Lent3 (Oculi) - St. Luke 11:14-28

1)         Christ comes to break the power of the Devil. He demonstrates this again today as he casts a mute demon out of person, freeing that person from the bonds of Satan. Last week we heard how Jesus healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter of her demon-possession. The Gospels are full of such exorcisms because “this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) And though we don’t see much in the way of demon-possession in our time, the ancient serpent is still active in our world and in our very lives. By nature all humanity is held in Satan’s chains and bound in captivity to him. This is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.” (Luke 11:21) Satan is that strong man. His palace is the world, for St. Paul calls the Devilthe prince of the power of the air.” (Ephesians 2:2) The possessions which the strong man guards are humanity. Since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, all humanity is born in sin. When Adam and Eve cast aside trust in the Lord for trust in their own powers, that sin passed to their children and their children’s children. By nature, everyone born in the natural way is born as a slave of sin. We cannot help but sin. It’s in our blood. It’s our nature. We must confess, along with St. David, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) From the moment of conception we are in bondage to the Devil. Since we are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we share their sin and their place in Satan’s palace, under His guard, as his possession. Satan, the strong man, wants to keep humanity under his power so he guards his palace with weapons and armor.

2)         Satan’s power isn’t only manifested by bodily possession. It is manifest every day in our own lives as we find ourselves unable and often unwilling to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Satan exercises his guard over humanity with His chief weapon which is temptation. His temptations for each of us are threefold. The first is false belief. The second is despair. And the third is shame and vice. Satan first seeks to blind us to the truth of bondage to him. Take a head count on the street or at the grocery store and see how many people think they have no problem with sin. Ask them if they are “by nature sinful and unclean” and you’ll get all sorts of defensive remarks. Satan’s first tactic is to lead us to false belief about our true condition, that God is pleased with us just as we are, or that God is pleased with us because we try to live a good life or be a good person according to an ever devolving standard of living. Such people have no idea that they are possessions of Satan, being heavily guarded by Satan’s armor of false belief. So many refuse to hear the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ because they don’t think they need forgiveness, thinking that there is no sin that needs atonement or that whatever sin there is can be atoned for by trying harder to live a better, more Christian life.

3)         Those who can give an honest appraisal of their flesh and see how truly wicked even the best of us are, those people Satan tempts with despair of God’s mercy. His first temptation is to spiritual pride. His second is spiritual despair of God’s mercy. He wants to you think that your sins are greater than God’s grace. Satan whispers despair into your heart when you find yourself saturated with sin and wondering how the Lord would ever forgive you yet again. That, like the prodigal son, your heavenly father *might* take you back as a servant in his house as the best case scenario. In despair, Satan magnifies your sin and minimizes God’s mercy in Christ so that you doubt the Gospel of the perfect remission and forgiveness of ALL your sins through Christ’s blood. Despair of Christ’s mercy is how the Devil drove King Saul and the apostle Judas to their treacherous and faithless ends. So Satan keeps many who hear the Gospel from believing the Gospel, lest their sins be forgiven and they be free from his hellish torment.

4)         His third temptation and weapon against us, to guard us and keep us in his possession is the general temptation to sin and vice that we experience every day. The lustful thought. The covetous desire for something not ours. The anger against our neighbor tucked away in the heart. Gossip masquerading as truth-telling. The desire to avoid hardship, suffering, and even work itself. Satan is always compassing us about, looking for the opportune moment to tempt us into some sin. Satan, the strong man, uses manifold weapons of temptation against us. He knows your weak points. He knows the situations you put yourself in that easily lead you to sin. He is, as Luther called him, the master of a thousand arts. It isn’t difficult either for the Devil to do this. Since we are born sinful to begin with, our flesh desires to sin and fulfill its lusts. So everyone, especially the Christian, must go through this life enduring temptation and even becoming entangled by it, for such is life lived in the flesh until death. In these temptations the Devil also seeks to cut us off from all comfort and help. So he incites our flesh to be sluggish in prayer, lazy in our meditation on the Scriptures, and slow to look for heavenly aid.

