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Sermon for Lent III (Oculi)

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ March 28th, 2011

Sermon on St. Luke 11:14-28

Lent III 

Today’s Gospel lesson continues the God vs. Satan theme that shapes the first three Sundays of the Lenten season. On Lent I, we saw Jesus overcoming Satan’s temptations in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). Lent II presented the Lord as the One who cast out a demon from the daughter of a Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28). Today, we hear a brief summary of the following miracle: “And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke” (14). The rest of the Gospel lesson tells us about three reactions to this miracle, which will call us to repent of our sins and fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

 

The first reaction to the miracle is faith. St. Luke tells us that “the multitude marveled” (14). That is to say, they were amazed at the work Jesus had done and their attention was drawn to His identity as the Son of God. The point of the miracle was to prove that Jesus is the Christ. It’s all part of Jesus’ tandem of preaching and miracles. Jesus worked a miracle. Then He preached His identity as the Christ, calling men to repentance and faith. One woman in the crowd got it right that day, when she said, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed you!” (27). Very true! This anonymous woman paid homage to the Blessed Virgin, congratulating her for bringing this Rabbi and Miracle Worker into the world. But Jesus had an even greater blessing in mind when He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (28) That is to say, “Anyone can watch a miracle and rejoice in it. And we are all thankful that my mother raised me in wisdom, stature, and favor before God and man (Lk 2:52). But the greatest blessing is forgiveness and eternal salvation for those who hear the good news of my death and resurrection and believe it. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This plan of preaching and miracles continues in the church today. We preach the Word of the Law and Gospel, calling sinners to repentance and giving the gifts of the Gospel upon those who repent. Blessed are those who hear that they are sinners, that they were born in sin, that they have sinned against God in countless ways, and that they have broken God’s commandments and deserve eternal death. Yes, blessed are they who hear this word of the Law, repent of their sins, and fix their eyes on Jesus. For they are blessed with forgiveness, life, and salvation, now and into eternity. Preaching is followed by miracles: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Preaching to the unbaptized leads to Baptism. In Baptism, He casts out Satan, drowns our sin, and raises us to new life in His name. Preaching to the baptized leads to the Lord’s Supper. In this sacrament, He joins His true body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine – for you, for salvation. So in preaching and miracles, word and sacrament, Christ continues to abide with us, saying, in effect, “Blessed are you who hear God’s Word and who receive His sacraments, for you have life in My name.”

All would be in order, then, if everyone had marveled in faith and believed in Jesus. But such is never the case. The second reaction to the exorcism was the curious assertion that Jesus was working with the devils. “But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’” (15). To Jesus’ original hearers, the name “”Beelzebub” was about as ugly as it sounds to us in English. It indicated the lord of the flies, a round-about way of saying the “queen bee” of the devils, viz. Satan himself. So they actually thought that Jesus was in league with the devil! How did Jesus respond? He reminded them that, if He were working for Satan, then He most certainly would not be casting out devils. Otherwise, Satan’s kingdom is divided and it cannot stand. So who was battling against whom when Jesus cast out a demon from a deaf-mute? A short parable paints a vivid portrait of the God vs. Satan theme. A strong man guards his palace and his goods. But a stronger man comes along, overcomes the strong man, and divides his spoils. The strong man is Satan. The stronger man is Christ. And what are the spoils over which they battle? You and me, Dearly Beloved. We are ones who were born as Satan’s property, but have been reclaimed by Christ. Our souls are the battleground between God and Satan, good and evil. For the finally impenitent, Satan is their master and he will feast on them in eternal death. But the repentant can rejoice that God has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us to the everlasting kingdom of light and life.

