Oculi, the 3rd Sunday in Lent + Luke 11:14-28 + March 19, 2017

Introit
MY - EYES - || are ever | to- | ward | the | Lord, *
                For He shall pluck my feet | out | of | the | net. -
|| Turn Yourself to me, and have | mer- | cy | on | me, *
                For I am desolate | and | af- | flict- | ed. - (Psalm 25:15–16)
|| To You, O Lord, I | lift | up | my | soul. *
                O my God, I trust in You; let me | not | be | a- | shamed; -
|| The troubles of my | heart | have | en- | larged; *
                Bring me out of | my | dis- | tress- | es! -
|| Look on my afflict- | tion | and | my | pain, *
                And for- | give | all | my | sins. -
|| Keep my soul, and | de- | liv- | er | me; *
Let me not be ashamed, for I put | my | trust | in | You. - (Psalm 25:1–2a, 17–18, and 20)
|| My eyes are ever | to- | ward | the | Lord, *
                For He shall pluck my feet | out | of | the | net. -
|| Turn Yourself to me, and have | mer- | cy | on | me, *
                For I am desolate | and | af- | flict- | ed. - (Psalm 25:15–16) 

Collect for Oculi, the Third Sunday in Lent
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. 

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

Sermon

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

1)         In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, two of John’s disciples followed Jesus and when Jesus notices, He turns around and asks them “What do you seek?” They respond, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” to which Jesus responds with the invitation, “Come and see.” The evangelist writes that these two men “came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day” (John 1:39). These two disciples of the Baptizer show us how important it is to remain with Jesus, to stay close to Him so that we might continually be learning from Christ. These two disciples wanted to apply themselves to the knowledge of the divine mysteries. They wanted to excel in their understanding of things of God. They wanted strength and help to fight sin. They wanted to remain in the kingdom of God so they sought to remain were Jesus was. John sets this before us as an example. Cyril of Alexandria, a fifth century church father, comments that with this, “The Evangelist says that once they stayed with him, they clung to him so that those who enter God’s house by faith and run to Christ may learn that they must remain with him and not desire to be estranged either by departing to sin or by rushing back to unbelief.”[1] The Christian is to remain with Christ, learn from Christ, receive strength from Christ, and not leave him by willful sinning against conscience or neglecting faith so that it turns into unbelief. The Christian abides with Christ, hears His Word gladly, and hallows God’s Name in his prayer and life.  

2)         Remaining with Christ, as these two disciples show us, is essential for the Christian because if we do not remain with Christ, if we do not stay where He is and daily learn from Him, we will eventually be draw away from Christ back to our former lord and master, the devil. Though many might be quick to say, “I have never belonged to the devil,” the Scriptures tell us that all men born in the natural way are conceived and born as sinners. St. Paul writes that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). To put it another way, all humanity is, by nature, born into slavery to sin. Jesus says in John 8:34, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” Jesus says in today’s appointed Gospel lesson, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.” The strong man of whom Jesus speaks is the devil. It’s no use to imagine the devil as weak or benign. He is neither. Nor is it helpful to imagine that the devil isn’t a real being but simply an ancient personification of evil in the world. But wishing something away doesn’t make it so. The devil is real. His power is real. His power is in temptation, enticement, sin, and ultimately death. These are the devil’s weapons and armors by which he guards the goods of his house. The goods which he guards are the hearts of men, women, and children. They are born into his house. They are born as slaves to sin and the devil makes sure many stay in that thralldom using the tools at his disposal. It does no good to imagine the devil as weak. Jesus tells us the opposite. He is the strong man who cannot be overcome by his own slaves. It is impossible for slaves to sin to stage a coup against this strong man. 

