SERMON FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY IN LENT - OCULI, 3-4-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WISCONSIN
Rev. Michael Larson
This morning we see Jesus driving out a demon from a mute man. Rather than praise him and recognize the work of God among them, they accused Jesus of doing these works by the power of the devil. What a wicked and blasphemous response to Jesus!
For all of us - It’s easy to the see the evil and wickedness of those who are hostile to Christ. And yet, as severe as their blasphemy was I sense they would closer to the truth perhaps than so many of us.
The point is, these blasphemers, as wrong and as wicked as they were, understand a simple truth, that we find so difficult to accept: and the truth is this: There are only two kingdoms to which one may belong. God’s or the devil’s. There is a narrow way, which leads to life and the broad easy way which leads to damnation – only two places where a person will spend eternity: there is a country of eternal blessedness, heaven, or a place of torment, hell. There are only two kingdoms. There is a kingdom of light or there is a kingdom of darkness. There is a kingdom of faith or there is a kingdom of unbelief.
There is a kingdom of sin or a kingdom of righteousness. There is a kingdom of grace and there is a kingdom of wrath. There is a kingdom of life and there is a kingdom of death. In short, we either belong to God or the devil. Our Lord said, “No one can serve two masters” and “whoever is not with me is against me.”
You see, those blaspheming Jews, at least understood this. Motivated by the devil they blasphemed, but well at least they understood there were only two ways to go, when one encounters Christ. With our so called modern minds and progressive attitudes, we prefer to downgrade the seriousness of the matter, but this is not allowed.
This is something C.S. Lewis taught so well in his little book Mere Christianity. Listen to this little gem. C.S. Lewis writes: He (Jesus) would be either a lunatic—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.
This is what the blaspheming Jews at least understood. Our error, or our blasphemy, is to think that there are other alternatives. To think of our most holy religion, as one option among many. We speak of being Lutherans sometimes as if it were an ethnic or nostalgic social club, rather than the purest expression of God’s promises, and the presence of the Risen Christ among us.
Worse yet, we fall pray, to the greatest trick, perhaps the devil ever played by convincing the whole world that he does not exist. And in so doing we deny the very God who entered into our flesh, to save us and to destroy the work of the evil one.
Oh no, don’t dismiss this stuff about heaven and hell, and the devil, as some primitive form of Christianity, that somehow we have moved past. In an age of 9/11, weekly school shootings, our own city rife with violence. We grasp as straws seeking for meaning and asking the question why.
When we consider the work of the devil, if anything, we need to set back the clock on our enlightened attitudes, our materialist, and naturalist minds which so often deny the supernatural. Jesus calls the devil a liar and murderer since the very beginning. The scriptures call the devil a powerful lord, the prince of darkness, and the god of this world.
Christ testifies himself this morning that Satan is a king with a kingdom, a very united kingdom, stronger and mightier than all the kingdoms of the world.
It is into this kingdom to which we are born, conceived in sin, and born under the condemnation of the devil. This terminal illness, called sin, brings about eternal death and condemnation, were it not for God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ.
Jesus describes Satan this morning as a strong man, fully armed, who guards the palaces of human hearts and souls and minds. He’s not the only strong man.
Pharaoh too was a strong man, with chariots and horses, and weapons. But God raised up Moses and Aaron. Armed them with a staff and His word. Even Pharaoh’s magicians had to admit the truth, saying, “this is the finger of God.” Pharaoh was a strong man but one stronger came along so that Pharaoh and all his host were struck down, and drowned in the Red Sea.
Goliath too was a strong man. A giant, who terrified an entire army with his threats and violence. But God raised up one stronger in David. Who whipped a stone between the giant’s eyes and brought him crashing down.
But these tyrants pale in comparison with our archenemy. The devil, Beelzebub, the Lord of the flies, the prince of demons, whatever you want to call him he is mightily armed with temptations, accusations, and death. This kingdom of his is not divided. There is no rivalry in it. The devil and his demons are relentlessly focused on one objective. That your faith be destroyed. That you lose your salvation, and become a prisoner, a slave in his kingdom.