5)         These are the bonds of Satan which fetter everyone consisting of flesh and blood. This is why it is necessary for Christ to take on human flesh and confront our adversary in his own palace. Satan is the strong man. But Jesus is the stronger man. He says, “When a man stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” (Luke 11:22) Christ begins His work of overcoming Satan whenever He casts a demon out from a poor soul. But these are just minor skirmishes in the battle. Christ continues to confront Satan throughout His ministry until He reaches His goal, the cross. There, the stronger man sacrifices Himself to the agents of Satan that He might deal Satan the death stroke. Satan’s power is sin, death, and the Law’s accusations against you. But on the cross Christ sheds His blood to atone for all of your sins, even the sins of the entire world. His sacrifice can atone for the sins of the world because Christ Jesus is true God as well as true man, making His sacrifice of infinite value against the debt of sin we owe. By shedding His blood He fulfills His appointed role as the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) By dying He dies with each and every one of your sins. They are laid in the tomb with Jesus. By His resurrection the Father visibly demonstrates His acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice for all your sins and because He is raised to new life, so all who believe in Him and trust His atoning sacrifice will also rise to new life, spiritually now and physically on the Last Day. Because Christ enduring the accusations of the Law for us, He know is able to silence the accusations against us that the Devil whispers into our hearts to cause us despair. The cross is the ultimate exorcism, for Jesus says, of His suffering and death, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:31)

6)         Christ pays for all your sins at the cross. He gives you that atoning work through His preaching, His absolution, and through His sacraments. He gives you this victory over the Devil and faith believes that it is so and so has what it believes. The Devil cannot harm you now by faith in Christ. Temptations will still come. In fact, for the Christian, temptation comes all the more. But is one thing to feel temptation. It is quite another to give into temptation. Because Christ has crushed the serpent’s head, the Christian is released from the strong man’s palace. Faith in Christ leads a Christian to fight temptation, so that you remove yourself from the situation, or so that you don’t put yourself into that situation in the first place. Faith in Christ’s victory over Satan strengthens your holy resolve not to willfully sin by feeling the temptation and then yielding to it. For is we allow ourselves to be led into temptation we risk a terrible fate. Jesus says the hearth swept clean by the forgiveness of sins becomes a target for more devils who are more wicked than the first. So we must always be on guard against temptation, lest we willingly welcome it back into the home of our heart and thus be unwilling to dislodge it. Jesus warns us against flirting with sin after we have received such a gracious pardon, lest we become enticed by it again and lose our resolve to fight sin and thereby, eventually, lose our faith in Christ’s merits and atonement.

7)         But do not despair when temptations come. Come they must. Remember the words Dr. Luther wrote in his Large Catechism. “Therefore we Christians must be armed and daily expect to be incessantly attacked, in order that no one may go on in security and heedlessly, as though the devil were far from us, but at all times expect and parry his blows. For though I am now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never desists nor becomes tired, so that when one temptation ceases, there always arise others and fresh ones.[1] Be on your guard, dear saints of God in Christ. Your enemy is ever prowling around as a roaring lion, seeking to devour you. But rejoice, your Lord Jesus has won the victory over your fell adversary. Your sins can no longer harm you. They are absolved. Let not your conscience continue to accuse you. Your Lord remembers your sins no more, neither should you. Do not fret in the hour of temptation. Rather, pray to your Father who art in heaven, “Lead me not into temptation, dear Father, do not let me relapse into my old sin, but give me strength to fight this temptation with your Word, as your obedient child whom you have baptized.” And should you fall to temptation to sin, do not also fall into the temptation to despair of God’s mercy, but flee right back to the Word of the Gospel that Christ forgives the sins of all who repent and believe. Rejoice that you were once darkness but now you are light. Rejoice that you were once fast bound in Satan’s chains but now, because of the Stronger man’s work on the cross you belong to the Triune God. Amen.

[1] Large Catechism. III. 6th Petition. Paragraph 109.

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