Third Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
We pray that those who do not believe in Jesus will repent and believe in Him. We pray also that those who do believe will continue to humbly confess their sins and hold fast to the unchangeable truth of God’s Word. We pray for those who have faith and and those who do not. Those who have no faith reject God’s love in Jesus Christ. Those who do have faith recognize that it is purely by the glory of God in being merciful and gracious to them.
This is what is shown us God’s Word. The man in the Gospel reading was granted liberation from the demon who possessed him by the action of Jesus, not by his own action. The man was held captive by the power of Satan and was released by the power of God. The demon that possessed him rendered him unable to speak. When Jesus released him from his bondage his mouth was released as well and he spoke.
This is testament to the power God in our lives. It shows what faith is. Faith cannot help but speak. It is that which is given by God and proclaims the power of God, not the power of self. The man spoke and surely did not speak of his own ability or power or worthiness. He was able to speak because Jesus gave him the ability to speak.
But it is sad that the ability to speak does not always flow from faith. The words we speak are not always reserved for the object of faith, giving praise and glory to God for His salvation in His Son. No sooner had the man been released from his demon possession than some who witnessed it spoke against Christ. “Some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.” These two responses to Jesus were not of faith but of unbelief.
The good and gracious work of Jesus in giving the man new life was met with hostility—He casts out demons by Satan himself. What ought to have been a glorious display to them of the power of God and His love was met with derision. Some were seeking a sign from heaven. I’m not sure what else they were wanting to see. Delivering a person from demon possession is a work that the God of heaven does. What ought to have been a clear sign from heaven brought about in the person of Jesus Christ was met with disdain.
Jesus shows them the folly of their claim. “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?” News flash! Satan does not want demons cast out of people! The whole point of demon possession is for the people to be overcome by the power of Satan. If he starts casting out the demons, how is he going to overcome those people? Satan does not work against himself.
Jesus then tells them what they really know but reject, that it is by the finger of God that He casts out demons. And, He says, if this is so, “then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” They are face to face with God almighty in the person of Jesus but they reject Him. The Kingdom of God has come to them. Jesus has come to bring the glorious reign of God to earth by giving salvation to people, delivering them from the bondage of Satan. He has come to grant faith to people, but it is agonizing to see that some simply do not want this gracious and merciful salvation.
Why is this? Why do some people not want the salvation God offers? Why do they not want to believe in Jesus who has come to deliver them from their sin and bondage to Satan? Jesus shows why. “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.” People by nature are under the rule of Satan. He is a strong man, fully armed, as Jesus describes him. He guards the palace of this world and the goods, the life people have, are safe. This is what people want. They are secure. They have what they want. They’re fine just the way they are.
But Jesus says that a stronger man comes and attacks the strong man. Jesus is the one who comes to the strong man and attacks him. Jesus is stronger than Satan. That is why it was so easy for Jesus to cast out the demon. But some people want to stay in their secure palace guarded by Satan. Jesus defeats Satan but people are already comfortable. They don’t like it that Jesus has come in, and as the stronger man, has rocked the boat. Reacting in unbelief instead of faith, they go back to Satan where he guards their palace.
Why is this appealing to them? Why would someone seek to remain under Satan’s dominion instead of the freeing realm of Christ? Because Jesus calls for faith. He calls for a penitent heart and steadfast faith. The Lord is the Lord who breaks into the kingdom of Satan and rescues us. When this happens those who harden themselves to His salvation do not see the amazing freedom of humbly rejoicing in pure grace. They do not see that Jesus lifts the burden of guilt and separates sin from us as far as the east is from the west. They do not see that a life of faith is not burdensome but joyful.
They think that God replaces the dominion of Satan with laws and commandments and burdens. They think new life in Christ is not fulfilling. They want to be the master of their own life, not realizing that Satan is the real master of their life. But God does not save us only to burden us with laws and commands and burdens. He saves us and then gives us more and more good. If it is true that we are to keep His commands—and it is—then we see through the eyes of faith, not the eyes of the world and the devil, that those commands He gives us benefit us. To our natural flesh the commands of God seem burdensome. But the evil spirit having been driven out of us, we see with new eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit. We see greater joy through the commands of God than we ever realized while under the dominion of Satan.
The apostle Paul calls this in the Epistle reading walking in love. He says, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” It is not a burden to love others but a joy. This is nothing else than what the commands of God are all about. He fulfilled them and suffered our punishment for not fulfilling them. Instead of being sexually immoral, we rejoice in the gift of marriage. Instead of coveting, we rejoice in the good gifts God has already granted to us. This is how the Epistle reading speaks of the commands of God and the new life we have in Christ.
This is why Jesus says in the Gospel reading, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” In your Baptism Jesus came rushing into your life through the waters that flooded over you. This powerful flood drowned Satan and his dominion over you. Your Lord gave you new life and you were now a child of God. The Holy Spirit marked you as a new creation and created faith in you. You now were embarking on a new life, one in which you hear the Word of God and keep it. One in which you rejoice at God’s Word and not the word of Satan and of the world and of your own sinful flesh.
Satan cannot claim you. You were drowned in those waters of Baptism and were brought to life that does not end. It lasts forever and you are in the realm of the Heavenly Father who is merciful and gracious and who keeps giving you His Son over and over again through the Gospel and through the Sacraments to attack Satan and bind that strong man. Your Lord, the very Son of God who brought Satan to crushing defeat by dying in your stead, sustains you in the faith first given you in Baptism. Your Lord casts out the one who had power over you. You were given a new voice—the voice of faith. Faith that speaks of the glories of the mercies of God. Faith that speaks thanksgiving at hearing again and again of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.