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Sermon for Oculi (Lent III)

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ February 20th, 2008

Sermon on St. Luke 11:14-28

TLH 258, “Lord of Our Life and God of Our Salvation”

Lent III – Oculi

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

Jesu Juva

Today’s gospel event follows Jesus on His journey to the cross through the basic, two-part plan of His mission: teaching and miracles followed by suffering and rejection. Today’s narrative begins with a miracle as Jesus casts out a demon from a mute person. Demons at the time would often seize a person’s tongue and use it to speak for themselves, keeping the individual from speaking for himself. But Jesus is the Lord of life who came to release creation from bondage to sin and suffering. Jesus heard the man’s supplication, even when the man couldn’t speak for Himself. And He cast out the demon, gradually restoring creation to its original splendor. And then what happened? The mute man spoke, for he had regained control of his own body and the freedom to speak and act as one of God’s creatures. And how did some of the people react to this miracle? They marveled at the God of salvation and hope of every nation would rescue His creation from Satan. They believed that this Jesus was the Son of God, the Lord God Almighty, who had come to this earth to save us from sin and eternal death.

Lord of our life and God of our salvation, Star of our night and Hope of ev’ry nation, Hear and receive Thy Church’s supplication, Lord God Almighty.

But not everyone in the crowd that day understood Jesus’ teaching and miracles, which ultimately led to His suffering and rejection. Some of the folks said that Jesus was casting out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Beelzebul literally means “lord of flies” and was used in Jesus’ day as a catch-all term for Satan and all his demons, who were as irritating as a swarm of flies. The idea that Jesus was working for Satan seems ridiculous to us, but at the time there were miracles worked by two opposing forces: God and Satan. A miracle-worker was with one or the other. (Recall, for instance, the magicians of Pharaoh in competition with Moses and his signs from God.) Jesus countered this accusation by taking it to its logical conclusion: if Jesus is working miracles for Satan by casting out Satan’s evil demons, then Satan’s kingdom is divided. If Satan’s kingdom if divided, then it cannot stand, for every kingdom divided against itself must crumble. Therefore Jesus must be working this miracle for God. On the other hand, some in the crowd demanded a sign from Jesus, some greater miracle that would prove that He is the Son of God. This is curious, since Jesus just worked such a miracle. Nevertheless, Jesus reminded them, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Again, Jesus is either God’s emissary or Satan’s representative. If he were with Satan, then He would not be casting out demons. So the only option is the join the crowds who marveled at this miracle and believe that this Jesus is the Son of God, who alone can preserve and protect the members of His churchly ark from Satan’s attacks.

See round Thine ark the hungry billows curling; See how Thy foes their banners are unfurling. Lord, while their darts envenomed they are hurling, Thou canst preserve us.

In the end, there are only two ways to react to Jesus’ miracles: belief or unbelief. And there is a great difference between these two ways, for it is the difference between life and death itself. The shortest parable in the all of the NT (one sentence in the original language) describes the difference between the two ways. Jesus said, “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.” The strong man in this parable is Satan, who is fully armed with false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. His own palace or estate is this world, which he stole for himself in the fall into sin. But the stronger one in this parable is Christ, who entered Satan’s estate by becoming man, who conquered him in the temptation (succeeding for us where Adam failed us), and who crushed Satan’s head on the cross, defeating him once-for-all. And by His death, Jesus takes away Satan’s armor and divides his spoil. And what is the spoil? What are the goods in Satan’s palace which Jesus spent His entire life reclaiming? You and me, Dearly Beloved. We are the ones who were the property of Satan, born in sin and bound to die. Our own armor – our works, our efforts, our self-esteem, even our pride in getting good feelings from going to church – would not avail. But Christ came to help us where our earthly armor failed. He came to us in baptism and said, “Depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!” He forcefully cast Satan out of our souls and made room for the entire Christ and all His gifts: grace, mercy, and peace.

Lord, Thou canst help when earthly armor faileth; Lord, Thou canst save when deadly sin assaileth; Lord, o’er Thy Church nor death nor hell prevaileth; Grant us Thy peace, Lord.

And what about the unclean spirits whom Jesus was casting out? Jesus solemnly warns us that Satan, the “lord of flies,” is still a very present threat to us, along with his evil angels. Jesus says that an evil spirit who is cast out of a person passes through other places and then returns to the place from which it came, along with seven other evil spirits. The image here is the ongoing work of Satan in our lives, prowling about, seeking whom he may devour. To be sure, Christ has conquered Satan on the cross. He is defeated once-for-all. But the defeated enemy still prowls through our daily lives, attacking us with evil thoughts; inviting even Christian brothers to engage in conflict; and waging a busy war in our own midst. So Satan is defeated, but he is not dead. We are not walking home from the devil’s funeral, lest we let down our guard and become his victims. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” though the NT literally says, “Deliver us from the evil one.” Martin Luther was so aware of this that he let the petition for defense against Satan creep into his Morning and Evening Prayers, saying, “Let the evil one have no power over me” – lest he return to our souls with seven evil spirits and our last state (death) become worse than our first state (birth). In the end, the battle for our souls is a battle for us to either be the property of Satan in eternal death, as per Dante’s Divine Comedy, where Satan munches on Judas as his food; or to be the property of the Triune God in eternal life and peace, and with Lazarus, the beggar, to have eternal rest.

Peace in our hearts our evil thoughts assuaging; Peace in Thy Church where brothers are engaging; Peace when the world its busy war is waging. Calm Thy foes’ raging.

After Jesus said these things, a woman in the crowd raises her voice, saying, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Very true! The woman marvels in belief at Jesus’ teaching and miracles, offering a beatitude or blessing upon the blessed Virgin Mary. Indeed, the Virgin Mary, the very Mother of God, is blessed for giving birth to Jesus and for raising Him in obedience to God’s Word. We give thanks for and honor the blessed Virgin Mary! But Jesus takes the blessing to a new level when He responds “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” This rings true for the Christian church today, for we are the ones who hear the word of God and keep it. We hear the word of God when the pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins.” We marvel at His free gift of forgiveness and we keep it. We hear the word of God when the Scriptures are read aloud and preached, telling us who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us to conquer all our foes and drive them back from whence they came. We listen to His Divine word and keep it. And we hear the word of God, making His sure and certain promise, “This is my body . . . this is my blood.” We marvel at His gift in this blessed sacrament and we keep it, for whoever believes the words, “Give and shed for you” has exactly what they say: the forgiveness of sins. Our foes are scattered, the believers are gathered, and we may depart in peace, saying, “mine eyes (oculi) have seen His salvation.”

Grant us Thy help till backward they are driven; Grant them Thy truth that they may be forgiven; Grant peace on earth or, after, we have stiven, Peace in Thy heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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