Oculi (Lent III) - Luke 11:14-28 - Februrary 28, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #263 O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe
Hymn #144 Jesus, grant that balm and healing
Hymn #500 May God bestow on us His grace

Readings
2 Samuel 22:1-7
Ephesians 5:1-9
Luke 11:14-28

Collect for Oculi
We beseech Thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Jesus assumed human flesh so that He could destroy the works of the devil. His battle against the devil begins in the wilderness when Satan approaches Jesus to tempt Him. Jesus soundly defeats the devil using the Word of God against Satan’s temptations and lies. Throughout Jesus’ ministry He healed many who were demon-possessed, releasing people from the devil’s kingdom one by one. In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus is helping one such poor demoniac when the devil strikes again with his lies. Some of those who witness Jesus casting out this demon say, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” This is much more than mudslinging. This is one of Satan’s favorite tactics, to ascribe the works of God to the works of the devil. It is the height of blasphemy to accuse the Son of God as being in league with Beelzebub. Yet we see this tactic of Satan often. That which God calls good in His Word, the devil calls evil. That which God calls evil in His Word, the devil suggests is good. So these men who are in league with Satan by virtue of their unbelief engage in this terrible blasphemy. Blasphemy is usually ridiculous and ignorant and this time is no exception. Jesus points out the absurdity of such a claim. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan is also divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” Satan cannot work against Satan. It would be counterproductive and destructive to the growth of his kingdom. These men suggest that Jesus’ work is nothing but devilish pageantry and choreography from Hell so as to distract from the true deception; claiming the good works of God are really evil. That deception is a far more potent poison in the minds of men. Calling God’s works evil and Satan’s lies good is a most effective strategy for Satan to claw his way into hearts of men.

2)         Jesus goes on to debunk their fa├žade. “If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?  Therefore they will be your judges.” He drills His point deeper. If Jesus is a tool of the devil in casting out demons, then what does that say about Jewish exorcists? There were itinerant Jewish exorcists. St. Luke tells us about the seven sons of the High Priest Sceva in Acts 19. What made Jesus different from them, or any other Jewish exorcist for that matter? Therefore their own sons would judge them for their blasphemy every time they exorcised a demon. Jesus doubled down once more, saying “But I cast out demons by the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Having demonstrated the foolishness of their blasphemy, He tells them exactly who He is and how He is able to do such things. He casts out demons by the finger of God. That phrase, “the finger of God,” is used of two phenomena in during the Exodus. The first is a plague, the second I when the Lord uses His finger to write the commandments on the stone tablets. The first is when “Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod and struck the dust of the earth, and it became lice on man and beast” (Exodus 8:17). The Egyptian magicians attempt to replicate the plague. When they could not the conceded to Pharaoh “This the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). The Finger of God is His the tiniest bit of His power, especially when one considers how often the Lord saves with His mighty, outstretched arm. Jesus casting out demons is just the tip of the iceberg, the smallest digit of the power of almighty God. These Jews accuse Jesus of being the devil when in reality He is using only the tip of divine power.

3)         In case they are too think to get it, Jesus goes on. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” The devil is the strong man, fully armed, who guards his own palace, keeping his goods in peace and safety. He keeps men in the shackles of their sin. He keeps them bound in thralldom by incessant and persistent temptation. He imprisons them in guilt over their sins and shame of who they are because of their sins, continually accusing sinners. Sinners are the devil’s goods that he holds in peace through his deep guile and great might. This makes Him the strong man, holding humanity in his kingdom. But when a stronger man comes upon him and overcomes him, then the jig is up. The stronger man comes and strips the strong man of his armor and rescues the spoils. The Only-Begotten Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, assumed human flesh so that He could meet the strong man on his own turf, entering into his own palace, to disarm him. Jesus strips Satan of his armor, which is his lies and deceptions which captivate the minds of men. Jesus exposes the lies of Satan for what they are. He shows men they cannot save themselves through their works and morality. Christ shows men they cannot aid God by their strivings and their decisions. Jesus destroys Satan’s temptations, showing them for what they really are, while silencing His accusations by forgiving sins and giving His righteousness to sinners.

4)         He breaks Satan’s power by forgiving sins. He removes the devil’s accusations by filling the ears of penitent sinners with His absolution. He still does this daily by sending the Holy Spirit into men’s heart through His Word. Through that Word He creates faith in men’s hearts so that they believe the promise of the Gospel. That faith, created by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel justifies men before God so that Satan now has no claim to all who believe and are baptized. St. Paul tells us that “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). By giving us faith in the Gospel and forgiving our sins He snatches us from the devil’s clutches and transfers us into His kingdom of grace where we possess every blessing. Faith in Christ makes all who believe into sons of God where they had once been sons of disobedience, children of wrath, belonging to the devil. Anyone who works against Christ, or works in His name for anything other than that forgiveness of sins, scatters instead of gathering, and works against Him rather than with Him.

5)         Christ then speaks a word of warning to those who believe the promise of the Gospel. He uses this illustration: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” The point of the illustration is that once Christ casts out a demon, whether during His earthly ministry or through His Gospel in the church by forgiving the sins of men, the devil does not give up. Once Satan is cast out of the heart in Holy Baptism, he does not simply concede defeat. Once a sin is confessed, absolved, and put away, does not mean that the devil will stop tempting with that particular sin. He does the opposite. When sin is confessed and forgiven, Satan doubles down with that very sin, exposing the Christian to more fiery temptations involving that sin. Once sin is put away and striven against, Satan turns up the heat of the fiery furnace, trying to reignite the lusts and desires of the sinful nature. He may, “go through dry places, seeking rest” for a brief time. He will always come back though. And if the Christian is strong in faith and Christ’s gifts, the devil will often go fetch seven other spirits in order to overcome the Christian through temptation, accusation, and false belief. If the Christian falls back into sins, especially if he willingly walks into such sins, then his state is worse than the first. St. Peter echoes this when he writes that “if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20).

6)         So the Christian must remain ever vigilant against the schemes and wiles of the devil. He is prowling lion, lurking around every corner, waiting to entrap you in your desires and to allure you into false security so that you say, “I am forgiven, therefore I am fine and don’t have to watch and pray against temptation.” False security, cockiness, and over confidence in oneself is deadly to the soul since the devil is waiting for any opportunity to pounce, dragging Christ’s Christians back into sin and an evil conscience. When the woman from the crowd shouts, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you,” Jesus finishes His sermon. “More than that, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” There is no blessedness, especially in the face of the adversary the devil, except for the blessedness of hearing the Word of God and keeping it. There is no blessedness of the Christian outside of being watchful in prayer, contemplating the Word. The Word is your sure defense against the devil’s schemes. The Word is your sword of the Spirit by which you deflect temptation. Faith in the Word, in Christ and the promise of the Gospel, that is the shield of salvation by which you extinguish his fiery darts. Beware false security. Beware the devil’s deceptions. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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