The second reaction of the crowd reminds us of a fairly recent novel that gave rise to an entire sub-culture of unbelief. I am thinking of the novel that preceded The Da Vinci Code, viz. Angels and Demons by the athiest, Dan Brown. In Angels and Demons, a man hatches a plot to blow up the Vatican and destroy the church. Motivated by his childhood handicap and anger against God, the antagonist attempts to expose the centuries-long corruption of the church that supposedly manufactured the Deity of Christ. The rising action involves the highly secretive Vatican archives, the murder of four Cardinals, and an attempt to destroy the College of Cardinals while they are in conclave. In the end, the Vatican is spared and the plot is exposed. But the interesting twist in the title – Angels and Demons – is that the reader is left to wonder who are the angels and who are the demons. At the title page, one is tempted to run with the usual definition of good and bad angels. However, as one is led through Dan Brown’s false doctrine and literary attempt to destroy the Divinity of Christ, readers are tempted to believe that the church and its leaders are the real demons, and those who question the church’s faith in Christ are the real angels! In other words, the book might as well say that Jesus was working with Beelzebul, the prince of demons, and supposedly leading a hoax instead of a church!

What difference does it make? It makes the difference between eternal life and eternal death! If Jesus is working with the devils, then our doctrine is a fabrication, and we can never be sure of our salvation. But if Jesus has come to defeat the powers of darkness, then He is indeed the Lord of Life, and He brings salvation to you and me.

The third reaction to Jesus’ miracle was the request for a sign from heaven. “And others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven” (16). It is difficult to determine exactly what these miracle seekers expected. Jesus, of course, had just worked a miracle by casting out the demon. Was that not enough for them? Did they need more proof that this Jesus was indeed the Christ of God? Just after today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus rebuked those who were so evil that they asked for greater signs than the ones Jesus delivered in the flesh (11:29-32). He said, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet” (29). Moreover, “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation” (30). The common ground between the prophet, Jonah, and Jesus in this context is their preaching and their miracle. Jonah was miraculously kept alive in the belly of the fish for three days before coming back from the “dead” to preach in Nineveh. Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried for three days before returning from the dead to send the preached Word to the ends of the earth. So what about those who wanted another sign? As many of the hearers of Jonah and of Jesus did not believe their message and received death, so those who were looking for something greater than Jesus would be disappointed. They would be left to stand on the sidelines and – How do we put it? – say that Jesus had nothing more than a “dying church.”

This same aspiration for something more than Jesus has been a problem through the centuries. I would suggest it is prevalent today in our [mis-]understanding of the Great Commission and what it means to be mission-minded. Jesus told His Apostles to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Some have placed this command at the center of the church’s life, tried to count how many disciples we have made, and then attempted to read “backwards” from numerical growth to spiritual analysis. In other words, many have assumed that growing churches understand the Great Commission, while so-called dying churches obviously need to be revitalized. I am reminded of one false teacher who once spoke to a group of seminary students and asked them what their primary task would be as pastors. The students answered correctly: “To preach the Gospel!” But this false teacher, pastor of a suburban mega-church in the South, said that the preaching of the Gospel was not the main thing. Again, a pastor told future pastors that preaching was not the primary task of the preaching office! So what was “job one” for pastors, at least according to this “expert” in church growth? To make disciples by preaching the Gospel. Think about this false teaching, Dearly Beloved: To make disciples by preaching the Gospel means that the Gospel is penultimate to something else; that it leads to a greater reality. But if the Gospel is a step toward something greater – even making disciples – then the church becomes the image of those in this Gospel lesson who saw Jesus’ miracle and then said they wanted something more.

What difference does it make? It cuts to the heart of whether or not Jesus is our all-in-all. If the preaching of the Gospel leads to something better – church growth, revitalization, mission-mindedness, or whatever – than the Gospel has been cheapened. But if the Gospel is primary, than Jesus Christ is always at the center. And all that we have and all that we do must serve this and this alone: that we may obtain the forgiveness of sins.

And so these three reactions to Jesus’ miracle of healing the deaf-mute – to marvel in faith, to accuse Him of Satanic arts, or to ask for a greater sign – remind us of today’s Introit: “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for He shall pluck my feet out of the net” (Ps. 25:15). The net (snare, entanglement, trap) here is any false belief, from the fantasy that Jesus is an ally of Satan to the desire for a miracle greater than the miracle of salvation. These nets or traps, along with the other snares set by the evil one, are a constant threat to our faith and life. But our eyes are ever toward the Lord, i.e., the eyes of faith look to “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). + INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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