Saving faith cannot continue to survive alongside unrepentant sin. St. Paul warns again, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) We should remember that as Christians, we are members of the body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us (1 Corinthians 6:15; 19)
While this knowledge should keep us from pursuing wicked sins, it should also give us great confidence against Satan and his attacks. Jesus is the stronger man, who has conquered Satan and plundered his house. You are a member of Christ through faith. The Holy Spirit is the almighty finger of God, which lays waste to Satan’s kingdom and evicts him from hearts, granting eternal life to those previously dead in their sins. Your body is a temple of the almighty Holy Spirit. When you are united to Christ and the Holy Spirit through faith, Satan cannot harm you. He cannot accuse you of sin. Christ’s victory over Satan is your victory over Satan. Amen.