In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
I have a riddle for you. Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet. I’ll give you a hint. Look at the bulletin cover and you’ll see the context for the riddle.
The context is Judges Chapter 14. Samson is on his way to take a bride from the Philistines. While on his way a lion appears, ready to devour him. Samson, being one of the strongest men who ever lived, tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. On his way to marry the woman he chose, he sees the lion’s carcass. There was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.
The account ends with Samson’s wife begging Samson to tell her the answer to the riddle in order that she might tell those who heard the riddle. When they answer it with help from Samson’s wife, he responds, If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle. Samson struck down the thirty men who pressed his wife for the answer. Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions.
What does honey from the carcass of a lion have to do with Jesus healing a mute man from demon possession, divided houses that cannot stand, the finger of God, strong and stronger men, and a house swept clean? Samson is a type of Christ. He was a Nazarite, just like Jesus. Samson was strong, but not strong in the way that Jesus is strong. Samson defeats a lion with his bare hands. Jesus defeats demons as well as the prince of demons by speaking the Word. Beelzebub is another name for Satan, the lord of the flies, the deceiver, and the roaring lion prowling around who seeks someone to devour. Jesus fulfills what Samson hinted at in his battle with a lion. Jesus casts Satan from His beloved ones by destroying the power of death in His death and bestowing eternal life in His resurrection. From Satan’s carcass flows the sweet nectar of victory in Samson’s Lord, Jesus Christ.
Samson’s riddle begins out of the eater came something to eat. The forbidden fruit in the Garden did not come from Satan. However, he did entice our first parents to eat the fruit that God commanded them not to eat. Adam and his wife discovered the fruit didn’t taste as sweet as it could have been. The fruit brought separation from God and enmity toward each other. Throughout the Bible, you see our forebears in the faith eating the fruit, as it were, and filling their bellies with Satan’s enticing fruit.
You also eat Satan’s sweet fruit. Lententide is supposed to be about disciplining the body and soul to resist the devil’s cunning ways. Teaching the body to submit to every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is not easy. You might “give up” something you like for Lent only to return to it after Easter by enjoying twice as much of it as before Lent. You have to make up for lost time. That’s not disciplining the body. That’s deprivation leading to obsession.
If there’s anything to give up this Lententide, it’s sin. Granted that’s impossible because we are by nature sinful and unclean. Nevertheless, the desire not to sin should be something you practice every day, not just for six weeks in late winter and early spring. All of this discipline, this “giving up” stuff for Lent, prepares you for the joy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the sweet victory Jesus wins for you in giving you eternal life and forgiveness of sins through faith. Without discipline, without contrition over sins, Easter Sunday either becomes just another Sunday or becomes a day to dress up and reboot your fashionable apparel for a new season.
Beware of what comes from the lion who prowls around seeking to devour you. Watch, pray, fast, give alms, take care that the eternal security you have as a gift from Jesus Christ doesn’t turn into carnal security. This is a trap into which many well-meaning Christians fall. Jesus refers to this in today’s Holy Gospel. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it 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.
Even though you rest in Jesus Christ’s forgiveness and life, that doesn’t mean you are able to live how you wish, thinking you have a free pass to Paradise, and believe the devil will never come calling to your house. Not so! Consider today’s Epistle, where Saint Paul lists several sins that Christians often fall back upon in carnal security. Sexual immorality and covetousness are mentioned twice. It’s easy to see those pet sins, but so hard to deal with them. It can be like wrestling a lion with bare hands, but not with the strength of Samson.
That’s where the Stronger Man, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of Samson, enters the field on our behalf. Jesus brings new meaning to the riddle of Samson. The lion was the eater looking to eat Samson. Samson devoured the lion using his bare hands. Inside the carcass of the strong beast was honey, a sweet treat that happens to be the only food that never spoils.
Isaiah prophecies, [The Lord of Hosts] will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah looked forward to the day when the Lord of Hosts, Jesus Christ, swallows up death on Calvary, ripping the veil that separates access between God and man. Satan no longer holds sway over you. Jesus eats Satan alive, as it were, and rises from the banquet table of His death victorious over the grave.
There is a new interpretation for Samson’s parable. Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet. Out of the One who swallows up death forever comes the Word of Life eaten in sermon and song, Word and Sacraments. Out of the Stronger Man whose death has destroyed death and whose rising to life bestows life everlasting comes the sweet taste of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The foretaste of the feast to come is before you again today. Christ’s Body and Blood, like honey, never spoils. However, unlike honey, eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ is the closest you will get this side of heaven to resting securely before the face of God.
Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it! Keeping God’s Word means contrition over sin, repentance, forgiveness, and receiving His joy for you in His means of grace. Keeping God’s Word means the daily struggle with Satan over sin. Without the new Samson fighting for us, without Christ as our Champion over Satan, the battle is hopelessly lost. In Christ, out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet. Believe it for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
(with thanks to Blessed Johann Gerhard for the riddle and the connection to this Gospel pericope)