Text: Luke 11:14-28
Gospel Lesson for Oculi, Third Sunday of Lent (1 Yr.)
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
How’d they do that? Have you ever seen a feat of architecture and wondered that? Maybe it was one of those majestic Medieval Cathedrals. Or perhaps it’s the pyramids. “How’d they do that” is the question that has baffled Egyptologists and archeologists. Architects in the twenty-first century would find it a daunting task to build something similar, even with all the modern technology available. How did they do it thousands of years ago without the aid of technology? But the question, “How’d they do that” isn’t limited to ancient architecture. Go to see a talented musician play a complicated piece of music, or perhaps an acrobat or a magician and you’ll ask how. It’s the natural question to ask when we see something that seems way beyond our normal capabilities.
That’s the question the crowds asked about Jesus. While Jesus was on his way towards holy week in Jerusalem, He cast a demon out of a man, which had prevented him from speaking. Now casting out demons is not the kind of thing one can do with the aid of artistry and technology like a building. Nor is it a matter of practicing long and hard like a musician. The only way someone could cast out demons the way Jesus did was by having power. That power had to come from somewhere. And the source of Jesus’ power was exactly where the controversy lay.
The Crowd’s Reaction
The works of Jesus creates a division in the people. The initial reaction of some of the crowd is favorable. They saw Jesus cast out a demon and the text says they marvelled. They responded with thunderous applause. They weree glad he could perform such mighty feats and were ready to heap all sorts of praise upon him, but they wondered how Jesus did it. Mostly though, they just wanted to be entertained. They were the thrill seekers. They were looking for a good show. They wanted Jesus to do tricks for them; to astonish and amaze them. Jesus is nothing more to them but what they can get out of him. How about you? Do you go to church to be entertained? Do you use Jesus just for what you can get out of him?
But others in the crowd responded negatively. Others thought they knew where Jesus got his power from: collusion with Beelzebub. The name Beelzebub is another name for Satan. Jesus’ opponents use this derogatory name of Satan so that they’ll make themselves look good! They’re saying that Jesus is in league with the devil! They tell the crowd that Jesus’ exorcisms are all an elaborate ruse to get them to follow the Devil.
But why did they think Jesus might be in league with the Devil? Because otherwise they’d have to admit that it was God’s power at work! That would mean that everything else Jesus was doing—from welcoming outcasts and sinners to refusing to endorse their notion of a military overthrow of the Romans—all that would be God’s work, even though it was going in exactly the opposite direction to what they thought God wanted. Jesus was turning their conception of the Kingdom of God upside down. Put more simply: this wasn’t the type of messiah they wanted. Additionally, it was tantamount to a charge of witchcraft. If enough people thought Jesus was dabbling in black arts, that would be the end of him, soon enough!
Overcome by the Kingdom
Jesus’ response to the challenge is almost as breathtaking as the exorcism! A king can only rule a kingdom through his ministers who carry out his will. The challenge is then that Jesus is one of those ministers of the Devil. The idea of Satan undoing his own work is ridiculous. Jesus then invites the accusers to think about other Jewish exorcists. Are they, too, in league with the devil? If they’re not, why should Jesus be? If what’s really going on here is by the power of Satan, then Satan has a civil war on his hands. If Satan is opposing his own troops, he has already lost the battle: his kingdom is split down the middle. If Satan wants to get more and more control over people, he’s unlikely to give Jesus power to set lots of them free.
Jesus’ response shows us that this isn’t a civil war, but a real war. There are two kingdoms, engaged in a bitter warfare! Either Jesus casts out demons by the power of the Devil, or by the finger of God, the same finger which brought Israel out of Egypt. One the one hand, you have the kingdom of the Devil. On the other hand, you have the Kingdom of God. There are no other kingdoms, nor any neutral territories. All who are outside the Kingdom of God are under the dominion of Satan. So, this war isn’t over land or power, but it’s over souls! A stronger ruler than Satan is laying siege to his fortresses and establishing another Kingdom! The conflict is between two very real kingdoms, that of Satan and that of God. When Jesus drives out Satan’s minions, that is a victory for God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom was coming upon them, bursting in as a force, a power to be reckoned with, coming as the only true answer to the question, how is Jesus doing it?
The Stronger Man
Satan is indeed a strong man, but Jesus is the Stronger one. John the Baptist had proclaimed that one who was stronger than he was going to come. Jesus is the stronger one. Jesus has demonstrated that He has power over Satan when with a word He casts out demons. Throughout
his life Satan tried numerous times to defeat Jesus and protect his kingdom. Satan tried to kill the baby Jesus through Herod the Great. He tried to get crowds on several occasions to kill Jesus. He tried tempting him. Eventually, Satan used the Cross to try to break and eliminate Jesus. But on the contrary, the Devil was defeated at Calvary. Jesus has successfully attacked and tied up the strong man who was guarding a house. By His resurrection, Jesus demonstrates that has won the victory over Satan. If Jesus can help himself to the property of ‘the strong man’, it can only be because He’s already tied him up. First you must win the victory over Satan; then you can plunder his possessions. His possessions, that’s you. You are the loot. Jesus, through his life, death, descent, and resurrection has bound the devil, tied him up, cast him down, all so that he could set you free.
The point of Jesus’ exorcisms, after all, was not simply to heal as many individuals as possible. If that were his aim, He wasn’t very successful when seen in the longer term. Rather, He was bringing about God’s kingdom.
The Necessity of the Word
We know that the devil is defeated, but we also know that he’s dangerous, that he’s still after us, and that we still must be on our guard. But it’s not enough for Satan to be cast out. The human soul is like a house that needs an occupant, and if it’s left empty, the seedy, disreputable tenant will take up residence with seven of his worst friends. And now, the situation is worse. Nature abhors a vacuum. The void must be filled with Jesus. But, if a person casts aside the Lord’s Word, if a person rejects the mercy and kindness of Jesus, if a person gives themselves over to sin, to breaking the commandment, to living how they want regardless of what the Scriptures say, then this person has expelled the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and their home is vacant. When the devil comes back he has no weapons, but he needs none. There is no one there to stop him from coming in.
Consider the end of our Gospel Lesson. A Roman Catholic lady in the crowd, shouts out a Hail Mary, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” Christ doesn’t deny the truth of her blessing, but he adds to it. Our Lord’s response to her is the key to this whole spiritual battle: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” The Virgin Mary’s blessedness comes from this reason. She heard the word of God and kept it. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord: let it be to me according to your word.” She replied to the angel. Elizabeth said likewise, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
How does God’s Kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity. Those who hear the Word of God and keep it are blessed. They are the ones who are kept safe from the devil and his demons. Those who hear the word of God who hear about Jesus, and hold fast to that Word, have nothing to fear. The Word tells about how Jesus’ death on the cross has defeated the devil. Through the Water and the Word Christ comes to claim us as His own. Through the Word the demons are cast out and Christ takes up residence in the heart through faith created by that Word. Those who hear the Word of God and those who hear that their sins are forgiven, that God is pleased with them, are given the perfection of Jesus in place of their sin. Those who hear the Word of God are those who hear that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all transgression, and if we have the blood of Jesus and the forgiveness that it wins and delivers, then the devil has nothing to accuse us. He has no way in. Revelation 12 says that the dragon was defeated by the Word and Blood of the Lamb. Jesus is still casting out demons by His Word of life and forgiveness. He keeps us safe from the devil by His Word, and for this we give Him thanks and praise.
And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.