3)         But another comes along, one who is stronger and mightier than the devil. “But when a One stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” Jesus Christ is the stronger man who comes upon the devil and overcomes Him. We witnesses this two weeks ago as we heard again how Christ overcame the tempter in the wilderness not for His own sake but for our sake. Last week we heard that Christ drove out a demon from the Canaanite woman’s daughter with a word spoken at a great distance. Today we hear again how Christ approaches a man possessed by a mute demon. Christ drives out the demon and the man speaks. All of these, however, are minor skirmishes before the war. They are conflicts pointing to the final fight, for as Jesus says, “surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The kingdom of the devil and the kingdom of God meet fully upon the cross. There the battle is joined. But the cross does not look so much like a battle as it does a forfeit. Christ willingly goes to be crucified. “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him” (Mark 14:21). Christ, who could call down legions of holy angels to defend Himself, doesn’t. The Eternal Word of the Father, by whom all things were spoken into existence, could have spoken one Word and ended the suffering, but does not. In the death of Jesus it seems the strong man has conquered. It the crucifixion of the Christ, it appears as if the devil has successful defended the slaves of his kingdom. 

4)         But this is not the case. Christ, the stronger man, is clothed in weakness. Before the devil can be cast into hell forever, his armor must be stripped of him and his slaves set free. “When a stronger One than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” Before Christ destroys the devil, He must destroy those things in which the devil trusts. He must destroy sin. He has already broken the devil’s power of temptation by being tempted in the flesh and overcoming, making it possible for all who believe to overcome temptation in their same flesh. But on the cross Christ deals directly with sin, the devil’s chief armor. Christ dies as the “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Just as the lambs of the Old Testament sacrifices bear the sin of the one who brought them to the altar, so Christ bears the sins of the world upon His shoulders. Isaiah says, “The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). St. Paul goes further and says that God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And to the Galatians He writes, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Christ not only bears our sins, He is made sin, so all who trust in His atoning death have the forgiveness of all their sins. He not only bears the curse, He is made the curse so all who believe the Gospel are no longer under the curse of sin but under the blessing of Christ. This is how Christ overcomes the strong man. Suffers to atone for the sins which enslave us. He dies to redeem us from the curse than hangs over us. All who place their trust in Him are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness, children of the heavenly Father, spoils of Christ’s victory. 

5)         This is how He rescues us. He earns our release from the sin, death, and the power of the devil by His righteous life and innocent, bitter sufferings and death. He gives all this blessings to us when we believe the Gospel: that God is reconciled to us in Christ and forgives our sins. This means that sin’s power is broken over us. We ought never to go back to its slavery. We ought never to willfully rush into sin. We should never delight in our sins, nurture them, and cultivate our sins. Jesus gives us the example of the unclean spirit that has gone out of a man to warn us against departing from Him into sin and unbelief. “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.” Once the house of the heart is swept clean from sin through faith in Christ, it must be continually filled with Christ, otherwise sin will come back. Not only will sin come back, but it will come back stronger than before. The hearth of our heart must be daily swept clean by repenting of our sins. The house of our heart, put in order by believing the Gospel and rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins, cannot be then left empty. Christ must dwell there through His Word and Sacraments. It is not enough to enjoy the absolution then stay away from God’s Word. It’s folly to repent and rejoice over the removal of sin then not have Christ remain in the house of the heart through daily meditation on the Scriptures. If Christ does not remain in the heart, sin will come back stronger than before, and more difficult to remove because repentance will be that much more difficult. Thus Christ warms us to forsake our sins, lest we grow to love them more than we love Him, and in not forsaking sin, forsake Christ instead. 

6)         Like the two disciples that left John to follow Jesus, we must seek to have Christ remain with us. He promises to be present in His Word of Scripture, His Word in the Sacraments, and His Word purely preached. This is why Jesus says at the end of today’s lesson, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Because He is present in the Word. He abides there, so we ought to seek to remain there always with Him in every temptation of the devil, in every trial of the world, and in every enticement of our flesh. Let us remember what the father Cyril wrote, that we “remain with him and not desire to be estranged either by departing to sin or by rushing back to unbelief.” Let us hear His Word gladly and keep it by repenting of our sins and comforting ourselves with the Gospel, for faith is our victory over the devil, the world, and our flesh. Temptation is simply the strong man wanting his goods back. But praise be Christ, the stronger man, who comes to destroy the works of the devil in our lives by forgiving our sins, by restoring our souls, and making us into sons of God through the faith in the Word. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 



[1] Cyril of Alexandria. Ancient Christian Texts: Commentary on John Volume 1. Tr. David. Maxwell. IVP Academic: Downer’s Grove. 2013. Pg. 87.

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