But God raised up a Stronger One, to plunder the strong man’s palace. Our champion has appeared in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. He battled with the devil in the wilderness. Last week he released the Canaanite woman’s daughter from oppression, and today he cast out a demon from a troubled man.
Now you might expect it was all building up toward a final battle, when he would simply unleash his power and defeat Satan’s kingdom by sheer strength. But that’s not what happens. For while Satan is a strong man he is also a deceiver. He’s tricky. He’s deceitful. He brought mankind into his bondage not by sheer strength but by crafty cunning.
He who by a tree in the garden once overcame man and left him blind, deaf, and dumb, must likewise by a tree be overcome. And our Lord does it.
Not with earth shattering might. Not with a rod or slingshot even; but by turning Satan’s weapons around on him. Disarming him by dressing himself in your death and hanging dead on a cross. He does not flex his muscles, but gives himself as an offering and a sacrifice to God for your sake. And in his resurrection, he declares that he has overcome not by power and might, but by his own blood and dying.
How crafty, how cunning our Lord is. He uses Satan’s methods against him. He wins by losing. He brings life by dying. He shows his strength by being weak. He brings victory by defeat. He brings heaven to you by suffering hell. He lays down on the wooden rod of the cross, that you might be raised up to life.
So while Satan is still prince of this world, and his demons all the world fill like flies, he has brought you into Goshen. He has made a difference between you and the world. He has set you apart as his redeemed.
Those marked with his name in Baptism. Marked with his blood. He reaches out to you, saying Talitha cumi, meaning little girl, son, I say to you arise. Now, live before me in righteousness and purity forever.
This morning in Holy Baptism we saw the devil yield, and flee. The devil is always burned and cast out whenever God’s Word is spoken by his command and joined to faith.
But for Talitha, and all you who are baptized, our Lord also leaves us with a sober warning today. Because the battle is not over.
For while Satan has been cast out and overthrown at the cross, he still wanders to and fro, seeking rest, wanting to return to the house from which he was cast out at Baptism.
In other words, the devil wants to invite all his buddies to a house party. And they want you to be the host. Truly, sin is crouching at your door. Don’t let them in!
But again don’t look to power. Don’t look to yourself! Don’t think you can just grit your teeth, clench your fist, and muster up the faith needed to fight the devil. Don’t think that by some show of diligence or your best effort you can overcome such a powerful enemy and kingdom such as his. You are no match.
Look to the stronger One, Jesus Christ. But again, don’t look to power, look to weakness. Look to humble things. Things like water and the word. Things like a little bread and wine, a humble preachers voice. Because here in this house, he gives you what you need to lay hold of Christ’s victory.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
Heavenly Father, our eyes are turned toward the salvation we have in Your Son when our ears are made to hear Your Word. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might have ears to hear Your Word and keep it, and that our eyes might ever be turned to see the grace, mercy and peace we have in Christ, our Savior. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Lord, out of Your great love for Your beloved children, You send to us called and ordained servants of Your Word. We ask Your blessing upon Matthew, our Synod president; John, our district president; and Michael, our pastor. Keep them steadfast in Your Word, that they may serve Your Church in faithfulness. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Holy Lord, look down with favor upon our congregation and all who offer here their worship and praise. Move us to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. Keep us from the love of money and possessions, and curb in us all greed and covetousness, that we might be content with Your gracious provisions. Fill us with generous hearts, that we might support Your ministry both at home and abroad. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Merciful Lord, we thank and praise you for the lavish washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, which you have poured out on your daughter, Talitha Lynn. Bless her that she would daily live before you in righteousness and purity forever. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Almighty God, grant comfort and peace to our friends who are homebound, especially Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Cliff and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. By Your grace, give them the wisdom to discern Your love through whatever they are suffering, and fill us with compassion and tenderness for all the saints among us. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Heavenly Father, be gracious to Your children who approach Your holy altar this day. Let us partake of Your Son’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls. Strengthen our weak faith, kindle our cold hearts with love, comfort our troubled consciences, and freshen our hope in You. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Gracious Lord, precious in Your sight are all those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Guard our souls, that we would abide in Christ until we, too, are called from this vale of tears, and that we would, with all Your saints, be resurrected on the Last Day to enter His Kingdom, which has no end. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We lay these petitions before Your throne of grace for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.