Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 23, 2014)

LUKE 11:14-28
THE FINGER OF GOD DRIVES OUT THE DEVIL.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Satan is known as the prince of this world.  That is because everything in this world has been corrupted by him.  Everything that is wrong in this world is because the devil convinced Adam and Eve to rebel against God.  Through them, sin entered the world.  Through sin, every evil has entered into the world—from wars to epidemics to missing planes to hay fever.  That is not to say that we can blame the devil for murders, for lying mouths, for broken families, and for a splintered Church.  Those things are all done by sinful men who have listened to the devil’s lies and acted on them.  But we can certainly smell the devil’s breath in all of it.  They all stem from his lies.
     The devil is the prince of this world.  And I am sure that there are many days where you feel like the devil is reigning more than Jesus.  You have to endure all of the sufferings and stress and the sickness and sorrows in this corrupt world.  You have learned to pray more fervently with each passing year, “Deliver us from evil,” but you still live in the midst of the evils.  What’s worse, you are your own worst enemy.  You have been made a child of God and you have been set apart for holy living.  Your experience, however, is that your life is far from holy. 
     St. Paul wrote: Be imitators of God, as beloved children.  …You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not become partners with them… (Ephesians 5:1,5-7)  St. Paul tells you that Christians are to be different from the world, and markedly so.  But that makes life awkward and hard.  You find it easier to give into to fleshly desires and worldly attitudes than to persist in holy living and to fight against your flesh and your friends. 
     This is life in the Church Militant.  You will always be fighting and straining to put off the Old Adam and to put on the New Man so that you do not lose your place in the kingdom of God.  Jesus warns you: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.  And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)  If you are not afraid of your sins, you should be.  They bring a curse.  They lead to death.  If you think, “Well, I was confirmed.  I cleaned up my life.  I know how to behave,” that does not keep Satan away.  He does not care if your house is swept and put in order.  If your life is not one of daily repentance, if you are content with your sins because they seem small to you, the prince of this world can claim you back, and your eternity will be far worse than if you had never heard of Jesus at all. 
     The devil is the strong one Jesus speaks of.  He has taken down the entire world through the sin of Adam and Eve.  He has claim on sinners, and he wants you back.  If you don’t think so now, just wait until you get to your death bed.  The devil will be there to review your whole life.  He will remind you of every evil and wicked thing you have thought or said or done.  And he will not need to make anything up!  On that day, you will surely know that you cannot overcome Satan with any kind of bargaining, with any rationalizing of your sins, or with any excuses.  Satan and his accusations will prove far too strong for you.  And if your sins do not bring terror to you now, they surely will then.
     Repentance is not merely feeling badly about your sins.  Repentance especially means fleeing to Jesus for comfort and hope.  Jesus is your Savior who puts an end to all of your fears and to your foe.  Jesus came preaching and teaching and healing every disease.  We often focus on his preaching and teaching, but we ought to take note that he healed diseases.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only demonstrated control over diseases, but even demons.  By driving out demons, Jesus demonstrated that he is the Stronger One who drives out Satan.  He rectifies everything that had been corrupted by the sin of Adam and Eve.  The finger of God drives out the devil.
     Jesus instructed the Pharisees, saying, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  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.” (Luke 11:20-22)    
     Jesus is the Stronger One who has come and has plundered the devil’s goods from him.  You are the spoils!  You are the ones whom Jesus has snatched from Satan’s grasp and delivered to a kingdom of grace.  The devil thought that he had you well under guard.  But the Stronger One has come and has disarmed Satan from all that he had trusted in.  The devil had you shackled to your sins.  If you die in your sins, you are condemned.  So Jesus has taken your sins away from you.  Jesus has taken up all sin, all guilt, all shame, and all regret.  He has freed you from these by making himself accountable in your place.  And since Jesus has made himself accountable for your sins, he paid the price for you.  Jesus’ sufferings, Jesus’ condemnation, Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary, and Jesus being forsaken by his Father are the cost to redeem you.  But the price has been paid for you.  And Jesus, who died for you, has risen from the grave.  Therefore, he has authority to pardon you of all guilt.  He has authority to rescue you from death.  He has authority to bring you into the heavenly kingdom.  He has stripped Satan of his armor.  He overrules Satan’s accusations.  He has crushed Satan underfoot.  The Prince of Peace has thrown down the prince of this world, and he brings you into a better kingdom. 
     The finger of God drives out the devil.  Therefore, you will want to be where your God comes to touch you with his gracious gifts.  The Lord’s finger touched you when you were baptized.  He drove out from you the unclean spirit and filled you with his Holy Spirit.  He put an end to your status as sinner so that you are no longer condemned.  He raised you up a saint who has been set apart for holy living in a corrupt world.  And when you fall short, which we all do, you get to return to your baptism in Holy Absolution. 
     There, the finger of God touches you again.  There, you confess your sins and renounce them, and God, through his minister, declares, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  This strips the devil of his armor.  For, where sins are forgiven, there is no curse.  There is no hell.  There is no fear.  The devil can no longer torment you about your sins; for, Jesus speaks a stronger word.  The finger of God drives out the devil.
     What’s more, your Good Shepherd even prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies.  The devil will rage.  The world will fall apart.  Sinners will rebel.  And here you are, ready to feast.  Here, you receive the body and blood of Christ.  Here, the finger of God touches you again and grants forgiveness of your sins, drives out the devil, delivers you from evil, and keeps you in God’s kingdom.
     Jesus is the Stronger One who casts out Satan.  And Jesus is the Stronger One who keeps you in his kingdom.  The prince of this world has been cast down.  The Prince of Peace reigns.  The finger of God drives out the devil, and it has written your name in the Book of Life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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