Our Lord exorcises a demon from a man in today’s Gospel. By His Word, and by the finger of God, He casts out a demon from a mute man. Then the man was in his right mind and began to speak. Some folks marveled. They recognized that this was the long-awaited Messiah, the one foretold by the prophet Isaiah, the one to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, make the crippled man leap like a dear, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” And now it’s all happening right before their eyes.
But not everyone is happy about what they see. Some folks looked at Jesus suspiciously with slit eyes, saying, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” They accuse Jesus of being in league with the devil, and that that is in fact how He’s able to do these miracles.
Our Lord seems amazed they would even consider posing such a thought. He responds, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” He’s saying, open your eyes, folks! The devil sure isn’t going to go wreaking havoc on his own kingdom! And you should all know there’s no civil war in the devil’s kingdom. There’s no division within his ranks. Instead, Satan and his kingdom are united in one single goal, and that is to destroy your faith – and to sever you from the life and love that God intends for you.
Then Jesus puts it this way: "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast them out, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
In our first reading, from Exodus, pharaoh’s magicians saw well that they had met their match. They saw that they had bumped up into the very power of God done by the prophet Moses. So they told Pharaoh flat out, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh would not listen. He hardened his heart. And it would bring ruin and disaster to him and his people as well. Same thing this morning in our Gospel. More hardened hearts. And even to this day, disaster and ruin will come to every soul who stubbornly rejects Christ’s kingdom and the grace of God.
Listen to how Jesus describes His kingdom this morning: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.”
Ok, so what’s going on here? Well, you have a strong man guarding his own palace. This strong man is the devil. And he’s jealously guarding some prime real estate that he insists belongs to him. But here’s the thing you should know. That palace, that real estate, that’s you! His prized and precious possession. The devil loves company and would love to take possession of you, own you, and cruelly lead you around, from one slavish sin to another, and terrorize you for all eternity.
But then, Jesus says, comes a stronger man. And the stronger man attacks him and overcomes him, takes away his weapons, and armor, and reclaims his palace too. That’s you, remember! And how does he do it? Well, the stronger man becomes weak and weighed down with the sins of the world. He staggers forth bloody to the cross to answer for every rebel once possessed by the evil one – trading places with you even at the cross – exchanging for you His perfect and holy life – your freedom for His bondage!
See how He stripped the devil of his power – He drained the venom out of all the devil’s accusations against you – stripped him of all his power so that he could neither hurt you nor have you. He did it so that you would be rescued and so enjoy eternity instead with Him in His friendly and glorious kingdom.
This is how Luther describes our blessed Savior in his Large Catechism on the 2nd Article: “There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God – in His immeasurable goodness – had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness. He came from heaven to help us. So those tyrants and jailers are all expelled now.” (He’s talking about the devil and his demons here!)
And in their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of life, bringing righteousness, blessings, and salvation. He has delivered us poor, lost people from hell’s jaws, and has won us, made us free, and has brought us again into the Father’s favor and grace. He has taken us as His own property under His own shelter and protection so that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.”
So that’s what is going on in this account this morning of the strong man and the stronger man. And then Jesus gives us this: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none is says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
This is a sober warning from our Lord here. He says that when the unclean spirit, that’s the devil of course, is cast out, he wants nothing more than to find a way to slink right back in, come right back to the very place he was routed from, and when he sees a sign on you that says vacant, just watch out! Because the devil will bust into your life and throw a house party with all his evil buddies. And the last state of you will be worse than the first.
Our Gospel this morning is really all about Baptism. The exorcism, the casting out of a demon, and that singing for joy. It happens every time a soul here is baptized. In fact, right in the Baptism rite we have an exorcism: “Depart thou unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit, in the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And then we renounce the devil. You are baptized, washed, released from the devil’s power, and instead of being possessed by the evil one, you are set free, and made a foot soldier in Christ’s glorious kingdom to serve Him, and live under His gracious protection.
Now we Lutherans are right to say big things about Baptism. We can’t extol this gift enough. Baptism saves. Simple as that! Baptism joins you to the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord. In Baptism is new birth, forgiveness of sins, and life and salvation. It’s all there, so be sure!
But when the devil is exorcised and kicked out, we sure better make sure he is kept out. At the end of our Gospel, a woman yells out to our Lord, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But Jesus responds, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Now to be clear, that’s no slight to the blessed Virgin Mary. He’s saying that the devil is kept out and faith is preserved by hearing God’s Word and keeping God’s Word.
You see, when the devil is kicked out and routed in your Baptism, it is more than a tidying up or housecleaning. We are inviting Jesus then to take total possession of us. To take up residence within us. To live in us and we in Him. After all, is this not what our Lord means when He says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
This is why we come to church every week to hear the blood-bought words of forgiveness spoken by the pastor as from God Himself. It’s why we receive the Lord’s Supper or demand the pastor bring the Lord’s gifts to our door. So that His blood can course through ours and so unite us with Him in Holy Communion. It’s why we come to Bible study, read the Scriptures at home, and make use of the Word and Sacraments.
It’s why we pray daily for the gift of the Holy Spirit, that He would sanctify us and possess us as we confess Christ and what He has done for us – and so live lives pleasing to God – and for the benefit and joy of our neighbor.
This is to live in the gift that is Holy Baptism. It’s so that the stronger one, Christ our Lord, can rule and possess us completely. All so that when the devil does come knocking, he’ll find a sign on the door of your heart that says OCCUPIED and NO TRESPASSING.
So rejoice this morning, knowing that the kingdom of God has come upon you. The apostle puts it this way: “For once you were in darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Therefore, walk as children of light – for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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